PS Audio and Blue Coast Records Challenge…Huh?
The recent flurry of articles/product reviews that continue to dismiss high-resolution audio has prompted Cookie Marenco of Blue Coast Records and Paul McGowan of PS Audioto issue a couple of similar challenges. We all responded to the Gizmodo and Yahoo Tech articles authored by Mario Aguilar and David Pogue, respectively. I found fault with their facts but not so much the conclusion. And now Michael Lavorgna has written a piece that talks about the invitations that both PS Audio and Blue Coast Records have issued to these writers.
Apparently, Paul of PS Audio wants Mario to come to Boulder to do some listening comparisons. He points out some of the flaws in Mario’s article and then issues the following challenge at the end of the piece:
“The idea that we cannot hear differences between 192/24 and 44/16 is, of course, absurd. I would welcome Mr. Aguilar, Meyer or Moran to take a moment and do a blind AB in Music Room One at their convenience. I would wager a fine dinner anywhere in Boulder these gentlemen would be able to tell the difference consistently, time and again.”
I have a sister in Boulder…I’m going to have to take the challenge using files of my own choosing.
I wonder what Paul would play? He’s a very strong advocate for DSD so it’s probable that he would play a DSD file of an older analog master and compare it to the CD. That would prove nothing since they are different masters and don’t accurately reflect the formats that we need to compare. And what would be the other components in Paul’s Music Room One? Does he have a system that can deliver the level of fidelity that real high-resolution audio requires as specified by the JAS? I’m confident that PS Audio has a really great demonstration room but I seriously doubt they have the hardware to do better than CD quality or DSD 64 reproduction. However, they’re biggest problem is getting files in both standard and high-resolution that came from the same source and were processed in exactly the same way. This is the biggest problem confronting anyone that wants to attempt a comparison…this includes Mario and David (and Meyer and Moran).
Paul states emphatically, “The idea that we cannot hear differences between 192/24 and 44/16 is, of course, absurd.” Where does this come from? Nobody has yet proven that anyone can reliably hear the difference between 192/24 and 44/16. The tests that have been done thus far haven’t used actual high-resolution recordings. Maybe Paul is saying that he and his golden ear associates can hear the difference between a commercial CD of one of his favorite recordings and the high-resolution versions acquired from HDtracks. The HDtracks version will be a newly transferred and remastered version…that’s what he’s probably hearing.
As for Blue Coast Records, Cookie’s label, she offered David a similar experience at her studio:
“I can help you set up a test…or better yet…I invite you to our studio to have us give you a listening test…not to convert you to high resolution audio, but as the technology reporter, a musician and journalist, I believe you sincerely want to report accurately to your audience.”
One of the comments on the Audiostream site called Cookie out on the equipment that she uses to produce and playback her “high-resolution” tracks…many of which are transfers of older analog masters or newly recorded in DSD and mixed through an aging analog board using Lexicon 480 16-bit PCM reverb unit. The tracks she produces sound wonderful but many aren’t real HD-Audio.
I left a note at the Audiostream site saying it would be easier for everyone to simply download some of my files, for example “Mosiac”, and do their comparisons. It would save on the travel costs. That’s my contribution to this high-resolution audio challenge.
22 thoughts on “PS Audio and Blue Coast Records Challenge…Huh?”
Would you happen to have recorded a 96/24 piece of music and, for the same take, have recorded that piece in 44/16 ? It seems to me, it is the only way to compare apples with apples.
The “Mosaic” track is as close as I can come. The recording was made at 96 kHz/24-bits and the CD version is a derivative of that original high-res file. Recording two versions at the same time is problematic because it requires two ADCs calibrated to the same levels AND a split of the microphone feed. I think a properly done downconversion is as close as necessary.
I was thinking since you’re embarked in the project of assembling a playback system that is really HRA capable for the coming AXPONA show, maybe you could set up and host a CD vs HRA challenge with your files and invite many more to do so. You could do the same with headphones and headamps.
Violectric’s Headphone Amps – the V100, V181, V200 and V220 and V281 all have analogue specs that put most D/A converter’s digital specs to shame and clearly do HRA:
Frequency response: 0 Hz … 60 kHz (-0,5 dB)
SNR: > 128 dB (A-wtd)
THD+N: < -110 dB @ 10V in 100 Ohms (1W)
< -103 dB @ 4V in 32 Ohms (0,5W).
Grab a couple of Sennheiser HD800s or Audeze LCD-Xs and you have transducers that can do the job none of the speakers you have mentioned so far is able to pull off. By the way, that's my headphone system (Violectric V281, Sennheiser HD800s/Audeze LCD-X & DAC 1) and with which I have taken the challenge and evaluated your files.
I think this is great idea…I’m going to start planning for a summer shoot out / challenge here at my place with the right gear. How did you fare with your gear and my files?
A good idea to use headphones, although, as with electrostatic headphones, I’m not convinced planar magnetic headphones can capture the dynamic range of the music like a good pair of moving coils can.
Your offer makes the most sense, since the two versions of the music would be coming from the same master, and one actually recorded at “better than CD” resolution.
I note that you grant that HDTrax’s transfers are probably better than a commercial CD – which I’ve found to be generally, but not universally, the case. One glaring exception was the HDTrax version of the original of Eric Clapton’s classic *Layla* – they offer it as an expanded version, with a transfer of additional tracks.
The additional tracks sounded beautiful, but their version of basic album sounded harsh and much worse than the CD! I suspect in this instance they were given a remastered version that had been to the loudness wars.
When I bought it a few years ago I complained to them and they gave me a refund.
On the other hand, though, things David Chesky recorded himself, which are featured on the Wake Up Your Ears! sampler they put together for Audiogon, are wonderful. I bought both the 96/24 and 192/24 versions, since they were $5 for either collection. The difference between them was clear.
Of course these were “stage perspective binaural” recordings, with the head placed among the musicians – and played through the DTS Neo:6 music setting on my 5.1 Yamaha they created a convincing soundfield.
This the 192 did better than the 96.
HDtracks is getting what they get from the major labels. The analog masters are usually remastered. However, there are problems because they don’t always have access to the real masters and not every mastering session produces “better” audio output.
Good idea using Mosaic but results would be meaningless since there are no controls over equipment used or unbiased oversight on the A-B proceedures used, not that anyone would cheat LOL.
Tests like this should overseen by a trusted third party like the BAS
It’s at least something they can listen to. I hope you’re joking about the BAS…right?
I thought at least they had some reasonable credibility, from the sounds of your reply guess I was wrong. 🙁
I don’t think Jesus would be interested in getting involved. LOL
What’s your opinion on this.
Onkyo today announced it is bringing its e-onkyo hi-resolution music download service to the U.S. The service, which has been operating in Japan since 2005, will operate under the “onkyo music” name and provide download access to hundreds of thousands of 24-bit/44.1kHz to 192kHz high-res tracks and millions of 16-bit CD-quality FLAC files, according to the company.
I saw that announcement and will write it up as a new item today. The hundreds of thousands of high-resolution tracks is a stretch.
From the Goldmund white paper:
‘Audiophiles have cited various benefits of the extra amplitude resolution of high-resolution audio, including a greater sense of detail and dynamics, quieter backgrounds and a more natural sound overall.’
These are the same that Oversampling already brings, meaning Impulse Response actually rules!
The highly important note: recording at 44.1 kHz may imply, at least, 8-times analog Oversampling, so that it shouldn’t require any anti-alias filtering at all, including playback!!!
Hi Jay, your quote says “benefits of the extra amplitude resolution”, which has almost nothing to do with impulse response. From the quote, it appears that quiet backgrounds actually rule! 🙂
I have to agree that some of your recordings are the best I have heard. Wish you would do more. I am using Blu-Ray for surround sound, but am using a 2 channel DAC, for most listening, as I am not finding much material out there for multi channel download, your label excepted. I have always enjoyed Rita Coolidge & have bought your DVD & downloaded in 2 channel, as a comparison. I find this recording very light for bass. Is this the intent?
Thanks Barry…and I wish I could do more as well. I’m thinking about a couple of projects for the summer. The Rita could have a little more bass in the mix. I don’t usually push too hard and I don’t EQ anything. There is stuff in the LFE/Sub channel though.
Mark, for the record….
My own Blue Coast Records records…
90% direct to DSD
10% to analog tape
0% to PCM
Hope that helps you in the future and thanks for the mention!
Blue Coast Records
Thanks Cookie…regarding your challenge for David. What would you play and what equipment would you play it on to demonstration high-resolution audibility?
I didn’t really do that good challenging my own audition. I could tell the HRA file from the mp3 version almost all the time, but only in specific passages that revealed the limits of mp3 (the percussion on Mosaic is a clear example). I could however not reliably tell the CD versions from the HRAs. This is certainly food for thought, because one would have to record instruments that can hit above the 20kHz mark, and with significant acoustic material. It sounds far fetched no matter how I look at it. I want to do the test on my wife who has better audition than I have, and see if it’s any easier for her.
Regarding the use of various ADCs, the Benchmark ADC1 allows for three simultaneous output signals in three different resolutions. You could record something in Stereo with the Benchmark ADC1 and have the same source registered with 3 different sample rates and word lengths. And of course use a pair of mics and a PreAmp that are JAS complient (and they are few).
Looking forward to you finally setting up the CD vs HRA test correctly, and putting an end if not to the ongoing debate, at least to the ton of inaccuracies and snake oil out there. Why not team up with John Siau and a maybe couple of other fellow and likeminded engineers?
I’m in regular touch with John. I’m also pushing very hard to get a system together that will be able to run the test. I’ll keep you posted.
Hi again, Mark,
There are others that are trying to push playback equipment to reproducing HRA, like Mola-Mola audio (http://www.mola-mola.nl/), Bruno Putseys’ audio company. He’s the same guy behind Hypex Electronics with the nCore Class D Amp modules, and behind the design of Grimm Audio’s LS1 active speakers.
Mola-Mola’s Kaluga power Amps are the only ones out there that match the performance of Benchmark’s AHB2, and the Mola-Mola DAC has even more impressive specs than the Benchmark’s DAC2, but isn’t a finished component yet (I believe). The American distributor for Mola-Mola is “On a Higher Note” (http://www.onahighernote.com/) in California.
I also think That John Siau and the people at Benchmark did sufficient research regarding speaker design to bring out the SMS1 monitors, and they should definitively have some insight and suggestions regarding speakers that can take advantage of the AHB2’s full potential.
Many people have asked why Bechmark didn’t go for a pair of active speakers having such efficient and small Power Amps, etc., and I would hope that it is a thought Benchmark hasn’t completely discarded. That would certainly put the JBLs aside, lol.
Thanks for the information…I’ve heard of Mola-Mola but not yet looked into the company. I will do so. The Benchmark speakers sound really great but are not the right speaker for the AXPONA show.