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The Beatles Remasters

I have copies of the original The Beatles CDs from when they came out in around 1987, as the EMI press office kindly supplied them. I’ve never been a huge Beatles fan so, other than the first plays when I reviewed them back then, they have sat on my shelves unplayed.

With the massive amount of publicity (some would say hype) surrounding the new remastered Beatles CDs I thought it was time to dig out the old ones  and compare them to a couple of the new editions.

I chose Revolver, my wife’s favourite and The White Album, the one that I dislike least.  You will notice below the comparisons of the dynamics of two tracks.

Top two images: Yellow Submarine, Original and Remastered
Bottom two images: Back in the U.S.S.R., original and remastered
Click on an image to open a larger version

As you can see there has been some work done.  From what I’ve read they have talked about limiting to bring things up to date.  From what I can see and what I can hear they have cleaned up the sound , firmed up the bottom end considerably and added a degree of compression that is unfortunately almost essential for any modern release.  Compared to say the last Metallica released this is absolutely sonically fantastic dynamics wise.  Compared to the originals, somehow while they have more presence and more punch they also sound a touch too loud in places. The vocals in Back in the U.S.S.R. just shout.  Pity.

I know I’m biased, as I’m not a Beatles fan, but would I buy these new CDs for pleasure? No.  Will I listen to any again in the next few weeks? Yes. However, as I’ve just learn’t that the new Prefab Sprout album is in the post the answer may now be No.

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Summer Sounds Roadshow from Naim

33 Naim retailers across the UK are particpating in the Naim Summer Sounds roadshow.
Featured products are the newly launched Ovator S-600 speaker and there will also be previews of the soon to be launched Naim DAC.

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My sentiments entirely

Very interested to read on Amarra’s website and I paraphrase ‘it’s easy to make music sound good on a computer but hard to make it sound fabulous’.  I think they have been listening to my conversations.

Next week I’m in Munich for the High End show and by coincidence will be sharing a booth (or to be more exact one of my clients Thorens is sharing a booth) themed Sources of the Future – as it’s vinyl and streaming – with Higoto who are Germany’s streaming experts.

The demos will be of Thoren’s new Tri-Balance turntable, the Logitech Transporter and a Macbook running iTunes with the Amarra software into a Weiss DAC.

Should be very interesting.  It’ll bring out all the digits is digits posts again, especially as Amarra is around $1500.  That means the price of Mac Book Pro , Amarra and DAC will be around £5-6k.  Cheaper than my CD player. But will it deliver as much?

Will it be fabulous hi-fi or fabulous music?

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ASIO v K Mixer v Kernel Streaming

Computer audio seems to generate emotions when discussing what products to use that really are odd. Why do people get  so wound up?  I’d be interested in your comments. Ideally one would take a computer, connect a good DAC and play one’s favourite music using one’s favourite app.

If only it were that simple to get a great sound from CA.  The more I experiment the more I realise that CA is absolutely similar to analog audio or indeed any audio when taken seriously.  Every change is audible. Assuming one has a good enough system.

Of course, just because a change is audible doesn’t mean it matters.

The expression bandied about on forums about Computer Audio is bit transparent.  The theory is simple: it’s getting the bits from the Hard Drive out of the computer without them being manipulated/changed in any way.

I’ve tried many music playing apps and they all seem to sound subtly different.  Even different releases of iTunes are reported to sort different.  Life is far to short to bother to try different releases.  As they say, I tried it once and didn’t like it.

For convenience for quick playback I tend to use VLC www.videolan.org.  It seems to play almost everything audio and video and can even stream stuff over  my network.  It works well for Radio Paradise too.

If I want to get serious say when I’m comparing DACs I tend to use Foobar.  It’s not my favourite user experience but it is easily configurable. For use under Win XP it’s possible to use the ASIO add in to bypass the K Mixer (assuming you have a suitable sound card). I use the M-Audio Transit. For Vista the WASAPI add in also bypasses the Windows (Kernel Mixer aka K Mixer) mixer.  With volumes set at 100% one should be achieving bit transparency and the sound should be just that little bit cleaner, less splashy and the space between notes will be greater somehow.

CA still never gets truly close to good CD playback.  Not yet for me anyway.  And it’s not ’cause I haven’t tried hard.

It’s a bit simpler with a Mac (the classic Mac and a DAC route) assuming you remember to set the right bit depth and bit rate in the Midi settings but I can’t say it sounds any better.

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Times Online reports younger music fans deaf

The Times Online reported recently that younger music fans are beginning to prefer the sound of MP3s to better quality sound.

Article

Jonathan Berger, Professor of Music at Stanford University, California has theorised that young people are getting used to the sound of MP3s to the point where they are beginning to prefer the  sound. For the past eight years his students have taken part in an experiment in which they listen to songs in a variety of different forms, including MP3s. “I found not only that MP3s were not thought of as low quality, but over time there was a rise in preference for MP3s” Professor Berger said.

Professor Berger says that the (presumably lower bit rate) digitising process leaves music with a “sizzle” or a metallic sound.

Google let me down when I was searching for the original paper or quote from JB.  Just wonder if he actually said MP3 as most iPods are loaded with AACs?  However, does it matter? At 128kbs both sound pretty rough.

Seems us older music fans should play as  much vinyl as possible.

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Another DacMagic power supply trial

Decided to use Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, but slightly more unusually, the DVD-A rip so the source is 24/96. Unlike quite a few DVD-As, this one appears to have some content above 22k. Amazing though, that given the total available dynamic range they still needed to ‘clip’ the recording.  Still sounds rather good though.
To start I compared the standard power supply with the Maplin L54BR.  Pleasant surprise, the Maplin delivers a subtlety of delivery that doesn’t emphasise any particular instruments. The original PS, in comparison, seems to make the bass line and the hi-hat a little more obvious in the mix of Dreams and decreases the importance of Stevie Nick’s voice.

Using track 7 , The Chain, showed the original as having a slightly ‘sharper’ delivery, more detail perhaps but certainly less music. The main difference was in the low end but this changed the overall presentation. The Maplin just delivered more music but in a controlled and balanced manner.

I then dug out the 500VA transformer I’d tried before – now in an aluminium box and with a ferrite on the output – in common with the original Dacmagic’s supply.  This PS delivered more power to the presentation, more extension apparently  but was slightly slower. It had better separation of instruments, but not really more music.

The more comparisons of power supplies I do with the Dacmagic the more impressed I am of the overall balance of the design.

I will carry on using the Maplin PS.  It is easier to hide away, as it isn’t a walwart, and more importantly it improves the performance making it just that little more balanced and even handed.

The music playback system was a HP2133 netbook running Foobar and ASIO drivers connected by USB2 to a M-Audio Transit sound card which was connected with a  Chord Optichord to the Cambridge.

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Another power supply for the Cambridge Dacmagic

I’ve been reading good reports on various fora of using a 240 to 12V AC transformer from Maplin as a relacement power supply for the Dacmagic. It’s a 36VA tranny in a plastic case with a captive 2 core mains cable and a selection of pluggable DC plugs. It’s Maplin part number L54BR. It costs £15.

I’ve picked up one locally so reports of some listening results very soon.

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Ripping and Computer Audio

These two subjects seem to be the most contentious around in the world of audio now. Both centre around sound quality and both somehow seem to bring out the most passionate views, often different to mine.

Theory one, is that it’s possible to get good sound from a computer feeding a DAC.  The debate tends to be as much around whether a Mac is better than a PC as a source as which DAC is ideal.  The general feeling seems to be that a Mac Book with a DAC costing around a £1k is cable of delivering better sound that a serious or very serious CD Player.  I agree a Mac and a DAC is cable of delivering a very good sound – but not a great one.  The Mac/DAC to my ears delivers a polished performance with poor dynamics downwards and little soul.  A great CD player adds back the soul, and reaches down into the quiet to somehow increase the space between the notes.  I’m sure it is possible to get a great sound from a ‘puter but it am sure it’s going to take a bit more effort than just plugging a DAC on to the output of a Mac.

Theory two, is that if a rip is perfect it should sound the same as another perfect rip of the same CD.  Seems pretty logical to me but somehow it doesn’t seem to be the case.  Listening blind and sighted to different rips which are identical, according to CRC and EAC’s file compare, they seem to sound different.  Consistency of results leads me to believe I’m not fooling myself.  Now, don’t expect these differences to be huge and obvious.  And don’t expect these to hear differences unless you have a revealing system and time.  If you have both and are willing to try a few rips then relax and let the tracks play through and observe your reaction to each track from an emotional level.  You need to be relaxed and not trying too hard – tension and stress are great ways of hearing less. When last trying this blind Malcolm Steward and I found differences in the rhythm of the track.

My conclusions are the same as usual with serious hi-fi.  The more I understand the more I realise I don’t know.