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Revolution Server - Amazing! (Read 3702 times)
will
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Revolution Server - Amazing!
05/05/18 at 19:09:39
 
Years ago, using Db Audio Lab’s earlier discoveries, their NOS Tranquility DAC fed by a carefully tuned Mac Mini, many of us heard that 44K/16 bit files could be much more musically complete than thought. Extracted eloquently and with minimal damage, Redbook could be very musical indeed.

Now, the Revolution Server modifications, with the correct models of Minis, have taken digital front end potential to levels I did not know were possible. Continuing Db Audio Lab’s commitment to refined digital-to-analog development, digital music that was great here feels like it has come to maturity.

Again...the great importance of source is made clear. If the source can’t show it, it does not exist! No matter how good the system, the dexterity in which a source extracts and conveys digital data defines the potential of the musical experience.

Even now, many DACs, transports, and servers sound impressive, but how many truly convey the sense of analog masters? In trying to solve digital in habitual ways, it is easy to lose or mask subtle and critical musical nuances needed to create the feeling of real music. Aside from challenges with servers and DACs, I am finding that virtually everything... power, cables, regeneration tools, filters, vibration…these and more can easily damage the fragile information from a digital file. Alternately, when extracted and conveyed optimally and completely,”digital” does not even come to mind. It can be beautiful music!



After so many years of digital development issues, I think it is hard to adjust our minds to the real possibilities of very high quality digital-to-analog conversion. Then, wading through myriad opinions, and hopefully able to discern what is relevant, we may get close…or maybe not! This is why I love to find people who have dug deeply, and who’s perceptions and analysis I can agree with consistently. It keeps me off the merry-go-round.

Eric Hider, of Db Audio Labs is one for me. His creative interest and ever-expanding listening and technical abilities are always instructive for me. Like Steve at Decware, the need for great music in the home drove him to become a developer. Also a musician and engineer who is comfortable exploring “outside the box,” Eric had a good background for creating the Tranquility DAC and Mac Mini-based Revolution Server. His development was driven by exhaustive blind listening tests in multiple high quality systems, the references, analog masters. From deep focus on front end development, I think Eric has developed pretty impeccable discernment and listening analysis.

Years back, Eric’s Tranquility DAC was “a revolution” itself. This 44/16 Non-Over-Sampling DAC was created in a time when hi-resolution, async, digital lenses, up-sampling, and all kinds of other circuit heavy “refinements” were the trend. Trying to integrate hi-res, and complex jitter and noise solutions, blind testing indicated that benefits often came at a cost, masking subtler qualities from the vast complex of what makes natural music. So they continued to refine a simple NOS circuit, feeling it offered a more real musical experience. To many, the super simple Tranquility seemed crazy until they heard it. And even many years later, by comparison, updated Tranquilities excel at revealing fragile analog musical attributes, particularly spacial and other very fine detail information.

This seems to be a crux of getting digital to sound analog. If the very fine information is preserved and conveyed with resolution and integrity, all aspects of the music benefit.



In retrospect, I think the Tranquility DAC’s ability to convey analog nuance musically was a big player in why my system grew as revealing as it did over time. And as improvements revealed more, the Tranquility’s dexterity as a DAC revealed more. It changed the baseline of perceived possibilities, while showing just how critical subtle information is… with it intact, the more obvious aspects of signal were more complete and beautiful. Like with Decware, the more revealed by system/room refinements, the more became available, potential seeming limitless.

So for years, without buying major pieces, I refined what I had. My Mac Mini/Tranquility DAC reference proved so satisfying, many popular and relatively affordable DACs came and went... Auralic Vega, Schitt Yggdrasil, Chords, etc…..and who knows how many transports and servers.

Then, about 14 months back, with reports of hi-res/DSD DAC advancements, and of player software creating very musical computer upsampling of 44/16 files, I started modifying the very inexpensive (for what it is) Gustard x20pro DAC. Served by my tuned Mini, one mod at a time, the DAC woke up. Running all Redbook files, resampled to 352.8 PCM or DSD 256 with Audirvana Player software, it was so fun to explore refinements through modification, I stayed with it.

Having had the Tranquility DAC as reference, I knew the modified Gustard was good at conveying the more fragile aspects of the music, the finest detail and space. Also, I think the Tranquility had helped me learn the subtler language of more elusive analog qualities, making awakening these qualities with modification choices easier. Whether the tuned up Gustard is better than the latest Tranquility is another test, but it is very good! With recent versions of Audirvana really stepping up, the Mini/Gustard became my reference source as I worked on progressive amp modifications and cable development.



Fast forward to about six months ago. While looking at digital converter sound https://www.decware.com/cgi-bin/yabb22/YaBB.pl?num=1510063488 the thread segued into some popular new servers. My amps and DAC mods had reached amazing levels of musicality, and relaxing a bit from the immersion of that exploration, I got the server bug!

I can get overwhelmed trying to seek reality through the lens of so many forum threads and reviews, and have never been to an audio show. So knowing Eric’s level of knowledge on digital front ends (and everything else audio), I figured I should get his view on the relatively affordable state of the art.

Even after years of listening to his Revolution Server, and always careful not to be pushy, I could hear in Eric’s voice a sense of awe at how good the Revolution sounded. Digging more, it seemed others felt the same. Having released the Revolution mostly to his customer base, feeding the Tranquility DAC, a “feedback loop” with known references developed. Asked how users responded, Eric said he is unaware of any finding server setups that beat the musical finesse of their Mini-based Revolution Servers. Considering advancements in high-end servers, and that many of these clients world-wide are cost-no-object audiophiles, that got my attention!

Also, the few years they showed at Rocky Mountain Audio Festival, Eric’s dB Audio Labs, with Pi Audio, Dodd Audio amps, and GR Research speakers...the room won:

- Best Sound for the money, 2012, 2013, 2014
- Best Digital for the money 2012, 2013
- Best Digital against all including cost no object 2014

The Revolution Server, feeding the latest NOS Tranquility DAC, won Best Digital three years in a row, including best Cost-No-Object Digital in 2014...And Best Room Sound for the Money all three years they attended!



The Revolution

In previous Mini work, limiting Operating System processes along with effective hardware modifications were highly beneficial. Then, in developing the Mini-based Revolution Server, they discovered that deeper OS process cutting could produce logarithmic benefits. Finally more than 200,000 lines of OS code were removed! Narrowing down to the best Mac Mini models for music, and continuing refinement of hardware mods, the Revolution Server was born.

Though difficult to quantify with our limited knowledge of digital, it did not take long for folks to hear that this OS, in an already great server platform, was a game changer. Still a Mac OS, the musical qualities from the adjusted OS were shockingly analog. Amazingly, they found the OS itself was as powerful for natural musical creation as all the other Mini optimizations together. These included the best sounding: battery power, fast memory, SD drive, external drives, vibration reduction, USB regeneration and noise reduction, dedicated USB cables….How could an OS do so much to solve long befuddling digital-to-analog bottlenecks? Though the earlier Mini refinements were really important, this OS’s purer, truer, realer “analog” presentation brought the rest to fruition.

Analyzing and enjoying the Revolution for 12 weeks or so, I agree. It offers amazing beauty, the more refined front end making the rest of my system/room much better! The same music files I know so well, using the same Mini, the same setup and settings… By adding the Revolution OS, every single musical attribute is notably improved, almost to a point of impeccability in my system. The data from the Revolution clearly retains enough integrity to advance the music to notably more complete levels! And this is all in the digital domain, before the DAC cable!



For me this brings to question our real knowledge of digital music creation. These files were “bit perfect” before the Revolution upgrade, yet the OS delivers deep refinements in the musical experience. Not only are digital/electronic artifacts unheard or more deeply resolved, the revelation and resolution are sort of shocking…..seemingly endless...very smooth and complete; empty space and ambient space more clear and present; fine detail and harmonics more complex and complete; and speed, dynamics and density took me aback! In fact, at first I found the Revolution overstated in dynamics and signal density on many recordings. By the way it delivers data, it increased density and dynamics enough that my previous system balancing was too much!

A primary density/clarity tool for me is my modified CSP3 pre. First I turned down its input tube pots from 9 to 8, and the output pots to 7 rather than my usual 8, relaxing punch, clarity and density a bit. Also, madscientist black discuss pieces, and some signal resolving stickers I tested for him (similar in effect to WA stickers), in balance, these had been helpful in enhancing signal density and clarity. I particularly like them for power, but also in some signal areas. Pre-Revolution, I had really nice balance with quite a few of these in strategic places… circuit breakers, cable ends, connections, chokes, over/near power supplies… I started taking madscientist pieces off the computer setup...a black discuss stick I had cut in half and put across the power/fan areas of the computer; then little stickers on cable ends, over each port, over the power supply, I removed about half them.

Density and dynamics re-balanced, I more easily heard the many refinements from the Revolution Server...extraordinary really. It still amazes me that the OS itself had increased dynamic signal integrity so much I had to calm my previous balance of dynamics and clarified density.



As I learned the Revolution Server’s potential, the delicacy and completeness of the signal information became more and more obvious. After many years of computer audio, having upgraded Minis and player software, cables, power, USB, etc, all these were relevant, but this was another level!


Now the resolution is more reminiscent of tape, big and complete, and without excess signal concentration. And in balance with the system, enhanced dynamics, density and flow are powerful and musical enough that I can enjoy music at notably lower volumes, while not feeling unnaturally saturated...a delicate balance in my experience. Each day I continue to hear more beauty, more subtle improvements, and likely many things I have yet to discern.


Taken individually, each Revolution refinement could be heard as sort of subtle. But it so gracefully refines all analog qualities, the whole is far from subtle to me! Having worked so long to create the engaging musical experience, where subtle issues can weaken the feeling...it is difficult for me to even think… But in my setup, this server has gone a long way toward solving digital! Not in the face, its “signal” is so refined it awakens every aspect of what can make music feel and sound like musicians playing. Like the Tranquility DAC had earlier, the Revolution Server will no doubt teach me as its abilities unfold in perception.

More signal integrity, revelation and resolution, it is easier to hear everything in the sound field more deeply and completely. The “analog” resolution is pretty vast, but ingratiating, not unforgiving. Richer...freer...excellent speed, body, complexity and ambient layers, and analog ease, it is more true, more engaging.

The Revolution took a front end that was exceptional into surprisingly more mature territory.
No doubt, all the amp, DAC, and IC work I have been doing helps reveal this. But whenever I pull back from just enjoying the experience, intentionally analytical, I notice what the server has done for the music. Time after time I am amazed. The Revolution’s contribution to smooth resolution, density, and relatively flawless musicality continues to bring to mind tape, but with the speed, dynamics, clarity, transparent adjustability, and convenience of quality digital. It really seems like a new medium to me!

Having nice equipment, a decent room, and very carefully developed synergy, the addition of the Revolution in my setup seriously helped bring the digital-to-analog dream to a waking state! I really can’t believe I am saying that! Sound Revolutionary?


PS: dB Audio Lab's Revolution Server proves (to me) that the computer server is more important than I could imagine...the beginning of it all.

But to hear this fully, it is important that it all works together, front-end and beyond, right? Considering the innate complexity of an audio setup, even with all good parts, depending on configuration, the combined source can be anywhere from decent to truly great. The cool thing is that Eric offers Servers, cables and DACS, but also a vast store of experience based knowledge. He has worked on natural and complete sound for so long, and in such depth, that in my experience, his advice can be quite revealing, open new doors to hearing, and help with effective use of time and money.
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will
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Posts: 2124
Re: Revolution Server - Amazing!
Reply #1 - 05/05/18 at 19:49:39
 
Oh yes....some nuts and bolts if the Revolution interests you.

I have asked Eric to check out this thread, and hope he will comment soon. I also asked if he would consider a Decware community discount for seriously interested folks.

If interested, very generally, the first step is to contact Eric so he can recommend the used models of Minis that have proven best for making music, that are relatively “bullet proof,” and good values. Then send it to Eric and he will install the OS and appropriate hardware, with good cables, creating a Revolution Server.

Previously, the Revolution has been offered mainly to his family of Tranquility DAC users, folks who are relatively easy to work with having known setups and DACs known to reveal fragile information.

Alternately, there are DACs, cables, etc that can't convey subtler areas of sound the Server offers that are critical to a complete musical experience. In these cases, Eric’s experience toward making necessary adjustments, or developing a complete front end, can be quite enlightening. Eric knows the sound of a great deal of the quality DACs out there, making Server improvements more predictable and easy to optimize.

I am clearly not Eric, but I understand and respect his quest and realizations, and am highly appreciative of what I have learned and experienced personally with the support of his dogged exploration.

Having created a digital front end that is capable of showing excellent, smooth and resolving qualities analog offers, integrated with what quality digital can offer….dynamics, clarity, transparent DSP, filter adjustments, compact storage, nice interfaces, etc...this is amazing to me. Compared to other attempts at world class front ends, I think it is also a very good value. The Server in my experience, really can help create a new and beautiful musical medium.

If what I have written inspires serious interest, I recommend calling Eric Hider at (248) 798-9555. Though very busy, for those of us willing to dig in for a deeper musical experience, he is very supportive.
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Palomino
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Re: Revolution Server - Amazing!
Reply #2 - 08/09/18 at 20:05:50
 
I called Eric and had a very good conversation.  He certainly understands the mini and how to make it sound good.

My only issue, and its not that big an issue, is that I would have to roll back to an earlier version of Audirvana, as they don't support Mavericks (which Eric's OS is based off of) in the latest release.
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will
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Re: Revolution Server - Amazing!
Reply #3 - 08/22/18 at 00:21:32
 
Hey Palomino,

I was sorry to see Mavericks support being dropped by Audirvana too. Luckily the current Audirvana 3.2.8 has such a refined sound with the Revolution Server I am OK with that. In fact, it could be nice to stop adapting to new upgrades.

I did write to Damien at Audirvana describing how good this modified OS is, and hoping he could somehow continue support. He said the projected change to El Capitan-on is about his coming interface, wanting to use newer APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). In reply, I asked (sort of begged) for some way (say using an iTunes interface) for future versions to work with Mavericks, but had not heard back, so tried again.

If not, does the benefit from the Revolution Server OS outweigh future updates of Audirvana? My software update habituation says I MUST have choices to upgrade, but I like my front end sound so much now, I wonder how it could get much better...And if it is not there at the server, it is not there. With my DAC and revealing system, this Server makes this concept clear. Since it, all changes I have made to amps, cables, player software, etc, are more easy to read and refine without misinterpretation.

Contributing are sonic advantages Mavericks has with Audirvana beyond the Revolution OS mods being a very smooth and clear beginning for it all. Apple security after El Capitan stops Audirvana’s Direct Mode (unless you modify the OS to accept it). Direct Mode works with the Revolution OS and is quite a nice sound refinement to me. The OS easily runs Audirvana from a RAM disk, another nice sound improvement to me, something that I hear may be a little touch and go at times with later OS’s? Didn’t you have trouble with this? So the current Audirvana 3.2.8 sounds great here from being a great player, but also the Revolution OS offers further improvements because it is an older OS.

Also, the right stock Minis have been proven to be great platforms for a music server, sounding better than say, a Macbook Pro or iMac with any Mac OS. And to get the best sound, a dedicated server with the specific and highly tested hardware enhancements Eric has discovered and synergistically integrated, individually and especially collectively, are not small things. If we do optimizations one or two at a time, like you and I have, progressive steps to better sound can be fun if that is your thing. But what Eric is offering is to help folks who are part way there, or not there at all, to fully optimize the correct Mini for music, including all chosen hardware and cable improvements, and the OS...creating a state-of-the-art plug and play Server (after putting music files in a player library).

Player software version improvements typically are not mind-blowing to me, but a few stand out. I thought Audirvana 2.6.8 was exceptional, so much so I didn’t like the first versions of Audirvana 3 as well as 2.6.8 with good settings. Then, by 3.2.7, I thought Damien had refined the sound enough to explore. With optimal settings, I thought the new SoX upsampling was better than iZotope...but not in all areas. Even so, along with general player algorithm refinements, I like it better now than 2.6.8. I don’t use Audirvana’s interface, liking the sound better with iTunes interface integration...also being simple, nice looking, and functional. Nor do I use a remote control, networking, streaming, etc, but assume they work fine with the Revolution Server.

The Revolution Server is so good at revealing music and space before the player, it seriously improves the player. Unprecedented fine detail in emptiness contribute to more natural, revealing, smooth and quiet presentation. Excellent speed, body, timbre, etc follow, musical ease being notable from accurate (not damaged) and very speedy digital delivery by the Server. So, for me, some software player improvements as they came along have been very nice, but getting what is before the player in order now seems much more important than we knew for refined digital playback.

Speculation, but Audirvana 3.2.8 and the Revolution Server are so natural and complete musically, it would be amazing if a number of future Audirvana SQ improvements on there own (with standard OS’s) could get near to this good in my system...

I gather that Amarra is still supporting Mavericks, something else I may explore one day. Best of both worlds would be if we can continue to enjoy musical algorithm improvements as Damien comes up with them, but if not…..at this point I would not consider trading what I have now, Audirvana 3.2.8 fed by the Revolution Server, for the ability to continue to update Audirvana.

The natural sound remains pretty incredible to me, even after quite a few months with the Server. And changes on the computer side, and system wide, for me are more easily and accurately heard and understood with the Server, allowing deeper and more accurate refinement in system/room. All good, the musical experience gets deeper and richer for me.

I really like it!



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Palomino
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Re: Revolution Server - Amazing!
Reply #4 - 08/22/18 at 01:57:13
 
As always, thanks for your insights Will.  

I did have one thought. I was going to see if Eric would consider installing the server on my second (and unused) SSD in my main system mini.  I could keep the best of both worlds by simply changing the boot drive.

I have 3.2.8 so I could easily install it on that drive.
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will
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Re: Revolution Server - Amazing!
Reply #5 - 08/22/18 at 02:48:37
 
Sounds like a cool idea. I wonder though. At this level it may be that you can hear some electronic/sound degradation from a second internal drive being wired and recognized by the system? No experience, but when different external firewire enclosures/controllers, and different USB ports can have a subtle but meaningful effect on the sound, it seems possible. Eric is such a consummate tester, I would not be at all surprised if he hasn't tried this and have some insights.
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Palomino
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Re: Revolution Server - Amazing!
Reply #6 - 08/22/18 at 19:25:28
 
With two drives I could A/B and them first then remove the other drive and see if there is an impact.

Eric believes an external firewire drive with a certain oxford chip set provides the best sound.  I am pretty sure mine has it.

I have been using an SD card to hold my library but increasingly, I have been streaming Tidal.  I'd say that accounts for 80-90% of my listening lately.

I am in such a good place right now, that I am hesitate to change something major.  The bypass caps have seasoned as have my input tubes and I am getting really really good sound.
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will
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Posts: 2124
Re: Revolution Server - Amazing!
Reply #7 - 08/25/18 at 01:54:45
 
Great everything is sounding so good Palamino! I can see why you may want to stop and listen now that all you have been exploring is balanced and burned in. I am in a great place now too, but still openning new doors with wires and resistors mainly. Caps sorted out for the most part, I am enjoying great listening as I go! I have been at amp mods so long, this could be a nice place to stop, but I still have some things I want to do to complete the process. A haunting stimulant is that even after a lot of changes in the amps, every time I sort out a new modification, it keeps getting better, so it is difficult to stop.

But the Revolution.

Whether to go further brings to mind digital development...but also, compensations for digital playback issues. The lack of subtle grace much digital developed with, and with most system gear developed to be at least somewhat “forgiving” of things like “digititis,” glare, etching, etc...even with great systems it seems that important subtle musical information can tend to get lost.

As a result, I think most of us are accustomed to core musical information being missing, making uncovering what is lost difficult. This is part of what makes Eric a good resource. His source development set out to solve this, and for me, made these problems clearer. Using his DAC, and setup and listening advice, hearing a more complete source signal helped awaken more lively music, while also helping me to start musically removing colorations and masking that can be equated with “forgiveness.”

Eric’s development is all about pulling from digital recordings as much analog information as possible. And being successful, it helped me refine aspects of the sound previous sources would not easily allow. Toward this end he has tested extensively in many high-end systems...his own 4 systems, other developer’s, customer’s, etc. Supported by testing competitor gear, and hearing from customers, he knows a lot about what can diminish (or bring out) potential for complex and subtle information in a source, and in the rest of the system.

The Revolution added up as “major” for me in part from further revealing the reality that subtler analog information exists on most recordings that lots of digital gear can’t musically reveal. It also helps show that gear that can reveal some finer information, but with unmusical artifacts, in effect can be worse than not revealing it at all. But when this information is extracted eloquently, it completes all the rest of the sound, pretty subtle information having a relatively "major" overall effect for me, though not in the face.

Having listened so long for the more fragile, fine information, even with passive listening I do listen pretty deeply. I think you listen similarly, so what is “major?” When I think of the term "major" in terms of changes, I think of subtler, careful listening “major,” and more obvious “major.” Both seem relevant in my experience with the Server, and also with good English, illustrating how hard it is to communicate about innately complex audio.

Similarly, uses of "transparency" and "accuracy" usually are at least partly subjective. But they can be pretty accurate too depending on how clear and complete our perception and analysis is. The Revolution OS, for me, fits these I think. Before the OS my Mini was really good, but after, everything that was there became more complete, and not by additions, but by subtraction, an important consideration I think.

Looking at color versus accuracy in gear development, trends of development color our views as users. Poorly done accuracy is not fun. And poorly done color is not fun. So it seems most good gear tries to balance these based upon what is known. In my experience, with uncolored improvements in musical complexity, we hear more, and in balance, increased clarity does not create negative effects. Though at times challenging, doing mods with the objective to increase musical information without notable color, distortions or veils, has in fact increased clarity and musicality for me.

But from a background of many developers trying to subtly make gear more “musical” and “forgiving,” imparting various interpretations of “warmth,” detail, weight, balance, etc....things can become cumulatively off-balanced and masked, especially in frequency areas that can be hard sounding. Then I think pulling more clarity from a system can be negative at first. Even slightly unbalanced clarity can cause parts of the spectrum that were already off to become offensive. As a result, it is easy to believe this is innate to digital music, home system/rooms, or whatever, and to try to “solve” it by coloring the offensive parts away using the colorations of gear, cables, tubes or whatever. I think this may be inadvertently compounding the original problems, perhaps moving further into not utilizing subtler musical information. For me it can be a fine line, but “in balance” increased accuracy can increase the complexity of edges, “softening” what had been hardness with more musical clarity, while potentiating a more complete musical experience.

What I heard from the Revolution Server seems to be across all levels. The signal being less damaged by extraction of the digital data...more intact, I hear improved clarity, density, and complexity in everything ...core body, edges, textures, harmonics, decays...for me, helping "hard" or "glaring" to become more musically complex while also increasing density and definition.

With this comes nuance, subtle time and tonal comings and goings being heard more clearly. To read my system, listening for the more fragile parts like decays, textures and harmonics, helps determine if I am getting a better level of more-difficult-to-reveal information. But also, time and space relationships are a really big one. If the edges of notes and harmonics can be heard to transition fluidly from a complex but discrete edge, into extended and complete ambient information across the spectrum, this usually indicates everything in the signal is clearer, less disturbed.

At some point in edge/space refinement, the feel of the pace of the music slows down. With less distortions and masking from digital timing issues, noise, and the like...or from resistors, caps, or wires not being quite up to the rest...once resolved, the spacial information becomes clearer. Edges becoming more complex and discrete seems to result from less disruption to what makes the signal, also causing space to be more clear. With more clear space in the balance, the music feels slowed down. I think this shows as an aspect of speed really, clearer and faster edge transitions allowing more space, relaxing the music. To me, it is a breakthrough in signal refinement when I hear it.

Clearly it all can be a complex balancing act due to the complexity of music, and equally, the complexity of our system/rooms. But I think mainly what the Revolution OS can help provide in a revealing system, is a beginning with better accuracy and transparency. From removing "disturbances" there is more musical information to enjoy. At the same time, a more accurate signal helps support hearing what is there for fine-tuning settings, other gear, and room, including solving previous mistakes that made sense at the time.

So I know the feeling when the system/room is in a great place, synergy so beautiful we almost fear change. But I have also experienced core improvements to accuracy and transparency (in balance) as always good, though at times taking effort to tune in. If I have been compensating/adjusting to bring out areas of the sound that are less resolved due to systemic problems, at times I have off-balanced the system by rebalancing to compensate for an imbalance...a double whammy. Improvements in transparent accuracy can help resolve what I was compensating for on a more core level, so can require some dialing in. But as the foundational values of the system/room become more true, "tuning to synergy," with less core impediments, finally yields better results for me. I feel like the Revolution Server supports this...

That said, in an excellent place, stopping and enjoying seems quite commendable to me!
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