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Source comparison - listening test: analogue outputs from different CD players

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  • #16
    Originally posted by Stephen PG View Post
    b4sound,

    I can give you links (via PM) to some clips of lp's I've recorded, (ones I can't find on CD, I used to work in a specialist classical record shop and have many very old, very rare records!) to see if you think the PCs A to D converter made them sound the same?
    Sure but what what would I be comparing them against? Curious also when you will eventually reveal if you can / cannot tell the difference yourself.

    Also - please don't be offended as I was only messing with you about pulling our leg!
    Simpli-Fi: Kuzma>Nighthawk>LebenCS300XS>P3ESR

    Comment


    • #17
      They sound the same to me through the SHL5s... I had to make a note of which is which... plus I can't tell any of them from the original rip of the CD.

      All will be revealed.

      But I bet no one gets it exactly right.

      The DVD:



      With magic dust!

      The Arcam, 24bit 192 up-sampler...

      Comment


      • #18
        Originally posted by A.S. View Post
        And (although I am prejudging the outcome as I have only given the briefest listen on these PC speakers) if the CD players have different DAC technologies (as you would expect at different price points and even from different eras) if initial comments are of little or no sonic difference doesn't that suggest that the DAC is a rather (or utterly) insignificant part of the audio chain (which is my opinion)?
        Partly I ended up here was because I wanted to put together a "simple" system that had the fewest components possible with the convenience of streaming. So this ruled out vinyl (not starting a fight as I do like how a good vinyl setup sounds just not the TLC required). But Alan, I am not yet as sceptical and still believe DACs can make quite a difference in the chain.
        Simpli-Fi: Kuzma>Nighthawk>LebenCS300XS>P3ESR

        Comment


        • #19
          Originally posted by b4sound View Post
          But Alan, I am not yet as sceptical and still believe DACs can make quite a difference in the chain.
          You need to do any comparisons between DACs blind and level matched, for a genuine, un-biased result.

          Comment


          • #20
            Originally posted by b4sound;17897...
            But Alan, I am not yet as sceptical and still believe DACs can make quite a difference in the chain.
            DACs are extremely simple devices. Why should such a simple device have such a profound effect?

            Consider this: at the recording end of the chain in the studio, most modern studios have digital recording desks (consoles). How many ADCs (much more tricky components to design than the inverse, DACs) do you think the microphones have passed through? I mean, if you have fifty mics, you'll need at least 50 ADCs. And I'm failry sure that almost nobody at the sharp end of the business (the studio) gives a tinker's cuss about ADCs, DAC's, cables, isolators or any of the other paraphernalia that those at the back end of the chain (the audiophiles) lose sleep over. When the red light turns on, money starts to burn, and the recording business is above all else, a business.

            Funny old world isn't it when those that walk around a gallery are more obsessed with minutia than the painters themselves!
            Alan A. Shaw
            Designer, owner
            Harbeth Audio UK

            Comment


            • #21
              Listener feedback

              OK I found a pair of internet-listening supra-aural headphones (Jabra brand) in the office. They don't have a lot of top, but it's adequate.

              Using the embedded MP3s in post #15 it's easy to make almost instantaneous A-B comparisons. So whilst this isn't a perfect method, it's far, far more reliable than an audiophile turning off A, unplugging and swapping to B, turning on B.

              As far as I can tell by listening alone to the first minute or so to any of these tracks, I cannot detect any definite difference between them. Based on this brief test I would be satisfied with whatever CD equipment had been used regardless of price, size, colour, brand, technology or age. I lost interest after switching between the tracks after the first minute or so because if there were differences, I would have expected to hear them immediately and not after minutes of straining.

              I can't recall which Steely Dan album A-D are from; one album (Katie Lied?) marked not only their first use of digital recording technology but one of the very first pop albums to do so. The Paul Simon track is analogue and I'd guess that the Steely Dan is too.

              If I've missed something subtle here please tell me so I can listen again. If only loudspeakers exhibited such small performance differences between models.

              P.S. I have not investigated the spectral content of any of these: my comment is based on brief listening on cheap headphones alone.
              Alan A. Shaw
              Designer, owner
              Harbeth Audio UK

              Comment


              • #22
                Alan,

                The Steely Dan track 'Kid Charlemagne' is from 'The Royal Scam' taken from the CD box set 'Citizen'

                The Paul Simon track 'Fifty Ways...' is taken from the compilation CD 'Negotiations And Love Songs 1971-1986'

                Originally, it was on the album 'Still Crazy After All These Years' which was analogue.

                And you're right, if you have to sit clenching as if your life depended on it, the differences are not worth worrying about... :-)

                Thanks for making the effort feel worth it,

                Oh, and ta for the 'triffic speakers too!

                Comment


                • #23
                  Originally posted by Stephen PG View Post
                  ... And you're right, if you have to sit clenching as if your life depended on it, the differences are not worth worrying about... :-)...
                  That's a perfect summary of my experience. I've since listened a little further into these tracks and again, bringing each up the the same stop/start point and toggling between them. I just cannot hear a difference. That does not of course mean that there isn't a difference - merely that under these sub-optimal conditions I can't hear it.

                  Perhaps when other have commented you'd tell us what we were actually listening to. I slightly regret posting my comments publicly because of the bias it may lead to, but I'm also aware that I need to prime the pump.

                  If you were to say that there was a 100:1 price variation I would not be the slightest surprised. If that manifest itself in a better build quality, better remote, properly-funded after care, longer service life etc. I may be willing to pay, but on the basis of these brief uncontrolled tests, I wouldn't pay a cent more of sonic 'improvements'.

                  P.S. Sorry I missed this comment earlier ....

                  You have my word as a gentleman and Harbeth owner, each track is from the output of either an Arcam CD player, an old dvd player, a touch or a Duet with no pre-amp in between.
                  So we do know what we were comparing against. Doesn't change my opinion.
                  Alan A. Shaw
                  Designer, owner
                  Harbeth Audio UK

                  Comment


                  • #24
                    I am skeptical about the use of computer sound card to record from the analogue output. If the sound card itself was with limitations then we cannot reliably hear any difference that may exceed the sound card. Furthermore, the computer process sound with certain limitations. I read an article about window OS and its architecture on how it suppose to handle each information and when it comes to audio there was certain caps imposed. Maybe, some experts here could shed some light on this.

                    Let's look it another way. Would you expect to hear any difference if I were to make a LP from the CD, DVD and media players analogue output?*

                    ST

                    Comment


                    • #25
                      The fantastic quality of analogue sound cards ....

                      Originally posted by STHLS5 View Post
                      I am skeptical about the use of computer sound card to record from the analogue output. If the sound card itself was with limitations then we cannot reliably hear any difference that may exceed the sound card. ...
                      I do not know what card was used to make these examples but even an average modern PC sound card is capable of far better fidelity than even a professional mixing desk of ten years ago. And a first class modern PC sound card is capable of truly fantastic fidelity, far exceeding the performance of CD's 44k/16 bit technology.

                      For almost nothing you can buy a 192kb/24 bit multi channel card of simply incredible performance. Multi-channel cards like this one are widely used in the music recording industry to record and edit the very music, broadcast and film sound we are surrounded with now.

                      Another audio myth busted.
                      Alan A. Shaw
                      Designer, owner
                      Harbeth Audio UK

                      Comment


                      • #26
                        Originally posted by Stephen PG View Post
                        You need to do any comparisons between DACs blind and level matched, for a genuine, un-biased result.
                        I am afraid level matching and ABX is beyond my capabilities... but lets come back down to earth where I say > Lets not try too hard to hear any differences. My preference now is just let it play and you will know after some time if you like it or not. I am still learning this from the wife - she doesn't try to hear the the difference - she simply listens. ('Men' perhaps are not designed to function this way)

                        Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                        DACs are extremely simple devices. Why should such a simple device have such a profound effect?
                        This place really is very different - any where else and someone or two would have torn into this with all sorts of arguments and justifications and in close proximity even a fight...

                        Originally posted by STHLS5 View Post
                        I am skeptical about the use of computer sound card to record from the analogue output. If the sound card itself was with limitations then we cannot reliably hear any difference that may exceed the sound card. Furthermore, the computer process sound with certain limitations. I read an article about window OS and its architecture on how it suppose to handle each information and when it comes to audio there was certain caps imposed. Maybe, some experts here could shed some light on this.

                        ST
                        STHLS5, you have expressed this much better than my attempt above - although A.S does not agree, I too am asking this question.
                        Since I should be able to take a break this weekend from work, I will go get the Paul Simon CD, rip that (I use XLD on Mac) and will click through the 50 ways against Stephen's 4 samples just to test if there are any audible differences (sorry level matching is not in my skill set... )
                        Simpli-Fi: Kuzma>Nighthawk>LebenCS300XS>P3ESR

                        Comment


                        • #27
                          Work with the ear's limitations, not against it ...

                          Originally posted by b4sound View Post
                          I am afraid level matching and ABX is beyond my capabilities... ...I will go get the Paul Simon CD, rip that (I use XLD on Mac) and will click through the 50 ways against Stephen's 4 samples just to test if there are any audible differences (sorry level matching is not in my skill set... )
                          VERY IMPORTANT POINT which will be engraved onto my tomb stone (not too soon I hope) but it encapsulates a lifetime's experience of critically judging audio.....

                          IF YOU DO NOT MATCH THE LEVELS YOU MUST EXPECT TO HEAR A DIFFERENCE IN PERCEIVED SOUND QUALITY BETWEEN A & B EVEN IF A & B ARE EXACTLY THE SAME EQUIPMENT.

                          Accepting this fact is 100% fundamental to working within the limitations of the human ear. Rejecting this fact means that you are rejecting the well understood way that the ear works, which would be the height of ignorance. There is absolutely no doubt that level matching is CRUCIAL. There is no substitute for level matching. Those studying the ear/brain would study the ear's level sensitivity in the early stages of their career. Audiophiles make no effort whatsoever to understand this point.

                          Marketing people consult with acousticians (who thoroughly understand the ear) to find ways of deliberately manipulating the ear's peculiarities with the objective of confusing the listener and deceiving him into making an inappropriate purchase. The simplest, cheapest, surest way is to deliberately manipulate loudness levels. Whichever of A or B is the louder (in my experience) will manifest itself as 'full bodied', 'most involving', 'warmer', 'more musical, 'truer to life', 'more revealing' etc. etc.. Swap the levels around so that B is now the louder and the listener's experience will reverse. The positive sonic attributes I have listed of warmth and involvement (etc. etc.) follow the louder signal.

                          If I made a version (which is impossible) of for example, the SHL5 which was 1-2dB louder than the conventional SHL5, sales of the louder SHL5 would rapidly kill-off sales off sales of the quieter SHL5 even though their technical characteristics were completely identical except for the increased loudness for the same electrical input.

                          Why do we take a strong line of these points? Because we understand how the ear works, we know exactly how to deceive ourselves and we know how to deceive you, the listener. We are empowered with these tools but we do not use them against our customers or users. We have no need to with a long order book and quarter-by-quarter sales growth.

                          I cannot stress this point enough.
                          Alan A. Shaw
                          Designer, owner
                          Harbeth Audio UK

                          Comment


                          • #28
                            Originally posted by Stephen PG View Post
                            .

                            As the person who slaved over a hot A to D converter for many hours to create these files, I can confirm they are all from CD's... and are taken directly from the analogue outputs of the various machines. Also level matched, to make it fair!

                            { F

                            I just checked the flac file properties and all of them are compressed by at least 50%. played with EQ and not much changes at 12KHz. Can we safely say that this comparison will ever be regarded as valid to the believers?

                            ST

                            Comment


                            • #29
                              Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                              IF YOU DO NOT MATCH THE LEVELS YOU MUST EXPECT TO HEAR A DIFFERENCE IN PERCEIVED SOUND QUALITY BETWEEN A & B EVEN IF A & B ARE EXACTLY THE SAME EQUIPMENT.

                              I cannot stress this point enough.
                              Hear you loud and clear Sir!

                              Actually, I have ripped 50 ways uncompressed into FLAC from CD and also cannot tell the difference.
                              Not sure where Stephen stores the FLACs - I can add version E.
                              Simpli-Fi: Kuzma>Nighthawk>LebenCS300XS>P3ESR

                              Comment


                              • #30
                                A look at the waveforms of A B C D

                                I have downloaded the supplied A,B,C,D MP3 files and pasted them side by side in a four channel stereo multitrack and highlighted a random section of the wavefile for visual comparison.

                                The visual differences between the representations of these tracks are subtle, but the most obvious visual difference is that track D (the last L/R pair at the bottom) more frequently reach maximum level than the others. The visual effect is of 'more light green waveform information' with the spikes that are frequent in clip A (for example) are less evident in D because overall, D has less dynamic range. Or had the average level increased a little.

                                This says to me that these tracks have either been selectively and intentionally post-capture processed i.e. compressed/loudness adjusted or unintentionally the level match between the sources has not been exact for whatever reason (incl. perhaps limited availability of accurate measuring equipment.)

                                Are we are seeing/(not) hearing solely the potential differences between alternative CD player analogue outputs? Processed or not, the previous listening test results are unchanged.

                                A zoomed-out spectral analysis of the first minute's play from A and D (randomly selected) shows a (virtually) identical frequency response, but as noted above, a slight level shift. Spectral D v A (plot attached) at this zoom level shown no obvious level offset. However, toggling between these two plots shows a level jump, so zoomed-in we can see that D is (exactly) 1dB louder than A overall.

                                >
                                Attached Files
                                Alan A. Shaw
                                Designer, owner
                                Harbeth Audio UK

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