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ZDAC with Mac Front End (Read 2756 times)
will
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ZDAC with Mac Front End
10/03/10 at 02:55:51
 
Though there are good posts intermingled in other ZDAC threads about using a computer in front of a DAC, I thought I might as well start a thread more focused on this. The following exploration might be interesting to some.


Hey folks,

I have been loving my ZDAC and how it works in my system, so this post is not about that per se, but about what the Mac front end has let me do through the ZDAC.

I am using XLD  for error corrected, uncompressed AIFF files and playing with iTunes (set to play files unadjusted). I use the AIFF file format rather than WAV only because it is easier to get and display album covers in iTunes this way.

Now my new toy.... Smiley

As with most of us, my tastes have led me to a lot of exploration. The usual stuff...power and room treatments, speaker tweaks, cables, tubes and so on. And this has been successful, but each step toward clarification seems to open more areas for exploration and refinement. Sound familiar?

I gravitate toward an open/articulate, harmonically rich, "live," and warm sound... which is for me a difficult balance since many "warm" tubes and tube combinations have many "right" traits, but might be a touch off here or there for total satisfaction. Like having bass softness, or having nice harmonics and detail in the upper mids but being sort of thick in the low mids. Or a good transparent tube might give a strong tight bass and good detail, but feel a little lean in the mid-range. And since my ZDAC, Torii MkIII and MG944s reveal the whole picture well, the deeper I got with different tube combinations, the more I heard minute potential I was missing.

The gear is synergistic, and the room treatment is as far as I am going to take it at this point. And really...any decent tubes I use now sound really good. But no matter how good, my finicky tastes kept me from using some really nice tubes because some small nuance did not fit for me. And mixing and matching tubes to shake up the sound is a big pleasure of the tube game for me. Keeps me excited about the music.

I wanted to be able to get deeper so that the great qualities and nuance of more tube combinations would be more useful without the taste thing getting in my way. And even with my favorite tube sets, there is always the last percent that can result in what sometimes feels like 100% improvement!

Wink

Then there is the recording thing...discouraging to have a tube set that is really good for most stuff and not for other stuff, making sort of crappy recordings of good music unlistenable.

Now to make the purists cringe! But unless you have a perfect system including a perfect room, and you are utterly happy with it, read on.

Cool

On a whim, I downloaded this little app called Audio Hijack Pro. It had a trial period and cost only thirty bucks if it was useful. You can run iTunes through it, "Hijacking" the output from iTunes. And the app itself has loads of DSPs you can apply easily, and in whatever order sounds good to you.

My first attraction to checking it out was to see if its EQ could sound good. With the conceptual security that it would be basically a personal mastering of the raw CD data (BEFORE the ZDAC and amp, so not messing with their beauty) I downloaded it . My concern was that it would not be "audiophile" quality DSP at this price. And though I have not played with most, several I tried did sound rough to me. Even some Apple ones (which I knew could be pretty good) at the default settings, were too affected for me. Dramatic, but not natural.

So I started to play with a few DSPs and realized that the default thing being overbearing was not that surprising…since, at least with transparent gear, the controls were very powerful in shaping the sound. Also, most CDs already have compression, EQ, various reverbs etc, and since I want a natural sound, I knew I needed to work pretty subtly.

The AHPro folks recommend running everything @ 100% wet too which was too much. It colors the sound with he DSP too much for me. I wanted to nudge the sound toward my tastes while remaining fundamentally what it was. At this point roughly half flow-through of the pure signal seems good to me.

I started with Apple's 31 band EQ. Combining my tastes and remaining room funkiness, I punched the low bass a touch (25- 40Hz), pulled out the high bass a touch (65 to 200), and for presence and clarity, a light 3-10K bump. Mind you, most of these tweaks are .36 dB. I liked it OK but not totally. A bit hard, but showed potential.

Then I found the Excitifier plugin. In reading about it, it is supposed to clarify sound by adding subtle distortion to bring out spaciousness and detail. The sound to me with subtle settings is more sense of harmonics, more articulation, and more separation/clarification between instruments. Once I found good sounding settings, I liked this too, but with the EQ, now my sound was a touch too clarified.

Thinking of unifying the sound, and toward my "live" objective, I tried adding Apple's Matrix Reverb. A lot of messing around later, with a pretty subtle small room, I got sound that did what I wanted. I then played with the order of the three DSPs liking EQ-Reverb-Excitifier best. To check that there was no clipping, I installed the meters you can add to a "session" set, and tuned the input and output if necessary. And finally I tweaked the Gain to match the volume through AHPro to that of the Torii alone so that I could accurately compare.

The net result was a sound that is articulate, harmonically rich, and has a sweet and "live" ambiance I enjoy. I don't really technically get the single-end triode thing compared to the push-pull pentode thing, but to me, these tweaks point my Torii's sound toward the liquid sound I remembered from my SE341.2+ while retaining the richness, depth and weight of the Torii.

Then there was designing"sessions" that I could easily use for a couple basic tube signatures, and for basic recording problems.

Undecided

With AHPro, you can easily create duplicate "sessions" (DSP sets) and then tweak your basic settings toward a different end. For me, this involves only the EQ for the most part. I leave the reverb and excitifier where they are and give the EQ  bass or presence areas adjustments that refine the particular tube set or a general recording sound.

The only thing I did aside from messing with the EQ was for those really weak 70's rock recordings that were brought over to CD poorly. For these I added an Apple dynamics DSP to one set with a just a touch of compression and a short attack and release. Along with an EQ I liked for them (more mid bass and less of the upper-mid presence area for thin sounding recordings) magically some of those super-squashed CDs stepped up to listenable.

After these "sessions" are set up, it is just a matter of turning off the "hijack" button, click to another session, and "hijack" with it. Because most of what I listen to is reasonably well recorded and mastered I generally stick with one Hijack session for long periods, a session designed to refine the tube set I am using. But I will change them when a recording requires it. I use basically four "sessions" at this point. One as described above which i like with "warm" tubes and heavy recordings, two flatter ones for more transparent tubes and great recordings, and one for those nasty thin recordings.

Now that tube set that I love the signature of, but wanted to pull just a little more out of magically shifts from great to pretty brilliant. Or, a couple clicks and that old CD I stopped being able to listen to sounds decent.

Finally, a thing I was pretty suspicious about surprised me. I was able to adjust a very revealing system/room to my tastes relatively "transparently." My sound is now more flexible and more incredible than ever. It would not have happened had my ZDAC-1 explorations not caused me to drop the CD transport and move to uncompressed, error corrected data using a computer front end.

Of course my settings are for my tastes and system/room, but they may be a good start point if anyone wants to try the software. I have attached a few pics of the main settings I use if anyone is interested.

Onward,

Will
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« Last Edit: 10/03/10 at 05:25:24 by will »  

Exc-rev-ahp.jpg

Mac mini, Tranquility DAC, modded Oppo 83, TORII MkIV, MorrowAudio SP7 cables, HR-1s...VHaudio DIY, Grover, MAC ICs...PI Audio Uberbuss...PI, VHaudio DIY, Neotech DIY, Cryoparts DIY power cables, HerbiesAudioLab feet and tube dampers
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Lon
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Re: ZDAC with Mac Front End
Reply #1 - 10/03/10 at 03:21:28
 
Congrats, Will, sounds as if you worked hard at getting the sound just right for yourself and allowed a flexibility that I know you enjoy.

I've sort of arrived at the same satisfaction via a different route, using the Sony SCD-XA5400ES as the cd (and SACD) source and learning about the amps and the placement of Radial speakers.  The IT Radials and the Torii are of course great company for my sources.  I'm getting a consistently really good sound throughout all the different types of recording sound in my collection and I'm not futzing, I'm sitting back and spinning discs.

It's so great to be this deeply into the system and software interface and interplay, and to just revel in clear and comforting musical reproduction.  Decware has earned my long term loyalty by becoming the engine and transmission to the vehicle to this state of being for me.

I think you feel similarly.

I bet others here have Mac/ZDAC information to share as well.
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« Last Edit: 10/03/10 at 03:57:15 by Lon »  

Decware:ERR,HR-1,ZP3,CSP2+(2),Torii Mk III, PS Audio PWT+PWD MkII,PowerBases,PPP,AC-12 pcs, Denon DBP-A100, Denon DCD-A100, Rega RP3 +TTPSU,white belt+Exact2, VooDoo Cable IC: Evo and UL, Mapleshade:Double Heiix Samsonv2+v3 and 4"platforms,Herbie's IsoCups+Tendft
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will
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Re: ZDAC with Mac Front End
Reply #2 - 10/03/10 at 05:12:17
 
Hey Lon. I am definitely grateful for Steve and ZYGI's devotion to great sound. And as with you, Decware is for me an amazing vehicle to a state of being!

I am really glad to hear you have tuned your system to be so satisfying, and with different recording qualities no less. Its a lot of fun isn't it!
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Mac mini, Tranquility DAC, modded Oppo 83, TORII MkIV, MorrowAudio SP7 cables, HR-1s...VHaudio DIY, Grover, MAC ICs...PI Audio Uberbuss...PI, VHaudio DIY, Neotech DIY, Cryoparts DIY power cables, HerbiesAudioLab feet and tube dampers
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Lon
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"Love without
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Posts: 6771
Re: ZDAC with Mac Front End
Reply #3 - 10/03/10 at 15:08:59
 
Actually Will, I sort of view it as a pain in the ass, I don't like fiddling and experimenting with components, placement, etc. really.  I just want to listen to the music, not mess with the hardware (or in the case of a computer front end, don't want to mess with the software).  It was fun for a while a long time ago but tube-rolling etc. really began to drive me mad.

It's pretty easy to devise a system that will make great recordings sound good. . . that was the biggest frustration for me, because I do NOT listen to predominantly good or great recordings, I listen to all kinds. The Sony SACD player was the missing link for me, it's so good on bad recordings as well as great ones, it's a wonderful machine I still haven't felt the need to replace it and haven't found a replacement DAC or player etc. The more I throw at in terms of cabling, amplification etc. the more great sound comes out. A special machine.  The IT Radials have also provided another vehicle to make more recordings very listenable, and the Torii Mark III is the perfect powerplant, so flexible, always musical and a propellant.

I'm happy, I'm sitting tight, no fiddling for me! Smiley
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will
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Re: ZDAC with Mac Front End
Reply #4 - 10/03/10 at 17:03:14
 
Yes, though I may be a little more tolerant of the process to get a touch more from my system, I feel your point. When I was tube rolling as a means to resolve my system I enjoyed it MUCH less!

But after it got to where it sounded great with different tube combinations and for the most part, with different recording qualities, I did begin to enjoy playing around with different tubes. I find that sonic shift within a foundation of great sound quite inspiring actually. For me, the slight, but notable variation of presentation transforms the experience enough that it is almost like listening to a recording for the first time again. Subtly different textures, detail and emphasis trigger the mind in a very satisfying way for me.

This pleasure of tube rolling was dependent on the system being similarly satisfying for me as it sounds like yours is though. Then the "education" different equally satisfying tube presentations brought to the musical experience opened the possibility to see if I could go further. Thus the exploration that led to this topic.

From reading many of your posts, I obviously can't be sure, but suspect my tastes are a little more edgy than yours too. And it does seem that when I choose a presentation that is quite "warm" but detailed, it is more flexible.

But within my preferences that always gravitate strongly toward the brighter/detailed/articulate side of "warmth", Audio Hijack Pro just offered a relatively simple and viable means for me to make it all a bit more satisfying. Clearly I am a tweaker though. No right or wrong there...just the way it is for me.

Roll Eyes

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Mac mini, Tranquility DAC, modded Oppo 83, TORII MkIV, MorrowAudio SP7 cables, HR-1s...VHaudio DIY, Grover, MAC ICs...PI Audio Uberbuss...PI, VHaudio DIY, Neotech DIY, Cryoparts DIY power cables, HerbiesAudioLab feet and tube dampers
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Lon
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Re: ZDAC with Mac Front End
Reply #5 - 10/03/10 at 19:30:04
 
Oh definitely, "vive la difference."  I've just become less and less interested in "audiophile things" and more deeply into communing with music.  It may have a lot to do with the fact that I've started playing music again, and just as my interest in components and musical playback INCREASED when I stopped playing music, they now appear to be decreasing.  I'm lucky that I have a great sounding system that allows me to enjoy a broad spectrum of recordings and just pursue the musical winds. That has been my goal.  What do you do when you achieve your goal? Reap the rewards I guess. Smiley

Our sonic signature tastes may be different, true.  Either way, I love that we both love music and use the equipment to set us into the embrace of the music.  On another board, ironically a "music" board, I keep reading posts from persons that make me thing they're pusuing "sonic information and differences" more than music, i.e. obsessing over different masterings and remasterings and pressings and dates of disc manufacture. And they cherish brands like Marantz, Oppo, Jolida, and Chinese amplifiers that have never really seemed the road to satisfaction to me, and they think Decware is somehow weird stuff if they think of it at all. Here at Decware we obsess about the hardware but we also listen to the MUSIC so much more than there.

Anyway, I've posted more today than in a week and I'm not really into posting that much these days.  I hope others post about the computer front end and the music program you've found. Happy listening!
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Decware:ERR,HR-1,ZP3,CSP2+(2),Torii Mk III, PS Audio PWT+PWD MkII,PowerBases,PPP,AC-12 pcs, Denon DBP-A100, Denon DCD-A100, Rega RP3 +TTPSU,white belt+Exact2, VooDoo Cable IC: Evo and UL, Mapleshade:Double Heiix Samsonv2+v3 and 4"platforms,Herbie's IsoCups+Tendft
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will
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Re: ZDAC with Mac Front End
Reply #6 - 10/03/10 at 23:02:32
 
Lon. Good points about tech versus music. For me, it is all about involvement with the music.....using technique/gear to attain the best potential for loving the musical experience. Luckily for manufacturers, the more we hear, the more we hear! And Decware opens the doors to deeper hearing, which in turn opens the doors to deeper involvement.

It does not surprise me that starting to play again has caused you to settle down on the "audiophile" end of things. You have explored a lot over the years to arrive at your beloved system...one that suits your tastes. But also, at their best, playing music or creating a system which allows for captivated involvement with music are creative exploration and expression. I guess this is part of why I like to play around with the sound....I was a potter for 35 years and played music for longer, then a car wreck stopped all that for me.

After so many years of a creative life, any way to explore creativity is important. I see creativity very simply now: the cycle of exploration leading to discovery, the discovery leading to exploration AND the "open," receptive mind this can cultivate. Then once in it, mind is more facile and receptive with the discovery/exploration cycle progressively opening "mind" further.
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Mac mini, Tranquility DAC, modded Oppo 83, TORII MkIV, MorrowAudio SP7 cables, HR-1s...VHaudio DIY, Grover, MAC ICs...PI Audio Uberbuss...PI, VHaudio DIY, Neotech DIY, Cryoparts DIY power cables, HerbiesAudioLab feet and tube dampers
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JLM
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music makes me happy

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Re: ZDAC with Mac Front End
Reply #7 - 12/24/10 at 18:12:32
 
I'm currently using a Scott Endler modded Behringer DEQ2496 for EQ, baffle step, zobel, and DAC.  But I see the end of CD's and hope to go with a Mac Mini with whatever software (at that time).  I probably won't wait for the computer to get a better DAC.
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will
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Re: ZDAC with Mac Front End
Reply #8 - 12/24/10 at 20:33:45
 
JLM,  I had my ZDAC out for repair, and though I liked the sound of my old CD player as it was played through my latest toy...the ZSTAGE, I found I liked the CDs again, but not that much. I thought I would miss handling and looking at them when I moved over to the Mac mini, but actually, I found it a bit of a pain to mess around with them after getting used to scrolling and clicking to play music.

With XLD error correcting software, and playing completely uncompressed CD data through some really nice Decware gear, I am very, very close to the best I can do with CD data, and with my fixed ZDAC, glad to have the computer setup back!

The latest Mini has a high res HDMI jack. No more need for a DVD player either now?????
Cool
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Mac mini, Tranquility DAC, modded Oppo 83, TORII MkIV, MorrowAudio SP7 cables, HR-1s...VHaudio DIY, Grover, MAC ICs...PI Audio Uberbuss...PI, VHaudio DIY, Neotech DIY, Cryoparts DIY power cables, HerbiesAudioLab feet and tube dampers
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