• The Show Newport, Day 2

    The second official day of the Newport show was an interesting one for me. I heard a bunch of bad sound, a couple people wax on poetically about the “huge” vinyl resurgence, and absolutely awesome sound in the Meridian MQA room.

    Gavin Fish had the LH Labs room sounding very good using the new Vi DAC, Pass Labs components and Magico loudspeakers. Gavin brought in an interesting choice of flooring to counter some of the acoustical issues during setup and it worked very well. I was able to hear some real music in the LH Labs room, rather than sticks breaking or seals snoring in high resolution, and I really enjoyed the system. It was a system I could have spent quite a while listening to, but I had to move on.

    The best demo of the day, and most likely the entire show, goes to Meridian. Ken Forsythe put on the demonstration while talking everyone through the merits of MQA. I still have some questions and minor reservations about MQA, but when the rubber met the road and the play button was pressed, the sound quality was truly astounding. Listening to Frank Sinatra was totally awesome. Meridian also demonstrated streaming MQA from TIDAL through its Sooloos music system and the tracks sounded just as good. There were no issues streaming the content even though the hotel network was less than robust.

    On another note, I saw a lot of JRiver Media Center today. it seemed like everyone who wasn't spinning vinyl was using JRMC. I also sat in on Steve Silberman's (AudioQuest) computer audio seminar about iTunes, CD rising and storage, and cabling. it was really cool to see several people at the seminar taking notes feverishly and asking really good questions.

    Warning: The following may be a little controversial.

    Can we get a little perspective please? I took part in a panel with editors of other high end audio publications this afternoon. Right away the discussion moved into vinyl territory and talk about a so-called huge resurgence of vinyl was being thrown about. Before I continue I must say that I think vinyl is cool and I encourage everyone to listen to it. Vinyl isn’t something I prefer but I have no issue at all with those who do. The discussion also went to quad DSD being the sonic holy grail, but I stayed out of that discussion for the most part. My only suggestion to the audience member who asked the original question was that he should not consider the sample rate as an indicator of sound quality and that the people involved in making the recording are what really matter. In most cases and in my experience sound quality is a human factor and not a matter of technology. This seemed to fall on deaf ears among some panelists. I will take a product (music or audio component) from a good engineer using the worst parts or supposed inferior format any day over a bad engineer using the best components and the highest sample rate known to man. Does it have to be either or? No, but how many recordings of our favorite music recorded and mastered by the best engineers and in high resolution formats exist? Not many. Back to vinyl. After a member of the audience brought up the vinyl resurgence and the conversation was in full swing about vinyl’s popularity and the “fact” that kids were into it because of quality, I mentioned that the whole vinyl resurgence wasn’t really that big, kids were into it because it’s a fad and a cool thing to have right now, and that Taylor Swift had outsold all of vinyl herself last year. Meaning that Taylor Swift sold more albums than all vinyl albums put together. This caused a shit-storm with some on the panel and a few members of the audience. One panelist told me I was wrong and that 33 million albums were pressed last year. I didn’t believe the 33 million number but couldn’t hold up the entire panel just to look up numbers. Thus, after the show and dinner this evening I looked for the numbers about vinyl sales and Taylor Swift sales. Honestly, if I was incorrect I didn’t want to keep touting wrong information and look like a fool. So, here are the numbers. Taylor Swift’s album 1989 was on sale for only the last nine weeks of calendar year 2014. The album sold 3.66 million copies in those nine weeks according to Nielsen SoundScan. Looking at vinyl, 9.2 million records were sold in all 52 weeks of 2014 according to Nielsen SoundScan data. As it turns out, both I and the other panelist had incorrect sales numbers. However, I stand by my opinion that the vinyl resurgence is cool, but not very large and not very significant in the big picture. The only reason I brought up this issue in the first place was to give the conversation a little perspective. Talking about a resurgence of something in a vacuum of like-minded people can lead one to a slightly skewed view of reality. It was my intention to offer an additional data point for perspective. My opinion had absolutely nothing to do with the sound of vinyl or its efficacy as a physical medium that many people love.

    I’m looking forward to the last, and hopefully less controversial, day of the show on Sunday. It has been a blast running into CA readers all over the place. I hope to see more tomorrow.

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    Comments 53 Comments
    1. Sonic77's Avatar
      Sonic77 -
      Send you to California and you cause all kinds of problems, lol.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sonic77 View Post
      Send you to California and you cause all kinds of problems, lol.
    1. JR_Audio's Avatar
      JR_Audio -
      Hi Chris

      Very nicely written. Good flow and swing.

      I was smiling reading your DSD and Vinyl comments ;-)

      Have a nice day tomorrow and enjoy the last show day.

    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      The positive thing about the "vinyl researgence" is that IF the people buying vinyl are younger people it MAY lead them to exploring other high quality music playback rather than just sticking with iTunes downloads and Spotify.

      Apart from that IF and MAYbe the vinyl sales are a drop in the ocean though they are the only growth in sales (rather than streaming) at least in the UK from sales figures I've seen.

      (This isn't disagreeing with Chris' comments on vinyl)

      PS. another plea ... After the show any chance of you going back and putting captions on your photos as not all are clear what is on display...
    1. gstanley75's Avatar
      gstanley75 -
      Nice article Chris. Keep stirring. There is a lot of BS being slung around in audiophilo-land and stirring is the only hope we have.

      I believe there is more difference cause by mic selection, placement and compression than all of the formats and resolutions combined.
    1. wisnon's Avatar
      wisnon -
      I think the quad DSD argument was not about NATIVE Quad DSD recordings (of which only a miniscule amount exists), but HQP DS modulation up to Quad DSD with your favourite RBCD material. RBCD is the most ubiquitous format available, at least in digital.

      Upconversion means you get the "best" human recording effort and the most suitable playback format…win, win.
    1. robbbby's Avatar
      robbbby -
      Totally agree with you regarding vinyl Chris. Audiophiles who use vinyl always have and will always continue to, the new growth in sales over the last few years are mostly from a younger generation, i'm very doubtful that they are doing it because of the quality, the majority are picking up on vinyl because it's trendy and retro and the cool new thing to do.
    1. wgscott's Avatar
      wgscott -
      Great commentary. My favorite photo is #13.
    1. bmoura's Avatar
      bmoura -
      Quote Originally Posted by wisnon View Post
      I think the quad DSD argument was not about NATIVE Quad DSD recordings (of which only a miniscule amount exists), but HQP DS modulation up to Quad DSD
      No, the speaker discussing it was talking about native Quad DSD recordings and Analog to Quad DSD transfers.

      If you have Quad DSD playback, the good news is that you can try all of the above - native Quad DSD recordings, Analog to Quad DSD transfers and music upsampled to Quad DSD.
    1. Kelly's Avatar
      Kelly -
      In regards to your numbers: the so called audiophile market is a minuscule, almost insignificant niche of the market for the big labels. So, comparing anything that might be considered "audiophile" to anything mainstream is relatively apples-and-oranges. That said, I agree with you that the vast majority of vinyl sales growth is to bearded and mustachioed hipsters is purely a fad. The idea they are seeking "quality" is an assumption that you really can't make. I'd venture a cheapish ipod dock will sound better than a similarly priced all-in-one record player like you can pickup at your local urban outfitters.
    1. stevebythebay's Avatar
      stevebythebay -
      If vinyl was really "coming back" you know that the big players in the audio industry would be all over it. They spend money doing surveys and using software to scour the 'Net for insight into what prospective buyers are seeking. And if the vinyl medium for highest quality source is in some revival you'd see better quality manufacturing (lathes and such) coming back. Anyone hear if that's really a growth industry. For growth I think we all know it continues to be portability, streaming, the death of the album in favor of songs without any concern for liner notes (hey, just Google it), etc.
    1. ednaz's Avatar
      ednaz -
      I have no doubt about the sound quality value of higher sample rates. Even in my middle of the road-ish main audio system, playing the same song at different sample rates, I can tell you which is which. My wife, who professes to not be able to hear anything really can also tell. We've had guests over who got up from the dinner table and went in to listen to a song they knew well and listened to a lot on CD, wanting to know why it sounded so different. With one significant set of exceptions-

      As you so correctly pointed out, the quality of the people making the music is more important than sample rates. (To a point... 128k sample rates do, in fact, suck.) More precisely, the decisions made in producing and finalizing the music for distribution are more important than sample rates. I have a recent glaring, blaring example in the new Alabama Shakes album. I'd picked it up on iTunes when it first came out since I was on the road for a bit and wanted to listen. Meantime, my wife bought the album for me from HD Tracks. I can assure you, it sounds no different in the iTunes version than in the 44/24 HD Tracks version. The music is squashed down - or should I say squashed up - into such a narrow "hey listen to me" loud and flat dynamic range that it may even be OK at 128k. Several other groups I like a lot have the same issues - the Black Keys, for example, compress the daylights and some of the soul out of their music for release.

      Thankfully not everyone does it. As Joan Armatrading points out in the great review on one of the other audio sites, what we get is all squashed up compared to what you listen to in the studio, because musicians and producers know that music gets listened to on a whole huge range of devices, most of which are NOT decent quality home audio systems. By the time you've made something sound good for an FM station through a crappy car radio, it doesn't matter if its iTunes or 192/24. I'm in recording and mixing studios from time to time, and have heard the debates about whether to mix for the little cheap speakers or the nice big ones.

      I now try to sample-listen to anything new before buying in any format. Listening to samples on iTunes seems to be a decent predictor - if it sounds dynamic on iTunes, it'll be more dynamic in a better file format. If it sounds AM radio-ish, iTunes gets my money. But quad rate DSD... well, my ears top out at double rate.
    1. pawel8's Avatar
      pawel8 -
      I was there yesterday but did not have luck to meet you.
      Re vinyl
      Went to Kubala room and listened to Fremer,s Dean Martin 192 followed by newly reissued vinyl:there was no doubt about vinyl sounded much,much better.
    1. joelha's Avatar
      joelha -
      Was Fremer's 192 recording a needle drop? That could be the reason for the difference.

    1. pawel8's Avatar
      pawel8 -
      Not sure.
      There were some other songs on his usb ,including pretty good led Zeppelin.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by pawel8 View Post
      I was there yesterday but did not have luck to meet you.
      Re vinyl
      Went to Kubala room and listened to Fremer,s Dean Martin 192 followed by newly reissued vinyl:there was no doubt about vinyl sounded much,much better.
      Great to hear you like the vinyl. I've never had an issue with people's sound quality preferences.

      I wonder if the two versions were from the same master or as Joel asked, if the digital was a vinyl rip. Either way, your preference is your preference :~)
    1. esimms86's Avatar
      esimms86 -
      Chris, what music was Meridian playing in their MQA demo? Also, did they have any word on future MQA releases and software upgrades for programs like, say, jriver?

    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by esimms86 View Post
      Chris, what music was Meridian playing in their MQA demo? Also, did they have any word on future MQA releases and software upgrades for programs like, say, jriver?

      Meridian played Frank Sinatra, Roberta Flack (from TIDAL), and Eric Clapton & BB King. No word on anything else.
    1. pawel8's Avatar
      pawel8 -
      On contrary, I have all digital stuff at home including DCS and I like it ,but as I stated before,the sound from Kronos turntable was clearly superior:everybody agreed :so it was not only my preference but 15? more listeners.
      Mr Fremer knows the source of his music ! I do not.

      To clarify I am not in vinyl now but may be I should

      I could not find John Quick and his Roon presentation.
    1. Archimago's Avatar
      Archimago -
      Amen on the very reasonable comments around digital sample rates and the "resurgence" of vinyl Chris.

      Absolutely, the work of an excellent artist, producer, mastering engineer trumps whatever beneficial putative effect can be heard from hi-res 24-bits/Quad DSD/ 96kHz+ samplerate any day.

      Curious about the MQA demo - did they compare with a standard lossless 16/44 of that Sinatra/Flack/Clapton&King? At least until now, I didn't believe they did any A/B comparisons...