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dCS Debussy review and digital sound quality

SpursGator

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Jan 12, 2012
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Some very good HiFi porn, the WHF dCS Debussy DAC review. I've read a couple of other reviews of similar products recently, ultra-high end DACs with reclocked USB, ridiculous sound, an upgradeable architechture, and a monstrous price tag. I pine for one of these things, someday, even though I know it probably means that I am mentally ill and have some sort of perversion/malady related to hifi that will leave me broke, alone, and living like one of the people on the TV shows about hoarders.

But I digress. In the review there appears the following statement: 'There are some people that doubt whether high-resolution recordings sound any better than CD quality"

So a couple of somewhat contradictory comments on this issue. My first reaction is to say, really? There are really people with really good amps/speakers who can't hear the (obvious to me) differences? I am not implying that I can hear the difference between, say, 96khz and 192khz, but as far as the difference between a CD (at 44khz/16 bit) and almost any higher-rate format, an A/B test very quickly exposes the difference.

In fact, the difference between 44/16 and 96/24 can account for almost all of the complaints that turntable fans have about "digital" - it's not "digital" that's the problem, it's the sampling format. If you love phonographs, what you should do is take your records to a high-end studio to be digitised at a very high sampling rate. You can then - given a great DAC of course, haha! - listen to your phonograph records, digitally, any time you want with an indestructible medium, and it will sound EXACTLY like your records. I recall reading an article from the US about this - they digitised the guy's records and he thought he was listening to them - they changed the cartridge halfway through the digitisation and the audiophile caught it, and said hey, you just changed the cartridge.

But yeah, I've looked through the forum and see that, indeed, there are doubters and there have been big debates. So rather than rehash all that, I will share a listening experience that has given me a nuanced view about all of this.

I basically always argue that the reason people don't like digital is that they don't like CDs. And indeed, a lot of CDs sound really, really bad on a good system, for a variety of reasons (and of course some CDs sound amazing). I even think that some standard DVDs sound much better than CD, even though the data is often lightly compressed (maybe because of the 24 bit sample size, which gives more dynamic range).

Back in 1994 friend of mine, whose father is a pro filmmaker, made a soundboard recording of a local band, in what turned out to be one of their best shows. He used a portable DAT (digital audio tape) machine - not a consumer model but his dad's pro machine, with no copy-management system (the thing that destroyed DAT as a format), great input stages, and top (for the day) A/D converters. Plugging the machine itself into my modest, at that time, home system the next day, the quality was striking - there was a dryness and a separation to each drum in the kit that was unlike anything I had ever heard on my system. Simply put, it sounded exactly like the concert we had just attended the night before, minus the room reverb.

I got a CD copy of the concert from him (and made on his dad's pro kit) but it wasn't the same. It sounded okay, but a lot like a late-80s CD, before lessons were learned. The DAT machine recorded at a 48khz rate, so in the process of going down to 44.1khz, there is some manipulation.

So recently I saw my friend. He still has his dad's DAT machine - bit of a relic now - and I have a Benchmark DAC1. We tried the tape of the concert and it played perfectly - first we used the RCA outputs on the DAT. The concert still sounded great, just like I remembered. We were listening to it on one of the old Nakamichi Receiver 2 (part of a great range, best Japanese amps ever, alas, killed off in the home cinema stampede) and a brand-new pair of KEF Q300s.

Then we used the coax digital out on the DAT into the Benchmark. I have to say - sorry to make such a long post to get to this - it was a near-religious experience. I've never heard anything sound this good. We moved it to my main system (Pathos Logos - ProAc D18) and I am telling you, sound was coming from everywhere in the room. There was a crystal-clear perfection in each instrument, vocals way in front, separation on the drums like I have never heard, save for standing in a room while someone fiddles with a drum kit. Vocals were more natural than any turntable I have ever heard, at any price. There were people in the room with me, playing instruments and singing.

One more point on this. I recently bought the SACD of Dire Straits Brothers in Arms, which also contains a remastered standard-CD version. They went back and made this from the analogue masters, which were in great shape, and I think that the SACD is light-years better than the original CD (which I also own).

The funny thing is, the standard CD version also sounds very very good. In fact, the standard CD version played through my Benchmark, versus the SACD played through the Oppo-95EU via the XLR outputs, is basically a draw. Enough has been learned about how to sample the original masters that the high-res SACD version is pretty obviously better even than the phono on most systems. That's not really surprising, especially if you agree with my original premise, which is that CDs aren't as good as the same info at a higher sample rate.

What is surprising is that the remastered CD version is so good, arguably blowing my contention out of the water. What it shows is more surprising: that enough has been learned about how to downsample, and do the manipulation, that regular CDs really ought to be better than they are, and sometimes, when it's done right, they can be very good indeed, perhaps even close to good enough to obviate the need for a better format (something that's proven elusive and highly-copy-protected anyway).

I really think that we are in an era like digital photography was a few years back, where the masses are using digital but where the real pros (or in our case, the audiophiles) either use high-end analogue or use digital, but only the very high-end equipment (like the early digital SLR cameras or ultra-high end DACs like the dCS Debussy).

And the fact that the high end DACs sound so incredible shows how much more nuance is left to be unlocked in the realm of digital. I once thought digital meant the end of high-end sources, that all CD players would be about the same. Obviously that isn't true, and the diversity of how these DACs do their job (PLLs are good or bad? Buffer and reclock? Tube output stage?) shows that we still have even better sound to look forward to as it trickles down. Hifi competition remains healthy.

But for me the concert tape experience - at 'only' 48khz - proves that the most important factor in getting more out of the Compact Disc is out of our hands - it what happens in the studio. Very high-res recordings sound better than CDs if they come straight from the (these days, normally digital) source. But more and more I am concluding that the 'straight from the source' part is what matters, not the sample rate.

Anyway - just Saturday musings. Sorry to ramble.

Kevin
 

oldric_naubhoff

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Mar 11, 2011
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SpursGator said:
But for me the concert tape experience - at 'only' 48khz - proves that the most important factor in getting more out of the Compact Disc is out of our hands - it what happens in the studio. Very high-res recordings sound better than CDs if they come straight from the (these days, normally digital) source. But more and more I am concluding that the 'straight from the source' part is what matters, not the sample rate.

Anyway - just Saturday musings. Sorry to ramble.

Kevin
I must concur with your last paragraph. anyone who red about digitisation of audio knows that higher sampling rates don't mean higher resolution, only higher frequency range that can be reproduced (in case of 96kHz sampling rates - way above human hearing threshold). that's why Red Book is "only" 44.1kHz because there's no point in it being higher sampling frequency. I believe that the reason why Red Book in so many cases sounds poorly is down to irresponsible mastering and post production of original material in the studio. possibly to meet some market demands?

however, I tend to agree that we should be getting whatever bit resolution and sampling frequency they work on in the studios. I think downsampling to Red Book is not a good way to go, the same as in case of jpg and raw files, if we are to maintain photographic analogy... have a nice weekend!
 

CnoEvil

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Aug 21, 2009
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I enjoyed reading it and totally agree.

What confuses matters is that a well mastered 320 kbps sounds better than badly mastered 16 bit, and a well mastered 16 bit sounds better than a badly mastered 24 bit.......but all things being equal, I hear an improvement as the resolution improves.

The other fly in the ointment, is how well NOS Dacs can sound in a properly implemented system, such as that from Audio Note....it is a bit (sorry,bad pun!) controversial though.
 

paradiziac

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Jan 8, 2011
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Several interesting musings, each one of which could spark a long, convoluted and pointless circular argument!

I basically agree with you in having a "nuanced view" of digital and the belief that there's a lot to come from digital playback.
 

paradiziac

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Jan 8, 2011
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CnoEvil said:
What confuses matters is that a well mastered 320 kbps sounds better than badly mastered 16 bit, and a well mastered 16 bit sounds better than a badly mastered 24 bit.......but all things being equal, I hear an improvement as the resolution improves.
I think the key is the upsampling algorithm (also known as filtering or oversampling). All DACs (except the NOS DACs!) upsample internally, but in simple terms, feeding such a DAC with a signal of a higher bit rate/sampling rate gives the upsampling filter "less work to do" and thus degrades the original signal less.

However, non-realtime conversion between 24/96 and 16/44 is not a problem these days as it was in the early days of digital. Meyer Moran showed that no-one could hear any difference between native 24/96 and the same files downsampled to 16/44 and then re-upsampled back to 24/96.

So in reality, unless the 24 bit files are mastered differently, the only advantage of "hi-res" is if your DAC performs better with 24/96 than it does with 16/44, which in fact may well be true (thus explaining many people's observations). If this is the case, you can upsample to 24/96 on your computer first (or drop 6K on the dCS Scarlatti upsampler which can do the same job with a fancy box ;) ).
 

WishTree

Well-known member
May 18, 2010
107
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SpursGator said:
Some very good HiFi porn, the WHF dCS Debussy DAC review.

.....

Kevin
Hi Kevin, I was wanting to take a dig at this product review or more at these kind super high end products but after reading your thoroughly enjoybale write up, I feel it is done from a different view point.

U r right about a system able to resolve from a tunrtable should be able to do from DAC and the source sampling could be the culprit.

DAC technology as some people dismiss off as unable to hear any difference, I guess is coming more from the choice of source material or the way it is sampled.

I am still puzzled about the fact that remastering techniques are still in evolving stages (?) or the studios don't care enough??

May be there is a true business potential here for them to differential price them.

As cno said, I am still unconvinced about the record studios dedication to give the best possible given the huge differences in some end resulted CDs

Coming back to the exotic DACs, I wonder who are the customers and what would they target to achieve when the source material is not mastered properly (I guess) or the other thing about DRC...

Last - HiFi Porn is an interesting way to put this (admittendly not the first time to read it but it hit me this time right) and what would this term make one who buys such DAC ??!! (With my CP-800 I am wondering am I too far behind? Less than a year back I thought a PS Audio DL3 is best I can spend for a DAC.. may be soon I need a rehab :cry: )
 

CnoEvil

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Aug 21, 2009
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WishTree said:
Hi Kevin, I was wanting to take a dig at this product review or more at these kind super high end products but after reading your thoroughly enjoybale write up, I feel it is done from a different view point.

U r right about a system able to resolve from a tunrtable should be able to do from DAC and the source sampling could be the culprit.

DAC technology as some people dismiss off as unable to hear any difference, I guess is coming more from the choice of source material or the way it is sampled.
I had the Debussy out on dem at home, and preferred the Majik....which surprised me. I was using the Linn as a transport, so it's possible that effected things.

So far, every time I've heard DCS, it has left me a little cold but with a respect for the product (if that makes sense).
 

noogle

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Jul 29, 2010
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Kevin - Great piece. I think you're bang on about the studio being responsible for a lot of what goes wrong. Case in point: Rush's latest album "Clockwork Angels". Super-compressed and mastered to the CD at such high levels that there is a huge amount of clipping - e.g. 2810 clips on the title track alone. Haven't heard the 96/24 version yet (mainly because HDTracks won't sell it to me).
 

nopiano

Well-known member
Feb 15, 2009
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Terrific view, Kevin. I enjoyed it. I still have the odd cassette made straight from a mixing desk and there is noting quite like it.

I remember when CD first came on the scene. Lots of early discs sounded pretty awful, though the simplicity and silence was noticeable. But a few sounded pretty good - Dire Straits was an obvious early favourite, along with Ricki Lee Jones, and some wonderful Denon orchestral recordings. Very early on I remember telling myself that if even one CD sounded great then the medium and the machines had potential. The early Philips top loader that became (I think) the Marantz CD63, then a Meridian was the best machine of the time.

I still think some new recordings are shocking and yet others are marvellous. If I ever start to have doubts I find a Chesky release to spin - then I soon realise it isn't my ears! Sadly, very few advances in recording in the last decade seem to have furthered sound quality per se, but they have maybe secured the economics of music so we can enjoy niche interests like hi-res downloads and re-makes of LPs of old favourites.
 

shooter

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Interesting post Gator, you cant beat a good recording however its done.

Hearing a 48khz recording native with no sample rate down conversion would be better ninety nine times out of a hundred if not 100% better , and thats the reason why. When a downsample is done from 48khz (it can be higher also 48+) to 44.1khz the process adds noise, you can hear it on a good system, the background seems grey when it should be black. Noise smears sound and ultimately the system we play it on reflects this, the more noise the worse the recoding sounds. Higher end systems will be able to deal with the noise better and make more sense of whats on the disc, pull more info off of it, and this goes for sample rate converters also, some are better than others with the better ones adding less noise.

Back at the birth of CD 44.1khz was used because it was the nearest sample rate that was above 40khz needed according to Nyquist's sampling theorem and the most financially economical sample rate given the the way digital was converted from analog tape, back then it made sense.
 

WishTree

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May 18, 2010
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CnoEvil said:
I had the Debussy out on dem at home, and preferred the Majik....which surprised me. I was using the Linn as a transport, so it's possible that effected things.

So far, every time I've heard DCS, it has left me a little cold but with a respect for the product (if that makes sense).
I am not too sure what it means by "it has left me a little cold but with a respect for the product" :?

Happy to read that DCS Debussy is not all that glory in real world as said by many reviewers. Thank you for the honesty and that is why I prefer to read on the forums when compared to some of the blanket 'please all' politically correct reviews :twisted:
 

BenLaw

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Nov 21, 2010
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CnoEvil said:
I enjoyed reading it and totally agree.

What confuses matters is that a well mastered 320 kbps sounds better than badly mastered 16 bit, and a well mastered 16 bit sounds better than a badly mastered 24 bit.......but all things being equal, I hear an improvement as the resolution improves.

The other fly in the ointment, is how well NOS Dacs can sound in a properly implemented system, such as that from Audio Note....it is a bit (sorry,bad pun!) controversial though.
Given that the best I listen to is CD this is not my area of specialism BUT on what basis has it been decided that a 24/96 sample of the same master is better than a 16/44? And for those such as Cno who say 'all things being equal' 24/96 is better than 16/44, have you performed the test of downsampling the 24/96 and comparing, and thus removing the issue of the track being from a better master?
 

CnoEvil

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BenLaw said:
Given that the best I listen to is CD this is not my area of specialism BUT on what basis has it been decided that a 24/96 sample of the same master is better than a 16/44? And for those such as Cno who say 'all things being equal' 24/96 is better than 16/44, have you performed the test of downsampling the 24/96 and comparing, and thus removing the issue of the track being from a better master?
Hi Ben, I wouldn't know how to downsample if my very life depended on it, but I have the odd track from Linn records which has been downloaded at three different resolutions. I have described my testing here with one of them (post 7): http://www.whathifi.com/forum/computer-based-music/mp3-320-kbps-vs-flacwav?page=4

I'm fairly sure that it's from the same master, since the 320 is also beautifully recorded. As I said back then, I can hear the difference, but you are paying quite a premium.....so I think it's only worth it for music that you really love.
 

BenLaw

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Nov 21, 2010
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CnoEvil said:
BenLaw said:
Given that the best I listen to is CD this is not my area of specialism BUT on what basis has it been decided that a 24/96 sample of the same master is better than a 16/44? And for those such as Cno who say 'all things being equal' 24/96 is better than 16/44, have you performed the test of downsampling the 24/96 and comparing, and thus removing the issue of the track being from a better master?
Hi Ben, I wouldn't know how to downsample if my very life depended on it, but I have the odd track from Linn records which has been downloaded at three different resolutions. I have described my testing here with one of them (post 7): http://www.whathifi.com/forum/computer-based-music/mp3-320-kbps-vs-flacwav?page=4 I'm fairly sure that it's from the same master, since the 320 is also beautifully recorded. As I said back then, I can hear the difference, but you are paying quite a premium.....so I think it's only worth it for music that you really love.
Taking into account it is Linn's interests to ensure there is a difference between the differently priced versions, until that 'fairly sure' is resolved I remain a little sceptical ;) But one day I will have the technology to try for myself :)
 

CnoEvil

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BenLaw said:
Taking into account it is Linn's interests to ensure there is a difference between the differently priced versions, until that 'fairly sure' is resolved I remain a little sceptical ;) But one day I will have the technology to try for myself :)
....maybe so, but Linns 320kbps is the best I've heard......a quick listen to Linn Radio confirmed that.
 

paradiziac

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BenLaw said:
Given that the best I listen to is CD this is not my area of specialism BUT on what basis has it been decided that a 24/96 sample of the same master is better than a 16/44? And for those such as Cno who say 'all things being equal' 24/96 is better than 16/44, have you performed the test of downsampling the 24/96 and comparing, and thus removing the issue of the track being from a better master?
Good point, but that's not quite a fair test. As I hinted in my previous post, one variable remains--the variation in performance of your source with 16/44 v 24/96. So you would have to re-upsample the downsampled 16/44 back up to 24/96.

Without this step, you're also testing your system's ability to reproduce these different sampling rates, rather than simply the audible differences between the formats themselves.

For example, when I had my MF V-Link+V-DAC/NFB-2, 24/96 sounded significantly better than 16/44 regardless of whether it was a 24/96 native file or just a 16/44 file that I upsampled in Audirvana+ on the Macmini. Not a tiny difference, either--easily audible on a good system.

My current setup only does 16/44 but it sounds far better playing downsampled 24/96 (or even Spotify!) than the MF combo did playing 24/96.

I do remember reading somewhere that 24/48 is the "theoretical" ideal, so I remain open to the fact that 16/44 isn't quite as good as it can possibly get. But in practical terms, it's a non-issue for me--at least until the industry finds a way to screw with Redbook to force us all to buy the "audiophile hi-res masters"--let's hope that never happens! Long live the CD!
 

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