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Playback Mystery: what am I hearing?

JanesJr1

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Like many others on this forum, I have a list of music tracks I use to compare equipment, adjust EQ, etc.

I found one track that differentiates different equipment better than any other track I have, but I am baffled by what exactly the differences mean.

Although I don't see references to it much anymore, for Brahms Piano Concerto #1, I have always appreciated Claudio Abbado in Berlin with Alfred Brendel, from the 80's. I listened to the CD back in the day and it was a perfectly good recording; and now I hear it on Amazon Music HD.

I find that playback varies dramatically on the Amazon Music HD version, depending on equipment. I have 4 iem's, 1 set of phones, 3 DAC's or DAC amps, and one Amp. The playback fidelity varies from ER4's on JDS Labs Amp & DAC, which is very good, with great separation between the instruments and at least pretty-good timbral detail, to inferior to greater or lesser degree on all other combinations, with the biggest complaint being that when the full orchestra comes to bear, the sound smears and becomes congested, with separation between instruments disappearing. This effect doesn't vary over time, but depends on equipment.

I believed the recording needed to be remastered until I heard it on the Ety/JDS combo, where there is just a small hint of smearing or distortion. On that combo alone, I remember why I originally liked the performance.

What the heck could cause this effect? Why would it occur on the equipment that otherwise sounds good? Can one orchestral recording demand an unusual amount of power compared to another on a streaming service?
 

Jimbob54

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Like many others on this forum, I have a list of music tracks I use to compare equipment, adjust EQ, etc.

I found one track that differentiates different equipment better than any other track I have, but I am baffled by what exactly the differences mean.

Although I don't see references to it much anymore, for Brahms Piano Concerto #1, I have always appreciated Claudio Abbado in Berlin with Alfred Brendel, from the 80's. I listened to the CD back in the day and it was a perfectly good recording; and now I hear it on Amazon Music HD.

I find that playback varies dramatically on the Amazon Music HD version, depending on equipment. I have 4 iem's, 1 set of phones, 3 DAC's or DAC amps, and one Amp. The playback fidelity varies from ER4's on JDS Labs Amp & DAC, which is very good, with great separation between the instruments and at least pretty-good timbral detail, to inferior to greater or lesser degree on all other combinations, with the biggest complaint being that when the full orchestra comes to bear, the sound smears and becomes congested, with separation between instruments disappearing. This effect doesn't vary over time, but depends on equipment.

I believed the recording needed to be remastered until I heard it on the Ety/JDS combo, where there is just a small hint of smearing or distortion. On that combo alone, I remember why I originally liked the performance.

What the heck could cause this effect? Why would it occur on the equipment that otherwise sounds good? Can one orchestral recording demand an unusual amount of power compared to another on a streaming service?
Is the source the same for each component chain? My guess is you hearing the difference in the different transducers. Or possibly some horrid incompatibility somewhere in some of the chains, but I doubt it.
 
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JanesJr1

JanesJr1

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Is the source the same for each component chain? My guess is you hearing the difference in the different transducers. Or possibly some horrid incompatibility somewhere in some of the chains, but I doubt it.
The musical source is the same. The power source, DAC and transducers vary. A decent set of HD6XX headphones or Ety ER2 IEM's don't sound nearly as good. Ety ER4's on a Hidisz S8 DAC/AMP sound barely ok. An old Dragonfly Red sounds dreadful.

It seems like the kind of difference you'd get if a transducer were a heavy load or a power source otherwise inadequate. But can a streaming track stand out so much from other streaming tracks in its power demands?

(The ER2's have a lot less detail on lots of classical music, so that be why they sound congested to me.)
 

DVDdoug

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when the full orchestra comes to bear, the sound smears and becomes congested, with separation between instruments disappearing.
I'd guess you're getting regular-old clipping which is a kind of distortion and the worst kind of dynamic compression. You can get analog clipping if you over-drive your amplifier and you can get digital clipping if you use EQ. Most audio/media players won't boost over 0dB (digitally) without EQ, but some can. Or if you're using ReplayGain there is an option to allow clipping.
 
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JanesJr1

JanesJr1

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I'd guess you're getting regular-old clipping which is a kind of distortion and the worst kind of dynamic compression. You can get analog clipping if you over-drive your amplifier and you can get digital clipping if you use EQ. Most audio/media players won't boost over 0dB (digitally) without EQ, but some can. Or if you're using ReplayGain there is an option to allow clipping.
That's food for thought, and a little beyond my technical pay grade. Clipping seems right, however. I do use Equalizer APO and try to leave pre-amp headroom as prescribed. I am unclear how a streaming track could overload either the power source or the equalizer, when other tracks from the same source do not; and then sound pretty darn good with the same track passed through the combination of power and detail-resolving ability of the JDS/Ety playback. But maybe it is what it is, even if I still feel like I'm missing something basic here. Maybe it's in how Equalizer APO works with different music sources, since I have separate Eq profiles for each source.

I'm also unfamiliar with "replayGain". But helpful food for thought and experimentaton. Thank you.
 

majingotan

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IMHO, your weakest link is still your transducers. Yes you can EQ to emphasize some peaks, but it barely helps with congestion IME compared to a more SOTA transducers without EQing whatsoever. You should NEVER EVER experience congestion in any of the well mastered tracks regardless of genre. And IMO you NEVER EVER need anything greater than 16/44.1 or 16/48 resolution to experience SOTA digital playback
 
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JanesJr1

JanesJr1

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I think the issue to me here is the congestion associated with one recording. I've been careful with Eq on other transducers than the Ety/JDS combo, and the other transducers sound very good on a wide range of music from two different streaming sources, as long as I provide the right power to each transducer. I was just kind of mystified by how this recording comes clear with Ety/JDS combo, but not the others. I can live with the mystery; I just thought it might be keying into some aspect of recording and playback that I might benefit from understanding.

I already agree with you on 16/44.1. Most of my sound improvements since I returned to audio after decades away from it have related to matching transducer power requirements, and equalization. Handling those 2 variables has made a big difference. Finding ultra hi-def music or trying exclusive-mode streaming has added nothing. I'm a happy pig-in-slop with the millions of lossless streaming tracks I now have access to; my only regret is the many thousands I spent on CD's and LP's back in the day, and my crowded basement of recordings. (Although a good number of them aren't available on-line now...) Lossless digital streaming involves some losses as well as gains compared to LP playback; but it's clearly a net gain on the whole, I have no doubt.

Thank you for the thoughtful comments. I'm sorry to sound naive, but "SOTA"?
 
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majingotan

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SOTA is "State of the Art". IMO what you're experiencing is what subjectivists call "synergy" in the audio chain. IMO, it comes down to transducers still. Ety 4 is a balanced armature transducer which is known to have faster settling time than dynamic driver and is more pronounced especially in the bass region but they do have higher 3rd order harmonics compared to a dynamic transducer. This can help reproduce complex tones in a cleaner fashion, and has nothing to do with power delivery, just driver design limitations. That's why SOTA headphones like Dan Clark and Focal Utopia have proprietary driver technologies in their dynamic and planar transducers to improve settling time, decay thus audio resolution: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...alth-review-state-of-the-art-headphone.25920/

Capture.PNG


As fo different amps, BA transducer is more sensitive to output impedance effect in its frequency response thus having "bad synergy" with other DAC/amps that you have. Certain BA IEMs such as 64 Audio IEMs have a "linear impedance design" circuitry included to eliminate the effect of output impedance, enabling it to sound the same as other DAC/amps provided that they have enough power and distortion figures beyond audibility: https://www.64audio.com/pages/lid
 

Jimbob54

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@JanesJr1 or @AdamG247 could you please edit out the blank space from the above post please. Its causing the page to crash Chrome on mobile.
 

AdamG247

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JanesJr1

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PS I found the forum discussion that your graphics of fast-settlement of BA transducers came from. The author went back to the old idea of the unfavorable sound of odd-order harmonics, which he said are associated with BA's. (As I remember, for a long time it was held that even-order harmonics were supposed to be associated with tubes and were supposed to be a form of favorable distortion.)

Is the subjective unfavorability of third order harmonics something that is objectively established fact, or even widely believed?

In that forum discussion, it was also asserted that fast-decay or settlement has a "fake" sound? Again, is this objectively true or just a kind of urban legend?

Subjectively, I don't hear either characteristic. For example, many people like the Ety 2's with dynamic drivers, but side-by-side, I gravitate decisively to the 4's with BA drivers. I will listen to the 2's for several days, and decide I do like them. Then I'll switch to the 4's and immediately hear an improvement and it surprises me how much difference there is, especially on classical material. I'll put on Lovejoy's Vivaldi, with the most delicate detail and sweetness in the strings, or Hogwood's Messiah, with relatively small choruses and individual voices that can be picked out; and relish the detail and euphonic ambience of the whole recording, with the fine young soloists. I don't have the same experience in the reverse direction, although I find the 2's pleasant enough as long as I'm not straining to hear missing detail in familiar recordings, and sometimes preferable on some rock with a strong bass line.

On the other hand, that's just one case (ER4 vs ER2) and my personal response; I wonder if other cases or analysis have established any general truths here.
 
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JanesJr1

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Answering one of my own questions, re ER4 audibility of distortion on Etymotic or other balanced-armature transducers ...

The point is made in various places on this ASR forum that even-order/odd-order harmonics are irrelevant if the level of distortion is so low as to be inaudible. As far as my specific case (in my previous post) of the Ety ER4, Etymotic comments on the Head-fi forum that their design limit is 2% THD with a 200 mV drive level, with actual THD usually well below that. Other posters find ER4's with THD at .5% to 1.0%. The Etymotic rep says real world audibility of distortion is well above those low levels. See https://www.head-fi.org/threads/if-...r4-this-is-the-thread-for-you.538615/page-611.

Unless someone has a contrary case, I'm assuming BA odd-order harmonics are a non-issue, at least in Etymotic ER-4 IEM's.
 

restorer-john

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my only regret is the many thousands I spent on CD's and LP's back in the day

Why? If you hadn't bought the CDs and LPs, you would have missed out on many decades of music listening! Remember, streaming is a recent thing- we didn't have an option before. :)
 

majingotan

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PS I found the forum discussion that your graphics of fast-settlement of BA transducers came from. The author went back to the old idea of the unfavorable sound of odd-order harmonics, which he said are associated with BA's. (As I remember, for a long time it was held that even-order harmonics were supposed to be associated with tubes and were supposed to be a form of favorable distortion.)

Is the subjective unfavorability of third order harmonics something that is objectively established fact, or even widely believed?

In that forum discussion, it was also asserted that fast-decay or settlement has a "fake" sound? Again, is this objectively true or just a kind of urban legend?

Subjectively, I don't hear either characteristic. For example, many people like the Ety 2's with dynamic drivers, but side-by-side, I gravitate decisively to the 4's with BA drivers. I will listen to the 2's for several days, and decide I do like them. Then I'll switch to the 4's and immediately hear an improvement and it surprises me how much difference there is, especially on classical material. I'll put on Lovejoy's Vivaldi, with the most delicate detail and sweetness in the strings, or Hogwood's Messiah, with relatively small choruses and individual voices that can be picked out; and relish the detail and euphonic ambience of the whole recording, with the fine young soloists. I don't have the same experience in the reverse direction, although I find the 2's pleasant enough as long as I'm not straining to hear missing detail in familiar recordings, and sometimes preferable on some rock with a strong bass line.

On the other hand, that's just one case (ER4 vs ER2) and my personal response; I wonder if other cases or analysis have established any general truths here.

I seriously don't think that the higher 3rd order harmonics are what's causing the fast-decay in the notes, just pure physical design properties/constraints of a BA driver compared to a DD driver. Even the OP on that forum preferred the BA's fast sound (Campfire Ara) to reproduce complex tones in a clearer fashion yet critiquing its higher 3rd order distortion to the what subjectivists call as "BA Timbre". My personal preferences like yours is BA only IEMs, and contrary to many, my ears/subjective preferences hear the timbre produced in balanced armature drivers closer to reality than IEM dynamic drivers.

Why? If you hadn't bought the CDs and LPs, you would have missed out on many decades of music listening! Remember, streaming is a recent thing- we didn't have an option before. :)

I use streaming to discover music then physically buy CDs if I liked the album a lot. My most recent purchase is the Olivia Rodrigo's SOUR. Faultless Mastering quality IMHO capturing every realism of instruments and of course Olivia's captivating voice; I seriously couldn't find any faults on the recording/mastering quality whatsoever

Capture2.jpg
 
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JanesJr1

JanesJr1

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Why? If you hadn't bought the CDs and LPs, you would have missed out on many decades of music listening! Remember, streaming is a recent thing- we didn't have an option before. :)
Of course you're right. I am getting older and was merely letting my approach/avoidance behavior get to me with regard to what-to-do with the CD/LP collection in the basement.

Part of me (from times of yore) would now use streaming to sample, and then I would purchase CD's/LP's for the best material. That part of me would re-build my collection of playback equipment, mostly ditched when my life got too complicated 20 years ago.

But the forward-looking part of me wants to simplify. That part of me finds a lot of improvement in many of the re-masters of older material on the streaming services (god, did I hate many of the LP re-pressings), notwithstanding dynamic compression for some re-masters, etc. That part of me wants me to focus on the fantastic selection of music now available online and not to focus on the equipment. It's case-by-case, but the sound on streaming sources is often better.

In the end, I have to decide to sell the collection, and just haven't gotten there yet.
 
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JanesJr1

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I seriously don't think that the higher 3rd order harmonics are what's causing the fast-decay in the notes, just pure physical design properties/constraints of a BA driver compared to a DD driver. Even the OP on that forum preferred the BA's fast sound (Campfire Ara) to reproduce complex tones in a clearer fashion yet critiquing its higher 3rd order distortion to the what subjectivists call as "BA Timbre". My personal preferences like yours is BA only IEMs, and contrary to many, my ears/subjective preferences hear the timbre produced in balanced armature drivers closer to reality than IEM dynamic drivers.



I use streaming to discover music then physically buy CDs if I liked the album a lot. My most recent purchase is the Olivia Rodrigo's SOUR. Faultless Mastering quality IMHO capturing every realism of instruments and of course Olivia's captivating voice; I seriously couldn't find any faults on the recording/mastering quality whatsoever

View attachment 158211
And I didn't mean to conflate the 3rd order harmonics thing with the fast-decay thing. It was just that the other forum discussion tweaked multiple "anomalies" that I couldn't explain or that I couldn't reconcile with what I hear, and I switched gears mid-stream.
 
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JanesJr1

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SOTA is "State of the Art". IMO what you're experiencing is what subjectivists call "synergy" in the audio chain. IMO, it comes down to transducers still. Ety 4 is a balanced armature transducer which is known to have faster settling time than dynamic driver and is more pronounced especially in the bass region but they do have higher 3rd order harmonics compared to a dynamic transducer. This can help reproduce complex tones in a cleaner fashion, and has nothing to do with power delivery, just driver design limitations. That's why SOTA headphones like Dan Clark and Focal Utopia have proprietary driver technologies in their dynamic and planar transducers to improve settling time, decay thus audio resolution: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...alth-review-state-of-the-art-headphone.25920/

View attachment 157806

As fo different amps, BA transducer is more sensitive to output impedance effect in its frequency response thus having "bad synergy" with other DAC/amps that you have. Certain BA IEMs such as 64 Audio IEMs have a "linear impedance design" circuitry included to eliminate the effect of output impedance, enabling it to sound the same as other DAC/amps provided that they have enough power and distortion figures beyond audibility: https://www.64audio.com/pages/lid
I think my original (and pretty long) reply to you got deleted and if you didn't see it, I just want you to know I really appreciated this response, which was helpful and made me glad that I had posted my diminutive "mystery" on the forum. I really appreciate how veteran members of the forum will bird-dog odd or naive questions, often in a way that helps me to learn.
 
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JanesJr1

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Even the OP on that forum preferred the BA's fast sound (Campfire Ara) to reproduce complex tones in a clearer fashion yet critiquing its higher 3rd order distortion to the what subjectivists call as "BA Timbre". My personal preferences like yours is BA only IEMs, and contrary to many, my ears/subjective preferences hear the timbre produced in balanced armature drivers closer to reality than IEM dynamic drivers.
With regard to comparison of timbre between BA and DD in ear microphones, the Ety ER2 vs. ER4 comparison is a good quick lab test, since Crinnacle shows the two Ety's as having nearly identical frequency response, except that the ER2XR has up to 5 dB more bass in the lower registers, compared to the ER4XR. Both are well-regarded IEM's. My point is that you can compare them either with no equalization, or with the same equalization (but recognizing the difference in bass extension).

I use many test tracks, but for a one-stop-shop with a buffet of timbres, the splashy but sonically-spectacular last movement of Saint Saens Organ Symphony with Barenboim and Gaston Litaize in Chicago is a good test. During the giant organ passages, I pick up more distinct overtones with the BA ER4's. When the distant piano tinkles between the great organ notes, the ER4's pick up the attack and decay of each note much more clearly. When the horns blare, there's much more edge and detail to the timbre on the ER4's. The repeated cymbal crashes show much clearer attack and decay with the ER4's. However the DD ER2's do have a warm and appealing presence in the bass that comes across well to my ear. When I add a little bass extension to the ER4's, it does help, but the deep notes remain a bit superior with the BA ER2's.

My experience of that comparison generally reflects my feeling across many other recordings. The detail and texture of individual instruments comes through the BA ER4's much more clearly, with much greater "you are there" realism. The recording I described above is dramatic and dynamic; I also appreciate the BA ER4's for delicate instrumental passages and voice.

However, I do like the bass on the DD ER2's on both classical and rock music. I am undecided if that reflects their dynamic drivers per se or if it is simply a product of better bass extension. (An exception is that I appreciate well-controlled bass, and the ER4's are sometimes very good at that. This applies where a bass line is sustained and liable to sound tubby or chaotic by headphones or IEM's with either weak bass extension, or alternatively, a bass emphasis that may be poorly controlled. In those cases, I find the ER4's helpful in delivering a tight, well-controlled bass line. One of the tracks I use for that is "Hide" on the K's Choice "Cocoon Crash" album, a great rocker which is tough to get right in playback with decent volume and separation, due to the overlay of multiple instruments and voices, and a sustained, deep bass line, especially during the last 1:15 minutes or so. Despite the frequent association of ER4's with classical, they do a pretty good job here, at a healthy if not extreme SPL.)

In short, I just don't know where Crinnacle gets his impression of BA IEM's as "plastic" or "ethereal" (as he states on his website). I hear the exact opposite with the Ety ER4's, in comparison with both DD IEM's and headphones. I hear both greater texture and timbral richness with those BA IEM's. And it seems unambiguous.
 
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majingotan

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Agreed with what you observed with your IEMs. Even when EQed precisely to the same target curve, a single BA unit can't move as much air as DD in the lower frequencies hence different distortion characteristics which translates to different sound at the same SPL at those frequency range.
In short, I just don't know where Crinnacle gets his impression of BA IEM's as "plastic" or "ethereal" (as he states on his website). I hear the exact opposite with the Ety ER4's, in comparison with both DD IEM's and headphones. I hear both greater texture and timbral richness with those BA IEM's. And it seems unambiguous.
It's just his subjective opinion of an unEQed tonal response of a BA IEM as part of his subjective review as most BA IEMs available are tuned with less emphasis in the bass than the Harman IEM target curve. A warmer tuned BA IEM won't have a "plastic timbre" attached to his review
 
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JanesJr1

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Agreed with what you observed with your IEMs. Even when EQed precisely to the same target curve, a single BA unit can't move as much air as DD in the lower frequencies hence different distortion characteristics which translates to different sound at the same SPL at those frequency range.

It's just his subjective opinion of an unEQed tonal response of a BA IEM as part of his subjective review as most BA IEMs available are tuned with less emphasis in the bass than the Harman IEM target curve. A warmer tuned BA IEM won't have a "plastic timbre" attached to his review
Sounds right. As usual, you add helpful diagnosis to my recital of symptoms.
 
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