Category Archives: DIY

No One Has Heard These Tracks – now MQA CD online at CD Baby

New Release 2017 – Two Track Mind – Solo Acoustic!
http://cdbaby.com/cd/davidelias19

No one has heard these solo acoustic tracks. They are recorded with just 2 microphones (2 tracks!) on voice and guitar. There is nothing edited. Recorded and mixed digitally as hi-res, then mastered for CD release (16/44.1).

MQA Encoding provided by MQA Ltd., UK greatly restores the source PCM recordings to the natural ambient nature of the room and performance. Mic’d close and intimate. Solo Acoustic.
Hear it for yourself…. Online CD is for sale.

Plays from any CD player and sounds way acoustic live studio!

Plays with Studio Authenticated MQA from CD or ripped (ALAC, FLAC, WAV, AIF). I don’t know where else MQA CD’s are being sold, but here’s one online through good old CD Baby…. Aloha!

davidelias-twotrackmind-3

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Back To San G… $5 off CD Masters (MQA Encoded for Best Sound Quality)

Back in the Store – Oct 9th (Sun) and 14th (Fri) – San Gregorio, Calif.

There’s nothing like a good old General Store that serves beverages and hosts live music to help an autumn weekend out on the Northern California Coast.

I’m back visiting San G. in October – Please come with some friends and family to the shows there on Sunday October 9th (2pm to 5pm) and Friday October 14th (5pm to 7pm).

Here’s their schedule and directions online: SanGregorioStore.com


CD Masters – $5 downloads (with MQA encoding for best sound quality)

To make it offishal, for the next 30 days you can download any of the first 4 CDs I created back in the day (1995 to 2000) as CD Master downloads for $5.

$5 for any of these titles using the discount code for each album shown below.

Lost in the Green – acoustic coffeehouse first CD release 1995/96 – album cover photograph is San G. above the Store off Stage Rd. (same location as scenic pan in this email!).

Use this code:   LITG75

Time Forgets – kind of LITG Part 2, some electric instruments added 1997/98 – album cover photo is from one of the annual Greenpeace weekend concerts that went on for 20+ years there.

Use this code:   TF75

The Blue Planet – a concept recorded for the planet in 1998 – album cover photo is a blue disc :)

Use this code:   BP50

Half An Hour Away – acoustic trio with mando and flute – live session 2000/01 – album cover photo is from Inverness on Tomales Bay near Pt. Reyes Nat’l. Seashore.

Use this code:   HAHA75


You can preview the songs on each album page. The downloads are the CD masters with MQA encoding and will play on any media player or you can burn a CD with it.

For the best sound quality, please avoid the Bandcamp default of MP3 format and select one of these from the dropdown list to dowload: FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIF.  You can always download any of the formats anytime after purchase. You can also always stream from the album page online using your smartphone, tablet or computer.


Hope all’s well and wishing you Aloha! Hope to see some of you again in October.

– DE


4 MQA Songs to Try (1 Free) – CD to Hi-Res

Introducing you to MQA with 4 songs.

UPDATED Jan 18, 2017
These 4 songs now download for $4. There is 1 free track available
——————————————————

Here is how MQA Ltd. described me in their newsletter this week (emphasis is mine):

MQA Artist Release
Sound quality has been a driving motivation for singer-songwriter David Elias since he started recording his music digitally more than 20 years ago. On listening to some of his earliest recordings encoded with MQA, David noted, “The original intention and sounds are much more accurately represented [with MQA] and are therefore much, much more enjoyable to listen to. The convenience of MQA’s smaller file size is an additional no-brainer.” 

This paragraph says a lot for me because I’ve lived with CD and its problems with sound quality as long as everyone else. In fact I had no CDs long after many did, sticking to vinyl and even my own mix tape cassettes (analog ruled) for years after the CD deluge. It sounded better. I liked album covers. What can I say.

I broke my teeth on CD quality recording in 1995 making my first CD in a home studio setup. I recorded to Hi-8 Video Tape at 16/48 on an 8-track Tascam DA-88. I’d recorded myself at times on various tape machines and a few digital boxes for almost 20 years but this was much different.

I listened to a lot of everything I put on tape through that whole process of recording, mixing analog (lengend original Mackie 1202!) to 16/44.1 (Sony TCD-10 DAT) and then mastered on a DyaxisII Workstation. It sounded good and in fact better in the studio than on the final CD that was printed.

Those early CDs and many later recordings were either created or converted to PCM to be moved online one way or another. All my released songs are on YouTube Music now for example, as audio, as well as lots of other places, like 50 or more. The more they travel in the Etherspace the worse they sound generally.  They get downsampled and converted into whatever suits the retailer or streaming radio like Pandora (one of my least favorites for sound quality).

But shoots, I want to get heard…otherwise I wouldn’t put music I write out there in the first place.

Enter MQA… I started listening to it in February on hi-res converted music from 2L in Norway. Classical works. I knew some of them from 10+ years prior as SACDs I had actually been given by Morten Lindberg there. 2L put MQA converted masters (DXD conversions which are PCM at 24/352.8) online to try as well as other hi-res formats. I was using a Meridian Explorer2 MQA DAC connected to my Dell Windows 10 notebook running the latest JRiver.

All I can say is I didn’t hear anything I didn’t like, and in some cases heard some things I really really liked.

So I started listening to other MQA encoded tracks. MQA is not a new audio format. It is still linear PCM, just has its own corrections (aka filtering) applied to the encoding of the music.

 What I started paying attention to more and more and hearing more and more were the timing coherence corrections in the playback. What PCM has always done to my ears, along with countless others, is present a very sharp unnatural edge to the sound that can get worse for me the louder or harder the music is played. It doesn’t flow like vinyl, cassette, or DSD. Usually it kind of attacks quickly, then disappears. It’s not relaxing, let me put it that way.

MQA encoded tracks I listened to had lost much of that sharp attack, no decay characteristic. They were well presented and much easier to listen to. They positioned things more clearly in the stereo space noticeably including the front and back locations in addition to left and right. The soundstage was then more 2 dimensional with depth as well as 3 dimensional with up and down.

This listening started with a lot of music I didn’t know, yet I was happy to listen to it with open ears so to speak.

Over the next few months, I decided I wanted to hear some of my PCM recordings as MQA and started making inquiries as to how I might do that. In the end, I became an MQA artist partner and have converted my catalog and archives to MQA encoded PCM.

I’ve actually had most of my catalog online as PCM on the Bandcamp site (http://davidelias.bandcamp.com) as CD quality up to 24/88.2 for a couple years now. Now most of that has been updated to download in the smaller FLAC or ALAC MQA encoded files.

Overall, MQA sounded better to me than any CD or hi-res PCM master I had. It doesn’t need much more proof to me. I have read a lot about the “what it is” and “why it works” to understand that better, but after my intro through reading and some YouTubes, I just started listening a lot. I still am.

What About The 4 Songs…  The first album on the page at the link above is a free download. You can also stream it as much as you want. Bandcamp lets you download songs in a variety of formats. The default is MP3.  Don’t download it as MP3! 

MQA requires what’s called a lossless format — The 4 big lossless formats being used out there are the original WAV (PC) and AIF (Mac) and their file (not audio) compressed counterparts FLAC (PC) and ALAC (Mac).  Choose one of those when you download from anywhere no matter what the site or music! It is not missing some of its music from the original like MP3!

FLAC and ALAC are roughly 1/2 the size of WAV and AIF. They sound identical and are better at carrying the magic metadata or tags that include all the song and album info for the media player to display when playing the track.

MP3 and Apple’s AAC use math to remove audio data in an original CD or hi-res audio master to make it a much smaller file (in general about 1/10th the size). That was the strategy from the beginning when everyone was dialing up the Internet on modems. It made sense then as one didn’t want to stay online for hours or days to download an album. Apple cemented that approach since iTunes Store came online in 2004. How long will that go on? As long as people buy it I guess.

 Excuse Me, What About The 4 Songs…  Ok, I have a lot of MQA encoded music I am really kind of hearing for the first time myself. This includes both very good and some not so great recordings (like live public hall stuff through a single $99 Sony stereo mic to DAT).

Most of it got created as a PCM recording. The MQA encoded versions of these tracks changed how they sound to me and took me a lot closer to the original performance whether was studio or live stage. It sounds more like the sound in the room at the time and what was played and I am relaxed when I listen to it because of that.

Go here and try 4 songs at 3 different PCM resolutions, all encoded as MQA

https://davidelias.bandcamp.com/album/mqa-track-sampler-any-player-works-1-free-track

If I went into too much detail this email might get long :)

Here’s the (short) not so fine print:

1) If you have an MQA DAC you can hear the full resolution up to 24/352.8 or the limits of your MQA DAC.

2) If you don’t have an MQA DAC you can just play it anyway at 16/44.1, 24/44.1 or 24/48 depending on source track

3) If you get an MQA DAC later (or the media players do it for you) you’ll hear the hi-res then

 The song audio resolutions range from CD (16/44.1) hi-res (24/96) to DXD (24/352.8). They are all only about as big as a CD file to download (about 700MB), maybe a little bigger.

CD’s sound better as MQA to me with or without the MQA DAC gear. You can just play them. I’ve had different people tell me the same thing about my stuff. So far I have heard its biggest benefits on the lowest res recordings. I might even know why.

If you have questions you can reply to this email, it just comes to me…I hope you try downloading the tracks. If you have an MQA DAC, don’t stream them, download them!

Thanks For Listening!

DE
http://www.davidelias-mqa.com (MQA Downloads)
http://www.davidelias.com/dsd_downloads (DSD Downloads)
http://youtube.com/davideliasvideo

Illegal Copy #2 – Decrypted

From A Mythical Musical Space Into The Ether.

Those who were there in 2002 and have heard these tracks have said similar things about it. It was a time to be there. It was a feeling to be shared. It was music to breathe in. It was organic.

Illegal Copy #2 was recorded directly to stereo on a 1-bit 48kHz Sony DAT (TCD-8) using a single small Sony stereo mic setup on a mic stand in the middle of the San Gregorio Store facing the band and PA.

The music came in to everyone’s ears and into the Sony mic the same way.

 I mastered the songs captured on Illegal Copy #2 (basically a single set from that day, in order) back then in 2002. I then designed the disc image you see here and burned a handful of copies and printed and glued the sticker image on them and gave them to people in the band and some local friends who had been there. It was a bootleg.

Then time went by.

When I recently decrypted the lost copy of that bootleg and played it I was taken back to a very special time, place, and people, and sound that I didn’t want to lose again.

So I created the album here on Bandcamp where you can listen to it. If you want, you can then download it and stream it anywhere. It doesn’t exist anywhere else.

https://davidelias.bandcamp.com/album/illegal-copy-2

Here are the fine musicians with me from The Great Unknown some 15 years prior and I’m still very proud to know them:

Gary MacArthur – tenor sax, flute
Lisa Kelly – mandolin, backing vocal
Scott Beynon – bass
Perry Thorwaldson – drums
Reid Dennis – percussion
Iseult Jordan – special guest and friend on “Stone House on Blueberry Hill”

It’s always about the music – Aloha!

– DE

PS – if you are interested in an MQA encoded copy of this album, reply to me and let me know.

Rare To Go – December Solstice CD & Download…

Click Here to find the CD package online, and the Mastered CD tracks to Download…

3D Animation of the package…

For the Solstice and Holidays, and with 25% discount on both the CD package (ready for shipping around New Year’s Day) or the CD Master audio download (ready now as WAV, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF), I want to share what I came to think of as something like my musical diary of a working band.

The Story…

It was more than just finding a new CD to come up with. In fact it started with me over a period of months just listening to tracks that had accumulated at different times on a mastering/recording box I have (Alesis ML-9600).

Some of these were mixed DSD studio takes downsampled to CD resolution for reviewing, others were live band rehearsals capturing the room in stereo with 2 mics. Others were from shows where I had a DAT recorder at 16/48 plugged into a mixing board.

So the story of how events (rehearsal, studio recording, live shows) progressed at seemingly random steps slowly emerged from these playbacks. Then I wanted to organize a thread of them for myself as a warm recollection of a lot of talent and a lot of work and even more so, the fun and enjoyment shared among the musicians during the journeys.


The CD…

And that was the genesis of this different kind of album. It’s one that took all the hi-res and lo-res, well prepared and getting prepared, and live material, and put 10 songs together that helped visualize in an audio fashion that story, ending with my migration to Hawaii (“Help Yourself”on ukelele). It’s just my personal version of that story through these tracks. I am so grateful to have been part of it.

Click Here for the 18-page CD booklet as a PDF with Notes, Lyrics, Photos, and Links.

Then I wanted to share it with anyone interested. I also wanted to optimize the fact that all the source recordings were going to be mastered as a homogenous album for CD release. In other words, all I wanted was a good sounding CD, nothing else. This is not the focus of the SACD hybrids or DSD Downloads. So I then worked critically on that final CD mastering using the tools I had.

A lot of people who have been listening to me for 20 years or so haven’t had time or inclination to get on fast tracks to h-res and all the gear and software that takes plenty of both of those ingredients (time & inclination), not to mention some extra dough.

I felt in a retro way that it should be simple to provide an honest and very good sounding CD to anyone and everyone, instead of isolating the music towards only those with hi-res (DSD, HRA) inclinations. Something to carry to the car or to someone’s house or to just keep laying around in the living room to play a bunch…


The Holidays…

So by putting this out I’m breaking down some of the walls I myself created diving into hi-res (which I still love don’t get me wrong). And this disc still contains all the important qualities I’ve been tuned into for all these years: good honest performances, good room/mood/ambient captured in recordings, and good studio preparation (mix/master) for release. Is it hi-res? No. Does it sound real, live and natural with high quality? Yes!

So here it is for you to enjoy as well. In addition to the 25% discount offer that is good through New Year’s Eve 2015, I am including a free copy of the “David Elias & The CasualTees” CD with all of the CD disc orders. This has a limited edition quantity (signed if you like, one or both discs) of 50.

Use these Discount Codes for the Bandcamp 25% off:

CD (w/ downloads and streaming): raretogo_cd

Download Only (with streaming): raretogo_download

The CD will begin shipping right around New Year’s Day 2016 + 1… (that’s Jan 2nd or so).  Yes if you buy the CD you get the CD Master downloads as well as unlimited streaming from the album page. Bandcamp happens to sound very good to me, however it is streaming the CD and HRA masters I have there. You can in fact preview any of the albums I have there in full — not clips, the whole song.

You can find either media to order using the discount codes above right here on Bandcamp…

When I get the discs (I like the new package a lot!) that are being replicated right now (real CD’s not CD-R’s) I’ll start shipping the CD orders to you with the free “Live in San G.” copy as well.

I suggest you download the PDF to read and reference for all the lyrics and other notes. The lyrics are even written like a story this time (i.e., paragraphs). What can I say, it just happened.

 Be Well…

So be well and enjoy yourself through the holidays and into the new year. My thanks to you always for listening and to the musicians and studio/sound people on these tracks with endless gratitude.

Aloha,

DE

Celebrating Independence – Download a Track

Happy July 4th – Download a track.

For the July 4th weekend and in celebration of Independent Artists everywhere, here is a link to grab a different sound from me on a song called “Poor Polly”. It can be downloaded as DSD, WAV or MP3 — take any or all…

Click here to get the downloads and lyrics…

“Poor Polly” is a rambly track (over 8 minutes) recorded studio live to DSD on Sonoma by Charlie Natzke at Slipperworld.net.  The non-acoustic quartet is me, Charlie (electric guitar), Scott Beynon (electric bass), Ken Owen (drums).

The song is included on my Coffeehouse DSD Playlist #1 sampler of my hi-res recordings through these years.

Hope you enjoy this and have a great weekend. For all of you in the U.S.A…Happy July 4th!

Aloha!
– DE

Go Get Some…Hi-Rez…

What’s New and How You Can Get Some…

David Elias - Independent Acoustic

David Elias – Independent Acoustic


I have been watching and listening to the way online music is changing further towards higher quality on almost a daily basis. One of the latest rockets here is that Sony is now opening their vault of master archives and letting the hi-rez bug put their titles online as downloads in the DSD format.

What’s that mean to you? I think it means a lot for anyone who has listened to vinyl, analog tapes (reel-to-reel), or other HD quality downloads from the ever increasing number of sources that give you something beyond the CD quality we’ve grown accustomed to, but not comfortable with.

You can watch the supposed 500 titles from Sony start appearing at http://SuperHiRez.com now through the end of the year. There are already a few hundred HD (FLAC and ALAC to 176.4k, 24-bit) and DSD64 downloads up there.

Click on the “Digital Downloads” menu in the left column to select specific formats. I’m still in their Top Seller 25 list with “Acoustic Trio DSD Sessions” and “The Window” so thank you if you helped with that.


As you must know by now, I care a lot about how things sound, mostly because there are ways to record and produce things that others can listen to (discs, downloads, videos, streaming mp3’s…) and cause them them say things like: “How did you make that sound so natural and real?”, and “How do you get the bass to sound like that?”, and “I never heard that on the CD!”, and “This is almost as good as my vinyl”, or “This is the best #**@#$(#$ thing I ever heard!”…

So listening to music gets fun again and more relaxed and more enjoyable as a pastime, and not necessarily as a background sound filler.  That is something I like a lot!

If you are into Classical and Rare Audiophile Recordings, try browsing High Definition Tape Transfers…They have HD and DSD for Baroque, Chamber, Orchestral, Symphonies, Jazz…You can find my DSD albums there as well. Thanks Bob!

The new release of the “Acoustic Trio DSD Sessions” recorded by Charlie Natzke at Slipperworld.net is a set of 14 songs recorded in 3.5 hrs. by me (acoustic/vocal/harmonica), Charlie (acoustic/vocal), and Chris Kee (upright bass).  We had the windows open (you can hear the redwing blackbirds on one track). We were standing about arms length from each other in a circle. We had our mics bleeding into each other…

We recorded to Sonoma DSD64 live with no overdubs. Nothing was edited.  I mixed this on Sonoma in a day and a night. The Sony mixer card allowed me to do that without ever converting the source tracks from DSD to anything else, even to analog and then back to DSD. The result is 100% pure DSD.

So it is a very live acoustic natural reproduction of a studio performance of the trio. Some people feel this is my most “authentic” recording. Their impression may be so because there are only 3 instruments to pick out and spatially they are represented in stereo in just the way they were recorded.  As I told a friend online, you have to stop thinking of “L/R” (left/right) and think of a performance of 3 guys standing in a circle and you sitting or standing there with them.

I now have the HD version of this album as an 24-bit, 88.2kHz FLAC download for those not using DSD playback hardware or software.  In addition, you get the smaller files as MP3-320 (320kHz) to use in your Smartphone or tablet.

The HD version is now online for $14.95.

The DSD (which also includes FLAC and MP3-320 copies) is also there for $24.95.

You can find these downloads at http://www.davidelias.com

If you have any questions, just reply to this email. Hardware and software for DSD playback is getting easier and cheaper to find. If you are interested in learning more about it, I can try to answer your questions. Two good sources to search for info are Positive Feedback and DSD Guide.

Thanks for Listening!
If it sounds good, it is good…


If you are interested in creating a DSD multitrack recording of your own, contact Charlie Natzke via email – He’s in La Honda, CA at Slipperworld.net.

Charlie is the studio and DSD engineer behind my “Crossing” and “Acoustic Trio” recordings. Another new DSD album release I hope to get out this year is one more project Charlie setup the studio for, recorded to DSD on Sonoma and mixed as analog. He’s da man!

My song “Silver Pen” online for download now is a single from this next DSD album release. It lets you compare different audio formats to hear the differences for yourself. It cost $4.99 for all 5 formats (DSF, FLAC 24/96, WMA Lossless 24/96, WAV 16/44.1 (CD), MP3-320).

Aloha!

– DE

DRM – another high ladder out the window

When Sony introduced Super Audio CD (SACD or SA-CD) in the early part of the 21st century, the media platform was rolled out with two main ingredients:

1) Superior sound quality in the form of DSD (Direct Stream Digital) sampling at 2.8MHz, 1-bit

2) Digital Rights Management (DRM) in the case of SACD was provided using digital watermarking where the disc’s physical pits are used to create a signature that prevents copying to another physical media

http://www.sony.net/Products/SC-HP/cx_news/vol17/pdf/tw_saud.pdf

Now over a decade later, Sony announced their High Resolution Audio (HRA) platform that again embraces DSD mastered recordings but this time in the form of downloads.

These DSD downloads are already appearing from titles bearing some of the big names out there like Shelby Lynne, Norah Jones, Counting Crowes, Rickie Lee Jones, as well as classic and classical names including Muddy Waters, John Coltrane, Bille Holiday, Charles Mingus and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

http://store.acousticsounds.com/index.cfm?get=topsellers&Field_cat=372

There are many more from the Sony vaults and other vaults to follow.

Guess what’s missing from this High Fidelity (HRA, Hi-Rez) campaign?
DRM! Copy protection! It’s out the window!!

Of course the whole world has already gone through this a few times starting with Napster which was forced to shut down (kind of like our recent government) in July, 2001 as a contributor, not a perpetrator, of copyright infringement. It had been operating for a couple years as the shared storage for P2P music downloads (they didn’t call it a Cloud then). In 2001 they had around 25 million subscribers.

I have been online with free downloads as MP3s since 1995. I still have free downloads online. Napster has been closed, bankrupt, reemerged, then bought and sold to Rhapsody. Regardless, the music is still getting moved around into players and then people’s ears…

There have been many other companies and initiatives in this free distribution direction. Somehow Apple’s iTunes thinks there is a “safe” limit of around 5 or 6 “authorized” PCs/Macs to allow receipt and hosting of their downloads.

What I’m asking is, will anyone *always* download something that’s free and *never* download something that costs money?

So what is DRM to anyone? Music is shared. Music is bought. As Gillian Welch sings in her 2002 ‘Time (The Revelator)’ song: “Everything is free now”. She goes on to sing “That’s what they say…everything i ever done…gonna give it away…”

A record industry that has been obsessed with making it difficult if not impossible to copy a good recording is now being led by a company that embraces digital file downloads which are highly likely to live (be copied) in more than one location at one time.

Jane Siberry began offering her music online many years ago (already) based on the premise that the artist (and the Sheeba Records label in her case) should not be in a position to decide for the listener what the recording is worth. Rather the listener should decide what it’s worth!  She still runs the web store that way. You can set the price. It’s up to you.

I sold CDs at shows that way for many years – you pay (or not pay) what you want. Self-service all the way. I was also opening some shows for Jane Siberry at that time.

What I found over the years, was that it never mattered what price I set or didn’t set on selling music. I sold about the same amounts no matter what it cost the buyer! My free downloads are not especially popular because they are free. They follow the same cycles as the stuff getting paid for. It’s more about the music…

Sure music is a business and an industry and everyone should get paid. But who is everyone? I think the recent official DRM ladder removal may be a precursor to the removal of some business layers that maybe shouldn’t be there or are at least are not necessary.

It may end up being an unintended consequence of pointing to the essence of “free”, which to me means “independent”.

Start your own label, see what happens…

“but i’m gonna do it anyway
even if it doesn’t pay….”
– gillian welch

kathmandu

kathmandu

aspen rose – beauty in the wilderness

the story of aspen rose is a complete sequence of life in four verses starting with the innocence and beauty of youth, the connections between all of us and all things on the planet back to nature itself and the planet we are all in and part of (not on and owners of), the powers of the romantic in all of us and the quest for communication and connection to and comfort with the essential beauty in ourselves through others, and finally our depature from our present incarnation with some better love and understanding of the universe that lies ahead in our imagination…

_______________________________________________________________________________

aspen rose

aspen rose your toes remind me of a summer lost
beauty in the wilderness unspoiled and untamed
aspen rose your ruby nose reminds me of another frost
straight down from the north comes forth
we’re boiling tea again

aspen rose your blonde hair glows as sunrise
easing up the mountains
you’re wandering through the pines
aspen rose your youth shows
silent as the twilight
settling through the window
calming down my inner mind

aspen rose recall those nights when we were strangers
unknowing to the dangers
that surrounded us like thieves
aspen rose nobody knows
how things could not change
we flowed like a river
right beneath october trees

aspen rose i’ll go i’m sorry that i’m weary
afraid that i have come too far
in far too short a time
aspen rose your heart’s
the slowest burning fire
i’ll ever know
it’s time to go
i love you more than i

_______________________________________________________________________________

recorded off grid at kitchen table to a korg mr-1
on battery as dsd64 in hamakua, east hawaii

windows open, chimes ringing, gecko chirping,
$89 nylon string guitar from hilo guitars

used the korg 2m-cm stereo mic that came
with the mr-1 offloaded directly from
mr-1without edits or eq of any kind

** this is an HD video – please set youtube to 720p
(change video res thru the little gear icon on the
lower right of the video player **

early photos in the video taken in the san mateo hills
(way up on skyline) on the peninsula in the sf bay area

the later photos in the video are reverse shots from all the way
down near the bay at the leo j. ryan memorial park in foster city looking
out and back up at the san mateo hills where the inital photos came from
_____________________________________

DSD Bartender — Give Me A PCM Sandwich!

Direct Stream Digital (DSD)

The great news is that hi-rez (aka hi-res, HRA, or HD) audio is getting lots of renewed attention these days, by the likes of Sony and all kinds of audio loving creators and consumers.

I think that’s a great thing because if we would all just remember to slow down a little and maybe sit down and just listen to some nice music more often (like many of us used to do every day!) then we might all feel just a little better about the rest of what’s going on around us.

At 80 years old, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote that without music our civilization would have ended long ago. I’d have to agree with that. Pursuing a certain quality to whatever kind of music we might listen to is worthwhile. Music isn’t a distraction to many. It’s an essential part of our civilization and our lives.

DSD (Direct Stream Digital) is the High Resolution Audio (HRA in Sony’s acronymous world) that has been around as the media format behind SACD (Super Audio CD) which came out nearly 15 years ago. SACD kind of went invisible for awhile due to lack of the music industry’s support, but now is coming back around for big press and lots of attention and ears (new and renewed).

It has been reborn in the form of DSD Downloads, with the same audio quality of any equivalent SACD.

My question is:  How many people out there think they are listening to DSD and are actually not hearing DSD but a PCM conversion of their DSD source track?

DSD DISTILLED CORRECTLY…

Frequently DSD is being changed (converted) by hardware and software alike into the more ubiquitous PCM format before it reaches your ears.

What’s confusing, or worse is completely unknown to many listeners and audiophiles, are the proper steps required to actually play DSD in its native format. Despite the years that SACD has been around at this point, the proper direct DSD playback from both SACD discs as well as DSD Download audio files (DSF or DFF) is still elusive to or misunderstood by many.

Surprisingly, both SACD’s and DSD Downloads often have similar problems getting played correctly in their intended DSD hi-rez format.

This seems to stem from the ways that audio hardware and software have evolved. They have both followed a PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) dominated path that was based on most of the digital music being recorded and played as CD (PCM) since the early 80’s.

That’s a long, long, time and a whole lotta CDs and iTunes downloads ago… We’ve all been listening to PCM since vinyl LPs, cassettes and 8-tracks went out the window…

So the DACs (Digital to Analog Converters) that were first developed catered to PCM, the same format as CDs (WAV/AIFF). As far as I know, the DACs to this day still require different circuitry to support both PCM and DSD.

The bottom line is that it is neither simple nor cheap to support both standards (DSD and PCM) in the same product. Yet they both exist. In September 2013, Sony announced they felt the CD audio quality consumers were being fed for the past 30 years was not nearly good enough. As a result, they decided to back their own HRA format: DSD! This approach removes the edgy and compressed feeling to the sound you are listening to and instead provides a much more natural and ambient analog-like sound your ears are more comfortable hearing.

When software media players such as Winamp and QuickTime came out in the 90’s, they were meant to play the popular PCM formats (WAV and AIFF)  as well as the ubiquitous compressed MP3 (lossy – meaning audio quality is lost), AAC (Apple lossy) and then the more accurately compressed lossless (meaning quality is not lost) formats such as FLAC for the PC and ALAC for the Mac.

There are many more audio encoding formats and what are called containers for video and/or audio playback. I can show you a list of audio/video encoding formats and containers that is a long as your arm! They all have different approaches to compression vs quality and player compatibility.

By the way, notice any pattern here?  The PC and the Mac never really support the same encoded audio files! The Mac will now even run Windows (under a Lion OS X dual boot), but it won’t play a PC FLAC file…Give me a break!  Things are not better on the PC Windows side playing the Mac ALAC files…Give me 2 breaks! Even the mighty “cloud” won’t help you with this one…

A similar discrepancy has occurred in the HRA world of playing DSD through software media players including Winamp, QuickTime, JRiver, Audirvana, AudioGate, Pure Music, and all the rest. The circuitry does not exist inside the PC or Mac to decode the 1-bit DSD directly to analog!  This is pervasive, but perhaps not that well understood.

There is insufficient hardware (specialized chips) in the typical PC and Mac to play DSD as DSD without PCM conversion. Instead it must first get converted (via software) to PCM to then be played directly through its speaker or headphone audio out jack. (For historical reference, the Sound Reality chip in older Sony Vaio computers could in fact play DSD as DSD but that chip no longer exists in the newer Vaio computers.)

If you are using any of the popular media players such as Audirvana Plus, JRiver, Pure Music, AudioGate, Foobar2000, and if you are listening to DSD without an External DSD DAC (see below), then you are not listening to DSD, you are listening to PCM.  Here’s a list of media players from HighDefTapeTransfers.com

IMPORTANT NOTE: Korg’s AudioGate software does not support an external DSD DAC! There’s no way to hear DSD from the Korg software. You can only hear DSD directly output from one of its MR-series recorders (MR-1 or 2, MR-1000, MR-2000). AudioGate software always plays DSD files (DSF, DFF) as PCM!

AudioGate is a great tool for mastering and converting between many hi-rez audio formats including DSF/DFF (I use it a lot), but it does not offer any DSD playback without converting to PCM, nor does it integrate with USB DSD DACs.

THE DSD DAC SOLUTION

Fortunately, there is a way to listen to native DSD from a PC/Mac without converting it to PCM first.

The solution is to add an external DSD DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) to decode the DSD stream to analog and feed it from there to your amplifier, etc.  The DAC typically connects to your PC/Mac via a USB cable. More recent DSD DACs are USB sticks that connect to the PC/Mac directly and also act as headphone amplifiers…this approach (like in a product called GEEK) just might blow the roof off the cost/value proposition in the market! Other interfaces for popular DACs (old  and new) include Firewire, S/PDIF, AES/EBU and Toslink. DSD DACs usually support PCM as well.

In addition to the original Meitner (EMM Labs) DAC products, DSD DACs now are becoming a beautiful audio bouquet of selection from companies such as Mytek, exaSound, TEAC, PSAudio, and others. Some good DSD DAC lists exist at Positive Feedbackand AudioStream…

SAMPLE THIS….

There are differences in the sample rates supported by all of these things so that’s one more thing to pay attention to as a futureproof type of purchasing if that’s important to you. The original DSD 1-bit sample rate was at 2.8 MHz. This is referred to as DSD64 or 64fs or 64x because it is 64 times the sample rate of the CD (aka Red Book CD) standard of 44.1 KHz (44100 x 64 = 2,822,400).

To achieve even better sonic results, DSD sample rates have increased by factors of 2x (DSD128 at 5.6 MHz) and 4x (DSD256 at 11.2 / 12.2 MHz). Different software and different hardware have different capabilities in this regard. exaSound’s e20 and e28 DSD DACs are some of the early adopters supporting DSD256 in stereo and 8-channels! Pyramix and Horus from Merging Technologies also support DSD256.

DSD – NO PROBLEM……PCM – NO PROBLEM…
IF IT SOUNDS GOOD…IT IS GOOD!

I have no dispute to settle. I like good sound. I like to make good sounding recordings. It can be on a cassette in a boom box or DSF file being played and sent analog to that same boom box. It can be an iPhone sitting on a pallet out in the yard turned up like an AM radio from the 70’s. And no, not everything sounds good to me…

In many ways, listening carefully to DSD since 1999 has taught me to appreciate a good recording no matter what device or media it is playing through. I have come to call this the Art of Listening.

Roger Powell gave me the confidence back in the early 90’s to accept the fact that “if it sounds good, it is good. Thank you Roger!  I was trying to make the first “really good” recordings of my life at that point, having done lots of messing around for the previous 20 years. The digital DIY revolution was breaking and I was hooked

I was hoping not to screw up. A lot of things that I used and did for those 90’s recordings were dirt simple at the time, yet still just sounded good (honest, accurate, clean, natural) compared to most of what I was listening to on home recordings and many pro recordings. My sound was nearly all acoustic so that made it easier to evaluate for these attributes of clean, natural, etc.

Roger’s answer to my “is this good quality?” questions gave me the courage to stay on my track. Before too long I would be introduced to DSD by Gus Skinas. I’ve never had to look back or look anywhere else for a truly excellent audo quality resource. I’m not alone. If it sounds good, it is good! DSD has been all of that for me from the very start.

BARTENDER, GIVE ME A SANDWICH!

Say you walk into a bar famous for their home infused jalapeno margaritas. In fact they specialize in all kinds of infused drinks with deep colored bottles lining their shelves.

You sit at the bar and say “Bartender, give me a sandwich!”

He looks at you and shrugs and then goes somewhere and scrounges up a ham and cheese sandwich (maybe from the take out next door) and gives it to you, (Give the customer what they want!). You eat the sandwich and are not too impressed.

Then you go back home to your “Famous Bar Review” webzine work and write something about the poor quality you experienced at what you thought was supposed to be a very high quality establishment.

I’m afraid that this is what too often happens to DSD in its evaluations and comparisons to any other format (analog tape, vinyl, PCM, etc.).

A lot of people are listening to DSD as PCM. This happens if you don’t use the external DSD DAC as described above.  This is also likely to happen if you play the DSD from an SACD player that is using HDMI to connect to an amplifier/receiver or to even a video monitor to display its menus. The transport over HDMI (at least prior to HDMI v1.2) in the mainstream pro and consumer world is always for PCM encoded audio, not DSD.

This is only recently overcome and not usually implemented on the HDMI side of things. Prior to HDMI v1.2 DSD gets converted to PCM for transport to the amp/receiver. With newer HDMI versions, BDP players such as OPPO are now supporting the improved integration with some A/V receivers (some Onkyo, Integra and Yamaha models) where the DSD is preserved over the HDMI transport. There are apparently licensing issues here so DSD support is not guaranteed. You have to check with the manufacturer and spec for each model at both ends.

They have also gotten around this on the software USB side (PC/Mac media player to DSD DAC) using what’s referred to as DoP (DSD over PCM). DoP manages to keep the DSD intact and unconverted when it leaves the software player and arrives at the DAC. Other software drivers called ASIO and WASAPI also exist for similar USB DSD DAC integrations.

So….The hardware and software both cater to the PCM market — no problem…unless you want to hear native DSD and you don’t carefully setup and configure the hardware and software you are using for direct DSD.

The default settings for all these products are to convert the DSD to PCM before it is output.

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I’ve seen this so many times now that I had to write this post.

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It’s like asking that bartender for a sandwich instead of a jalapeno margarita. The finest most exotic and delicious specialty of the house is skipped for what the customer is most used to…

I’ve been on an education type track with hi-rez since well before 2009. I started recording with DSD in 2000 and recorded the self-produced “The Window” in 2002. In 2003 I was taking my SACD disc around to the hi-rez audio retailers in the SF Bay Area asking about all the gear that could play it and testing it out their audition rooms.

Similar issues always existed with the HDMI integration of amplifiers and receivers to SACD players. There can be other default player settings that just convert DSD to PCM for no apparent reason unless you turn it off in the setup configuration. I’ve seen this on Sony BDP players as well as others. Software will always convert to PCM unless you have the right path for it not to (to an external DAC) and set it up (with the right DSD drivers) properly.

People often want to hear my DSD recordings.  If they end up listening to my DSD recordings as PCM conversions, they may be nonplussed with the results, especially as sonic comparisons to other (PCM) recordings they have. I want to help them configure their systems to actually hear the DSD recordings in their native formats. Since they were recorded as DSD, they should be played as DSD.

Usually the response to a changed DSD playback configuration starts with: “Wow!“. The same benefits apply to any other SACD disc or DSD Download audio file played on the same system.

WHAT TO DO, WHAT TO DO…

So I recently created my own checklist for setting up DSD playback. This is so anyone can hear the DSD directly, and not as PCM masquerading as DSD.  It is a pretty confusing product world from one standpoint, but the checklist I came up with is pretty simple.

It is the mental list I’ve used when helping others listen to DSD recordings in their intended way. This list has changed as the whole thing continues to evolve.

So here’s my current Checklist to try to help others listen to native DSD if at all possible. There may be exceptions! In fact, I can think of a few. No matter. It is written for the general and common systems out there.

DE’s DSD PLAYBACK CHECKLIST

1. BEWARE: If you are using a computer’s analog audio jack (headphones/audio or line output), then software as a PC/Mac Media Player ALWAYS plays DSD as converted to PCM, not native DSD.

2. So….An External DSD DAC connected to a PC/Mac via USB is required in order to play the native DSD from a Media Player. This also includes a requirement for proper hardware (DAC) driver configuration on the computer. (The “driver” is software!).

Popular External DSD DACs are available from companies such as exaSound, Mytek, TEAC, Meitner, PSAudio and many others. A good list is here from AudioStream…

3, BEWARE: HDMI (v1.1) converts DSD to PCM before playback and therefore should be avoided when critiquing or trying to fully enjoy DSD audio quality. You can investigate HDMI (v1.2 and later) to see if DSD playback is being supported by your specific BDP (player) and A/V Receiver or Pre/Pro products.

CAUTION
: Enabling HDMI Output on your SACD/DSD player may cause DSD to automatically be converted to PCM on any direct output. This is currently true on OPPO 103/105 models. Check with the manufacturer for your player.

4. The best and simplest audio quality solution from a DSD/SACD player is usually to seek the configuration/setup that sends DSD directly to the analog RCA outputs (L/R stereo or 5.1 Mch).  You also need to enable DSD (instead of PCM) on SACD Output!

5. Finally, most DSD players (hardware and software) give some indication on a screen somewhere of what they are really playing based on their configuration.

Read the screen! 

This can be the media player (software) screen, or the SACD/Blu-ray player (hardware) display.  If it doesn’t say “DSD” or “SACD” and says “PCM”, or AIFF or ALAC, or WAV or FLAC or anything else, then it’s probably converting the DSD to PCM before it sends it to your amplifier or elsewhere. You may need to disable HDMI Output and/or enable DSD on SACD Output.

ONE MORE SIDE NOTE…… If you are using an OPPO BDP (103/105) and are playing DSD Downloads that you have on a USB stick, the OPPO and HDMI video screen displays do not tell you whether you are listening to PCM or DSD!

This is true for the latest firmware dated July 2013.

I was told by OPPO that the player will follow the SACD setup when playing USB DSD file (DSF/DFF).  So if you see “PCM” in the display when an SACD disc is playing, then you need to fix your setup as described above (HDMI Output = Disabled, SACD Output = DSD).

Then go get a good margarita and enjoy yourself!

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