Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Two New Racks

My living room has undergone a large rearrangement since June.  A new 2 seat armless sofa was added to the back of the room, with Queen Anne chair moved to the side.  The 3 seat convertable sofa was moved toward the back, where the keyboard table used to be.  Two book cases were moved out of the living room and into another room.  All this makes for better movie viewing for most guests at my monthly discussion and movie party.  It makes for better seating and discussion too.

A key part of the plan was to rearrange the living room audio system also.  The piles of equipment behind each speaker were removed and placed in two new racks on the right side of the room.  The midrange amplifier, DSP units, midrange DAC, and power conditioner are still in the center of the room, but no longer in piles behind each speaker.  I feared the piles of equipment were interfering with the sound, and my fears have been confirmed.  It generally sounds much better now.

Since late last year I had planned to get a dual width Mapleshade rack.  Sadly the time for that never arrived, and vast money was spent on other things.  I feared the setup difficulty too.  In the "meantime" I first got one brand new 4 shelf Sanus rack because I needed "something" fast to finish the living room rearrangement which had to be completed before my party at the end of July.  The $129 price is unbelievable for such a well designed, useful, and reasonably well made rack (and from an actual Sanus online dealer).  And nice looking too, possibly an average guest couldn't tell the difference between this and a serious $5000 audiophile rack.

The first new Sanus rack was set up before my party in July.  I had the rest of the equipment piled on the 3 remaining shelves of my old (and strongly disliked because of pole spacing) Sanus Eurorack.  I was finding that having two Sonos boxes and the transformer on top of my Kenwood L-1000T was just too much, that tuner gets very hot even with nothing on top.  So I decided to get a second $129 rack to at least fix that problem, and several others, as well as be much nicer looking.

August I set up the second rack.  I also finally hooked up the equipment on the first rack, notably the two silver disc players and the Lavry AD10, with all new cables, and added new speaker cables (Canare Star Quad) for the Acoustats also.  But on the first hookup weekend I found I didn't have any suitable speaker cables for the super tweeters.  So that had to be ordered (more Canare from Blue Jeans Cable) and was ready to be hooked up the next weekend, which it was.

In the upgrade phase I have just completed the super tweeter driving chain has been greatly upgraded.  The Behringer DCX digital crossover is no longer used for the tweeters, I use a separate Behringer DEQ 2496 with parametric filters programmed to be the crossover.  The DEQ gives me a balanced digital output, which I convert to coax with a box I bought from Markertek.  The coax digital feeds an Onkyo RDV-1 DVD-Audio player which has digital inputs so it works just like a DAC and uses the fabulous PCM 1704 converters.  The 2.2V analog output (not the 10V output of the DCX) then feeds the perfectly fine and unchanged Parasound HCA-1000A power amp.  Which now feeds Canare speaker extension cables with locking bananas.   Now the supertweeter has its own digital crossover and PCM 1704 based DAC and uses low inductance cables.

(In the next phase, the subwoofer driving chain will be similarly upgraded.)

The cables everywhere are far better arranged than before.  The front of the living room used to have a murky pile of cables about a foot deep.  I couldn't remove cables anymore, I simply had to add new cables, so the pile had grown.  Now I have neatly arranged and a surprisingly smaller number of cables (despite more connections actually being made).  The AC power in particular is better set up.  I use currently only use half of the 8 outlets of my Panamax MB 1500 power conditioning UPS.  Each outlet feeds some kind of strip.  The racks at the far end have hospital grade $129 6 outlet strips from Wiremold.  Currently two strips with a third now on order (after I used up all 12 outlets and still needing more...).  There's a different brand with wide spaced outlets for the TV and various power adapters.  And there's the very very nice 6 outlet power box from Cullen Circuits powering my Tact digital preamp and Behringer DSP's.

Unlike before, when there power strips plugged into other strips with intervening extension cords plugged into the power conditioner, now there is only one level of strips plugged into the power conditioner, period, and no extensions for anything.  I believe this is essential for safety (some might argue all the outlets of the condition should be direct connections to equipment, but that's ridiculously impossible, I'd need 4 power conditioners to provide that many outlets, and it's actually best to have just one) and it makes for good organization.  It helps that Wiremold makes the hospital grade strips with 15' cords.

Better, better better!  It's taken a couple months of work and ordering cables.

Analog Resampling

Don't throw away those silver discs just yet!  I know this is nuts, the typical audiophile nuttiness.  But it's my nuttiness, not your NOS DAC's and that sort of thing (which I denounce).

I continue to find that listening to CD's has a special magic that listening to digital files doesn't have.  And the system in which I demonstrate this takes the analog output of a CD player then uses a high end AtoD converter to produce digital for digital crossover, then back to analog through high end DtoA converters.  I continue to believe that taking the analog outputs of the CD player is crucial for preserving the music.  Piping the digital output of the players directly into the digital chain has a comparatively flat and sterile   sound, even slightly harsh at times.  Resampling the analog always sounds smooth, but also like the music has been preserved in some special way.  It has always sounded this way to me (though, still thinking this to be a bit crazy, I haven't bothered with any ABX testing).

Now that I have my two new racks set up, I have my two super special disc players hooked up to the Lavry AD10 converter also.  The current lineup has two classic players, the Denon DVD-5900 and the all time heavyweight Denon DVD-9000.  I use the 5900 for SACD's and DVD-Audio, and the 9000 for CD's.  Actually the official purpose of the DVD-9000 is for HDCD's, which must be decoded by a HDCD player to extract the decoded dynamic range and filtering, and the DVD-9000 is the best HDCD playback I have ever heard and may well be better than the more famous HDCD statement players by California Audio Labs which only used PCM-1702.  But, as I have just verified, the 9000 rocks extra hard with regular CD's too.  With regular CD's, the 5900 sounds merely OK.

It was using the 5900 in 2010 when I first made the discovery about how special analog outputs sound.  Of course it's also true that Denon uses special processing known as AL24 to give 24 bit character to all recordings.  Maybe it's just that.  But now I'm finding the 9000 to be far better than my well used 5900 for CD's.  It's too bad my 9000 won't play SACD's or even DVD-Audio's, in the latter case because the motor drive can't handle higher speeds anymore (I tried to have it repaired, but new motor didn't help, it needs some on-board refurbishing which factory repair centers don't do).

Even though it's actually my 9000 which is the more dysfunctional player, it has the Magic, and the 5900 might well be replaced by something newer, such as an Oppo BDP-105, or something older but specifically designed for SACD, such as a DVD-9000ES or SCD-1.  However right now the 5900 is the most magical player I have for SACD and DVD-Audio and it does still do it for them.

I'd been listening to the SACD version of Brothers in Arms on the 5900.  I needed some of that hard rocking again, digital files were sounding too ethereal.  Playing discs on a silver disc player and taking the analog output restores the palpability.  Then I switched to a plain CD of Pretzel Logic.  It sounded only normal on the 5900, not unlike the digital files, but magical on the 9000.

I have an explanation that objectivists aren't going to like.  Ignoring the dual differential PCM 1704's in the 9000, the dual power supplies, and other special features, the special reason why the DVD-9000 sounds special is because it has to.  It has no other reason for existing anymore other than to sound special.  The player is barely working, can't handle DVD's anymore, so this is its Swan Song.  Swan Songs are special.  It's giving its all, and it has a lot to give.

Anyway, I've thought a lot of why analog resampling might actually make things sound better.  It's obvious that it might be adding just a bit of noise, but that's not what I think is doing it.  I think expressing something in the analog domain is special somehow.  And it also gives me the ability to resample in a better digital format, 24 bit 96 kHz.  This is like opening up more space or something.

I think there's something like "grounding" going on.  By expressing the music in analog form before resampling, it's turned into something real and not something imaginary.  And that's kind of how it sounds.

Others have different nuttiness.  Mark Levinson, for example, has been recently selling his "Master Class" software for EQ which features something called A+.  Whatever A+ actually is, isn't revealed.

Now clearly this is something entirely different from analog resampling as it's an all digital process of some kind, implemented in software.  It might be something like Denon's AL24 processing--which in my experience has been good sounding.

Or not.  One interesting idea I've thought a lot about is that each time I play a disc, my resampling process creates an entirely different set of numbers.  This is because the sampling clock is running independently of the CD player clock, so it starts at a random point each time.  Plus, since the two clocks aren't connected they may slightly drift apart.

So each time I get a unique set of numbers describing the same sounds.  According to conventional audio engineering, if the resampling is done well enough (and it is) they should be indistinguishable anyway.

But I still think it's special somehow.  And, actually an entirely software-driven process could do exactly the same thing, by doing the virtual equivalent of analog resampling.