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Positive Feedback ISSUE 75
Krakow Sonic Society Meeting No. 94
- Dirk Sommer & Birgit Hammer-Sommer | Sommelier Du
Son Gerhard Hirt | Ayon Audio
It is hard to say what it is about the vinyl to make the technology that was thought to disappear some twenty years ago still very much alive. It is put down to the culturally embedded presence of the turntable or to the fact that vintage is in vogue. Some emphasize the celebration associated with vinyl LP playback, others point out the artistic value of cover art, while still others bring up the superior sound quality. Regardless of how we interpret the triumphant comeback of the black disc to the market, the fact remains that it is again one of the main music formats used by serious audio enthusiasts.
Have you noticed that it has become common to use the names 'analog disc' and 'analog' interchangeably? The reason for the shift of the semantic field of the latter seems clear: it was intended to provide a clear distinction between digital audio systems, i.e. the Compact Disc, and the turntable. In the late 1980s, when the dominance of the black disc was nothing but memory, 'analog' was reduced to that meaning. The cassette tape and the CD were never considered to be on an equal level as sound sources (I'm not saying it's true but merely quoting a common view), and reel-to-reel tape recorders remained used only by the true hardcore fans of analog.
I've said 'analog' because for several decades the name referred both to the turntable and reel-to-reel tape recorder. The latter was invented in the 1920s but it wasn't before the 1940s that it gained its present form, with a magnetic tape wound on reels.
Interestingly, the English Wikipedia entry on the reel-to-reel tape recorder includes a picture of the German Magnetophon from the time of World War II and the ZK-147 from the Polish manufacturer Unitra. By way of interesting coincidence, the September issue of High Fidelity devoted exclusively to Polish audio products features an article by Maciej Tułodziecki, assistant professor at the Faculty of Automotive and Construction Machinery Engineering of the Warsaw University of Technology, privately a vinyl connoisseur and turntable technology expert, in which he tells the story of Polish tape recorders, including the Aria and Concert as well as various models from the ZK series (we have previously published his article on Polish turntables, which can be found HERE).
Going back to the subject matter, the 'turntable' is actually only part of what constitutes 'analog'. What's more, the sound of vinyl record is not quite like the sound of analog master tape. We discussed that matter at the meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society when we auditioned the Studer A807-0.75 VUK reel-to-reel tape recorder (see HERE). I try to clear this confusion each time I hear that the vinyl is the best music format in the world. Well, it is not.
DIRK SOMMER & BIRGIT HAMMER-SOMMER | Sommelier Du Son
In recent years, one of the most frequently discussed issues related to the vinyl record has been the sense or absurdity—depending on the view—of pressing vinyl LPs using digital recordings as a source. The person who has been quite vocal about it, calling it a mistake and deception, is Dirk Sommer. We met him before, mainly through my interview with him that was published in "The Editors" series (see HERE). In the interview, we could see him primarily as an audio journalist and long-time editor-in-chief of the German magazine image hifi and currently of the online magazine hifistatement.net. High Fidelity has been cooperating with the latter for the last two years, exchanging audio reviews.
However, as I found during the conversation we had in Krakow at the restaurant 'Miód i Malina' ('Honey and Raspberry'), sitting over Polish beer and enjoying Polish regional cuisine, running the magazine, even though important, is actually only one half of Dirk's job. In the case of true enthusiasts, "job" is a rather relative term, because you might as well say "life." The other half of Dirk's job is currently something that was born on the spur of the moment, out of curiosity: Sommelier Du Son record label. In the restaurant, I wasn't meeting only with Dirk, as he came to Krakow together with his wife, Birgit Hammer-Sommer. Although you can tell at first glance how much they are in love with each other, Birgit's role is not limited to accompanying Dirk. As a matter of fact, she is the label's co-owner and during the time of recordings she does a job that is usually referred to in Poland as a "tape operator." She is responsible for the preparation and further handling of master tapes.
As a record label, Mr. and Mrs. Sommer record music, release LPs and recently also work on the remastering of analog recordings. Everything is done in the analog domain. Hence, analog recordings released by Edel proudly bear the AAA logo: Triple A Series. Currently, Dirk is involved in the reissues of the iconic albums from the German MPS label (the rights to its entire catalog have been bought by Edel). I very much enjoyed his recently prepared, fully analog box set with the recordings of Oscar Peterson (ridiculously inexpensive).
Hence, I could not miss this opportunity and during the High End Munich 2014 we made the preliminary arrangements for a joint project between Sommelier Du Son and the Krakow Sonic Society. What we had in mind was a meeting, during which we would have an opportunity to listen to master tape copies played back on the Nagra IV-S reel-to-reel tape recorder and compare them to vinyl LPs pressed from the same master tapes, as well as to PCM and DSD files transferred directly from the same master, to which I will come back later. Our plans eventually materialized as a meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society at Tomek's, the next day after the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Sommer in Krakow and my dinner with them at the restaurant 'Miód i Malina'.
I talked with Birgit and Dirk about many things, for example about the would-be collaboration between Dirk and Charlie Haden that never happened, about the fact that Dirk once had more than 50 percent of all the ECM LP releases, or about the work of Birgit as a kindergarten supervisor and many other things. Below are some excerpts from our conversation to introduce you to the atmosphere of the meeting.
Wojciech Pacuła: When did you start Sommelier Du Son?
Dirk Sommer: I started Sommelier Du Son together with my wife, Birgit, in 2008. So far we have released three albums:
• Dieter Ilg, Bass,
• Charlie Mariano & Dieter Ilg, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,
• Michel Godard, Steve Swallow, Live at Noirlac.
The fourth album that is scheduled for a release in September is Hans Theessink's Live at Jazz.
How did you come up with the name for your label?
It took us a very long time to find a good name, one that we liked. The name covers a number of different things:
• A sommelier is a knowledgeable wine professional who offers expert service to wine consumers.
• A sommelier of sound, by way of analogy, is someone knowledgeable about the sound—as we believe we are—and uses this knowledge to the production of vinyl LPs.
• We prefer the French version of the name; since most of the currently used names are English, we think the French ones sound more elegant.
What was your first job related to music mastering or recording?
I produced several LPs as an executive producer for the image hifi magazine. The first album that I recorded was Dieter Ilg's Bass.
What other labels do you currently work for?
In addition to my work as a sound engineer and producer in my Sommelier Du Son label, I also work for Lutz Precision and edel:content. For the latter, I am preparing the Triple A Series (five albums so far) and the reissues of recordings from the MPS label, to which Edel bought the rights in the beginning of this year.
Tell us more about the MPS reissues.
MPS finished music recordings in the 1980s. Its catalog has been bought out several times, most recently by Edel. I signed a contract with Edel, which makes me responsible for the reissues of all the records. They include albums from Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Pass and Singers Unlimited, which I have already remastered and which will be available later this year.
I think that in the long term, only two kinds of music formats will remain on the market: vinyl records and downloadable files - mp3 for the masses and high-res or DSD for audio connoisseurs. I personally prefer to have a physical contact with the music medium, to hold it in my hands—e.g. an LP album that I can open. I firmly believe that the vinyl sound quality is superb, as long as the disc is well prepared. I think that the LPs prepared from digital files are a kind of deception. That is why, together with Birgit we haul around a ton of analog recording equipment. Hence, I am sorry to disagree with what you wrote about these discs in your review of the Air Force One turntable…
Any last words from you?
I was impressed by the serious and knowledgeable discussion at the Krakow Sonic Society meeting and the respect shown for each other's opinions. We all had a great time.
GERHARD HIRT | Ayon Audio
Make no mistake when you see Gerhard's name way down at the bottom of the web page, squeezed in after a long introduction on Birgit and Dirk. I mean no disrespect, nor do I want to belittle his role in the meeting, let alone what he presented to us. It is rather because I treat Gerhard as a friend, almost a compatriot, because we so often see each other in Krakow (see HERE). What's more, he is an honorary member of the Krakow Sonic Society, which is confirmed by a relevant certificate (another one is hung in the office of Raveen Bawa, see HERE). Mr. and Mrs. Sommer stayed with us for the first (and I believe not the last) time and, actually, we played host to them together with Gerhard. And in Poland guests are given priority.
What was presented by our dear friend from Hart in Austria was no less important and interesting than the fun we had with analog. We were the first in the world (yes, it was the world premiere!) to have the opportunity to listen to the Ayon Audio S-5 network player, capable of reading DSD files directly from a network drive, rather than using the DoP protocol. It is a true revolution. As Gerhard said, the problem with the DoP is that the USB audio specification is far from perfect and, additionally, DSD files must be "unwrapped" on the player's side. Although modern DSP processors are quite capable, the additional processing required adds significant load on them. That extra load results in jitter increase. Recording studios use special DSD transfer protocols, with three BNC 75-ohm links, which are also found in all the D/A converters from Ayon. However, since there are not too many audio components capable of sending the DSD signal in this way, Gerhard together with his colleagues from Stream Unlimited developed a method of direct DSD transfer via Ethernet, similar to using a normal network drive. Let me remind you that they are former Philips engineers responsible, among other things, for the CD-Pro2 drive design, but also specializing in modern audio streaming solutions. Hence, they know more than a little bit about digital audio.
The meeting was divided into two parts. During the first one, conducted by Birgit and Dirk, we made the following comparisons:
• An analog master tape copy played on the Nagra IV-S vs. an LP, pressed from the same master tape and played back on the Thales TTT-Compact turntable
• the same LP played on the Thales TTT-Compact turntable vs. a Mobile Fidelity Gold CD-R burned from the same master tape; the CD-R was played on the Ayon Audio CD-T transport and the Ayon Audio Stratos DAC
• the same CD-R vs. 24/192 files played from the Aurender X100L music player, plugged into the same DAC as the CD transport.
In the second part, led by Gerhard Hirt, we compared PCM 24/192 and DSD files prepared by Dirk from the same analog master tape, and then we made comparison between DSD64 and DSD128.
ANALOG TAPE | DIRK SOMMER & BIRGIT HAMMER-SOMMER
I. Analog tape vs. vinyl LP
My verdict is clear: the Nagra's presentation. Why? For me, the most important was my first impression. Listening to the turntable I had the impression that the bass line was somewhat lean and lacking content. I'm not talking here about something that can be remedied with the bass control knob, but about real content. With the Nagra, I immediately saw that the strings were not plucked with a finger but with a pick. Almost as if I saw the pick touch against the string.
But the crucial difference concerned the tonal differentiation. It was much richer with the tape, and the bass presentation was clearly different. Vinyl showed a large patch of sound. It was great, too, but did not even come close to the Nagra presentation. Sheer pleasure, almost physiological—the tape and only the tape! I did not expect so much difference!
In preparing a vinyl record we strive to preserve on the disc as much as possible of what we have on master tape. When you transfer the master tape to a lacquer disc, you lose about 10 percent of quality. Much more gets lost on the way from the lacquer to vinyl. Loss of quality is unavoidable.
Somehow, the vinyl didn't sound right for me… But probably because the Nagra was so amazing. I loved the sound from the tape, it was extraordinary.
I agree with both gentlemen. What doesn't make the verdict any easier for me is the fact that I had never heard this instrument before [it was the Serpent - ed. note]. But I have no doubt: absolutely the Nagra.
The sound from the turntable seemed somewhat boomy to me, which may indicate the same issue that was already mentioned by Janusz. The low bass is not fully controlled here, in Tomek's room, which can lead to unwanted resonance. And it was stronger with the music from the turntable. But at the same time, the lowest notes were very nice. However, the vinyl was no match against the sound from the Nagra. The latter may have lacked some of the sensational bass from the turntable, but in terms of overall presentation the Nagra was clearly the winner.
For me, the vinyl simply sounded poor this time. This may come out as a little bit harsh, but that's how I feel about it. I couldn't hear the bass line too well, although there seemed to be plenty of bass. The bass from the vinyl sounded the same and lacked any tonal richness, while it changed every moment with the Nagra and more was happening there. Also, all the reverb and recording room acoustics was more interesting with the tape; there was more of everything.
As you know, I don't particularly like the vinyl; I am a digital guy through and through. That's why I design and manufacture CD players, instead of turntables. Given that, what I'm about to say may seem odd but I just can't help it: in my opinion, the differences between these two presentations were not large. I think that you concentrate too much on the small details that made them different from each other. The first impression was that the LP disc sounded sharper, brighter. And that the bass and its differentiation was better with the Nagra. I can fully agree with that. The difference was most notable with the two instruments playing at once, when Nagra's differentiation was simply better. However, I think that the sonic character of the tape recorder and the turntable/preamp taken on their own was more varied than the differences between the two presentations. Be that as it may, listening to both was great fun and a wonderful experience!
I was somewhat startled by the strong position taken by Janusz and followed by Ryszard, because I thought I may have been confused. Fortunately, Jarek's words reassured me. The truth is that I liked the vinyl. I do not understand this total vinyl bashing. What I liked the most was the sound of the Serpent, and it was with this instrument that I could hear a real difference in Nagra's favor. The tape offers better differentiation, no doubt about it, hence the Nagra is more pleasing. However, the overall level of both presentations was similar in my opinion. And there is something about vinyl that simply appeals to me.
The Nagra has won in this comparison, as might have been expected. I agree that the differences were probably not too big. They were most notable when both instruments were playing at once, their sounds merging together on the LP.
As a musician, I know Serpent's sound from playing in an orchestra. I have to admit that the way the Nagra showed its distinct timbre was fantastic. Even the spatial aspect, which is notoriously difficult to reproduce, was very credible. This is an excellent recording. The LP somehow didn't sound quite right, it was lacking the same level of excitement. The sound seemed to be magnified and brightened, with a shortened perspective.
I'm with what Bartek said earlier: I too enjoyed the LP. As I only use CDs, it's been a long time since I listened to analog in any form, and I was now surprised with its sound quality. Both from the Nagra and LP. Yet it was the vinyl that was more appealing to me. But in all honesty, I also have to agree that the Nagra offered a better tonal differentiation, there was more was going on. For me, however, it didn't automatically translate into a better presentation. It was simply different.
II. LP vs. CD-R
I'll repeat what I said a moment ago: I really liked the vinyl. Even though I could hear its "vinylness" as it simply sounded like a black disc and that's it. The sound was warm, pleasant and spacious. But it also made me realize why I listen to the CD at home. The latter offered more detail that was clearer. Just the way I like it. It's the classic difference between the turntable and the CD player, and for me there was no significant difference in quality between the two.
It seems to me that the CD presentation was not entirely successful. The instruments were not as well balanced and arranged as from the vinyl. For me, the LP simply sounded better, especially in the aspect of tonal differentiation. I think that the difference was similar to the previous one between the Nagra and the vinyl, except that now it was the other way round and it was the turntable that came out on top.
Definitely the vinyl and I see no other possibility. I'm saying this despite the fact that I said goodbye to the LP a long time ago and haven't had any regrets about that. In this comparison, though, the sound from the turntable was much livelier, more saturated and accurate. The CD sounded darker and because of that somewhat lifeless. I asked to repeat the last comparison, since the wind instruments sounded completely different on one medium and the other, and that was the biggest difference. Let me put it this way: the CD was simply BS and that's it. The real sound was on the LP. But to not exaggerate, let me add that the difference was not as big as between the Nagra and the LP.
I didn't notice so much difference. For me, it was the CD that showed more detail, which was a plus. The space seemed to be very similar. But I'm sitting to the side, so I could easily miss something.
In the beginning, the CD seemed to me much better, truly at a reference level. It was a great sound. I have to admit that the CD now sounds excellent in Tomek's system, I just loved it. Until I heard the LP, that is. It turned out that the CD evened out the sound that was not so well differentiated. The LP recording sounded almost like a live concert—bravo!
Congratulations to the owner of the system, the sound from the CD was very nice, beautiful. I was mentally prepared for the superiority of the LP, since it is commonly believed to be the only true music format, and yet this audition showed me that it's not the case. My verdict is exactly the opposite of Ryszard's. For me, the CD sounded three-dimensional, dense and deep, and it was the LP that seemed somewhat lean in comparison. The CD was vivid, which the vinyl lacked.
I am inclined to go with Ryszard S. rather than with Janusz and Ryszard B. I heard more excitement from the CD, there was more going on there. I don't know why Janusz thought its sound to be dead. Yes, it was darker, but at the same time deeper and more vivid. What's more, the CD had more energy and a better rhythm. In turn, the vinyl offered nicer reverb and better acoustics. In this respect, the analog showed its class. Having said that, I would like to add that both presentations were close. I wouldn't be so melodramatic about trying to distinguish between them.
Let me first say a few words about the CD—it's a well recorded album and we listened to it on a carefully matched audio system, clearly set up with CDs in mind. It was evident that the turntable didn't blend as pretty into the whole as the CD. It seemed to me that the turntable sounded slightly bright here; of course, compared to the digital front end and the Nagra. However, I don't think the problem is with the turntable as such; it rather indicates that the system has been set up around the DAC. Hence, the CD sounded prettier, deeper and gentler.
The first two CD auditions were great, indeed. It was hard to find fault with anything and the sound was simply great. But the impression lasted only until we turned on the turntable and the needle landed in the groove. In my opinion, the turntable sounded better in every aspect. Even though we could all hear that the system favored the sound from the CD. The vinyl sounded brighter, which was a downside. But the upside was that everything was livelier than and not as crowded as on the CD. The difference was smaller than the earlier comparison of the Nagra vs. vinyl, but it was still clear. For me, this time the turntable was simply better.
This is a classic comparison of the two formats, the LP and the CD. After the second round of this audition I could easily say that the CD was better. It is obvious that I like this kind of sound, because I've taken a long time to set up my system to sound this way, and not another. But I also think that I can look at it objectively. That is why I say that in the third audition the vinyl sounded a little better, because it better conveyed the space and acoustics. It also showed a better rhythm. My final verdict would therefore be somewhere in between the two, with no clear favorite.
This time vinyl sounded better. But I must say at once that the differences were smaller than I expected. The CD was great, although the LP was better, especially smoother and more musical.
I grew up with analog and this is my favorite music source. When we previously listened to the Nagra vs. the turntable, I could not believe that vinyl was so far behind the tape, almost disastrously so. And yet, the LP was carefully prepared and perfectly made by a man who really knows a lot about the whole process. Hence, I was hoping that in this second comparison the LP would make up for it and come out as a clear winner. Well, it did not. The turntable better showed the fluidity and rhythm of sound, and rendered the acoustics more accurately, but the listening experience was not more pleasurable than from the CD. I would even venture to say that the CD sounded nicer, denser and warmer.
The discussion has been really very interesting and I did not expect that you share talk at this level. In Germany, there is no such thing. What's very interesting to me is how eloquently you describe the sound and how precise you are. And how nicely you talk about the music. For me, however, in both comparisons more important was how the musicians communicate with each other, and how the interaction between them was conveyed. Everything else, for me, is of secondary importance. And in this context, the tape was in a class of its own. The LP sounded better than the CD, but the difference between the Nagra and all other sources was far greater and more important.
III. CD-R vs. PCM audio files 24/192
Let's be honest, the difference was not that big. We got more micro-detail and slightly more sparkle with the audio files. I remained unconvinced, though. For me, the most important moment was the Serpent's entrance, when I thought to myself, "Wow, that guy's f…ing good!" That's why I preferred the CD. It sounded truer for me, even if it may have been slightly lacking in detail, compared to the file.
Instrumental harmonics were better audible from the file, and the sonic "body" from the CD. But I must admit that the CD sound blew me away; it was flawless, really fantastic!
I have been a long-time supporter of the Compact Disc, and I will probably remain that way. The recording seemed louder from the file, even though it wasn't really so. As if the greater amount of detail translated into a higher volume level. But I loved the CD. Why? Because of its beautiful smoothness and density of sound. The difference wasn't big, though, and AFTER some more thinking I would say that there was something more in the sound of the file, which wasn't present on the CD. I'm talking about something "behind" the sound, which makes it credible. Hence, if I had to, I would choose the file.
Sweet Jesus and Mother Mary—only the audio file. That's it.
I understand what you're saying and I agree with everything. Let's repeat, however, that we're talking about a small difference. I would pick up the CD, due to its smoothness and liquidity. It was not compensated by more detail from the file.
I'm always firmly for the CD. But not this time. I couldn't see any sense in the sound from the CD, compared with the file. Listening to the CD recording, I couldn't quite tell which strings belonged to which instrument. I had no such problem with the file, due to its better spatial and timbral differentiation.
A general impression I was left with after playing the file was that of peace. A most positive impression. It was, in my opinion, the kind of presentation where something's going on. The CD sounded nice and smooth, but it was sort of self-centered and less sensitive to the recording itself.
I'm amazed with these opinions, because in opposition to my few predecessors I believe that the CD sounded clearly better. There was more of everything, first of all more harmonics, which resulted in an internally rich sound and better tonality. The liquidity of sound was simply brilliant. The comparison reminded me the difference between vinyl records prepared in the 1950s and 1960s—which would be the equivalent of the CD sound in this case—and contemporary vinyl releases, corresponding to the audio file. I choose the former, since I just hate the latter.
I have no idea why but for me the file sounded better. But then I like lots of detail as everything is clearer.
After five seconds of listening to the recording from the file, I started looking for something in the sound that would demonstrate its superiority. That's usually a telltale sign that something's wrong. If something's better, it is simply better and you don't need to particularly look for it. Hence, after a while I let go and just listened to the music. On this basis, I can honestly say that I preferred the sound from the CD. I could hear more detail from the file, but for me it did not translate into more "music in music." Actually, so much detail interfered with my listening to the music; it was unnatural.
Amen to that.
I confirm what Tomek said: the file was richer in detail and there is no point arguing with that. But it was conveyed in such a crude way that it took the pleasure from listening. At least in comparison with the CD, which sounded deeper, more coherent and natural.
DSD DIRECT | GERHARD HIRT
Audio files: PCM 24/192 vs. DSD
The new DAC that Gerhard brought to Krakow was the first and so far only unit of this kind in the world. Soon, all Ayon audio players will come with that functionality on board. I'm talking about the capability of the direct playback of DSD files, but not only, without the need for "wrapping" the DSD audio data in PCM frames and "disguising" it as a PCM stream, which is the idea behind the currently used DoP transfer protocol (DSD over PCM).
Sony, together with Philips, introduced the new SACD format, i.e. optical discs for DSD audio storage, with the same goal that accompanied the launch of CD: to make as much money as possible on the new format, both directly and through license sales. It is a normal, effective business practice. Except that Sony exaggerated with keeping the secret to themselves, as is evident from today's perspective. The SACD disc came with so many different copy protection methods and DSD signal processing on the computer was made so hard that most record companies and labels, followed by end consumers, turned away from the format. Meanwhile, we arrived in the 21st century when the audio file is to some extent in the public domain, and everyone wants to do with it as one pleases. And even the availability of DSD files for download, first introduced by Linn, has not changed the situation.
One of the major shortcomings of the format, at least from the point of view of perfectionist audio, has been the inability to send out DSD data from the SACD player. It is now commonplace for audio enthusiasts to use external DACs. While Esoteric and Accuphase, the well-known Japanese high-end audio manufacturers, have been granted a license to feed the signal out to their proprietary DACs, they use special, secure protocols, incompatible with any others. This has sealed the fate of the format.
That is why it took audio companies so much time to find a way to stream DSD files from a computer. The solution turned out to be relatively simple, but it didn't look so before it was ready. Andreas Koch from Playback Designs, Andy McHarg from dCS and Rob Robinson from ChannelD came up with a new specification called DSD-over-PCM (DoP). The idea is to wrap the DSD data in PCM frames and send it via USB. DSD signal is not changed in any way and remains native DSD, but it is disguised as something else for the time and purpose of transport (a more detailed explanation can be found HERE). Very soon, other companies have adopted the standard as their own (DoP is an open standard) and started producing DSD-capable DACs. Currently, the market sees the launch of audio components accepting DSD256 signal (11.2 MHz, i.e. four times the SACD sampling frequency). Ayon Audio was the first company in the world to launch a music player with a tube output stage that was capable of DSD playback, and then was the first to develop a tube DAC that accepts the DSD signal.
As I've already said, that was not enough for Gerhard. He knew DSD-capable D/A converters used in professional audio and knew that the process of DSD wrapping and unwrapping introduces significant changes to the signal. Hence, together with the engineers from Stream Unlimited he has developed something that may become a breakthrough: a direct DSD transmission, straight from a NAS drive, via Ethernet cable. We were the first to see the upgraded S-5 network player and had the opportunity to listen to it and compare PCM 24/192 and DSD files, including DSD128. The files had been prepared by Dirk Sommer, using the same analog master tape.
We decided to conduct a blind audition, in which the participants did not know what kind of file they were listening to. They'd indicate their preferences and share their opinions and only at the end did they learn which one they opted for. Ten people preferred the PCM files and five of us, including myself, voted for the DSD. In the following paragraphs, the letter next to the participant's name indicates his choice, with A = DSD and B = PCM file.
The pace wasn't really consistent in the first presentation, and it's a key factor in this particular recording. Anything that doesn't keep a steady pace is a fail to me. There was more happening in the second recording that was lively. I preferred the B presentation. But they were the smallest differences thus far.
Ryszard B. [B]
I think that the second presentation brought more information, was clearer and livelier. The clarity, image and differentiation seemed better the second time. The differences were small, though.
Ryszard S. [B]
When I was listening to the A, I actually really liked it. But then I heard the sample B and it seemed better. And it stayed that way even when we moved back to the A. While listening to the B presentation, I was suddenly hit by more string and room acoustics differentiation.
I agree with what Rysiek said; the B had more dynamics differentiation, i.e. you could more easily hear what the musicians intended to do and how they played with one another. The B presentation also had a better gradation of pace and dynamics. I heard a clear difference, like that between the master (B) and apprentice (A).
As a manufacturer, I invested a lot of money into DSD and I did it for a reason. That's why I choose sample A, as I know it's DSD. But for all of it to make sense, the signal has to be transmitted directly, as it was in this case. DoP really flattens the differences.
The differences in this case were less noticeable than before, and we're operating at a really high "C" here. The B presentation had a more saturated sound, but the A was more engaging on a basic, musical level. It may have had less detail, but what was audible did make more sense.
The difference was minimal, and while I'm choosing the B sample, I'm doing it out of necessity, and not because I'm fully convinced.
The B presentation brought us more information, but it was directed rather than general. The A was calmer, smoother and darker. To me, the A sounded much better.
Bartek P. [B]
The differences were minimal and it is ridiculous to make a choice. Since I have to, I choose the B presentation.
Wojtek Pacuła [A]
I decided to throw in my opinion at the end, too, because this comparison was particularly important to me. DSD has huge potential. Version B seemed strongly euphonic to me, with certain parts of the frequency range emphasized. What's more, it seemed to me that the edges of the range were rolled off. The A, which we now know to have been DSD, was more natural, smoother and sounded more like what I'd heard from the Nagra. And in the high-end it's the little improvements that we fight for. It wouldn't make any difference in audio systems from the entry level price range.
1. Tape rulez.
2. The differences between the reel-to-reel tape and the LP are very large, to the tape's advantage.
3. The differences between the LP and the CD are clear, but voices are distributed between them, depending on which aspects of the presentation are important for the listener.
4. The audio file and the CD are two different worlds. But not necessarily in the files' favor. It seems to me that we still need to wait a while before making a binding conclusion.
5. The differences between PCM and DSD files are small and most listeners seem to favor the PCM. It needs to be remembered, however, that it is often those small differences that are most important in the high-end audio.
Audio system used during the auditions
• Reel-to-reel tape recorder: Nagra IV-S/Acoustic Revive RAF-48H isolation air board
• Thales TTT-Compact turntable + Thales SIMPLICITY Mk2 + Thales LEVIBASE, reviewed HERE
• Phono stage: RCM Audio THERIAA, reviewed HERE
• Compact Disc transport: Ayon Audio CD-T
• Audio file transport: Aurender X100L, reviewed HERE
• Preamplifier/DAC: Ayon Audio Stratos
• Power amplifier: Accuphase A-70
• Loudspeakers: Dynaudio C4 Signature
• Speaker cables: Acrolink
• Power strip: Oyaide
Dirk & Birgit: