If listening to the high-end audio is part of what makes you tick, you may be thinking that all you need to experience high-res audio is a great DAC and a good set of headphones. I get requests from readers everyday asking to download the FREE HD-Audio samples I have on my FTP server. Many say they’re just starting to investigate high-res audio and are looking for content capable of “blowing them away”. Of course, it takes more than just stellar content to raise the fidelity bar. Everything in the chain has to be up to the task and that probably means upgrades across the board.
Realizing the potential of high-resolution audio means that everything in the production chain has to meet very high performance standards. It’s not enough to download a few high-res files and crank up your computer music system. You’ll have to make sure that everything in the signal path from the source component to the speakers can reach performance levels that exceed those of a CD and that your listening environment is also sufficiently quiet to allow you to experience new levels of dynamic range. This is hard to achieve.
This is exactly what happened to Theodore Nicolakis, editor of “The Poor Audiophile” and a regular reader of my blog. John Siau of Benchmark wrote to me recently and told me the following story about Theodore’s experience with the new Benchmark AHB-2 amplifier and the DAC2 HGC (the same products that we had in Chicago at the AXPONA show):
“He just finished two AHB2-related interviews, one with me, and one with Laurie Fincham of THX. He has also just completed a review on the AHB2 and DAC2 in combination with the Revel Salon 2 speakers (the same gear that we had in Lakeshore Ballroom in Chicago). In the course of the review. he discovered that his existing ‘high-resolution’ preamplifier and room-correction system was 21 dB nosier than the DAC2. This was only revealed when he replaced his existing amplifier with the AHB2. This demonstrates how many high-end audiophile systems are failing to deliver high resolution. Theo needed to replace his amplifier and his preamplifier to experience true high-resolution performance. We have found that this is not uncommon among reviewers of high-end audio equipment. There are many very expensive systems that are completely incapable of delivering high-resolution audio. For this reason, we have found that we need to absolutely insist that the reviewers use a DAC2 and an AHB2 together without inserting a performance killing ‘preamplifier’. The audiophile industry is having a hard time grasping the magnitude of this problem.
As you have pointed out many times, consumers need to understand that low-res music in a high-res bit-bucket is not high-resolution audio. But, of equal importance is the fact that high-resolution audio cannot be squeezed through low-resolution playback hardware. The analog outputs on most playback devices are limited to CD quality or below (even when they support high-resolution digital inputs). The sad fact is that there aren’t many people that have had the opportunity to experience true high-resolution audio.
Recording, post production, distribution, and reproduction must all work together to achieve high-resolution. One weak link breaks the entire chain.”
Is your system capable of playing fidelity that exceeds CD quality? Thanks John.