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Part 4 of 5 : Symposium Main Listening and Equipment Comparison Session


earlinarizona
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Now what everyone has been waiting for. Everyone that has compared lower priced or other equipment and gotten certain results, let’s forget that for the moment. Gossip or heresy from other people forget it for the moment. Load your mind with a clear sheet about proving the viability of this server technology. Unless the test that you have heard about had level matching with a 400th of a DB, disregard it, Unless the other test had solid state and spinning drives to compare throw the results out. Unless the listing test was on a pair of $ 90, 000 speakers (adjusted by owner of Magico) with amplifiers to match, throw those results away too. SO if your mind is clear and you start from knowledge scratch ZERO , LETS GO.

They started with the Windows server internal Solid State drive and PCI express Lynx card. 24/176 music. Quite impressive to say the least. Hearing 24/176 sound was very enlightening, clear, and easy to digest. No digital grunge around the edges. You could just get a cup of hot chocolate next to a fire and listen to this for an extended time. This did not sound like a CD but of a much higher level of sound.

Then with the click of the remote and level controls reset (maybe 10 seconds) we listened to the Mac Pro PCI express Lynx card with Solid State drive. It clearly sounded different with different air around the voice and the space changed. Still same high quality sound as the Windows machine. I was expecting to hear real big differences but the difference was not earth shaking.

Then they put on the older Mac G5 with just PCI Lynx card (not the faster PCI express) and it actually sounded better than the first two. How is that possible with an older machine and only PCI card? Voice had less euphoric sound around it and more in focus. EVERY person in the audience was listening quite intensively.

Then they switched to the Martan server that Magico uses in his personal showroom. It sound even better with more clarity and something special about it but keep in mind we are under a MAJOR Microscope with the listeners. This is a work in progress and not a finished product.

Then one of the people in the front row that was from Skywalker studio asked if we could hear the servers with spinning drives. With the push of a button they activated the internal spinning drives in the servers and we listened. I personally can’t give an opinion on this one because I was different sounding but you loose track of which is actually right. The real pros were lasered in on sound differences.

Then they put on the hard drive that was on an Ethernet line across the room or a NAS drive. As soon as they put that one in you knew the others were better. It all came back to the seminars telling that everything adds jitter or problems an clearly the switchers and long Ethernet cables change things. We all noticed. From that point on no one requested to hear it.

BUT BUT BUT then they went back on the servers and listened again but would hit the remote and turn the Amara software off. Suddenly the audience starts laughing. You can hear the sound being regular Hi Fi even though it is still using the Lynx card. You can imagine how bad a good regular CD player would sound like at this point. My point is you were listening to a very special setup with these servers and Pacific Microsonic units under controlled conditions.

NOW THE BIG CHANGE. In the forum you always hear that higher sampling rate and bit differences just a waste, not needed, ridiculous. This guy and that guy said don’t waste your money. YOU WERE WRONG. Let me repeat that. YOU WERE WRONG. The audience asked if they could switch the D/A to play the selection in 24/96 instead of 24/176. They took a few minutes and then went and started the same song on the server. The magic was just about gone and suddenly the music was uninteresting and not involving. Smaller cloudier music. More haze around the edges and all around less enjoyable after listening to 24/176. At that point we didn’t even have to listen to the other servers to compare because the change of character was clear. Higher bit rate equals better sound. 24/96 is good or even spectacular compared to 16/44 but not when compared to 24/176 PERIOD. 24/192 was not presented here.

 

 

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24/96 is good or even spectacular compared to 16/44 but not when compared to 24/176 PERIOD. 24/192 was not presented here."

 

It doesn't seem like DSD was presented either. I believe if you read the opinions on the Digital Audio Denmark website, DSD and DXD are significantly better than 24/192.

 

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EarlinAZ,

 

Thanks for the write up. I wish I was able to make up to the symposium. I wonder if the parallel nature of PCI versus the highly serialized nature of PCI-Express accounts for some differences in the sound... Well, finding a G5 is a heck of lot cheaper than a new Mac Pro, but too bad it won't run Snow Leopard.

 

Was the Martan server using a Lynx card as well or is it using it's own electronics?

 

 

 

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I was alao at the Saturday session, first just a few clarifications, the server mentioned is the Matan server (not martin) .

 

My recolection of the order of systems was a bit different, I remember it being the PC, then the G5 then the MacPro.

 

All the systems in the main demo room (including the Matan) used a Lynx 16AES, the PC, Matan and G5 used the PCI version and the MacPro used the PCIe version.

 

All these were connected to separate Pacific Microsonics Model 2 machines via AES. The model 2s fed a clock back to the Lynx card so the DAC was in Master Mode slaving the source to its local clock. This is supposed to be a very jitter immune setup, but it was still easy to hear differences in the different setups.

 

I did not think the NAS sounded that bad, I thought it sounded better than the spinning disk but not as good as the SSD. The SSD definitely sounded better than the spinning disk.

 

The big surprize was Amara, WOW, I was not prepared for player software making that big of a difference. After having heard it, when it wasn't there I just wanted to cry out "PLEASE turn it back on!"

 

Without it the whole sense of space just vanished. It seemed like the bottom end rolled up and got but in the background. Of course that could have been that the midrange was being emphasized. Singers seemed like they were plastic cutouts on the stage rather than living breathing human beings.

 

I very slightly prefered the MacPro with SSD and Amara to the Matan server, but I could easily see how someone could prefer it the other way around. They did things differently and it probably comes down to personal preferences on that one.

 

The biggest problem with the demos was we didn't enough time to do even more listening.

 

Thanks very much to those who put this together, it was by FAR the best such comparison session at a public event I have ever heard.

 

John S.

 

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I've got a couple of questions reading the above post so here goes ...

 

1) The PC server - what playback software was it using?

2) When you say you listened to 24/96 version - how had that been created. Was it resampled using the playback machines, or was it a separate recording with the A/D converter set to 24/96 when it was created?

3) You didn't mention it so I assume not, but were you able to do any comparisons between the high-end computer systems and the Sooloos system into the same DAC.

 

The comments re G5 with Lynx AES16 (PCI) vs. the MacPro with Lynx AES16e (PCIe) seam to follow the anecdotal evidence from other sources so you could claim that point is pretty much proved. However it might have been useful to have 2 identical PCs with both PCI and PCIe cards and then could have done side by side comparison with ONLY the card different between them - but maybe thats just being picky - at the moment it could be argued that all has been shown is that the Audio Core on MacOS runs better under PowerPC code than under Intel code - there are too many other variables to take into account on the actual comparison made.

 

A comparison between the Lynx AES16e card and a high end firewire interface would also have been interesting to read about - Kent Poon has written that the AFI1 is "The best I heard from any sound card, period." and goes on to put it into context saying "We have both Mac and PC sound interface from RME digiface, Lynx AES16SRC, firewire devices MetricHalo 2D Expanded 2882 +DSP, ULN2 etc."

 

It might have been interesting if you could have run some of the comparisons with more available hardware too - i.e. does an AES16 give you an advantage over an EMu 1010 into a Bryston BDA-1 with BP-16 pre and 2B SSt2 power amps and a pair of B&W 803D speakers - probably an aspirational system for many people who are interested in the forum.

 

(Hope you don't mind me commenting on what comparisons you did - I'm sure you took a long time working out what was most interesting ... just thoughts for if you are ever able to hold another symposium I guess)

 

An interesting thing - you implied that there was a volume difference between the different output cards - if using the same original files into the same DAC, then there must be some manipulation of the data if the final output of the DAC is not the same.

 

Anyway it sounds like you had a great event - maybe the next one could hold at Real World Studios or The Farm. :-)

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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It sounds as though the event was an outstanding success, well done Chris, it must have taken a huge amount of time to organise everything , so sincere congratulations, I will definitely make every effort to attend the next especially if you serve ( Homer Simpson voice ) 'Shrimp' , well done! Keith.

 

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Eloise,

 

there's a post by John Swenson on PC Audio Asylum that indicates samplitude may have been the PC software used.

 

 

John - who is very technical - made this interesting observation:

 

"All the systems had Lynx AES 16 cards (the MacPro was PCIe, the others were PCI) each connected to its own Pacific Microsonics Model 2 machine via AES. The model 2s sent a clock back to the Lynx cards so the Model 2 was the master."

 

Having a high quality DAC's clock operate as master seems more and more to be the consistent WINNER in the 'best digital playback' approach sweepstakes. Firewire does this naturally, and Gordon has pioneered a method for USB to do this, and yet people still ooh and ahh over the various DACS that only work with the S/PDIF variants (AES/EBU, Coax, Toslink).

 

 

In regards to your (and Kent Poon's) firewire interface comments:

 

I read on a recording forum recently, a suggestion that DACs like the Berkeley Audio Alpha, for example, should be relegated to 'legacy' audio (meaning to support transports with only S/PDIF output interfaces), and shouldn't be considered by people using computers (due to availability of superior interfaces, i.e., Firewire).

 

YMMV,

clay

 

 

 

 

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didn't take very good notes. We need to first get the order of the tests and what was in the machines correct. I am reading the posts and already I am somewhat confused. Interesting stuff, but lets work on a correct list and this way other can sign off on it.

 

Clay, we heard the wadia connected to the Alpha DAC and it was not as good as cd ripped to wav. We also hear an Ayre cd player and also not as good as the computer as source. Its hands down a great dac with any input, buts its really something special with the lynxs card and a computer.

 

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The organizers of the event made a few comparisons available for listeners to experience for themselves, on the theory that direct experience is better than just trading second-hand impressions on the forums. I notice that some of the people who didn't actually attend the symposium are already inserting second-hand impressions into the discussions here.

 

Anyway, here's clarification on a few details that people are asking about. First, the files for comparing sample rates are all direct transfers from an analog source natively at that rate. I know because I spent almost a whole day doing them. After each transfer I rewound the tape, set the convertor and the workstation to the new rate, and played it in again. Three music selections, five sample rates: 44, 88, 96, 176, 192. None of the files were conversions from some other sample rate.

 

Second: Level matching. During setup we did in fact confirm that each of the servers was putting out the data unchanged, and at the same level. Then the level was checked at the output of the Boulder preamp, and it was confirmed to be the same within four one-hundredths of a dB (not 1/400th, as people apparently understood.) If there was level resetting between cuts, it was only because the operator had used the volume control to fade the selection out. He then returned the level to the same place as before, which is extremely accurate on the Boulder.

 

Probably someone should post the full configuration for each server, but I'll leave that up to the organizers. Much of the information is correct in the posts and the responses, but it is scattered around a bit. Here I'll just confirm that the PC was using Samplitude as playback software on XP, and Matan's server uses Unix. Also, someone may have implied that the PC used a PCI-E version of the Lynx card, but no, it used a PCI version like the G5.

 

Paul Stubblebine[br]Paul Stubblebine Mastering, San Francisco[br]The Tape Project, LLC[br]serious student of the audio arts

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Is it fair to say that the most significant factors to the quality of the music were (in order of importance):

 

1- Ultra high-res material (directly transferred from the original masters)

2- Amarra

 

 

 

www.hifiduino.wordpress.com

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Thanks for the info on the source of the standard and high res files.

 

Do I understand correctly that the outputs of each Lynx card was at the same level, and this had been confirmed to 4/100 dB before the event?

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Was there any talk or debate about the ethernet "client/server" delivery method (i.e Squeeze Center,etc) where the server and streaming playback software are on two different machines, connected via ethernet, with theoretical jitter reduction issues (clock is separated from stream/packet, etc.). The reason I ask is that I've demo'd several DACS (Weiss, Berkeley, Bryston, etc.) and yet to find any front end software/hardware combo (limited, however, to a PC running Vista or XP mind you) that comes close to the sonics of feeding a good DAC from a (modded) Transporter via AES/EBU or 75 ohm BNC. I only mention "modded" because although the majority of the mod was to the analog section (completely redesigned and tubed) and therefore not used with the demo DACS, the rest of the mod (tube rectified huge power supply, etc.) may have helped and differentiated vs a stock Transporter, whether using analog or digital output. This sonic advantage was rather large, even when using the Weiss, for example, with it's firewire "sweet spot", via bit-perfect Foobar/XP/ASIO, etc. The AES/EBU or BNC outs from the Transporter to DAC were significantly more 3D, more organic, more lifelike...although limted currently to 24/96 max. Everyone who's heard it in my system, agrees. I know I'm not the only one who's thought of this, too (of course). A few have brought up this sort of "client/server" setup as being theoretically better from a jitter perspective, but wondered if it was anywhere on the radar at the Symposium. Thanks.

 

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Eloise,

During setup of course we wanted all the systems at the same level. Mostly I was concerned that someone might have left one of the Model 2's in a non-standard state, or that one of the inputs of the Boulder preamp may have had its sensitivity adjusted--after all, the adjustments are there to be used. So we went through all those settings and returned them to a standard condition.

 

The Lynx cards are putting out an AES/EBU stream, so I checked that first, and all were at identical levels. Then we played the same tone file out of each server, and switched the Boulder to each input in turn. The output from the Boulder matched in each case within a tolerance of four hundredths of a dB, so we figured that was close enough and went on to other matters.

 

Paul Stubblebine[br]Paul Stubblebine Mastering, San Francisco[br]The Tape Project, LLC[br]serious student of the audio arts

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Ted,

 

as luck would have it, the only person I know who's experimented with a client-server sort of setup is John Swenson, who normally doesn't post here but has posted in this thread.

 

Perhaps he will respond.

 

clay

 

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are going to be the new golden rule around here! Thanks for the clarification Paul!

 

Clay...you crack me up....good point!

 

I have to say all this talk about air and space makes me wonder if its like the plazma problem. You know how the green on a football stadium looks like no grass you ever saw in real life. I mean did this music have all this air and space in the first place?

 

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My vote for best line of the week, from Mr, Stubblebine :

 

"I notice that some of the people who didn't actually attend the symposium are already inserting second-hand impressions into the discussions here."

 

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Ted,

 

I've copied excerpts of a John Swenson post on AA-PC Audio back in December.

 

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/comment/reply/2412/21610

 

~~~~~~~~~~

"I am primarily proposing a system where the DAC (PCI soundcard, USB DAC etc) is NOT connected to the "primary" computer. The DAC gets connected to a small low power computer running a stripped down very simple linux OS, probably without any hard drives at all. The audio data comes over a normal network connection. By doing this most of the issues about how different players and disk types effect sound go out the window, they are unimportant. This gives you the flexibility to use whatever player software you want to use, you now longer have to choose between one that sounds good and one that has a user interface you like!!!!

 

The music server can be on a PC under XP, Vista, OR linux, or on a Mac. You can have other things happening on this computer as long as it has enough resources to handle it all. You can have the music file storage on this server computer, connected over USB or firewire, or on a network (NAS or other computer). This system gives you the flexibility to have things centralized or spread out depending on how YOU want to set things up. You can have the music server in another room so you don't have to worry about physical sound from it, and remote control the sound app from your listening chair with a laptop, eee, N800 or other form of control."

 

"This scheme is all about decoupling whats happening on the computer directly connected to the DAC from everything else going on. If setup right, everything else happening with the system MAKES NO DIFFERENCE ON THE SOUND QUALITY.

 

The only things that affect the sound are whats in the small box, what it is, what the power supply is, what ITS OS is etc. BUT we can come up with some simple standardized solutions for this that will work with many, many different systems.

 

Think of this computer as being part of the DAC rather than as a general purpose computer that you can play games on and surf the net. (You COULD surf the net on this computer, but that defeats the purpose of the system)."

~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

following Gordon's 'everything matters' credo, John's approach isolates as much of the 'everything' as possible from interactions with the DAC. While I don't think that is the actual intent of the approach you describe, it may be the aspect contributing to the (perceived) improvement in sound.

 

You can decide how much commonality there is with your approach. But I will say, without spending a lot of time thinking about it, that absent John's ideas here, I don't see how the approach you describe would necessarily sound any better than other highly regarded approaches - given that ultimately the data is still being sent to a low jitter DAC over a cable using S/PDIF protocol. IOW, John's approach is the only thing I've read that is consistent with your claims.

 

Hopefully, you guys will have a good conversation here, and Chris wont bust me for posting something from another site. :)

 

clay

 

 

 

 

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I actually the system your talking about! Its a small footprint linux OS, no harddrive, networked, nas on another computer via usb (yes not really a nas per E....inside joke) and guess what?

 

It still sounds like crap! :)

 

So, I have a mod going that adds caps and a battery that should be back this week to see if it gets better. My point is that this magic box also has to be good!

 

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what magic box? If you are responding to me and my network/ethernet based advantages issue (tough to figure what the response is directly alluding to in these posts) then all I'm talking about is the Squeeze Center/Transporter idea. It has it's own GUI (very nice on iTouch/iPhone), it's own player, it's own ethernet streaming protocols, and the Transporter is a low jitter higher-end solution than a Squeeze Box (limited to SPDIF and 48k). The TP has BNC, AES/EBU, a word clock input, larger power supplies, etc. And no, Clay, I don't use SPDIF, I use AES/EBU. Thanks for the Swenson cut-n-paste though. Appreciated.

 

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Dear Readers,

 

Please be patient with us over the next 24-48 hours as we recover and compile for publication the comprehensive info on all of the systems we presented at The Computer Audiophile Symposium. As some of you can relate going on for 30+ hours without sleep isn't condusive to clear articulate thought.

 

Kind regards,

 

Maier Shadi

The Audio Salon

[email protected]

 

Tim Marutani

Marutani Consulting

[email protected]

 

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"And no, Clay, I don't use SPDIF, I use AES/EBU."

 

yeah, I knew that, but was not clear about my point. By 'S/PDIF protocol'. I meant to include AES/EBU, Coax S/PDIF, etc. My point was that this (AES/EBU to DAC) has been done before - and therefore is not likely to be the secret sauce. For some installations, the 'balanced' aspect of AES/EBU might be helpful, but, by and large, the actual protocol differences between S/PDIF and AES/EBU might only make a difference to a chip manufacturer or circuit designer, some of which don't seem to even bother with the differences, which is a topic we discussed here on CA recently.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AES3

 

That said, I"d use AES/EBU over Coax given the choice, but I'd also chose Firewire, and then Async USB over AES/EBU, given the choice.

 

cfmsp

 

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