Paul McGowan and I sat in his newish demonstration room last Wednesday and listened to a variety of high-resolution source material. I admit I was anxious to hear some of my favorite 96 kHz/24-bit PCM stereo files through his elaborate, high-end system. The DVD-R that I burned in his office contained about 20 tracks from my catalog. All were WAV files and were easily found by the PerfectWave Transport and output using to the DirectStream DAC via I2S through the HDMI output.
I must admit that I’m not up to speed on the I2S method of digitally connecting a source player and a DAC. In my studio, the high-resolution PCM digital signals are moved between my DAW and console and converters using MADI (the multichannel audio digital interface or AES 10 standard protocol). I have both physical and digital patch bays to route things among all of my devices…it’s very flexible AND sounds great (just ask the gentlemen that participated in yesterday’s listening session). I also use the S/P DIF and AES-EBU standards as well.
Using MADI, S/P DIF and AES-EBU certainly haven’t resulted in any sonic compromises, degradation, or compromised sound in my studio. Professional audio engineers and equipment designers make sure that the digital packets arrive in tact successfully at each stage of our production processes. The claims of “superior audio quality” and statements that using the established digital connection methods causes digital audio to “sound flat and harsh” are merely “audiophile marketing speak” and without substantiation. It all goes back to getting the digital bits from one place to another…that’s all there is to it…and MADI and the other existing standards do that with 100% accuracy. There cannot and is not a change in sound if you get the bits from one place to another without errors.
The AIX WAV data was then routed to the PS Audio DirectStream DAC on its way to the tube amplifiers and speakers. I’ve criticized the “my way (DSD) or the highway” approach of PS Audio in the their new DirectStream DAC in previous posts. It’s perfectly OK with me if someone wants to buy into the myth of DSD but what if you like the way things sound without the additional 10x up sampling and conversion to 2X DSD? Mandating that every incoming digital signal…DSD or PCM…run through upsampling and format conversion is way too restrictive IMHO and alienates those of us that like our music playback uncolored and representative of its original fidelity.
As I sat and listened to my AIX tracks through Paul’s system, I can say that I was very pleased with the sound. I was impressed and told Paul that things sounded great. However, the spatial imaging was somewhat narrow for my tastes…at least compared to the sound in my room, which has the left and right speakers much further apart. Instruments and voices are just less spatially vague using my B&Ws. But to their credit, the Infinity IRS V speakers sonically disappeared. These very large cabinets just weren’t there anymore. The music appeared to come from well behind the physical location of these beasts.
If I were pressed to describe the sound of my pristine 96 kHz/24-bit recordings, I wouldn’t say that they sounded more “analog” or were “warmer” than I’ve heard them in various systems. The sound was wonderfully present, well balanced from the deepest bass to the highest highs. But whatever the 10X up conversion and DSD 5.6 conversion does to the sound, it didn’t eclipse the sound that I get in my B&W 801 Matrix III, Bryston powered studio when I play my tracks through my Benchmark DAC2 HGC or even the multichannel DACs positioned on the backside of my console (using Crystal Semiconductor chips and made by Euphonix).
The exquisite shimmer of cymbals, the extreme clarity of percussion…especially metal percussion…(think the wind chimes in Laurence Juber’s award-winning “Mosaic” track, which you can get free by following the banner ad on the right) and the smoothness of the overall blend that I get in my studio was marginally lacking in Paul’s room. I can’t really complain about anything I heard but I can say that it wasn’t better in any aspect than what I’m used to. And the gear in his room costs a lot more than I spent.
We didn’t get a chance to listen to everything that I brought along…Paul’s time was pressed and I knew it. We finished off the session listening to a preview of some of the tracks planned for the collaborative high-resolution release from Gus Skinas, Immersive Studios and PS Audio.
I’ll share my thoughts on what I heard in tomorrow’s post.