See through music

November 22, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

When you are watching a live show you can see the musicians and hear their individual instruments. The visuals add clarity to what you are hearing.

Listening on your stereo system loses that visual element but in exchange adds a proximity advantage. You are now closer to the musicians than you could have ever been at a live show.

Better than a front row seat.

This see-through music is one of the first qualities I look for in a high-end two-channel system. It's one of the more difficult challenges for a system and hard to achieve because rarely does setup have a big impact on the level of transparency. Instead, it's almost always a function of cables and electronics.

Speaker and seating positioning coupled with room conditions offer big benefits in tonal balance and the system's disappearing act, but when it comes to seeing through the music it's almost always in the equipment itself.

Case in point, the new DSMK2 DAC. Every time I turn the system on I am stunned at the transparency I hear. Going back to the MK1 immediately clouds the music (relative to what I am hearing on the MK2)—and the MK1 is no slouch! It's held its own as one of the most transparent DACs around.

So when the MK2 takes the music to this new level you know something special is going on.

I can't wait for you to experience what I and the Beta Testers are experiencing.

See-through music.

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48 comments on “See through music”

  1. Wow, that was a long informercial.
    "Listening on your stereo system loses that visual element but in exchange adds a proximity advantage. You are now closer to the musicians than you could have ever been at a live show. Better than a front row seat."
    Not in my experience. The point about home audio is that you have to sit in a pretty fixed spot for the stereo effect to work, and it only works for one person. If you are listening to live acoustic music in a good venue, it sounds good often to more than 1,000 people. How close you want to be is to you, and sometimes you can be too close. Unless the venue is really bad or the music played through a bad PA system, I've never known recorded music to have any advantage over live.

    1. It’s even more annoying and frustrating: as stereoscopy from a stereoscope requires that the right eye only sees the image taken for the right eye and the left eye only the left-eye-information (no crosstalk!) the same requirement is to be met by real stereophony: no crosstalk. Fortunately there are most sophisticated digital data processing technologies available (see: BACCH-SP) which even offer head-tracking and free the listener from the head-in-the-vice condition.

    2. There’s also the excitement factor to consider at a live venue. There’s nothing like seeing and hearing talent that you admire right in front of your eyes and the air surrounding everyone present is electrifying. That’s why there are so many albums that say …”Live at (choose the venue)” on the cover of many popular recordings. Therein lies the difference. Listening to musicians live versus a reproduction of the same musicians playing live, whether it’s at a Club, Concert Hall or a Recording Studio have a different SQ in many cases, I hear a reasonable reproduction, but with others that have been poorly recorded, not so good.

      To be honest, I treasure both ways of listening to music. Still, when I recall my important life’ music’ memories are always about the live music events I attended, and have nothing to do with listening to the reproduced sound.

      How can I ever Forget, sitting less than 5 foot away from Chet Baker with the only thing separating us was the table at the Jazz club. You can never reproduce the sound of his trumpet playing soft round notes right in front of mu eyes, or attending any concert that Al Jarreau was headlining with a reproduction of the same sound recorded live at the same club on the same evening. These memories and many others will always be with me. Listening to reproductions are wonderful but they leave me with fleeting memories.

      1. The advantage of hifi is that you can still listen to Chet Baker, sadly he is no longer active. That's the only advantage it has, as far as I'm concerned. In Covid-time went to a restaurant and sat with 35 max people listening to world class performers, the likes of Stephen Isserrlis and Nicola Benedetti. Even Ronnie Scott's has a nice intimacy. The nice thing is you have to wait in line for half an hour in the street and everyone has a chat, actually builds up the atmosphere. We mostly go to Covent Garden, same routine, park 10 minutes walk away, have an oatmeal hot chocolate on the way, then go in and there's always a buzz, perhaps have a chat. Pretty hyper by the time the curtain goes up.

        Far more people spend far more money going to gigs than they ever spend on hifi, often flying internationally to do so. There's a good reason for it. It's real. Hifi isn't real. I don't care where you live, if you don't make an effort to go to live music, I don't see the point. We once carried a friend's mother into and out of a show, she was so ill, she died 2 days later. Hifi is just hifi.

      2. There is no recorded listening experience that comes close to live in a very small venue. Some of the most memorable music performed I have experienced was in pubs or clubs for the cost of a few drinks. While after too many bad music performance experiences in very large venues, paying for exorbitant tickets, I cease to bother.

        For a very enjoyable (if not serious) facsimile of being at a small venue, I highly recommend streaming videos of NPR Tiny Desk concerts.

        Adding a good 2 channel audio system to watching the performances, while not required, maximizes the experience.

    3. Stephen, we both know what you just said is true. Nevertheless, the great performances are memorable. Whenever I wanted great seats, I have Tommy, my Ticket Scalper who is amazing. Haven’t called him for years because my income level has changed but I know what you’re talking about paying a fortune over a lifetime for great live musical experiences.

      1. I get off cheaply. The dealer I recently bought a sub from is a Springsteen fan and the amount he pays is staggering. Because of the cost, lots of people go to opera and ballet on their own. My wife and I always get the best tickets available, so we have a deal that for every extra opera I get, she gets two extra ballets. We go together about 50% of the time. We were at the ballet on Saturday and met friends for a drink, the husband accompanies his wife but has no idea what's going on, poor chap.

        1. You know exactly what you’re doing Steven. The key for me is when we traveled to a city, at the last moment I could always call Tommy when I found out that there was someone in that town that was playing that I wanted to see badly. Great example was when my wife and I visited Boston and which is the origin of the Blue Man Group and all three of the Blue Men were the same guys that were in the Intel commercials. So one week before our departure for Boston, I gave Tommy a call and asked him if he could get me good seats for the show on a certain date. Tommy told me that he would have to go through another scalper, but he would give it a shot. The tickets that we received from FedEx the next morning were Orchestra Center but six and seven seats in from left aisle. My first reaction was the money that we paid these seats fell short of what I was Expecting. When we were seated that day, I noticed how the stage was set up. Most of the incredible action (all of the tubes and the precaution instruments) were directly in front of us. All three of Blue Men actually came out into the audience and were climbing on the top of each seat above us touching me on the shoulder to keep balance while looking for a willing participant to do a skit on stage left.That’s when I realized that Tommy had ‘the juice’ to pull off this coup de gras for us.

          The last 40 minutes of the show was the most spectacular with all three Blue Men were directly in front of us with the lights on their instruments and the colored paints flying up in the air as they banged on them… It was truly amazing!

  2. Transparency! Critical, alongside tone dynamics presence. When you get it, it’s just like removing a blanket in front of the speakers. Hello electrostatics. Without the transparency it just doesn’t sing.

  3. Here we go again. Is it live or is it memorex ? And along with this there is the notion that live in ALWAYS BETTER. Better at what ? Sounding live ? Shouldn’t live music sound more live than recorded? But does that make live better or as Warhol put it, is the media itself actually the message ? I argue that the media is the message. As a photographer, I can do things in a studio that are extremely difficult to pull off in the natural world and vice versa. Both give me clear advantages the other lacks. And sometimes we get hybrid style shoots where studio lights and technology are used outside. In this case both technologies are used in . I can also go inside a studio and make it look like I shot it outdoors. But regardless of what I do, studio or no studio, the photo will never look live. The media assures it won’t look live anymore than a painting does. It’s art in a very fixed and limited media. But it’s art and that’s what an album or CD is. An art medium . And any artist worth her salt makes artistic choices knowing full well the piece of art produced won’t sound live and the media has its limitations. Or does it? In the hands of the right artist limitations are in reality new tools for the musician to work. You can only recreate many of the sounds created in an actual studio by bringing in recorded tracks to the concert venue such as Pink Floyd. Much of Sgt Pepper and Revolver employees studio techniques that the Beatles used to create a studio album , with the emphasis on studio. Revolution No 9 would be completely impossible to replicate live without hauling studio equipment and tape tracks to recreate what was designed from the first with studio in mind and not live music. So is it live or is it memorex ? I think at the end of the day, that is a rather silly question. Better questions might be, does this record’s music sound full of life? Does it sound alive ? What was the artist’s intentions ? How well did it work? What has the recording added to the work ? And so on. So perhaps what we are really looking for is not recreating live music, but instead how accurately was the music captured in the studio revealed by your gear at home.

    1. A sensible way of looking at things. I think the word is acceptance. It’s not really one we find in the audiophile dictionary with our constant striving for improvement but there comes a time when we need to accept, essentially when things are beyond our control. Other key questions for me would be, do I like it? Am I enjoying it?

      Perspective is another key. Take a sculpture, turn it round, it looks different. Constellations are another example and astrological star signs being one of the funniest. ‘The Great Bear’, ‘The Plough’ would look nothing like their namesake’s from a different viewing location. I wonder, which one is accurate?

  4. I’m not sure what todays descriptive talk is about. See thru music? So what you’re saying is the MK1 (gotta like the post mortum name change 🙂 ) is obscuring or presenting something slightly out of focus thus less detailed? (Like dirty glasses? Or worse scratched ones? Or it’s something like a faint tint that has been lightened even more?

    Whatever the descriptor, it’s obvious some sonic improvement has been made.

    With smaller groups it’s naturally easier to pick out an individual member both visually and sonically. The larger the group the harder it is to discern an individual when all are playing.

      1. That’s exactly what I was referring to if you want to use the visual analogy. I see it every day with lasers. A perfect lens and you’re hard pressed to see a beam pass thru it, put a dichroic coating on it or a little ‘environmental grunge’ and the beam can show right up. Put no coating and reflections become an issue. The material of the glass is equally important. The solvents used to ‘clean’ have an effect. The difference in the performance can be big or small. In this case the performance is purported to be much bigger than smaller.

        I think your spitball is stuck in the straw…. 😀
        Remember don’t inhale…

    1. Willem,

      I’ll let Paul confirm, but the last software update to the MK1 was the final one as I understand FPGA room was one of the reasons given. Windom was it for the MK1.

    2. I’m not Paul but I heard a long time ago that they are ending the Mk 1 updates. I’m not really sure whether another update is necessary after considering my Initial upset versus the reality of ‘why more updates?’.

  5. My Mk 1 is currently in storage and it will be some months before i have access to it again. I trust the last upgrade software will remain available for download

  6. Hi Paul,

    Congratulations with the wonderful DSD mk2 !
    Does the mk2 also benefit from the use of a preamp, or can it do the 'see through act' directly coupled to an amp ?

    1. You still benefit from the use of a great preamp (if that is what you have).

      It is important to not everyone has a preamp of the quality of a BHK (in fact, most don't) and, if you do not, then I would advise going directly out to the amp from the MK2.

  7. So, I am lucky enough to be a Beta tester for the new DSMK2 DAC. Some of the comment is going to be emotional in a bad way so beware before you read on.

    A little over six years ago I got the DSMK1 DAC and the DMP transport in my system. They brought a whole new level of performance to my SACD collection. They had never sounded so good. I would play SACD albums that I had for over a decade and it was like hearing them for the first time.

    Then came 2020. I was a horrible year here in NY. Daily death reports due to the Covid pandemic. The last time a year was that bad was 2001 when 9/11 happened. Towards the end of 2020 PS Audio introduced the PST transport and as a distraction from the sorrow of the pandemic I decided to sign up as a Beta tester for it. I feel somewhat guilty about doing that because I realize that a lot of people impacted by the pandemic could not buy a relativity expensive play toy to cheer them up.

    Against this backdrop the PST was a breath of fresh air. I believed, at that time, that transports were not a major contributor to the sound you hear ( because the DAC did that ) and as long as they were reliable that was all you needed. Was I wrong! The PST had galvanic isolation and lowered the noise for so much that once again it was a new level of performance and I was hearing my SACD's for the first time again.

    I am know going to tell you that lightening does not just strike twice in the same place, but in my case it has struck three times in the same place. The new DSMK2 DAC also has galvanic isolation which has further reduced the noise floor to allow you to hear more of the music and PS Audio's resident digital genius Ted Smith has taken the sound of the MK2 to a level of excellence that hard to believe even when you hear it for yourself. Because of some Beta testing problems I have not been able to play the MK2 as much as I would like ( those problems should soon be fixed with a firmware update ), however, I can tell you with certainty that once again I am hearing my SACD's for the first time.

    I hope this clears up any doubts about what Paul posted today. If you can manage to do so get one. Highly Recommended!

    1. Tony, the one thing I know about Paul having a new release of a similar component is not about BSing the public it’s usually if not always a major improvement, that prompts the next generation design. That’s something that we would all find very distasteful, and from what I have seen, PS Audio has not released a newer model that was not substantially better and Paul’s words are correct when he tells us that there is a major improvement.

  8. Possible tagline for the new DS MK2?
    See through music,
    more fun than a see through dress.

    Just thinking back to some old ads,
    once perhaps, but not these days. 🙁

      1. Sigmund Freud 🙂

        I remember buying someone a birthday card that had a picture of Sigmund Freud posed in a sheer nightgown, but I can’t remember the hysterical tagline. Oh!, Now I remember…
        “Feeling hip in my Freudian Slip“.

  9. I fully agree Paul. Usually the sound from „our“ high end setups is much better and the involvement much stronger than live sound. Other advantages of a live experience are a different matter.

    However I experienced exceptions at great live locations. Acoustic unamplified jazz concerts in small clubs. Amplified fusion concerts with an impact, no home system can give. A Mahler symphony with choir in the right hall.

    Every camp can be right.

  10. "See through" listening has always been available with audio playback - I first experienced this in the mid 1980's, on CD. The trouble is that the integrity of the playback chain has to be first class, and nearly all rigs are not of a sufficient level; because of cabling and electronics issues as stated.

    The workaround is to find out where the shortfalls are in the setup you're listening to, and sort them out. Which is what I do. But the future of the audio industry is with gear that's sufficiently engineered to look after itself, like the new DS appears to be. Eventually all audio rigs will be able to deliver high standards of SQ straight out of the box ... we're moving forward, step by step ...

  11. Last evening I had the great pleasure and privilege of enjoying Mary Gauthier supported by Jammie Harris at the Stables, Milton Keynes, UK on 22/11/22. I cannot agree completely with Paul's opening comments "Better than a front row seat".
    I was not in the front row but close enough.The performance had a content and quality hardly ever achieved at the above venue. A truly magic evening. "Live Life Live" whenever you can.

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