HDMI DACs and Pure Audio Blu-ray

I noticed an announcement of the High Def Audio Control Center by Essense this past week. The sales and marketing director of Essence, Bob Rapoport, reached out to me some weeks back and described what their company had put together. Their HDACC, as they call it, is a DAC that extends its functionality beyond more traditional 2-channel high-resolution DACs. This unit has the usual optical, coaxial and analog inputs AND a variety of outputs including headphones, optical, coaxial and noth unbalanced and balanced stereo outputs.

But the thing that makes this unit unique is the HDMI input and output. Yep, the HDACC allows you to connect the HDMI output of your Blu-ray player (you all have an Oppo BD universal machine, right?) and extract the high-resolution audio from the high-resolution data stream. The video signal continues on to your monitor and the audio…at full high-resolution…is routed to the units high quality DAC. You can then listen on headphones or via the stereo analog or digital outputs at full high-resolution.

If you don’t know by now, the optical and coaxial digital connections from a Blu-ray player (or DVD player) downconvert the high-resolution audio to standard resolution. That means that all the effort I put into capturing and releasing real 96 kHz/24-bit audio is “dumbed” down because of mandates by the major labels. It’s stupid but it’s the way it is.

If you want to get the high-resolution audio, you need a conversion box (the cheapest one that I’ve found is less than $50). The box takes an HDMI input and outputs a stereo digital audio stream via the S/PDIF outputs.

hifi_pure_audio

Figure 2 – Some of the titles that are available on Blu-ray High Fidelity Pure Audio discs.

Having HDMI input and output is a real boost for the HDACC and it’s obviously is good news for the the new High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray discs that are being introduced in this country after an earlier launch in the EU. Given that AIX Records has been releasing music (both stereo and surround) on Blu-ray for a few years, this new hardware piece makes sense for me too.

But don’t get all excited and rush out to purchase this unit because you think you’ll be able to get high-resolution audio versions of the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison or Bob Marley from the new “pure audio” BD discs. It’s the same old masters being hyped one more time as “high-resolution” when they’re not. They may sound great but the original masters were not high-resolution and so the new versions are not high-resolution either. Don’t bother buying these discs…just download the files that you want. But do check out the AIX Records and those from 2L and anything else that contains real HD music.

I don’t listen to my own material in 2-channel stereo. I know…and many others know as well…how much better 5.1 surround mixes are, so a new stereo DAC isn’t really that interesting to me. When you can get an A/V Receiver with HDMI inputs that can decode a Dolby TrueHD digital stream in full 96 kHz/24-bit PCM surround for under $500, why not spend your money there?

I must say that I appreciate the efforts that the Essence guys have put into the HDACC. It’s expensive to join the HDMI club…I’ve heard as much as $20K! That’s a lot of money for a little company. And I appreciate that the HDACC (at least the first 50 units out the door) come bundled with the new HD-Audio Sampler 2013 from AIX Records. They heard our disc and concluded it was the best way to show off the quality of sound of the HDACC.

However, High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray is complete a waste of polycarbonate and paper. This is just more spin from the major labels and a final gasp to extract a few more dollars from unsuspecting customers that might believe that saying something is “bit for bit accurate to the original masters” will convince new customers. It shouldn’t and I don’t think it will.

hdacc_diagram

Figure 1 – The connection diagram from the Essense HDACC.

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

18 thoughts on “HDMI DACs and Pure Audio Blu-ray

  • November 16, 2013 at 12:48 pm
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    As well made as this box may be, almost no one needs it.

    Anyone who has a Blu-ray player that has analog outputs doesn’t need it.

    Also not needing it is anyone feeding HDMI into an AVR.

    Even if they have an older HDMI-equipped AVR that doesn’t decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio, most Blu-ray players can convert those into LPCM (straight uncompressed WAV) for AVRs that can’t decode the newer formats.

    The only people who would need this box would therefore be those with AVRs that have neither an HDMI input nor multichannel analog inputs – and those are rather rare, considering that before HDMI came on the scene, most decent AVRs had multichannel inputs for connecting DVD Audio and SACD players.

    Like 382/32 re-encodes of old CDs, this box is a high end product with no real market except the folks who don’t understand how things work.

    Reply
    • November 17, 2013 at 8:45 am
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      Phil, I’m inclined to agree with you. That’s why I mentioned the AVRs for less money. However, it does have a place for those that want 2-channel stereo in very high quality from an existing optical disc player AND who don’t currently have a quality preamp and DAC.

      As a big supporter of surround music, I believe the market is headed in another direction…away from discs and towards downloads.

      Reply
  • November 16, 2013 at 12:53 pm
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    Essentially, what this product says is that there’s a barrier between folks and the music on their Blu-ray disks that they need to pay these folks to breach – while, for most contemporary systems, that barrier doesn’t exist.

    God forbid folks should find out that they can listen to music in high definition through the Blu-ray system they already have!

    Reply
  • November 16, 2013 at 1:06 pm
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    PS If this box’s output is only in stereo, then the club of those who need it is even smaller – almost all Blu-ray players and AVRs can connect via analog stereo.

    The only remaining selling point would be that this $700 device has higher-quality DACs than the Blu-ray player – but I seriously doubt that it’s enough better than even the $500 entry-level Oppos to justify its existence.

    Reply
  • December 18, 2013 at 10:43 am
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    This is a late post, but I would like to re-post my opinion on this product.

    First, a note. As much as it is possible to achieve a fantastic and great multichannel audiophile system, in terms of pure budget I cannot do this without correct room treatment, speakers, amplifiers, ancillary equipment, and so on and so forth.
    The vast majority of my music collection (ignoring the vast majority of all music) is stereo, so multichannel works against me.
    I can, however, achieve great high-end audiophile set-up’s via headphones, and will be going towards higher end gear (ultra-fi and summit-fi, coined I believe in the Head-fi.org forums).

    Ok, so I am re-posting a portion of my information to Essence about a competition they are running. Although I am not trying to be a ‘mouthpiece’ or advertiser on behalf of Essence (I have no affiliation with them at all), I wish to share the following regardless. Below is what I wrote to Essence for their competition:

    “I will apologies beforehand if this is a TL;DR post, but I think by explaining my set-up and my current needs, especially as your product, the Essence Hi Def Audio Control Centre (HDACC) fits my requirements, I may be of help giving you a slice of audiophiles who have unusual set-ups.

    In my case, I don’t have the ability or finances to build a high-end stereo [ed. multichannel] speaker set-up in a near field environment, especially when it comes to room treatment. It really is cost prohibitive. However headphones are a viable solution.
    I have obtained high-end headphone gear, and will be purchasing ever great headphones and gear to achieve truly ultra-fi and summit-fi. I may not have the physical force and feel that speakers can deliver (dynamic or electrostatic) but I can achieve the sonic’s at prices far, far cheaper than a stereo set-up.

    My current headphones include: Heir Audio 4.Ai in-ear monitors, AKG K 701, KEF M500 on-ear headphones, Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro’s.
    My only speakers are JohnBlue AudioArt JB3.
    (In the future I shall be purchasing Noble Audio Kaiser 10 custom in-ear monitors, followed by Audeze LCD-XC and AKG K 812. I will also be replacing my Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro with the upcoming Custom One Tesla headphones).

    Now, for Redbook CD headphone listening I use my PC or iPod Classic 160 GB and my CEntrance HiFi-M8. For speakers I use my PC and my NuForce Icon amp and JohnBlue JB3 speakers.

    For high-resolution playback I use my PC or my Android Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and my CEntrance HiFi-M8.

    Where I need help is in regards to your HDACC with my gaming set-up.

    I do play a lot of games on my gaming consoles, the Xbox 360 and my Xbox One console.
    In regards to the former, for stereo playback I use the analogue stereo output of the Xbox 360 to my NuForce Icon one and my speakers.
    For multichannel audio, I don’t have multi-channel speakers and the Xbox 360 only outputs digital multichannel via Dolby Digital. So, I use the optical S/PDIF (toslink) output from my Xbox 360 and this is sent to my Turtle Beach EarForce 7.1 DSP device (decodes in headphone Dolby Digital). I then connect this to my JDS Labs C5 amp before I connect my headphones.

    Unfortunately I cannot do either the above, correctly, for stereo or multichannel audio on my Xbox One console; it is compromised.
    The Xbox One has no analogue stereo output. It outputs audio via DTS Surround optical S/PIDIF currently*. I have no choice but to connect this to my Turtle Beach EarForce DSP device knowing that it will default to its own Dolby Pro Logic II decoder. This compromises the sound.

    The Xbox One does output ‘uncompressed’ stereo and multichannel audio via HDMI, but I have no decoder for this. I had hoped that, as the Xbox One is Blu-Ray compatible that I could start to watch Blu-Ray films and audio discs/concerts in uncompressed audio, but this is not possible.
    *Microsoft has acknowledged that it will, in a future update, have Dolby Digital enabled for the Xbox One, but that still defeats my ability to hear uncompressed audio.”

    I have been searching for a viable HDMI decoder for uncompressed audio, stereo or multichannel, for my Xbox One that can either output to my CEntrance HiFiM8 4XL or has its own headphone amplifier. (Unless such a decoder can turn the uncompressed multichannel audio suitable for headphones, I understand that I am restricted to uncompressed steteo).

    (Also I understand that the Xbox One is no OPPO, who I believe to be amongst one if the greatest A/V audiophile companies making truly great equipment and very attractive prices, but right now I have an Xbox One).

    This is one big example of which the Essence HDACC can be of great use. If there are other products that meet my requirements, great, but the HDACC also fulfills other duties as an all-in-one.

    Just my thoughts and opinions. Headphone audiophiles, and gaming audiophiles, seem to be either ignored or segregated from lossless multichannel technology, and I hope that this does change.

    Thank you for reading this.

    Kind regards.

    Reply
  • February 14, 2014 at 1:49 pm
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    I keep reading negative comments/editorials from individuals reviewing sacds, dvd audio and now blue ray audio. Mostly, just poor reporters that have not the equipment necessary to really appreciate what is reproduced through 24k/94 bit playback. If any of the idiots came over to my home and had a listen, your stories would take a dramatic turn. I have over 20k invested in my system. You can compare Bob marley legend in 3 different formats: vinyl from 84′ , 2002 cd remaster and the new pure audio blu ray. You will be simply blown away by the new blu ray as I have been, and anyone that’s had a listen ….period. This is fact…not subjective opinion.

    Keep writing fools. Your ignorance makes me laugh.

    Reply
    • February 14, 2014 at 2:13 pm
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      The fact are sometimes hard to accept but none-the-less they remain unchanged. My $250,000 studio certainly has the chops to reproduce audio at a very high level but an old recording put out at 94 kHz/24-bits doesn’t impress me. A new recording would be able to take advantage of the additional frequency response and dynamic range.

      I’m certainly glad that you’re enjoying the recording of Bob Marley or any of the other old recording placed on Blu-ray. It may sound way different from the Blu-ray format than on either of the other formats. But the fact remains, it could sound just a great on a CD if the same source was used to create the CD and the BD.

      Reply
      • March 14, 2014 at 10:14 am
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        Why do I suspect that the “New Remastered 24/96 Bob Marley”, is a normalized, more compressed, possibly “air EQ added” print from the old 44.1/16 master?

        Loudness wars any one?

        Perhaps it is a remix from the original multitrack master tapes, or the 2 track 1/2″, which would be the way to get a good print.

        The problem with this, is these old tapes have a ton of treble loss, some overall gain loss, and never had the dynamic range of recording DDD @ 24/96 or 32/96 and doing the SRC in mastering.

        The dynamic range available today is fantastic, and it is high time it be readily available to every one.

        Reply
        • March 14, 2014 at 11:38 am
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          There’s nothing at all compelling about the High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray discs. You’re right.

          Reply
      • April 30, 2015 at 3:41 pm
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        I have the best-sounding, 1997, Virgin Records, CD re-master of the Stones Exile on Main Street. It sounds much better than their later re-master of Exile. But I bought the Pure Audio Blu-ray both for my collection and out of audio curiosity. I have heard this record on every format, on many, many systems, in every state of consciousness.
        Without question, this cannot be called a fine recording.But…on the PABR disc of Exile through the Cambridge BD-752 high-end universal player, (as good as Oppo but better analog audio), I literally heard the multi tracks stacked next to each other like a police line-up, and that ,along with much more natural voice quality, is what tells me that this disc is giving me the sound of the master tape, be it good, bad, or indifferent.I couldn’t reasonably ask for anything better than that, and I am very happy to own the PABR disc.

        Reply
  • May 13, 2014 at 5:04 pm
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    The NAD M51 also supports HDMI, and is a very nice sounding DAC.

    Reply
  • May 27, 2014 at 1:48 pm
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    A few thoughts;#1: the Cambridge BD-752 is a definite Oppo rival and offers(better sounding) 24/192 through it’s dedicated stereo DAC and analog outputs if you have it on your network or such as a Pure Blu-ray disc. If you have to listen through HDMI, all bets are off sound-wise, that’s all I will say here.
    Here’s a very important point re “hi-Res’, and the meaning of the phrase. The idea is not necessarily to listen to only new super-sound recordings, but to hear (essentially) the first gen sound. Many of the audiophile choices these days are classic, older jazz recordings. As long as the 24/96 download gives me the master tape grade, original sound ( and there are plenty of sonic clues to inform a given listener,) then I don’t care if the original was done in 1964 or 2014.Neither CD nor LP can “clone” a master tape. Any medium that can and delivers same to our ears is ,IMHO, “Hi-Res.”

    Reply
    • May 27, 2014 at 3:31 pm
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      Getting the best possible is the ultimate aim…from whatever time period.

      Reply
  • July 2, 2014 at 1:02 pm
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    A big feature of the Essence HDACC is the addition of HDMI. If an Oppo or other unit with HDMI outs is connected to the Essence, it can play SACD or DVD-A disks at their native rates versus the down-conversion that occurs with SPDIF, etc. Whether these formats or Blu-ray, it all comes down to reaching the best sound possible! This info. came from Mr. Rapoport at Essence.

    Reply
  • August 12, 2014 at 5:43 am
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    I have been reading all with great interest and I conclude that it is all a waste of time money and resources, what the companies are failing to grasp is that the general population is burnt out by this constant reworking and reforging of the so called new high res formats, they just don’t care and I don’t blame them. It will fail and quickly. Prediction, very soon, all digital media will only be available as a download, in any bit rate and format you desire, with either audio or visual, and if you can’t access the internet, you will soon want to. As for an actual physical media, will there be any ?, hell yes, and it will be, you guessed it, vinyl, good ol’ analogue for those who wish to actually hold something tactile, and the sooner the better. I don’t understand why these guys call there new hi-res formats warm and sounding like vinyl when you can already have that in it’s original form, what is the point ? You know my friends, we have analogue ears and the universe is sounding to us in analogue, not digital. It’s unnatural, as unnatural as listening to music in surround sound. I seem to remember when I used to go to see live bands and when I eventually played in one as well, I don’t ever recall seeing any of the musicians playing in surround sound, do you ? I think not, hell, they didn’t even play in stereo. The point I’am making is that it is all about the pursuit of trying to recreate the live experience of the bands into our homes, a fool’s paradise. If you want it so much, why not go and see live bands ? have the real experience, every night if you want. Forgive my ramblings, but I love music, and I know you all do as well, I just wished the powers that be would also and move away from this foolishness, for they have, like many a audiophile, have stopped listening to the music and are now in the trap of listening to the equipment itself and said equipment does not by itself compose and make music, no, that privilege is granted to the living, feeling and thinking human being used as a channel to compose said music as divine inspiration in any genre that the artist see’s fit to describe what ever they , at that very moment ,are experiencing and interpreting
    for themselves, of themselves and of live,love and the human condition, may it, they and us endure for ever more in the universal cosmic dance of eternity.

    Reply
    • August 12, 2014 at 9:33 am
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      Glen, I love listening to and playing music…I’ve been doing it since I was a very young child. My goal, and I believe the goal of every recording engineer/producer/artist, is to bring music…that ethereal, emotional, intellectual creation…to those who enjoy it and those who need it.

      Your prediction is off the mark, however. The world is already moving to streaming…not downloads. Think Spotify, Pandora, iRadio and more. Vinyl LPs are not the answer for a number of reasons. They’re difficult to produce, challenging to playback and have sonic compromises that are required in high-end digital (low end mono…the RIAA EQ curve etc). If you and the other 1.9 percent of music listeners want to hold fast and true to your vinyl LPs…no problem. But the ease, sonic advantages and portability of digital music has already taken over. The opportunity for high-resolution digital is being squandered as you rightly point out.

      Everything you love about the sound of vinyl LP can be completely captured by PCM digital running at 96 kHz/24-bits…I mean 100% of the “warmth and emotion” and everything else. There is nothing natural about a stylus being dragged around in a groove any more than converting analog signals to ones and zeros. The results are what matters…and the fidelity of digital to the original signal is superior to vinyl LP…even if you prefer the sound of vinyl.

      I’ve been a musician for 50 years and had lots of experiences with musicians gathered in a circle or spread around the rehearsal space. Using surround as a compositional element has been happening since the time of Gabrieli at St Marks. Surround music or stereo music are merely creative choices that are available to music lovers. Again, you can choose to ignore it. I got the following from a reader that experienced the “Mosaic” tune in surround for the first time:

      “I downloaded and listened to the 5.1 Juber – Mosaic file – Song. When I listened to the hires comparisons it was a good interesting listen. BUT in 5.1 there is just no comparison, bottom end and ‘perceived?” dynamic range incredibly exciting.”

      I don’t agree that the goal of music recording is to recreate the sensation of a live event…most of my favorite records are “created in the studio” not on a stage. I aim to produce recordings that capture the essence of the performer, maximize the emotional and intellectual impact of the music and to do so by capturing and reproducing the most accurate rendition of the sound.

      If I shared with the you the recording I have of Jennifer Warnes singing “So Sad” by Mickey Newbury in full 5.1 surround in my studio, I believe you would be moved to tears…as I usually am when I play it. It is a masterpiece of songwriting, singing, performing, playing, instrumentation, and recording…and the rare few that have had the chance to hear it all agree it is the finest thing that she has ever done. That’s success for me. I just wish I could share it with the world…but sadly I can’t.

      We have a chance…but only a small chance…to rectify or augment what is released and consumed with regards to music.

      Reply
  • November 17, 2014 at 12:14 am
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    Just a quick question for the Admin,

    I have a Panasonic DMP BD-60 blu ray player.

    http://www.blu-ray.com/Panasonic-DMP-BD60/119/

    It can decode DTS HD MA and Dolby True HD itself. The player has a pair of Stereo analog composite output (old school L/R red white output). In the specs it also says it can output audio at 24 bits/172khz (didn’t say if it’s only through HDMI).

    My question is right now I have the audio hooked from the blu ray player’s stereo analog outputs in the back. When Im watching a blu ray movie and I select an HD audio codec like DTS HD MA or Dolby True HD, will I still be getting the same High Res sound quality via the stereo analog outputs from the blu ray player? I know it’ll all just be in 2 channels instead, but will the resolution of the audio still be High Res and of the same quality of the HD codec or might the player downgrade the resolution of the audio that comes out from the analog outputs?

    Hope that made sense. lol.. Thx for any input.

    Reply
    • November 17, 2014 at 7:37 am
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      You should be getting the full resolution…but it will have been converted at the player, which probably doesn’t have the best converters.

      Reply

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