Running interference

March 1, 2019
 by Paul McGowan

I have long been fascinated that reviewer Michael Fremer finds PCM copies of vinyl listenable yet not CDs. Both are employing the same digital technology, yet one is listenable while the other not. How can that be?

And here's another question. When mastering engineer Gus Skinas makes a transfer from analog tape to digital it is always DSD first, PCM second. And his transfers always outperform everyone else.

The best sounding versions of reproduced music have first passed through the analog lens of either DSD or vinyl.

What intrigues me is the why behind these observations. What are the two aforementioned lenses—DSD and vinyl—doing (or not doing) that PCM alone fails at?

One possibility is high frequency interference. We know that PCM is quite unhappy with incoming frequencies outside its abilities. Steep filtering is required so aliasing doesn't occur. In the case of CD quality PCM that filter is very steep making sure nothing above 22kHz gets through to cause problems. In the case of DSD that filtering is quite a bit higher and less aggressive—50kHz if memory serves—and far less important to eliminate for proper performance. In other words, DSD seems less bothered by high frequency interference. Vinyl, of course, could care less because it can't record it anyway.

Could it be that the gentle prefiltering of ultrasonics offered by both vinyl and DSD playback perform a service to a PCM recorder we hadn't considered? Do they somehow shape the sound in such a way that PCM can then perform at its best?

I want to do some more research on the subject and will report my findings in future posts.

For the time being, I will suggest that the lens of both DSD and vinyl are enough to eradicate what PCM does not like—which is why DSD and vinyl recordings have a type of "sound" we prefer over PCM recordings that have not been first captured and played back through them.

There is much more to this story to come. I hope to continue my thoughts and research.

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102 comments on “Running interference”

  1. It takes a highly resolving dynamic system to hear difference’s in minutia regardless of source and provenance. The mantra is simple, are we in the room with the performers?

    Did the 30 day “studio” trial at Qobuz and the resounding consensus is that both Tidal and Qobuz feature some excellent recordings. The Qobuz and Tidal gui appear to be one in the same the difference being audible seasonings and filters on the various files.

    Currently raptured by this recording,

    Neil Young - After the Gold Rush ...

  2. Interesting! I thought it’s maybe just due to the higher resolution and more ambience information highres PCM offers over redbook.

    But there are so many still claiming that a 16/44.1 recording catches everything.

      1. Hi,
        there are two other more recent studies from 2011 and 2014. I'm going to ask a friend about the links to the documents.
        What I like about it, is their detailed description of the circumstances of the tests, other than two sitting together and one saying I didn't hear a difference and the second saying i'm sure I heard a difference, but you can take the one you've got for a first look.

      2. WOW! Excellent attempt at detecting the difference. The Manger Zerobox, Pyramix and MKH800 in particular are choices that leave the format differences exposed. The acoustic treatment of the room was meticulous (if a bit noisy). I also appreciate the survey questions about mode of transportation, listening habits, etc. covering short term acclimatization of hearing and biases in audio experience BUT - this is a music school. Surely they have access to performance majors whose ears are ten times more accurate at hearing music? The self-produced recordings certainly indicate performers were available.

        I do not trust the hearing of anyone who listens to audio for a living. It is is an overwhelming bias, radically different spatial and temporal/transient response than any real music. The phase scrambling and transient limiting of recordings and speakers either inhibit your brain's phase discrimination, switch to a totally different compartmentalized hearing processor (like the division between speech and music cognition) or give you a headache.

        Many of the biggest fans of HD and DSD are musicians, ranging from the music direction of orchestras to the Rolling Stones and Neil Young.

        1. "I do not trust the hearing of anyone who listens to audio for a living."


          so when you buy audio gear I guess it's best to trust the hearing of your fish monger?

          Good one!

          Seriously, I tell readers to use reviews as a rough guide to sort out what gear they should try to audition.

          Well written observational reviews should and can accurately describe how something sounds without involving personal tastes, though I usually add my personal reactions.

          I have readers who write "if you like something I usually won't, but I've found over the years that your descriptions are accurate".

          1. <<<<<
            I have readers who write “if you like something I usually won’t, but I’ve found over the years that your descriptions are accurate”.

            I usually agree with your findings to a high degree. The only case I remember where I go in another direction is the difference between the old Grundman Classic Records remasterings and the same redone by Grundmann/ORG (e.g. Brubeck, Mingus etc.). While I also hear that the ORG have improved transparency, energy level and soundstage I find them too bright and unnatural sounding compared to the Classic Records releases (which I prefer therefore and which to some even were bright enough on top end...for me they are quitefine in their own style ). I wonder if this didn’t jump at you, too.

          2. Because of neuroplasticity, it is impossible to separate listening history from evaluation. There is, however, an absolute standard which is live acoustic music.

            Being able to accurately compare reproduction to the standard requires (a) listening to live acoustic music or unpolluted sounds of Nature for thousands of hours during childhood and (b) listening to live acoustic music more hours per week than to reproduction, or listening to live acoustic music within 60 seconds of listening to the reproduction.

            I trust my ears, the ears of my partner who lives in the same acoustic environment (100 Classical concerts a year) and the ears of some of my conservatory graduate friends.

            I trust the ears of Valery Gergiev, William Christie, John Elliott Gardiner, Jordi Savall, Kristian Bezuidenhout, Emmanuelle Haim, Harry Bicket, Christina Pluhar, Maxim Emelyanychev, and other conductors.

            I trusted the ears of Siegfried Linkwitz and John Dunlavy, both life-long season subscribers; and I trust the ears of our host, Paul, and Bruno Putzeys, the exceptions to the rule - but within limits.

            I also trust the ears of Andrew Lipinsky, Kavi Alexander, Pierre Sprey, Manfred Eicher, Carl Jefferson, Leif Mases, Morton Lindberg, Dongsok Shin, Todd Garfinkle, etc. to make recordings.

            1. I hope you've watched the video interview I did with Siegfried Linkwitz, which you can find on analogPlanet and on the AnalogPlanet YouTube channel. But you probably won't because...

              I'm AN AUDIO REVIEWER!

              That you list no audio reviewers as if they don't attend live music or for whatever reason means your post is an exercise in name dropping and laughable passive aggressiveness.

              1. You are right. I do not trust ANY audio reviewers - in fact, I don't trust anyone who hears "Imaging" and "soundstaging" from mixed and mastered recordings - or even reviewers who use such productions to test systems. Pan controls and artificial reverb are instantly identifiable, and I refuse to listen with few exceptions.

                There are people who have good acoustic hearing and compartmentalize recordings, listening through different neural pathways and judging relative to other reproduction so it is a hard line to define. Most people are never really fooled by reproduction - if they have thousands of hours of acoustic experience, they develop an unconscious mental translation.

                1. So if a reviewer uses a two microphone Blumlein pair symphonic recording to judge imaging and staging then? Frankly, I think you are a crank. No, worse. Your comment is imbecilic.

                  1. I am reading Robert Jourdain's "Music, the Brain and Ecstasy" which translates into layman's terms a slew of peer reviewed research substantiating much of my thesis and written in 1997. Highly recommended to help bring your neuroscience science up to date.

                    The most important concept is that DNA does encode a blueprint for cognition. All recognition of sound sources, acoustic environments and sonic messaging is LEARNED, and it takes thousands of hours practice to reach proficiency in hearing speech or music.

                    One critical parameter separating music from reproduction, known fifty years ago but ignored by mainstream science, is that the most accurate mechanism of spatial hearing is directional phase encoding by the pinnae. In this way, humans can triangulate discrete reflections by time of flight and direction of arrival based on comparing the waveform to the direct sound in echoic memory. This sharpens our perception of azimuth, altitude and distance for each sound source and simultaneously maps the acoustic environment. It also identifies sound sources by the polar phase radiation pattern, given enough experience in consistent acoustic environments with low noise.

                    I got this fact from Dr. Manfred Schroeder on December 2, 2011 but have been unable to find his references - they may be unpublished. It is a hundred times as much spatial information as can be encoded in 2 channel "stereo", and thousands of times as much spatial information as pan controls. Real sound fields can't be replicated by any system which assigns fixed playback geometry to the channels.

                    I have been experimenting with speakers that mimic the polar radiation pattern of traditional acoustic instruments arrayed one mic and one speaker per instrument and achieved remarkable results.

                    Under good conditions my systems are indistinguishable from acoustic instruments to conservatory trained musicians, veteran Classical concert reviewers and award winning Classical recording engineers. This is the Holy Grail - satisfying the most experienced ears in side by side comparisons with real violins, cellos, pianos and guitars.

                    Here is one example, an NCP recording (NOT Blumlein) of a guitar speaker in concert, Jeremy Andrew Bass playing Daniel Pesca's "Intermezzo":


                    I have hundreds of private concert recordings over five years, which I believe compare favorably to recordings made of any other speakers reproducing instruments.

            2. Acuvox, in the DSD vs PCM test mentioned above about 150 people took part, most of the musicians. Only four of them could discriminate between the formats, and only when using Stax headphones instead of speakers. They were Tonmeister students (who also played an instrument). So SE apocalypse can be postponed.

              1. Good - this is consistent with my theses and experience. It was easy to discriminate between Redbook and DSD with a phase coherent playback system in a hand tuned room, but 24/192 is much closer, and ES headphones will be more revealing. I think it is also critical to have thousands of hours at least auditioning live acoustic instruments to discern timing of discrete reflections in the reverb tails.

  3. I suspect the vast majority of what I listen to originated in and remains in PCM. My audio system operates entirely at 24/192, it just converts whatever you throw at it (analogue, PCM, DSD, whatever). I never go excited about DSD and agree that 16/44 well done is just fine with me.

    1. I have wanted to experiment a bit with DSD just for comparison purposes but have been challenged in getting my system to accommodate. I used to have a SACD player but only had one disk at the time that was compatible (it was a hybrid one) and I didn’t learn until after it broke that it would always play the CD layer of a hybrid disk by default unless I pressed some series of buttons so I am sure I never heard the SACD layer at all (duh, user error).

      My current unit is supposed to play DSD but I can’t get files to play from my computer to the receiver/DAC via optical even through JRiver, it says it gives an error, perhaps I need to switch to USB or coax? This is where I have lost patience to figure it out since it’s not that important to me. I have not tried putting some files on a flash drive and plugging them direct to the unit, maybe I will find the energy for that project. I agree wholeheartedly that 16/44 is more than enough in most cases.

    2. So I learned since this morning that I cannot do DSD over optical or coax, not enough bandwidth many say. USB can be used, or HDMI, or Firewire. Now, they may be referring to the audio direct from the SACD player, not sure, but it might explain a lot. I am tinkering in the basement tomorrow and I have a spare HDMI out on my graphics card I might give that a try and see if it will send a raw DSD signal to my receiver. My graphics card will pass raw audio out to surround systems so we shall see. More on this project at another time.

  4. I have quite a number of digital recordings of vinyl albums that I made using very basic analog to digital converters, and then tweaked a bit in software (removing some clicks and pops). Every one of them is more pleasing to my ear than the corresponding track that was ripped from a CD. I often wondered why that might be, this hypothesis perhaps sheds some light on that.

    It is such a huge hassle to digitize vinyl though! Very tedious process so I don’t do it often.

    1. There's a piece of software called Vinyl Studio that is an absolute breeze to use and index albums. There are also some perfectly decent A/D units around, Furutech and Tascam come to mind.

      1. Steven I agree with that software I have used it and it is my preferred. It generally does find the albums and does a really good job of getting close to the tracks and lets me cut out dead space between tracks. I generally use the cleanup filters and a bit of volume boost.

        I understand some purists just record each album side as a single track and don’t employ any kind of filtering. I personally like to have each track named and tagged.

        I have a NAD unit which was actually highly rated by the aforementioned Fremer and it has worked OK. It does the digital conversion and sends it to the computer via USB. My last two albums however I got lazy and have to be honest in that I simply plugged the cable into the headphone jack of my receiver and into the in jack of my sound card and recorded it that way using Vinyl Studio. I have to admit I could tell no difference doing it that way compared with using the standalone unit. I even sent my files to a guy to analyze and he said he could see a slight bit of clipping in his spectral analysis but could not hear it no matter how hard he tried. So, good enough for me LOL

  5. Hello Paul
    In doing your research I'd like to suggest you examine 3 areas:
    1) Compare the dynamic range of the vinyl PCM album copy with that of the original CD album. Because of the limitations imposed in cutting vinyl you should find the former is less than the latter i.e. the dynamic range is compressed and therefore low-level detail is effectively raised in level thus making it more apparent to the listener (and 'better'?)
    2) Compare the noise floor of the vinyl PCM album copy with that of the original CD album. Again because of mastering limitations for the vinyl album you should find that the former has a higher noise floor than the latter. I understand that there is a psychoacoustic effect that makes us prefer the noise floor not to be as 'black' as is the case for a CD album.
    3) Compare the channel separation of the vinyl PCM album copy with that of the original CD album. You will find that the former has a poorer channel separation than the latter. This lower channel separation can give a 'better' listening experience. There was a review in Stereophile (by Atkinson & Fremer) of a cross-talk digital generator that both reviewers thought improved the sound quality experience when low-level cross-talk between channels was added to the original PCM signal.

  6. Will this research result in the development of an ultrasonic filter switch on future PS media players?

    But if such a device is truly successful, audiophiles will be deprived of their favourite topic to argue over.

  7. This is a most interesting topic and look forward to you exploring this further. Like MF, I have all but abandoned my CD collection, and consider them all inferior in sonics to SACD-DSD. To me, RBCD comparatively lacks life.
    I acquired some Blueray audio discs which were recorded in 24/96 PCM surround, which sound similar to SACD. They're just a pain to boot up and I cannot select the track by number.

  8. This is a great post, Paul. Last night I listened to 2 recordings of Van Cliburn, one a Living Stereo SACD of the Rachmaninoff and Prokofief 3rd piano concertos, where all of the nuances of the string section's playing were audible, and the other a remastering in pcm of Chopin's 1st piano concerto, (with the Philadelphia Orchestra) which didn't let me hear much about the performance of of that legendary group. The string sound was gray and the dynamics were suppressed. Perhaps this was partly due to early solid state recording equipment, I'm not sure. Anything that could lead to agreement over what really works in the studio would be a great help.

    The labels are now offering bulk remasterings of their most treasured recordings, but often these don't give us what we really want. I wish we could get everything remastered in DSD from the early stereo era right up to the late 80's.

    1. Interesting that those living stereo series - according to the booklet notes - seem to have been directly transferred from the original tapes to DSD without or with minimal fiddling.

    2. I wish we could get everything in DSD as well. Gus Skinas and PS Audio are starting our own record label based solely on DSD. I can't wait to see what the results will be. We're building a studio and hoping to work with the best in the industry releasing only DSD and CDs mastered from DSD recordings. We're going to rope in Cookie to help too.

  9. Although my system is nowhere near Fremer's, I have the same experience, but I suspect other reasons. First, many CDs are poorly mastered, even if the recording was done well. A homemade file of an LP will often beat out a poorly mastered CD. And remember your earlier comments regarding the lower dynamic range of vinyl: This has the effect of boosting lower level signal information, resulting in a perceived increase in detail. My digitized files are at 96/24 and sound in many ways as good as the source vinyl, and often superior to commercially released CDs of the same album.

  10. It would help to have as a starting point recordings of original material made in PCM, DSD and analogue tape simultaneously for comparison. I have never found any research project that has done this - if you know of any please tell me. What is clear is that DSD/PCM and tape effectively capture sound in very different ways so it stands to reason they will give differing results on playback. In general terms consensus seems to be that DSD has a more pleasant characteristic than PCM in digital music and from my own limited personal experience I would agree. Maybe it's to do with the very high sampling rate even at basic 64 rate? I refer back to my previous comments about timing issues at low sample rates on the previous posts - I think this is very important but is constantly ignored and sidelined by endless bickering over frequency capture/ultrasonics and dynamic range....

  11. Ae CD's really mastered - in the sense of the original conversion from analogue to digital - at 16/44? I thought it was standard practice to do the A/D at higher 'precision' - say 24/192 - do whatever track mixing/equ/loudness massageing in the digital domain, and then downsample to 16/44.

    If this is the case, then the steep filtering at 22KHz doesn't occur, and can't be the explanation.

    I'd reckon that a digital recording of a vinyl disk should retain the signal from the disk correctly - as noted this includes lower inherent dynamic range as well as higher noise levels. So the vinyl will most certainly sound different from the same master tape converted at 24/192 to any digital form.

    I was always of the opinion that DSD sounded better (it did, to my ears, on sundry Oppo players) because the *playback* was better - getting a DSD stream converted to analog is a simpler piece of analog circuitry than any multibit DAC.

    But itw ould be good to have a theory as to the observed effects and evidence to support it.

  12. I do not understand the concern (typical of audiophiles) for trying to establish through endless discussions Byzantine, that one medium is better than another.

    At the beginning of the era of the CD, record labels for obvious reasons, were dedicated to make copies of vinyl, resulting in an appreciable amount of very good transcriptions, which were capable of preserving the warmth characteristics of the analog medium, while other copies made later (and already when the CD had received the favor of the public regarding its acceptance) its sound quality, leaves much to be desired, I speak of the transcriptions of Sheffield Lab discs, whose CD version is trash, compared with the original vinyl, but there may be people who like this garbage, they are in their right.

    However, having an almost immeasurable number of recordings, it is inofficious to try to generalize.

    It is wiser to use time listening to the medium of one's preference, than to lose it in speculations about the supremacy of this or that means or system.

    The best time spent is that which is intended to attend live concerts to listen to unamplified music.

  13. First of all, Paul, why do you conflate 16/44.1 with 96/24? I have never claimed that vinyl converted to CD sounds transparent to the source. And it is cartoonish to suggest that I find CDs unlistenable. My biggest objection came when CD resolution was declared transparent to the source, be it tape or vinyl. Watching the entire recorded history converted to CD and having that generally mediocre and often unlistenable swill declared “transparent to the source” especially in the early days, was outright FRAUD and a disgrace. And I was correct. 100% correct. As for today’s 16.44.1? Still UNACCEPTABLY DEGRADED compared to analog source and worse, damn annoying and uninvolving. I bought a new computer and downloaded Auadacity, which I use to edit 96/24 files made from vinyl using Vinyl Studio. I edited a few files and played them through my system. I immediately said to myself “This doesn’t sound so good”!. I checked settings and sure enough Audacity had converted the files to 16/44.1. I heard it and I don’t like it. I’ve done blind tests with files all marked 96/24 even though some were actually 16/44.1 and gotten mostly correct identifications MADE A FEW MISTAKES in part because blind testing while useful is a stupid way to listen to audio or test violins or “prove” that all vodkas taste the same. A famous blind test “proved” that a Stradivarius was indistinguishable from a student violin. So either that’s true or the test was stupid or the takers were inexperienced test takers. When you get a stupid result don’t draw a stupid conclusion! How did the human race ever survive without blind testing if that tiger was actually behind us before acting? I have a ROON system and 10,000+ files. I don’t “hate” digital. I way prefer analog and it’s easy to demonstrate why even with the best DACs one of which I own. Sounds great! Put on a record and immediately a deep, satisfying relaxation sets in. Investigate that! P.S. (Audio) I prefer PCM to DSD, which has (to my ears) an immediately identifiable SMOOTH sonic signature that bothers me and is NOT analog-like! It is what it is. As for blind tests proving MP3s and CDs are indistinguishable? A pathetic abuse of science!

  14. Well this is all personally and system dependent. Some prefer DSD to PCM; some don't. Not everyone prefers the sound of vinyl to PCM.
    In my previous setup with an ESS based DAC, I upsampled everything to DSD because I thought it sounded better that way. With my present system I think the opposite is true and listen with even DSD sometimes converted to PCM. I agree DSD smoothes the sound, so on some recordings I convert to DSD b/c I think they need the "smoothing. On most recordings I don't want that smoothing.

    I remember in John Atkinson's review of the Ayre A/D converter he said he made conversions of his LPs to 24/192 and listened to the results till "his ears bled" (my paraphrase) and couldn't distinguish the rip from the original.

    Just today I listened to the Reference Recordings album of the Minnesota Symphony playing 3 Aaron Copland compositions. It was recorded in 16/44.1 in 2000 - and it sounds fantastic. Incredible dynamics, you can hear the different layers and positions of the various instruments in the orchestra. Sounds better than most every LP I own. So some CDs aren't inferior to vinyl.

    I also don't get the whole producing LPs from digital sources. The only way the LP can sound better than good digital reproduction of that digital master is: a) the LP production and playback process is adding euphonic distortion/noise that you find pleasing; or b) the limits necessary for LP mastering are pleasing to you and you prefer the sound of a source that's been limited that way.

    Nothing wrong with that, but it can't be said that the LP is more "accurate" than the digital source itself. It can't be. It can be different, but it can't be more accurate to the source.

  15. Paul, I've heard you express a different theory, one captured by "davidl" above (not me), and this is that at least some of us PREFER the dynamic compression forced by vinyl. There's nothing "wrong" about that. It just depends on your listening goals. I'm in the camp, like many on this thread, looking for the most accurate reproduction of the source. But I'll be the first to admit it's a matter of taste. If you think having the volume of those low-level details raised sounds "better" to your ear, enjoy your vinyl -- over the crackles and pops. I'll be listening to well-recorded high-res digital.

    1. Dynamic compression is not necessary for vinyl. I don't know where you get that from. As for crackles and pops, I make clean record transfers and there are no crackles and pops, which is why my files get used at shows by DAC manufacturers who don't divulge the source. They use them because for whatever reason or reasons they sound "better"---more like real music....all recordings are distortions so if adding some makes it sound more real, why not? It's why tube microphones are used now so often. No one thinks they have less distortion than ones using solid state preamps, but they produce better sound....

      1. Here's where we can disagree. There's no way vinyl has the capacity to capture the dynamics of live analog or from original digital recordings. You're absolutely correct about no compression required when transferring from analog tape masters to vinyl, but that's never been my thinking. Vinyl's limited to about 70dB and digital (and certainly pure analog out of a microphone/board) has far more range.

        1. Paul, I think there’s no major disagreement that in case of a dynamic range request higher than phono can handle (whatever number it is for different quality setups), digital can still handle it.

          Without going into details and according opinions of recording/mastering pro‘s how often it is used or actually not etc. , the main point is, that the exposition of the topic „dynamic range“ in such discussions is in no relation to way more relevant sound quality characteristics making the listening experience and differences much more essential, especially because the overall dynamic characteristic of a component seems to have nothing to do with its dynamic range capabilities.

          Reading about dB ranges, for those who actually compare a lot, is as reading from measurementists about all that doesn’t matter for sound quality, while oneself is listening to the opposite.

          But I’m keen on the releases you plan with Gus, as I’m sure they will go over that dynamic margin and use the potential available in digital.

  16. Absolutely true, I have no question about it. The artifacts produced by the ADC running at 44.1 are a real problem (although some DACs and/or software based oversampling using apodizing filters can remove some of those artifacts). I am pretty sure this is where the advantage of higher resolution encoding lies. I remember Keith Johnson explaining that he only used a very mild analog input filter when making Reference Recordings at 176.4 kHz.

    1. I have quite a bunch of XRCD and really like e.g. the Tiger Okoshy ones. I can confirm that especially the XRCD2 and XRCD24 sound very good, not only when compared to normal CD’s.

        1. Yeah, “Color of soil” is the best, “Two sides to every story” second (which has also an original vinyl release I didn’t find yet, but I guess the XRCD remastering is better)

  17. Ok so the 22.5khz LPF has phase shift issues well within the audio band. We know that, and so did the fathers of RBCD. So use a higher sampling rate like 96 and the problem goes away. 192khz? Overkill IMO. There is nothing wrong with PCM. Just work within it's limitations.

  18. DSD is not an option for me because I cannot decode that format, so my disc players are set to ignore the DSD layer. My old a/v receiver can, but any potential gain in sound qualities from DSD would be drowned out by mediocre (or worse) sound from the old amp/dac. Sure, I would like to have the option to play DSD files, but for now I’m so enthralled by the trove of music on Qobuz that I am quite content to stay in the PCM world, at least for now.

  19. So I’m confused by this whole discussion. If you have a DS series DAC aren’t we listening to DSD regardless of what the input is?

    The question I have...
    Is A DSD Input up sampled or just passed thru?

    The Stellar GCD may be different and may be the reason for the PCM concern or curiosity.

  20. I don't know about DSD but I have a friend who makes digital copies of his LPs and his digital copies sound like the sound of his vinyl rig which includes a cartridge and phono stage, all of which contribute to the "acoustic signature" of his digital copies. I have no trouble understanding why Michael Fremer prefers the sound of his PCM copies of vinyl to the sound of PCM from a CD release of the same recording. His digital copies sound like his LPs do on his system. His CD copies weren't made from a "vinyl master" but from what was hopefully the original master tapes. Ideally both the LP and the CD would be faithful representations of the original master tape but Mr Fremer's PCM copies of his LPs are not representations of the original master tapes, they're representations, and faithful representations at that, of the way the LP release sounds when played back through his system. His PCM copies are always going to sound different to the official PCM releases whether those be CDs or downloads, and where there's a difference people will always have their own individual preferences. Those who prefer the sound of vinyl to PCM releases of their music are also likely to prefer the sound of a PCM copy of the vinyl release being played on their system to the sound of the official PCM release if they've done a good quality job of making their PCM copy.

    This fact says absolutely nothing about the relative advantages/disadvantages or strengths and weaknesses of analog vs PCM vs DSD. It simply says that at least some of the characteristics that make a person prefer one medium over another can be captured faithfully enough in a PCM copy for the person to prefer playback of that PCM copy made from their preferred format to playback of the same music from the formats they don't prefer.

    1. I have a NewWave converter and if I compare the digital out to the analog, there is a definite difference. I stopped the project right there.

      Further, the analog in the phone converter lacks the openness and depth of my two main phono pre-amps. So it is even further from the LP.

      OK, if I used them in the car, but no, I hoped to get CLOSE to vinyl through the DS DAC. Wasn't going to happen with this go around of equipment. I was hoping it would.

  21. I can quite understand that a person with a company producing digital CD players will never admit that the alternative vinyl can be better. Can you?

    1. If you're referring to PS Audio it has nothing to do with that. We're getting ready to launch one of the best phono stages ever made and investing in an even more exotic one to boot.

      I don't operate that way. As an example I have been preaching for years the loudspeakers are the first investment people should make and where they should spend the bulk of their funds. Our company does not build or sell loudspeakers (we will in another year for full disclosure but that's not relevant as I have been saying this for 30 years).

      I calls them as I sees them. 🙂

      1. Really? If you think CD is so much superior, I am too stupid to understand why you want to make phono stages for an inferior vinyl system.

        1. Well, you said it. If you know anything about the history of PS Audio, their first product was a phono stage.
          Just because Paul prefers digital he knows that many of his customers have vinyl collections that will benefit from a well built phono stage. There is one coming for the Stellar line, and a BHK Signature phono stage.
          Just like Michael does not hate all digital, but prefers analog, I don't believe Paul hates analog. It is just good business to provide products that people want. Especially when you know how to build a high value, high quality phono stage.
          A good example would be MQA, Paul is not a fan, but his customers wanted to be able to decode it, so they added it to the Bridge, at no additional cost.

            1. Shortsighted, I can't speak for Paul, or the company, but as someone who has owned PSA products. From my side of the fence it is to deliver the best quality products for a fair price, and excellent customer service.
              I got my first stereo in 1969, when CDs first came out, I kept buying vinyl. When I did get a CD player, I kept my vinyl. I have LPs in my collection that are close to 50 years old. And I would bet that many of us kept our LPs, while starting CD collections.
              I think most audio manufacturers that sell a full line of components include both DACs and phono preamps.

              1. Jeff has it right. We're committed to providing great audio products to our customers so that they might get the most out of their systems at a price that is directly related to what;'s inside the product.

                I am not sure why you would think I believe you are stupid because you like vinyl (maybe I misunderstand). I don't think like that at all. I have played and loved vinyl for decades - and spent more time designing phono stages than any other product in our line. Our company supports vinyl as well as digital audio.

                As Jeff points out I have personally moved on from vinyl in my own listening habits. I am not the company. I am only the most visible person from a company of 50 individuals. I can tell you that internally there's a really good split of what people focus on for source material but it leans heavily towards vinyl. I am actually an outlier when it comes to this subject.

                Passions run deep on the subject. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who loves the art of home reproduction using highly resolving audio equipment. You, we, are a special breed of people that I admire and respect.

                Please don't take this personally. It's not meant as an attack or as a statement on what's best or worst. I can appreciate and respect both (and do). I just am very vocal in my likes and dislikes as are you. And I wouldn't change a thing.

  22. Paul, late to the party, but this may be the greatest discussion I have ever read, generated by one your posts.
    Having Michael and Cookie, along with some of the regulars, discuss this topic in such an open minded, informative way. It made my Saturday morning.
    Remember, I did say late to the party. I will read today's post after I go shovel last night's snow.

    1. Thanks, Jeff and thanks to everyone who participated - especially my friends Michael Fremer and Cookie Marenco for sharing their thoughts and spending their valuable time with our community. We are truly blessed with all these fine comments and no fighting! Awesome.

      1. Paul,

        Listen to Yale verses Snow Mass firmware. No one will not hear the difference, and if digital is so PERFECT, why is there such a difference? Soundmind and Glimmie can hear it.

        I would rate the variation every bit (pun) as obvious as between my Benz Ruby Z and my SUMIKO Blackbird cartridges. Easy that much difference.

        We keep arguing digitals perfection and sameness and all I hear are DIFFERENCES in BOTH mediums. We agree that analog is limited by mechanical physics, but digital?

        The electromagnetic limitations of the digital filter circuits and a whole lot more seem to be varying that so called sameness.

        I don't know Paul, but until digital stops changing how it sounds, or at least my DSD DAC, I'm still not convinced digital is so darn repeatable. It doesn't matter what the papers show, Snow Mass is decidedly different that Huron or Yale, and technically, according to purists, this can't be...or can it? The circuits are past our ability to hear, or not.

        1. I concur with Jeff—a lively and informative discussion, even if much of it is over my head from a technical standpoint. I’d like to acknowledge Bob Olhsson‘s contribution as well. I looked up Bob’s background. Wow!

        2. I also argumented like this in every 2nd thread about neutrality or accuracy.

          Finally I think the only reason why this whole discussion keeps going on is because it can’t be put on a common level of both sided preference.

          In my perception this is so because those who generally prefer just digital more or less insist it’s more accurate and therefore the almost unmodified, true signal. So to say theirs is the real thing, while analog is a preference someone might have like a preference for a Hot Dog with jelly. „Dogmatic“ analogists might behave just the same in the other direction.

          Those who like both for what it is usually see the variability of this „accuracy“ since the 1980’s and its irrelevance for the final sound quality perception and see all that was and still is missing, which proves for them that it also is just a temporary, half-baked truth that doesn’t help much until it’s really perfect. Also for them, this kind of digital is not more than a preference for a comparably imperfect option.

          IMO as long as both camps don’t find a common logic and both see their preference as not more than that on a similar level, the arguing will go on.

          No one would argue with Paul or some others if they’d just express their preference on an equal footing level.

  23. IMO, Fremer is highly biased toward analog. When he reviews a digital product, it’s worthless for me, so I normally skip them. He’s not the only reviewer that is heavily biased toward analog and his reviews of digital products are worthless. Using the DS dac, many songs compare favorably or surpass the sound of analog, especially some of the MQA releases. SACD also compared favorably or surpassed analog. Just my opinion.

    1. I can understand if someone with a strong digital minset doesn't trust M. Fremer's judgement concerning a comparison vinyl/digital due to his "more than" preference (it's just like some mentioned they struggle with considering a PSA phono product due to Paul's "more than" non-preference meanwhile).

      Usually this doesn't mean one can't trust the one's ability to differentiate different digital (or in the other case vinyl) products. But I admit, that one's judgement is also depending on the characteristics he takes for judgement. Both might be in suspect considering mainly characteristics of their own strong preference spectrum, as hard as both try to appear relatively neutral.

      That's why I consider M. Fremer as a mainly "ideal vinyl gear reviewer" and Paul with todays mindset as a mainly "digital/amp/Regenerator/upcoming speaker producer" (although making a great phono amp just needs a good amp developer and Darren/BHK who make it are anyway vinyl affine) 😉

      In my perception within the professional music producing/recording/mastering sector the mainly digital listener has to live with more openness than pure neutrality towards analog/vinyl...those folks rarely ever thought black/white...and even on high end fairs one can observe the reluctance of residing in either camps.

      I guess if M. Fremer actually would have interest to work on his reputation as a digital gear reviewer (which I guess he hasn't), he'd pronouce a certain appreciation of certain digital benefits a little more...and before Paul would offer a PSA record player, he'd probably have to start a self-re-marketing campain, too 😉

      1. I have been reading Michael's reviews and his column, well I first subscribed to Stereophile in July of 1993. While it is obvious he prefers analog, his digital reviews are informative.
        I trust him, he has a good ear. I used to enjoy Sam Tellig's columns, but after he recommended the portable Radio Shack CD player, I never put any value into his opinions, but still enjoyed his writing.

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