Dear Get Better Sound readers,
Welcome to the seventh issue of Quarter Notes!Quarter Notes is a quarterly newsletter for Get Better Sound readers, expanding on the Get Better Sound
manual, as well as introducing new and timely subjects. From
time-to-time, we may have a guest writer on a special topic. This issue
features an important guest.
fact, for this issue, I’m focusing like a laser (pun intended) on
perhaps the most important and relevant audophile topic of our time -
Computer Audio. If you still don’t have a computer audio system,
then you probably need to read this article most of all!
The first topic we’ll briefly examine in this issue is the new Get Better Sound DVD! ☺
forget, you are invited to e-mail me with your questions and
comments. If appropriate, and with your approval, I may include
your note – or a reply to it – in an upcoming newsletter.
have a bunch of comments on hand even now, but I feel that they can
wait another issue as we continue to examine the most important
audiophile topic of our time.
Best e-mail address
you’re reading this, the e-mail address that I used to notify you must
have worked. However, the only e-mail address I have is the one
associated with your initial Get Better Sound order.
If you have an e-mail address that you’d prefer to use to receive Quarter Notes notifications, send it to email@example.com.
Be sure to list the month of purchase (if possible), and definitely
include the address I used originally along with the one that you want
to use to replace it.
The new Get Better Sound DVD!
I don’t want to take up a lot of your time and our Quarter Notes space with this announcement. It’s covered on the GBS homepage.
However, I do want to briefly tell you why it even exists.
As I’ve traveled around North America, voicing dozens of GBS readers’ systems, one thing struck me so hard that I knew I hadn’t done enough with the book.
Every reader had used GBS,
had reported improvements, and yet they asked me to complete the
job. I confess that I hadn’t even thought of this personal
voicing aspect when I wrote the book.
really surprised me was that after we were finished, they all were
amazed at how much better the sound had gotten. And yet, I had
used the tips in GBS - the same ones that they had read.
I discovered is that what I do is more detailed than readers
realized. And there were some additional topics that needed
better explanations. A visual illustration is far more powerful
than I had expected.
Industry people and audiophiles who had read GBS
- who then saw the early test DVD clips - all said that this was a
valuable addition, and would really enhance the book. They all
reported that they learned a lot. Which was weird to me at first,
since most of it was in the GBS book, but apparently not as clear as I’d thought.
So I did it. In addition to making the most relevant tips visual, I’ve also included some new topics.
halfway into the project, we ran into some issues that rendered our
work largely unusable. So we started over. Still not finished as
I write this.
The lead times for print ads are at least a couple of months. When I wrote a DVD advertisement for Stereophile a couple of months ago, I expected the DVD to be ready to ship when the ad appeared.
ad breaks in a few days (it’s Dec. 2, 2010 as I write this). But
the DVD may not be ready to ship until later in December. So I
decided to offer advance order pricing to those folks who came to the
website expecting to order.
the DVD starts shipping, its price will be US $29.70. But advance
orders are just $19.95. You can go to the home page to read a bit
more - http://getbettersound.com Or if you like, you can go straight to the order page - http://getbettersound.com/thebook.html
Computer Audio, Part Two
the last QNs issue, I spent some time talking about Computer
Audio. I know that it hit home, because I received more e-mail
correspondence about that topic than any other QNs topics combined from
the previous 5 QNs newsletters!
you think about our lives as audiophiles, more often than not we’ve had
to go through more and more steps as our sound sources improved.
I’ve called it the audiophile hair-shirt
syndrome. We are all familiar with the whole process required for
vinyl playback. It takes time and a lot of care to get the potentially
great results that are waiting in those grooves. Watching me over
the years, my wife would probably say it takes a good bit of
course, we all have to clean/coat/treat our CDs. Maybe even put a
vibration-damping mat on each CD as we play it.
been a resurgence of high-performance reel-to-reel analog
playback. Proper storage and handling of an analog tape is
tedious (if you do it right). Then there’s tape head cleaning and
be honest. As our potential for higher sound quality has grown,
our audiophile hair-shirt has gotten itchier and itchier.
that’s part of why Computer Audio is so unique and so relevant to our
future as audiophile music lovers. For the first time that I can
recall, a source technology (LP, CD, tape, etc.) is easier to use while sounding noticeably better. When I say easier to use, I mean a LOT easier to use.
issue, I touched on the sound quality of Computer Audio. I
purposely did not relate anything about some of the options
available. The cool thing is that there are upgrade paths that
you can take, all without having to replace any hardware!
For example, what follows is my upgrade path – I’m not saying that it should be yours, but I think it’ll be instructive info.
initially used my MacBook Pro laptop with iTunes. I later
introduced significant improvements without having to change any
hardware (OK, I made a couple of changes to my MacBook because I didn’t
have it optimized for Computer Audio when I ordered it – more about
that in a moment).
didn’t HAVE to change the MBP, but I had read enough about the effects
that I couldn’t resist doing it. If you remember the tip in GBS about making one change at a time, that’s what I did.
the first thing I did was to select a software program that would yield
better sound than iTunes. There were a number to select from, and the
selection continues to expand. The two most widely used on the
Mac platform are Amarra & Pure Music.
ended up choosing Pure Music. You might not. But a software
system that can use the iTunes library, or maybe one that may not use
it, can result in a rewarding upgrade in your sound quality if you’re
playing Redbook CDs. If you’re still only a vinyl guy/gal, this
new technology may cause you to rethink that position. I know it
has for a number of my readers once they’ve been exposed to a higher
level of performance from CD that is also far easier to use.
Better recordings, more involving sound
is more and more music coming out and/or being remastered from high-res
digital or analog originals. These 24 bit recordings, with a
higher sample rate (88.2 or 96 kHz) than the 44.1 kHz CD, have an order
of magnitude more information on them, which comes across as more
detail (in every area – music, low level info, and enhanced spatial
cues). Most importantly, they have much greater musical dynamics (not
in the sense of being louder, but in the area of going softer and
retrieving more of the subtle sounds that have been lost with 16
bit). This greater resolution means that you will find your music
playback to be more compelling, to be more emotionally involving than
you’ve previously experienced from CD.
play these recordings, you need to find a special playback
system. Standard Redbook CD players and transports won’t play
them. What to do?
them onto your computer from various sites such as Linn, HD Tracks, 2L,
etc. You’ll have near-master tape quality then. Furthermore, you
can also download exceptional masters from companies such as Reference
Recordings at an even higher level of resolution.
and accomplished recording engineers, some of whom I know, continue to
report that 24 bit 176-or-192 technology is so good that they can’t
tell it apart from the direct microphone feed at the recording
session. The future is here!
I’m writing this mostly to talk to you about making a significant
improvement in your sound and the ease of using it when simply playing
standard Redbook CDs that you already have or that are easily
are tons of articles out there that explain the advantages of importing
an uncompressed, bit-perfect recording into your computer. Once
you have it, then you can decide what songs you want to keep and where
you’d like to store them. With a little thought and careful selection,
you’ll have a CD playback system that transcends what was possible from
spinning discs in CD players and transports.
am NOT recommending that you use the sound as it comes from your
computer. There are no computers that have audiophile DACs in
them. You’ll need a DAC. The computer becomes your
transport, albeit a better source than a spinning disc.
are good, affordable DACs for computers to be had for no more than a
couple of hundred dollars. An example is the HRT Music Streamer
2. As with most high-end audio, there are more costly DACS out
there as well.
my research, I ended up wanting to use the Ayre/Wavelength USB
asynchronous streaming technology. The system had to be portable,
so I could carry it around North America to voice readers’ systems and
to do demos in various locales.
you’re reading this, I KNOW you have a computer and you can use it well
enough to get around on the Internet. As I mentioned last time, there
is a lot of helpful set-up info on the Wavelength, Ayre, and Computer
Audiophile websites, as well as others.
And the fact is, as a relative newbie to the world of Computer Audio, it turned out that I needed some help.
But it was a one-time thing for each issue. As I got them
resolved, (again no biggie, but it did take a bit of patience), all
those problems went away and I’ve had no issues for several
months. Well, maybe one issue. I don’t want to stop
Music – as delivered – sounded great. It’s worth saying that any issues
I ran into came about when I decided to take advantage of certain
options in Pure Music. I could have left it “stock” and all would
have been well, but I can’t seem to relinquish the notion of tweaking
the system for a bit more.
issues from my sometimes-improper entry of some Pure Music tweaks, I
always got prompt feedback from Channel D customer service.
Channel D is the company that produces and supports Pure Music software.
I took advantage of the free 15-day trial period to see if PM was
worthwhile. It was. I should say again that you might prefer
Amarra, AyreWave, J. River, Foobar, or one of the other programs out
as I corresponded with the person who helped me, I noticed that his
name was Rob, coincidentally also the name of the Director of
Engineering at Pure Music. Sure enough, my help was coming from
the top guy! One thing led to another, and I discovered that Rob
had bought a copy of Get Better Sound over a year earlier!
interested me because I’ve long had an issue with some digital audio
because it was developed by smart people who seemed to have no interest
whatsoever in high performance audio. At least, not at the level
that you and I have desired. At some point, I asked Rob if I
could interview him for an upcoming Quarter Notes, and he agreed. This issue contains that interview.
Five easy pieces
These observations are about Computer Audio as a whole, and only peripherally related to Pure Music:
Ease of operation – this is a no-brainer. No discs or tapes to
handle. No danger of scratching them or other wear and tear
issues. In my absent-minded professor style, I’m always
misplacing my music. Instead of searching through your source
material for that music that you thought you knew where you’d left it,
you just look into your computer list, select the music, push play, and
I often only want to hear certain songs from an album. So I can
store only those certain songs. Or easily select them with a
I was unprepared for the improved sound quality as I introduced some
options that were available in Pure Music. Of course, some of
these options may also be available in other software programs.
The cool thing is that you can try them out and see if you like them.
If not, go back to what you had. No equipment to buy.
upgrades come along in the software, the downloads are easy and they
are free. No sending your component back to the factory for days
or weeks. As a hard-core audiophile over the years, I can tell
you that hardware upgrades are NOT free!
My little MBP/Ayre/Pure Music rig is simply better
than the best CD playback that I own, have owned, or that I have ever
heard. As I’ve voiced systems around North America, I’ve run into
some systems with really sophisticated CD playback – as well as
excellent vinyl playback.
every instance, the client has been struck with the compelling sound
quality I get with every-day 16bit/44.1 music that I imported from
standard CDs. It’s no exaggeration to say that some were literally
dumbfounded. They had no idea that level of sound could be
available from standard CD-sourced digital, not to mention that it came
from a simple and relatively small - portable - rig. And every visitor to my place has had the same reaction.
you still haven’t dipped your toes into the Computer Audio water (and
from the correspondence I get, at least half-to-two thirds of you
haven’t), come on in. The water is mighty fine!
Stumbling blocks. Yep, there are some. I think some people
(who are not totally computer savvy) will have a moment or two where
they don’t understand how to make something work in the set-up.
Please trust me here – it is TOTALLY worth the possible momentary
frustrations to get another level of performance that is easier to
access. And you may not have any troubles at all.
software you select, I’d definitely start out with the stock music
player program and use it for a while. Then, if you’re so inclined, try
some of the options.
folks worry about the “time lost” importing their CDs. I haven’t
found this to be an issue. I can do it while working. I can do it
while watching TV or listening to music. I often do it while
Relative cost of upgrades – hardware vs. software. Pretty much of
a no-brainer and one of the big advantages of Computer Audio.
If only the CD had been conceived of, designed, and supported by
audiophiles. Fortunately we do have musically sensitive
audiophiles on the digital design scene now, so it’s a new day!
Computer hardware upgrades
promised I’d mention a couple of upgrades that I did on my MacBook
Pro. I should mention that I already had great sound. I
didn’t NEED to do these upgrades. Anyway, here they are:
More RAM. Easy to install and useful for a program that puts the
music in Memory (if you choose that option). I had 4 GB, which is
a lot. But I added another 4 GB, because I had a slot, and I was
using the memory Play option in Pure Music.
a Mac guy, but I don’t buy their RAM. It’s too expensive. I
used Crucial RAM. There are other options, which might be better
or less expensive.
I replaced my 7200 RPM 500 GB hard drive with a 256 GB Solid State
Drive (SSD). Again, I didn’t buy the Mac product. I changed
it myself. I used OWC Vertex. You may well prefer another option.
do need to do a little research before you do this, regarding moving
your operating system over to the SSD. I used Carbon Copy Cloner
to do it. Didn’t even have to load my OSX software!
of these tweaks improved my sound quality. Was it the proverbial
“night and day?” No, but I’m really glad I did it.
(3) Not an upgrade, but I’m including it here – be sure you have a back-up system and that you use it!
Hopefully you know me well enough by now that you’re aware that I don’t specifically recommend products, neither in the GBS set-up manual, nor in Quarter Notes.
follows is NOT a specific endorsement or recommendation, but it’s
useful to illuminate the direction Computer Audio is taking, and maybe
at least as important, the direction from whence it came.
Meet Dr. Rob Robinson, Director of Engineering, Channel D
D offers a number of computer-audio-related software programs. In
this case, it’s their Pure Music software that introduced us to
Here’s a sort of bio that Channel D distributes:
being an audiophile, musician and dedicated music lover, Rob Robinson
was a research scientist and project manager at Bell Communications
Research (originally part of AT&T Bell Laboratories) in New Jersey.
Robinson has been designing application and driver level software for
the Apple Macintosh platform since 1985, focusing on audio signal
processing and analysis. He has been responsible for product creation
at Channel D since 1996.
with the introduction of the acclaimed Mac the Scope audio signal
analyzer in 1997, Channel D has created popular and innovative audio
software for Apple Macintosh computers. Pure Vinyl, released in 2006
for transcription of vinyl LPs to high resolution digital formats,
recently was honored with a Stereophile Product of the Year Award. Pure
Music, high resolution digital audio player software released in 2010,
has been praised by audiophiles worldwide.”
Jim - How long have you been interested in high performance consumer audio?
- Since about 1973, when I designed and built my first subwoofer (which
used a Dahlquist passive crossover until I learned to build my own
active crossovers). It was a folded quarter wave transmission line, a
fairly large box that played quite loudly. Rock concert loud. It's hard
to imagine now, but this was way before the notion of a "subwoofer" had
entered the consciousness of audio consumers in general. A subwoofer
was really quite a weird thing to have back then, even for an
designed and sold subwoofers (with internal power amplifier and
crossover) while in graduate school, to student colleagues and even to
one of my professors! This continued for some time afterwards. Somehow
my future co-workers also caught wind of my interest in audio, and I
either sold them my subwoofers or consulted on audio systems. That was
in the 1980s.
Jim - What kind of system do you have?
Rob - My
personal systems include loudspeakers by Vandersteen, PSB, Polk,
Cerwin-Vega (for playing VERY LOUD in a big room) and JBL (mini
speakers in a patio) plus eight Bag End subwoofers (I don't have the
time to design and build subwoofers any more).
amplifiers by Parasound, Hafler, QSC and Jolida. No analog
preamplifiers at all, except for a couple of Channel D Seta "flat"
phono stages. I also have a couple of DAT machines and cassette
recorders for transcribing old tapes.
analog, line stage preamplifier has been collecting dust since 2000,
when I set up my first dedicated "computer audio" system. Right
now my favorite audio interfaces for my main system are the Lynx Aurora
8 or the Prism Orpheus, connected to a Mac Mini.
components are connected together in a distributed audio system,
streamed (using Pure Vinyl software's NetSend feature) to remote Mac
computers and DACs over wired Ethernet. The main system (or any of the
remote computers) can drive all of the (other) remotes with the same
remotes are time-aligned with software on the receiving computer so
that when walking from room to room the sound holds together coherently
without any echoes, which would not happen if it were not time-aligned.
effect is really quite liberating because there is no "beaming" of
audio from any one system, it simply and effortlessly fills the entire
living space, while still permitting critical, focused listening in the
main listening room with the primary system.
Jim - Do you have a turntable?
Rob - Of
course! Four turntables (a 5th is planned relatively soon), by Michell,
Thorens, Pro-Ject and Technics. I've also owned other turntables
including Dual, Garrard, and Rabco (the linear - tracker). I use the
Technics for playing 78s and the Pro-Ject for certain thrift store
records when I don't want to risk damaging the styli on my better
include Ortofon Kontrapunkt b and Ortofon A90 moving coil, plus Grado,
Ortofon and Audio-Technica moving magnet on the other tables. All of
this gear was paid for, none "donated" by manufacturers.
have long stopped counting LPs, but my LP collection covers well over
50 linear feet, so over 5000, in every genre of music, plus several
hundred 7" 45 singles. Also, about 1500 CDs, with not that much overlap
with the vinyl.
Jim - What prompted you to develop the PM product?
This was an outgrowth of the Pure Vinyl product we introduced in 2006,
so to discuss Pure Music also means discussing its Pure Vinyl roots.
enabling technology for Pure Vinyl and our computer audio software
products was the introduction of the Lynx TWO 192 kHz 24 bit sound card
around 2001 - I think it still ranks among the best. I thought I would
attempt RIAA correction in the digital domain with this card, and the
results even with a simple breadboarded gain stage were astonishing.
(It later turned out that the microphone preamps included with many
audio interfaces used for recording were a good match in terms of gain
and noise level for lifting the signal level of a MC cartridge.)
was confirmed with blind tests comparing high quality (that is,
properly mastered, not "loud") CD issues of the same vinyl recording,
carefully level matched of course, with the different recording sources
/ tracks alternated on a CD-R disc, to eliminate as many variables as
possible. The subjects in the blind test knew the purpose of the tests,
but were floored when told that the "better" ones they picked were
actually sourced from vinyl, not CD!
we took on a tremendous risk of beginning development of Pure Vinyl in
2002, strictly out of love for the analog format. At the time, vinyl
was dead commercially, and so we stood little to gain financially from
this venture. It was a little crazy to attempt it, but the improvement
in quality from the digital RIAA compared to a conventional phono stage
made it worthwhile.
2002 to 2006 we fine tuned and honed the entire signal chain,
optimizing and streamlining performance, in conjunction with extensive
listening tests and living with and using the product on a daily basis.
Pure Vinyl 1.0 was released in 2006, after 4 years of development and
Pure Vinyl 2, released in 2008, we added a feature to allow
automatically grabbing and playing tracks from iTunes playlists. This
was the beginning of Pure Music. In the next iteration of Pure
Vinyl, we added the iTunes "docking" and window tracking interface.
This immediately grabbed the attention of audiophiles with computer
audio systems. The playback quality was praised, beginning with the
very first adopters. Folks actually were buying Pure Vinyl just for
this feature, and ignoring the "vinyl" recorder part!
the next logical step was to create a product containing only the
player features in Pure Vinyl. That product was Pure Music, introduced
at the AXPONA audio expo in March 2010. It was an immediate success.
parts of the software dealing with vinyl recording, etc. are actually
completely stripped out of Pure Music, and not simply disabled with a
software flag. And regarding the Pure Vinyl product, of course now
there seem to be other products arriving for vinyl transfer to digital,
if only to capitalize on the demand for such things, but we actually
blazed the first trail purely out of dedication to and a love for the
Jim - In your opinion, what is in the digital future for audiophiles?
I went over this a bit in my presentations at RMAF in the "Vinyl
Ripping" and “Advances in Computer Audio” seminars, in which I
participated or conducted the primary presentation. Basically, if it
hasn't already happened, it will very soon: except for vinyl and
perhaps SACD, computer audio will make everything that's connected
before the audio system power amplifiers obsolete.
sound quality of the latest high resolution audio converters is
indistinguishable from pure analog, so we also now can replace the line
level preamplifier with a multi-channel input audio interface, using
software for source switching and volume control, providing a virtual
line level preamplifier.
– Hmm. Not sure I’m ready to make this jump just yet. I only just
got my feet nice and wet with Computer Audio. And it’ll take
amplifier manufacturers willing and able to incorporate the high-res
we’re talking about the future for audiophiles – even though a good bit
of it is possible now – maybe all of it. I can’t imagine handling
the music with a system of less than 24/192 capability, if not
32/384. As I‘ve mentioned, most perceptive recording engineers
report that they can hear the difference between a direct mic feed and
24/96, but not with 24/192. So we’ll want to use a system that is
totally transparent and one that doesn’t lose critical resolution when
we turn it down.
Do you have access to any numbers showing the penetration of computer audio into the CD realm? How about a best guess?
I will say without getting into specifics, or climbing out on a limb,
in the spirit of anyone's favorite weather prognosticator, that it's
less than 50 percent. ☺
Jim - Will we still be able to buy CDs in 7 years?
Rob - Yes.
Jim - Maybe you’re right. I can’t imagine it hanging on for long.
Any other similar topics that you'd like to expound upon, or for that matter, any soapbox you'd like to speak from
I shared some of my thoughts on the topic of "why" computer audio
sounds good and "why" there are sonic differences between what are
deemed bit perfect audio software players, at the Advances in Computer
Audio seminar at the past RMAF. (I believe they will be posting the
videos of the sessions in a month or so.)
is a slightly complicated topic, but I will state up front that it is
definitely not because of "the math" or integer to floating point to
integer conversion, etc. That stuff is not rocket science, for example
Apple specifies exactly how it is to be done. There is only one correct
way. It's true that some hardware and software manufacturers tried to
be a little too clever with the conversion process when Mac OS X was
first introduced many years ago, and this ended up actually harming the
audio quality, because of conflicts in the way the conversion was
expected to be performed. But that is a thing of the past now.
real reason for differences in quality has more to do with the degree
of code streamlining, keeping data pipelines filled and flowing as
smoothly as possible.
are only bits, except when we are talking real-time delivery of audio,
because the temporal aspect, the business of actually delivering the
bits to the hardware, is critical. The temporal aspect can be
influenced by things like periodic surges in power demand affecting the
signal reference levels in hardware, even in the digital domain.
a computer works most efficiently and draws power more steadily and
smoothly under balanced, steady state load conditions, not when surges
in CPU demand are continuously interspersed with idle states, while the
audio is playing. Things like memory play are helpful, but the
underlying framework has to be there to derive the most benefit from it.
Jim – More and more products are coming out. Any opinion?
Rob - If
you mean products like new models of optical disc transports for CD
audio, sadly, their days are numbered. Aside from that I don't know
what other products you mean...?
Jim - I meant more interesting software products like AyreWave, Audirvana, etc.
Rob - The
newer ones on the Mac platform are beginning to learn how difficult it
can be to deliver something that works reliably and consistently for
all users, even just a bare-bones player having a minimal User
Interface. We've been there, done that... and consistency is key in
this new computer audio thing. We want to make audiophiles HAPPY in
taking this route.
– It does seem that some of the newer programs assume a certain
familiarity with Computer Audio. I don’t think this is
necessarily a bad thing.
Rob - Some
additional perspective: we use iTunes as the controller and library
manager because we've seen many "stand alone" (that is, trying to keep
separate from iTunes) music player software packages that attempt to
directly parse the iTunes database format come and go over the years.
Go, because Apple, sooner or later, decides without warning to change
the iTunes database format, breaking the third party player software.
Hmmm - This can sound daunting to a complete Computer Audio newbie, as
I was maybe six months ago. After all of this, I want my
readers to fully embrace this exciting new future in audio, and not be
scared to try it.
Rob – Well, you got through it and you admit to not having had much of a clue! ☺
we have users that have NEVER used a computer before, and are helping
them through "computer 101." For example, basics such as how to shut
down the computer are unknowns. We now have a Getting Started
section on the website, which is continually being honed, updated, and
– Thanks, Rob. This interview has me even more excited about
Computer Audio because the main man at Channel D came out of a nearly
life-long love affair with analog, which he still enjoys to this day!
And the good news is that I can think of many more visionary designers
in the hardware field who are making the transition, but always
carrying their analog values with them.
That’s about all I can fit in this Quarter Notes. Hope you found it helpful, or at least interesting.
Please write with any questions, comments, or suggestions. See you next time!
Go to Get Better Sound