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Audioquest Niagara 1200 Review (Power Conditioner/Surge Protector)

Francis Vaughan

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While a non oversampling DAC could objectively reach exactly the voltage levels expected based on the digital samples at exactly the right points in time, it's clear that if we had recorded more samples inbetween, they wouldn't typically have the same level as the previous or next sample, so the need for filters makes sense to me.
But then different filters produce different results based on the same input - which result is the most accurate? Apparently there's a hypothetical correct answer, mathematically speaking (ideal sinc function?), but we can only approximate it currently. The Chord M Scaler + Dave DAC supposedly come very close to it, but introduce a latency of up to 600 ms. I don't quite understand why the correct value of an interpolated sample depends on what happened more than half a second ago when even super low 10 Hz bass has completed six full cycles by then, but I'm far from an expert on the matter, it's just counter-intuitive.

There is a lot here.
A NOS DAC has no special capability wrt exact voltages, it suffers from exactly the same issues as a DAC running at any other rate.
The core issue is that no real DAC creates an infinitesimally short output pulse. However the ideal ADC samples at an infinitesimally short time. An ideal DAC with output filter creates sinc function pulses, and these overlapping sincs sum to the precise bandwidth limited input the ideal ADC sampled. A sinc function is of infinite length. So in theory, you need to sum every one of the sinc functions at every sample point in order to assemble the signal, which for practical purposes means you are going to need a long latency. Even 600ms isn't enough. Everything is an approximation.

However the question then becomes - does it matter? How quickly do these effects vanish below the noise and are impossible to actually find? A lot of this naval gazing is done without considering the impact of noise, something that is an intrinsic part of the real universe rather than the one where such obsessing exists. A sinc function dies away very quickly. This is important. 600ms is actually insanely over the top. There is no useful information out there and the whole idea is just bragging rights. The limits to the amount of information actually present are clear, and in reality, it just doesn't matter.

You need a reconstruction filter, that is an absolutely iron clad reality. What is also iron clad is that real life filters are never ideal. There is always a compromise. And that compromise is fluid between the digital and analog domains, giving the designer the freedom to do implement in the most effective domain. The NOS adherents don't really get this, and they somehow believe that everything possible should be done in the analog domain when the modern reality is that we have such huge capabilities available in the digital domain that is makes no sense to do things in the analog domain if you can avoid it. So NOS DACs are intrinsically compromised by the limitations possible implementing a real world analog reconstruction filters that work in the limited bandwidth they have to spare. Or worse, they somehow think that huge amounts of aliasing into the audio band is yielding a better result and they compromise the reconstruction filter.
 

Alcophone

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There is a lot here.
A NOS DAC has no special capability wrt exact voltages, it suffers from exactly the same issues as a DAC running at any other rate.
Right, what I meant is that (based on my certainly incomplete knowledge) with a NOS DAC you know based on the digital input signal and the DAC's voltage range what voltage states it would ideally transition between, and hold for a considerable amount of time. In essence, if you briefly measure the voltage levels of an ideal NOS DAC at the right interval (sample its output signal at the input bit depth and sample rate), you should get the same data as you put in. Maybe that assumption is already wrong, but if not at least there's some objectivity there, and resistor ladder based DACs may already struggle with this depending on the bit depth because you need resistors with higher and higher precision, or so I hear. I'm assuming that's what Amir's linearity tests are ultimately about.

The next easiest thing in theory would be an oversampling DAC with a closed form filter that like Schiit claims (for its multibit DACs) preserves the original samples (and only adds new ones inbetween). If you sample the output signal at exactly the right times (ignoring the added samples), you should ideally see exactly what an ideal NOS DAC would do, namely the input samples - again, based on my limited knowledge. It's trickier here because the higher the internal sample rate, the less time there is to reach and hold a certain voltage level.

With any other DAC you would need to know the exact filter that it uses to even know what voltage states it is trying to achieve in order to judge how accurately it is doing so - if you wanted to simply judge it based on individual samples rather than something more accumulative like an FFT.

That's what I mean by lack of objectivity - there is no predefined ideal voltage level at certain times without knowing the filter. If you have a simple, single short impulse and see much longer ringing, the DAC is clearly taking some liberty in how it interprets the input, injecting samples even before there was any signal at all. You cannot judge how accurately it is doing so without knowing what it is trying to produce.

The core issue is that no real DAC creates an infinitesimally short output pulse. However the ideal ADC samples at an infinitesimally short time.
This is akin to low persistence displays, right? In virtual reality displays for instance, you want a very short, bright pulse instead of a longer, less bright image because the latter results in a smearing sensation as you move your head, since you see exactly the same thing despite a change in perspective. A low persistence display addresses this by not presenting any stimulus most of the time (and increasing the brightness when it does show something to compensate).
And in sound reproduction, if there is no continued pressure change for a certain time, and then a sudden one, followed by another lack of a change (to the extent physics allows), it's like seeing the same image while your head moves. Time passes, but the stimulus doesn't change. But for sound there is no equivalent to the darkness in between bright frames, correct? Essentially, I cannot avoid an acoustic stimulus between samples.

An ideal DAC with output filter creates sinc function pulses, and these overlapping sincs sum to the precise bandwidth limited input the ideal ADC sampled. A sinc function is of infinite length. So in theory, you need to sum every one of the sinc functions at every sample point in order to assemble the signal, which for practical purposes means you are going to need a long latency. Even 600ms isn't enough. Everything is an approximation.
I definitely only understand a tiny bit of that. Maybe some day. This dude wants to make some videos about how different DACs work, maybe he is able to spoon feed me what would take me much longer to gather from a text book: https://youtube.com/c/GoldenSound.

However the question then becomes - does it matter? How quickly do these effects vanish below the noise and are impossible to actually find? A lot of this naval gazing is done without considering the impact of noise, something that is an intrinsic part of the real universe rather than the one where such obsessing exists. A sinc function dies away very quickly. This is important. 600ms is actually insanely over the top. There is no useful information out there and the whole idea is just bragging rights. The limits to the amount of information actually present are clear, and in reality, it just doesn't matter.
It's clear that we can reconstruct meaningful information from sound (say, speech) with very noisy, distorted reproductions. And that we can recognize what kind of instrument something is supposed to be even with pretty bad recordings and/or reproductions, despite knowing that it's just a played back recording. But it's really hard to judge how far one has to take it to completely fool human hearing into a sense of presence that is indistinguishable from reality. My impression is that, say, Rob Watts and Mike Moffat are after that, for instance, not bragging rights.

You need a reconstruction filter, that is an absolutely iron clad reality. What is also iron clad is that real life filters are never ideal. There is always a compromise. And that compromise is fluid between the digital and analog domains, giving the designer the freedom to do implement in the most effective domain.
Right. I accept that, though with some disappointment, because it means digital audio is unable to fulfill its promise of perfection, even before we get into the messy analog realm, which is inherently imperfect.
It's a little like how I feel about Bluetooth, a new and improved version every so often, but what I really want is lossless transmission and be done with it, but then they wouldn't have to sell us a newer, fancier model next year. At least with DACs, it's simply impossible rather than a business decision.
Of course there is also no perfect ADC, but then again not all of digital audio is recorded.

The NOS adherents don't really get this, and they somehow believe that everything possible should be done in the analog domain when the modern reality is that we have such huge capabilities available in the digital domain that is makes no sense to do things in the analog domain if you can avoid it. So NOS DACs are intrinsically compromised by the limitations possible implementing a real world analog reconstruction filters that work in the limited bandwidth they have to spare. Or worse, they somehow think that huge amounts of aliasing into the audio band is yielding a better result and they compromise the reconstruction filter.
Probably true for many of them, but I appreciate those that like the thought of a Holo Audio NOS DAC with 1.536 MHz PCM support via USB - so that you can go bananas with filters in software, for instance via HQPlayer, instead of layering two filters (a software one and whatever the DAC forces on you).
 

Francis Vaughan

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and hold for a considerable amount of time.
That is the problem. You can convince yourself easily that if you sample at an instant, reproducing at a fixed level over a time period will introduce some error. This is where the myth of the staircase comes in. There is no staircase.

Talking about an ideal NOS DAC is irrelevant. There is no magic in NOS, only downsides that come from realities of physical implementation. An oversampling DAC is theoretically identical in its ability to create the output, but is advantaged in realities of implementation.

This is akin to low persistence displays, right?
Not really, but a bit. In displays there is no simple analogue, other than what motion processing systems try to perform. Things like the wagon wheel effect are lovely visual examples of aliasing.

Right. I accept that, though with some disappointment, because it means digital audio is unable to fulfill its promise of perfection, even before we get into the messy analog realm, which is inherently imperfect.
Ouch. This is perhaps the biggest issue out there in understanding the nature of audio and indeed any signals system. The universe is not perfect. There is no perfection in anything at all. I noted how the difference between NOS and oversampling was about moving the boundary between the digital and analog stages of the DAC. Well - how far do you think that boundary can be moved? Moved in such a manner that the underlying intrinsic nature of the signal is preserved. Well the answer is you can move it anywhere, including right off the end. The universe is intrinsically noisy. Sure, we as humans can hear stuff below noise, but our ability to do that is well understood, and is not in any way special. It is exactly covered by our old friend Shannon. There is a perfect duality between the continuous (aka analog) world and the sampled, quantised (aka digital). They are sides of the same coin, and what applies in one applies in the other identically.

There is not infinite information in anything. Even listening live to music, there is an intrinsic bound on what you can hear. It is bounded by the bandwidth of your ears and the noise floor of your ears and the air. You can hear beneath this noise, but what you can hear remains limited by Shannon. The longer you listen the deeper below the noise you can resolve a signal. But no signal lasts forever, and our ears won't integrate sound for more than a very short amount of time. So our ability to hear below noise has a hard limit. What surprises many is that this exact same ability of signal below the noise exists in digital systems. When correctly implemented a digital system preserves the same information. In this sense a digital system is perfect. It resolves all the information that it is possible to obtain from the physical universe as bounded by the analog components feeding it.

You might wonder how submarines can be detected over distances of hundreds of miles against a background of churning sea. Same deal, if you listen long enough, the signal can be found under the noise. If you know what you are looking for you can more precisely craft the signal processing and lift the signal from way way below the noise. Still governed by Shannon. Or LIGO, hauling the sound of a black hole merger out of the noise over distances of unimaginable size is again not magic, but pure Shannon.

But for audio, we assume ahead of time we are listening to music. We are not trying to lift the gentle churn of a propeller in the water over a period of minutes or hours out of the noise. Individual components of music are limited in time. Other than say ambient drones, we are not hearing anything lasting for much longer than a second. Usually much shorter. So we can put a clear limit under what we could ever expect to be able to drag out. Similarly we know that the microphones are limited by self noise. Air molecules hitting the microphone limit most microphones - especially small diaphragm condensers. We can intrinsically reason from first principles about the absolute limits of information available, and thus the lengths to which our reproduction chain needs to go to reproduce those limits. It isn't nearly as stringent as purveyors of high end audio would like you to believe.

What surprises many about the digital domainis that if you don't understand noise, and actually fail to use use noise (aka a stockastic process) during handling the digital information, it breaks. This is the mystery of dither. If you don't dither you get quantisation artefacts, and you also can't resolve below the LSB. Add dither correctly and the artefacts go away and you can hear below the LSB. There is a lot of confusion, misinformation and downright lies around in audiophile circles involving dither. The reality is that there is a truly beautiful duality between noise in the analog domain and the nature of dither and the LSB in the digital domain. Same mathematics, same bounds, just a swapping of domains.
 
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MASKINEN

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This would be fine if the expensive cables were advertised as such. "Well built, low reactance, properly shielded and grounded, high quality flexible abrasion resistant housings, gold connectors that will fit perfectly and snugly, never corrode. They look better and last longer than cheap cables."
But, of course most are not, also making claims about sonic improvements.

I agree AQ does not make the best quality products. My point is more like because of the cost they want you to think in that way, aka costly equals better sound (better quality materials). But they are not. Sure they look fine and feel quite sturdy. For me it’s just “feels” better using cables like that instead of using generic thin rca cables.
 

Jimster480

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Hah, I've been super busy and haven't been around here in a little while. I see this site still delvers as it always has.
Amir doing a great job as usual to expose all the snake oil being sold.
Amazing that there is not even a difference with the direct probe! They literally made a box that does nothing and sell it for over $1000.
 

MacCali

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I don't believe this is the case. A man who worked at AQ named Skylar Gray developed these and they seem to have attracted some cult status. My impression is that a lot of reviews dumped on them and they were discontinued. Despite the negative press, I picked up a pair of the Nighthawk Carbons on steep discount and glad I did.
Hey, you learned something new everyday. Probably the only competent guy in that entire company. I have heard they are great for a few things, gaming especially. I just dont like boomy bass or super elevated bass. I saw them for 200 used from some audio store and I passed on them, not to long ago.
 

Xyrium

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Based on the pictures above, it is beautifully built (apart from the input IEC), contains a ton of surge (MOVs and gas discharge) components, an adjustable (preset) over voltage and plenty of filtering. No DC blocking.

Expensive yes, but I'd be happy to put one in behind my HiFi.
With all due respect, a decent $100 PC power supply is more impressive. :cool:
 

Angsty

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That is the problem. You can convince yourself easilly that if you sample at an instant, reproducing at a fixed level over a time period will introduce some error. This is where the myth of the staircase comes in. There is no staircase.

Taling about an ideal NOS DAC is irrelevant. There is no magic in NOS, only downsides that come from realities of physical implementation. An oversamplig DAC is theoretically identical in its ability to create the output, but is advantaged in realities of implementation.
One of the problems with digital audio is that many people want to try to understand it without getting into the math.

@Francis Vaughan gets this topic deeply, but it is exceedingly hard to truly understand it as a learner without comprehending basic digital math concepts like Fourier transforms and sampling theorems.

In lieu of math, many learners turn to myths. It’s hard to separate math from myth if you don’t grasp the fundamentals beforehand. Trying to get how digital audio works without understanding calculus is akin to explaining why the world is not flat without geometry. You don’t have to figure the actual equations, but you do need to have a good idea of how and why the math works.
 

Angsty

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I agree AQ does not make the best quality products. My point is more like because of the cost they want you to think in that way, aka costly equals better sound (better quality materials). But they are not. Sure they look fine and feel quite sturdy. For me it’s just “feels” better using cables like that instead of using generic thin rca cables.
Physics is our friend. Thick and thin in this light have no real relationship to the physics. Sort of like Galileo dropping a big ball and a small ball to prove that gravity accelerates at a constant rate. There are people who still don’t understand that.
 

thefsb

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Hm, I would expect a product with a mechanical motor to benefit from "clean" power as well (wow/flutter), given how just my torchiere's performance varies with the incoming AC voltage (which arguably makes it poorly designed, okay). Though obviously the Niagara series doesn't adress voltage fluctuations, except maybe the 7000 with its isolation transformer.
Fair point. See my more recent comment here. But it depends on the technology of the TT. My Dual CS-5000 has a quartz oscillator, like a DJ TT, but in a belt drive.

Though people say how much better CDs sound compared to streaming.
People say a lot of things.

It's hilarious that even five figure CD players from the likes of Esoteric have people complaining about audible drive noise, though. That's objectively a disadvantage to a passively cooled streamer.
It's hilarious that five figure CD players exist. Or was, I should say. Audiophillia as comedy ran out of steam decades ago.

I'm not sure what you are trying to say with the nature of information part.
One cannot own and relate to information as one can a physical thing like a table or a bicycle. One can use either of these things, neglect them and let them run down or carefully maintain them, be careless with them or defend them from theft, be jealous of them or share them with others, cherish them for many years and be proud of them and grateful for the service they have given you, give them to somebody else, maybe your child, and so on. And when you lose or dispose of it you cannot exactly replace it, you may be able to get close but the replacement won't be attached to your life and its stories in the same way.

Information is real, of course, but doesn't inhabit our lives like objects do. A collection of computer digits that we store and backup, or rent from a cloud platform, doesn't give the sense of self, place and the arc of life like a personal collection of books, or hand tools, or musical instruments can.

This is what I think Grisha was driving at in the comment and it's why I quoted Shirley Jackson in my reply.
 

Labjr

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Though people say how much better CDs sound compared to streaming. I doubt my basic consumer Blu Ray player would do that claim justice, though. Maybe I'll try the Schiit transport once it comes out.
It's hilarious that even five figure CD players from the likes of Esoteric have people complaining about audible drive noise, though. That's objectively a disadvantage to a passively cooled streamer.

Hmmm...I wonder how the same people think the CD player sounds compared to the same CD's ripped? I had a friend tell me he likes playing CD's because it's on a disc which is a physical format like vinyl. I wonder if Schiit believes a transport sounds better than ripped files? Or maybe it's for convenience for people who don't want to rip CD's?
 
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MRC01

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... Though people say how much better CDs sound compared to streaming. ...
... People say a lot of things. ...
It's not necessarily wrong. Many streaming services use lossy compression, and some people can distinguish this in A/B testing, with proper source material, playback equipment, quiet environment, etc. Suffice to say, there may be an audible difference, it depends.

Hmmm...I wonder how the same people think the CD player sounds compared the same CD's ripped? ...
If the rip is lossless (to WAV or FLAC), it's the exact same bits on playback. This by definition is identical. Of course, if you use different devices to play them back, like a CD player versus a computer sound card, you may hear differences but then you're hearing differences in the devices, not in the source bits.
 

Labjr

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If the rip is lossless (to WAV or FLAC), it's the exact same bits on playback. This by definition is identical. Of course, if you use different devices to play them back, like a CD player versus a computer sound card, you may hear differences but then you're hearing differences in the devices, not in the source bits.

I'm wondering why Schiit thinks there's a market for a $1,300 transport?
 
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MRC01

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I'm wondering why Schiit thinks there market for a $1,300 transport?
If it plays back everything: CD, SACD, DVD-Audio, etc. each at its native rate, properly decodes preemphasis, HDCD, etc. without copy protection, and with both analog & raw digital SPDIF outputs, could be worth it.
 

Alcophone

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Even if the bits are the same (from a CD transport versus a streamer accessing local storage, a NAS, or streaming lossless audio from, say, Qobuz), there is some belief that CDs sound better because there is less noise involved when you avoid all the fancy computer bits like a CPU (to access the internet, a USB drive, etc.). If you look at iFi's ZEN Stream, it has five exclusive modes to eliminate unneeded activity (like being ready for Spotify Connect when you only want to use it as a Roon endpoint) in an effort to improve the sound.
It's not about the bits themselves. Noise and jitter (not unrelated) seem to be what people attribute the perceived better sound of CDs to, though often times they don't specify whether they used the internal DAC of a CD player or streamer, so it's hard to categorize everyone making such claims.

For Schiit's transport a special attribute will be a Unison USB out instead of (or likely in addition to) the common SPDIF outputs. Mike Moffat transitioned from hating USB to finding it tolerable to actually preferring it over SPDIF since Schiit wrote their own USB implementation (Unison).
One objective advantage USB has as a way of transmitting digital audio is the asynchronous mode, where the receiving device can pull data rather than the data being pushed to it. Presumably the advantage is that the DAC's clock is in charge. This in turn might be a good thing either because it's a better clock than what's in the source, or simply because it's closer to where the analog audio gets generated.

There are more claims about switching noise affecting audio in this recording of UpTone Audio's Alex Crespi meeting with the San Francisco Audiophile Society, for those interested:

I'm not endorsing any particular claim, I'm just simultaneously skeptical and curious.
 

Alcophone

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If it plays back everything: CD, SACD, DVD-Audio, etc. each at its native rate, properly decodes preemphasis, HDCD, etc. without copy protection, and with both analog & raw digital SPDIF outputs, could be worth it.
It definitely won't, Redbook only. :) Schiit doesn't bother with DSD and anything involving licensing costs like HDMI. Though I've heard some musings about them maybe trying to come up with their own delta sigma DAC implementation. The transport's tentative name is Urd, BTW.
 

MRC01

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...
For Schiit's transport a special attribute will be a Unison USB out instead of (or likely in addition to) the common SPDIF outputs. Mike Moffat transitioned from hating USB to finding it tolerable to actually preferring it over SPDIF since Schiit wrote their own USB implementation (Unison).
One objective advantage USB has as a way of transmitting digital audio is the asynchronous mode, where the receiving device can pull data rather than the data being pushed to it. Presumably the advantage is that the DAC's clock is in charge. ...
Sure, the same bits could create a different analog signal when fed to two different DACs. But even here, a CD player is not inherently better/cleaner. A sound card or streamer could be better or worse, depends on the implementation, or how well engineered it is.

In a similar vein, Amir's measurements here show that some DACs are different when fed the same bits via USB or SPDIF. Yet others are the same, meaning no difference between USB and SPDIF. This shows that with good engineering, USB vs SPDIF doesn't matter.
 

Newman

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From the Stereophile review of this product by Tom Gibbs: “…something very quickly got my attention: The dual subs seemed to be playing at a lower-than-usual volume. After adjusting the volume of the subs upward to match the rest of the system, I noticed that the bass content was all there, just none of the distortion that often accompanies it. With the dual subs connected to the Niagara 3000, it was obvious that there was less distortion in the signal, and the bass was deeper, more dynamic, and more musical than before.” (My emphasis)

Now, you would think these things would be extremely easy to measure. How about it Amir? For some mysterious reason JA and his Measurements section were MIA from this review, despite the easy-to-measure claims.

Measure one of your subs for SPL, distortion and bass extension, before and after connecting the 3000 Subwoofer Miracle Conditioner. o_O
 

Giri

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It's not only Stereophile or Darko who promote the Audioquest products, over here in the Netherlands almost all reviewers are always promoting the Audioquest products, not only the power conditioners but also the cables.
Just recently I saw a review of an Audioquest USB cable that improved the sound significant according to the reviewer.

It's good that we have Armir and people that send in their products for testing so we can see the truth!
Always thought that Dutch have a great science andengineering legacy.
 

NYfan2

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Always thought that Dutch have a great science andengineering legacy.
Yes, we have, in the past it was Philips and nowadays we have companies like ASML and many others who are doing class leading research and engineering.
But the audio magazines/websites unfortunately are not very science based and they relie heavily on biased listening tests. And they all love Audioquest products, maybe the fact that Audioquest spends a lot on marketing also plays a role.
 
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