Reference Playback

You’re probably all busy thinking it sounds like FLAC versions are still all there, which they not only are, but have processing noise added, compared to the original, but just in case you have tried listening to your music the way money is no object, and have a low powered usb ssd feeding your uncompressed files to the output, so that you can try to at least truly equal what CD’s already sounded like, except for the lack of an official I2S cable to feed your player with: Has anyone else been very picky, and now finds it obvious that uncompressed files from a low powered ssd actually give a more confident file read than the ethereally dubious read that cd’s always gave? My playback of local copies is sick compared to how good my cd playback was, even though I’m stuck with usb to my dac, until my DI arrives in 2 days, which will also include an I2S output for my dac, to let me EQUAL what I was getting from a cd player better, except for the ‘which HDMI cable I use still makes a difference’ argument.
If you’re listening to FLAC’s, you probably think you’re really good for not being much of a slacker when you listen, because of all that irritating noise. After switching to uncompressed files as my reference playback, my owned music makes me feel like I could fall asleep all the time, compared to streaming FLAC from Tidal, which is also through the same player, Audirvana.
My dreams for the future include streaming services and streaming players supporting the ability to download the flac in advance, decompress it onto a local hard drive as a temporary file, and then play back that file, for the perfection of streaming quality. Internet speeds can already keep the latency of jumping to a new higher res track that’s not next on the list very low, it won’t be a problem, especially if there’s an option included to toggle the decompression in advance.
I know for a fact that lots of people have even better dac’s than this uber thing, and I’m surprised people aren’t all debunking FLAC playback all the time. Remember, uncompressed is the reference that FLAC has to try to keep unchanged, so if money is no object, why are you letting FLAC try to have a chance in the first place?
My USB SSD is 2tb, and was only like $150. The problem is, as invisible as streaming is now that Audirvana supports it, (being a real player, not just some streamer’s makeshift junk), it’s obviously not reference playback, like the files I’ve purchased and have local copies of. Those are silent about shimmering with noise injection, compared to streaming FLAC. I can fall asleep no problem, with uncompressed.
Comments, or please feel very free to contributing more to what should constitute reference playback in this thread.
I started this thread here at PSAudio because Mr. Paul McGowan is the teacher who helps everyone get good SAT scores for continually repeating us in his video’s that his reference system should be the absolute best of everything possible, to be able to make it to reference playback, which should mean ‘as intended by reality’, although you’re stuck with having to be you. :wink:
Edit: Oh, and if people think you’re unusual for being an audiophile, just tell them that your speakers or headphones destroy that stadium stack of dance club speakers besides just being loud.

Having a bit of trouble deciphering the gist of your post, so I focused on this excerpt ^^.

What are some of your thoughts regarding the elements of a reference (digital) playback system? Perhaps your comments will prime the pump and solicit some responses.


Nothing wrong with uncompressed flac playback on a good reference system. And then try Qobuz for streaming… not inferior in sound quality compared to playback of the same locally stored files (which after purchase one can also download in wav format etc.)

Try it yourself on a real reference set :wink:

(edit: …FWIW hires beats regular cd’s by deafault ;- )

scotte1: I primed the pump by saying that my wav files from a low powered usb ssd seem like they’re giving me a more confident read than cd’s ever did, although it’s possible for that to be placebo. Nonetheless, there is no arguing that I’m NOT getting as good of a read as I did from my cd’s.
I then backtracked a bit and talked about how yes, I find that to be a more accurate and less noise-injected playback than FLAC files.

wijber: Exactly, the point is that there’s nothing different from uncompromised playback if you have not compressed to FLAC.
I tired Qobuz, and was impressed that their default player was finally not garbage compared to the average local file player. However, Audirvana is the best sounding local file player so far, and in an unprecedented super move, have incorporated Tidal and Qobuz streaming support. I had originally decided that the 8 smart custom playlists Tidal rotates frequently beats every other streaming service, for that point alone, and reshapes the exploration of new music better than time-shifting local radio shows or anything else the internet has offered so far. We are very close to the ideal broadcasting dream, we only need a player to support downloading a FLAC file in advance, decompressing it to a temporary local file, and then playing that file for us. We could then no longer have to worry about forking out for that Audioquest Cinnamon network cable for $150, while still dreading that that’s a lower end audio network cable, we will have the ideal read of the original file locally going on.
Yeah, higher res beats cd’s, but the 96k that’s finally getting closer to normal is still only double the original rate. 192khz really brings the analogue effect of the original out, and seems like 4x the original rate, instead of just 2x. Unfortunately, the improved clocks in my DAC make things sound way more realistic than they did too, and now I need an external clock port, to explore how much money I’m willing to sink into smoothness over digital sounding.
If you are referring to your default Qobuz player as sounding close to your local file playback player, I will agree that finally there is a default streaming service who has a decent default player. They also didn’t mess around with the MQA scam, so all their files have been the true higher res FLAC versions all along. However, as far as the best sounding player competition goes, I have found Audirvana, and it beats everything else so far. On top of that, it supports Tidal and Qobuz, so now my streaming quality of un-owned new music has never been better, and is actually very close to perfection now. Nah, someone will still find a tweak that nobody has known yet that streams things more simply to our dacs somehow. But the decompression to a temporary local file would be uber, compared to streaming, as proven to me by Audirvana and some local files I own. At that point, I really don’t know why I would buy any tracks to own vs stream anymore, but that seems to be the goal of the streaming services, so they only need to allow players to support that feature for it.
Please, more talk about reference playback tips, especially if I haven’t mentioned them yet. Which I hardly have yet, I only broke the ice.
For another one, Paul’s advice that the rich guys who think money is no object choose plugging their amplifiers directly into the wall (apparently for direct access to the huge PS on the other side of your outlets) over even a huge power conditioner works best, got me to try it after having embarrassingly on a cheap power bar, and all of a sudden my soundstage and amount of power delivered got huge. Don’t plug anything into a cheap power bar, it won’t work as well as the wall. I have a quality distributer that includes some filtering and zones that was only $200, and is not really very disappointing to anything besides an amp to plug into. It will do until I decide to try out a proper power conditioner for everything before my amp. Seriously though, until I plugged my amp straight into the wall, I didn’t know why people cared about their amps very much. Oh, after that, I got my pc off of a cheap power bar, and not only did my audio get bigger and more detailed, but my video got deeper, richer, and more clear. After buying a $60 fat but cheap power cable for the pc, both video and audio improved even more, in much the same way. Which kind of sucks, because power cables can get expensive. Both are even digitally outputted, they just don’t output with as much power and clarity if there is anything restricting your power flow from the wall.
It seems like whatever the original file is, the goal of gear is to avoid restricting or altering any of it from the original during playback. That’s what sucks for your wallet, too, if you want to play your tracks back properly.

My advice to you would be something like:

  • use the computer as a server and a tablet (or phone) with BubbleUpnp or similar as control point to play your files (in terms of sound quality there is no difference between possible control points).
  • use a Matrix Spdif (preferably with separate high-quality power supply) between PC and dac.


Audirvana has an app that lets me control my playback from my phone. What will Upnp offer me, in this case? Is it an app that would otherwise still let me use my phone to send data to my dac? Why would that beat using an app on my pc, even if Audirvana wasn’t the best player? Well, I guess if an android app was the best player, I would understand, but nothing on there will beat Audirvana, and then my phone being wireless to my pc after that will never help, either?
This thread isn’t necessarily meant to be advice to me, but could also just be a bunch of setup wisdom gained in life. Kind of like the ask Paul video’s, I guess, except in a format where we can have multilateral discussion, even though we can’t expect anyone else to be as wise about reference playback as Paul McGowan. But at least it’s his site, right? Hopefully some experts will chime in about stuff Paul hasn’t told us yet, most of all!