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No. 83 April 2011
High Resolution

The issue of “High Fidelity” you are currently reading is fully devoted to products related to something, that could be called “Internet”. This is of course not a precise description, but I have not a better one yet.
This group of products is predominantly composed of DACs with an USB input, usually called USB DACs by their manufacturers. This is however a deceiving description, because this does not describe the kind of product, but only its features, and this is not the way products should be classified. However because it is a very common practice, it may become a part of our language by judicial practice.

The second group of devices related to Internet and computers (those are not separable) are audio file players. I am writing about them for years, because first I was enchanted by presentations by Linn and their breakthrough player Klimax DS, and later by products from other companies. Since two years I am frequently testing those for “High Fidelity”, and “Audio”, and since a year ago I am using one or another such player.
Those of you, who tried to overcome your fears and attachment to a physical carrier know, that file players (both audio and video) change the way music is “consumed”. First of all they free us from the fetish of the disc. No, I am absolutely not a disc basher, I love exclusive, Japanese editions, boxes, etc, but as something special and not a basic thing related to music. A well prepared box is a special thing, unique by its physicality adding up to music. But in everyday life most discs seem abundant to me, in the sense, that I am mostly interested in the “data” stored on them.
And to all that we need to add one thing, which had only potential aspects to date – a possibility to play high resolution files. There bottleneck of the CD is no more. And to me this is the main asset of file players.
Like I am writing in the test devoted to the USB cables from Acoustic Revive, a high resolution file does not guarantee anything on its own. Comparing 24/96 files transferred from analog master tapes by large companies like Verve, Deutsche Grammophon to refined versions of those recordings from CDs, CRCDs or K2HDs from Japanese companies results often in surprises, because the CD wins in most cases. This suggests, that the sound engineers are not aware, what hi-res files are, or that their awareness is limited. This is why we will need to wait for files prepared by the Japanese – this is a sad conclusion, but also a true one.

But I am not sure if they will be there at all and when. Small companies like First Impression Music are very afraid of placing their files in the net. Large companies have the losses due to piracy included in their budgeting; the smaller ones do not have that “buffer”. Some time ago Mr. Winston Ma (FIM) sent me a material with novelties, where he informed about his new project – USB cards with 24/192 files (and in future also 32/384 – DXD). But this idea fell very quickly, because the distributors of the company opposed saying, that once the recording is bought it will appear in the Internet quickly. They argument, that as long as an edition is strongly bound with a carrier, meaning a nicely issued disc with printed materials, etc, then people will buy it, even if a digital copy is available on the net. And this is probably true – please look at the interest of large companies in rebirth of vinyl, which is “protected” against ripping. Mr. Ma decided to withdraw the cards from his offering – none ever hit the shelves.
It may be different with files from Japanese branches of companies responsible to issue in a cardboard sleeve and on XRCD. The fight for the best possible CD carrier loses meaning – gold, silver, HQCD, SHM-CD, Bluespec CD, etc are no longer needed – we get an exact copy of what is delivered to the pressing plant, or even better a hi-res version of that material. On almost all Japanese CD editions, much better than those made by other companies, there is a proud sign, that it was a 24/96 re-master, what means, that they do have the 24/96 tapes. Will those files be better than those prepared by the American or European companies? Hard to judge – we will have to wait and see.

And finally a third group of devices – headphone amplifier, headphones, small amplifiers, active loudspeakers and USB cables. Probably due the growth of the market related to music in Internet there is a boom in the headphone branch. This is good news for everyone loving the headphones.

And although both previous groups allow to plug-in a file based system into an existing stereo system, those are additional items (maybe except for the USB cables), something to amend a computer system.

Where does this all lead? We can only speculate, but those speculations are based on clear trends and movements in the audio market. There is no way back from the files. This is how the future of music will look like, and the audio branch is a part of that. For some time, the domination of the CD as a physical format will endure, but this is only a question of time, when it will end. Vinyl discs will stay in sales for longest, as the last physical format related to music. And although one of the under evaluated carriers is a Blu-ray disc with audio files up to 24 bits and 192 kHz, the picture has the same fate as sound – it will move to the Internet. There is only one medium I do not have certainty about – the SACD. This is an absolutely niche format, but still visible in the catalogs of many, sometimes even big, record companies. And because SONY does not allow to “unpack” the discs and place the files in the internet (I mean the DSD format), then they will also exist in the real world for some time. This may be a giggle from history, that vinyl, the first widely available, commercial music distribution format, will also probably be the last available one.
Do we need to worry with all that? Absolutely not! This is the reason, that companies prepare refined CD editions, attracting the clients with something extra; this is why CD and vinyl boxes are made. This is the swan song of the physical carrier, but how wonderful it is...



PLANS

As it turns out, this month I will finally get my Solution 720 power amplifier. Due to a coincidence it did not reach me when I thought it would. But it is already in Poland at the distributor (Soundclub) and we have already arranged the delivery. This amplifier will replace the fantastic Tenor Audio 175S I was using for the last 6 months.
I have also the VH Audio V-CAP capacitors waiting – huge, made especially for me, CuTF with 1μF capacity, which are destined to be installed in the Ayon Audio Polaris III preamplifier. Those capacitors proved themselves splendidly in the amplifier Leben CS-300 XS (Custom Version) so I have high hopes. Maybe I manage to exchange them this month.

Next month, April, there will be two incredible premieres, both related to physical carriers: the turntable SME 20/3 and the player Loit Passeri, for which the external design was made in the Art. Lebedev Studio, led by Artemy Lebedev. The SME 20/3 has splendid opinions, because it uses the experience gained with the turntables 30/12 and 20/12; now it has a different main bearing, motor, bigger platter, bigger chassis and changed color of the platter – it is now black. And the test of the Loit will be the first in the world – we were talking about that test for over a year, since first information were published about it. The representative of the company Loit Design Private Limited, Mr. Lup Yoong Kam promised us, that we will be the first magazine to receive it for a review. The company is located in Singapore. Please have a look HERE.

Besides those we will (probably) read about:

  • Harbeth Monitor 30 – a classical classic from Great Britain, stand mount speakers
  • Monitor Audio Gold GX200 – a novelty, the new Gold series from the British specialist
  • Venna Acoustic Sacrum – Polish stand mount speakers, premiere
  • Tonsil Pulse – a rebirth of the Polish giant? – We shall see…
  • Xavian XN250 – interesting stand mount speakers from Czech Republic
  • Trends Audio TD10 – a tiny amplifier destined to work with a computer
  • Krakow Sonic Society – there are a few ideas, we shall see what comes...

Some of them in English too…

And in May another anniversary (7th) of “High Fidelity”. And for the birthday party there will be a “Japanese” issue, as usual.

Wojciech Pacuła
Editor in chief



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Our reviewers regularly contribute to  “Enjoy the Music.com”, “Positive-Feedback.com”“HiFiStatement.net”  and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .

"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

"High Fidelity" is an online magazine, i.e. it is only published on the web. For the last few years it has been published both in Polish and in English. Thanks to our English section, the magazine has now a worldwide reach - statistics show that we have readers from almost every country in the world.

Once a year, we prepare a printed edition of one of reviews published online. This unique, limited collector's edition is given to the visitors of the Audio Show in Warsaw, Poland, held in November of each year.

For years, "High Fidelity" has been cooperating with other audio magazines, including “Enjoy the Music.com” and “Positive-Feedback.com” in the U.S. and “HiFiStatement.net”  in Germany. Our reviews have also been published by “6moons.com”.

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