Seesaw

June 21, 2017
 by Paul McGowan

I always imagine progress as a seesaw; as one side goes up the other travels down—often frustratingly so.

Take the original  PWT Memory Player as an example. For years, simple Red Book CDs sounded better than any streaming device I had experimented with. Then a combination of cables, USB regeneration, shaman-waving potions, elevated the Mac Mini a little beyond the PWT.

Seesaw. What was once on top of the heap has begrudgingly taken second place.

Then a new I²S cable lifted the PWT’s performance beyond the server and it was relegated to use as a convenient source of high-quality music, but not the ultimate.

Seesaw.

And then came Bridge II, then server “secret sauce”, followed now by DMP back on top of the heap.

Seesaw.

Woody, one of our local customers, visited Music Room One yesterday and compared the San Francisco Mahler rips to the discs on DMP and heard it for himself. And as thanks, he turned me on to the best recording/performance of Puccini’s Turandot I have ever heard. It’s a Red Book which I immediately ordered up. The depth, bass, performance!! are stunning. Sutherland knocks it out of the park and I only heard the opening. Can’t wait to spend time when the disc set arrives.

Seesaw.

And here’s what’s interesting. No source I have described is worse than it ever was. But that’s not how it feels to me. Once in second place, I find it hard to listen because I know all that I am missing.

If you were to visit us you’d be thrilled with the server’s performance as I have been before something better came along.

Which begs the question, if ignorance is bliss, is knowledge ecstasy?

I for one cannot restrict myself from the opportunity for musical ecstasy.

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56 comments on “Seesaw”

  1. I prefer to watch rather than listen to opera, but I did listen to the Guilini/RO Don Carlo last night. I must admit I enjoyed it and the sound was really luscious. Some of the finest recordings I know come from that period, on Archiv, Das Alte Werk, Argo etc., so one should expect the best, never mind it was almost 50 years ago. Was streamed from the internet at 16/44 via a dedicated streamer with dual femto clocks (whatever they are) and then by usb via a little German clocking box in the middle (by Intona, my dealer suggested it in exchange for some power cables I wanted to get rid of), the merits of which are questionable.
    So thanks for the recommendation, but as for Turandot, seeing the real thing in a couple of weeks at the Royal Opera, an American singer in the lead role (Christine Goerke). The following Saturday it is being broadcast live to about 14 open-air venues around the UK for free, paid for by BP, so something over 100,000 can enjoy it on a nice summer evening lying on the grass or in Trafalgar Square. You can’t get much better than that!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5gACNRnKlw
    http://www.roh.org.uk/about/bp-big-screens/whats-on

    1. “If you were to visit us you’d be thrilled with the server’s performance as I have been before something better came along.”

      Was that “server” reference at the end a nod to the new PS Audio server in the works? And indicating that it even bests the DMP?

      1. Not really, only the possibility that it could. From all we have learned, and that’s been a lot or we wouldn’t have been able to pull of DMP, we should be able to best DMP with the server. But we haven’t yet done that nor has anyone else. It’ll be quite an achievement if we do.

        1. That is why I’m sitting on the fence in concern of buying the DMP. The future server just may be the ticket for me. As far as sound quality improvement…I feel the server will edge out the DMP… Why? The seesaw of course.

          1. There’s more truth than you may realize in that statement, Mark. Servers are computers but the noise and interference they generate through the air is nothing short of stunning. And the trick is to find a way to isolate them from everything else, both electrically and physically. Quite the challenge.

      1. My wife goes on about her trips to the Met. She saw Pavarotti (and many others) there in the 1980s when she was studying in NY (at Martha Graham, who procured student tickets). Covent Garden isn’t even the largest stage in London – Sadlers Wells is bigger (it’s dance only) and much more comfortable – the tickets are dramatically cheaper and our ‘home from home’. Covent Garden always has a buzz about it, is well worth a visit and the sound is good. You can then get on a train and in a couple of hours be at the Palais Garnier, which is more impressive.

      2. The scale is what I don’t like about the Met. The first production I saw there was “Rodelinda”, and they scrolled the entire stage apparently two proscenium widths during the course of the action, so characters could stroll from one scene to the next. For the dungeon scene, they lifted an entire width of stage ten feet to reveal the basement. Bear in mind that one of the scenes had a two story library and the others had two story buildings in the background, so this set was about fifteen times the size of my house. This was all razzle-dazzle, it detracted from the singing and plot line both figuratively and literally.

        The wings and fly loft of the cavernous stage eat voices. They change character dramatically between upstage and downstage. Besides, sharing the power of an operatic voice with 3500 people under that impossibly high ceiling is already a substantial dilution forcing the singers to shout.

        Even worse, the orchestra pit is decoupled from the immense room, muffled for all but the few seats that have a line of sight to the musicians. I vastly prefer hearing operas in concert versions with walls surrounding the orchestra on stage and singers in a line in front so the timbre and balance is consistent.

        The Broadway style production at the Met cost as much as the voices and orchestra, and plays to the visually dominant culture. Despite all this, It is still better to go there and close my eyes than any recording playback because of the shared experience being in the room with the music.

  2. Have read all of your daily posts and particularly like this one. I think it’s because I delight in the fact that even with digital you are clearly stating that you haven’t been able to get the bits in one place to sound the same as the bits from another place. That’s contrary to what people have assumed from digital as easily possible for 35 plus years! When I first heard your Lambda so long ago I knew that belief was far from the truth as I was literally blown away by the difference between what I thought was my best transport and the Lambda when it was new because the Lambda was sooo much better. This quest to get bits to sound the same from different sources and the fact that it still, after all these years, hasn’t happened points to the, by comparison, almost absurd belief that it would be possible in analog to do the same. Clearly the “absolute sound” has never seemed more unobtainable in this way but, at the same time if you’re listening out there and have experienced first hand the improvements and/or gains you would be much less likely to give up trying! It’s quite the dichotomy and I’m all in for those at PS who are trying. Now if you would in addition to the server it seems is in the plan go ahead and support the deluxe A to D you’ve hinted at so I can start converting all my vinyl I’ll be the happiest I’ll likely ever be. ☺️

      1. Yes, merely listening to music does not equate with tinkering. Admirably, you and your company tinker at a very high level. And the quest for ever more moving listening experiences (some would say “more accurate”) is the driving force of the industry.

  3. How about incorporating this Excellent board that many other companies in Europe
    Are using it converts your USB to I2S Paul M how about implementing this in the Direct stream And Jr I have a very good Auralic player with a internal HD. This board would truly convert it and they have a proper 384 DSD board to truly work with your architecture.
    It is not always about dollars and cents the board itself under$50 mfg cost plus DSD board
    Which is a bit more then your layout and instal time. Plenty of real estate inside.
    Please loook into it ,and guys with USB please ask for it .
    https://amanero.com

  4. Wait just a New York darned minute. Paul, a few years ago after a trip to NYC and seeing a performance of Turandot at the Met you said you didn’t like this music. You said it didn’t have any melodies. I disagreed with you but to each his own. Now you can hardly wait for the discs to arrive. What’s the story?

    1. Growth. The thing is, Mark, I hang in there because I love this stuff so much. The discordant bits in Turandot I objected to at first more took me by surprise than anything. And now I have not only gotten used to them, they are something I like. You’re a far more advanced listener than I, but I am catching up, slowly but surely. The more I can grow, the greater the wealth of my available music to appreciate.

      1. Curious that Mahler and Puccini both seem to have had a preponderance for melancholy and death (moreso the former). It is perhaps not surprising that the only two Puccini pieces that Mahler introduced in Vienna were Boheme and Madama Butterfly. Both are stunningly beautiful, in a depressing sort of way, the latter more sublime, but not exactly packed full of hits or a happy ending. My favourite bit of melodrama from that period was the life and death of Richard Gerstl, which deserves an opera of its own.
        (Note to self: got the opera more often.)

          1. Zauberflote, of course, and I saw “The Nose” recently, one of the funniest and most brilliant things I’ve ever seen.
            Try not to laugh at this.
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YotMwwixPsw
            Amazingly, the ROH have put the entire official DVD online on youtube – well worth sitting back and enjoying for an evening.
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoC21I9YDz8
            There is a very funny monologue towards the end, but I won’t spoil it.
            The libretto was by Y. Zamyatin, best known for his deadly serious book “We”, but wrote a most amusing book called “The Islanders”.
            http://www.schmopera.com/jaw-dropping-the-nose-at-roh/

          2. Carmen has a happy ending. She finally gets what she deserved. IMO there is ONLY ONE CARMEN and that one is Leontyne Price. Her husky sultry voice is perfect for the part. No other comes close.

            1. Carmen makes a great ballet too, especially the Mats Ek/Guillem version.

              Orfeo ed Euridice has a happy ending, although they have to go through hell – literally – to get there.

          3. Zauberflote, of course, and I saw “The Nose” recently, one of the funniest and most brilliant things I’ve ever seen.
            Try not to laugh at this.
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YotMwwixPsw
            Amazingly, the ROH have put the entire official DVD online on youtube – well worth sitting back and enjoying for an evening.
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoC21I9YDz8
            There is a very funny monologue towards the end, but I won’t spoil it.
            The libretto was by Y. Zamyatin, best known for his deadly serious book “We”, but wrote a most amusing book called “The Islanders”.
            http://www.schmopera.com/jaw-dropping-the-nose-at-roh/

      2. As a child my parents exposed me to everything but let me make up my own mind about the world. I think they wanted to see how I would turn out. To their horror, I became the exact opposite of what I think they hoped for. By the time I was 8 years old, they told me I was so bad that if they could have afforded it they’d have sent me to boarding school just to get rid of me. As I grew older I’ve only continued to become worse. As a teen as part of the way my parents educated me I saw most of the popular operas, Boheme, Madam Butterfly, Tosca, Carmen, Aida, (no Wagner thank god) but there were certain things that I exposed myself to on my own. Some were bizarre but immediately attracted me strongly. When I was 16 I heard Le Sacre du Printemps for the first time. After all the gurgling came the wild parts I like so much. The driving rhythms that are so primitive. Strange then, very familiar now. Same happened with Turandot. My attraction to this opera was very strong and immediate. It made complete sense to me.

        As with Madam Butterfly, Puccini had to grapple with adapting oriental themes to Western ears. But Butterfly, Boheme, Tosca and most of his others were clearly creations of a 19th century mind. It is hard to believe the same hand penned Turandot which to my way of thinking is very 20th century. I know you don’t read the librettos but I hope at least you read a synopsis of the story. What you may not know is that Puccini died before he could complete the opera. It was finished by one of his students. We will never know what Puccini would have done with it. When Toscanini conducted the first performance, the story has it that where Puccini finished writing, Toscanini put his baton down, stopped the orchestra, and walked off the stage.

        You can see a video of this entire Opera on YouTube filmed at the Forbidden City in China in 1998.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyZHi-yVESQ

        I’ve got several copies including a DVD DG version at the Met and of course the one with Jussi Bjoerling but this seems to strike an authentic mood if it’s not as lavish. While I have no emotional reactions to music, some of it strikes me as incredibly powerful and pleasing. This is one of them. I hope you learn to enjoy this as much as I have during my lifetime.

        BTW, the lesson of this opera to all men is to never lose your head over a woman.

        🙂

  5. Paul, I have two questions. First, can you give us the date of the CD release of Turandot that you heard? I see that the recording from 1972 was released multiple times between 1985 and 2014; the latest release is available as a Blu Ray video disc, CD and 24/96 download. I would imagine that the 1985 CD sounds considerably worse than the 2014 CD, but who knows? Certainly the mastering is different, so it’s not comparing like with like. Second, would you be interested in comparing the 24/96 download to the latest Red Book CD? Thanks.

    1. I’ll check with my friend Woody who brought over his original pack of discs. I did not go for the BluRay version choosing the CD stack instead.

      It’ll be here Friday and I’ll take a listen to make sure it’s the same as I heard. Which was extraordinary. The depth and bottom end was just out of this world. The opening of the opera is really something else with all the mass voices and orchestral splashes. I do hope the version I linked to in the post is the same as my friend had.

      Where would one get the 24/96 download?

      1. I bought the 24/96 download from HD Tracks.

        If you bought a new CD from Amazon, you’re probably getting the new mastering. If you buy a used CD from Amazon, it’s almost impossible to ascertain beforehand which release you’ll get. Sometimes the original CDs from the ’80s are less bright and less compressed, even though the A-to-D converters weren’t as good back then. Unfortunately, bright and compressed has been a common mastering style for the last 15 years.

  6. Paul, try to get a vinyl rip of the Mahler box, it beats the SACD hands down. The mastering by Kevin Gray is clearly superior to the mastering of the SACD.

      1. Seems to be the differentiator between those still able to love vinyl and not – the perception of its inherent foibles as ‘issues’ rather than ‘charms’ ; )

        Though frankly I’m surprised if you haven’t found at least a couple of discs that are at least tolerably quiet and dynamic, though not technically as Q&D as SACD.

        There is often something about that (primal, dancing, imperfect?) vibration of the needle in the groove that somehow evokes life – and live music in a way that digital doesn’t.

      2. Not that the SACD has any issues. The vinyl mastering is just superior in some aspects like it has more bloom, air, transparency, extension. As a Mahler fan it was worth the price for me. But it’s around 800$ in case you can still get one (it’s out of print afaik). I separate betwen these and usual digital/vinyl differences between identical masterings.

  7. I’m not referring to differences between digital/vinyl, but between masterings, which are available in clearly superior form occasionally in classical and very often in jazz. I could give quite some examples.

      1. I also had quite some exchange with Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman regarding this, but Grundman is quite unavailable to normal humans. So if you had this chance, it would be very interesting to hear about it.

        I posted some infos of Steve Hoffmann regarding mastering the same stuff for SACD and vinyl somewhere in the forum here already.

          1. Paul, thanks much, this is the most interesting audio interview I ever heard so far. I didn’t recognize your voice, but I understood, you moderated it. Congratulations!

            I once more admire your grandeur to do and post this interview although Grundmanns opinion probably contradicts some of your opinion on vinyl experiences so far (at least I assume so). But I always understood you as very open minded.

            I wished colleagues in discussions like ELK listen to it, too.

            I also learned, that Ted and you were right, that a majority of cases when vinyl perception is considered superior to digital is related to mastering and equipment (used for analog mastering) differences. New to me: not necessarily just in terms of a different mastering as such, but also in terms of negatively influencing technical processes during physical digital media production, no matter if redbook or DSD, even when mastering settings and equipment were the same.The major influence to top end he mentions also confirms to me what I hear and mentioned many times.

            For sure this doesn’t degrade the superiority of digital in other aspects like in lesser compromising physical limitations.

            It’s interesting that it seems nearly all the few big mastering engineers who do both digital and analog seriously tend to share Grundmanns point of view. And I don’t know if there are any more independent professionals than them in this matter.

            All this points me to the assumption, that if it would be possible to combine processes and equipment used for vinyl mastering with digital reproduction, this could be the perfect result. Is it a laser turntable?

            Due to the fact that this is not possible we either have to live with the physical inferiority of vinyl (reducable with big bucks) or the
            process inferiority of digital until the signal reaches the drive/streamer/DAC.

            For me there are recordings where the one or other plays the major role.

  8. I’ve got a question for you Paul. Now that you are beginning to understand what music is about, and you see the kind of music here where people spend a lifetime perfecting their art of playing a musical instrument with such facility it becomes part of them, where voices are trained to produce incredible beauty of tone and power with so many subtle inflections, where a relative handful of geniuses have figured out way to put tones together so that become novel, interesting, and form coherent and cohesive tonal structures that can be so enjoyable no matter how many times you hear them, don’t you see the vast spectrum that separates the trash from the treasure? These are polished gemstones, the others ordinary lumps of rock. Do you have the ability to distinguish them and the guts to call them for what they really are? Doesn’t it strike as madness to invest huge sums of money on sound systems no matter which brands and models you pick to play recordings of the trash? Isn’t that what most people listen to? Isn’t that what most audiophiles do? Are we so politically correct, so non judgmental that we are afraid to even think let alone say what is pure garbage? Are there no standards anymore? Is this the world we live in? I think it is only going to get even worse if that is possible.

  9. Garbage is in the ear of the beholder. You would have to tie me to the chair, to sit through an opera.

    We all have our own taste, while I don’t don’t like opera, I know it has many great qualities, just as the Beatles, the Ramones, and Green Day have their own qualities. I’ve been listening to a lot of Green Day lately. Some clever lyrics, a good beat, it brings me joy. And the better the system, the more overall joy.

    I thought we were past musical snobbery, as many audiophiles often share the music they listen to, and it not just classical or opera. I have two go to references, among others that tell me almost everything I need to know about a system. The first one is “Superman” by the Crash Test Dummies, the second “Lush Life” performed by John Coltrane and Johnny Hartmann.
    Read this issue of Copper, Woody wrote a fine article on the Allman Brothers Band “Live At The Fillmore”. Tell me that isn’t good music.

    Paul, I think it’s great you have found more music to enjoy, unlike equipment, discovering new music shouldn’t be a seesaw, and I hope that is something we can agree on.

    1. Agreed. I think we’re all exposed to different things at different times in our lives, and at least we can all agree that music is life, even if we disagree on forms of music.

      I didn’t start listening to classical and opera until my 20’s and 30’s. Mahler sounded “modern” to me, as it wasn’t like the Bach and Beethoven I’d heard up to that point. Now the idea that Mahler was hard to get my head around musically is laughable to me. My 18-month-old son, however, during that same period, sat on the floor in front of my Dahlquists experiencing Mahler much like he watched Barney. Looked like he was watching TV. He pushed me out of the way when I got in front of him. Rapt for the whole symphony. He doesn’t care about classical one way or the other at this point (early 20’s) as afaik. More of a pop and jazz fan/player.

      When Green Day’s “American Idiot” came out, I nearly cried, it was such a relief and release. Rock was not dead. Political correctness had not killed it.

      Oh – and at further risk of being branded a “fossil rock dude”, I was trying to think what today’s post title was reminding me of – and it’s “Ride My Seesaw” by the Moody Blues. : )

      1. About 15 years after seeing Genesis etc at the Hamm Odeon, returned to same venue with children to see Barney and Friends. Induced a predisposition or preponderance (take your pick) to suicide. Whatever happened to those poor socially-stratified kids (Black, White, Asian, disabled)?

  10. Some people are fascinated by Shakespeare, Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, others are satisfied with Betty and Veronica comic books. If that’s your speed I can’t even see you in my rear view mirror we are so far apart. Don’t feel too badly though. I had no problem telling Lawrence Schenck that John Cage is a fraud and anyone who says otherwise is a fool or a liar. We are no longer on speaking terms. I’m not one who can suffer fools.

            1. HA! That’s honest-to-God funny and ironic, as I just quoted that to a friend yesterday. She recalled it from a Woody Allen film, but I’m pretty sure it was Groucho.

              It may have been resurrected in Caddyshack by Rodney Dangerfield as well – or it should’ve been. Something along the lines of, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member”.

    1. The last Shakespeare I saw was Twelfth Night, we almost wet ourselves, it’s so funny and absurdly romantic. Of course starts with the famous line “If music be the food of love, play on” as Orsino is trying to find a way into Olivia’s underwear. But as Soundmind has declared an inability to react to emotion in music, perhaps he should stick to Conan Doyle, whose lead man is completely emotionless but, bizarrely, plays the violin, the instrument of lovers. Does he play it badly as some sort of metaphor?

        1. Agreed! “Future Games” too, the first album with one Christine Perfect, soon to be known as Christine McVie.
          I liked Bob Welch and Danny Kirwan, but it was the same group in name only.
          The Brits gave us many of my earlier favorites, starting with Savoy Brown, Mott The Hoople, and Rod’s “Gasoline Alley” which led me to the Faces. And no trip down memory lane would be complete would out a mention of “Ten Years After”. Of course I could go on, but I think all the above bands would have been considered second string bands, even though I don’t consider them so.

    2. Speaking of John Cage, and totally off topic, I was annoyed the other day because my iPhone automatically starts to play music from my phone every time I connect to my car. I wanted to turn that off. Apple says there is no way to turn it off, but, on an official Apple forum page they suggested putting “4’33” on the phone via iTunes and naming it in such a way that it always plays first so that you get silence and then can turn off the “music” before hearing anything! Ha Ha

      I thought this was a reply to Soundmind but this seems to show up as a new comment. Oh well.

      As long as I am off topic, anyone see the new VW commercial. Agent showing a house to a couple, the wife raves over the countertops, the husband lingers behind in the kitchen and wonders what the strange bear statue on a shelf is. He pushes it and the cabinet opens to expose a tricked out listening room. I am on a mission now to see what equipment was used.

  11. I agree it is all about the euphoria. This is my metric. BUT, I don’t feel it coming from studio recordings. Anything that has been mixed, mastered, spliced, overdubbed or processed in any way leaves me cold (Sorry Bernie!). Further, very few performers can be engaging without an audience. I can hear the ears and expectations of listeners in the room and conversely the INTENTION to “fix it in the mix”.

    Euphoria is the validation of the Schroeder model of hearing. In the only performance space with acoustics to this specification, using speakers designed and deployed to this hearing model for all amplifications and electric/electronic instruments we experienced group euphoria regularly – far more often than the more famed and seasoned performers in the legendary halls of New York that I have been attending for 17 years.

    We produced euphoria in listeners who HATE speakers. Most of our performers were conservatory students and graduates who have a look of disgust or horror when approached with a microphone. I tell them we will only turn it on if we need it and then turn it on when they are not looking. Increasing the volume slowly, only one out of ten notices until we have boosted them over 10dB. From the audience, less than one out of thirty musicians notices the amplification. This is the ONLY audio that sounds like music to the people most intimately acquainted with music.

    The seesaw is because ALL fixed channel sound is divergent from real, live acoustic music. The only way to replicate spatiality in the Schroeder model of hearing is to put a speaker where the sound comes from, one microphone, one recording channel and one speaker for every instrument. The stereo illusion is a learned response to artifacts of reproduction, most notably driver polar pattern and baffle diffraction anomalies.

    The stereo and surround illusions are very fragile, only exist in one seat in the room and change with the most minute tweak like power cords. I spent enough time in the audiophile world that I, too, heard these type of effects, including room tweakers that were 1cm3. This apparent breaking the laws of Physics is an indication how sensitive hearing is while decoding the artifactual 2 channel illusion.

    But then, I stopped listening to speakers, got subscriptions to Classical music, attended over 100 acoustic concerts a year (NO PA SYSTEM) and acquired a piano and harpsichord. After a few years, I could no longer tell the difference between speaker cables nor suffer multi-track recordings with digital reverb. My remaining speakers (Earthworks Sigma 6.2 and Dunlavy SC-I) have maximum diffraction control and low order crossovers for temporal (Cepstral) accuracy. A Cepstral plot will show baffle diffraction and crossover time smearing, which are clearly audible once you get used to the lack of temporal distortion. This will also change your perception of the stereo illusion on sharp edged baffles for the worse.

    Note that surround and even Atmos 32 channel systems and wavefield synthesis are incorrectly used. One should never mix two microphones into one speaker or split one microphone into two speakers, like a pan control. Multi-channel arrays all go in front of the listener, each speaker located to represent the physical location of the respective instrument. Further, each speaker needs to match the temporal and spatial radiation pattern of the specific instrument, so you can’t use a violin speaker for a guitar and vice versa.

    Unfortunately we lost our lease and the system was dismantled, so our 5 year run of euphoria is over. I am certain many of you came to New York and missed the opportunity to hear the best sound in history (we produced over 700 sets in 2014 alone). Perhaps if we get another suitable space you will come in the future.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/27/arts/music/piano-by-jacob-greenberg-and-reinier-van-houdt-at-spectrum.html?_r=0

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