The Next Track, Episode #92 – How They Listen to Music: Chuck Joiner, Podcaster

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxPodcaster Chuck Joiner talks to us about how he listens to music: which sources he uses, how he chooses what to listen to, and what equipment he uses.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #92 – How They Listen to Music: Chuck Joiner, Podcaster.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

The Science of Sample Rates (When Higher Is Better — And When It Isn’t) – SonicScoop

One of the most hotly—and perhaps unnecessarily—debated topics in the world of audio is the one that surrounds digital sample rates.

It seems an unlikely topic for polarization, but for more than 10 years, the same tired arguments have been batted about by each side with almost unrelenting intensity.

At the fringes, advocates of either side have often dug deeper trenches of faith for themselves. But as much as that’s the case, there’s also a growing consensus among designers and users who have a firm understanding of digital audio.

Namely, that there are perfectly good reasons for sticking with the current professional and consumer standards of 44.1 and 48 kHz for recording and playback – and some valid arguments for moving up to slightly higher sample rates, such as 60, 88.2 or even as high as 96 kHz. What seems to have less informed support is the push to ultra-high sample rates like 192kHz.

We’ll explore the arguments on both sides of the major questions around sample rates and try to find out where each faction has got it right – and where they may be missing some crucial information.

This article is a deep dive into sample rates, one element of digital music (the other being bit depth). It notably points out that higher isn’t always better, and that the search for ever higher sample rates may just be a waste of time and money. (But those who sell high-resolution music don’t want you to know that.) For example:

It turns out that in many cases, we can hear the sound of higher sample rates not because they are more transparent, but because they are less so. They can actually introduce unintended distortion in the audible spectrum, and this is something that can be heard in listening tests.

And:

To him, the issue is not about whether 44.1kHz is the last stop. It’s clear that it rests on the cusp of the point of diminishing returns, and that by the time you’ve reached 60 kHz you’ve exhausted all the theoretical benefits you could ever add. The real benefits to be had are the ones that come from improving implementation, not from ever-increasing sample rates.

The problem is that higher sample rates mean bigger numbers that companies can use in their marketing, and bigger sounds better.

Source: The Science of Sample Rates (When Higher Is Better — And When It Isn’t) – SonicScoop

The Next Track, Episode #91 – The Apple HomePod Sounds Great, Except When it Doesn’t

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxKirk got his HomePod. He spent a couple of hours listening to music to judge the sound quality. In short, it sounds great at times, but at others it doesn’t.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #91 – The Apple HomePod Sounds Great, Except When it Doesn’t.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

HomePod Review: When it Sounds Good, It’s Great; But It Doesn’t Always Sound Good

It’s been a long wait, as Apple pushed back the release of the HomePod, originally announced for the end of last year. There has been a lot of speculation about what a $350 speaker would sound like, and early reviews have been generally positive, but mostly in comparison to other “smart” speakers, such as the Amazon Echo and the Google Home.

I took delivery of my HomePod this morning, and have spent several hours listening to it. As is my wont, I have played music I’m very familiar with in order to try it out. I strongly believe that using special test records to audition audio equipment is wrong; you need to play music that you know by heart, where you know when different instruments come in, how voices sound, and what sort of beat and rhythm it has.

The HomePod uses digital signal processing (DSP) on all the music it plays, whether it’s from Apple Music, iCloud Music Library, your iTunes library, or your iOS device. Unfortunately, you have no control over this DSP. It’s a one-size-fits-all algorithm, which, while it certainly treats different types of music differently, still tries to mold everything the same way. It’s almost as if the HomePod is the stationary equivalent of Beats headphones: decent sound, but too bassy; good for certain types of music, but not all.

Here are some thoughts after listening to a few dozen pieces of music.

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Apple’s HomePod speakers will be the best-sounding ones you’ve ever owned – Recode (Ha! – Kirk)

Where to begin…? Let’s see; perhaps with that stupid headline? Unless you’ve only ever used an Amazon Echo or a cheap Bluetooth speaker to listen to music, then, no. They won’t. If you have a halfway decent stereo, with halfway decent speakers, you’ve already got stereo, not a single speaker, which is how most people will use the HomePod.

HomePod has what can only be explained by the most balanced audio, not just of any smart speaker but of any speaker I currently own, which includes a number of Sonos speakers and a Bose Home Theatre system.

Right. He’s comparing the HomePod to standalone speakers; which is the fair comparison. But “the best-sounding” speakers? Not by a long shot.

The other thing that really impressed me about HomePod was how great it sounded at nearly every volume level. If you have any experience with speakers, you know that there is also a sweet spot for volume. Too low and you lose almost all bass; too high, you blow out the high end/treble and often your ears hurt as the high-end parts of the audio start to distort and lose clarity

This is one of the more interesting DSP (digital signal processing) elements of the HomePod, and something that will certainly set it apart. I have a Yamaha R-N803D receiver in my office, which features their “continuously variable loudness” feature. This changes the adjustment to bass and treble as you change volume. The loudness control on a received doesn’t just make it louder; it makes certain frequencies louder, the lows and the highs, which we don’t hear as well at lower volumes. But if you use this all the time, then the music doesn’t sound right at different volumes. Yamaha, and some other manufacturers, use this continuously variable loudness to fix those discrepancies in the way we perceive audio. And it works.

I have no doubt that HomePod will compete with the best speakers in your house even if you have an expensive/high-end setup.

Uh, no. Sorry. I don’t think you know what that means if you think a single standalone speaker will “compete” with a real stereo with good speakers. Unless by “compete” you mean, well, I don’t know…

When it came to music, Siri knocked it out of the park. In fact, because Siri is learning about its owner when you ask to play music, when I said, “Play Jack Johnson radio,” she would say, “Sure, here is a personalized playlist for you.” What’s happening is Siri is acting as a “mixologist,” as Apple likes to say, but essentially she is playing DJ according to my music preferences.

No, Apple calls it a “musicologist,” which is a shameful way of appropriating a word that has a real meaning.

I have no doubt, based on reviews by people I know, that the HomePod will sound excellent, in comparison with standalone speakers. But it’s not a replacement for true stereo sound. It will be interesting to hear how two HomePods sound in a stereo pair; because for that amount of money – $700 – you can get a good amplifier and a very good pair of speakers.

Source: Apple’s HomePod speakers will be the best-sounding ones you’ve ever owned – Recode