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I know update this blog with olympic frequency, but now I have this idea for a series of posts that might actually motivate me to generate some worthwhile content. The idea is I’ll pick a genre I listen to and an artist to represent it, and then present a few key recordings and tell you why you need to hear them. We’ll start this exercise with Greek synth shaman Panos Alexiadis, a.k.a. Lunar Miasma.

The first thing you’ll notice if you trawl the Lunar Miasma discography is that the vast majority of his releases are on tape. Yes, cassette tape. Yes, it is indeed 2012. I’m pretty sure his recordings are digital somewhere in the production chain, so it’s not due to some analog puritanism. Rather, it’s part cheap-as-hell production costs for small runs and a rather more romantic format than CDr. While tapes have plenty of well known sonic limitations, everything from Lunar Miasma sounds pretty damn good considering the format. So don’t be deterred—dig out your old tape deck from the attic and get tripping.

And boy do I mean tripping. This is pretty much synth trip music perfected, as far as I’m concerned. The mood, progression, textures and arrangement is totally spot on. He steers clear of of the gag-inducingly cheesy new age slush that permeates so much of ambient music, yet achieves amazing emotional impact. If you like old Berlin school stuff like Schulze (tracks like Crystal Lake, from thew Mirage LP) you’re in for a treat. Since his releases are seldom produced in more than 100 copies they can be pretty tricky to get ahold of, but check Discogs and the labels own sites.

Out of the ones I have I can wholeheartedly recommend Existence (Hooker Vision, 2011), The Gateway (Digitalis, 2011), Gone (Sweat Lodge Guru, 2011), Arrival (Field Studies, 2011), Observing The Universe (Moon Glyph, 2012), Managing The Dream (Tranquility Tapes, 2012) and Impermanent Nature (SicSic, 2012). Here are some clips from his SoundCloud page:

Hypnopompic Speech, from Managing The Dream:

Expanded Dimension, from Observing The Universe:

Arrival from Arrival:

I also have to add Air Pt II from The Gateway, which isn’t on Soundcloud:

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Stereophile Weiss DAC202 review now online

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The review I discussed in my previous post is now available online here.

There’s another recent DAC202 review by Nicholas Bedworth for Positive Feedback with lots of very good technical information, but whose subjective conclusions I found a bit weird and littered with a bit of unfortunate mumbo jumbo. He claims to get better sound when bypassing the units internal clocking which goes against all my own experience, the Stereophile measurements and Daniel Weiss’ own thoughts on the matter. But as I haven’t heard it with the setup Nicholas was using, I can’t claim he’s wrong with absolute certainty. His experience does not reflect mine, however.

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Stereophile reviews Weiss DAC202

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This post is borderline obnoxiously self-congratulatory, so apologies for that.

It’s been a while since I updated you on the progress of my hi-fi journey. In short, I bought the Weiss DAC202 this summer, after concluding that adding it to my Pass INT-150 amplifier gave a more satisfying sound than replacing both with a Devialet D-Premier. I’m very very happy with my purchase and whenever I listen through another digital source I’m struck by how flat and unenthusiastic everything sounds. The soul and flesh and breath of life in this little DAC makes all the difference.

In the January 2012 issue of Stereophile, Erick Lichte gives the unit a full review while John Atkinson performs his usual exhaustive test suite. Since I own the thing and has listened to it daily for 6 months, I thought I’d chime in with my perspective.

Other than describing its overall sound as silky, liquid and supple, Lichte does not make any special mention of the midrange that I have raved about previously. Perhaps he was primarily thinking of the mids when he chose those words, or perhaps my combination of Focal Utopia speakers and this DAC brings out something extra in that range that his Revel Performa F30 and Atlantic Technology AT-1 speakers did not convey.

Lichte feels the DAC202 does not possess the same dynamic capabilities, both macro and micro, as dCS Debussy for example. This comment must be seen in the light of his later remark that the Debussy was a bit more fatiguing in the long run and lacked the same silkiness. I have not made the same comparison (although I have heard the Debussy too) so this is mere speculation, but isn’t it rather likely that the perceived increase in dynamics and detail is due to the same factor that causes some listening fatigue and lesser liquidity? In my experience, the same is true for the soundstage. Lichte mentions how the dCS unit manages to project a soundsstage in front of the speaker baffles while Weiss expands out behind them instead. I mentioned this in another post here, and I’ll quote myself:

I have seen remarks that some feel the DAC202 is somewhat laid-back and recessed in its soundstage, but I’m inclined to think this is a misapprehension. It does extend the soundstage further out behind the speakers than most other digital sources I’ve heard, in a very convincing manner at that, but it also extends in all other directions. If you have had a flat soundstage before, one that sat against a proverbial brick wall lined up between the speakers, that rear extension is the thing you will notice first. But listen again and you’re likely to find the sound has taken on a more voluminous character overall, where sounds are unimpededly slung out like dandelion seeds, as opposed to the easily congested single-lane precision beam of sound delivered by many other components.

I would guess that this is what’s shaping Lichtes impression to some extent. I am not at all saying he is wrong, or that the Debussy isn’t sounding better overall; This may well be a matter of taste and I too am easily enchanted by a more forward soundstage. My personal conclusion here is that the Weiss presentation is both a more correct representation of the source material and a more pleasant and rewarding sound in the long term. Erick Lichte might be of a slightly different opinion (in fact he prefers the Bel Canto over both these), and I cannot possibly fault him for that. I too may well change my mind on this topic again, as I have before.

His preference for the more rolled of B filter is curious: I find that DAC202 does feel somewhat more receded with this filter compared to filter A, so why he preferred B is peculiar. I use filter A exclusively as it sounds every so slightly more open and forward.

Note also that he mentions that the shortcomings weren’t nearly as apparent, if at all, when using the DAC202 as a headphone amp. To me, that would indicate that the fault is not with the DAC but with the rest of the signal chain or the room itself. Making changes there might let him get the headphone level immediacy while dodging the fatigue issue from dCS Debussy. Or perhaps system synergy with his components was simply better with the Bel Canto DAC3.5VB, which I haven’t heard but got more curious about after this review.

John Atkinsons measurements reflect the impression I get both from listening and from my interview with Daniel Weiss himself: This is engineered to such perfection that it seems hard to concieve how it can be bettered. Weiss himself feels the Medea+ DAC with its new output stages is a better performer, and as much as I would love to see someone like Michael Fremer review it, I’m even more excited to see Atkinsons reactions to its measurements.

The jitter suppression deserves extra attention. “…The Weiss DAC202 offers the best rejection of datastream jitter I have encountered”, says Atkinson. Remember, then, that he has measured digital source components for 25 years, including the 10 times as expensive dCS Scarlatti stack. This absolutely astonishing jitter performance means that in practice, you can use whatever digital source you want and effectively get the same D/A performance from a Squeezebox as from a $10.000 transport. After the JET PLL has worked it’s magic, the signals are indistinguishable. Good luck finding differences between WAV and FLAC or between different digital cables with this DAC. (I will give the cable experiment a go though.)

Atkinsons measurements show that objectively this is one of the best performing digital to analog converters in existence. Erick Lichtes listening impressions show that this level of engineering can sound more organic and analog than something designed by ear.

Lichte might be right in that there could or should be more dynamic impact and forward soundstage — I can’t say with certaintly whether that would be correct or desirable in the long run. I love the sound of mine though, and I have good reason to believe it will remain my digital source component for a very long time.

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What I’ve learnt from a year in the gym

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Here’s a post not concerning music or hifi equipment. If you only care about those topics, you’re done now. Physical health should concern everyone though, and while this is just me rambling about my own experiences, I hope some of you might find it interesting.

Like a lot of people I have a rich history of shamefully neglected gym memberships and broken new years resolutions. I’ve never been properly fat — the worst shape I’ve ever been in was when I got to 95 kg (209 lbs) in 2005 — but before then I was never properly fit either. Deciding I didn’t want to get to a three digit weight I took up running and enjoyed it enough to get myself down to 77 kg (170 lbs) in a little over a year. I hadn’t been very smart about it though, and got myself runner’s knee in both legs. Motivation slipped and I eventually stopped going to the gym entirely. I’m very thankful I made that effort to lose the weight since it taught me a lot about what I can accomplish if I put my mind to it and that I could learn to love a new form of exercise (I had never done any long distance running before that). The problem was that now I just kept excusing my laziness with the comforting thought that I could get back into shape any time I wanted. That is of course utterly pointless if I never do it though.

I was pretty much entirely untrained when a colleague dragged me to the gym in November of last year. I was probably about 87 kg, which in terms of physical appearance wasn’t horrible at all, but it wasn’t a body to be proud of either. In terms of strength and conditioning it was even worse: I couldn’t do a single pullup (regardless of hand position or grip width) and while hanging from the bar I couldn’t pull my knees up higher than the hip joint even once. Running for 10 minutes on the treadmill at 10 km/h (6.2 mph) was almost exhausting. That I’d ran 20 km in less than 100 minutes a few years before felt surreal. No 31 year old should ever be in that shape, so I bought a 6 month membership and started training.

In my previous episodes of gym traning I’ve done the usual machine exercises, thrown dumbbells around, tried all manners of split schedules where you try to get the whole body covered each week. I’ve mostly trained for vanity, but without any real goal or determination. So I’ve kept trying new things and never really stuck to a program. Sure I got marginally stronger and it was probably way better than not training at all, but nothing really happened. I’ve always trained mainly to get rid of some flab, so I also kept my diet pretty strict. Since everyone says you have to eat to gain muscle, I decided that while a bit flabby, this time I’d eat like mad to see if it helps. After all, I know I can shed weight if I need to. Apart from 10-15 minutes on the treadmill as warmup I just did the standard 3 sets of 10 reps with the usual machines and dumbbells, and ate huge amounts at every meal.

Apart from the dreaded runner’s knee, big reasons I’d stopped training was that work took more of my time, I had moved to a new apartment with my girlfriend and I didn’t want to be away so much. So this time around I decided to train in the morning, before work. I am not in any way a morning person, but after 30 I find myself needing slightly less sleep than 10 years ago, so I figured it was worth a try. The gym was only open early Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, so apart from some occasional lunch session on a Tuesday or Thursday, I trained 3 days a week. I quickly found a problem with this: It’s much easier to get up early if you’re consistent with it. I decided to hang in there, and since I’d just bought a 6 month membership I figured I’d switch to another gym with more generous opening hours later on.

In April, after 6 months of consistent traning and a few bazillion extra calories, I weighed 91 kg (200 lbs). Not exactly lean, but some of the gains were definitely muscle. I decided that this was heavy enough, and switched to a gym that let me train 5 mornings per week. I also got the bicycle out for the summer season and started biking to/from work. So my daily routine was bike 12-15 minutes (and I go hard, I ride like I have a goddamn homing rocket chasing me), then treadmill for 15-20 (up slightly from before) and then about 40 minutes of weight traning. After work, bike home again. This worked really well and in late june I was down to 85 kg, while it felt like I actually kept gaining muscle. I’m saying felt like, because it might just be that I looked more defined thanks to less body fat, and I felt stronger because I was lighter.

As the sun set sooner and sooner, I decided to stopp biking in October. Inner city riding in the dark is a bit risky and chilly mornings could mean lethal ice patches that aren’t very welcome when you’re treating your job commute like the final stretch of Tour de France. Instead I switched to a gym in the same franchise that’s just 100 meters from my home, and increased the cardio to 20-30 minutes of treadmill running. The knees have had zero problems so far, thankfully.

I’ve read up on crossfit a lot which lead me to more barbell training and I can finally squat to proper depth with OK-ish form. I have a lot left to do in terms of flexibility, but I’m getting there. I’ve also incorporated more circuit training to improve my workrate. Watching the crossfit elite athletes on Youtube I’m in utter awe of their stamina and physical versatility, but at the same time very concerned about the risk of injury and not willing to give up my heavy lifts for speed training. That said, I’ve done 100 burpees for time 5 weeks in a row now, and while I’m embarasingly slow it’s at least getting better. Now that I have some sort of basic fitness established, I can actually enjoy stuff like that, but I would never ever recommend it to myself a year ago. I also tried the crossfit workout called Fight Gone Bad, and scored a very shitty 207. It was my first try though and I will have another go very soon. Over 300 would be great but it’s probably up to a year away.

The point of all this is I’ve tried a lot of things, and also learned a lot of things. I’ve done pure cardio (running), I’ve done the machines, I’ve done dumbbells, I’ve done barbells, I’ve done bodyweight exercises, I’ve done circuit training. The one thing that remains is consistency. Changing the routine is fun and helps with motivation since I enjoy trying new things, but over 200 gym visits later I still don’t know what really works. I’ve had results that I’m pretty happy with, still at 85 kg but more muscular than I’ve ever been and with pretty good endurance, but surely this wasn’t the optimal way to train. As I try to figure out what was redundant, it strikes me that I don’t even know what my goal is! It’s not really vanity any more—I care how I look but I’m not at all in the bodybuilder category. A functional and multidiciplinary body is the most attractive in both inside and outside: I want to be able to run 10 km with ease, to sprint 100 meters really fast, to be strong relative to my body weight, to be have flexibility and balance and coordination, and to be strong in absolute terms so that I’m able to lift heavy things. I can probably keep training all these things and slowly get a little bit better at them until eventually age stumps my progression, or I can be a bit more scientific about it.

After reading what feels like every single training program and theory in existence, I feel that there is very solid evidence that basic barbell training combined with some gymnastics and running is the basics for everything unless you want to be very specialised. So starting next year I will try Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program which consists of squat, deadlift, bench press, power clean, overhead press, dips and pullups (the last two are actually optional). This program dictates 3 non-consecutive days of traning per week, so I will be back to mon-wed-fri for a while. Right now it’s tempting to think I’ll do some running tue-thu but seeing as I will be squatting 3 days a week it’s not likely to happen. Since the program emphasises that if you mess with the program you’re not going to get the results it promises, I will really try to be strict and not add a bunch of stuff. I know I will long for running, pure arm exercises, lunges and all that but I will try not to deviate. If you can truly increase your weight every week with this method, as hundreds (if not thousands) of people swear you do, it will be worth it. If that doesn’t work, I get to try new things again! And if it does work, I can try adding gymnastics type stuff and maybe a bit of running to see if that stifles progress or it can be combined. With proper strength to start from, I can try to maintain that and add speed, endurance and all the other cool stuff. Doing it all at once can’t really be optimal, can it?

This time around I don’t think I’ll slip out of training again, I’m in it for the long haul. I’m in the shape of my life but that doesn’t say much — noone would mistake me for an elite athlete, and I’m not about to get offers for modelling underwear any time soon. That’s all OK though, because I don’t keep any type of diet and love beer way too much. But I’m having fun, I keep getting stronger and faster and leaner and meaner and I just feel more relaxed and pleased with my life than I have in a very, very long time. I’m super excited to see if 3 months of this program will give me the something even remotely close to the gains it promises. A 200 kg deadlift would be pretty awesome…

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New music: Incoming records, fall 2011

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Here’s some records that are on their way here. I’ve linked each cover image to a site where you can listen to some samples and/or buy them. Spanning from the grimmest of noise and metal to serene piano improvisations and soothing drones, it’s quite an eclectic blend yet with a distincty autumnal mood:

Alva Noto - Univrs Nils Frahm - Felt SILENT SERVANT / FEMALE / REGIS - Sampler Single Two
The Sight Below - Glider Kreng - Grimoire Sigur Rós - Inni
Peterlicker - Nicht Rafael Anton Irisarri - Reverie Ascension - With Burning Tongues
Rodger Stella / Kites - Interior Moon Corpsessed - The Dagger and the Chalice Kevin Drumm - Sheer Hellish Miasma
Ricardo Donoso - Progress Chance Phurpa - Trowo Phurnag Ceremony Barn Owl - Lost In The Glare
The Human Quena Orchestra - A Natural History Of Failure Inez Lightfoot - Pollen On The Brow Twells & Christensen - Coasts
Björk - Biophilia Cloudland Ballroom - Infinite Mind High Wolf - Atlas Nation
Imaginary Softwoods - The Path Of Spectrolite Zurvan - Cymatic Sacrament  
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Lost Theory Festival: Ambient DJ set preview

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I’m playing two sets at the Lost Theory Festival in Croatia August 17-22 (that’s soon!). My ambient set will be Sunday morning 6.30-11, so it’s a looong one. Before I knew I’d be playing in daylight I made a shorter promo mix – I might play slightly sunnier stuff at the festival, but this mix turned out pretty nice so here you go, enjoy!

My goa trance DJ set is saturday morning 07-09, after Derango and before Dimension 5.

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Sitaar-Tah!* – Semimimimimin

Aquarius Records of San Fransisco run a web shop that’s looking quite distinctly 1990’s, which is not a high mark in 2011. But what they lack in web savvy, they make up in spades when it comes to dedication. Their newsletters, which are now running double pace and are sent out weekly, have reviews written by the staff themselves, unlike pretty much every other record shop on the planet who just copy the distributor mumbo jumbo verbatim. This is practically a full time job in itself!

Their insatiable lust and love for all forms of weird music is contagious, and when their site tricks me and a record turns out to be sold out even though it’s listed (which honesty happens with probably 50% of what I order) they go on a quest to find that missing record no matter what. Today I received a CD that I initially ordered on May 5th, 2010. That’s right — 14 months later, they found the damn thing for me! That level of service and commitment remedies any shortcomings their site may have, and if I ever go to San Fransisco I will visit the store just to personally shake hands with their mailorder staff.

The record in question is an epic 43+ minutes of brainmelting sitar, synth, tablas, overtone singing and god knows what else. If you like your music esoteric, unrelenting and profoundly hallucinatory, this is mandatory listening.

You can find some samples through Juno or Aquarius (direct link). A quick googling will lead you to a download of the whole thing. The label behind this, aRCHIVE, is now defunct but this disc can be found cheap through Discogs.com.

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New music: Harsh acid techno

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If you’re reading this blog thanks to my audiophile posts, you’re likely—although not entirely guaranteed—to find the following music overwhelmingly noisy. That warning aside, I do love brutally distorted Roland TB-303 mayhem. Two such records that have spent many, many years in my wantlist finally arrived in the mail today:

DATacide – The Extasy Of Communication

 

Woody McBride – Rattlesnake

It feels surreal that these are now 18 and 17 years old, not only because it makes me feel old but for how well I feel that they hold up even to this day. My collection of mid-90’s underground dance music vinyl weighs over a metric ton for good reasons, and it’s likely to keep expanding.

Both records purchased through Discogs.com.

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New music: Spectrum Spools

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Seeing as this has turned into a hifi blog, I thought it’d be appropriate to remedy something I find missing in a lot of audio writing, namely new music. And not more Diana Krall albums or reissues of relics from 40 years ago; I mean truly new and adventurous music on the outer brinks of the artform. I might not manage to write about everything I buy, but by setting the bar reasonably low I should hopefully have enough writing stamina to give a bit of insight and inspiration through my purchases.

Anyone familiar with the 1970’s Berlin school of electronic psychedelia from names like Klaus Schulze might object to me calling the recently launched Spectrum Spools label “adventurous music on the outer brinks of the artform”, as there is an obvious heritage here. But the resurgence of tripped-out, neo-kosmische synth psychedelia in recent years has a fresh take on the style that I would argue is expanding into new territory.

A sublabel of avant-garde powerhouse Editions Mego, Spectrum Spools vinyls are cut at Dubplates + Mastering Berlin and everything oozes of quality. Emeralds played a fantastic set to an undeservedly sparse crowd here in Stockholm last night and I bought two LP’s from the band. Do the clicky-clicky on the cover images below to be taken to the label site where you can listen to a preview track off of each. The colored editions are sold out from the label but can be found through some distributors still.

SP003: Forma – “Forma”

 

SP004: Mist – “House”

 

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Interview: Daniel Weiss

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Interview: Daniel WeissDaniel Weiss is one of the worlds foremost authorities on digital sound and his products have had great success both in pro audio and among audiophiles around the world. In February he visited Stockholm and the high-end fair to present his latest creation MAN202, a combined DAC, network streamer, CD player and ripping station. After closing time on the first day I got a chance to talk to him over a few beers.

This interview is quite technical at times, but key phrases have been linked to explanatory articles for those keen to read more.

I’d like to start with Weiss as a company. How many people are you right now?
Right now, 10 people.
Are you happy with that or are you looking to expand further?
We will probably expand, depending on our success of course. But as it looks right now we’ll probably expand, or have to expand.
Which side is bigger, pro audio or consumer audio?
Right now it’s consumer audio actually, in terms of turnover and also in terms of time we put into new development.
Do you develop for consumer products first and then take that technology to pro audio?
No, usually it works vice versa.
Like how the DAC2 was first and then you made the Minerva?
That example is a bad one because the Minerva was actually first and the DAC2 came later. But for instance we had the DAC1 in pro audio and then made the Medea out of that. For future projects we want to avoid that kind of interchange.
There was a bit of controversy with the DAC2 and the Minerva because of the price difference. But you immediately stated that it’s the same product, you didn’t try to hide it.
Yes, there’s no point in doing that.

Do you manufacture everything in Switzerland?
Yes we do, yes.
That is normally more expensive to do in Switzerland, compared to outsourcing to China for example.
That’s true. We actually outsource it to a local company, located where ours is. I think the PCB manufacturing for instance is done outside of Switzerland, but the assembly of the pieces is all done in Switzerland.

Compared to a lot of other people in the business you post on forums and blogs quite often, and you have some articles out on enjoythemusic.com for example. Do you feel this is rewarding from a business perspective or is it something that drains you of energy and time you had rather put into something else?
I think it’s rewarding in the sense that you get recognized as someone who cares about customers and concerns and so on. It’s not directly rewarding regarding sales. It gives you a good image, of course.
Are you ever frustrated by meeting the same question again and again, and all these misconceptions and maybe even accusations sometimes?
It’s not that bad yet.
Yet? You think it will get worse?
Could be, because with the computer things taking place now in the audio world, it’s becoming more and more difficult for the average consumer to understand what’s going on. So basic questions are coming up, like how to set up a computer. More and more I’ve been thinking about making some whitepaper on how to do such things. I think I should do more of that actually.
What do you see as the most significant misconception about digital audio?
Many people think it makes a difference if they play from a normal hard disk or from a solid state disk. That’s one thing.
You mean they think of it as analogue tweaking although it’s digital?
They think they can tweak the bits, so to speak. But bits are bits and if you get the proper bits off the medium, then it’s fine.
Like the discussion of FLAC vs ALAC vs WAV vs AIFF?
Right, that’s one thing as well. It depends on the right bits of course, and also on the jitter. I think that’s what’s going on there, it’s really a time domain thing.
So a bad implementation of FLAC decoding would trouble the system in such a way that more jitter is introduced?
I don’t think you could pin that down to the FLAC decoding.
But some people claim that they keep hearing differences between FLAC and WAV, and that would be the only theoretical difference I think.
Yes, but I don’t see how a FLAC decoder could influence jitter. So I think people hearing a difference between FLAC and WAV for instance, either have a defective FLAC decoder—which is very unlikely and easily testable—or they have a placebo effect going on. So those people I recommend to do a blind test.
A lot of people have problems understanding how data flows in a server based system, where the data is, where it turns to analogue, the effects of a digital transport and things like that. Is it a business challenge for you to overcome those misunderstandings so that people understand what the product is for?
To some extent maybe. But I think our job is to tell people how it is, and hint them that they can be victims of false misconceptions and false expectations. Some think WAV sounds better than FLAC because the FLAC is data reduced, but it’s not of course in the end.
Not understanding the difference between lossy and non-lossy compression.
They probably think one must be worse because the file is smaller. When they listen they expect the WAV to sound better and then it sounds better.

If you had a room and a system and choice of music that you have full control over, do you think you could tell a €200 CD player from a €15000 transport feeding one of your DAC’s?
I wouldn’t expect to hear a difference actually.
Because of the jitter suppression?
Yes, provided of course that the data is read correctly.
But who would ever need a Jason transport then?
(Laughs) …those who want to have the same design as the Medea, for instance. Or for using the upsampling feature or the volume control.
What about digital cables then—There’s a huge difference between different types of cables. I know for firewire you’ve said you shouldn’t spend much money on expensive cables.
Well there are differences in firewire cables, double or triple shielded and all that stuff.
But does it matter?
Yes the shielding can matter in terms of susceptibility regarding interference.
But that interference isn’t introducing jitter, so is it picking up radio interference and transmitting it to sensitive components?
No it introduces bit errors.
Oh, you can get bit errors from poorly shielded cables?
I think so, in theory. Because it’s still balanced, the whole firewire cable.
And there’s a checksum, right?
Yes but firewire doesn’t retransmit, it’s a continuous data flow.
Then what about electric S/PDIF? There’s research showing that different cables can introduce different amounts of jitter. Is that something we can hear in a normal DAC, or with your jitter suppression?
That’s of course very much depending on the implementation or on the clocking and re-clocking. Our DAC’s are built such that it shouldn’t matter much.
So you wouldn’t recommend a €1000 digital cable?
No. No, I wouldn’t.
So that money would be better spent on something else.
Yes, on acoustic treatment maybe.
For the MAN202, you’ve said you might introduce DSP functionality later on through software upgrades. Would you have some sort of room correction in there?
Yes that’s one thing we may put in, we don’t know yet. It depends on what DSP power we will have, and I don’t know that yet.
Aren’t you settled on what chip to use?
It would use the PC CPU.

Given the Nyquist theorem and the limits of human hearing, is the only reason we sometimes can tell 16 bits 44,1kHz from hi-res, just the reconstruction filters? Because theoretically we shouldn’t hear the higher resolution.
I don’t know, maybe it has to do with non-linearities in the ear, so high frequencies above 20kHz can end up at lower frequencies through intermodulation. Maybe there’s something to that, I don’t know. But then the speakers have to do that, and the microphones etc.
A problem is that very few microphones record that high frequencies. If you analyze a 24-bit, 96kHz recording of classical music, it might not have anything above, say, 25kHz. But still people think it sounds much better. So could it be the bit depth, the extra dynamics?
It’s different in the D-A converter, with the frequencies it can transmit and the anti-aliasing or the reconstruction filter which can be much flatter, so it gives you less artifacts from the filter.
Your equipment supports up to 24 bits, 192kHz. Is that completely overkill?
Yes. Bob Stuart of Meridian once gave a talk at AES and his proposal was to keep it at 60 kHz.
The closest one we have as a standard is 88,2, but more equipment supports 96.
96 is coming from the studio standard, doubled from 48. But 88,2 or 96 will be plenty.
So anyone claiming to hear a difference between 96 and 192 would either be hearing placebo or in how it was converted to that sampling rate?
That is a point of course. I know of professional people having done tests with these conversions and they can hardly hear a difference, even if it’s up to 192 and down to 44,1 again.
Especially if they use Saracon!
Yes, they used Saracon.
That seems to have become a bit of a standard?
There are some competitors, but it’s one of the better ones. There’s a website actually, comparing all kinds of sampling rate converters.
And saracon does very well.
Yes, luckily (laughs).

If you could choose only one format, would it be 24 bits, 44,1kHz or 16 bits, 88,2 kHz?
Probably 16/88.
At least in theory, our ears can manage more than 96dB of dynamics, but we can’t hear much above 20kHz. So according to that, the extra dynamics should be better.
Professional people usually go with larger word lengths than bandwidth.
That’s because they will do processing with the sound, so they want that margin.
As an end format, you can do a very decent encoding in 16 bits. I think the dynamic range is enough, you don’t have such dynamic range in a listening situation usually.
Buy you have a finite number of steps within those 16 bit, so it’s not infinite precision. Would you ever need a finer resolution than that?
The question is whether you need the signal to noise ratio basically. It’s 96dB at 16 bits, which is huge. You have maybe a 30dB dynamic range in the music, and that is already quite a lot actually. So you still have a 60dB lower noise floor. I don’t think you hear the noise of a CD. At normal listening levels, do you hear the noise floor?
No.
See, that’s what I mean.

I know a lot of people look up to you and what you’ve accomplished, but is there an engineer within audio that you admire or look up to?
There are, of course. I’m thinking of pro audio, because that’s at the forefront of developments. But I don’t mention any names =)
It’s interesting that you mention how the latest developments are in pro audio. Should a consumer looking for the latest and greatest search in pro audio?
The pro audio products are usually not built for the consumer, they have different requirements. A D-A converter is maybe something that can live in both world. But when it comes to, say, an equalizer, an EQ for consumers is usually much simpler than a pro audio EQ. But if someone wants to look over the fence…
One pro audio product that has had a lot of attention in consumer audio is from Metric Halo, the ULN-8 and the LIO-8. Have you been in contact with those products at all?
Not much, no. I know that Sonic Studio is using them and selling them in high-end audio.
Do you look at competitors products at all or do you keep to your own research?
I don’t look at them much actually. The reason is that if you conceive a new product and you look at a competitor, you get into the competitors way of thinking. You limit your thinking, kind of. It’s better to start with a clean slate.
But then you have to be very confident in your ability to find the best solution without looking at anyone else.
Of course, yes. It’s a two-sided sword. You have to have some idea at least, of what you’re going to do. It helps sometimes to look at what others are doing.
There are several products coming out that have either wifi or wired ethernet built in, to read directly form a server. You have the MAN202 coming out, the Devialet amplifier will get an upgrade this spring for wifi, there’s the Resolution Audio Cantata which has ethernet as well. So those types of products are coming now. Is that just coincidence or are people being influenced by eachother?
I think they are seeing the general trend in high-end audio, that it’s going to be network based playback. So it’s a logical consequence of that.
Do you think that network connection is going to replace a direct connection to a computer, so we leave USB and firewire for network playback?
Yes, probably. You’d have to have a DAC which accepts ethernet connection.
Or a converter, like the version of MAN202 without the DAC maybe.
Yes, that’s also a solution.
I was expecting you to release something like the INT202, only for ethernet.
Well that’s on the list of course. In the pro audio field there are now some emerging formats for ethernet. Of course there are again some competing formats.
So you’re waiting for one to be the winner?
I don’t know yet, I have to look into those.
Are you worried that firewire will drop more in popularity? It’s not very common outside of Apple.
That’s true, yes. I don’t know what the future brings for firewire, but of course we have to be prepared in case they drop firewire completely. But right now it’s healthy, still.
For USB there’s been a lot of development now. Finally there are now many different implementations of asynchronous USB with up to 24 bit 192kHz without the need for custom drivers in some cases even. Is that something you will consider?
Yes, sure.
How come you chose firewire over USB in the beginning?
There was that chip which we’re using. It’s made especially for high quality audio over firewire. That was appealing, and at that time there wasn’t any asynchronous USB or 192 over USB.
And it would have been too expensive to develop on your own?
Actually I didn’t look into it. I saw that firewire chip and was blown away, so to speak.

You’ve built some custom units through the years. What is your favorite construction?
We did A/D and D/A converters for Swedish radio. We built them for the Swiss AT&T company and that company wired all of Sweden for lossless audio transmission via satellite links and such. It was in the early days so it was only 48kHz, 20 bits.
That’s not so bad.
Nothing was compressed, it was linear PCM, 2 mbit/s I think it was. So for that project we did A/D and D/A. It was very high quality at that time. I think Sweden was the only customer they had, and they stopped the project eventually.
Do you enjoy working on those custom missions where you have to solve problems that haven’t been solved before?
Yes, that was kind of fun. We did hundreds of those converters so it was kind of rewarding in the end, financially. But then we also had other projects we shouldn’t have done. It eats a lot of time.
Is there any kind of product you’d like to build, but that you don’t think there’s a commercial outlet for?
Yes, there’s one. One project on our list is a special testing device that allows you to test for instance whether mains cables have an influence on the sound. But I don’t know whether it’s a good idea to do something like that.
That’s a bit of a controversial topic, mains cables. What’s your personal opinion on that?
I’ve not done any comparisons. I’m kind of doubtful about mains cables in particular, because those people don’t care about the cable behind the wall.
I think the argument is often that the part exposed in your room is basically an antenna, which needs to be shielded.
But the wires in the wall are also an antenna.
So unless it’s a filter, it doesn’t really matter?
A filter is something different of course. But just a cable… of course it has some filtering effect in any case, but a cable shouldn’t do that much filtering compared to a mains filter which is a different thing.
So you would recommend looking into a mains filter rather than mains cables?
Yeah, if you want to treat the mains part.

You seem to have a very careful development cycle, not rushing components out.
We are late always (laughs). It has to do with the fact that we run several projects in parallel and we are a limited number of people. Eventually we have to concentrate on some project, like the MAN202 right now. There are two people working only on the MAN202. We probably do too many things, for the size of the company.
Is there any product you think was released a little bit too soon?
You could say all the products are released too soon, because we do revisions and enhancements. But there is a point where you have to make a release. It has to work to some extent of course, but you should be allowed to get customer feedback. It’s a kind of evolution. For instance our EQ in the pro audio segment started with kind of a simple thing and now we have linear phase and dynamic EQ etc. So that was an evolution based on consumer feedback and technology advancements.
You said you have too many projects, but do you plan to branch out into other component types? MAN202, DAC202 and Medea have clock input, so will there be a CLOCK202?
Probably not. Or if we do it, only because of market demand. Technically it doesn’t make much sense I think. The clock should ideally be right at the DAC chip or ADC chip. So if you have this atomic clock, which is a bad idea anyway because you don’t need the precision of the clock really—what you need is good jitter performance—those 10MHz standard frequency rubidium clocks, you have to PLL to another frequency which introduces jitter again. It’s a bad idea, the whole rubidium thing. Regarding our firewire products, they are the clock master for the computer. So whenever you change the sample rate on the track, you would have to adjust the sample rate of the clock source, which is kind of difficult if it’s an external clock source. So I’d rather not have an external clock source.
Now there is the NAD M2, Lyngdorf, Devialet… Will you ever do a digital amplifier?
Oh yes, definitely. We did one earlier on but we are going to do a different one now. Smaller and cheaper.
Is it traditional class D or are you building something new?
I don’t know yet.
You’re still experimenting with technologies for that?
Initially I wanted to do some standard class A/B, but I think I’ll go class D again because it’s the future.
There’s been a lot of criticism towards class D for increasing distortion with frequency. Do you have any concern about that?
I don’t think so. It depends on the implementation. With today’s technology you can make it very good.
Are there any specific class D amplifiers you’ve heard that you really like?
Yes, the Hypex modules for instance. They are very good.

You have the Medea+ and the DAC202, and they’re both quite high-end. Do you think there’s a market for something half the price of the DAC202?
Well we have the DAC2 in pro audio which is about half the price of DAC202. We are thinking of doing something even cheaper but it’s still far ahead into the future.
You seem to like having control over all aspects of your constructions. Have you gone as far as considering making your own DAC circuits, like dCS’ Ring DAC?
No, not yet. But maybe that’s something for the future. Maybe not on the chip level, but a combination of chips which makes a core converter.
I read the blog of your Asian distributor, Kent Poon, and he posted a 430 page PDF of op-amp tests that was done with some of your equipment.
Well, that was done by one of our engineers, Samuel Groner.
That surely helped you develop the new output stage for the Medea [making it the Medea+].
He did that, yes.
What about DAC chips—How do you evaluate and compare them? Because so much depends on the implementation.
Well there aren’t that many possible implementations for a given chip. I evaluate them based on the specs usually. I don’t do listening tests, I look at the specs.
Well it seems to work.
So far, yes.
There are other DAC’s, like the Wyred4Sound DAC2 which has received a lot of attention now, which I think uses the same Sabre chip as the DAC202. I saw one review saying that the DAC202 is better but it’s really really close and at a third of the price. I’m not saying he’s copied your design, but are you worried about that?
No, not that much. There’s also a lot in the name of the company. If we did a DAC which is worse than the one we used to do, it would still be considered a good DAC because it’s Weiss. Maybe I shouldn’t say that… (laughs)
But do you do anything to make it difficult to copy your constructions?
No, actually not. Kent was asking me to wipe out the Sabre name from the chip, but I forgot to do it (laughs). But I’m not fuzzy about that.
You’re confident that you know what you’re doing and that that will be beneficial in the end?
Yes. And also I think that the market is too small for someone to steal our design. There isn’t that much money in this market. I’m not that worried.
All reviewers seem to feel that the DAC202 is very pleasant to listen to. But is pleasant the same as accurate?
No, not necessarily. On the other hand I think our products are very revealing, so if you have a bad recording it will be sounding really bad. So that’s not what I would say is pleasant. A pleasant product would maybe conceal some shortcomings in the recording. I don’t think our equipment is doing that actually.
I’ve compared your DAC202 to some other components, and there appears to be something fundamentally different in the construction, to me especially noticeable in the treble. Do you have any idea what that difference might be?
I don’t know. We make our products as good as possible from a technical point of view. That’s our approach basically. If it distorts then we are not happy about it. We try to make the whole design as transparent as possible. That’s why we don’t do any tube stuff.
You mentioned that you don’t look much at other constructions, but do you listen to other equipment at all?
Just to what I have at home.
So if there’s a lot of hype about something that’s said to be better than one of your products maybe, you don’t go out and try to see what that is?
No, not so far. There isn’t much that’s better than us! (laughs)
That should be the new slogan for Weiss. Put it on your business card!

The MAN202 is a full-blown computer. What Linux distribution is the OS based on?
Ubuntu.
But you make some changes to it. Is that on the driver level or even in the kernel?
No, not the kernel, I don’t think so. I’m not into the details of that.
It comes with an iPad app. How come you’re programming these things in-house rather than letting specialists outside of the company deal with them? Did you consider doing that?
No, I don’t think so. We try to do everything in-house. It sounds stubborn but the main advantage is that we know how it’s done, we can do changes without having to rely on somebody’s good will, etc. But of course with Linux we’re depending on people outside of our company, so that’s already different.
One solution would have been to build a component that relies on some existing software platform rather than hiring an outside company.
Well that’s what we’re doing with Linux. There are some companies offering iPad development but we have somebody who’s doing that very well.
There are other apps for iPad you could build the hardware to work with.
I don’t know if that would be so simple. The user interface is very important for that product, and it has to look different than the others. It has to have our brand image.
Can you reach the MAN202 through a web browser as well?
It would be possible theoretically.
It doesn’t have a display, so how do I set it up from the beginning?
It’s all set up, but of course you have a configuration page.
So if the iPad is on the same network it will automatically find it?
Yes.
What if I wipe the SSD in the MAN202, or if it breaks, or the motherboard is broken somehow, will the DAC still work?
Hmmm… Yes.
So then it turns into a DAC202?
Basically, yeah (laughs). It depends on what the routing is doing but we could default to the AES/EBU or something like that.
That’s a concern a lot of people have.  Another high-end DAC has had trouble with the drivers—Difficult to find them to download, problems getting bit transparent performance, frequent computer crashes. Software development is new to high-end audio and a new level of support is needed for the consumer, because you might buy a component like this and expect to keep it for 10 or 15 years. In an amplifier, as long as nothing physically breaks it’s going to work, but this is a bit different. You’d need to log in over SSH to the piece of equipment and fix config errors.
That’s possible with the internet connection. It can also upgrade itself. We have a tab in the iPad app which allows the base station to log in to our server and update itself.
It’s a bit of a niche product, but do you think there will be people who try to modify it and hack it?
I don’t know. I think that would happen if the product was cheaper. At this price point, those types of people won’t buy it.
How is support managed for it—what if it stops working?
It depends on the country actually. In some countries we have some support people.
So it’s a distributor deal where in some countries the distributor handles support while in others you do it from Switzerland?
Yes.

Could I control it with another iPad app, or is the protocol between the iPad and the MAN202 proprietary?
I haven’t thought about that, but it’s probably not controllable by another app.
Will you support other types of “pads”, because there’s a lot of touch computers coming out now.
Eventually, I guess.
There seems to be several different ecosystems for app development. RIM, the BlackBerry company, are releasing one, Android 3.0 Honeycomb is another, and there’s HP WebOS, and then iOS. So we have four different major competitors, all with different programming languages for making the apps.
Of course it’s a problem of porting the application.
So you will primarily stick with the iPad?
I guess so.

In terms of features, why should I buy a MAN202 instead of a Mac mini and a DAC202?
That’s up to you, of course. The advantage of the MAN202, or at least that’s the goal, is that it’s much simpler to set up, to operate and you don’t have to hassle around with the operating system, with drivers and upgrades, ripping formats etc. That’s the idea. You don’t have to have a computer in your living room, no keyboard and no mouse, no monitor. But of course you can get away with a mac mini and a DAC202, it’s perfectly fine, but not for everyone.
So is the target demographic people who are a bit reluctant to go into computer based listening but have the financial resources to buy good equipment?
That’s it, yes.
Did the idea for the product come from encounters with people from that category?
Not necessarily. It was more so that you have a hifi system and not a computer plus hifi. That’s the general idea.
Since it has a computer inside, it has the potential for DSP stuff with room correction or whatever you want to do, which I suppose is more difficult to replicate on a mac mini.
Well not necessarily actually. In terms of computing power that’s fine.
It doesn’t have a volume control, at least not yet. That and the lack of display is what’s missing compared to the DAC202. Is that for cost reasons?
The local display is not necessary because you have the iPad. You can have the iPad in its docking station and you see the display all the time. The volume control we will implement of course.
You also decided to not have the storage inside the unit. What was the rationale behind that?
That you are able to expand the size of the storage and to be able to put it away in another room because of the noise. You can have huge sizes and backups and redundancy.
Why did you skip the headphone output for the MAN202?
Good question, I don’t know! There must be some reason, but I’m thinking “why did we skip that”?

I noticed that when you talk about the DAC in the MAN202, you’re very careful to always say it’s of similar quality to the DAC202. You’re not saying it’s identical.
Yes, they are not identical. The MAN202 is a little bit better than the DAC202.
Because it has more DAC chips?
The Sabre DAC chip has 8 channels. In the DAC202 we use 2 DAC channels per audio channel because we have the headphone output which has separate DAC channels for the volume control. So that’s the only reason. In the MAN202 we don’t have any headphone output, so we use 4 DAC channels per audio channel.
What is it that becomes better?
You can parallel the DAC channels and add the output of those and for every doubling of channels you get 3dB more signal to noise ratio, in theory. Of course you reach some thermal noise level in the end.
Isn’t it a problem that it shares a chassis with a computer? Isn’t there a lot of radio interference inside the box?
No, they are separated by a sheet of metal. I haven’t seen anything problematic.

Are plans for future products all secret?
No no. In the pipeline is a pro audio product which is an 8 channel A/D and D/A converter in one box, and consumer wise there’s a preamplifier in the format of the ATT202, an active preamplifier for people who still need a preamp for analogue sources. Then we had plans to do a large preamp in the size of the Medea converter, we had all the concepts etc and everything but it has all changed with the computer based things. So we have to re-think about this one.
And that class D amp as well.
Yes. They will be the size of the MAN202, as monoblocks. That preamp will have an A/D converter built in.
Will you make a separate A/D converter for people who want to digitize their vinyl for example?
That’s also on the list actually. But that will probably be a preamp in the end, because it’s kind of logical to do a preamp that way. Probably with D/A converter as well.
So a DAC202 with a preamp?
Yes, something like that. A DAC202 with A/D so it has analogue input as well.

Some people on internet forums have critizised the DAC202 for using op-amps instead of discrete components in the analogue output, saying it’s probably a good component but it would be much better with discreet components.
Of course you can always do better. We built our own discreet op-amp now, and it’s better than basically any audio op-amp out there. But it’s more expensive, by a fair amount.
That upgrade alone to the Medea is what, €5000?
It’s about €4000.
Is there any other compromise you feel you’ve done in the DAC202 or the MAN202?
Given that we do firewire, to do that on your own is not easy. You have to rely on a chip, and that’s a limiting thing of course. Maybe you could do something with the clocking.
But you have dual PLL’s already, so how much can clocking really do?
Right now the main clock is coming out of a PLL. If it’s in internal mode which it is when running on firewire, we could do a dedicated clock for that purpose. That would be one thing for enhancing it.

Do you ever have time to listen to music just for enjoyment?
I should take some, yeah (laughs).
So, too little?
Yes, too little actually. I listen to music of course, but more as a background thing. But as soon as I get the MAN202 at home…
So you don’t have it yourself yet?
I’ve ripped all my CD’s to a NAS, so I’m waiting for that.
Do you think spending so much time listening professionally or working with audio impacts your ability to listen purely for the enjoyment of the music?
I’m not as much of a critical listener as you’re suggesting, so I’m very open minded, I don’t analyze everything. At least I think I don’t.
So you don’t put the emotions into words when you listen?
You mean I hear this and that and “I could do that with electronics”—no, no way.
But if you listen very little , isn’t there a risk that you’re left somewhat out of touch with the customers you’re building equipment for?
I don’t know. Actually I prefer to go to concerts.
Ah, so then you know what things should really sound like.
I think you can’t expect your hifi system to sound like a concert hall. I know people try to reach that goal, some people at least, but they are two different things. There’s the recording process in between, which is an art form in itself. So you end up with a product made by recording engineers, by all the gear in between, so there is no point to try to achieve that concert hall feeling at home.
But isn’t there a point in trying to get as close as you can get, or is that just bound to be frustrating?
I think it’s the second thing. Of course you can try to get as close as possible, but you can never reach it. You don’t have the people sitting around you at home, you don’t have the real acoustics, you don’t have the size of the orchestra.
Do you have a turntable at home?
I do have one, yes. But I never use it (laughs).
When was the last time you used it?
It must be a year or so ago.
So you’re really true to digital.
I admit it, yes. But that’s one plugin for the MAN202, a vinyl simulator.
I spoke to Michael Fremer yesterday, and he says that when he digitizes vinyl, it retains some of the qualities that he likes about analogue. But that in turn proves that digital is able to convey those traits. But he also says that when you press a vinyl, something happens to the sound that you can’t achieve any other way. Have you thought about what that could be?
Sure. Some parameters you can extract from vinyl, like channel crosstalk which is bad, or rumble noise.
And frequency response.
Yes. I have to try to see if we can achieve something.

What is your personal system at home like?
I don’t have anything special. I have Chario speakers, an Italian high-end brand.
How do you audition the equipment that you build? Do you do listening tests at all?
No, basically I don’t do that. I have some Strax headphones for some listening, but I don’t judge the electronics based on listening tests.
Does anyone else in the company do that?
No.
So it’s purely an engineering product?
Yes.
Aren’t you worried then that you’re missing some parameter that you’re not able to measure?
There might be, but we try to measure a lot of different parameters. Of course you’re never sure you’ve covered it all. But so far it’s worked out well.
Do you have people testing the equipment for you?
In pro audio we do have that, we have some trusted ears, so to speak. They tell us right away.
Not in consumer audio?
Not in consumer audio, no. So far. Of course we get reactions from customers, but we don’t change anything based on those reactions. So far they have been very good. There haven’t been any comments saying “this and this is bad”. So it’s not been an issue so far.

 

My thanks to Mr Weiss for a very generous and open-hearted interview. It was originally published in Swedish at highendforum.se. Above is the original English transcript. The interview was conducted prior to my comparison of Weiss vs Devialet.