No Computer to Play DSD

DavidElias-DSD-DVD-Data-Disc.jpg

We (all of us) have seen the beginnings and endings and re-beginnings of many things in our decades. Computers in music came about in the mid 90’s as a way to share music worldwide with no postage and no printing and no anything pretty much except time. And it took time but that was time well spent then…

Fast Forward 20 yrs and time spent waiting for music is not so fun for most.

DSD is the Holy Grail for me for the highest quality media (digital) and format (Direct Stream Digital) to record in. It captures all the nuances of an ambient signal (like a voice, acoustic guitar, upright bass, mandolin, dobro…) and preserves the carefully constructed wave that represents each note’s original attack, resonance, sustain and decay, in an immortal fashion meaning it never changes characteristics or quality over time.

Downloads are difficult. The truth of this statement increases linearly with the size of a song file. That’s why streaming is catching on so quickly now. No one has the time to download and why bother if it’s ready to play from a cloud to anywhere?

Well some like me still like to hunker down in front of their stereos and just concentrate on what’s being played in a local fashion with no distractions and as little gear/wires/etc. as possible. Hands free so to speak.

Playing discs still allows me to do all this in an automatic fashion.

SACDs came out well over 15 years ago and had the undeniable quality of presenting astounding reproduction on some landmark recordings that have withstood time well before digital audio, computer audio, hi-res and the rest.

While SACDs are still viable at various retail costs, the music on them is either cumbersome to download (expect at least 2GB per stereo album mix and 5GB per multichannel album mix), or not archivable (easily ripped) if purchased on SACD.

DSD DVD Data Discs are an alternative to these two because they are archives of data that can be copied anywhere safe as many times as desired and they are instantly playable by inserting them into your SACD/Blu-ray/DVD player.

http://davidelias.com/dsd_on_dvd_data_discs/

That’s why I brought it back after introducing DSD Disc according to Sony’s spec in 2009 as an online download of the .ISO file to burn your own disc.

I burn it, I test it, I mail it, you play it.

Aloha!

~ DE

Hi-Res DSD MQA Integration To The Max…

I’ve been integrating audio components since…. …. …. never mind….. I’ve been integrating hi-res (HRA, hi-rez, high resolution) audio into my different playback systems since 2000….

I’ve never seen or heard a more advanced integrated Digital Audio Playback (DAP) device than the Pioneer XDP-100R I recently (finally) ordered.

IMG_0026.JPG

On the lower left is the Pioneer XDP-100R, last year’s model. There is now an XDP-300R. When the 100R came on market sometime over a year ago it listed and retailed for right around $699. Since then I found one for $299 new and have it with me pretty much all the time. 

I was very interested in it from the start because it was the only device I knew that play both MQA and DSD masters in a seamless fashion. 

The other device in the photo to the right is my trusted and beloved OPPO HA-2 (since replaced by the HA-2SE at OPPO, still retails for $299). The HA-2 provides the hefty headphone amp, native DSD conversion to analog playback as delivered from XDP, and lots of extra battery to run or charge the XDP from.

I can travel anywhere with *just* the XDP but there are sound reproduction results with the combination of those 2 devices that are very very very hard to beat especially (and almost exclusively today) if you want to hear and travel and hook your home system up to play both native DSD and MQA up to 384k unfolded. 

It delivers native or upsampled 5.6mHz DSD (for PCM tracks including decided MQA) with a quality of sound reproduction I believe is very hard to beat no matter what you use.

~~~~~ THE SHORT VERSION ~~~~~

I’ve written some audiophile friends about the new setup I have. It is portable, it is long term with battery twice over (really more). It perfectly delivers MQA as well as native DSD analog to any output recipient gear you have (headphones, Bluetooth, Line Out to stereo/studio). It has aeons (days, months, years?) of storage onboard for music or video.  

It doesn’t need a computer to play anything. It *is* a computer.

How does it do this? Here’s my answer:

– It’s an Android PDA (personal digital assistant) and digital player running Android 5.1.1 from Google.  This makes it a very usable and convenient multipurpose tablet that fits in your palm and can host all the Google Play apps you might throw at it. 

I’m using Bluemail and Skype mostly cause I don’t want to burden or clutter it (yet). What I’m saying is it can be your browser, email box, music (and video, hint hint), YouTube player, any media streaming or stored onboard all in one. 

It can’t be your cell phone though you can Skype with calls in and out for $6.99/mo. I’ve used Skype to call out to any cell or Skype or landline number for $2.99/mo. for a very long time when I don’t have cell service (which happens a lot on The Big Island).

By relieving my iPhone of the responsibility of being my portable music player (using the same HA-2 via DoP and the Onkyo HF player app) it freed up all the iPhone  storage (a very conservative 32GB total in comparison to XDP’s whopping 432GB) for photos and videos I take with the phone.  Good trade!

– It is an exceptional MQA decoder providing full resolution unfolding Other popular lower cost MQA DACs I’ve had and used like the Meridian Explorer2 are limited to 192k. None of these support DSD either. 

The TIDAL software player alone with no external DAC just gets you to 96K (one unfold) as will presumably other software MQA players.

– It is 100% DoP (DSD over PCM) compatible that allows it to deliver native DSD to an upstream device (in my case the OPPO HA-2) via a short USB wire (see photo).

– It upsamples PCM to DSD up to 5.6 (11.2mbps stereo) with real precision (no rounding errors) and sends this as DoP to the HA-2 as well….

– It hosts the TIDAL app for streaming MQA etc…

– It has a lot of battery depending what resolution you are playing and how much Android app you use concurrently — but — I back this up with the HA-2 which is also a battery charger good for at least 1x XDP charges.

– It has up to 432GB of storage (!) using 2 SD micro flash slots up to 200GB each on top of its internal 32GB memory for the OS, apps, and music etc.  The SD micro flash cards are of course unlimited in number if that’s not enough for you.  They fit on a thumbnail literally to carry.

– It weights about 7oz.  The HA-2 is a bit heavier (battery!).  All fit in the add-on XDP hard zippered case I got that fits anywhere with cables, Zipbuds PRO (check those out online Amazon for around $25 — and their  brand new “26” AptX wireless creation I got through Kickstarter) and other various audio detritus.

~~~~~ CONCLUSION ~~~~~

What I get from these two devices working together is unlimited headroom for amplification (HA-2 provides necessary oompff even though XDP supports up to 16-300oHm headphones) with the most sophisticated PCM sound ever experienced in my humble opinion. It plays native DSD beautifully as well!

The synergy of MQA decoding with DSD upsampling delivered through an analog 1-bit perfect conversion by OPPO’s HA-2 is a level of Sound Quality on the otherwise edgy compressed qualities of PCM I’ve never come close to experiencing. 

I’m saying MQA sounds great but MQA upsampled to DSD sounds better.

The 2 together fit in my jean jack inside pocket.

The XDP can play everything on its on however the DSD in that case is its PCM converted counterpart, the same as all non-native DSD media players and DACs including Korg’s AudioGate, JRiver and the like. These all also support DoP to connect a “real” DSD DAC to like OPPO, Mytek and many many more.

If you are asking: How can I play the full studio authenticated MQA as well as Native DSD from one setup both in my home and on the go and have all the battery and power for rock n’ roll that I need as well as the convenience of a full Android/Google tablet in my hand traveling around, then look no further…..

Onkyo has very a very similar nearly identical product in collaboration called the DP-X1.  There is also an Onkyo Music app that allows you to buy MQA and other downloads online.

Good stuff. Low Price (I got 2 x 200GB San Disk SD flashes for a total of $150 online btw). Very Amazing Sound.

Did I say it plays your videos stored as well in all the popular formats with 720p resolution. I really like its video quality too.

Aloha!

– DE

….integration….the secret sauce for MQA and all PCM is hi-res DSD upsampling. XDP can do this with HA-2 attached and the result is not like any CD you ever heard.

IMG_0027.JPG

DSD on DVD Discs – Same Masters as SACD – Plays in your SACD player

DSD Made Easy…

To avoid the 6GB+ download for multichannel DSD64 and 2GB+ for stereo, that still is a problem for many worldwide, not to mention a hassle, I now ship a DVD (Data Disc) with the same album tracks on it.

This disc plays directly from the OPPO or any other SACD/DSD disc player (which is usually the DVD/Blu-ray player too) by just selecting the “Music” option (2nd menu choice on OPPO) instead of “CD” option.

Then you just press Play and it plays the album track by track as native DSD. Exactly the same DSD masters as on the SACDs.

“The Window” SACD has been out of print for many years now and is known to sell as used copies online by others for hundreds of dollars. In addition, I have some of my best-selling DSD albums that have never been printed as SACD, only available as DSD Downloads.

All of these are now available as discs for sale. Not CDs, just DSD on a data disc. They won’t play in a CD player. Only in your SACD player.

Back to the problem for some…DSD Downloads. Not only is downloading sometimes tedious depending on your Internet speed and data limit per month (I only get 10GB/mo here for what I can afford), but you then also need the right computer media player like JRiver or Audirvana or others.¬† Then you also need the right DSD DAC like OPPO HA-2, or Mytek or AURALiC or others and you need to have all that feed your stereo.¬† Playing multichannel in this fashion can be more challenging.

Not everyone’s idea of fun in music.¬† Instead they like to pop a disc into their DVD/SACD player and press play.

You can do it by ordering a DSD DVD Disc here:

http://davidelias.com/dsd_on_dvd_data_discs

No one else has done this that I know of, but that shouldn’t scare you. It’s usually cheaper than buying the SACD but doesn’t come in a fancy package.

Just the highest quality DVD (verified) with a white label, hand made, hand written, signed by me and mailed to you in a solid case within a day or two.  You pay shipping which is added at PayPal checkout, depending on where you are in the world.

So far these have gone as far as from Hawaii to Ireland!

Here are the native DSD albums available as DVD Data discs:

  • ¬†Coffeehouse Playlist #1 (sampler of other DSD albums) – Stereo ($24.95 + shipping)
  • ¬†The Window – Stereo or Multichannel ($24.95 + shipping)
  • ¬†Crossing – Stereo or Multichannel ($24.95 + shipping)
  • ¬†Acoustic Trio DSD Sessions – Stereo ($24.95 + shipping)
  • ¬†Slipper DSD Sessions – Stereo ($19.95 + shipping)

Most of these have a PDF with notes, lyrics and photos you can download from the web page where you buy it.

Another nice thing about DVD Data discs with DSD Masters is that you can back them up!  Just copy the DSD (DSF) files off the disc and save them on your computer. No can do with SACDs.

Yes and you can play those same files through your JRiver or Audirvana or whatever you have on computer to play DSD as well.  No DRM in other words.

Hope that didn’t scare you. It’s supposed to make playing “downloadable” DSD easy. You just put in a disc and press Play.

http://davidelias.com/dsd_on_dvd_data_discs

Aloha to All,

– DE

PS – if you followed all this and you have DSD Downloads already, you probably figured out you can burn your own DVD and play any of them in your SACD player if you want as well.¬† You don’t need me to do that!

No April Foolin… LITG Redeem Codes

Here’s a link to the Google doc worksheet that has the codes and links to redeem – 20 Lost In The Green MQA CD Master downloads (any PCM lossless format you choose). Also allows Bandcamp (not MQA) streaming of the same title forever.

These downloads will play on *any* media player. You don’t need special hardware or software to listen to this 16/44.1 MQA encoded master.

If you use BlueSound gear, you may have to rename the audio files to end with “.mqa” (no quotes) so that media player knows to engage the MQA decoding.

Click here to view shared doc with Redeem Codes

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14YOO_Kv6C_PD0kQcKKo_Va0Jbttz4UgXu9QAV_cceFU/edit?usp=sharing

[Update: if you can’t see the link go to my Facebook page here: 

http://Facebook.com/davideliasmusic 

— WordPress can drive me crazy with embedded links not supported, sorry.]

Please mark the worksheet code you use with an “X” so others don’t try it later. Each code works only once.

Enjoy the music.

~ DE

“Lost in the Green” grows up to CD quality streaming with MQA

Even though this was my first recorded album done in ’95 and released in ’96 I never released it to iTunes and the rest for digital downloads. I don’t know why…maybe their compressed MP3 sound was too off the original.
It was a coffeehouse acoustic album, I made it in a spare bedroom and did all the recording and mixing. it was mastered by Gus “Guinness” Skinas. I included 2 cover songs by Townes Van Zandt who was still living then, out of respect for his respect for songwriting.
 
Now these years later, I made this roots acoustic collection featuring Calvin McElroy (guitars, mandolin), John Caulfield (fiddle) and Roger Powell (guitars) on some tracks available for streaming on TIDAL and 7Digital as an MQA encoded CD Master.
 
 
It sounds better to me than on disc with the MQA corrections in the time coherence delivering these tracks as the stark,bare bones original sound it got created as.
 
If you are not a TIDAL or 7Digital (Onkyo) subscriber, the MQA Master CD download is online here:
 
 
(Note: streaming from bandcamp sounds good but is not cd quality or MQA)
 
Aloha to all,
~ DE

Dime Along

Dime along
A ticket gets you free
Your bed of leaves
Your woolen histories
Disarray
Roots of granite
Fantasy
Nights of disarray
Stolen highways
Byways always
Be remembered
By yourself
Unto others
Stolen highways
Mentors of the night
Landscape release
Be remembered
Side road sanctuaries
Be a memory
Fateful

Spring Price Break ~ DE MQA Catalog of Downloads are now all 25%+ Off

New Prices Online for MQA/Hi-Res/CD downloads…
 
 
21 albums, EPs and singles ranging from CD master to DXD (24/352.8) as folded MQA encoded PCM now range in price up to just $19.95 for the DXD masters.
 
There are some free downloads here as well as announced earlier.
 
All of the MQA masters can be played on *any* software media player or iPhone/Android. They sound good that way, much better than CD to my ears every time. I’m not alone in that conclusion of course.
 
The benefit of the MQA encoding corrects time smearing also known as pre- and post-ringing effects in the recording. This is an artifact of most PCM recordings without MQA.
 
The result is a much more natural sounding playback, easier on the ears and a lot nicer to listen to. All my masters benefited from this including early CD releases (dating 20+ years ago) and more recent DSD masters converted to PCM then encoded as MQA by MQA Ltd.
 
If you have an MQA DAC the hi-res albums/tracks above 20kHz get unfolded and played in their full resolution up to 352.8kHz. Yes they do sound better but the DAC can be added anytime and you still enjoy very high quality recordings with the gear and software you have today.
 
I have listened to all the DXD masters without unfolding (no MQA DAC), and am always pleased and surprised by the sound quality, even without MQA decoding.
 
I like MQA because it provides that easy to play approach, no matter what. You can even burn these to a CD and play them in your car too. It supports lossless streaming in low bandwidth with full resolution on the playback end. Quite amazing. TIDAL is offering this now if you are interested.
 
If you download from my site at http://davidelias-mqa.com just be sure to choose a Bandcamp PCM format that is lossless. It should be one or more of these: FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIF. Most things play ALAC including Apple and these are much smaller files than AIF. FLAC is similarly smaller than WAV for PC.
 
Remember too that if you buy online at Bandcamp, you get access to the songs from your computer or Smartphone forever in addition to being able to download as often as you need to in whatever format you want. NOTE: Streaming from Bandcamp today does not support MQA decoding! It may in the future if/when BC provides lossless streaming. I find it to be quite good anyway.
 
One final note regarding BlueSound and some NAD player users. It appears that most of the BlueSound players I’ve been made aware of by listeners require the downloaded audio files to be renamed such that they end with “.mqa” (no quotes of course). This allows the player to properly identify MQA audio files and decode them correctly.
 
Email me from my web contact page if you have any questions about MQA, I’ll do my best to help clarify.
 
It will be Spring any day now. Plant something if you can…
Aloha!
DE-MQA-Catalog-March2017.jpg
 

DVD Data Discs to the Hi-Res Audio Download Rescue

More for some less for others…

If you don’t want to read this and just want to check it out:

http://davidelias.com/dsd_on_dvd_data_discs/


Many of us including me started downloading MP3 music online in the mid 90’s. It sucked then. We used 33k or then advanced 56k modems over telephone dialup lines. This means we were getting our audio file data at the rates of 4.2KB, or 7.2KB per second.

Everything about download or transfer speed today is measured in either MB/s or even GB/s.  An MB/s is 1000 times faster than a KB/s.  A GB/s is 1,000,000 times faster than a KB/s.  I feel old.

Songs in MP3 format were then and are still often 1MB data per minute of music. So a 4 minute song (4MB data) took anywhere from say 16 minutes to maybe 10 minutes top speed to download…. zzzz …. zzzz ….. zzzz ……¬† one song, not one album.

A CD version of that same song as a WAV or AIF off the disc took about 10 times as long to download!¬† Now you see why MP3 was so popular even though it didn’t sound great, and why iTunes took advantage of that when they opened their store for downloads in 2004.

(Oops I forgot to mention that by 2004 there was plenty of Cable Modem and DSL and other much much faster internet to the home, but Apple and everyone else was used to MP3 crappy lossy quality by then….so no one adapted to the fact that good quality was also pretty easy to download. Then FLAC format came along and compressed the WAV file size by around half without loss of any music info. Still no one disrupted the money machine called iTunes, even when they made their own FLAC and called it ALAC and could have delivered CD quality back then no problem and no cost.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Fast Forward to 2009. I started offering DSD downloads of my SACDs to mostly the owners of Sony Playstation3’s since most of the SACD players of that day could not play what was called a DSD Disc (data disc with DSD files) as defined by Sony then.

The DSD Disc was literally a DVD data disc burned with the DSD song files (as DSF types with tags or DFF without tags) in a specific folder hierarchy that allowed players of the day to read the data files and play the music.¬† It broke the mold Sony had created for watermarked copy protection on SACD. You still couldn’t rip SACDs (one can today with the right gear and software).

No one came…

Well a few did, but even though Internet was overall speedy by then (cable modem download speed in Hilo in 2009 was about 650KB/s) it still was not mainstream or always easy to download the large ISO image (to burn the DVD with) for many out there.

My download then was a single 2GB image (zipped ISO file) to burn a DVD disc with to play the audio files on something, either on your computer or on the DVD Disc playing in your Playstation3 or  special Sony or Onkyo SACD players that handled DSD Disc as well as SACD.

zzzz..zzz.zzz.zzzzzz

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rapid Forward to 2017 when Hilo’s Time Warner Cable Modem in some people’s homes breaks the speed meter on speedtest.net at 20MB/s and above as high as maybe 26MB/s.

So while it is easy for some to download hi-res audio, it’s not easy for others. Lots of others. Worldwide. In fact 5 miles up the road from Hilo here in East Hawaii many people may not even be able to get cable modems from Time Warner and so use a much slower and costlier satellite confiugration. If they are in the forest blocking the satellite option and more than a few miles from the nearest telephone wire center (for DSL), forget about it.

By 2011 I moved away from the DSD Disc (ISO) format and just started offering to download the DSF files from my website. Then in 2013 a number of retailers came online to offer DSD downloads and that was great.

Nothing against large file downloads (I guess averages of my stereo DSD files are somewhere around 200MB per song and multichannel maybe 500 per song) but a lot of people around the world and in the US still have trouble with this today. Those files can be hard to retrieve and they take up a lot of space if you have a lot of music. (And they are hard to fit more than a small number into your smartphone.)

Problems often come from slow or interrupted Internet links, confusion on what to even do with files once they are downloaded, or combinations of other things like Safari browsers that insert .TXT file extensions on downloaded files because the server they got the (DSD) file from (like Dropbox) does not properly identify the MIME type for .DSF and .DFF music files.

Aren’t you sorry you asked?

It’s enough to … … … …. ………

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few years ago I thought I’d offer to make downloads and their problems go away for those not interested in the challenge but who wanted the music. So I provided a way to purchase the music as a little USB stick I would then mail to you. You get the USB stick, put it in your computer or BDP player and get right to it.

No one came….

Today I am offering a similar thing but this time using DVD discs as data.

http://davidelias.com/dsd_on_dvd_data_discs/

These are just the same kind of good quality DVD discs anyone could burn files to off their PC/Mac for either video or just data. A blank single layer (SL), single sided disc has a 4.7 GB capacity. A double layer (DL) has twice that or 8.5GB. My multichannel SACDs require either 2 SL DVDs or 1 DL DVD.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Why would I do that you ask?

If you don’t like downloading large files but want to listen to the excellent qualities of DSD as the native source format for the hi-res recordings I have released, you might try buying the DVD version and just getting it in the mail.

The sound files are 100% identical to what is online for download. They are the same as what is/was on the SACDs for that matter. Many of my DSD titles were never SACD. These are now all available on DVD disc as well, not just as downloads.

You just pop the DVD into your OPPO or Sony or other Blu-ray/SACD/DVD/CD player (aka BDP for Blu-ray Disc Player) and select Music from from the menu.¬† On my OPPO 103 this is the first icon after the disc (audio CD/video DVD) icon and is called “Music”.

The DVD will then show up on your screen as a “Data Disc” choice (as opposed to, say “USB”).¬† Selecting the Data Disc media then shows the album song list just as it would from a CD or SACD.

Click on a song, play and enjoy. It continues to play songs from there to the end of the list like any CD/SACD.

If you like (and highly suggested by me), just copy the original DVD data to your computer or any backup media you use. In other words, back it up when it’s brand new. No DRM – if you don’t know what that means, good on you.

You can also play the files on your computer from your software media player through your DAC as DoP like any other DSD download. Just put the disc in the computer CD/DVD drive (just a CD drive won’t work) and select those files from your media player software (JRiver, Amarra, Audirvana….).¬† They then play DSD through your external DSD DAC (Mytek, iFi Audio, OPPO….).

DSD on DVD Data Discs. Hope this helps.

Questions about DVD Data Discs? Post a reply and I’ll answer you best I can.

Aloha!

~ DE
http://facebook.com/davideliasmusic
http://youtube.com/davideliasvideo
http://davidelias-mqa.com


 

5 Of My Personal Favorite HiFi Audio Gadgets Under $500.

NOTE: I’m not a gear reviewer, just a serious listener for my own enjoyment as well as recording artist trying to get the best sounds on my budget for preparing and editing my own music.

I’ve always had the need to buy things that were on the economy side as much as possible. But my needs for high quality in a lot of the things I am most fond of, particularly music never wants to bend to economics.

So over the years I’ve become persistently good at finding the right products in my price ranges that give me the best sound and best operation overall for music. In our world of virtual realities this is true of guitars, computers, software, microphones, DACs, Preamps/Amplifiers, Internet access, speakers and other disparate things never lumped together in the past so intimately.

I have some favorites for listening to good recordings!

Feel free to contact me via my web page if you have questions about anything I wrote about here. The revolving product I have to buy every 3-5 years that is not listed below is the PC notebook I use for computer audio, a huge part of my world. I spend $250 to $400 on these and can always find the high end portable notebook I need (currently 6GB RAM, i5 Intel quad core 2.6gHz, 1TB 7200rpm drive, 3 USB, 1 HDMI, 14″ screen, CD/DVD RW, Win7 Pro x64).

Aloha!

~ DE


OPPO HA-2¬† –¬† $299
While this product has been updated at OPPO by the HA-2SE model at the same price, I have been using the portable HA-2 headphone amplifier, DSD/PCM DAC, iPhone recharger for several years now since its release.

oppo-ha2

It might be easier to describe this beauty in terms of what it doesn’t do as an optimal mobile HRA device (my term), since it has so many interrelated functions. Overall it is the perfect mobile or home device to handle the digital to analog conversion of music on your computer or iPhone/Android and deliver it to either your headphones/earbuds or wired home stereo/studio.

In addition it has a good 4+ hours of battery that will provide DC voltage to your iPhone while traveling in airplanes and the like. It is portable enough to fit in a shirt pocket or banded together (they provide the thick bands…) with your iPhone in a jean jacket.

The HA-2 charges my iPhone 5S at least 1.5 times during travel, so a fully charged iPhone to begin with can play music with the HA-2 handling DSD64 or 128 and any bitrate PCM you throw at it for flights across the mainland or to Hawaii.

The software player I use to handle hi-res audio files I load onto the iPhone is Onkyo’s HF Player. You download the free version first, then upgrade for $9.99 to handle the hi-res which hands DSD audio to the HA-2 using DoP up to DSD128. All PCM and MP3/AAC can be upsampled to DSD in this mode. Nice!¬† High Precision gives you better signal to noise ratio (i.e., better sound) at a battery use price.

Onkyo’s HF Player app is accessed from the iTunes setup of your iPhone to load the hi-res files (beware this is klunky but can be done). Otherwise it easily finds and plays all your iTunes songs on your iPhone better than the stock Apple music app (reread the upsample to DSD above).

All in all the HA-2 is an incredible value for delivering the highest quality digital audio to your headphones or your home stereo setup. There is both a line out and headphone jack. The analog volume control gives you precise control over gain on the headphone side. I use it this way to feed my preamp too.

Here’s the PDF user guide:
http://download.oppodigital.com/Docs/HA-2%20User%20Manual%20US%20V1.1.pdf

Oh, and it has a patented fast charging AC adapter that recharges the HA-2 in no time.

 

Meridian Explorer2 MQA DAC – $299

This is the product that for me broke the floodgates of what a listener can actually experience with PCM masters, from CD to hi-res DXD at 24/352.8 or 24/384. It was  the first DAC to hit the streets that decoded MQA in lossless PCM master files of any format (WAV, AIF, FLAC, ALAC, etc.).

explorer2

In 2015 I’d been reading about MQA and all the trials and tribulations of its definition and promises for producing digital audio content as artists and producers had at least heard it in their mastering studio, if not necessarily intended (my humor). It was interesting reading to say the least and the more I read the more interest I had in hearing it.

Using the Explorer2 beginning in February 2016, I started hearing masters created by some of the highest regarded studios in the world, including Norway’s 2L. I was familiar with and owned 2L’s early SACD releases and now saw some of those titles released as MQA DXD downloads.

What I then heard was unlike any PCM master I’d listened to before in the natural sounding reproduction of especially acoustic sounds (my favorite kind).

For $299, the listener had a full PCM DAC up to 24/192 with two outputs for headphones as well as line level to a home stereo/studio setup. That price hasn’t changed as I write this.

This portable (very small and weightless) convenient way of hearing excellent quality PCM of any quality recordings can now be attached via its USB connector to any computer and used to decode streaming music from TIDAL at full “unfolded” rates.

So the streaming bitrate is roughly that of a CD (1.411mbps) depending on the master format (FLAC/ALAC are typically <1.0mbps), but the unfolded bit rate can be as hi-res as 24/192k (9.4mbps, upper limit of the Explorer2, not the limit of all MQA DACs).

My one complaint is the finicky USB connection for this DAC. It seems to lose its USB connection to the PC at the slightest movement. No substituted USB cables seem to improve this condition. It is also slightly annoyingly upside down based on the USB connector orientation which leaves the LEDs facing down.

I believed in the authenticity and comfortable enjoyable listening of what I heard as PCM using the Explorer2 so much that I became an MQA Ltd. artist/content partner and with their help converted all my CD and hi-res masters to MQA encoding for others to download or stream.

 

OPPO PM-3 Closed Planar Magnetic Headphones – $399

Prices for headphones are as volatile in ranges as the Dow month to month. What sounds good sometimes works for some, even as studio/industry standards, but either costs at least twice the PM-3 price, or just doesn’t sound as good to others.

What I found with this comfortable setup is a highly unintrusive sounding headphone that shields me from outside noise distractions (I hate those) and is comfortable enough to wear for a few hours at a time. They have a clean alive sound that isn’t biased towards either sizzling highs or thumping bass lines and kick drum samples.

oppo-pm3

OPPO loves good sound as represented by all of their products and these are no exception in a price range many can afford compared to other big names in studio quality headphones.¬† A single stereo 1/8″ cable comes with this which is convenient for wearing as well.

You can read about planar magnetic approaches to speakers and headphones elsewhere. I like them because of their flat honest sound reproduction abilities.

 

Zipbuds Pro – about $25

I found and ordered these a couple years back on a whim based on price and the description of the product which included reference to a military grade fibers that don’t decompose in the weather and rain (Hawaii weather decomposes everything from cars to houses to electronic gear in no time).

Also descriptions of the care taken to complete the audio quality as well as patented zipper approach to no-tangle were attractive. A (very very good) noise cancelling mic for iPhone use was a coup de gras.  For $25 what the heck (list may be closer to $50 but easy to find online for $25 or so).

zipbudspro

I had hated earbuds forever, but Zipbuds allowed me to recover from that remarkably. Their product description did not even mention solving one crucial factor that has had me rejecting all earbuds since the earliest Apple iPhone set in 2007: They really hurt my ears to wear.

Zipbuds fit your ears at an angle. There is a soft rubberized attachment fitted in the 3 sizes (SML) they include. The angular thing greatly helps both comfort and sound problems. I never take the Zipbuds out because they are starting to hurt my ears. That is remarkable.

There is clearly a left and right for fit and sound (which changes dramatically if they are reversed). While the R/L is not well marked on the Zipbuds themselves you just need the logo on the zipper facing out and you got it right.

I have also found more than subtle differences in SQ based on how firmly the Zipbuds are inserted in my ears. If I want more bass, I simply push them in a little further. Is that design or simply the convenience of fate?

I’ve shared these as gifts with lots of people, strict audiophiles and otherwise. Without exception they have been received with the same enthusiasm as I have for them.¬† My second or third set came with¬† a note in the box with the CEO Rob’s phone number saying to call if I wanted.

So I did call Rob one day and had a great conversation with him about hi-res in general. They are working hard to make it feel and sound right for their customers and have been at it a good long time now in Internet years.

For travel and on the go, nothing beats Zipbuds for quality of sound and convenience. I eagerly participated in their 2016 Kickstarter campaign for their new Catalyst product which is not shipping yet (ok, they are late by a month or two so far…).

Catalyst is a very high quality Bluetooth wireless set of balanced (fitted/weighted) earbuds that deploy AptX and AAC for lossless delivery of sound to the listener without wires.  Check it out.

No wires – 16 hrs battery for playtime, lossless sound quality, comfortable fit. Wireless is where I’m headed in every aspect of what I’m doing with electronics.

 

iFi Audio Micro iTube preamp/buffer – $329

Another great product I have is the original version of this product. It refers to itself as the Swiss Army Knife of Audio.

An iTube2 was just released by this highly innovative and nimble company. iFi-Audio.com has some killer products they deliver to audio lovers at great economy worldwide. Everything from portable DSD/PCM DACs to headphone amps to USB filters and special cables.

ifiaudio-itube

Here’s the relatively new setup I now buy into with my ears: Tube preamplifiers are the best staging device for any good solid state amplifier.

I place the iFi-Audio iTube in between my OPPO 103 SACD/DVD/Blu-ray player and the amplifier I am using (currently NAD 906 multichannel). Having used other preamps and AV processors (all solid state) I immediately found the tube result to be a much more natural sounding delivery from the amp to the speakers.

Everything just sounds better but most noticeable was the serious bottom coming through my Monitor Audio Gold Series towers. I can’t get that acoustic upright or electric bass and kick drum to sound any more coincidentally solid and spacious in the room (wood floors and ceilings) any other way. Voices and instruments also lost edges and yes, even shimmered.

Another huge benefit here for the $329 price is that it will allow many who are mistakenly playing DSD as converted PCM in a player such as the OPPO 103 to now correctly configure the OPPO to convert native DSD directly to analog to send to the iTube preamp.

NOTE WITH CAUTION: To do this make sure OPPO is set to play SACD as “DSD” not “PCM” and disable Audio on HDMI. ****** Be sure not to set SACD playback to DSD unless you have volume control through a preamp or other means – Otherwise you can send 100% gain to your amplifier and do some damage to your speakers, ears and maybe more.******

You can read more on this from my post in 2013: Bartender, Give Me A Sandwich.

I typically use the iTube “Digital Antidote” feature that notably reduces ringing and digital distortion.¬† I typically do not use the 3D Holographic sound feature.