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HDCD DACS

AudioStudies

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I for one, but likely of many, am finding HDCD a hard horse to ride in 2023. Some don't see the value in it, but I happen to like it; although I don't notice an improvement on every album when comparing the non-HDCD version with the HDCD version. I haven't found anything within the computer realm that I liked for doing the HDCD decoding prior to entering a DAC. I know some use dbPoweramp for this, but quite a bit of controversy about the best way to do it in dbPoweramp. Also, that method requires a 24 bit file, and I am keeping things at 16 bits.

So then, all that brings me back to hardware as in transports and DACs. The transport part is primarily covered by my two Aurender streamers. I use dbPoweramp to copy un-decoded HDCD discs into 16 bit WAV files. The Aurenders then send out a signal that HDCD DACs can recognize and decode. In some of my lesser systems wherein I don't have one of the Aurenders, I just use an older CD player that has HDCD.

Well that brings me to the subject of HDCD DACs, the biggest obstacle that makes HDCD a hard horse to ride in 2023. Almost no one is making new DACs with the HDCD feature. Berkeley Audio Design (BAD) is the only company that I am aware of that is still doing so. Regrettably BAD DACs are not affordable, they are now up to $10.000 for their . . . eh hum . . . entry level.

What I have been using are Enlightened Audio Designs (EAD) DACs that are about 20 years old. I use these primarily for HDCD discs and use more modern DACs for non-HDCD discs. I am looking for opinions here regarding DACs. I have seen in stated in these pages of ASR, "be wary of vintage DACs" and yet I have also seen it stated that "DACs technology was pretty much solved about 20 years ago". Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in-between those two statements.

The EAD DACs that I use are the DSP 7000 EAD models that were state of the art at the time they were made. Obviously, the clocking is no where near as advanced as a modern DAC, and the 20-bit Burr Brown chip is old by modern standards. I am trying to ascertain, how much of a problem this is, or even whether or not is a problem. I only do Redbook 16 bit 44.1. These DACs incorporated a Digital Flywheel technology that was very advanced and revolutionary for its time in an effort to reduce jitter. They sound great to me, but I confess that on most all of the non-HDCD discs, more modern DACs sound slightly better. On HDCD discs, most of the sound better after decoding on the EAD DACs than on modern DACs.

So where do I go from here? Berkeley Audio Designs made some units that are no longer in production that were a bit newer than my EAD DACs, such as the BAD Alpha DAC 2 that may or may not have had better clocking and was equipped with HDCD. I could try to find one on the used market, for closer to $2000 a lot less steep than BAD's modern offerings starting at $10,000. I welcome any and all opinions on this, including info on other DACs with HDCD that I may not be aware of that could potentially be a step upwards from my EAD DACs. Also, hoping to hear from some experts regarding how well the Digital Flywheel technology helped to eliminate jitter
 

charleski

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The only real benefit HDCD provided was the Peak Extend feature, which was only used on a limited selection of HDCD discs. I would suggest just decoding them to 24bits with dBPoweramp and then dithering down to 16bits if that’s what you want.
 
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AudioStudies

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I am also interested in opinions on the best stand alone CD players that offered HDCD. EAD made one that I had quite a while back, and it was a very good one for its time. I just bought a California Audio Labs unit that is on the way to me.
 
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AudioStudies

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I am interested in knowing what the top of the line models for HDCD players from all the major players -- EAD, California Audio Labs, Denon, Marantz, Classe, Rotel, etc. I am primarily interested in CD players, not disc spinners equipped with DVD that do HDCD also, but would welcome thoughts on DVD players also. I think it would be hard to top Oppo with respect to units that could do not only DVD but Blu Ray and also HDCD.
 
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AudioStudies

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I have a Rotel RCD-1072 and an Emotiva ERC-3. I think the EAD player that I had years ago was the EAD 2000. I like the sound of all of these, but for some reason I could not get the Emotiva to output a digital signal with HDCD to an outboard DAC. I read on some of the forums that Emotiva perhaps did some sort of alternate thing than the typical HDCD decoding within the unit. The California Audio Labs unit that I have on the way to me is the Icon MKII Power Boss. Does anyone know if Rotel made a better HDCD player than the RCD-1072, or whether CAL made a better player that the Icon MkII Power Boss (hopefully with a shorter name).
 

manisandher

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IMHO, the only reason for anyone to be interested in HDCD CDs/files is that they must have been mastered using a Pacific Microsonics Model One (or Two) - there's no other way of encoding any HDCD processes. The PM was considered pretty much the best ADC around in the late-90s/early-00s.

I owned a Model Two for many years (before selling it to a mastering house in Paris). I tried all of its HDCD 16-bit processing, and remained sceptical, so just used it in 24-bit mode instead. Though I personally have no need for this, were I to want to create a 16-bit file from one of these 24-bit files, I would simply use dither.

If you're on the lookout for an HDCD DAC, I'd suggest you try to find one with the PMD200 filter. The only one that I've had experience with is the Esoteric D70 (which I also owned for many years).

I've ripped all my HDCD CDs with HDCD.exe engaged, though I'm not sure exactly which HDCD processes it actually decodes.

FWIW, I don't think MQA is analogous to HDCD. At least with HDCD, you know that the absolute best equipment available at the time was used during mastering. MQA is all smoke and mirrors.

Mani.
 
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AudioStudies

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FWIW, I don't think MQA is analogous to HDCD. At least with HDCD, you know that the absolute best equipment available at the time was used during mastering. MQA is all smoke and mirrors.
My feelings also, I couldn't have said it better myself. With HDCD we were dealing with a distinguished Professor and the world's best equipment. With MQA it just well . . . isn't . . . perhaps were just dealing with Jay-Z . . .
 
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AudioStudies

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Does anyone know the brands/models of some of the HDCD players (or DACs) that used the PMD200 chip?
 
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AudioStudies

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I should have mentioned some of the other brands, such as Cary and Theta.
 

BJL

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Maybe pick up a used Oppo 103 or 105. I have a 105D that I use exclusively for HDCD, and I agree, encoded discs sound their best played back on a disc player with HDCD decoding. I believe that the Oppo 93/95 also decodes HDCD. I've tried software decoding (for the convenience) but I wasn't entirely happy with the result compared with CD play back.
 
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GXAlan

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MinimumFaze

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Does anyone know the brands/models of some of the HDCD players (or DACs) that used the PMD200 chip?
It's pretty limited. Many more with the PMD100, including my Parasound D/AC 2000. See image below for list of PMD200 devices

Screen Shot 2023-01-19 at 9.26.56 PM.png
 

amirm

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amirm

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Windows Media Player should decode HDCD properly. @amirm was this during your tenure?
It was. I had to twist the arm of the developers to implement it. Alas, they only put in the recognition (so you get the indicator in the UI for such discs). As far as I recall, it did NOT actually decode the HDCD stream.
 

Chrispy

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Never found HDCD worth worrying much about. Especially as to buying special hardware these days....
 

linuxfan

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I haven't found anything within the computer realm that I liked for doing the HDCD decoding prior to entering a DAC. I know some use dbPoweramp for this, but quite a bit of controversy about the best way to do it in dbPoweramp.
Yes, I've read various comments online that the software-HDCD decoders available - in dBpoweramp, foobar2000, and the command line application hdcd.exe - are not quite as thorough/accurate as the proprietary PMD200 processor. But I would rather have my HDCD CD's decoded into the final technical state intended by the engineer, even if it's not 100% perfect.
Also I don't like the idea of doing this decoding on-the-fly at the point of playback, because I consider HDCD encoding to be somewhat rare, or at least esoteric, and there's no guarantee in, say, 20 years from now such a feature will even be available.
So I decode my HDCD's to 24bit 44.1kHz FLAC at the point of acquisition/storage.

There's an extensive discussion about decoding HDCD files with dBpoweramp here -
https://forum.dbpoweramp.com/showthread.php?27540-Ripping-HDCDs-Best-practices
 

manisandher

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Yes, I've read various comments online that the software-HDCD decoders available - in dBpoweramp, foobar2000, and the command line application hdcd.exe - are not quite as thorough/accurate as the proprietary PMD200 processor.

My understanding is that HDCD.exe decoding was developed by reverse-engineering HDCD encoding. But... there was more to HDCD encoding than meets the eye.

With my Model Two, I could disengage all HDCD processing, and yet the HDCD flag would remain in the 16-bit file. Or, I could engage all (four?) of the HDCD processes. So, how does HDCD.exe know which to decode? Is it even capable of decoding a 'fully HDCD-encoded' file?

BTW, the Model Two would place the HDCD flag in hirez files too... even though there were no HDCD processes encoded (they're strictly for 16-bit). For fun... take something like a Reference Recordings 24/176.4 file. Play back on a Model Two, Esoteric D70, or the like. The HDCD light will show :). (Great way for checking bit-perfect transmission along the whole chain.)

Mani.
 
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linuxfan

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With my Model Two,
...
I could engage all (four?) of the HDCD processes. So, how does HDCD.exe know which to decode? Is it even capable of decoding a 'fully HDCD-encoded' file?
Yeah, good question. I've spent the last 20 minutes reading through the dBpoweramp forum link I mentioned earlier, plus a HydrogenAudio forum thread. Wow, some heavy reading, and my head is spinning, but I found two particularly interesting posts, which might cast some light on the subject -
https://forum.dbpoweramp.com/showth...Best-practices&p=127272&viewfull=1#post127272
https://hydrogenaud.io/index.php/topic,79427.msg737725.html#msg737725
 
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