Saturday, 14 April 2018

MUSINGS: On the joy of numbers... Yet more on that audio "Subjectivist" vs. "Objectivist" debate.


You might recognize the opening graphic from a previous post years ago where I commented that I actually believe it's healthy to maintain balance rather than seeing extreme polarities. In that post, I mentioned an article by Michael Lavorgna from AudioStream that I thought was grossly off base. That was in 2015. Here we are again in 2018, with another post on AudioStream, but this time penned by Herb Reichert called "Audio Without Numbers" that I think needs to be addressed. (Hmmm... What's wrong with numbers? :-)

Before getting into the discussion, let me lay out a couple of suggestions not just for this post, but also in general when we're simply talking about audiophilia, the science and philosophy behind our hobby.

First, let's talk plainly. Yes, we can bring up the names of long dead philosophers all day long... Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle of classic fame, to more recent men of high thinking like Hume, Kant, Poincaré, Popper, and Kuhn - they likely all have something to say about this debate depending on philosophical leanings around the nature of "truth", "knowledge", and other metaphysical ideas. Over the years, I've dropped a couple of these names as well where I thought a quote or reference might be meaningful, but ultimately so what? Time has passed since these thinkers put down their words, scientific knowledge has advanced in ways that the thinkers above have not been privy to and perhaps they would have vastly different ideas if alive today. For example, other than Kuhn and Popper, the rest of them were gone by the time the double-helix was discovered, or the advent of modern molecular biology or neuroscience to explain sensory phenomena and the limits of perception. Besides, I'm not sure any of them were audiophiles :-).

Second, let's not appeal to scientific domains that more than likely have no practical relevance to the hobby. Yes, relativity, Einstein, and Hawking were way cool guys! Likewise, quarks, hadrons, superstrings, the wave-particle duality, and Erwin Schrödinger and his cat are also very much worth pondering about. While these concepts have great relevance in this universe, as far as I am aware, there is no evidence that sound waves, the consumer electronics we're talking about, or even human perception "materially" requires that we engage in laws governing subatomic particles, the space-time continuum, or velocities approaching light speed. Who knows, maybe consciousness involves quantum-level phenomena (as per Roger Penrose for example), but this is highly speculative. To bring forth these theories as if of relevance is IMO at best engaging in some unnecessary science fiction writing, and at worst it makes the writer sound pretentious. BTW, I think audiophile companies need to keep this in mind while advertising their products to maintain some semblance of sanity (folks like thisthis, and this likely have crossed the line).

Saturday, 7 April 2018

RETRO-MEASURE: 2001 Sony SCD-CE775 5-disc SACD/CD Player (CD test)

Sony SCD-CE775 sitting below the Panasonic Blu-Ray player... A relatively large box - 17" wide, 15" deep, 5" tall.
Every once awhile, I like putting up measurements and thoughts on gear that I either own or borrowed of an older "vintage". I think it's good to have measurements of these older equipment for the sake of perspective! These days, it seems like the moment one buys a new smartphone, wait a few days and we see an announcement for the next generation of product... It was not always like this of course :-).

For this post, let's have a look at the performance of one of my favourite budget audio players that I have owned for the last 16 years - the Sony SCD-CE775, one of the earlier consumer-level SACD players released back when the SACD was viewed as the new-kid-on-the-block of digital formats. This specific model was released in 2001, at around the same time as multi-channel SACDs became available for sale - there was a copy of Kind Of Blue multichannel SACD in the box. I picked this unit up new in the summer of 2002 I believe and it has been a constant on my audio rack since then. My thought at the time was that this would be my back-up SACD/CD player, but as history would have it, with the transition to computer audio, I sold off my Sony SCD-555ES at some point back in 2004 and just stayed with this multi-changer and my old DVD player for spinning disks.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

MUSINGS: On Dysphonic Sounds, and Moby's "Fight" Against the Loudness War...


For this post, I thought I'd share some personal experiences and opinions. Back in the "old" days - more than 10 years ago now, there was a time when I used to routinely listen to new albums start to end. I enjoyed getting into the lyrics of new music, learned to sing along, and tried to imagine the message being composed by the song writer and parse the emotional prosody of the piece.

I've been trying to think why I don't do this much any more with the new music I buy. Am I just getting old (in my mid-40's now)? Do the new generation of singers and songwriters not appeal to my taste? Did the music industry "sell-out" with promoting one-hit wonders instead of cultivating those with substance who could "carry" full albums? Is it that I no longer have the time I used to have and instead prefer to do other things (lots of entertainment options these days)? Is it that I have too many albums on my music server now so it's just much easier to make a playlist of individual songs and neglect the album as a "body" of work? Is it that maybe musicians themselves don't bother creating thematically coherent albums anymore (hey, even artists like this guy says so - "Why Tiësto thinks the album is dead")?

Saturday, 17 March 2018

MUSINGS: A quick discussion on what's OBJECTIVE and what's SUBJECTIVE (alas, more MQA-related stuff).

Infographic, from pediaa.com.

Hey guys, very busy this past week and about to go out of town... Nonetheless, it has been fun participating in discussion forums this week. Therefore, I thought I'd just fire out a "quick" post this morning.

I see some rather disturbing back-and-forth arguments on the recent Stereophile post on MQA from folks like dalethorn and boulderskies that IMO reflects a fundamental disagreement on the differences between what the words "subjective" and "objective" means when we use them to address ways of understanding audio (among other ways of discerning knowledge in this world). Obviously, unless we are all on the same page with definitions, we won't be going anywhere with debates and arguments!

At first, I was going to just make this comment a forum post, but given the length and for future reference, I'll just put it here instead of a typical comment buried deep in a thread. We can potentially get deeply philosophical about this, but let's see if we can just hit the main points at least...

Saturday, 10 March 2018

1080P Blu-Ray vs. 4K UHD Blu-Ray: "Blade Runner 2049" - Digital "Nearly 4K" Filmmaking (3.4K)


Another excellent movie! It might be heresy to those who adored the first Blade Runner, but I thought this was an even better flick than the first; kudos to Denis Villeneuve.

I want to continue in this series of comparisons showing resolution of 1080P Blu-Ray versus the 4K UHD Blu-Ray version of the same film. If you've been following along, so far we're actually not seeing much if any significant improvement in spatial resolution comparing typical "analogue" film-to-4K movie conversions. This goes for Interstellar's 35mm portions, the original Blade Runner, and last week with The Prestige. As expected, 2K Digital Intermediate movies like Pacific Rim can benefit from HDR color/contrast regrading, but there would be no resolution enhancement. Of the movies I've looked at, Dunkirk and the 70mm IMAX filmmaking process clearly provided a resolution enhancement.

For this post, I want to show you what a "nearly 4K" movie presented on UHD Blu-Ray looks like resolution-wise. Blade Runner 2049 was filmed digitally using ARRI Alexa cameras using the ARRIRAW 3.4K format (3414 x 2198) then converted to a 4K Digital Intermediate and special effects were said to be rendered in 3.4K as well. Let's have a peek...

Saturday, 3 March 2018

"MQA: A review of controversies, concerns, and cautions" week...

cf. As We See It - More on MQA :-)
Hey everyone, it has been a very busy week for me at work plus I was able to put the "final touches" on the article just published on Friday on the Computer Audiophile site:

MQA: A Review of controversies, concerns, and cautions

As the title indicates, this is a review of much of what I have presented here over the years as well as accumulated knowledge by folks who have taken time to dissect and divine some of the inner workings of this "format". I salute the audiophiles who have worked to figure these things out (many of them references in the footnotes in the article) - those who have had the courage to "call a spade a spade", those with the perseverance to ask tough questions, and pursue meaningful answers.

I would also like to thank Chris Connaker for reaching out and having the courage to publish the article. I don't know what the "politics" are like behind the scenes in the audiophile world, but I cannot imagine there not be pressures to conform to the "official" sanctioned message especially dealing with a product originating from a veteran audiophile company, endorsements of the major print magazines, and with the apparent backing of major music labels in the Industry.

Hope you all have a great week ahead!

Enjoy the music...

Saturday, 24 February 2018

1080P Blu-Ray vs. 4K UHD Blu-Ray: "The Prestige" - Modern 35mm Filmmaking


I love this movie! It was one of those flicks I walked into with no expectations and came out realizing that I just had to grab the video for the home movie collection...

At its heart, The Prestige (2006) is a drama with sci-fi/fantasy elements based on the 1995 novel by Christopher Priest which was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award and won the World Fantasy Award in 1996. I know that the fantastical elements may be a turn-off for some, but given the historical mystique of a character like Nikola Tesla, I was willing to suspend belief to enjoy the themes of ambition, sacrifice, and redemption.

Technically, like the movie we looked at last time (Blade Runner: Final Cut), this movie was filmed in 35mm anamorphic primarily using Panavision's Panaflex camera with Kodak film. It was created more than 20 years after Blade Runner. While visual effects were rendered in 2K, the Digital Intermediate was done in 4K. Just like others in the recently-released Christopher Nolan 4K Collection, this film was advertised as "remastered by the director in a stunning new format". 

So... The question is, does a more "modern" 35mm movie benefit resolution-wise from a 4K release?

Saturday, 17 February 2018

1080P Blu-Ray vs. 4K UHD Blu-Ray: "Blade Runner (Final Cut)" - Classic 35mm Filmmaking


Ahhhh, Blade Runner!

Here's an example of a "classic" from 1982. While arguably, the film was more style than substance, it certainly has left an enduring mark in the world of science fiction. Remember that Ridley Scott started his career in TV advertising which must have informed his visual aesthetic to create some iconic imagery such as this vision of Los Angeles in 2019 (alas, technological advancement and climate change must have been much more severe in this alternate universe).

As you know, beyond the detective film noir and some action sequences, it does touch on important science fiction themes of sentience, rights, the soul, genetics and transcendence. Of course, as a music lover, I very much enjoyed the soundtrack from Vangelis (for the completist, the 3-CD 25th Anniversary Edition contains everything)!

Blade Runner was filmed in 35mm with some special effects filmed in 65mm. Aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Over the years, it has undergone a number of revisions; the main ones being the original Theatrical Release, 1992's Director's Cut, and the 2007 Final Cut. When they did the 2007 Final Cut, the frames were digitally cleaned up, continuity errors fixed, new CGI effects added, 65mm footage were scanned to 8K, and everything finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate which is what ultimately ended up here on the UHD Blu-Ray with added HDR color grading.

As a comparison, I thought it would be interesting to grab a number of scenes to see the difference between a standard Blu-Ray release from 2011 (VC1 codec, ~17Mb/s) and the UHD version released in 2017 (HEVC 10-bit HDR10, ~50Mbps)... Is it worthwhile upgrading to a higher resolution version even with an old (35 years old!) movie originating in 35mm?

Monday, 12 February 2018

1080P Blu-Ray vs. 4K UHD Blu-Ray: "Pacific Rim" - Digital "2K" Filmmaking (and a look at Blue Planet II)


Having looked at Dunkirk (70mm IMAX - 65/15-perf and 65/5-perf) and Interstellar (hybrid of 35mm and 65-15-perf) previously, over the next few weeks, when possible I'm going to try for a survey of comparisons using different types of movies and show the kind of resolution difference one might see going to 4K.

Today, let's consider a very common type of movie production - digitally filmed movies mastered to a 2K Digital Intermediate (DI). In Real or Fake 4K, these would of course be classified as "Fake 4K" movies that would need to be upsampled going from 2K/1080P to the 4K/2160P on your shiny new UHD Blu-Ray disc and 4K screen.

Pacific Rim would be a good example of this type of production in a big budget movie (said to be ~US$190M back in 2013). It was captured on Red Epic cameras capable of up to 5K (5120x2560) raw frame quality, then downsampled to a 2K Digital Intermediate mixed with 2K rendered visual effects.

While admittedly not a great movie, for guys and gals who like steam punk themes, monsters, and of course really big robot mechs, Guillermo del Toro serves up quite a feast of a real-live action anime. Nothing wrong with turning your brain off and enjoying some mech-on-monster brawl once awhile :-).

Saturday, 3 February 2018

MUSINGS/MEASUREMENTS: On "blurring" and why MQA probably worsens transient smearing.


Yes, I know. The last time I specifically addressed MQA was supposed to be "FINAL final" :-). But I got curious again. This is especially after the exploration of various filters recently suggesting to me that there actually is a case to be made that "blurring" can be seen with minimum phase filters. The question is, what do we "know" or "believe" MQA is able to do, and can we demonstrate that MQA even "de-blurs"?

Let's talk and think about this for a bit...

Saturday, 27 January 2018

1080P Blu-Ray vs. 4K UHD Blu-Ray: Does "Interstellar" actually benefit from 4K!?

Compromised quality?
As you know, Christopher Nolan is known for demanding the best out of his work visually. A few weeks back, I had a look at Dunkirk and was able to appreciate the difference the 4K/UHD Blu-Ray made compared to standard HD 1080P Blu-Ray. Despite the plot holes and nitpicks (it is sci-fi after all), I very much enjoyed Interstellar in the standard digital IMAX theater when it first came out in 2014. As I was watching the recently released UHD Blu-Ray, while the HDR effect looks ok (I wouldn't say great), I was rather disappointed by the apparent lack of resolution enhancement moving from 1080P... Even in the IMAX 70mm scenes, everything seemed less defined than I had expected coming from Dunkirk. Seemed a bit strange especially since it's claimed that this was "released under the supervision of the director himself, approving the 4K scan and colour timing".

Let's have a closer look shall we?

Saturday, 20 January 2018

MEASUREMENTS: Apple's Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Adaptor [MMX62] (CES 2018 Creative Super X-Fi audio, and A/C cable "proof"?)

Ludicrous combination of iPhone 6, Lightning to 3.5mm adapter, and Sennheiser HD800 :-).
Well, as you likely already know, since the iPhone 7, Apple has removed the 3.5mm headphone port from their phone devices. Ostensibly, the rationale being that this would allow more space in the device for other goodies to enhance the feature set of the phones.

In place of the missing headphone port, Apple has included the "Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter" with their phones. I've been wanting to have a look/listen to how well this little dongle thing performed for awhile but since I'm an Android guy and nobody close to me upgraded their iPhone when the 7 came our, I just remained patient. Well, over the holiday season my sister-in-law upgraded to an iPhone 8, so I finally got a hold of one of these Lightning-to-analogue out dongles to test out at my leisure :-).

Saturday, 13 January 2018

DEMO: Dunkirk - Resolution difference between 1080P Blu-Ray and 4K/2160P UHD Blu-Ray (It's CES 2018 also!)



A friend who works in the world of video production saw my post a few weeks back about "4K, Dunkirk and 70mm IMAX" sent me some segments of Dunkirk from the recently released UHD Blu-Ray set so I could have a look at the differences between 4K compared to standard 1080P Blu-Ray. Remember as discussed a few weeks back, this movie was filmed to a large extent with 70mm IMAX (65mm/15perf) gear, we know the VFX rendering was done using >4K with a true 4K digital intermediate. It represents the "pinnacle" of analogue film technology mixed with the best of today's digital effects and processing. I highly doubt we'll see much more of this level of literal "film-making" over the years. As such it's a nice "benchmark" for comparisons.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Audiophile Myth #260: The Detestable Digital Filter Ringing and Real Music...

For the 2016 edition, go here.
In the audiophile world, there are many targets of angst and anxiety that "practitioners" of this hobby are well aware of.

For years we've been worried about the "dreaded jitter". However, we know that these days, with asynchronous interfaces like USB and ethernet, there's nothing to be concerned of. Sure, we can see jitter anomalies with old S/PDIF, but I doubt anyone should purposely not use the interface for fear of audible issues assuming otherwise decent gear. For years and still to this day, various "practitioners" of audiophilia hang on to beliefs around cables of all sorts; assuming normal hook-ups with decent quality cabling (and even with poor quality cables), we are typically hard pressed to find evidence of audible differences.

Then we have beliefs that bit-perfect streamers sound different, really? We also hear of esoterica like folks who think lossless file formats sound different, seriously? How about the folks who think that computer OS's make a difference, or software players sound markedly different (assuming it's all bitperfect of course and sent to the same DAC)...

Feel free to browse this blog for discussions and thoughts around countless other audiophile items of faith. Today, let's address the audiophile "myth" that has gained prominence among those trying to sell things and those that advertise said "things" over the last few years.

As per the title, today, let's explore this "myth" of the detested ringing with digital filtering and audio playback since I've been posting a bit of a series on this topic over the last little while.

Monday, 1 January 2018

MUSINGS: More fun with digital filters! Archimago's "Goldilocks" Intermediate Phase suggestion...


Today's post is a bit of a continuation from last time's look at the different types of upsampling anti-imaging playback filters using my Raspberry Pi 3 "Touch"piCorePlayer and SoX. As you can see from that discussion, across the audiophile equipment spectrum, manufacturers utilize all kinds of digital filter settings in their gear. Each company ends up choosing compromises between how much frequency roll-off, how much imaging, how much temporal/phasic anomaly each would accept. And of course no matter what a company chooses, there are ways of advertising the decision as "good"; whether it be on the basis of frequency spectral accuracy, temporal accuracy, or just claims from pure subjectivity - "it just sounds better"!

The end goal of audiophilia is a bit like the modern interpretation of Goldilocks (and the Three Bears)... We're all trying to figure out for ourselves what is "just right" as we wade through the commercial and mainstream audiophile literature, unofficial blogs and forums, mix-and-match speakers with amplifiers, try out different accessories perhaps, and the like. So too it seems with digital filters and all the variants attached to the DACs we buy.

Remember that the only reason we're even talking about this is because of that 44.1kHz (and to a lesser degree 48kHz) samplerate such that the Nyquist frequency is at 22.05kHz; relatively close to the usual 20kHz upper limit of hearing acuity that the younger ones among us might be able to perceive. This is literally the only reason for all the hand wringing and millions of spilt keystrokes over the years around filtering by audiophiles (the few who still obsess over this...)

These days, we essentially have 2 major options for filter "types" among the DACs out there... Linear phase (the default for most mainstream DACs, Chord) or Minimum phase (Apple, MQA, Pono) - pick your "poison" :-). Of course within each phasic variety we have different levels of steepness and allowance for ultrasonic imaging. We intuitively know that due to the biological phenomenon of auditory masking, maximum phase (where the group delay is pushed forward so "pre-ringing" is accentuated) is not desirable. But is there another choice?

Yes, there is of course... We can try to figure out a "just right" state with intermediate phase settings. Accepting that maybe there's some value to ensuring that pre-ringing isn't an issue even with some of the worst audio recordings out there, while maintaining awesome frequency and temporal accuracy - let me show you my choice for the filter that I listen to daily with the Pi 3 streamer...