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Best possible sound on a Macbook Pro laptop?


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Hello ,I´m new to this forum having read it for a while but would like to know what I need to make my Macbook Pro laptop usable for listening to music.

as is, it is simply horribly bad!

And has got very little in common with what I regard as HI FI sound!

I travel a lot and would like to be able to listen to music without pain via my laptop and my Sennheiser HD 650 headphones..

Let me make it very clear that I am not at all interested in hints on how to use MP3 and other crap formats in Itunes or whatever compressed format CD or other.

I am only interested in true Pro level sound or at least on level with commercial releases on SACD or direct to disc LP.

Those are my references for recorded music. My absolute reference is live classical acoustic music ,symphonic and opera .

Therefore I have little use of reviews of DACs and other equipment where the reviewer uses electronically amplified pop -rock or even worse Hip Hop or other genres which have no real reference points for me.

Is there a way to use my laptop to listen to the coming the Reference recordings HRx and other truly highrez downloads and obviously becoming available from several suppliers?

I´ve been thinking of getting a Korg MR 1000 the DSD WAV recorder that obviously Ray Kimber is using for some of his Isomike projects.

Would anyone here know if it also works as a DAC ? and can be used to play -store highrez files?

I´m not a computer expert but from what I understand I need something that does not simply upsample , but is actually capable of playing back files as recorded.

In my opinion upsampling is a conjuring trick trying to get more than a pint out of a pint bottle!

Lets face it you simply can´t.

IMO CD quality is at best Mid Fi .

So please don´t advice me on how to get CD quality out of my laptop.

I couldn´t care less!

But I have high hopes for the new formats around the corner and want to listen to them bit perfect if possible via my mac and headphones.

Any ideas of how to proceed with a truly portable Hi End computer Audio system based on my macbook Pro laptop or do i need to get a PC again in order to enjoy highrez music in computerland?

Thanks Chrille

 

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Well welcome to C/A Chrille. I'll take a poke at this.

 

Let's start with, "It is simply horribly bad." I'm going to assume this isn't due to the format/ripping/errors/blah blah blah and you know all about that.

 

Next, I am unclear whether you mean every iTunes format is crap. That said,

 

Get your music sourced in 24bit/96 (or higher) khz, likely convert to AIFF if you go with iTunes. There are other players. Not upsampled, just get the format you want to play and a player that will play it. No big deal there.

 

USB (some would say firewire or optical out) to your "DAC w/headphone out," in your case likely a portable to travel. You can study the 24 bit ones listed here on C/A. There is a lot of discussion to read here about DACs.

 

iTunes can handle all this or so can other players. Win based can too, but you will get into all the ASIO stuff probably and fret over bypassing the kMixer etc, etc. I prefer Mac for this.

 

Then you are good to go I would think, but I honestly have no clue how you define "Hi-Fi" in your world. Maybe you just need portable vinyl.

 

The Korg looks like a recorder to me, don't know why you would need that. Laptop will regurgitate what you feed it. I'd think you just need a good 24 bit DAC for playback. Just get everything operating at the same "resolution" as the high res source music you play and it's bout that simple.

 

If the sound of regular CDs is horrible to you, I'd still check your rip settings. To each his own ...

 

Regards and let us know how things work out,

IT

 

 

 

 

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You can get hi-rez on your Mac's hard drive and you can get portable headphone amps with integrated 24-bit DACs. HeadAmp's Pico comes to mind. The weak link in a portable system is going to be your amplification. HD650s are notoriously demanding. They use a lot of power, a lot of current, to sound their best. This doesn't mean they won't sound good out of a portable, but they will lack the transient response they're capable of, will not be operating at their capacity and will probably sound as bad as those Redbook cds you find so distasteful. In fact, this may be why everything sounds so bad to you now. What are you plugging the 650s into currently?

 

Tim

 

 

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Thanks for the responses to my query.

Being a complete beginner at Computer Audio I need all the info I can get.

Regarding my quality standards and references again in order to iron out any misunderstandings.

I listen to LPs and SACDs via Musical Fidelity´s X_Can V3 and their XPSU power unit and X_Can V3 for LP and my preferred headphones are the Sennheiser 650s which sound fine provided you have good quality source material ie. a good LP or SACD.

Regarding RBCD my observation is one about the format itself.

RBCD is IMO simply not good enough for classical music regardless of how you play it back !

You can´t get more than a pint out o a pint bottle however much you try!

CD is a low rez format IMO.

There simply isn´t enough information- data capacity on a CD.

I go to live classical concerts and opera a lot and RBCD isn´t anywhere near the live thing IMO.

 

What I want if possible, is to be able to enjoy music via my laptop at a similar or if possible even higher level of quality than SACD.

I guess I need a portable DAC with a headphone out that is also capable of driving my Sennheisers and that is capable of playing anything from 24.88.2 seamlessly up to 24/192 ie. if something was recorded 24/176.4 or similar, I want to be able to play it back, bit prefect, without any corruption .

No upsampling tricks and other crap, just the closest approach to the real thing .

What Im asking for is something starting from 24/88.2 and upwards,preferably also capable of handling DXD! Not just capable of handling 24/96!

Is there such a thing, or will there be in the near future?

Ideally I would also like to be able to play back DSD therefore I have been thinking of the Korg MR 1000 which seems to handle just about anything out there except DXD. formatwise.

If I want DXD it seems, I need to get something both quite expensive and also no longer truly portable.

 

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Portability is going to be the big hang up here. Right now looking for such a device is like trying to find small bookshelf speakers that are full range and sound the same as big floorstanders. You may find some sort of device that bast similar capabilities, but I would be skeptical until I heard such a device.

 

I'm definitely not knocking you for wanting such a great device. In fact I would probably pick one up myself if it could do everything you want it to :-)

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Portability is a problem with 650s. They may just require AC power to develop their full capabilities, but if portable is what you need, i'd start with an Apogee Duet. See if you can find a vendor with a liberal return policy and see how you like it. Great DAC that leans to the transparent side rather than warmth, but that's a good thing when you're ending with 650s which have plenty of warmth of their own. I haven't heard the Duet, but it is reported, over on Head-Fi to have great synergy with 580s/600s which are very similar to the 650 (though not quite as power-hungry). The Duet is not extremely portable - fairly big compared to a lot of the tiny little portables available these days - but it's small enough, plugs directly into your Macs firewire port and draws 12 volts to power itself. Get one and do some critical A/B comparisons with your X-Can. This will be easy with the Duet as it is designed for field recording and has lots of connections via a breakout cable. You should be able to feed the X-can from the Duet's DAC and compare that chain to the headphone out of the Duet itself. If it sounds good, it is good. Let the Duet supplier keep you money and hit the road. If your 650s are lacking (listen particularly to bass control, where power supply weakness reveals itself most audibly) through the Duet alone when compared to the X-Can, the next thing I'd try, personally, is a Lisa III from Triad Audio. It's another big one, only pocket-sized if you're wearing cargo pants, but it reportedly (again - hearsay, I haven't heard) provides about as much power as you're going to get from a battery-operated amp. Those two pieces will fit into pockets in your laptop bag, but if that's not good enough, you're probably going to have to travel with an AC-powered amp. There are some fairly small ones out there -- HeadAmp's Gilmore Lite, a couple of Ray Samuel's amps are pretty small. One, the XR7, I believe has an outboard power supply and will also run off of a couple of 9 volts in a pinch. Might be a good choice for you.

 

That's my best shot, and it may not be good enough. I love my Redbook CDs, Heck, at this moment I'm having a great time listening to Oscar Peterson on the radio, so clearly you and I have different demands.

 

For more information, go to head-fi. Those guys are the headphone experts, but it's a dangerous place. If you really want to make the most of high-rez files at one end and HD650s at the other, they're going to tell you that you need a very good DAC in front of your X-Can v3, and that it probably isn't up to the task. And jeez, these amps that are measured in milliwatts can be expensive. Then there is balanced. Then there are cable upgrades. Good luck. And sorry about your wallet.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Thanks for your input Tim

I already have a small portable AC powered Headphone amp from Swedish Audio Pro that is ok but not outstanding.

And it does drive my Sennheisers, though not quite as well as my Musical Fidelity combo with its separate power supply does .

If I could combine that one with a good DAC that does most if not all of the things I need,

I suppose I´ll be one step closer to true HI FI in "computeraudio".

I´ll take a look at the Duet you mentioned and see if that might do the job.

Thanks again Chris

 

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  • 3 months later...

I am a pro-audio engineer interested in hirez-audio.

 

I have the following comments related to your posting:

 

The highest sample rate supported on your mac-audio system is 192kHz/24 bit PCM. If you wish to record the kind of great music you refer to, (and I agree that kind of music is the very best and only option), then get a Korg MR-1000. It will record DSD 128fs audio at a sample rate of 5.6 MHz/1 Bit. Input square waves become a sine wave on that system at 30 kHz. With RBCD audio, square waves become sine waves at 8 kHz!!! No one talks about the waveform distortion we all have to put up with by listening to RBCD audio quality.

 

If you get the Korg MR-1000, be sure to turn off the DSD filter in the System menu before recording at DSD 128fs (5.6 MHz). Moreover, remember that it is a big step down to 192 kHz when you down sample DSD 128fs recordings. Multitrack workstations such as Pyramix or Sonoma do not support record/playback of DSD 128fs, even though their converters do. The only converter on the market that supports DSD 128fs, DSD 64fs, and DXD (384 kHz, 352.8 kHz) is the Digital Audio Denmark AX-24 (also marketed by the makers of Pyramix (Merging Technology) under the label SPHYNX II). The AX-24 is expensive $17,000 for 8 channels of A/D and D/A with MADI, SDIF-3, and AES-EBU D/IO. Consult them for exact prices, as I have nothing to do with them. To be quite upfront, I would get the Korg MR-1000. A nice unit and quite portable. It includes 2 Mic-Preamps (not the best, but adequate), but the best part is that the line inputs/outputs are +4 dBm Balanced...

 

The Korg does not have digital I/O however.

 

For a great 192 kHz firewire audio device, consult Mark of the Unicorn at www.motu.com. The unit can be purchased at Sweetwater Sound in the Mid-west states, or Sam Ash Pro in New York City. www.samashpro.com. I am not affiliated with these web sites. I get nothing for referring you to them. You are free to choose whomever you wish to make your purchase.

 

Hope my words have given you help. I predict that we will see better options in the future. This is why I recommend the Korg MR-1000. You can't beat the low price for getting cheaply into DSD recording.

 

Yours for great music.

 

 

 

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I am really tempted to get a Korg for the very reasons you mention and really wished I had had one with me this past week in Stockholm where I photographed and listened to rehearsals and live concerts with among others, Penderecki, Gergiev and Daniel Harding at Berwaldhallen in Stockholm.

 

But alas, I was only sheduled to photograph, not record ,so all I have are the memories and photos of some really great music making at the Baltic Festival this year.

 

But I got some opportunities to compare recorded sound to live.

 

SR was recording everything live.

 

I honestly think capturing a symphony orchestra truly realistically in a recording remains elusive .

 

But one thing is sure, hi rez gets much closer than RBCD, which isn´t even close IMHO.

 

I also got a chance to listen to some great gear and also made brief comparisons between the SACD version of the 2 L Mozart disc and my downloaded 24/96 Flac files of the same music on my Macbook pro.

 

The SACD player used was Macintosh SCD 201 and I listened to my files mainly over headphones both Sennheiser HD 650 s and my NEW Reference Grado GS 1000 and Grado´s battery powered headphone amp.

I also listened a bit via Macintosh amps and a pair of Tannoy behemoth speakers costing more than 20.000 Euros.

 

The DACs where the Benchmark USB and the Belcanto both playing 24/96 files via USB connection.

 

Initial impressions where that although slightly different sounding, there wasn´t a night and day difference between the SACD layer on the Macintosh and the Belcanto, Both sounded fine to me with a touch more warmth and air around instruments on the SACD.

 

The Benchmark, although also very good, compared to playing the files straight from my mac sounded more "digital" with a tendency to sound overbright.

 

 

I will make further comparisons with more dacs before deciding what to get for my travel outfit .

 

But one thing now seems clear to me .

 

I can get good sound, from my macbook pro!

 

But I´m still waiting for a lot more, really interesting, ie classical, material as hi rez downloads .

 

And of course a truly portable , high quality battery powered little firewire DAC.

 

Having just bought the Grado headphone amp and the GS 1000 headphones ,

I know that high quality in a small packet, can be done!

 

all the best Chrille

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Chrille:

 

I recently made a very similar test. A graphic artist who works for me also uses his Macbook Pro 17 with a Belcanto DAC and the Grado labs GS 1000 headphones & RA1 amp. He likes his music while working.

 

We got into a conversation about the quality of downloads and how well the Mac can reproduce them. So one Sunday we set up a comparison test at my home.

 

We started with SACDs and Studio Master downloads from the same source - Linn Records. Both the downloads were 24 bit/88.2 kHz FLAC files.

 

We started with listing to the MAC system using a Y adapter off the Grado RA1 amp to a pair of GS 1000 headphones. The first recording was the Hebrides Ensemble performing Oliver Messiaen: Chambers Works. the ensemble includes a cello, 2 violins, viola, flute, clarinet, and piano.

 

The second selection was Artur Pizarro and Vita Panomariovaite performing Rimsky-Korsakov Piano Duos. Just a remarkable piano duo concert.

 

Then we played the the SACD version on a Marantz SA-7S1 SACD/CD player, connected to a Mark Levinson No. 326S Pre Amplifier, and attached the Grado RA1 amp and GS 1000 headphones.

 

Next was the speaker comparison. The same SACD configuration as above (without the headphones) feeding two mark Levinson No. 436 monaural power amplifiers to a pair of MBL 101E-MK II speakers.

 

Then we connected the Macbook Pro with the Belcanto DAC to the Mark Levinson No. 326S Pre Amp and listened to the downloaded FLAC files through the speakers.

 

We made notes along the way, and repeated the test several times with selected tracks, just to pin down the differences.

 

First I must confirm your findings. We also experienced more brightness from the Macbook/Belcanto DAC combination. Like you state, not a huge Night & Day difference with the headphones, but it was definitely magnified on the MBL speakers.

 

We did uncover a major difference with the piano duo. The lower piano register on the SACD was markedly more detailed. One could hear and feel as if the pianos were right in the room. With the downloaded version on the Macbook, the pianos sounded like they were off in the distance, and the lower register notes were more smooth and muted, not like a piano hammer hitting the strings.

 

The second difference we noticed in detail was again with the piano duo. No two concert pianos sound exactly alike. With the SACD one could easily point out the different pianos. One had to listen intently to pick up on this nuance with the headphones on either version, but the speakers revealed more detail.

 

The difference between our test results and yours is due to audio components used. First, the McIntosh MCD 201 SACD player was good when introduced, but is now dated. The MCD 301 is much improved, and I hear the new MCD 500 is a leading edge, state-of-the-art SACD player that ranks with the best ever produced. My Marantz SA7 player is still the best one I have ever heard. The Tannoy speakers are undeniably good, but are basically entry level high end loudspeakers. However, the MBL 101E-MK II speakers are so unique, one audition will knock your shoes off.

 

So, the experiment left us with two questions. 1.) Are we listening to the limitations of the Macbook's ability to reproduce the FLAC files? Or, 2.) Is the music effected by the character of the Belcanto DAC.

 

Perhaps later this Fall we will have the opportunity to repeat our experiment using other DACs, and also include a Mac Pro with a sound board.

 

In my humble opinion, the combination of a Macbook Pro, with quality downloads, a good DAC, and the Grado GS 1000 headphones with the RA1 amp is an excellent sounding system. (Of course you know that one will not find better sounding headphones than the Grado GS 1000. They don't look like something form the Porsche Design Group, but they sound so good, who cares.) One would need to spend quite a sum for an audio system to match what you have assembled. And just think, you can pack everything into a shoulder bag. The next time someone tells me you cannot get good sound from a notebook computer, I will just smile and shake my head.

 

Daphne

 

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I suggest that you repeat your test with the test bench offerings from 2L. In general I would not expect 24/88.2 PCM files to sound superior to SACD DSD. The standard for high rez is usually accepted at 24/96 and some of us are convinced that digital will generally be inferior to other superior formats if it is less than 24/192.

 

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Since you seem to have access to some really good equipment and also seem to listen to music that matters to me.

 

Have you also tried to download all the testfiles at 2L and compared the different sampling rates and so on?

 

My short tests were limited to what I could play in iTunes ,ie 24/96 was the limit.

I haven´t downloaded anything from Linn but have some of their classical SACDs.

 

The recent Mozart symphonies set sounds good but not quite as good as some of my other DSD sourced SACDs.

 

 

Before I decide on which dac to buy and bring on my next long trip abroad as a photographer ,I would like to know if I will actually be able to hear a difference between 24/96 and 24/192 for example.

 

If you like piano music ,don´t miss the piano recording at 2L, Beeethoven´s last sonata ,or at least some nine minutes of it, in what to me, from listening to the 24/96 flac files, sounds like one of the most realistic recordings of a piano I have ever heard!

 

Plus of course, some of the greatest music ever composed for the instrument!

 

I know very well by now, that the Grados are really good. Maybe even better than my unfortunately now dead Electrostatic Jecklin Floats which were also very transparent.

 

And the Grados are much more comfortable as well.

 

The Sennheiser 650s now sound a bit muffled, restricted and coloured to me in comparison .

 

I had the best of reference points freshly at hand the week I made my comparisons.

 

I spent between 5-6 hours every day listening to live symphony orchestras during rehearsals and concerts at the Baltic Sea Music Festival in Stockholm.

 

I was, and still am, much more impressed by the Grados than any high end speaker I heard that week , including the Tannoy Prestige which sounded big, sure but also clearly boxy and coloured.

 

I was frankly a bit dissappointed by them and wouldn´t dream of buying them.

 

I will try and listen to the MBLs and the new Mcintosh as well.

 

I have also heard that MBL makes an SACD player. Have you heard it?

 

But the big buzz right now in SACD players seems to be either your SA-7S1 or the new Playback Design MP5 .

 

All the best and thanks for your interesting input.

Chrille

 

 

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Hi Chrille:

 

I have not had the opportunity to purchase a CD or make any downloads from 2L. I just discovered the site from reading this forum.

 

I have a question. Are you referring to the Mirror Canon, Tor Espen Aspaas piano CD with the black cover art. The one with Beethoven, Schonberg, Webern, Berg?

 

I have not heard the new McIntosh MCD 500 yet, but plan to. However, knowing McIntosh, it could be pricey. I spent months listening to CD/SACD players before purchasing the Marantz SA-7S1. I even looked at an MBL player.

 

I really like my MBL speakers, but they are a speaker company who recently introduced a line of electronic components. Everything they offer is ultra expensive, especially the electronics. Their new reference CD/SACD/DVD player sells for $27,500 U.S. Dollars. That is 4.2 times the amount I paid for the Marantz player. I do not believe it is 4 times better than the player I now have. I normally question any CD player costing over $10,000, and really doubt their worth when priced in excess of $20,000 and designed only to play Redbook.

 

Personally, I only know of one guy who has MBL equipment. He lives in New York City and purchased his system from a high end vendor in New Jersey. He has had a number of problems with the electronics, and from what I hear, so do many others. Vendors mail the units back to Germany to be repaired and it can take more than three months. I've also been told that MBL does not reply to e-mails or even answer the telephone. To this point I have had no direct experience with the company, or any problems with my speakers. However, one will not hear such stories about McIntosh.

 

I am very interested in your Macbook system. I also have a Macbook Pro 17 which I take everywhere and would love to have the ability to listen to music. My job requires traveling every year, usually from the the end of May or the first of June through the first week in October. It is a long time to be on the road, spending hours upon hours in trains, planes, and automobiles. I have almost made it around the world so far. Anyway, I would love to have a great portable audio system, and have witnessed just how good a Macbook Pro can perform. I already own the Grado GS 1000 headphones and battery powered Grado amp, but I have not downloaded any music yet, nor do I own a battery powered DAC. Also, I have been thinking about a small external hard drive. I will be home in about three weeks and have found a place on the internet located in Miami that sells DACs, like the portable units being discussed and I really look forward to reading your solution.

 

Around six years ago I met John Grado at a audio show in NYC. He had a high table set up with his line of headphones. Everyone could try out the different models. But his main attraction was the table with all the phono cartridges on display. All the old audiophiles in their late 60s were gathered, you know, the guys religiously devoted to vinyl. I had never heard headphones that sounded so good. One can listen to music for hours without your brain feeling like your head has been beaten with a phone book. (Also, Over the past few years I have found the excellent Grado RS 1 headphones make great gifts.)

 

I also attend classical concerts on a regular basis, around 10 each year, and 10 to 12 other performances ranging from musicals to solo artists, the ballet to even flamenco dancers and jazz groups. My parents started taking me and my sisters to the performing arts when I was 8 years of age. I was quickly hooked for life. Attending a live symphony, or any of the performing arts, is a wonderful experience in life. Perhaps that is the reason why we get excited over well recorded music, because it helps us to relive those precious moments. I have always had the feeling there is something magical about the whole event. The rush of anticipation on the journey to the concert hall (damm, sometimes it can be a real adventure getting there), the buzz of the audience finding their seats, the rustle of the programs, the orchestra members taking their place, the final tuning sounds, the applause as the conductor enters the stage, his taps and that minute of silence, then bam, what you waited for is delivered, and I always smile. I once thought myself foolish for such feelings, but now I know guys who will offer up the same description about a football game.

 

Daphne

 

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I use a lot of Apple equipment including a Macbook Pro and I have customers who travel all over the world with them watching movies and listening to Music. As I type, I'm listening to Brendel playing a Mozart piano concerto through it using the earphones supplied with an iPod. This particular track is lossless but Classical music doesn't have much HF in it, so compresses well if necessary.

 

IMO and the many I deal with, the sound quality from a Macbook Pro is surprisingly OK and I could (if I wasn't a manufacturer) list a series of so called hi end CD players that are far worse and yet well reviewed. PC's always seem poor by comparison, even Sony Vaios and other expensive ones.

 

I expect that the output stage of the Macbook Pro is Class D with a very limited dynamic range so must be used with the correct headphones (IE. from the Apple Store) and at an optimum volume setting. Two pairs in parallel will probably overload it and sound poor.

 

It's also important not to assume that SACD or 24 Bit will be better, because if the recordings are aren't well made, they can bettered by others made fifty years ago!. Neither is it correct to assume that spending more money will improve sound quality. It might produce a nicer looking and better mechanically constructed unit, but electronic components cost very little and are common to all. Also Apple is huge and can afford the best engineers, where the hi end is a cottage Industry and can't. 90% of the Linn downloads started life as 16 Bit or Analogue masters, so that's what they'll sound like.

 

It's also a mistake to take against compressed music because it can be useful and some full files sound worse. It's even possible to improve some overly bright recordings by turning them into MP3's.

 

My advice is to audition the best headphones available that are designed for iPods/Apple products and stream to an Aiport Express or Apple TV at home and use the digital output to a good DAC.

 

I'm a Classical Music enthusiast, I've had a love of hi fi all my life, I spent ten years on the Pro Audio side and have close links with those involved in all sorts of music production including quite a few famous names, but I still wouldn't express these opinions if they were mine alone. There seems to be an unwritten rule in Hi Fi that the more it costs, the better it sounds, when more often it means sending it half way round the world to get it repaired!

 

A few days ago I got a well written and entirely sensible email from someone who'd compared a variety of digital and analogue sources and discovered by accident that the analogue output from a $70 DVD player was better than one from a ludicrously expensive Music server. I sent it to Chris but couldn't possibly put it on a Forum. However it does show that it's important not to jump to conclusions.

 

Sound quality is difficult to quantify but I think you could look at it two ways. Equipment must be designed to reproduce as accurately as possible and not make recordings sounds worse. However, not all recordings are perfect though the musical performance might be; Pablo Casals for example. We still want to listen to them so the requirement is for distortion, such as it is, to be benign or inoffensive. Apple stuff is half way between the two categories at worst and there are lots of so-called bits of hi end that are worse IMO. Therefore it surely justifies it's place in serious Hi Fi.

 

Ashley

 

 

 

 

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Yes, I was referring to Mirror Canon or at least the part of it that is offered as a free download on the 2L testfile site.

I haven´t heard the SACD version yet ,and I don´t buy RBCDs at all.

But from reading the review at SA-CD.net it seems very good indeed, both performance-content-wise and the recording.

The reviewer also hailed it as one the best recordings he´d ever heard of a solo piano.

Unfortunately the whole disc isn´t available on 2L´s commercial downloadsite yet.

If it were I´d make it my first paid- for download.

So far I have only downloaded testfiles from 2L and HD TRACKS and played around a bit with them.

The HD TRACKS ones are basically old analogue recordings transferred from 4 track commercial tapes.

They seem VERY variable in quality IMHO.

 

I have also downloaded the free Bach Brandenburger Concertos set, all six, from Polish Radio,which were recently offered as 24/44 flac files .

 

Maybe not the last word in true HI FI quality either , but quite listenable nevertheless.

 

But the 2L testfiles sound really good to me and I hope they will keep offering more in the future.

When I was at Swedish Radio´s concerthall Berwaldhallen I also spoke to some people there who gave me CD with some samples of their latest in-house productions.

I told them about the free FLAC downloads from Polish Radio and asked them if they were planning to do anything similar?

They already do MP3, but they said they´d look into it.

With the added question do you mean for free?

I said not necessarilly, I´d be willing to pay for quality downloads.

Wouldn´t it be great if some of the world´s best Radio Stations offered their live concerts as HI Res Downloads?

There is unfortunately very little available in true hi res formats so far.

But I sure hope there will be lots .

Like you I spend a lot of time travelling , in my case as a photographer. Some years I spend more than 6 months away from home and not always with opportunities to listen to live music very often.

Live music performances are my Holy Grail so to say and luckily my work sometimes gives me opportunites to indulge myself .

During the Mozart anniversary year 2006 I spent nearly two months in Prague photographing and listening to live music on an almost daily basis.

It was a heavenly experience.

I do know the feeling!

And if, on top of fantastic performances of some of the greatest music there is, you also take into account that a glass of red wine at the Opera or at the Rudolfinum, costs around a Dollar! Instead of ten in Stockholm!

Made it even more heavenly.

I´m seriously thinking of moving to Prague.

 

All the best Chrille

 

 

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Chrille,

 

IMO, the Senns are not the problem. Grados, even the expensive ones, have a more "forward" presentation that sometimes sounds better upon immediate comparison (not unlike a very slight volume boost sometimes is perceived as "better"), but the 650s are more natural and present a more expansive sound stage and a broader, flatter FR. And they sound muffled to you because they're still not being properly driven. The X-Can is a much better amp for low impedance phones than for the uneven load of the 350 ohm Senn 650. Even the HP section of a really good integrated amp like a NAD would drive the 650s with more authority.The Gram Slee Solo is said to be a near perfect match. The Darkvoice 332 is another. On the road is going to be difficult. As I said, the Apogee Duet will give you a great sounding DAC and HP amp in a single box driven off of your firewire port. But I doubt it drives the voltage to truly satisfy the 650s.

 

ON EDIT: Here's a whole thread on the topic: http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f5/hd-650-perfect-amp-362283/

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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I don´t know if your response was intended for me personally or just your general observations.

 

Anyway, here´s my take on some of the things you mention.

 

Let me begin with your finishing line.

 

Yes indeed, I now agree with you there.

It certainly seems like Mac can be included in serious HI FI.

 

And yes again, I also never bought into the absolute bullshit that more expensive by definition has to be better.

 

I also agree with you that some really old recordings sometimes sound much better than modern digital ones.

 

Not to mention the musical qualities.

 

It was a quite sobering experience to be able to compare old LPs of legendary Living Stereo issues to some DSD reissues on SACD.

Mastertape copies on SACD are generally better sounding than at least my LP copies to me.

Have you heard Stoky´s Rhapsodies disc on RCA Living Stereo SACD ?

Dynamically compressed yes, but it still makes EMI´s recent Tristan - Abbey Road RBCD production sound thin and digital in comparison.

 

Like you I am also a classical music enthusiast.

 

And as you may have noted, my real reference is not really comparing recordings but live versus recorded.

 

Regarding my Mac I think my initial mistake was to use, difficult to drive, Headphones like the Sennheiser HD 650s with my Macbook Pro .

I obviously jumped to some wrong conclusions, but I have now since I started using the Grado GS 1000, strangely enough twice as expensive as my Sennheisers but anyway, enjoyed listening to some good quality recordings via my Mac Book Pro.

 

I even have the mid fifties mono Karajan Glenn Gould in Beethoven´s third piano concerto on my hard drive. Hardly Hi Fi, by today´s standards but musically, Wow.

 

But I don´t quite understand how you can conclude that because Apple can afford the best engineers, their products also by definiton must be better .

 

Let´s face it what they actually care about like so many others in this business, they´re in it to make money!

 

And they will save a penny wherever they can !

 

It would be the easiest thing in the world for Apple to include both better amps and dacs and quality recording capacity in a product they label Pro.

 

If only they cared!

 

The problem is they don´t really seem to care .

 

The masses who listen to pop -rock ,hip hop and heavy metal ,muzak or whatever , are happy with compressed MP3 music on iTunes.

 

But I am not!

 

And if they had indeed included true pro quality from the beginning, who would need to buy all the extra merchandise we discuss here?

 

I also get to hear not only a lot of live classical music but also live feeds from classical recording sessions sometimes, and I DO KNOW what sounds closer to what I heard in the concert hall minutes before !

Provided that the recording team has done their job reasonably well ,there is no doubt at all to me, that both 24/96 and DSD sound clearly better, more natural and realistic than both 16/44 or any MP3 compression.

I don´t think I am alone there , I think most, if not all, recording engineers in the classical business would agree with me.

Including a couple of quite known conductors, musicians and at least one modern composer I have spoken to at concerts and recording sessions.

 

I would also contrary to what you say, argue, that the type of music that does NOT compress well is classical!!!

 

IMO there are several reasons for this, one being the often staggering dynamic range from the romantics to present day !!

I´m not really talking Mozart piano concertos here, although like you I love both them and Brendel´s recordings of them.

I heard him playing Mozart live at the Proms a few years back and NO recording will beat that experience.

 

Nor do I agree with you that classical music doesn´t contain any real HF information.

On the contrary I would say that some percussive instruments like cymbals and

triangles, and brass probably contain more real high frequency energy than any instruments used in pop- rock music.

And those instrument are together with strings the very ones that often sound compromised with RBCD and MP3.

I´m not really that technically minded ,but someone who seems to be, mentioned phase changes in the HF region as a culprit in low quality low res PCM sound in this thread recently.

Also, IMO the more that is going on i.e. the more instruments that are playing together at one given moment in time, the denser the scoring , the greater the mess made of it in any low res format!

Two things RBCD never has been able to do right to my ears are really really loud and the opposite really really low level .

FFF and above on RBCD sounds unrealistic congested and distorted to me and a lot of microdynamics and fine nuances of a true ppp simply haven´t been captured at all or only randomly.

 

I don´t know about you, but at 59 I still hear crickets clearly.

 

all the best Chrille

 

 

 

 

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Chrille

 

Remarks were general and an attempt to put things into perspective. IMO far too much importance is being attached to new, high resolution formats and people are being far too hard on Compressed music. Like everyone interested in accurate sound reproduction, I'm all for anything that improves things, but these improvements must be seen against the facts.

 

A spectrum analyser will show that most of the energy in classical music is concentrated around middle C or 257 Hz and up to a peak of around 1 kHz, from then on it declines to almost nothing at 5 khz. To make it appear louder, most Pop has the 1-3 kHz region deliberately exaggerated and so has far more HF in it than natural sound and traditional instruments.

 

A 1" tweeter will produce up to well over 20 kHz on axis but off, there is very little above 10-12kHz. Therefor the combination of your hearing's loss of sensitivity, a reduction in the output of the music and the tweeters lower levels of energy at these frequencies, means that for all practical purposes we don't hear a lot in music above 6 kHz.

 

As for recordings, it's true that loads of pop stuff is concentrated within 10-15 dB of full level, but the best and most classical ones are using about 45 dB of the available dynamic range. Analogue tape gave us 60 dB, 16 Bit 110dB and 24 Bit 120 dB. In the best digital recordings, the noise is about 80dB down for a variety of reasons. So if you buy a recording made using old Mikes, Mixing Consoles, effects and tape recordings, it's going to have less than 11 Bit resolution even if it's sold as SACD or 24 Bit. There is no benefit, yet many of the present recordings are just that. Chris will know better than I, those that are not.

 

IMO, time will tell and for reasons explained above, there would not appear to be any reason why 24 Bit should sound much better than 16 Bit, although 16 Bit is a good deal better (though many producers would argue to the death the other way) than analogue Tape recorders. Gimmell are selling full 24 Bit recordings of a high standard as I believe are Reference recordings and these are worth evaluating, but do bear in mind that they are both making simple recordings that always sound good anyway. By this I mean simple microphone techniques and a minimum of equipment, the problems come when large numbers of mikes are used for multi track recordings with lots of tonal and other manipulations in them. In these you can expect to acquire far more noise and distortion, which will be less if more bits are used to start with. I think the big advantages that you may be able to hear will come with these.

 

I also think that many people are doing less well with compressed music than they need to because their equipment is less good than they believe, otherwise I can't see why they are so angry about it. Computers give us access far more music than ever before, much of it compressed, but too interesting to miss. My advice to anyone who is finding it unpleasant is to try out other systems to see where the fault lies.

 

I'm glad that a better match of headphone gave you the very respectable sound quality Apple computers are capable of.

 

I'm 62 so all too aware of the limitations of geriatric hearing! At 35 the average male's hearing has lost 10 dB of its sensitivity at 3 kHz and it goes on declining thereafter. Our brain does additional computation to make up for the loss of information in this important region. Sadly that isn't the only problem, we simultaneously acquire an intolerance of high SPLs, which believe it or not is why high quality sound reproduction becomes so important as we age. The clearer the sound, the easier it is to hear a lower volumes and more we can listen and enjoy for longer. This is why I resent and detest so strongly the way hi fi reviewers in the UK have forgotten science and logic and started to hear differences between mains, speaker cables and many other things which either make no or such tiny differences as not to be worthy of consideration and it hasn't stopped there; It's easy to show very high levels of distortion exist in vinyl and yet for years, arguments have been advanced that suggest it's better than CD, it's not, it's much worse than an Analogue Master tape that is was taken from and altered so that it would play. All this crap has left sizeable quantities of people disillusioned with hi fi when, had they been given useful information, they might have derived enormous benefit from it.

 

Apple is a huge company that provides beautiful and extremely reliable computers, PMPs etc and in the main its sound quality is rather better than PCs and to an acceptable standard. Most of these have a digital output and if you read around, they expect professionals and audiophiles to use external DACs, which is better than cramming them into the hostile environment that is a computer. According to knowledgeable friends on the Pro side, their Music software is the best and they are responsible, through Mr Jobs, for Pixar Studios movies and other film software of great importance. It's a huge, incredibly successful concern whose growth is meteoric. By comparison, most high end companies are tiny, often don't have properly trained engineers and also may hang their name on a single product; A DAC or whatever. Therefore punters need to be more wary of them (AVI included!) than Apple IMO.

 

I hope this lot makes sense, I'm ready to be corrected and I hope I haven't offended anyone because that is never my intention, all I enjoy doing is passing on my perception of things in the belief that at least some of it is right.

 

Ashley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 5 months later...

Recomendations:

 

1) avoid Apple-Lossless (ALAC)

2) rip with error correction on in iTunes

3) download the latest iTunes - the ripper is fixed

4) Use a reclocker before the DAC - jitter is actually more important than the DAC

5) choose your DAC carefully. The reviews are all over the map and cannot be trusted IMO

6) avoid a separate preamp/volume control if possible, but do not use only digital control for volume

 

Expectations:

 

1) a good computer audio system with low-jitter should match or beat your best CD and SACD playback

 

 

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

 

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