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Where Are We Going From Here?


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In another thread, Mike Moffat posted a comment about a number of topics, and one I'd like to chat more about is where we go from here. Mike's focus was mainly on the media, but I'm interested in other aspects as well, including playback equipment. To start off the thread, here's a portion of Mike's comment. I'll follow up with one of mine.

 

What else? How about what we don't build. How do we decide? I look at the 125 year history of audio. I have been alive through just over half of that. Let me begin with a short description of an audio reproduction system - how about a collection of media with a playback device or system proper to that media. The keyword is media. Up until a dozen years or so ago, the media was owned or borrowed, but since then rented (streamed) media has become more popular. The elephant in this room is that whatever type/style of media has to be produced byentities beyond the control of those of us in the audio reproduction business. That is, the music providers are those in primary controlof media.

 

In the entire history of audio playback, there have been five major transitions in media:

 

1. Cylinder to flat 78 RPM records

2. 78 RPM to primarily 33 and secondarily 45 RPM records.

3. Mono to compatible Stereo records

4. Stereo Records to Stereo Digital Compact Discs

5. Stereo Digital Compact Discs to Stereo Downloaded/Streamed Audio

(Inall fairness, the last transition above includes lossy formats (MP3).Those of interest to audiophiles would be lossless such as PCM orFLAC.))

 

All of these transitions required a complete repurchase of old media to utilize the new. Since the majority of audio enthusiasts had more invested in media than their reproduction, there is an enormous amount of inertia/resistance to change in any transition of media.This resistance to change extends to those who are in the business of providing the media. The importance of this fact is not to be taken lightly. This is exactly why there have been so few changes in audioformats.

 

Here is a list of (by no means complete) of consumer audio failed format proposals: Four track cartridges, eight track cartridges, open reel tapes, mini cassette, microcassette, elcaset, deutsche cassette, sq quadraphonic, cd-4 quadraphonic, qs-matrix quadraphonic, surround sound audio, DAT, digital compact cassette, mini-discs, DVD-Audio,SACD, HDCD, and Blu-ray high fidelity pure audio. On probable deathwatch is DSD, whether it deserves it or not. What all of the above formats have in common its hat not one of them had a complete (or even near complete) catalog of music already available on the prior existing format. The above list is a perfect example of that definition of insanity by doing the same thing repeatedly expecting different results. (I should talk – I suckered myself into making a DSD product – the Loki)

 

I've been fascinated watching the audio press rolling over and wetting themselves with excitement every time one of these new format proposals requiring a re-buy of software is rolled out. The latest is MQA. Never have so many words been written about such an under-documented concept. You can bet Schiit will be a late MQA adopter only after some significant portion of the current software catalog is offered in MQA format. I think such enthusiasm excitement happens because our industry is largely bereft of significant breakthroughs. The press worries that their competition will out-scoop them, then the manufacturers race each other in a frenzy which produces dozens of new products of limited utility. I am sanguine, even yawning, until I can either download or stream MQA from companies such as, but not limited to, Amazon or Apple. After that lengthy policy argument, we produce for 99% of the market. Helps keep prices down.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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The above list is a perfect example of that definition of insanity by doing the same thing repeatedly expecting different results. (I should talk – I suckered myself into making a DSD product – the Loki)

 

Hi Jud

That part isn't likely to sit too well with many members including yourself ?

Regards

Alex

 

How a Digital Audio file sounds, or a Digital Video file looks, is governed to a large extent by the Power Supply area. All that Identical Checksums gives is the possibility of REGENERATING the file to close to that of the original file.

PROFILE UPDATED 13-11-2020

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It's a shame that DSD could go the way of the dodo. Have enjoyed it immensely but as Mike says there really isn't that much of a catalog out there relative to PCM. I really like DSD but it's also a hog on system resources not to mention storage space.

 

What next? I really like HQPlayer type software fronted by chipless DACs. That way I get to use my material and upsample/process them to whatever else the next big thing will be.

Win10 Transport + Fidelizer 8.7 + JRMC 28 & HQPlayer | Mutec MC-3+ Smart Clock USB |  Job INT | Green Mountain Audio Eos HX

 

 

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In another thread, Mike Moffat posted a comment about a number of topics, and one I'd like to chat more about is where we go from here. Mike's focus was mainly on the media, but I'm interested in other aspects as well, including playback equipment. To start off the thread, here's a portion of Mike's comment. I'll follow up with one of mine.

 

A good post and it is a privilege to have an Audio designer such as Mike Moffat posting here at CA but there are a couple of things I must disagree with:

 

-SACD is not dead as there are still quite a lot of new releases, especially classical music and you can buy very good new SACD players from companies such as Esoteric, Luxman or Accuphase;

 

-If DSD will die or not that remains to be seen...not sure it is fair to say it is on death watch;

 

- To say that MQA will not be a concern until companies like Apple or Amazon stream or sell the format makes not a lot of sense IMO. AFAIK they don't stream or sell lossless downloads and that has not prevented audiophiles from buying lossless downloads or renting lossless streaming services from other companies...

 

- I'm not sure if selling direct is the only way or even the best way to sell a great product at great prices. There are companies that sell great products at reasonable prices and use a traditional distribution model.

 

-To say that Schiit produces for 99% of the market may be too optimistic. I really doubt that only 1% of potential DAC buyers care about DSD or volume control or the possibility of testing a DAC in a brick and mortar shop.

I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.-

Groucho Marx

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In another thread, Mike Moffat posted a comment about a number of topics, and one I'd like to chat more about is where we go from here. Mike's focus was mainly on the media, but I'm interested in other aspects as well, including playback equipment. To start off the thread, here's a portion of Mike's comment. I'll follow up with one of mine.

 

A great question. TBH my impression is that this forum has hit the buffers somewhat of late, full of inward looking theoretical polls, meaningless DAC arguments etc rather than much in the way of practical debate and developments to take the subject forward. I guess part of the problem for your question is 1. Who are "we" and 2. where is "here" .

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My music library is Redbook only.

Moving abroad forced me into computer audio and my goal now is to attain the best possible reproduction of the extracted files within my monetary limits.

Most of the recordings I have bought recently are not (yet?) available in High Res, but they can be had for 2 or 3 £ used.

But those Redbook files are up-resed by the playback software and this means I can benefit from developments in D/A conversion.

 

I have been using customised non-commercial electronics for about a decade now, a custom designed minimalist integrated amplifier and a modified/optimized CD player until recently.

In my experience one can get a much better performance/cost ratio with such gear.

At the moment I have been getting my electronics from a friend, but he's about to go commercial and this could change things.

I might be forced to conquer my inertia and learn how to do it myself instead of having someone do it for me.

 

Mario's sample files convinced me of the audible superiority of high-res, but for me the increased resolution doesn't justify the price difference.

If prices drop, I might replace some of my CDs and start buying new recordings in higher resolution.

 

R

"Science draws the wave, poetry fills it with water" Teixeira de Pascoaes

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My music library is Redbook only.

Moving abroad forced me into computer audio and my goal now is to attain the best possible reproduction of the extracted files within my monetary limits.

Most of the recordings I have bought recently are not (yet?) available in High Res, but they can be had for 2 or 3 £ used.

But those Redbook files are up-resed by the playback software and this means I can benefit from developments in D/A conversion.

 

I have been using customised non-commercial electronics for about a decade now, a custom designed minimalist integrated amplifier and a modified/optimized CD player until recently.

In my experience one can get a much better performance/cost ratio with such gear.

At the moment I have been getting my electronics from a friend, but he's about to go commercial and this could change things.

I might be forced to conquer my inertia and learn how to do it myself instead of having someone do it for me.

 

Mario's sample files convinced me of the audible superiority of high-res, but for me the increased resolution doesn't justify the price difference.

If prices drop, I might replace some of my CDs and start buying new recordings in higher resolution.

 

R

I would have hoped more than resolution that Mario's files would have convinced regarding good recording techniques with minimalist processing.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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I think Moffat has it just about right. Software playback had allowed things like multiple DSD to have a chance and MQA to seem almost viable. Not to mention PCM hirez to at least DXD levels. Chip makers have been able to Incorporate all this and more. Yet hirez hasn't really taken off. It has had a good chance. Yet remains a sliver of a sliver in the market. The catalogue just isn't there.

 

What has worked is networked playback and all the hardware and software related to that. That's where we are going. Whether streaming subscriptions or cloud based setups.

 

Hirez, Pono, DSD, MQA just have not reached escape velocity. I really would hate for most DACs to end up like AVRs. All having to support a couple dozen formats instead of one good one : PCM.

 

Virtually all music in studios is being recorded in 44/24. Videos in 48/24. A DAC doing this only and very well with good facilities to interface with software and networked sources is all that is needed. I'll throw in 96/24 for good measure.

 

I have regularly joked about it, but seriously what sample rate is enough? We already have DSD 512 and DXD. Do we really think no matter how high we go it gets better? Really,?

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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I would have hoped more than resolution that Mario's files would have convinced regarding good recording techniques with minimalist processing.

 

I agree with that.

In fact I believe that it's thanks to Mario's minimalist recording technique that I am able to recognise the increased fidelity of the high resolution files.

 

I listen mainly to classical music and fortunately this genre is quite well served in terms of sound quality (despite some bright and/or close-mic'ed recordings/labels).

But if I had to choose I'd rather have lower resolution and adequately distanced mic'ing with naturally warm balance.

 

R

"Science draws the wave, poetry fills it with water" Teixeira de Pascoaes

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Virtually all music in studios is being recorded in 44/24. Videos in 48/24. A DAC doing this only and very well with good facilities to interface with software and networked sources is all that is needed. I'll throw in 96/24 for good measure.

 

This might be true for pop and rock but I guess that classical and probably a lot of jazz recordings are made in high-res.

 

R

"Science draws the wave, poetry fills it with water" Teixeira de Pascoaes

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This might be true for pop and rock but I guess that classical and probably a lot of jazz recordings are made in high-res.

 

R

The percentages may be higher but are still a very small part of the whole market of recordings even in those genres.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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It's a shame that DSD could go the way of the dodo. Have enjoyed it immensely but as Mike says there really isn't that much of a catalog out there relative to PCM. I really like DSD but it's also a hog on system resources not to mention storage space.

 

What next? I really like HQPlayer type software fronted by chipless DACs. That way I get to use my material and upsample/process them to whatever else the next big thing will be.

 

I haven't read much or listened to any chip less DACs yet but aren't they plagued by ultrasonic noise?

If there aren't any shortcomings, why aren't they yet available commercially?

Is it the tiny size of the market?

 

R

"Science draws the wave, poetry fills it with water" Teixeira de Pascoaes

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I think Moffat has it just about right. Software playback had allowed things like multiple DSD to have a chance and MQA to seem almost viable. Not to mention PCM hirez to at least DXD levels. Chip makers have been able to Incorporate all this and more. Yet hirez hasn't really taken off. It has had a good chance. Yet remains a sliver of a sliver in the market. The catalogue just isn't there.

 

What has worked is networked playback and all the hardware and software related to that. That's where we are going. Whether streaming subscriptions or cloud based setups.

 

Hirez, Pono, DSD, MQA just have not reached escape velocity. I really would hate for most DACs to end up like AVRs. All having to support a couple dozen formats instead of one good one : PCM.

 

Virtually all music in studios is being recorded in 44/24. Videos in 48/24. A DAC doing this only and very well with good facilities to interface with software and networked sources is all that is needed. I'll throw in 96/24 for good measure.

 

I have regularly joked about it, but seriously what sample rate is enough? We already have DSD 512 and DXD. Do we really think no matter how high we go it gets better? Really,?

 

I listen mostly to classical music. Most is PCM but I do have some stuff in DSD.

 

Why should I restrict myself in buying a DAC that can't play some of the formats that are already available and that I now have?

 

I think it is better to be prudent and have a DAC that is also capable of playing formats that may not really take off than to have a DAC that is certainly not capable of playing formats that may or may not take off.

I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.-

Groucho Marx

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The percentages may be higher but are still a very small part of the whole market of recordings even in those genres.

 

Are you sure?

 

I was under the impression that we are getting more and more hirez recordings and even when there is just a redbook release you have hirez masters.

I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.-

Groucho Marx

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Are you sure?

 

I was under the impression that we are getting more and more hirez recordings and even when there is just a redbook release you have hirez masters.

 

Not really. The last album I bought was Joe Bonamassa - Blues Of Desperation. Its available in vinyl, but no high res. Not that I would have bought it, I'm perfectly content with audio CD, but just saying not all releases get high res along with redbook. Not even the new ones.

 

I've a little over 2400 CDs, for the most part all are available on Amazon, nothing like out of print/issue (at least not I'd think). One could also get quite a bit of them in vinyl. Maybe not on Amazon and not new ones, but enough of them in second hand stores/thrift shops, Ebay, etc.

 

Pretty certain you'd find only a fraction of them in high res.

Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world - Martin Luther

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Something that greatly interested me about Mike's comment was the notion of transition. Mike talked about transitions in media, which made me think about transitions in playback. Although Computer Audiophile has been around a while, I think we're just beginning to think about how two huge disruptors of the modern economy and world at large - the Web and software, particularly open source - are going to affect our hobby.

 

Mike's company makes DACs (and other stuff as well, but let's focus on the DACs). These of course have been at the center of digital/computer audio, since they transform the bits to music.

 

DACs have, until a short while ago, been self-contained boxes. But now software is beginning to split up and simplify their functions.

 

There are now several software players on the market (not coincidentally, I think, they are among the most popular players with computer audiophiles) that offer filtering separate from anything in a physical DAC. There are greater or lesser degrees of customizability, involving either or both different filters or filters with customizable parameters. At least one, sox, offers these capabilities in open source software.

 

We've always had DIY around, but reasonably new is the idea of DIY DACs that make heavy use of software filtering, e.g. Miska's DSC1 (see Signalyst and Signalyst DSC1 - diyAudio). These have the potential of offering extremely competitive performance at quite low cost (the parts estimate for the DSC1 is in the $400 range).

 

The DSC1 is under the Open Hardware license (CERN Open Hardware Licence - Cernohl - Open Hardware Repository). Already people have begun chiming in with ideas to move input away from the USB interface to one just as common but perhaps less subject to problems: Ethernet.

 

I think the culture of DIY is getting a real kick start from the Web, see, e.g, Make: DIY Projects and Ideas for Makers |.

 

Where might all these threads start coming together? Anybody remember - or build - Heathkits? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heathkit) It seems to me something like that approach, though more Web-based, is very possible now for DACs. The instructions for building the kit, as well as how to make your own filters with sox, along with suggested parameters for typical filters, could easily be provided via the Web, and printed down by anyone wanting a hard copy.

 

Will this take over the market from pre-built audio equipment? Hardly. What it may help do, though, is two things:

 

- De-mystify and perhaps lower the price of pre-built DACs.

 

- Like the old Heathkits, inspire a new generation of audio entrepreneurs and enthusiasts.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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Speaking of Heathkit - who will be the first DAC manufacturer to borrow an idea (and the vast community goodwill it generates) from Nelson Pass's "Amp Camp" (My Day at Amp Camp | Make: DIY Projects and Ideas for Makers) and have a "DAC Camp" for audiophiles? Hold it in conjunction with RMAF? How popular do you think that might be - not only come listen to the latest equipment, but wind up with your own not too shabby DAC for parts cost and a little time?

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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Not really. The last album I bought was Joe Bonamassa - Blues Of Desperation. Its available in vinyl, but no high res. Not that I would have bought it, I'm perfectly content with audio CD, but just saying not all releases get high res along with redbook. Not even the new ones.

 

I've a little over 2400 CDs, for the most part all are available on Amazon, nothing like out of print/issue (at least not I'd think). One could also get quite a bit of them in vinyl. Maybe not on Amazon and not new ones, but enough of them in second hand stores/thrift shops, Ebay, etc.

 

Pretty certain you'd find only a fraction of them in high res.

 

I see but please note that I was thinking more about classical music.

I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.-

Groucho Marx

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Audiophile is a niche market, I'm just about the only "audiophile" in all of my friends, family, colleagues, etc. Everybody is happy with mp3, streaming on the internet/smartphone, Spotify (free for 99% of them), etc.

 

High res is a niche within a niche, unlikely it will ever reach critical mass and even if it did within the audiophile niche, the numbers are still going to stay small.

 

It's amazing Schiit shipped over 50,000 units last year, that's an excellent number for a niche market like audiophiles, but most importantly the numbers would be high in the entry level range like the $150 Modi Uber 2.

 

Think how many DACs would have sold in the $1,000-$2,000 range, $2,000-$5,000 range, or say the $5,000-$15,000 range.

 

Think how many of those would have sold primarily for DSD capability or DSD-only DACs.

 

Schiit is actually a better selling brand among all the audiophiles I know and interact with on forums, audio meetups, shootouts, etc. I've seen and heard one Mytek, one exaSound, and a couple of Chord DACs. Schiit's and yes the Modi Uber, and a few Bifrost and Gungnir I've run into.

 

I simply don't see the numbers ever adding up and in all probability the DAC market will end up as the AVR market, Jack of all, master of none.

Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world - Martin Luther

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I see but please note that I was thinking more about classical music.

 

Classical has always had high res. Jazz too. Just not the mainstream folks who are into rock, blues, pop, etc.

 

It would be interesting to see how the classical listeners stack up against the rock listeners (or pop, blues, etc.), I mean in terms of numbers.

 

CA is one of the few places (at least in terms of forums) where quite a few are into classical. Most other places (online) are mainly into mainstream genres like rock.

Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world - Martin Luther

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Audiophile is a niche market, I'm just about the only "audiophile" in all of my friends, family, colleagues, etc. Everybody is happy with mp3, streaming on the internet/smartphone, Spotify (free for 99% of them), etc.

 

High res is a niche within a niche, unlikely it will ever reach critical mass and even if it did within the audiophile niche, the numbers are still going to stay small.

 

It's amazing Schiit shipped over 50,000 units last year, that's an excellent number for a niche market like audiophiles, but most importantly the numbers would be high in the entry level range like the $150 Modi Uber 2.

 

Think how many DACs would have sold in the $1,000-$2,000 range, $2,000-$5,000 range, or say the $5,000-$15,000 range.

 

Think how many of those would have sold primarily for DSD capability or DSD-only DACs.

 

Schiit is actually a better selling brand among all the audiophiles I know and interact with on forums, audio meetups, shootouts, etc. I've seen and heard one Mytek, one exaSound, and a couple of Chord DACs. Schiit's and yes the Modi Uber, and a few Bifrost and Gungnir I've run into.

 

Here in Europe I think Schiit is pretty small in terms of numbers. I guess Chord or even M2Tech will out sell them significantly.

None of my friends have a Schiit DAC.

 

I guess their distribution model, lack of DSD support and lack of volume control don't help .

I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.-

Groucho Marx

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CA is one of the few places (at least in terms of forums) where quite a few are into classical. Most other places (online) are mainly into mainstream genres like rock.

 

I agree.

In other forums I visit rock and pop are definitely the most represented genre.

 

R

"Science draws the wave, poetry fills it with water" Teixeira de Pascoaes

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Classical has always had high res. Jazz too. Just not the mainstream folks who are into rock, blues, pop, etc.

 

It would be interesting to see how the classical listeners stack up against the rock listeners (or pop, blues, etc.), I mean in terms of numbers.

 

CA is one of the few places (at least in terms of forums) where quite a few are into classical. Most other places (online) are mainly into mainstream genres like rock.

 

A year or two I saw figures that showed jazz and classical together were about 5-6% of the total sales of music. Now take that hi-res is a small part of that....

 

edit: quick look for figures showed this. Not exact agreement, but the overall picture is clear:

• U.S. music album sales by genre 2014 | Statistic

Nielson Study Reveals Rock Prevails As Most Popular Genre In The US - hypebot

• UK album sales: genre breakdown 2014 | Statistic

 

I think what I saw earlier included Europe, where Jazz and Classical are small, but a much larger percentage than in the US.

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Listening: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Matrix Element i Streamer/DAC (XLR)+Schiit Freya>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: RPi 3B+ running RoPieee to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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