Making Your Marque: The 12 Most Important Products in the History of High End Audio

By Anthony Chiarella

Part One


Here, at the dawn of the 21st Century, High End Audio has reached a remarkable state of refinement: the current crop of top-notch components offer performances which approach theoretical perfection, heirloom build quality, and a level of aesthetic beauty which elevate fine audio to the level of fine art. It wasn’t always this way. Half a century ago, most audio products suffered serious flaws, both sonically and operationally, which relegated the pursuit of performance to a handful of technically talented individuals who also possessed the time and patience to deal with temperamental components.

Among the thousands of products and hundreds of manufacturers and designers who developed HiFi in the second half of the last century, only a few fulfilled the promise of High End Audio. The dozen products selected here aren’t necessarily the best-sounding, nor are they the best built, the most reliable, or the most attractive; rather, these components are, in my opinion, the most directly responsible for the present-day state of the audio art.


 

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Dynaco Stereo 70: Introduced in 1959, the Stereo 70 combined the now-ubiquitous Williamson Circuit with high quality output transformers and highly efficient production methods to deliver an amplifier that created Dynaco’s legend as “The Poor Man’s McIntosh.” With 35 watts-per-channel—massive power for the time—it also facilitated consumer acceptance of less efficient acoustic suspension loudspeakers, which continues to impact the HiFi industry today. During the ST-70’s production run, the Philadelphia company sold over 350,000 units (both pre-assembled and in kit form), making it the Model T of tube amplifiers…and that’s A Good Thing!


 

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Linn Sondek LP12: Of all the classic turntables, I have to confess that the LP12 is my least favorite, owing to its combination of blasé build quality, unjustifiably high pricing, the kooky group dynamic of its “Linnie” cult following and of course, its colored (if unfailingly musical) sound. Nor, with the exception of its single-point bearing, was its design innovative: its belt-drive motor system and three-point suspended sub-chassis had been advanced by Edgar Villchur’s Acoustic Research XA turntable in 1961, more than a decade before the LP12 bowed in 1972. What makes the Linn seminal has more to do with its marketing. At a time when loudspeakers were universally considered to be the most important determinant of sound quality, Linn pioneered the notion that turntables had a distinctive “sound” and that the source was the most critical component of a state-of-the-art audio system. Because it forever changed the way we view system-building, the LP12 earns my vote as the most influential turntable of all time.


 

tonepublications.com

tonepublications.com

Audio Research SP3: When it was introduced in 1970, the SP3 was, arguably, the best-sounding preamplifier available, and at $595 MSRP, something of a bargain too! All of which has nothing to do with its inclusion on this list. More than any designer of his time, William Zane Johnson succeeded in offering a commercially viable—and better-sounding—alternative to the marketing-driven transistor gear which dominated American audio dealerships. Having designed his first product—a three chassis Triode amplifier—in 1949, Johnson almost singlehandedly kept the ideal of high performance alive through the dark ages of HiFi, and is therefore more responsible than any individual for the High End Renaissance which began in the late 1970s.


 

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Mark Levinson ML-2: In the early days of the transistor, solid state amplification was the sonically-second-class-citizen to vacuum tubes. All of that changed in 1977, when Mark Levinson introduced the ML-2. A 25 watt-per-channel, pure Class A monoblock, the ML-2 was heavy (nearly 70 pounds), ran hot, was ringed by sharp heat sinks, which sliced many an audiophile’s hand, and, at $3,600 per stereo pair, was among the most expensive consumer audio products of its era. It was also the first component to cure what had previously been considered unsolvable sonic shortcomings of transistor amplification, while simultaneously demonstrating the inherent—and previously unrealized—strengths of solid state; namely, transparency and speed.


 

sthifi.com

sthifi.com

Nordost Quattro Fil: The first line of cabling to incorporate all of Nordost’s core technologies, including cutting-edge materials, high purity OFC with silver plating, and, most notably, the use of “Micro-monofilament,” an innovation which, by helically winding a synthetic thread around the conductors, enabled a virtual air space dielectric, while maintaining the flexibility of the cable. The result was a series of cables whose sonics, after a monumentally long break-in period, simply embarrassed everything which came before. Of course, subsequent generations of Nordost Reference products have pushed the performance envelope even further, but as with the other components on this list, those “subsequent generations” might never have existed without the development of Quattro Fil.


stereophile.com

stereophile.com

BBC LS3/5A: Chartwell, Kef, Falcon, Goodmans, Harbeth, Rogers, Spendor…over the years, so many companies built—and continue to build—the LS3/5a, under license from the BBC, that audiophiles could spend an evening trying to conjure a comprehensive manufacturers’ list. Originally developed in 1975 for use in broadcast vans, the 3/5’s tiny cabinet panels barely vibrated, its waifish baffle virtually eliminated diffraction, and, with a woofer and tweeter so close they looked as if they were having sex, driver cohesion was, for its time, remarkable. One of the longest-lived—and, with over 60,000 pairs sold, best-selling—designs in audio history, the LS3/5A was a perennial “Best Buy” and served as a gateway drug, simultaneously making the wonders of High End Audio accessible to a larger audience and exposing the audiophile community to the glories of British Box Loudspeakers.


 

Thank you to Anthony Chiarella for taking the time to put together this list of influential hifi products!  Stay tuned for Part Two!

Video Vibes – How HDMI cables matter for Audio AND Video

Video Vibes: Image quality worthy of an audiophile

By Anthony Chiarella

We audiophiles are a strange bunch. When it comes to sound, we obsess over every detail of our HiFi systems, moving speakers half an inch at a time, adjusting toe-in by fractions of a degree, using micrometers, jewelers’ scales and USB Microscopes to precisely calibrate our turntables and spirit levels in order to optimize our equipment racks. We spend a fortune on items that, to the uninitiated, seem to be minutiae, because experience has taught us that EVERYTHING influences sound quality. And yet, when it comes to video, we suddenly become misers. Lazy misers, at that!

Think about it: How many hardcore audiophiles apply the same rigor to video performance as they do to audio? Audiophiles either don’t care about video performance or they don’t think they can do anything to improve it…and nothing could be further from the truth! Anyone who owns a projector knows the importance of proper video calibration. Years ago, Joe Kane and ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) developed effective calibration standards for all video display devices — CRTs, DLPs, Projectors, Plasmas, etc.— and any dealer that sells quality home theater products insists on careful calibration and optimization of the video systems they install.

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The point of all this, of course, is that image quality DOES matter, and that careful tuning can provide significant enhancements in video performance. When it comes to “Bang for the buck,” the most profound improvements come from upgrading your High Definition Cables.

If you’re reading this blog, you already know the impact that changing interconnects or speaker cables can have on the sound of your system. An audio cable has to deal with two basic parameters: frequency and amplitude. The audio bandwidth spans 20,000 cycles, which means that an interconnect must carry two (stereo) channels of 20 kHz bandwidth. By comparison, the bandwidth of a Hi-Def video signal is 6GHz. That’s 6,000,000,000 Hz, or about Three Thousand Times the bandwidth of an audio signal! And that’s not the whole story: whereas an audio cable carries two channels of data, an HDMI cable carries three High Speed Digital Signaling Channels, eleven Channels of full-range Audio (plus LFE), as well as a TDMS Clock Channel, and a Data Display Channel (DDC), not to mention FIVE grounds! Of course, all of these various signals must travel the length of the cable in perfect synchronization and arrive at precisely the same instant in time. Obviously, the job description of an HDMI cable is far more complicated—and far more demanding—than that of an audio cable. So, why haven’t video connoisseurs been investing in better cables the way audiophiles have been doing for the past 40 years?

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The problem is that, until recently, most HDMI cables have been indistinguishable from each other. Made in enormous Asian factories, generic HDMI cables are designed and manufactured to the lowest common denominator, with cost, not quality, as the overriding concern. All of which explains why Nordost HDMI cables are the ONLY choice for quality and performance. The same philosophies that Nordost applies to their audio cables—conductor design, material quality, mechanical and electrical isolation, dielectric optimization, ultra-wide bandwidth, and precision manufacturing—make Nordost HDMI cables the world’s finest. Need proof? DPL Labs, an independent testing facility that has developed standards for HDMI cables, has certified that all Nordost HDMI cables achieve the highest possible level of performance.

Available in three grades—Blue Heaven, Heimdall 2 and Valhalla 2—Nordost HDMI and 4K UHD cables are precision-manufactured in the USA from the finest materials available. All feature Micro-Monofilament dielectrics, silver-plated Oxygen Free Copper (OFC) conductors and DPL High Speed Certification. Most importantly, however, these three Nordost AV cables share one unique feature: each offers a cost-effective means of elevating your Audio/Video system to new and higher levels of performance. Try one and you’ll see…and hear!


LEARN MORE:

4K_learn

Pushing the 4K/UHD Digital Envelope

dangerlurksthumb

Danger Lurks at the Bottom of the HDMI Abyss


 

Vinyl Is Back! Everything You Need To Know About LP Records

Still Spinning, Still Grinning… Vinyl Is Back!  

Everything You Need To Know About LP Records

by Anthony Chiarella

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I’d forgotten just how great LPs can sound. This point was driven home a couple of years ago when I added a new turntable to my reference system. At the time, I had a $65,000 digital front end, and I thought the sound it produced was about as good as High End could get…until I started spinning records. My analog rig—turntable, arm, cartridge and phono preamp—cost less than half as much, but outperformed my digital stack in almost every respect. Instrumental timbres were richer, with finer harmonic detail, imaging was more three dimensional, and the spaces between the images more palpable, with an airiness and cohesion that was just, well, more lifelike than even the best digital systems. I found this especially true with older, analog masters, but surprisingly, many modern digital transfers actually sounded better on vinyl! (In fairness, I should point out that there are many digital masters which outperform their analog counterparts.) Of course, sound quality alone doesn’t explain the renaissance of the LP record. The tactile pleasures of holding an album cover—an experience that was diminished with the “compact” disc and eliminated completely with streaming—provide a powerful sensory experience. The ability to see and savor album artwork, not to mention lyrics and other “extras” included with many LPs, is sorely missed with CDs and modern digital formats.

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The “chore” of removing an LP from its jacket, placing it on the platter, clamping it, cleaning it and carefully lowering the needle into the groove was supposedly one of the reasons why CDs became more popular than LPs; however, for many LP lovers, the ritual of preparing the record for playback actually enhances the experience. And then, there is the hardware. Does any other component in the stereo system equal the beauty or visual artistry of the turntable? Since the time of Edison, record players have been sources of pride and collectability, as well as the focal point of most HiFi systems. (There are several turntables in the Museum of Modern Art’s Permanent Design Collection.) Once you’ve decided to “take the plunge” and join the Analog Renaissance, there are a few vinyl-specific things you have to know. Whether you’re looking to spend a few hundred dollars or a hundred thousand, here’s everything you need to get started… Today’s top ‘tables are true works of art, designed for aesthetic appeal as well as performance. Brinkmann, Kronos, TechDas and many others offer superbly crafted analogue systems, engineered to last for several lifetimes. At lower price points, Rega, Project, EAT and VPI offer entry-level ‘tables whose sound quality approaches state-of-the-art, though without the visual beauty or obsessive craftsmanship, which defines cost-no-object products. Ortofon and Sumiko dominate the market for reasonably-priced phono cartridges, while Kiseki, Koetsu and Lyra continue to develop exquisite cartridges for music lovers who demand “the best” regardless of cost.

Being a high-performance software format, there are two more variables you’ll need to address if you want to extract the highest possible performance from your analog rig. First of all, pay attention to where you mount your turntable and the structure upon which you place it. Record players are vulnerable to “acoustic feedback” (which sounds like a loud, uncontrollable hum) if placed too close to speakers, especially those with prodigious bass; additionally, a turntable placed upon a wobbly floor or rickety stand will be prone to “groove skipping.” Of course, a rigid, high-mass—and expensive!—equipment rack is ideal, but budget and décor often render such purchases impractical. Here are a couple of hints… First, make sure you place the stand upon which your turntable rests near a load-bearing wall (usually one of the exterior walls of the house), as these are the most solid points in the room and the least prone to footfalls and other mechanical interference. A wall-mount shelf—available online for under $150—offers great isolation at a very affordable price. Next, if you’re using a piece of furniture, make sure it’s top surface is level and that it doesn’t wobble. (Small pieces of plastic can be used to “shim” the legs of your furniture to keep it stable and level.) Finally, in order to minimize acoustic feedback, try to position your equipment rack as far from your speakers as possible. We’re almost done!

You’ll also need a few accessories to make your ‘table sing and maintain those precious slabs of vinyl in pristine condition. If your turntable has a detachable phono cable, you may want to consider and upgrade. The signals that are sent through a phono cable are the most delicate in your hifi system, and you would be surprised at the nuances that a high quality cable can bring to sound fidelity. Companies such as Nordost offer a wide range of tonearm cables that run the gamut cost-wise. Another thing to consider is record cleaning machines. Record cleaning machines haven’t changed since vinyl’s “golden age” of the 1960s through ‘80s, when most libraries owned “wet-system” machines that would wash and vacuum their vast collections. The best of these are made by Okki Nokki and VPI, range in price from approximately $500-$1,000, and are recommended for music lovers with large record collections. (Even for small collections, the improvement in sound quality is amazing!) Need to spend less? Spin-Clean makes a dry-system vacuum machine which starts under $80, while AudioQuest and MoFi offer manual brushes starting at under $15! Assuming you’re setting up your own analog rig, a protractor and stylus gauge are essential…and cheap!  Add some stylus cleaning fluid and a package of record sleeves (to replace the old sleeves of used records) and you’re ready to discover the pleasures of LP Playback. Enjoy!

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HIFI: THE NEXT GENERATION – or, why our kids will love High End Audio as much as we do!

HiFi The Next Generation

Or, Why Our Kids Will Love High End Audio As Much As We Do!

by Anthony Chiarella

After 40 years in audio, I’ve got a pretty awesome stereo system. Of course, it didn’t start out that way…

In 1975, when I bought my first rig, I spent every dime I had on a Kenwood Integrated amp, a Philips Turntable and a pair of KLH speakers. It was a popular “Entry-Level” system and cost a fortune! Back then, we didn’t know electrolytic capacitors, tone controls and most of the other technological particulars of this system were sonically degrading, or that it would quickly become obsolescent –its resale value sinking like a stone.

Back then, all of my friends wanted a slammin’ stereo. Aside from a car, it was the “Dream Purchase” for virtually every High School student in America. Nowadays, with computers and a host of tech toys competing for young consumers’ attention (and cash) stereos haven’t been the “Objects of Desire” that they used to be. That’s all about to change. Today’s entry-level gear is SO good that it is attracting young music lovers in numbers not seen in decades!

Millennials and Hipsters are discovering the pleasures of High End Audio, drawn largely by the resurgence of vinyl records. On a recent trip to my local Barnes and Noble, I was amazed and gratified to see that almost 20% of the store’s floor space was occupied by record bins, with dozens of hip young gunslingers flipping through stacks of freshly pressed LPs. Just last week, legendary recording engineer, Bob Ludwig, told me that every album he masters is now released on vinyl as well as digital. The “Analog Boom” has caused turntable sales to skyrocket, and the quality of entry-level turntables has kept pace. Pro-Ject has just built the largest turntable factory in Europe, capable of cranking out over a quarter million ‘tables a year! Rega has recently introduced new models at both lower and higher prices than ever before, hoping to lure first-time buyers with bargain ‘tables and then encourage them to upgrade to flagship products.

Sales of tube electronics—especially at lower price-points—are also flourishing. PrimaLuna, whose all-tube integrated amplifiers start at $1,799, has experienced sales growth of over 25% per year for the last several years. Rogue Audio, another bargain-priced tube brand headquartered in Pennsylvania, has experienced similarly spectacular increases. On the speaker side, KEF’s LS50 redefined what’s possible for under $1,500, while Elac now offers more than a half dozen high performance models which retail for under a grand. And of course, Nordost’s Leif Series has put ultra-high-performance cabling systems within the reach of every music lover.

Thanks to the “Hip Factor” of vinyl records and vacuum tubes, a new generation of consumers (with high disposable income!) is discovering the pleasures of Audiophilia. Better still, entry level equipment has gotten so good—and for so little money—that it’s now possible to assemble a world-class HiFi system at prices that would have been impossible just a few years ago. A NAD 316BEE Integrated Amplifier ($379), Project Debut Carbon Turntable ($399) and Elac Debut B4 speakers ($179/pr) deliver super sound for less than one thousand dollars, giving budget-constrained consumers a heaping helping of high-end panache and long-term investment potential for about the same price as a weekend at the Jersey Shore.

Want a super-cool system? Match a PrimaLuna Prologue Classic Integrated Tube Amplifier ($1,799), Rega RP3 Turntable ($899) and Dynaudio Emit M30 Towers ($1,199). You’ll get dynamic, full-range sound—and the warm glow of vacuum tubes—for under four grand. Throw in Nordost Blue Heaven Power Cords, Interconnects and Speaker Cables and the tab is still under five thousand bucks. An ARCAM irDAC II (arguably the world’s best budget D/A Converter) adds $800 to the package, along with superb digital sound quality! Fully loaded (including appropriate cabling and accessories) we’re still around $6,000 for a system whose performance would have cost over ten thousand dollars just a few short years ago.

My point here isn’t to design systems for the readers, nor is it to pitch products that I admire. I’m simply trying to illustrate that High End Audio, whose long-term viability was once in question, is alive and well and growing at a healthy and satisfying pace! More importantly, it isn’t just veteran audiophiles upgrading existing systems; rather, it is Millenials, Hipsters and other first-time buyers looking to make a lasting investment in quality HiFi gear. Of course, these new customers will upgrade over time, as we all do, which should guarantee a long and prosperous future for the hobby we love. For all of you who are worried about the future of HiFi, rest easy. High End Audio is getting better and better!

Deconstructing the QRT Qx2/Qx4 for the masses -by Jon Baker

Deconstructing the QRT Qx2/Qx4 for the masses

by Jon Baker

Perhaps the most troublesome component of any audio system is the power grid. It’s a problem not easily understood, and as a matter of fact, the problems seem to be getting much worse. Why? With new technologies such as wireless and cellular, the electrical grid has become polluted and distorted, rearing its ugly-head at the most sensitive point, your home. It’s frequently hard to recognize these issues – think of it like pollution in our urban cities. It’s usually difficult to comprehend the problem until a storm rolls through and either washes or blows the muck away. The QRT technology has a similar effect riding your audio solution’s pollution.

Historically, the provided solutions have been to use filters. However, these solutions can choke a system and add some unwanted, nasty side-effects, such as decreased dynamics or a picture quality which is flat and two-dimensional.  Nordost’s power management solutions employ three fundamental concepts to cure power inconsistencies from the outlets in your home, one mechanical and the others using the power of field generators to influence the power coming out of your wall receptacles.  The initial R&D was developed for the celebrated, award-winning Thor, and over the years the technology has been refined and expanded upon.

I’ll begin with the chassis – all QRT power solutions (Qx4 and Qx2) use simple mechanics. The chassis for the QRT products are mechanically tuned, meaning the Qx2/Qx4 are designed and tooled to specific dimensions with the end caps being made from high quality billet aluminum. The tuning and shear weight of the Qx2 and Qx4 create a mechanically grounded environment which is extremely important for the QRT system to work properly.

The foundation of the Qx4 technology employs the use of field generators— two for the Qx2 and four for the Qx4. The QRT field generators don’t impede the power line, and therefore, unlike many other currently available solutions, the Qx2 and Qx4 don’t limit either the source impedance or peak current. Rather, the field generators act at the source of the problem, reducing negative EMF and RFI effects, as well as improving the consistency and regularity of the AC waveform. The QRT system does all this without limiting the voltage swing or altering the impedance of the AC supply. QRT allows energy to change from one state to the next in a more orderly and coherent manner. The result is a reduction in the total error of a little over 5%, or in other words, a reduction of 50% in the error value!

Another Way To Think About It:   Think of these solutions as being similar to a common water filter (perhaps in an extreme scenario) you might use in your kitchen. Those filters certainly filter harmful metals, however they can also filter out other salts and minerals, which are extremely beneficial and necessary. But what if you had a field generator around your faucet pulling those unwanted metals away from your precious water, but not taking away the so-called nutrition – this would be the QRT method and advantage!!!

The last of the primary benefits the QRT system offers is related to an element of the chassis design. Remember those billet end-caps I mentioned a bit ago? Well, they contribute beyond mechanical tuning and resonance control. Because of their heft, they act as a “book end” for the QRT field generators, limiting the directionality of the field generators vertically. This is why QRT placement in your entertainment system is extremely important. When placed in the center of the rack system (meaning- middle of the rack) the Qx2 or Qx4 field generators also influence the components around the system in the same way they do the AC waveform. The components’ power supplies are cleared of undesirable, EMF and RFI. You could consider this a QRT “ecosystem” so to speak, and when using multiple QRT products in your entertainment system, a multiplying effect is created.

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The Well Grounded System (or How I Learned to Improve My Sound and Love the Earth)

The Well Grounded System

or

How I Learned to Improve My Sound and Love the Earth.

Significant sound system upgrades often cost thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars.  The upgrade I am about to describe costs a fraction of that and delivers a performance improvement that you never thought you could get from your existing components.

It was one of those rare things that happens when you don’t see it coming but floors you when it occurs.  It all started when Nordost introduced a new cable product: The QLINE Ground Wire.  The QLINE is designed to work with the company’s QBASE power strip and take maximum advantage of the focused star grounding feature of this power and ground distribution system by creating a secondary ground for your hifi system. But what real difference could adding a secondary ground make? If you are familiar with Nordost’s foundation theory, you will see that this product perfectly reinforces the importance of a system’s foundational elements and how crucial it is to get this right. This got me wondering just how well my system was grounded.

The QLINE utilizes Micro Mono-Filament technology, and a 10 AWG, silver-plated 99.9999% OFC stranded conductor, with FEP insulation.  It comes fitted as standard with a spade lug for the inside connection to the QB8 and a type of termination that fits into a standard ground rod connector fitting.

IMG_4933After a quick inspection, I found it would be easy to use an existing intrusion into the house from an incoming cable line that was right behind my Nordost QB8 power strip.  My house is a ranch on a slab foundation, so it was pretty simple to install a ground rod just behind my wall outside.

I went to my local big box hardware store and spent a total of only $15.00 on a copper clad, 8’ ground rod and connector.  After some precarious moments pounding it in from atop a ladder, I was ready.  I was able to use a 2 meter QLINE ground wire to connect my QBASE to the ground rod.

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Let’s back up just a moment first, and explore some of the long-held axioms of a properly grounded system:

“Connect a clean ground to your system and you’ll hear an obvious drop in the noise floor with blacker backgrounds, less grain and more vibrant instrumental and tonal colors.”

“A simple and cost-effective addition to any Hi-Fi installation which leads to a significant reduction in sonic pollution.”

Or maybe:

“The purpose of a good ground is to provide a safe path for the dissipation of static charges, EMI and RFI signals and interference.”

Knowing that all of these things are true did not prepare me for what I heard.  After warming up the system for a few hours, my wife and I were ready to do an A B comparison; both with and without the ground wire connected (I often evaluate new equipment with my wife Stephanie).  After listening to some selections for a time without the ground wire connected I then attached it to the QB8.

Some of our comments from my notes after hooking up the ground wire:

Steph – “Well, that sounds different”

Me – “Better bass”

Steph – “More like live music, less like HiFi”

Steph – “You can hear her singing more easily, understand words better”

Me – “No doubt about it.  Larger soundstage, more depth to the image”

Me – Definitely better stereo separation and dynamics, especially with micro-dynamics in the bass”

Never in my life as an audiophile have I experienced such a profound improvement in system performance – in ways that I did not expect – for so few dollars!

If installing a separate ground rod isn’t practical in your situation, a copper cold water pipe (if it’s copper all the way to the meter) makes an excellent ground as well.  Just make sure you bypass the meter if you are connecting it to the house side.

The use of a dedicated, clean, low impedance connection to ground fits perfectly with the Nordost multi-outlet power distribution units, the QB8 and QB4.  The external ground post tied into the focused star ground topology with the QLINE creates a solid earth connection and minimizes noise and general sonic pollution. It’s an easy solution to achieve solid ground, and it sounds fantastic!

lg-QRT-QLINE Ground Wire

Danger Lurks at the Bottom of the HDMI Abyss

4K technology is new to the consumer electronics industry.  To help you better understand this new technology, we have asked our friend Jeff Boccaccio at DPL labs to clarify any misgivings or misunderstandings about these new standards:


 

As the HDMI interface continues to evolve, so does the complexity to managing it. Let’s face it, HDMI has set a new course for home entertainment both with audio and video reproduction. As much as HDMI’s technologies seem to have infinite capabilities, there continues to be a slight time delay between the new features that continue to be released and the hardware that must support it.

Since its introduction into the consumer electronics industry, HDMI has been pushed, pulled, stretched, and squeezed for better and better performance, which of course improves both its audio and video reproduction ability. The fact of the matter is that it should! This expansion capability was one of the major visions proposed when HDTV was introduced, giving way to the older NTSC (Nation Television Systems Committee) and PAL (Phase Alternating Line) standards. Both older systems were “land locked” in technology and bandwidth. There was no possible way of improving these older systems, and with the given speed that technology continues to grow then so should any new system that is proposed.

HDMI was one system that had the ability to “morph” itself into newer and more dynamic technical possibilities. From the day of its inception, the HDMI interface has changed countless times. As the format expanded so did the hardware that was associated with it. This includes Blu-Ray players, displays, switching devices, and AVR’s. In addition, all of these products require some kind of connection device (cable) that needed to expand in performance as well to connect them all together.

With the introduction of HDMI Rev 2.0, the interface will be pushed even harder. The bandwidth has basically doubled again, requiring connection devices to respond to these incredible data rates. What made it even harder to comprehend was HDMI’s announcement  that we can continue to use the older cables that met the Rev 1.4 standards i.e. High Speed. The question that came to many industry pendants was how high was High Speed?

High Speed cable products were intended for Rev 1.4 products with bandwidths out to 3.4Gbps per channel or 10.2Gbps in totality. However, the new Rev 2.0 specification calls for 6Gbps per channel and 18Gbps in totality! This very fact has caused many adopters to question the specification in fear of any potential long-term interoperability issues. There is a science behind all this.

The need for this expanded bandwidth is to support an increase in audio capabilities and more dynamic 4K resolutions over and beyond what is currently available. One part of this expansion is to increase the frame rate of the video from 30 to 60Hz. However, in order to accomplish this and still fall inside the Rev 1.4 10.2Gbps envelopes, a trade-off had to take place. The color quality had to be reduced in order to “fit” a 60Hz frame rate video into a 10.2Gbps bandwidth. This 4K feature is known as the “Entry Level 4K” under Rev 2.0.  Fig 1 demonstrates the loss of color detail when reducing the color quality. The color grading problems taking place in the “Standard Color” picture are quite obvious when compared with the “Deep Color” picture.

danger lurks fig 1

Fig 1

In order to obtain increased color depths and still increase the frame rate to 60Hz, more bandwidth is needed. In addition, a new feature known as HDR (High Dynamic Range) was also introduced, but only can be utilized with Deep Color resolution and bandwidth over the Rev 1.4, 10.2Gbps limits. The comparison in Fig 2 demonstrates the huge dynamic differences with and without HDR. This bandwidth area is supported as HDMI Rev 2.0a

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Fig 2

To give you an example of the new HDMI Rev 2.0 overall bandwidth, draw your attention to Fig 3. The actual bandwidth begins at 300KHz and extends out to 6GHz. We broke down the bandwidth into three categories. “Standard”, “High Speed” and “UHD” (which is a name we will call this area since the specification does not recognize it).

Fig 3

Fig 3

The red line depicts HDMI’s minimum insertion loss through an HDMI cable. As we approach the end of “Standard” and the beginning of “High Speed” the insertion loss falls dramatically at a somewhat linear rate, passing by the end of “High Speed” at 3.4GHz and stopping at 5.1GHz. Here the limit takes a vertical plunge down into the “HDMI Abyss” shown in blue, never reaching the upper bandwidth limit of 6GHz with better than 55dB of insertion loss. Notice the opposing blue line to the red insertion loss line. This demonstrates the correctional equalization system that is physically located in every HDMI input device, effectively compensating for the 25dB attenuation all the way out to 5.1GHz. But what happens to the signal lost in the “HDMI Abyss”?

The answer to this question is rather interesting and disappointing at the same time. The disappointment is that most companies do not know or understand this physical phoneme. Since we are dealing with digital information, the need to understand how these signals respond when being modulated over a transmission line must be considered.

Fig 4

Fig 4

When modulating this type of data, a particular trigonometric function sin(x)/(x) takes place which allows the signal to extend beyond 5.1GHz. The pink lobe in Fig 4 depicts the amount of energy produced from the fundamental 3.4GHz originally produced under HDMI Rev 1.4. The lobe extends through the “HDMI Abyss” to 6Ghz. The two additional lobes in the dashed line are what many would define as harmonics of the fundamental. Every lobe provides double the bandwidth.

This is why each HDMI Rev 1.4 High Speed cable must perform better than what the specification calls for. If cables are not constructed with near perfect perfection, the odds are sin(x)/(x) will not provide the necessary bandwidth to achieve full 4K Deep Color functionality.


LEARN MORE:

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Learn more about 4K technology

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Nelson Brill takes a look at the effects of QRT

Real music lovers can find the melody in everything. From the park to the concert hall, our friend Nelson Brill is always on the hunt for great sound.

In this article, Nelson takes a look at the effects of Nordost’s QRT products!


QUANTUM RESONANCE TECHNOLOGY (“QRT”) POWER DISTRIBUTION PRODUCTS-THE IMPORTANCE OF CABLES, AC SUPPLY AND POWER DISTRIBUTION TO AN AUDIO SYSTEM

BY NELSON BRILL      SEPTEMBER 28, 2014

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All of my reference listening systems are founded on close attention paid to audio cables, AC supply and power distribution. This includes separate dedicated electrical lines from home electrical board to the listening systems; grounding of the systems by running a ground wire from Quantum Resonance Technology (“QRT”) “Q-Base” AC Distribution power strips to a grounding rod placed in the yard; and, on the recommendation of mentor Roy Gregory, (he the founder of the insightful audio review publication, The Audio Beat- www.audiobeat.com), creating a consistent “cable loom” where all cables are of similar materials and technology. Many people believe that all audio cables sound alike, and that cheap cables and attention to AC supply and distribution to an audio system makes little sonic difference and is not worth the expense. Nothing could be further from the truth. Audio cables all have sonic signatures and are an absolute critical factor in audio system performance and enjoyment. The same is true for keeping your AC supply to your audio system as clean and noise free as possible, along with making sure that distribution of that power is attained with as clean a source as possible.

QRT products are distributed through Nordost Corporation (www.nordost.com) as is their “System Set-Up and Tuning” CD (a must have CD for aiding in system set up and maintenance). What the QRT products offer is a vital foundation, where music emerges from a quiet background with all of its textures, inner details and the ambiance of particular recording space intact as much as possible.  Nordost has recently upgraded all of their cable products to V.2 versions. From what I have heard so far in listening to these new versions (in both Nordost’s own listening room and in other systems), these new V.2 versions bring even more resolution and a feeling of an unforced, natural conduit for the music to flow forth dynamically (if the system and the recording allows) – a quality of Nordost cables that has always been their (enviable!) hallmark.

Here is my older review of QRT power distribution products, distributed by Nordost, published in The Stereo Times to offer more details of my own findings:


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Coming through the huge vestibule of the Great Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on a recent early Spring day, one does not hear the pollution of mains power emanating from the countless wireless devices in use, from cell phones to gallery talk recorders. Instead, one hears the cacophonous din of hundreds of human voices, (in many languages), captured beneath the Great Hall’s stone rotunda. Near the huge cauldron of white blossoming flowers (placed to greet visitors with a tease of Spring) is an elderly couple; she’s combing the last strands of her husband’s balding head to make him look presentable to the Pharaohs, Medici rulers and the voluptuous women of Renoir within. In another corner is a gaggle of Japanese teenagers decked out in the latest collection of rainbow colored sneakers, oversized black eyeglasses (resembling 3-D frames), and sporting colorful gadgets (with their myriad Apps), waiting for a museum guide to whisk them away to view the world of Victorian Photocollage. Ascending the Hall’s main staircase brings one to a hushed gallery where the drawings of the Florentine artist, Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572), are on exhibit. In Bronzino’s time, the art of Disegno, the drawn line, was considered a functional activity, done to perfect designs for final works in painting or sculpture. As New York Times art critic Holland Cotter observes: “Painting was all about finish, the smoothing over of discrepant textures, the hiding of the seams. Drawings were used to rough out ideas, resolve problems or just to relax the artist’s hand.” Getting up close to a Bronzino drawing revealed a Master Craftsman at work. Every fine chalk line, every delicate shading and cross-hatching technique was done for an express purpose: to recreate the texture of flesh and bone so vividly that each drawing revealed a human story unfolding within. For example, in the gorgeous drawing, “Head of A Smiling Woman”, Bronzino utilized a technique called “sfumato” or “to emulate smoke.” In this technique, Bronzino used finely controlled hatching and cross-hatching of parallel chalk lines to create flesh tones that radiated with velvety smoothness. He then drew many diagonal fine lines and scratched and rubbed them into darker areas to give the figure’s hair its natural flow and to lend a mysterious depth to her eyes. At the end of the exhibit is Bronzino’s finished oil painting, “Portrait of a Young Man,” where a member of the Florentine elite is portrayed in all his polished flair. This painting, (all smooth surfaces and solid forms), is displayed alongside Bronzino’s drawings of the same subject, showing how he experimented with the ideas and compositional scaffolding for this polished Beauty. Who would have thought that the musical equivalent of Bronzino’s mastery of Disegno, the drawn Line, would be found in the latest series of AC mains products from Quantum Resonance Technology?

Paper and Chalk

Quantum Resonance Technology (“QRT”) distributes its modular AC mains products through Nordost Corporation (www.nordost.com) and Joe Reynolds, founder of Nordost, kindly came by to share in panninis, laughter and to “Quantumize” my base system. He brought with him QRT’s “Q-Base” AC distribution power strip, several modular Qx4 and Qx2 field generation units, a handful of Vishnu power cords, (Nordost’s mid-priced monofilament power cords), and a copy of Nordost’s latest “System Set-Up and Tuning” CD. (This one-disc wonder, available directly from Nordost, contains everything you need in your system setup toolbox: basic channel and phase checks; low-frequency sweeps timed to map room nodes and synthetic tracks for Degaussing those “parasitic magnetic fields” from your system to keep it running clean and mean.)

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A look at the Q-Base Power Strip (which comes in either four or eight outlet configurations) reveals that within its compact fit and finish box, it contains no “active” circuitry and no in-line filtering. QRT maintains that the Q-Base provides the lowest possible AC supply impedance based solely upon its exacting alloy casework and mechanical design. How a purely mechanical design, without more, can fulfill such technical claims remains unclear. Moreover, turning to the Qx field generation units, (that do contain QRT’s proprietary circuitry and technology), it becomes even more of a challenge to understand the science behind how these products function. Although QRT’s website, (www.quantumqrt.com), offers a host of empirical data collected in its novel approach to scientifically measuring the beneficial effects of QRT circuitry upon the performance of hi-fi systems (extracted from QRT’s association with Acuity Products, a U.K. independent defense contractor specializing in signal processing), the science of Quantum Field theory behind these field generation units still eludes. Although QRT should be commended for offering their “Little Book of Quantum” with each of its products (nicely composed with helpful instructions on system setup and integration of Quantum products), all of these sources still leave one at sea with regards to understanding how these products do what they do. I’ll leave it at this: a friendly gauntlet has been laid at the feet of QRT to offer us a clearer scientific understanding for how these new products function. Maybe in time we will hear more.

Chalk to Flesh

Before placing any QRT products into my system, Roy Gregory recommended that we create a “consistent cable loom,” where all cables were of similar materials and technology. According to Roy, this principle is as important as good equipment support and can be expanded to include consistent cable products from any cable manufacturer that one cares to employ. Once this consistent cable loom was created, (and making sure the best quality power cord connected wall socket to distribution block), I placed only the Q-Base Powerstrip into my system. Uniquely, the Q-Base has an “earth socket” that allows for a separate dedicated system ground. I purchased a grounding rod from a hardware store, pounded it into the earth outside my window and connected the grounding rod to the Q-Base with ground wire. By taking the ground wire on and off the Q-Base, it was easy to hear how this addition of a clean ground provided immediate sonic benefits to my system. These benefits included a new sense of crispness to image dimensionality and definition as well as a perception that I could hear deeper into the inner details of a recording. This was especially apparent when listening for very slight shifts in dynamics, for instance, when violinist Hilary Hahn sustains a beautiful high treble note on one of Samuel Barber’s tender melodies, and then with only the slightest change in pressure with her bow, sends forth a growing crescendo. The addition of the ground-tethered Q-Base produced the drama of this moment with greater clarity and perception of each minute gradation of dynamics.

Even without connecting a clean ground source to the Q-Base, this AC Distribution Block wrought a startling improvement to the inner scaffolding and organization of instruments and voices appearing in a recording’s sound field. For example, taking a cue from Bronzino, (and his masterful rubbing techniques to create differing textures), I grabbed a copy of Warren Zevon’s The Wind [Artemis Records] and listened to his rollicking cut, “Rub Me Raw.”

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This raucous ditty can tend to sound diffuse, with a sprawling soundstage swirling with kick drum explosions and expansive bass energy. However, with the Q-Base controlling power distribution (even without ground connection), Jim Keltner’s potent kick drum and Joe Walsh’s blasts from his slide guitar were now placed in a much more organized and coherent framework. Each instrument and vocal source was framed naturally in space and solid in image. This allowed for Zevon’s own playful vocals and prowls (“Pickle-ickle-ickle, how the crowd gets fickle!”) to be heard much more intelligibly. Likewise, Zevon’s “Disorder In The House” was put into immediate “Order” by the insertion of the Q-Base. Bruce Springsteen’s squealing guitar riffs and his jawing with Zevon were heard with much greater clarity and image dimensionality than before, and the cramped heat and space of the recording venue was much better perceived. The insertion of the Q-Base was analogous to Bronzino’s drawing technique in that the Q-Base organized the underlying scaffolding and diverse elements of Zevon’s musical statement into a Whole, roughing out the final musical composition to allow each instrument and vocal (like each of Bronzino’s fine chalk lines) to have its natural place in the soundstage, so that each could be better enjoyed and explored.

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Moving forward, I now placed one Qx4 field generation unit (placed in the critical location between wall socket and Q-Base) into my base system. First, many listeners, (including myself), perceived a natural increase in volume to the music, although no such adjustments had been made. I hypothesize that this effect had something to do with a lowering of the noise floor with the addition of one Qx4 unit. However, of more vital importance was the overall sense that a listener was now allowed greater access, (or what I would call a more intimate “camaraderie”) with the musicians performing on any given recording. This quality was again analogous to Bronzino’s visual work, where individual chalk lines come to resemble the textures of human flesh and the human qualities of the subjects come alive. A fine example of this analogous quality to Bronzino’s drawings in placing just one Qx4 unit into my audio system was heard on the recordings of the great chameleon himself, trumpeter Clark Terry.

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Along with his stellar cast on “Talkin’ Trash,” (from the recording of the same name on DIW), Terry works up a vocal storm with his trademark mumbles, tumbles, twists and guffaws, alongside Christian McBride’s bass and Tony Reedus’ sparkling cymbal comments. With the insertion of the Qx4 unit, all of the human qualities of Terry’s every mumble and fumble were revealed with absolute clarity, texture and intonation. Remove the Qx4 and Terry was less a human presence, more robotic in character, with his slurs and purrs less clear, less revealed for all of their richness and inner life.

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Another example could also be taken from Clark Terry’s compatriot (across the globe in Tanzania), Anania Nogoglia, himself a blind singer/thumb piano player. Nogoglia’s beautiful vocal twists and turns are captured with joyful flair in duet with Bela Fleck and his banjo on “Kabibi,” taken from Fleck’s recent Throw Down Your Heart, Africa Sessions [Rounder 11661]. Without the Qx4 in place, Nogoglia’s high vocals are more slurred, less vibrant and a bit flat; like a greyer, less vibrant version of the brilliant African colors he brings to life in this little number. As for Fleck’s delicate banjo accompaniment, it was almost indiscernible when the Qx4 and the Q-Base were removed from my system. Bringing back the Q-Base, Fleck’s banjo re-appears, with Fleck plucking sprightly next to Nogoglia. With the Q-Base, we get a much more coherent and organized sonic picture and clarity of soundstage elements. With the addition of one Qx4 unit, we gain better access to Nogoglia and Fleck’s human interplay and carefree sense of improvisation. We appreciate better their quick exchanges and retorts back and forth; their pauses to reply to the next musical gesture; all of this revealed while the musical conversation is moving at a very nimble pace.

Another beautiful example was revealed in the artistry of pianist Stephen Drury, captured live at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall performing the intensely complex work by Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated (Albion 063). At several points in this astonishing work, the pianist is called upon to strike a single chord like a bell, (letting it linger), or furiously pounce on a chromatic scale. With the one Qx4 in place, Rzewski’s drama was better revealed in both its inner compositional structure as well as for its tactile human qualities. When the Qx4 was removed (with the Q-Base still in place), the volume seemed to be turned down a notch, and one lost a sense of the directness and connection made with the Human playing the instrument; things were flatter, less involving and most importantly, less Human and more like Hi-Fi. As in Bronzino’s drawings, with the Qx unit, we can visualize the Human at work, the chalk lines that reveal both the underlying organization of the composition and more importantly, the revealing of the human qualities of the subject within.

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Adding additional Qx4 units into my base system continued this trend, but to a lesser degree. Qx4 units were placed on top of loudspeakers or adjacent to loudspeakers’ sides, (elevated on stands to be placed near the speaker’s bass drivers, as Quantum recommends). Also, Qx4 units were placed in front of, (or close to the sides of), amplifiers and front-end players. In all of these placements, improvements heard were increasingly subtle, as compared to the impact of the first Qx4 unit placed between wall and distribution block. These improvements were heard most consistently on larger-scale works, including Big Band and orchestral recordings. For example, take a listen to Paavo Jarvi conducting the smaller scale Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 [RCA 88697]. The speed is furious, the flutes and piccolo soar and every bow of the deep basses are rendered pungent and full. With the addition of several Qx4 units as described above, one could now better discern the strings of the basses hitting their wooden bodies and also hear how those blaring trumpets in the final movement were played by sweating musicians, double tonguing and pitching in for more.

With the addition of more Qx4’s into the system, more drama is revealed, on both the organizational and, more importantly, the Human scale. However, I would conclude that since these Qx units are expensive (and their improvements more subtle as you add more of them into an already established reference system), one should start out with investing into proper AC mains support and cable consistency and then begin with a Q-Base (connected to a clean ground source, if possible) to gain all of its AC Distribution benefits feeding your established reference. Investing next in an initial Qx2 or Qx4 placed between wall and Q-Base would be highly recommended as the next step. Do keep in mind that “Quantumizing” your reference system is not going to change the essential sonic character of your established front end or loudspeaker system. What a Q-Base and Qx4 will offer, (like those exquisite Bronzano drawings), is a vital foundation, a scaffolding, that serves to not only make a reference system perform more coherently and intelligibly, but gets one closer to the illusion of hearing humans playing music on our favorite recordings. Once you have heard the benefits of these products at the foundation of your reference system – like the experience of viewing a Bronzano masterwork – your listening pleasure will be transported to another level of involvement and joy.


Associated System


Digital Front End

  • EMM Labs CDSA
  • CEC TL51XZ transport
  • Audiomat Maestro II DAC

Amplification

  • McIntosh MC 501 solid state monoblocks
  • First Sound Presence Deluxe 4.0 MKII Preamp with Paramount Upgrade
  • Accuphase 450 Integrated Amplifier

Loudspeakers

  • Reference 3A Grand Veena
  • Hansen Prince V.2

Cabling

  • Nordost Tyr interconnects, speaker cable
  • Nordost Valhalla digital cable
  • Nordost Vishnu power cords
  • TARA Labs ISM On Board 0.8 interconnects and speaker cables

Accessories

  • Nordost Q-Base 4 and Q-Base 8; Nordost Qx2 and Qx4
  • Argent Audio Dark Matter Base
  • SSBC large pucks
  • Nordost Quasar Isolation Points
  • Echobuster Panels
  • ASC bass traps and sound planks
  • L’Art Du Son disc cleaner

Specifications

  • Q-Base “QB4”:
  • Four US Output Sockets; Input Socket: 15A IEC
  • Fuse: none
  • Dimensions (W/H/D/): 9.2”x 2.4”x 4.7”
  • Weight: 3.5 lbs.
  • Price: $799.99
  • Q-Base “QB8”:
  • Eight US Output Sockets; Input Socket: 15A IEC
  • Fuse: none
  • Dimensions: 18.1”x 2.25”x 4.75”
  • Weight: 5.5lbs.
  • Price: $1,299.99
  • Qx2 Field Generation Unit:
  • Two field generation modules
  • Dimensions: 10.6”x 3.1”x 7.6”
  • Weight: 10.5 lbs.
  • Price: $1,699.99
  • Qx4 Field Generation Unit:
  • Four field generation modules
  • Dimensions: 10.6”x 3.1”x 7.6”
  • Weight: 11 lbs.
  • Price: $2,499.99

If you would like to read more reviews like this one, visit Nelson’s blog at www.bostonconcertreviews.com.

Mike Marko On iTunes And Downloadable Music

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Apple’s iTunes revolutionized the music industry when it was first introduced and to this day is a major provider of music for purchase for millions of people around the world.  It offered a way for people to legally download music at a fair price.  Before iTunes there were essentially illegal file sharing services (remember Napster?) that cut musicians and producers of music out of the loop.

 

Apple downloads took advantage of a new lossy compression algorithm called MP3.  It was developed to dramatically reduce file size for music downloads.  Whereas an album on CD can be up to around 700 MB, that same album in MP3 form is a small fraction of that.  In the days before high speed internet connections and inexpensive huge hard drives, this was the only way to download, store and play music files.  In its original iteration, 128kbit/s, nearly 90 percent of the data representing the original CD was thrown out to reduce file size.  It was incorrectly determined by the folks that designed the codec that most listeners’ perception of recorded music couldn’t hear all that missing data anyway, hence the lossy compression idea.  The floodgates were then open so you could “enjoy” a thousand songs in your pocket.

 

Things did get a little better when Apple decided to double the rate of the songs you could purchase from the iTunes store to 256 kbit/s, but it’s still a far cry from the data on the original CD.  An entire generation has been brought up to believe that this is an acceptable way to listen to music.  Sales of physical CD’s are continuing to decline as more and more people ditch their CD player and listen to the mere shadows of the original master recordings these downloads represent.

 

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My choice of subject for this blog is inspired by my receipt of the free download of U2’s latest album, Songs of Innocence.  When Apple staged the event for their new iPhone recently, U2 actually performed a song live from the album.  It was then announced anyone with an iTunes account could download it for free for a few weeks.  That’s over a half a billion people!  That’s got to be the biggest album release in history.  So the next day I went to iTunes and, sure enough, there it was waiting for me.  I liked what I heard when U2 performed it live, so I thought I’d give it a listen.  After all, it was “mastered for iTunes” in all its sonic glory (or at least that was how it was billed).

 

I have yet to be able to play the entire album.  It sounds simply awful, even with a direct USB connection from my MacBook to a proper DAC via a Nordost Heimdall USB cable connected to my reference system.  It reminds me of music on the AM radio section of an old stereo receiver I used to own.  I checked the system out, thinking something dreadful might have happened.  I played some CD quality files and some high resolution files and my system sounded just fine.  Is this the quality of recorded music we have come to expect from mass distribution?

 

No wonder most people don’t listen to their systems seriously and in the foreground anymore.  Sure, many people have music playing all the time in the background while doing other things, but it seems like few people actually sit down in the sweet spot, either alone or with friends, and listen to music anymore.  There just isn’t enough information available to engage us like there was before this new music delivery scheme.  It’s usually even worse in the latest trend, streaming music.  Maybe that’s why LP’s have seen a steady rise in sales over the last several years, and most predict this trend will continue.  In my experience, LP’s come closer to the sound of master studio recordings than any other medium, including CD, but for most young folks I think nostalgia might be the driving force behind the increasing popularity of vinyl.

 

SBR vs PCM

Spectral band replication vs Pulse-code modulation

 

There appears to be hope on the horizon however.  Currently there are many sources of music with even higher resolution than CDs available on the internet.  High resolution PCM (pulse code modulation) recordings at 192 kss/ 24 bit are actually readily available, as well as even higher resolution files in the DSD (direct stream digital) format.  Equipment manufacturers of high quality digital to analog converters (DACs) seem to be introducing new models weekly at relatively affordable prices that can sound very good.

 

In the streaming music category there soon promises to be available CD quality streaming services from companies like Tidal and others. With a monthly subscription you can stream these higher quality files all you want.  New high resolution portable players from companies like Astell & Kern and others sound amazing when playing these new file formats. Even Neil Young is getting into the act with his new Pono music service and Pono portable player that promises better than CD quality playback.  It is supposed to be available this fall.

 

These new portable players can transform the quality of music you listen to.  When coupled with the many new high performance headphones now on the market, the music we love can be so much more engaging than background music.  Just don’t forget the high quality cables now available for the new headphones and portable players when you hook them up to your system.  You wouldn’t want to lose it in the connections now would you?

 

Mike Marko

What is Cable Burn-In?

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From anti-static treatment to cable elevators, there are several things one can do to maximize the performance level of audio cables. For years now, manufacturers have been aware of another practice that drastically improves upon performance that has recently been gaining acceptance from hifi enthusiasts: cable burn-in.

Any listener will be able to identify a marked change in audio equipment within the first 100 hours of use (whether it be a new cable, component or loudspeaker). But what is the reason for these improvements and what can be done to facilitate this process?

During the manufacturing process, as insulation is extruded over the conductors, gases can become trapped. This combined with the high electrical charges often found in new cables, result in a brittle and bright sound that lacks the detail and depth desired for music reproduction. There are a few ways to solve this problem. One way to burn-in your cables is to simply hook them up in your home audio system and play music for a minimum of 100 hours. Even better, use a burn in disc, like Nordost’s System Set-Up & Tuning Disc, which provides a track specifically designed to produces a range of tones that stress the cables and expedite the burn-in process. However, the best solution is to treat your cables using a designated cable burn-in device such as Nordost’s Vidar.

Vidar

When cables are first put into use, their directionality is not securely established. However, once the Vidar begins running current through the cables, the trapped gases are dissipated and small impurities in the conductor’s metal begin to act like a diode, favoring current flow in a particular direction. By using extremely wide bandwidth signal as well as a range of both ultra-low and high frequency sweeps, the Vidar stresses the conductors, neutralizes charges, improves the way that signals pass through metal and  ultrasonically conditions the surface of the conductors. It is these changes in both the conductor and insulation material that refines performance in audio cables.

While it is most important to implement burn-in upon purchase, there is something to be gained from routine maintenance as well. If cables are left unused for a prolonged period of time they become stagnant. And even through everyday cable use, electrical equipment experiences current leakage, imparting a charge onto your cables. By having your cables treated with the Vidar you are treating your cables with the Vidar you are conditioning them and allowing the charges to neutralize once again.

This service is only available through  authorized Nordost dealers.To locate the Nordost dealer nearest you, please consult the “Where to Buy” page of our website.