We discovered in yesterday's post one of the reasons different CDs with the same data can sound different. Today let's examine some other mechanisms, such as a hard disc or SSD version (soft disc), and why they too suffer sound differences. Many have found that downloaded music sounds more lifelike than the same discs that originally stored them. Does that mean the download data is better? No, because it is identical in content to that on the optical storage medium. But that data is retrieved very differently than with a laser. Instead, there is either a magnetic pickup or, in the case of a solid state drive (SSD) no mechanism at all. I would suggest that comparing drive mechanisms and their sound is somewhat like comparing cars with similar specifications. For example, let's say we compare two automobiles: one a gasoline powered vehicle, the other electric, and both have the same 0-60 acceleration specs. Would these two cars feel identical when you drove them? I would suggest not. Their specs may be the same but their performance-feel would not be. The electric would sound and ride differently from the gas version. In other words, the two mechanisms are different enough that despite the fact they both get you from point A to point B in the same amount of time, their rides are noticeably differentiated from each other. In the same way a CD mechanism affects the power supply and digital pass through chain when reading an optical disc, a hard or soft drive also have very different impacts on the system they reside in. The bits and pieces necessary to retrieve and deliver data out of a computer, in the case of a hard or soft drive, are fundamentally different than those from an optical reader. Let me give you an example of those differences. Many customers ask me why we don't add a simple slot for a USB hard drive, or an SD card, on our DACs. Their reasoning is easy enough to understand; the connectors needed are small and available on a few other devices. Why not, then, ours? The answer is not as simple as the connectors. For a DAC to directly access files stored on a drive you need, essentially, a computer. The files are organized on the drives such that their access requires a level of machine intelligence to read the file structure, determine compatibility, provide a driver that permits access and facilitates the two-way communication needed before accessing anything. This is fundamentally different than what's required to read from an optical disc. The point of all this is simple. Different means of retrieving and managing data place different demands on the bits and pieces that make them work: data paths, power supplies, radiated noise, jitter, proximity to sensitive components are all affected, and in differing ways. That these systems produce different sounding results, with the same data, should not be a surprise. In fact, I would turn that around and suggest that if they didn't, I would be scratching my head as to why.
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