Is Vista really capable of bit-perfect output?

Hi,

I thought I'd share my experience in getting a bit-perfect output using Vista, for anyone who may be interested.

My setup is:

PC (with Vista Ultimate)
MOTU 896HD sound card
Esoteric D70 DAC
Pass Labs XVR1 analogue crossovers (x2 - one per channel)
Hypex UCD700 HG amplifiers (x8 - four per channel)
Wilson Benesch Chimera speakers

The 896HD is slaved to the D70's wordclock output. The digital audio signal is fed to the D70 via an AES/EBU cable.

I determine whether I'm getting a bit-perfect output by playing an HDCD-encoded WAV file (extracted using EAC) and seeing if I can invoke the HDCD processing in my D70 (a little blue light comes on when this happens).

Here's what happens with the three audio applications I've tried:

1) XXHighend - bit-perfect output only with Engine #3
2) Windows Media Player - not bit-perfect (irrespective of which settings I use)
3) Foobar - only bit-perfect if ASIO driver is used

These results surprise me. Everything I've read about Vista suggests that the removal of KMixer has removed the necessity of using an ASIO driver with Foobar.

I'd love to hear others' views/experiences.

On a final note, I could not discern any difference between XXHighend (engine #3) and Foobar (ASIO) - both are superb and better my Esoteric P70 transport playing the same CD.

Mani.
 
Definitely better.

Let me give you an example.

Take Claire Martin's 'Too Damn Hot' album. I have 3 versions of this:
1) CD (HDCD)
2) 16/44.1 WAV (extracted using EAC)
3) 24/96 FLAC (downloaded from Linn Records site)

When played through Foobar, the FLAC version is simply stunning. The Wav version is very good, though flatter than the FLAC. The CD played through the transport sounds more edgy, less fluid and less solid.

Mani.
 
manisandher said:
Definitely better.

The CD played through the transport sounds more edgy, less fluid and less solid.

Mani.

You must have a problem then with that transport then, when working well it is a stunning transport with no hint of grain, edge or compression even in standard form, with a Tent XO3 and supply instaled it takes on a new level of sound, even more relaxed, richer and bigger. I've heard both standard and clocked. Yours must have a problem. Maybe even the laser, it's getting long in the tooth now, lots of error correction going on? maybe??

Cheers George
 
manisandher said:
Definitely better.

Let me give you an example.

Take Claire Martin's 'Too Damn Hot' album. I have 3 versions of this:
1) CD (HDCD)
2) 16/44.1 WAV (extracted using EAC)
3) 24/96 FLAC (downloaded from Linn Records site)

When played through Foobar, the FLAC version is simply stunning. The Wav version is very good, though flatter than the FLAC. The CD played through the transport sounds more edgy, less fluid and less solid.

Mani.

Try to play the HDCD on the PC with Windows Media Player - the only one that can decode the signal proper... if you don't have an external decoder for that.
The wav on HDD (even extracted with EAC) will not be decoded/played as HDCD by WMP!
 
georgehifi said:


You must have a problem then with that transport then...

Cheers George

I agree, the standard P70 is a stunning transport. I've not heard any modded versions, so can't comment on their performance.

I don't think there's anything wrong with my transport though. It's dead silent when playing CDs and handles (my wife's!) badly scratched CDs easily. It literally blows my Pioneer DVD, acting as a transport, out of the water. No, I'm pretty sure it's doing a sterling job, given the constaints of the ancient 'red book' standard.

But as you yourself admit, the standard P70 is not perfect. You reckon that the modded version sounds "even more relaxed, richer and bigger". Well, I reckon you get all of this (and maybe more?) by extracting and playing wav/flac files well.

As for 24/96 FLAC files, I'd venture that no transport on the planet, modded or not, comes anywhere close to the sound quality you can get from them. If more and more companies start offering these downloads, I think the audiophile community is simply going to have to start taking more of an interest in PC music.

I'm currently looking for an audiophile DAC with USB and/or IEEE1394 input that will out-perform my current MOTU/Esoteric combo, but haven't come across anything... as yet.

IMHO, there is a potentially lucrative market here for the likes of Meitner, Weiss and Zanden (and Esoteric, of course!).

Cheers, Mani.
 
SoNic_real_one said:


Try to play the HDCD on the PC with Windows Media Player - the only one that can decode the signal proper... if you don't have an external decoder for that.
The wav on HDD (even extracted with EAC) will not be decoded/played as HDCD by WMP!


SoNic_real_one,

I wouldn't go near WMP as my main audio player. I'd only ever consider Foobar or maybe XXHighEnd, though I don't like the latter's interface right now.

As you rightly state, WMP will NOT decode an HDCD-encoded WAV file anyway, so why use it if you have an HDCD-capable DAC?

Fortunately, my DAC has HDCD capability. Unfortunately, the newer Esoteric DACs don't :(

Mani.
 

Telstar

Member
2007-12-26 3:49 pm
Italy
manisandher said:


I agree, the standard P70 is a stunning transport. I've not heard any modded versions, so can't comment on their performance.

I don't think there's anything wrong with my transport though. It's dead silent when playing CDs and handles (my wife's!) badly scratched CDs easily. It literally blows my Pioneer DVD, acting as a transport, out of the water. No, I'm pretty sure it's doing a sterling job, given the constaints of the ancient 'red book' standard.

But as you yourself admit, the standard P70 is not perfect. You reckon that the modded version sounds "even more relaxed, richer and bigger". Well, I reckon you get all of this (and maybe more?) by extracting and playing wav/flac files well.

As for 24/96 FLAC files, I'd venture that no transport on the planet, modded or not, comes anywhere close to the sound quality you can get from them. If more and more companies start offering these downloads, I think the audiophile community is simply going to have to start taking more of an interest in PC music.

I'm currently looking for an audiophile DAC with USB and/or IEEE1394 input that will out-perform my current MOTU/Esoteric combo, but haven't come across anything... as yet.

IMHO, there is a potentially lucrative market here for the likes of Meitner, Weiss and Zanden (and Esoteric, of course!).

Cheers, Mani.

I'm pretty sure your transport is working fine. I havent installed the xo3 and xo supply yet in mine, but I will comment readily on the difference in SQ when I'll do.
For 24/96 master files wav/flac, I think the only comparable transport is an Esoteric UX-01/03 using DVD-Audio (NOT SACD).
Me, i'm happy if i can come to the same conclusions that you did with your computer transport.

You probably would like to know what I read a couple of days ago:
http://stereophile.com/news/010508ref/

So you are shoping for the same kind of DAC that I want. I am afraid that it will be difficult to find a firewire input in an audiophile-oriented DAC. And I recommend you to stay away from USB. So Maybe you have to keep that motu (or the fireface) for a while more.

I think that the Esoteric DAC is the bottleneck in your chain. XXHE should outperform foobar w/ asio.

Lastly, you are not telling if you perform any upsampling software or hardware (i'm pretty sure the Esoteric DAC does 24/192).
 

abzug

Disabled Account
2006-01-18 8:08 pm
whereisit
manisandher said:
These results surprise me. Everything I've read about Vista suggests that the removal of KMixer has removed the necessity of using an ASIO driver
Heh. Getting bit-perfect output with Vista is very driver, application, and settings specific. I suggest you subscribe to the wdmaudiodev mailing list and read around its archives on the web. Various industry professionals, driver developers, and Microsoft employees post there.
 
manisandher said:
1) XXHighend - bit-perfect output only with Engine #3
2) Windows Media Player - not bit-perfect (irrespective of which settings I use)
3) Foobar - only bit-perfect if ASIO driver is used

These results surprise me. Everything I've read about Vista suggests that the removal of KMixer has removed the necessity of using an ASIO driver with Foobar.

I'd love to hear others' views/experiences.

On a final note, I could not discern any difference between XXHighend (engine #3) and Foobar (ASIO) - both are superb and better my Esoteric P70 transport playing the same CD.

Hi Mani,

Please allow me :

I think what you missed is that KMixer isn't much removed from Vista, but, it's now called Audio Engine and the Resampler is in another module now. As with XP, the "mixer" keeps on dithering (= not bit perfect) *if* you could avoid resampling at all which you actually can't (a 44K1 will resample to something the mixer prefers, and then it goes back to 44K1 even if you set the preferred output (Shared Mode) to 44K1).

Indeed with ASIO you can avoid all, as well as with Vista Exclusive Mode which XXHighEnd uses.

For those in doubt of the capabilities of the CDP mentioned ... I don't think any CDP will be able to match software playback anymore, once the software is properly configured (this is what XXHighEnd was created for from the beginning anyway).

HTH,
Peter
 
Hi Peter,

Thanks for your clarification.

I have just one question though - why should XXHighEnd sound any better than Foobar with ASIO? As I mentioned in my post, I can't discern any difference in SQ, although both sound great and more natural than my already pretty good-sounding P70 transport.

Could you give me some idea of the differences that you hear?

Cheers,

Mani.
 
Hi Mani [loooong],

I'm sorry that I did not answer that question, but wanted to stay away from being commercial about my own product. But here goes :

First there is the stupid theory that actually you *must* be able to discern, because of stuff like the Q1 slider (which influences jitter explicitly) and besides that the various system-wide priority and processor core "appointment" settings. That is, I -so far- did not meet anyone *not* agreeing that manipulating those parameters matter. So, without saying it too loud :) if you can't discern between those settings within XXHE itself, first something else is the matter. Now don't get scared, because most probably it won't be your equipment ... (or you ears :D);

Few people will believe that the differences we talk about -and then with the example of Foobar vs. XXHE- are audible within ONE second. I mean this, and all the people I know in real life can just do it. It does not need blind tests, ABXing etc., and it might just need your wife to confirm that what you judge as e.g. worse, is worse indeed and not better. But the difference ? one second ...

The kind of "problem" is, that it needs some experience at knowing what to listen to. Knowing what the potential differences can be. And the most important of all : you need a reference.
Now, in order not to blahblah too much around here in a second post, maybe I first refer to the difference with how people judge sound quality on the phasure.com forum, versus, say, any other forum. On phasure this most often goes with details, or just roughnesses you don't see anywhere else. Why ? well, because it *is* about something else;

When I pop into an audio equipment shop, there would be no other way than judging whatever equipment is playing, as "ugly". And I'm very serious. In the past 18 months such enourmeous leaps have been made, that it would even be logical to judge stuff not making those leaps as ugly. And it really is so that I would not know of other words for it. You can't talk about less separation, less air, less 3D, less etc. ... only one thing besides "ugly" : not real.

The latter is crucial and actually the most convenient : we talk about "real" these days.
Ok, even reality is not always easy to interpret without reference, and vistiting concerts not necessarily helps. What I do -and that does help- is buying the instruments which IMO are crucial for the playback chain. Crucial is also "difficult" and many aspects play a role. Allow me to give an example of how detailed things can be, and keep in mind that there will be not much difference between you as a listener and me as the "developer" in this case :

I have this drumkit, and obviously the important parts of it are the hi-hat and cymbals (crash, chinese, ride, all with their own difficult "reality aspects"). This is what I use to improve the for me most important part of reality. When I smash a cymbal, I want to hear this cymbal smash the same from my loudspeakers.
Since two months or so, I achieved that, say, almost. Way better than before versions anyway, and including some tweaks at the speaker filter (I use a slope starting at 5K that ends 16dB higher at 20K :bigeyes:). This "way better" makes you satisfied and you proceed with other things.
The other day a friend of my came by, and we were both comparing music playback with my son praticing drums. Outside the music room we were listening at the cymbals, and came to the conclusion that actually it was good as it could be. But, back inside the music room we now heard that the cymbals from the speakers sounded more plastic like. You could say, to refined.

The "solution" to this you will find in the 0.9u upcoming version, and all is done in the "bit perfect domain".

What does this tell ? well, that different versions of one player can already sound very different. But whether you'll notice that cymbals are less plastic now, similar that I myself did not hear a difference from listening to XXHE cymbals moving to live cymbals ... YES, because you now know what to listen to. And in the future you will hear within one second whether you are listening to 0.9u or an earlier version.

Once you get the grasp of it, you will be able to hear within 0.5 seconds whether you are listening to Foobar or XXHE just by listening to the low frequencies.
Or in my case, I can judge whether I listen to USB vs. SPDIF by *feeling* the bass (on the chest, on the table surface).

All these aspects contribute to judging, and many of them are technical aspects (like feeling the bass telling you it has more energy in better "concentrated" waves). All the technical aspects together create the music (or not).
If judging of these (and all other) aspects fail, there's always the phenomenon of "getting into the music". Or not. This seems a fuzzy one, but it works wonderfully well when all other things fail.

When you are at the stage of "hearing" I tried to make clear in the above, you will be able to recognize that ASIO has a kind of recognizeable flair always.

All 'n all the above could have been summarized in a one liner :

Today's music playback can be so good that when you play as loud as you want (and I mean well over 90dB SPL) nothing, yes, *nothing* should disturb you.

That you theoretically can be disturbed by a zillion things is clear, and in the above I hope to have given you some "guidelines" to start with. It is very very convenient that today we are able to judge just by trying to hear the instruments as how they are and as how they were played. This is already so much more easy than trying to get rid of harshness, fumbling basses, and all the things which actually give you no clue on which direction to tweak.
On this matter, it is my experience that it becomes more and more easy to improve sound quality.

Oh, to answer your question : because I explicitly pay attention to high grade sound quality ? :) this is just different from creating a software player ... Well, to *your* judgement of course ...

Peter
 
XXHE said:


First there is the stupid theory that actually you *must* be able to discern, because of stuff like the Q1 slider (which influences jitter explicitly) and besides that the various system-wide priority and processor core "appointment" settings. That is, I -so far- did not meet anyone *not* agreeing that manipulating those parameters matter. So, without saying it too loud :) if you can't discern between those settings within XXHE itself, first something else is the matter.

Peter

Hi Peter,

Thanks for the loooooooong reply :)

I'm not sure if I understand fully everything that you've written, but I'm open to experimenting and trying things out myself.

At the moment, I'm using the free demo version of XXHighEnd, which doesn't give me the full functionality of the player.

To get the best performance, how important are the Q1, priority and processor core settings?

Mani
 
Re: Re: Is Vista really capable of bit-perfect output?

abzug said:

Heh. Getting bit-perfect output with Vista is very driver, application, and settings specific. I suggest you subscribe to the wdmaudiodev mailing list and read around its archives on the web. Various industry professionals, driver developers, and Microsoft employees post there.

Thanks abzug, I'll do that.

Mani.
 
manisandher said:


At the moment, I'm using the free demo version of XXHighEnd, which doesn't give me the full functionality of the player.

To get the best performance, how important are the Q1, priority and processor core settings?

Mani

I suggest you to check the settings that Peter and others use on phasure.com forums.
The demo version allows exclusive mode if your soundcard drivers do, so you can experiment and compare.

I do find a slight improvement in SQ respect to foobar/asio. But I need a better soundcard for my temporary system :)
 
This week I switch to XXHighEnd from Foobar/ASIO4All. And yes only one second to hear the difference :)

I can not say enough good things about how XXHighEnd sounds, so I will not even begin. Reread Peter's (XXHE) long post and believe it.

For those who don't know anything about it here is my quick take on it:

XXHighEnd runs on XP as well as VISTA. To get the good sound you need to run it on VISTA or Windows 2008 Server (32bit versions not 64bit)

The XXHighEnd player is beta and looks worse then Foobar. The demo version plays for around 30 minutes at time. Restart when it times out. Use its Engine #3 and "unattended" setting for the best SQ.

XXHighEnd doesn't have a web site but rather a forum. It is a pain to find the XXHighEnd software to download in the forum and use it. Worse if you don't have the right OS to run it, but if you are looking for High-End sound from your PC then you just hit the jack pot.

PS you also need good equipment to hear the good sound.

Cheers,
Brent
 
I totally concur with Brent Welke's post.

When I compared XXHighEnd with Foobar (with ASIO) a few weeks ago, I couldn't really hear any difference. Though admittedly, I didn't have my system set up properly at that point.

But with the arrival of 0.9u-1, the difference is obvious. I mean, even my wife can hear the difference!

I think XXHighEnd is stunning and would urge anyone interested in computer audio to give the free demo version a listen. As has been stated elsewhere, it seems that you need Vista with engine #3 to hear it at its best.

Mani.