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Everything posted by JoshM

  1. Speaking of direct mode, is there any chance @damien78 of it returning to Mac without the work-around? I’d been able to successfully do the workaround in the past, but when I upgraded to Mojave I couldn’t get the workaround to work even after three tries.
  2. Apologies if I’ve missed it, but have there been announced changes in terms of audio processing with 3.5? Anyone have any subjective thoughts on sound version previous versions? Finally, both 3.5 and older versions can be installed simultaneously, correct?
  3. Great piece @DuckToller. I, too, have mixed feelings about Class D, but I agree some manufacturers are overcoming many of its shortcomings. Your piece makes me want to hear the S300. I’d also be curious to hear your thoughts on the “Class H” Differential Reference amp from Emotiva if you ever get a chance to audition one... https://emotiva.com/products/xpa-dr2
  4. With Focal headphones (and KEF speakers, for that matter) there are always a contingent of people who describe them as having a “metallic” sound because they don’t like metal drivers. In my view, a good metal driver can sound incredibly realistic (lots of instruments are metal, after all!). But some people just don’t like what they perceive as the “sheen” of Focal headphones or KEF speakers. I think the driver material issue is different from frequency response. It’s hard to look at my measurements or Jude’s measurements and conclude that the Elegia is brighter than the Clear or Elex. Now, as with many closed headphones, seal is crucial. So it could be that some people wearing glasses or with various face shapes don’t get a good seal with the Elegia, thereby reducing the low end and making them seem bright or shouty. In terms of my comment about detail retrieval, I’m not at all surprised the Clear out-resolves the Elegia. It’s open versus closed and a higher MSRP versus a lower one. For a closed headphone and for the price, the Elegia’s detail retrieval and realism is outstanding.
  5. Nice to hear positive impressions of the Stellia. It doesn't seem that many people have it in their hands yet. I've also read some negative takes on the Stellia's looks. (Someone compared it to a glazed chocolate donut!) But I like the looks. (Of course, I like glazed chocolate donuts, too! 🤣)
  6. I haven’t heard the Stellia, but I’d love to. According to Jude’s measurements, they’re a little more U-shaped than the Elegia, which makes me somewhat skeptical at that price point. But Focal’s won a lot of trust from me. Even the issues with the Elear were minor. In terms of price and target market, the Stellia and the HD820 are apples-to-apples, but that’s why I was so impressed by the fact that the Elegia outshines the HD820 at a much lower price point.
  7. Focal’s Elegia Is a Clear Winner As mentioned in my January review of the Sennheiser HD820 and HD800S, more and more headphone companies these days are attempting to turn their most well-received open-back headphones into audiophile-quality closed-back cans. But there’s a reason why most flagship headphones are open. As Sennheiser’s former lead designer Axel Grell has explained, “Open type headphones are better by principle because sound that is radiated by the diaphragm to the rear can leave the system and the sound that is reflected from the ear can also leave the system.” In closed designs, rear reflections introduce a whole host of problems that make creating a quality closed can more complex than simply sealing off the cups in a successful open-back design. The uneven reception that greeted the flawed-but-impressive HD820 illustrates the perils of the task facing even the most innovative headphone companies and ingenious engineers. With the Elegia (U.S. MSRP of $900) and the Stellia (U.S. MSRP of $3,000), Focal has released two competitors to Sennheiser’s HD820 aimed at audiophiles seeking the best sound from closed-back headphones. This review will focus on the former, more modestly priced entrant. In 2016, Focal introduced the Elear and Utopia. For many audiophiles, it was a shot across the bow of Sennheiser in a battle for audiophile headphone supremacy, with the Elear lining up as a challenger to Sennheiser’s HD600 line and the Utopia taking aim at the HD800. In designing the Elear and Utopia, Focal endeavored to place “a full range loudspeaker in a pair of headphones.” Both used Focal’s unique “M”-shaped dome — aluminum-magnesium for the Elear and beryllium for the Utopia. The Elear and Utopia were also remarkably stylish, with aluminum yokes, leather headbands, and a simple, classic cup shape. Likewise, the wide padded headband and firm, but not overwhelming, clamping force meant that Focal’s new line was comfortable for most head shapes without the need for aftermarket padding. Some reviewers justifiably critiqued the Elear’s slight upper-midrange “suckout” and the Utopia’s eyewatering price, but the clarity, speed, tonal accuracy, and comfort of Focal’s new line made it easy to look at the company and think, “Man, somebody knows a hell of a lot about headphones over there,” as InnerFidelity’s Tyll Hertsens wrote at the time. In late-2017, Focal released the Clear, which landed between the Elear and Utopia in terms of both price and frequency response, correcting some of the most common complaints about each of Focal’s previous offerings. In the process, Focal also lowered the Clear’s impedance to 55 Ohms, down from the Elear and Utopia’s 80 Ohms, making the Clear easy to drive with portable DAPs and DAC/amp USB dongles. With the Clear, Focal also replaced the foam padded cardboard case that had come with the Elear and Utopia with a beautiful, fabric-covered molded hard-shell case. Around the same time that Focal introduced the Clear, it also unveiled the Elex, a partnership with Massdrop. The Elex took the Elear and tweaked it, both visually and in sound signature (thanks to a different set of pads). While the Elex lacked some of the Clear’s “raw technical performance,” as Ian Dunmore put it in his apt rave review of the Clear, and didn’t come with the Clear’s luxurious hard-shell case, the Elex nonetheless brought the Elear’s somewhat wonky frequency response into line with the Clear’s neutral signature at a fraction of the Clear’s price, making the Elex one of the best bargains in high-end headphones. While Focal had released four superb entrants into the open-back audiophile market in a span of two years, its closed back Listen releases had been aimed at the portable mid-fi market dominated by the likes of Beats and Audio-Technica. The introduction of the Elegia and Stellia late last year changed that. Drawing a clear line between the Listen and the Elegia and Stellia, Focal has referred to the latter two cans as the company’s “first closed-back high-end headphones.” So how did Focal fare in its foray into the audiophile closed-back market? Unlike the Elear, Utopia, and Elex, the Elegia comes with the same high-quality molded hard-shell case as the Clear, as well as 4-foot 3.55 mm cable. If there’s anything worth quibbling with when it comes to the Elegia’s accessories, it’s that the fabric-covered cable can be stiff, making an aftermarket cable a consideration, if not a necessity, for those who prefer more flexibility, As its name might suggest, the Elegia’s silver-and-black color scheme ensures that, at least physically, the Elegia closely resembles the Elear. In place of the latter’s black metal mesh cups, the Elegia features rigid plastic cups. The metal Focal logo on the Elegia’s cups feature vents to allow for dissipation of the low frequencies, while an EVA foam pad inside the cups absorbs high frequency reflections. Finally, the dimples on the outside of the cups correspond with diffusers on the inside of the cups designed to “spread the residual energy homogeneously through the overall space.” According to Focal, the “main objective” of the multi-method decompression and damping is “to prevent the energy emitted by the back wave from returning to the speaker driver cone and thus turning into an additional unwanted sound signal.” But while the Elegia’s name and appearance suggest that it’s a closed-back Elear, the Elegia’s sound falls much closer to the Elex and Clear than the Elear. Measuring closed cans can be much trickier than taking stock of their open counterparts. Getting a good seal is paramount, and small changes in placement can dramatically affect results. After repeated attempts to get a representative measurement of the Elegia with my MiniDSP EARS, I landed on the below, which compares the Elegia (black) and Clear (blue): My EARS unit has been calibrated with a slightly modified version of Marv from SBAF’s compensation curve, where a flat frequency response is represented by a flat line. While the EARS holds its own against much pricier measurement rigs, the EARS does have its limits and oddities. One of those oddities is its protruding screws, which made getting a good seal with some closed cans difficult, likely accentuating some of the deviations from neutrality, particularly at the extremes of the frequency spectrum. For that reason, it’s worth taking a look at Jude from Head-Fi’s Elegia measurements taken with his GRAS system. While the overall story is roughly similar, his measurements show much smaller differences between the Clear’s FR and the Elegia’s FR than my measurements, and subjectively I think his come much closer to accurately representing the Elegia’s sound. While the Elegia has a few more dramatic dips above 3k Hz than either the Elex or Clear does, the Elegia doesn’t feature any deviation from neutral as notable as the Elear’s upper-mids “suckout.” The gradual dip between 3k and 6k Hz apparent in both my measurements and Jude’s does rob distorted electric guitars of some of their bite, but the effect is much smaller than was apparent with the Elear. Likewise, the Elegia’s 10k dip causes recordings to come across as less airy than is apparent with the Clear. The sound of the room comes across loud and clear on the Clear (pun intended) when listening to hi-resolution remaster of “Alabama” from Neil Young’s Harvest via Qobuz and Audirvana+. In comparison, the Elegia’s representation of the ambiance of Young’s makeshift barn studio is slightly muffled. However, the same 10k dip also cuts down on sibilance. On the Clear, Danielle Haim’s vocals on “Falling” — the opening cut of Haim’s excellent debut, Days Are Gone — can come across as strident and “essy,” while her vocals are easier on the ear through the Elegia. The Elegia can’t compete with the Clear’s detail retrieval and realism, however. On that count, the Elegia is closer to the Elear or Elex. Going back to Harvest, the subtle inflections and reverb on Young’s voice on “Out on the Weekend” are much more apparent with the Clear than the Elegia, with the former being a more accurate and revealing representation of the recording. Likewise, the Clear better captures the string articulation on the infectious bassline to Parliament’s “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” from Mothership Connection than does the Elegia. But it’s perhaps unfair to compare the closed Elegia to its more expensive open-backed brethren. For closed cans, the Elegia’s nuance and balance is remarkable. A comparison of the Elegia (black line) with the aforementioned Sennheiser HD820 (red line) is instructive: Like the HD820, the Elegia has a dip in the upper-bass/lower-mids, a tuning decision that Sennheiser said allowed for elevated bass that “wouldn’t blur the mid details.” However, while the HD820’s dip is large and bottoms out around 300 Hz, the Elegia’s is much more modest and centered around 200 Hz. As a result, the Elegia’s slight upper-bass/lower-mids dip does provide nice separation of the mids from its sub-bass extension without disturbing instrumental balance and tonality in the same way that the HD820’s tuning did. To be sure, the Elegia can’t compete with the HD820’s soundstage, and the HD820 also has an edge on high-end microdetail. But the Elegia provides better overall tonal accuracy and performance at less than half the HD820’s price. With the Elegia, Focal has created a pair of headphones that, while still bound by the inherent tradeoffs imposed by closed-back cans, blends the look and sound of the Elex and Clear at a price that falls squarely in between those two sets of open Focal cans. Ultimately, the Elegia is an impressively clean and detailed closed headphone that outperforms both the much more expensive HD820 and the similarly priced Aeon Flow Closed from MrSpeakers, at least in the humble opinion of this reviewer. For those who prefer a slightly warmer, smoother sound, the ZMF Atticus remains an excellent closed alternative to the Elegia. But for anyone looking for neutrality above all in a sub-$1,000 closed headphone, the Elegia is perhaps the best choice currently on the market. Product Information: Focal Elegia headphones ($899) Elegia Product Page Specification Sheet About the Author Josh Mound has been an audiophile since age 14, when his father played Spirit's "Natures Way" through his Boston Acoustics floorstanders and told Josh to listen closely. Since then, Josh has listened to lots of music, owned lots of gear, and done lots of book learnin'. He's written about music for publications like Filter and Under the Radar and about politics for publications like New Republic, Jacobin, and Dissent. Josh is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on modern U.S. politics and the history of popular music. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife and two cats.
  8. Great review @austinpop. I wonder if you could say more about your experiences with the HD800 Dekoni pads. Did any increase the lower bass without over-taming the high end?
  9. Here's the thread: https://entertainment.slashdot.org/story/12/02/09/195225/pink-floyd-engineer-alan-parsons-rips-audiophiles-youtube-and-jonas-brothers
  10. Chris, I love this editorial because it gets at the often implicit mixing of "objective" analysis with political/moral opinions and economic value judgments. It's perfectly reasonable for people to directly compare two pieces of gear, regardless of their relative prices. But one always needs to keep in mind that people value gear differently and have different budgets. We need to take potential interlocutors' monetary means and values into account when rendering opinions. It's weird and unhelpful to proclaim that your $1.5k pair of headphones smokes someone's $100 pair of headphones unless they're claiming otherwise. Without taking budgets/priorities into account, audio comparisons descend into pointless subjective value judgments. Likewise, it's easy to import political opinion into discussions of any hobby without realizing it. I completely understand the argument that an expensive pair of headphones or DAC is an extravagance when there are people in the world struggling to eat and make ends meet. (I agree with Rage Against the Machine's politics!) But except for people who live super frugally and donate every extra penny to charity, we're all guilty of indulging wasteful spending. Personally, I think charity is wonderful, but it's no substitute for policy. If someone thinks that we should redistribute money from the rich to the poor, great. I agree and think the government should do more of it! But insofar as people have extra money, they should be free to spend it however they want, including on audiophile jewelry that even other audiophiles might find wasteful. In other words, keep the political/moral judgements where they belong. Don't mix them with audio discussions. Finally, as the recent Audio Fidelity remasters show, Rage albums can certainly stand up to audiophile scrutiny! 😉
  11. I understood your "infamous" preface to me "possibly apocryphal." It seems to be a Slashdot commenter's quip in reference to the 2012 Parsons interview, which somehow morphed into Parsons having said it himself. It's definitely more quotable than Parsons's actual comments! In any case, "I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You" sounds great on "audiophile" systems! Haha.
  12. From what I understand, yes the MQA CDs are lossy, just like MQA, more broadly. Unfortunately, it’s not a dual-layer situation, where there’s a redbook layer and an MQA layer. You can rip the CD in XLD, but the result is an MQA FLAC. All you do is change the filename extension to make it “unfold” in Audirvana, for example.
  13. I’ve been following this thread (and the MQA debate, more broadly) for years now, and it’s striking to me how MQA defenders have tied themselves into knots with ever-shifting justifications for the format. The “lossless” to “audibly lossless” or “data saving” to “superior sounding” moves discussed here are perfect illustrations. In another notable example, the head honcho over at ASR (putting aside his other debatable flaws) has defended MQA using arguments (subjective preference, appeals to authority, etc.) he otherwise rejects, resulting in a bizarre thread that had to be closed because his own followers were slamming him. I’m neither fully subjectivist nor fully objectivist. For example, I think some DACs that measure “worse” sound better (in part because I don’t think the existing suite of measurements capture all of the relevant info about DAC performance). So, when MQA was introduced, I approached it with an open mind. I was fully willing to believe that there was something to the time domain claims. However, my own critical listening (making sure that masters and levels were the same, etc.) made me skeptical of the format. MQA sounded “different,” but it largely sounded like some type of digital processing that boosted a portion of the high frequencies. It sounded more digital, not less digital, to me. Reading more about the mechanics of the format, including Archimago’s posts here, made me even more skeptical. As time has passed, more and more questions have been raised and few good answers have been offered by MQA’s defenders. Instead, we’ve received a shifting array of justifications. As is unlikely to surprise those of you who’ve read my TBVO columns, the thing that worries me most about MQA is that good masterings may become trapped in the format. For example, as I discuss in the update to my Aja TBVO, the mastering on the new MQA CD is unique and very good. But I’d like to be able to hear it in DSD or PCM (it apparently was transferred in DSD) to compare it to the MQA format. Choice doesn’t bother me. If some people prefer MQA, that’s fine. But once new transfers and masterings start getting released in the MQA format alone, it’s time to worry.
  14. This is a great documentary. The BBC does such good stuff. Even when it comes to American music, often the BBC documentary is better than anything comparable in the U.S. (Check out their "Hotel California" documentary on '60s-'70s California rock, in particular.)
  15. I mention the rest of my system in the review. I'm sure some people will prefer the HD800S. But it's undoubtedly a very colored headphone, and I just can't get past that huge dip, as someone who prefers only modest deviations from neutral.
  16. The HD800 definitely are bright. But the HD800S corrects a lot of that, IMO.
  17. Thanks! Since it’s a good segue from Bush, I’d already planned to make the next TBVO on Gabriel. Deciding between Melt and So now.
  18. The HP50 are head and shoulder above the Meze, IMO. I've owned both, and the Meze has a loose, flabby bass. Too bad, as they're beautiful and well-constructed headphones. I'd love for Meze to retune them at some point.
  19. A Talking Heads album is definitely on my TBVO “to do” list, and Remain is likely the choice. I’m going to check out the Kidjo version right now!
  20. Thanks for the kind words. (I like MusicScope, too!) However, I'd caution against drawing conclusions about the 1985 versus the 2018 based on "Running" alone. It and "Waking the Witch" are the only tracks on which there's a significant difference in R128 scores (5.5 versus 7.9 for "Running" in Audirvana's calculations) between the 1985 and 2018. I took a look at the waveforms while writing this TBVO, and you can definitely see a few momentary high peaks are slightly shorter on the 2018 "Running," but it seemed insignificant to me after repeated listening. (The DR scores on the song are only one point apart, FWIW.) Taking the whole album into consideration, the 1985 is ahead on more tracks by R128, but the differences are usually only fractions of a dB, and the 2018 is ahead on some songs, too. For the whole album, the DR scores are only one point apart. Given that, I think the better resolution of the 2018 is more important than any minor dynamic differences. But, as you note, on something like a $5 radio, I don't think the differences in resolution would come through.
  21. The album is very dynamic. Are you just referring to compression on the vocals? They seem pretty dynamic to me, too, but insofar as they’re compressed, it must’ve been what Bush wanted, since she produced it herself.
  22. The only Kate Bush album I find underwhelming is Lionheart. Hounds is up near the top for me, but I don’t know that I’d say it’s my favorite. I picked it for TBVO largely because it’s her most iconic album.
  23. I didn’t want to make vinyl comparisons central to the article, since TBVO focuses on digital mastering. But I did compare a rip of the Audio Fidelity vinyl to the other masterings, and it’s uncanny how closely the new 2018 remaster matches the AF vinyl (see footnote 4 in the article).
  24. I love that album, and it’s definitely on my TBVO list.
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