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How to identify source of distortion?

Bicep

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Jun 24, 2023
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Hi!

Im curious how yall identify sources of distortion? I find it really hard to know where it comes from and its very annoying.

Currently my main source is my PC, which uses a Apple USB-C to 3.5mm DAC connected to RCAs leading to my Fosi Audio V3, which then is connected to Elacs B5.2. Im currently evaluating a free trial of Tidal Plus so the source of music SHOULD be good.

To try and figure out whats happening when i for example listen to Dido's song "Give You Up" around 45sec in when her pitch goes up a bit, ive tried listening through my 7hz Zero:2 using the same DAC, and the distortion is still there. And ive also tried using my android phone with the same DAC and it seem to remain. Its not isolated to that song, but seems to show up quite often. Massive Attack and Robot Koch seem to have mixed in certain levels of noise into their songs, which made me nuts for a bit. Lots of Lana Del Ray songs also seem to cause slight distortion.

Im also using PEACE APO for EQ, and got clipping protection turned on, but while watching it during music playback it rarely goes into clipping warning (and i have no boosts in EQ, just lowered volume at some frequencies).

Am I turning insane or is it quite common for mixes to contain distortion? Or is it my Apple Dongle causing it?

Thanks for taking your time to read my post :)
 
It is quite common for mixes to contain distortion, either purposely as a stylistic tool, or by accident.

The Apple dongle is physically incapable of clipping audio when plugged into a Fosi V3 or a 7Hz Zero 2.
 
You can find the source of the distortion through process of elimination.

- Is it the music which is distorting? Listen to the same piece on headphones, or on another system. Some software players have a built-in RTA where you can see if the music is clipping. If it is modern music, it is very likely that there will be clipping.
- Is it your amp? This is less likely if you have an "adequate" amp, but it is still possible. Look at the VU meter if you have them, or borrow another amp. Another way to suspect the amp is to look for a pattern - amps typically clip and distort when music is loud and there is a lot of bass present. If you hear distortion when there is no bass in the music and it is at low volume, amplifier distortion is highly unlikely.
- Is it your speakers? There is a possibility that there is a fault in one speaker and not the other. Listen to the speakers one at a time. If distortion is still present, borrow another pair of speakers.
 
Thanks a lot for the replies! Having distortion in mixes should be illegal... Maybe it's just me but if it's present I can't think of much else.. And from the replies it seems like it would be from the mixes more so than my gear.
 
The common element is the DAC. Try another external DAC, try the PC headphone out, try bluetooth headphone or earbuds. If the distortion is there in these alternatives, then it is in the mix. If the alternatives sound clean, maybe its your DAC.
 
If it's in the source material (software, not transduction medium), it's not distortion by definition (even if it is, technically, distortion).
The topic reminds me of the famed "green alien" problem in the very early days of Star Trek.


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Remember, we're talking about art, and as Calvin's dad insightfully observed.

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I've noticed, after getting a pair of Dan Clark Audio Stealth headphones, that I am hearing the noise from sampled, older funk/jazz records used in some modern electronic music that I was not paying attention to before. When I go back and listen to the same music with speakers, I do hear it, but it was not as present until I heard the close detail through headphones.

A tool I use to identify clipping from the source material is with my DAC that includes an analyzer that is configured to display both the peak level of the input signal and another digital meter that show the signal peaks after all processing and any volume control is applied. This is useful in checking to make sure any clipping is from the source material and not as a result of some gain applied through DSP. Using this meter, I was able to identify a version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers "Scar Tissue" that had not been damaged by poor mastering choices.
 
Is there any chance to get hold of the digital data of those »distorted tunes«? Like a downloaded flac or wav or something?

If so, I’d have a close look at that portion of the file where I suspect any distortion – using Audacity or Adobe Audition.
 
Is there any chance to get hold of the digital data of those »distorted tunes«? Like a downloaded flac or wav or something?

If so, I’d have a close look at that portion of the file where I suspect any distortion – using Audacity or Adobe Audition.
Clever solution! Could probably record the output of the soundcard somehow to inspect the waves visually.
 
Clever solution! Could probably record the output of the soundcard somehow to inspect the waves visually.
You can use Audacity's Wasapi Loopback feature to record all Windows system audio directly, without any sound cards, DACs, or interfaces in the signal chain.
 
And it may make sense then to replay the recorded tune, in order to make sure that the distortion is still there :cool:
 
You can use Audacity's Wasapi Loopback feature to record all Windows system audio directly, without any sound cards, DACs, or interfaces in the signal chain.
Thanks! I remember you as the dongle master from earlier. Do you think there is any audible use in upgrading from a apple dongle to another, or going straight for something such as the su-1?
 
Do you think there is any audible use in upgrading from a apple dongle to another, or going straight for something such as the su-1?
Unless the Apple dongle doesn't get loud enough, or you get hiss/hum when plugged into your Fosi, upgrading to a better DAC/dongle won't audibly improve sound quality.
 
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