New info

July 25, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

When a particular piece of gear opens up the sound enough to hear something you hadn’t before, it likely did that not by digging deeper into the music, but by hiding what’s there less. And that’s an important distinction.

Recordings don’t cough up new hidden information. The data is always the same, which is why we refer to it as a recording: a permanent record of a musical event.

If we agree there’s no new information to uncover then the only conclusion must be we’re hiding it less. That the overlaying distortion artifacts no longer mask what lies below.

Thank goodness for shared playlists of audiophile standards. I am forever amazed when we release a new update or launch a new product how disparate people from around the world can suddenly hear the same new information in familiar music.

One of the great joys for any designer is to have crafted a circuit capable of unmasking offending colorations and distortions to reveal the beauty of what has all along been waiting to be heard.

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30 comments on “New info”

  1. And from the other end; I have noticed more (recorded) musical information arriving at my tympanic membranes simply from some remastered redbook CDs.
    Comparing an original redbook 1984 CD album with the same redbook remastered album [it started with ‘Mobile Fidelity’ back in the late 1980’s but also lately quite a few (yes, Bob Ludwig yet again) works of art] I’ve been hearing so much more detail through the same home audio rig.
    The last thing that I’m gonna do is to go down that endless rabbit hole of churning through expensive audio components just to find a few more ‘hidden’ nuances in the music…
    I’ll leave that to the guys with greater financial resources than I. 🙂

  2. I hope Paul isn’t trying to upset the audiophile lexicon by adding confusion. It’s just that “digging deeper” is an expression frequently used by audiophiles to describe the improvement wrought by a new component.

    Sure ones and zeros remain the same and the new design may indeed reduce overlaying distortion artefacts but it effectively digs deeper to reveal more of the music.

    It may be an important distinction to the designer but less so to the listener who just wants a perceived improvement to their system. “I never heard that before”, yes, it’s new to us and always a brilliant moment. For many what this hobby is about?

    1. This is as good as any point to mention: Heterodyning. This is very important in regard to radio reception. What we want to do, in regard to music reproduction, is to minimize this, with very distortion free equipment. To heterodyne means to produce sum and difference frequencies by adding together, combining two different frequencies. For example, if you took 7,000 cycles, and 3,000 cycles, the sum is 10,000 cycles, and the difference is 4,000 cycles. While this has valuable, legitimate applications in some circumstances, such as Military Electronics, it’s bad for a complex musical signal, with myriad frequencies, simultaneously. Very few amplifiers are, `perfect.’ With very low distortion, THD and so on, the additional `artifacts’ generated by this concept will be minimized, very low level. A cheap, distortion – laden, non – linear amp will create more of these distracting, no longer so low level additional frequencies, resulting in muddy, indistinct sound, probably making it harder to hear low level, subtle yet valuable details! Likely to make the sound unpleasant!

  3. Too right. Just today, rebuilding my rig I powered up my PSAudioP3 regenerator with a new power cable — from Kimber, second hand and hence “affordable”.
    Test track: Berlioz Requium on Telarc ‘Rex tremendae,
    Until today it has been a big confusion. My own before/and-after two setups: Today, clarified!
    As my father was wont to say, “a blind man on a galloping horse could hear the improvement “

    Credit to John Atkinson whose this exact test track he recommended to an audio society for comparing power cables.

    1. Know exactly what you mean, I for many years assumed 10% of my CDs were just poorly engineered. Well after the M1200s, passive volume control and 70 durometer Sorbothane for feet, the music opened up. Everything played sounds great. I have never heard anything like this and been at it for 30 years. 🙂

      1. David, passive volume control? No preamp? Some say their system sounds better with no preamp. Some say a preamp digs deeper and adds life to the sound. If you ever go for a preamp, the BHK Pre is the best I’ve tried. My system with the DS DAC sounds excellent with or without the BHK Pre. I’ve had it in and out for periods of time, without a distinct preference. I hear a tad more transparency and microdetail without the Pre. In my system the dynamics and frequency response are the same either way. With the Pre you have more interconnects, and they can affect the sound as much as the Pre circuitry and tubes. It’s great you have achieved a successful synergy and sound with the components you have. Sometimes less is more.

        1. Thanks for the heads up Joseph. I chose a stepped attenuator from Goldpoint. It is completely neutral with 47 steps and listening volume position is at 11 o’clock making it ideal for all types of music. My XLRs are a bit over the top, crystal clear, Transparent Cable “Super Balanced Interconnects” Synergy is there and am in awe of how good it sounds.

    2. Good morning Peter!
      By a strange coincidence, I am in deed a blind Audiophile man.
      For quite a few years, I listened to my music on boxes that were fealed with transistors.
      But when one of my teachers gave me a vintage Fisher 500-C stereo receiver, that’s when the music on both my records and cassette tapes opened up.
      I heard things that I never heard before.
      I guess it was because all of the audio signals went threw all of those old tubes and capacitors in that old receiver.

  4. I agree with both Paul & Richtea. In the most logical sense Paul is correct, (if you’re hearing stuff that’s been added that’s not good) In Richtea’s assessment, finding that ‘new’ is like being on a treasure hunt and the euphoria that is felt when tripping across a golden nugget.

    In FR’s case the ‘properly remastered’ or a properly recorded presentation is all that is required. Although his recent purchase of ‘preloved’ has removed a veil compared to what he had earlier. So equipment can and does make a difference. (Apparently he peered in the preloved rabbit hole labyrinth) 😀 – Happy MM BTW- ✌️

    Recently the most ‘unhiding ’ / ‘distortion’ removal for me has come from tweaks and also changes in the room.

    Now some equipment demo / purchases can start. (The last hurrah before I start pushing up daisies)

  5. **Just for laughs**
    “Have faith in the Pfizer vaccine
    Don’t forget they make Viagra
    If they can raise the dead…
    They can save the living.”

      1. Hi Tony,
        I can’t take credit; I just didn’t know whom to
        credit it too, hence the quotation marks.

        Yesterday ‘dr.goodears’ mentioned ‘Tip Toes’, the solid
        machined aluminium spike-cones from the late 80’s.
        Well I used to attach them with a generous amount of
        ‘BluTac’ & so they were my ‘poverty-pack’ ‘M-pods’
        & said ‘BluTac’ was my ‘CLD’ material 🙂

        1. I got up very early this morning and did a quick look for technical papers on CLD and there are plenty of them. I did a check of reference citations in a few of them and they go back at least 20 years. Both Magico and Wilson Audio have published vibration data on their new feet showing the improvement they make. A Canadian firm called Iso Acoustics has several series of isolation feet that they have published vibration data on that they measured a the Canadian National Labs. Their method is not CLD, but I spoke to them and their method produces comparable results to CLD. Their stuff is an order of magnitude less expansive than the Magico and Wilson Audio stuff. I use it under my c-j tube preamp and phone preamp. It does work!

  6. Am I missing something here? Obviously what is on the vinyl record or what is in the digital data cannot be changed by your gear. But this does not mean that new gear might not add something that is not there. Let’s say you get a new amp ( it could be an MF M6i 😉 ). You then notice that there is more high frequency content in the music you are playing. Is this due to the new amp artificially boosting the HF content or did the old amp have a drooping high end? Unless you have some way of measuring the amps output versus frequency you cannot really tell which is correct.

  7. For the second time this year I’ve fired up a new audio system in a new bare room and this initial result has been truly awful. In this case it was a new speaker/light immersive system. We then put in a rug, some furniture and boxes, damping the floor and side walls, and it became highly detailed and a really lush sound, at which point the wife asked if we were keeping the speaker system. On digital, the lower the noise floor the better as far as I’m concerned, and a Shunyata Hydra Alpha does it for me.

  8. Given any recording (vinyl or digital), it is what it is! Our system synergy (components-speakers-cabling-room) determines to what depth we extract (digging deeper) that information! There is not new info in the recording, but it does become New to us when a change in our setup opens our ears to nuances, details and realism we’ve not perceived before! The long and steady journey with each tweak/change to equipment, speakers and room setup gives me more knowledge and emotional involvement into the intended artist’s intentions!

    1. Yes, I can remember several times when I made a significant upgrade to my system and then listening to a favorite record ( one that I played monthly in the past ) and saying that it was as if I was “hearing it for the first time”. Of course, the record did not change, however, the upgraded system made it seem new to me.

  9. Thinking more about the “digging deeper” expression, I wonder if, in the context of hi-fi, it has its origins in vinyl, where varied stylus shapes have attempted to literally get deeper into the groove to extract more of the existing information.

    Which then got me thinking. Uh-oh! I have a rudimentary understanding of how vinyl works and it’s amazing it works so well when you consider it’s one stylus in one groove, two sides, which in the course of the music might call for conflicting information to the left and right channels.

    Now I don’t know if this is a sensible or stupid question but here goes. Is it possible in a vinyl system to have say an 800Hz test tone from the left speaker and simultaneously a 1600Hz tone from the right speaker? I know, why would you, but to me it has implications for the music and the ability of the system. Wouldn’t a digital system be much better in this respect?

  10. The other day, Paul wrote about adding random noise (dither) to reduce distortion. Today he wrote, “Recordings don’t cough up new hidden information. The data is always the same, which is why we refer to it as a recording: a permanent record of a musical event.” But in the scenario where dither is added to improve the listening experience, the recording was imperfect and the listener’s experience was improved by adding noise.

    I suspect that similar opportunities exist to improve imperfect recordings. In theory, this could happen dynamically, while the music is being played.

    With all the processing power in the world, why shouldn’t engineers be able to decompose digital musical recordings using fast fourier transforms so that they can reduce jitter and correct distortions caused by 16-bit quantization, enhancing the recordings to 24-bit – or higher – quality? Sure, the finished product will be imperfect, but it might sound better than what they started with.

    Why shouldn’t we dream that there’s hope for recreating, or at least approximating, the recordings lost when Universal’s warehouse of master recording tapes burned down in 2008? Or that our audio equipment could work similar magic?

    I guess I’m not sold on Paul’s premise in today’s post that there’s no new information to uncover in digital recordings.

      1. Well, actually, you can! And, this is done, especially in the South for Parades! But then, the retort is, “But, it’s still a pig!” Presumably in the context of this blog, you mean, that if you put a fancy faceplate, a fancy cabinet on a mediocre piece of equipment, it’s still a mediocre piece of equipment! Many years ago I had mid – level Japanese equipment. O. K. at the time, but not P S Audio! Lipstick on a pig!

      2. This week, I watched “They Shall Not Grow Old”, a documentary by Peter Jackson of “The Hobbit” fame about World War I. The movie was nothing but footage and stills made at the time of the war, and the only narration was the voices of veterans. The stock material he worked with was often in bad shape, but he did an amazing job cleaning it up, adjusting the ‘jitter’ due to worn holes for the projector sprockets, adjusting the white balance, sharpening the focus, adding pan and scan and, finally colorizing it to make it come alive. In addition, he added sounds and background voices to complement the action depicted. The net effect was amazing.

        The filmstock he was working with was a 100 year old pig, but he transformed the raw material into a more realistic, more up-to-date, more involving experience. Highly recommended.

    1. From my (admittedly limited) understanding of digital music systems, adding low levels of random noise (dither) is a technique to attempt to improve the recording process so that the resulting digital code is a better, though still imperfect, facsimile of the original music event*. Or at least of the signal that came out of the microphone pre-amplifiers. Once the code is finalized, different techniques are obviously employed to covert it back into an analog signal that controls the loudspeakers to produce pressure waves in the atmosphere in such a way that a human central nervous system interprets it as the sound of music. Perhaps clever programmers (biological or artificial) could analyze the code and then do a rewrite so that the results would more accurately reproduce the original music event* on playback. Assuming that he/she/it knew what the original music event* sounded like. Right, yeah sure.

      This is doubtless a gross oversimplification. Any real engineers may feel free to correct me. Education is welcome. Simply dismissing me as an ignorant idiot (which I already know to be true, mostly) accomplishes nothing and is a waste of both of our time.

      * I use the term “music event” as this is a forum mostly dedicated to recording and playing back music. The same could be just as well applied to speech or the sounds of nature. As I type this, in the wee small hours of the morning, a particulary natural sounding YouTube video of an extended loop rain/thunderstorm is playing in the background. It sounds as though it was made from actual recordings of rain and thunder and not merely modulated white noise. I have had no complaints from the neighbors in my apartment building yet.

  11. The amazing goodness of what lies beneath the surface.
    Absolutely. Micro details can be brought out much easier and to the forefront of the listener with quality components in the audio chain. I personally love having that Eureka! moment. 😉
    One of the best feelings I get in this hobby. This may sound elitist, but so many times I say to myself, ‘my god so many people are in the dark and I know the 98% out there don’t get the privilege to hear what I’m hearing right now. ‘

  12. That’s what my Creek integrated amplifier and NHT 2.9 speaker’s reveil. I can hear strings much better where on less revealing gear the strings were obscured. Some think they can make their speaker’s and electronics sound the same as mine with equalization but they are wrong. It will actually make it worse. A system will sound better if it’s faults are by omission than addition as long as it does many other things well. My system is in no way forward but it’s very revealing of what’s on the recording. Great systems sound great even with lesser recordings. But break loose when the recording is better where lesser systems show a smaller improvement. What I like about my system is it extracts what is good even on lesser recordings making them listenable even if my system is ruthlessly revealing of flaws in the recording. I don’t buy that if you are listening to a poor to average recording that is sounds better on a lesser system. If the recording and the system are both mediocre it’s not going to sound as good, just as a good recording won’t sound as good on a mediocre system as it will on a great system.

  13. Yes, I have discovered new detail/resolution and better transients and nuances with my recently acquired Chord Qutest DAC than my PS Audio DirectStream DAC, whilst I wait for an inordinate time for the PS Audio DAC to be repaired for a latent defect on the board (only 9 months old) – in fact I’m still waiting for the dealership to receive the new board from PS Audio (weeks later) to replace the defective board. The longer it takes, the more I’m put off PS Audio, which is supposed to be a high-end, reliable brand. And the Chord Qutest DAC (which received this year an A mark and high commendation from Stereophile), is a fifth of the price of the PS Audio DS. Whilst not the reference Chord DAVE DAC, the Chord Qutest is close – as Tarun (A British Audiophile) has posted, the 80/20 percent rule applies here – Chord Qutest DAC 80% of the DAVE, but 20% of the cost – as Tarun states, and this applies to the overpriced PS Audio DS, the law of diminishing returns kicks in much earlier with DACs than with amplifiers and speakers, also bearing in mind the longevity of DACs before improved technology comes along. Kudos to Chord Electronics for a fine, reasonably priced Qutest DAC. I’m afraid the same cannot be said for the PS Audio DS DAC, given my experience, albeit that I do not deny that PS Audio generally makes good audio equipment and is widely highly regarded by experts; and perhaps it is also a matter of better synergy with my Sugden Class A amp.

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