July 1, 2008
24-bit/176.4kHz Computer Audio: Cant Get There from Here
Im taking a break from my "Answering the Questions No Ones Asking" series to tell you about a recent and frustrating audio misadventure.
Im a fairly early adopter of a hard-drive-based music server using an Apple MacBook and various USB D/A converters, and so far Ive been thoroughly impressed. The sound quality is better than with any CD player Ive ever used, and the user interface is something that, once experienced, I didnt want to give up. Now, I wouldnt think of going back to a disc spinner.
Using iTunes to import my CD collection in Apple Lossless (yes, with error-correction on, a must) has been a snap. Ive had no problems with any 16-bit/44.1kHz "Red Book" CDs, nor have I had any problem reading the CD layers of many hybrid SACDs. And Ive heard no clicks or pops from my MacBooks USB output. So whats the problem?
Well, there wasnt one -- until I received a Reference Recordings HRx DVD-R with 24/176.4 audio, containing a file that RR calls a "digital master." The disc cant be played by any disc player, but must be loaded onto a computer, then played as a WAV file. I had no problem saving the HRx recording in iTunes or playing it back through my Stello DA220 Mk.II DAC. And yes, the sound was better than from the CD of the same performance that RR had sent along for comparison purposes. But Im not exactly sure why that was the case, because I wasnt playing the file in its native resolution.
And heres the problem. Because it says so right on the faceplate, Id assumed that my Stello DA220 Mk.II DAC was a 24-bit/196kHz D/A converter. But it isnt. It upsamples "Red Book" CDs to that resolution, but it wont accept that resolution natively through any of its digital inputs, and its USB input accepts nothing higher than 16/44.1.
I read everything I could find on the Internet, and came to the conclusion that there are so many opinions out there, and so much flux in the industry regarding computer audio, particularly in terms of high-resolution music, that no one seems to know exactly whats going on. Conflicting opinions? Yes. Misinformation? You bet. Outright lies? Maybe not, but misinformation is close enough.
To save you some headaches, heres what I think I know, as of today. Just dont take it as gospel until youve verified it for yourself.
Although the Weiss Minerva is my best shot at hearing Reference Recordings HRx series of DVD-Rs, Im still looking for other options. If youre an expert in computer playback of hi-rez sound, please let me know what Ive missed or gotten wrong, and Ill pass it along to our readers.
. . . Jeff Fritz
Ultra Audio is part of the SoundStage! Network.