Rediscovering music

June 19, 2017
 by Paul McGowan

One of my all time favorite operas is Verdi’s Don Carlo with Plácido Domingo and the Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini on an EMI Classics recording. The work is an utterly inspired 1971 recording of the five-act Italian opera. The cast is stunning, with Domingo as a brash Don Carlos, and Sherrill Milnes as a volatile and virile Rodrigo.

I had been listening to my favorite sections, acts 1-4, on my headphones for some time now and it sounded like a rich and full-bodied recording—so I was eager to play it in Music Room One. The only version I had was a direct copy from a friend’s 3-disc set stored on my Mac Mini server. The richness and warmth I heard through headphones was all there, but the rest left me sad. Where the moving strains of low strings should have lifted voices off the stage and the tympani’s power almost frightening, I was left with a sense of emptiness I hadn’t anticipated. Bummer, I thought, must have been a poor recording. It was, after all, 46 years old and on analog tape.

By chance, a friend brought the actual CD set by and we slipped the disc into the DirectStream Memory Player just to hear the difference. I nearly fell out of my listening seat. The power, glory, and richness of this CD was overwhelming. Neither of us could stop listening to Giulini presiding over the company of Covent Garden. It breathed, it came to life, its power unmistakable. How could this be so different from the same CD copied onto my hard drive?

I made another copy and we tried it again on the server. Flat, dull, and the same as before. So much so I deleted the files from the drive and spent the $89 for a copy of this rare CD on Amazon. Fingers crossed it arrives soon enough.

If you have yet to hear what CDs truly sound like, now’s your chance. Check out the deal we have going on the DMP and DS combo. If you’re not in the States, drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do to help.

Rediscovering what’s on these silver discs is the most fun I’ve had in some time. Too bad most of my great music is trapped on the hard drive.

Gotta fix that.

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56 comments on “Rediscovering music”

  1. Did you compare the streamed version?
    I’m about to get my first proper headphones this week, recommendation from Mark, with battery powered FPGA DAC. it’s called a garden rig. It’s on the playlist.

  2. Last year you had the same deal, also with the DMP and DSJ combo, and I tried to benefit from that.
    But since I just had bought the DSJ a month before this “campaign” started, bad luck for me.
    Had I been a psychic, I would have waited a month.
    And something else. What about the promise you made 10 days ago : “Less than one week later, we’ll release Huron for DirectStream Junior”. I still see Torreys.
    When can we expect this new version for DSJ ?

  3. Sorry to be a pain but all you’ve proved is how poor your server is!
    OK I haven’t got a DMP but my server (Synology NAS with MinimServer connected to Bridge II) beats the PWT, so potentially you should be much closer on SQ with the DMP if your server were improved. Indeed I suspect that if the latest lens technology in the DMP were included in the Bridge you’d be hard put to tell the difference.

    1. It might seem like that but I disagree. My server’s long been the best source in my system. In fact, up until the DMP, anything ripped to the hard drive sounded better than through the transport. Now that has reversed itself and not because the server got worse. It is unchanged.

      DMP is something of an anomaly in performance as far as I can tell.

      1. OK but I still believe the ‘fault’ lies with the server: you probably have not yet realised the best SQ from this source. I think I’ve posed this question to you before – how do you isolate the crud generated by the server (airborne and wireborne) from the DS DAC?

        [I’ve found that a pair of ethernet wire-to-optical fibre converters connected back to back and separated by 3ft of optical fibre gives a noticeable improvement in SQ, even with no computer within 30ft and all wireless devices removed to at least 6ft away.]

        1. That’s probably an accurate statement. I know that with our upcoming server and all the pains we’ve gone to it should be possible to best even DMP, but I have yet to hear anything actually do that. Time and work will tell.

  4. Providing the rip is perfect the bit image on a server should be identical to that on the CD. Any differences you can hear must be due to the differences in the processing applied to music coming from the two different sources. The question then becomes what are you doing wrong with the handling of streamed sources.

    1. My streaming service allows up to 24/192 download and offline storage (into hidden non-transferable files). The Don Carlo is at 16/44. The tablet I intend to use is a $150 Samsung thing I purchased in a supermarket, but it has a slot with a 128gb micro sd card fitted. The portable DAC has to be connected with a wire, although they have just released a wireless streaming add-on box. Even with that clipped on the end, the whole thing still has the footprint of an iPhone and the thickness of a packet of fags. Even sitting in the garden, I can get the data off my NAS drive (QNAP) wirelessly. There does seem to be an almost endless number of ways of getting the same digital data into a D/A converter these days. I must admit that I moved on from using lasers to extract it about 7 years ago, which to me seem almost as archaic as scraping plastic with a bit of old rock. My only concern would be for the extent of remastering. The Don Carlo was originally remastered for CD in 1986, so presumably excellent, and was remastered in 2000.

      1. Steven (or Paul if he is monitoring this),

        I know this is an old post but I’m hoping you get this email. So I actually got the EMI/1986 master of this opera from my local library. I have the three disc EMI set in my hand along with the book all in Italian LOL

        So, I will admit that I may not make it through one song of an opera but I am curious what you all listen for and what raises the hairs on the back of your neck, if you will, in listening to something like this? What volume level or otherwise, what should I listen for in trying to grasp this recording? The volume level may be of particular importance, do you listen at live concert levels or just as a quiet listening environment?

        I ripped it to flac on my computer to listen via NAS streaming. I have no real CD transport in my house other than Blu-ray players and their optical out. Anyway, I hope you have a great day and I will look forward to hopefully hearing something from you.

        Thanks,

        Larry

        1. I’m no opera buff at all, I go to about 6 or 8 a year, and avoid seeing the same thing twice. I see far more ballet and dance (went last night), music then theatre. This is the first opera I can recall listening to at home. I have a couple of DVDs, one is Krol Roger (Szymanowski) that I adored live and wanted to watch again. I can appreciate fine playing and singing, I think anyone can, just as anyone can go to the theatre and enjoy a play. I’ve come to consider live opera to be perhaps the ultimate art form, there is so much that stimulates the senses (music, singing, acting, dance sometimes sets, costumes, lighting). There is no mystery to it. Sometimes the human voice can impart so much emotion it almost stops you breathing. Jessye Norman is one, more recently I went to a recital of songs about despair, loss and death sung by Matthias Goerne accompanied by Daniil Trifonov, that was so captivating, it is difficult to describe. I’ll let someone else do it.
          http://www.theartsdesk.com/classical-music/matthias-goerne-daniil-trifonov-wigmore-hall
          That may not help, you just have to go with the flow. Best to try and get to an opera or a live broadcast in a cinema (which I also do – it’s 10 times cheaper)for the full experience.

          1. Great input, thank you. I have never been to a live opera, and honestly not sure they play in my town often. I think I will give this a listen at louder levels to start, so will wait a day or so until my significant other is out on an appointment lest she yell downstairs and wonder what is going on!,,

    2. I am not certain it’s anything wrong, but perhaps a matter of what is right. Clearly, the bits are the bits and that’s not at issue. How those bits are delivered in terms of timing and noise is what likely makes all the difference in sound quality.

      1. Noise might be an issue, Paul. But there are USB-connections with galvanic isolation today. And as far as I understood the DMP’s USPs it is a memory (!) player, thus the bits are send from a RAM as in most music servers. You often hinted to the best size of the RAM capacity! But maybe you have a secret here that shouldn’t be revealed. But could you specify the differences in sound quality more detailed? Did the music server sit on the same spot in the rack as the DMP?

        1. Paul, of course sells a USB galvanic isolation device ; )

          My experience of computer streaming setups, is that one is constantly d***ing with it, and it keeps getting incrementally better, and it’s theoretically fantastic – best sound you’ve ever had.

          Then you realize how bad USB is for moving digital audio, and you’re trying all sorts of gizmos to sort out its issues (rinse and repeat). Minimal OS’s, external Linear PS’s on EVERYTHING, CAT 6, 7….

          Then some joker comes along and makes a DISC SPINNER, fer Jimminy Cricket, that sonically (though not functionally) kicks your customized computer rig’s ass.

          Then, as with USB, you begin to realize there are STILL lots of inherent issues with using a computer for audio, even when you tweak it extensively.

  5. You write, “How could this be so different from the same CD copied onto my hard drive?” Since you’re working on a server that can be connected to your DAC, you must have some thoughts on this. At AXPONA you had mentioned that you heard differences when the same DSD material was played from disc and computer; presumably the new product you’re working on would allow the material to be played “correctly,” with no audible difference between the two. Can you let us know how things are progressing in this regard as you develop the server?

    1. My local library has it available to check out and listen to, thanks to my tax dollars funding the library system quite well. I just reserved it for pickup tomorrow! Of course I have nothing very sophisticated to spin the discs with but will be anxious to hear how it sounds!

  6. In case a proper setup Bridge II really sounds flat and dull compared to the DMP, we all can look forward to future developments.

    From a PS Audio business standpoint I could understand, if first larger numbers of DMP’s and maybe the upcoming music server equipped with a new digial lens would be planned to be sold before a new Bridge on the same level with probably much less profit is going to be published.

    I have no doubts this happens not too far away, as the DMP is a great solution for a currently still existing limited demand, but surely not what a large crowd of todays listeners need, not to speak of tomorrows listeners. My guess: hardly anyone of <25 year olds still reminds physical media, half of <50 potential customers migrated to streaming or waits to do so.

    1. I barely listened to discs (except SACD) at all for the past 15 years – just ripped them straight to hard drive. Now I listen to them all the time : )

      It’s going to be quite a challenge to make a server that sounds as good as the DMP/DSDac.

      1. yes, seems like a revival for physical media 😉

        I just think as the DMP plays from memory instead of network drive, it somehow must be possible to isolate or buffer the music from the network drive, too, before played, if this is the trick together with an improved lens.

        I just wouldn’t delete the ripped storage because some time later you probably re-discover streaming advantages 😉

        But at least until another streaming device does not match the DMP’s performance, there’s no reason for PS Audio to improve the bridge. I keep being patient, let PSA sell the DMP to those who want the improvement now or stick on physical media and see what time will tell …

        Not to forget the DMP is the only official and permitted solution to play SACD’s to the DAC (as long as new SACD’s continue to exist).

        1. DMP hasn’t completely replaced streaming around the house, it’s just the preferred source on the main rig.

          DSD file downloads also sound better ripped to DVD-ROM and played back on the DMP. SACD is just another format or container. And the proliferation of formats shows no sign of abating.

          Reminds me of when high definition arrived for video production – it was 1080i, and we figured, “That’s it – we’re set for the forseeable future” and instead the formats exploded in both directions.

  7. Hi Paul,

    Your bundle deals never seem to find their way to the UK. The distributor always says margins are too tight… I have, finally, arranged for my DS combo to be delivered this Thursday and would have loved something off the price!

    Regards,
    John

    1. John777
      I understand your plea. Being in the same position I tried last year, but it didn’t happen for me, although I wrote PS Audio and the distributor for my country an email. But like I said, I already bought the DSJ, some weeks “too early”.
      So I kept my PWT. The DMP is very expensive in my country, not exactly a bargain.
      However, I wish you all the succes and luck (you’re gonna need it) in the world to convince your distributor.

  8. Well , unless something miraculous happens I’ll be waving the bus goodbye , no longer working and the projected price in Australia is a little too rich for my blood , so the PWT is going to keep friends with the rest of the PS gear DSD , BHK pre and 250 , P5 . But there is a new bit of gear that has breathed quite a bit life into the cd collection and downloads and that’s a Melco N1Z , 6tb of storage , 2 power supplies rips , sorry imports cds with ease and produces a sound that I didn’t think possible from a cd . Looking forward to downloading as there are a number of sites that one will be able download direct to the server , which will be interesting . I’ve done the J River on Mac , Synology NAS , Minimserver and now something that’s built for music . Sorry had to say something .

  9. Interesting problem. What is your explanation? BTW, what kind of headphones were they? I’ll have to put them on my list of things to check out even though I’m perfectly happy with the ones I’ve got.

  10. This whole scenario has the feel of people re-discovering vinyl once again, except the price of entry is considerably steeper. It will be interesting to see if there is any trickle down from this, but I fear there may only be trickle up technology to follow.

  11. The most striking thing I find about this post is this single sentence:

    ” The only version I had was a direct copy from a friend’s 3-disc set stored on my Mac Mini server. ”

    Followed by this sentence:

    “So much so I deleted the files from the drive and spent the $89 for a copy of this rare CD on Amazon.”

    Paul is a pirate! Hope the record companies aren’t reading Paul’s Posts.

    1. I am! And, a rebel too! I am the guy that doesn’t stop at stop signs in the middle of nowhere, and if someone gives me a ripped copy of music and I like it I keep it and play it.

      Until recently when I discovered how much better the actual disc sounds than the server version, that’s a lot of what I did. Now, I am on the hunt for the actual physical disc. I am only a pirate when it is to my advantage and can’t be done another way.

  12. Curious. Paul, have you tried playing same music through the usb port(DMP) via a flash drive? If you have, does it sound as good as playing the cd through the DMP ?

      1. @badbeef
        I’m not sure how you can make such a pronouncement, when you have yet to update to Huron on your DSDjr. -And the update to the Bridge II is forthcoming, enabling the total unfolding of MQA, which you have disparaged from the start.
        I have heeded your advice regarding USB, but still use a Lanrover to stream Tidal to my DSD, along with some pretty good MQA masters. My PWT still sounds better overall, since Huron, thru the I2S input, which is lacking in the DSD USB input.
        My quandary is whether to spring for the bridgeII and full MQA unfold, or invest in a DS memory transport. ( I have a nice CD collection, but no SACD’s)
        I would appreciate your opinion.
        Regards,
        John

        1. You mean, “Discs sound best”? rgallos’ question was whether flash drive on the DMP sounded as good as disc. I think if you go over the DMP boards you would likely find a lot of owners feel that discs win, and as I recall, so does Paul.

          Not sure why Huron would change that, but in any case, yes, I’m talking “with Torreys”.

          If you’re a fan of what MQA does with the sound, that will only function through the Bridge II, and is unrelated to the DMP. So in the sense of the original question I was responding to, there’s nothing to compare it to with respect to “What’s the best sound or way to play it”, as it doesn’t exist until the B2 update coming later.

          My guess is some folks will think a disc on the DMP via I2S to the DSD sounds better than MQA via the B2, and others will feel the opposite. But they are two very different animals in my mind. Pick what you like best. It’s another format and allegedly different master.

          If you’ve read the MQA Controversy thread, you know the reasons Paul, myself and others are leery of it. I’m still open to hearing valid comparisons of known source material, and it’ll be interesting to compare.

          And a Bridge vs. a DMP is also an “apples and oranges” deal – as well as vastly different cost. If you’re excited about MQA, get a Bridge II, you can always sell it if you decide MQA isn’t worth it.

          1. Thanks for that, Badbeef. I admit I haven’t followed the discussions about the DS memory player, as I don’t own one yet, but I’m leaning in that direction. I have no allegiance to MQA and have only heard the first unfold thru Tidal. It does seem to be a thinly disguised attempt to herd the recording industry. At this point, I’ll sit back and watch the antics of that industry. -Too bad the artists will get the short end of the stick whatever the outcome.
            -John

      1. Warner Classics took over EMI in 2013…lots of cover/logo changes over the past few years. They also added CD-ROM capabilities, however, to be honest, I never tried it…might just contain the libretto.

  13. Hi Paul,

    I can always depend on you to take a dig at all things analog, “It was, after all, 46 years old and on analog tape.” Paul, some of the greatest recordings ever made were made over fifty years ago, on analog tape. Just saying!

    1. Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean it as a dig, but rather a simple statement that older analog tape recordings are sometimes to blame. I love old analog tape when it was done right.

      The very best recording I own is an original 15ips recording of Isaac Perlman on stage in Switzerland. There’s simply none better and it was all analog, mastered by my friend Gus Skinas to DSD.

  14. Paul, if you mentioned it, I missed it, as I reread the post, and scanned your replies. Was this through the Bridge or through the LANRover to the USB input.
    If USB, try removing the LANRover.

  15. Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
    The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
    And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children
    shout,
    But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty IRS struck out.

    I’ve been trying to tell you that RBCD IS the best method for making recordings of music so far. All this streaming nonsense, HD, and the rest of it either adds things of no value like extra dynamic range and FR beyond the audible range or lose something. How nice people don’t want CDs anymore, happy with their ipods, iphones, and earbuds merrily merrily merrily gently down the stream. You can buy them used in perfect condition for a song. And then there are no controls left to fix anything. Hats off to the countless engineers who fleeced audiophiles out of god knows how much money to get them where they are. By the way, what were those headphones you liked? Beats? Do they work on Android phones? Ya know what, I’m sticking with my two pairs of original Sony MDR V6s. If you buy a pair, be careful, there are fakes out there and they do not perform nearly as well. What review prompted me to try them out in the first place? Consumer Reports. My neighbor had a pair and I loved them. Recording engineers still use them.

    1. I still have a couple pair – one of the reasons they’re used in location audio recording work is the vocal-region response hump makes it easier to discern vocal issues, even in noisy environments. No one I know would use them for engineering a studio recording, as they’re not flat. Though some engineers are fairly deaf in that region : )

  16. If the DMP is doing something special to both CD and SACD AFTER extracting the ones and zeros from a disc and putting them into memory, why bother with the disc? Just get the data from a hard drive or the Ethernet. I have no doubt 16/44 can sound absolutely wonderful, as I experienced with dCS Vivaldi 4 years ago (it was the audio equivalent of receiving the Stigmata). Although that device and its predecessors can extract the digital data from a SACD, as the DMP now does, SACD was not necessary to demonstrate how transparent and refined a sound can be produced from digital data.
    The Problem with SACD, I understand, is that its benefits only arise (if there are any) when the source is recorded in DSD or encoded from the original tape. Not that common these days, I know only of Alia Vox, Pentatone and one or two others who do. It was of course conceived for multichannel. dCS didn’t bother with SACD in their latest device. Ironically my streaming provider is doing DSD in 3 or 4 months, I’m not entirely sure why they bother. Then someone can compare streamed DSD with SACD, not me, I’m too busy.

    1. What we’ve seen so far is that the DMP does its best stuff right off a shiny disc for some reason. Seems like a silent flash drive with the same bits on it should be better, but it’s currently a USB connection, which is where the deficiencies likely reside.

  17. I’m puzzled. Badbeef says cd sounds better than usb using DMP. If both mediums end up going through the same buffer, etc. why is this so ? Is there more info being extracted from the cd or is the usb inherently inferior to begin with ? ….trying to make sense of this.

    1. USB is terrible for digital audio – this is revealed by the fact that you can keep hanging dongles on it, galvanically isolate it, put linear power supplies on these devices, etc. and you can keep making it incrementally better. If it was good to begin with, none of these tweaks would help. And then you have Frankenstein cable rigs (“It’s pronounced, ‘Fronkensteen'”) everywhere, which may fix some issues, but add to the complexity, which is rarely an indicator of a great solution.

  18. My bewilderment on the usb input in Dmp stems from my own experiences with a modified Oppo-105 SE. The noise floor is much lower with the mods. I’m not sure what work was done on the usb inputs, but I hear no difference when playing cd vs usb with same music. When I play sacd’s vs dsd via usb the flash drive sounds noticeably better than the disc. This may be an apples and orange comparison since the dmp/ds dac are vastly superior to begin with thus perhaps exposing the usb’s weaknesses.

    1. Yup. That’s why Paul often mentions the resolving power of the component or system. If your telescope gives you awesome images of the Inner planets, but vague, fuzzy images of Planet X, it resolves to some level below that. It’s really good, but not for viewing planets at the distance of Planet X or greater. When you look at it with Hubble, you say, “Duh!”

      1. That should go in the new ad copy the “DMP is the Hubble of all transports”.
        I’m not sure how much better they have gotten, or if a couple grand in mods does it, but the better my gear got, the more obvious it is that the Oppo 83se may be a very good value, but compared to even my old PSA Lambda with the Benchmark Dac2 they ain’t all that good. And I do believe at their price point, you get a lot, I’d even buy a new one for watching Blu-rays and DVDs, but they aren’t giant killers. They are certainly not an audiophile reference.

  19. It’s gettin’ better all the time …

    Why should I not wait for the next generation of the player, which is then based on the latest, the current version of the OPPO drive?
    Then the last curtains will be removed again and you can listen even deeper into the music.
    The fine-dynamics will benefit greatly and the sound colors are as natural as never before.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvMQWte5pik
    After that we’re waiting for the next upcoming version.
    That one will remove curtains, which we did not know they even exist.

    Regards

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