Edition 3 - October 2019
Welcome to the third edition of Sound Matters, Melco Audio’s newsletter which is designed to keep you updated on Melco news and industry insights.
Melco offers the world's first audiophile-grade source components to access, store, deliver and play Hi-Res digital music without the use of computer hardware and peripherals. Our uncompromising digital music libraries have been the talk of industry awards and are regularly used by leading audio manufacturers to showcase their devices.
We want to make sure this newsletter continues to be a valuable read for you, so please send ideas and suggestions for future content you’d like to see to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy reading and enjoy the music!
Melco Europe General Manager
The magic of DSD
There are many urban myths surrounding Direct Stream Digital (DSD), so I thought it might be interesting to look at DSD in detail and dispel some untruths. It may be simplified a little, but the following should give an insight into this remarkable format, in the context of Melco, of course, and is also applicable to USB-connected DACs as well as Ethernet streamers.
What is DSD?
Remember bitstream audio? It was used to indicate an elegant digital path in the mastering of LPs before CD was launched. It was a single-bit digital ‘stream’ and was considered a really useful digital format because decoding (D/A conversion) did not depend on high-precision resistive ladders etc. as used in DACs for PCM – at the time, 16-bit DACs were costly and had compromised performance.
PCM requires that the DAC has the ability to differentiate levels approximately 1/65,000 of peak level for 16 bits; more precision required for more bits. This requires an extremely precise ladder DAC or similar technology, whereas DSD is pulse density or delta-sigma modulation of a single bitstream; the decoding requires no special amplitude resolution and is, therefore, easier to implement.
Move the clock forward a few years and SACD uses the same digital stream with good results, making bitstream effectively a consumer format. With the advent of CD – a 16-bit PCM format – DACs have moved on in leaps and bounds since the ‘80s, but still there is the requirement to have extremely precise DAC implementation for 16, 24 or even 32-bit, or to use extreme oversampling/ clever data techniques to get around the basic problems of a PCM ladder DAC.
Bitstream never went away, though, and today it is known as DSD and offers many potential advantages over PCM.
There never was a specific physical carrier (silver disc) for DSD, so the download and digital files environment was necessary to popularise DSD. SACD is the same format but is copy protected, so the files do not move off of the silver disc carrier.
DSD exists in several forms:
There is the concept of single DSD or DSD 64 (being 64 times the sample rate of CD) and this is the original SACD standard. By doubling and quadrupling the data rate we get double DSD, DSD 128 and Quad DSD, DSD 256.
If the data was being created in the studio to master a CD, then the DSD would be 64, 128 etc. times the CD data rate. But if the data is being taken from analogue sources (microphone mixers, tape machines etc.) and is not for CD production, then the convention of 48 kHz sampling equivalent applies.
On the front of a Melco, when playing single DSD, a data rate of 2.8 MHz is shown for CD-related files and 3.1 MHz for 48 kHz related files.
How to justify record company claims ‘from the Master Tape/s’
The sample rate is a really useful clue as to the origins of the expensive download that you might have purchased and shows whether the claim, ‘Direct from the master tapes’ really applies or whether this has been lifted from CD-production data. Direct from an analogue tape will give DSD of 3.1, 6.1, 12.3 MHz etc. But, if the material was lifted from CD production data, the giveaway is the data rate of 2.8 MHz, 5.6 MHz etc.
To move DSD from one device to another, it is usually necessary to put the data into packets. This is also the case for USB and Ethernet. The packets contain the DSD data and have additional markers at the start and end of each packet to identify their place in the data queue. These markers take up around 30 per cent of the available bandwidth.
Some recent DACs and streamers can accept data without these markers. Melco supports this and tests the comms automatically. If markerless is possible with the specific DAC then there is a sound quality improvement due to the data rate dropping. There is no requirement for the user to intervene – markerless happens whenever possible; another clever Melco innovation!
DSD is really convenient but is not possible to easily edit, change levels, fade in and out of tracks etc. This requires PCM.
DXD is a 32-bit, 384 kHz (CD production) or 32/352 kHz PCM format. This is used before the finalised DSD.
Equivalent resolution DSD vs. PCM
The question always asked surrounds DSD vs. PCM resolution. They are totally different digitisation regimes and comparison is not easy, but it helps to think of SACD/single DSD/DSD 64 being something of the order of 20-bit resolution; sample rate equivalence depends on the DAC technique but it’s safe to say 96 kHz.
DSD 128 can be considered equivalent to a 24-bit PCM format.
There are several DACs that take full advantage of the DSD format. There are a lot more DACs that are based on PCM and, therefore, have to convert the DSD into PCM. Some do it well, some do not, and this is possibly the reason that opinion is divided on the merits of DSD. Conversion from DSD to PCM in the DAC is not so easy, the maths is immense.
With Melco connected to a USB DAC, you can choose! Many DSD-capable DACs are actually PCM DACs with inbuilt conversion. The Melco, however, can very precisely convert DSD into 32-bit PCM. Presenting this PCM data to a DAC designed originally for PCM is probably the best way to use the DAC with DSD.
DSD-over-Ethernet sometimes requires DoP (DSD over Packet) depending on the streamer; there are several one-time options for the Melco to communicate in the most stable way with the streamer.
Buying DSDs or DXD
As mentioned, there is no physical carrier for DSD (other than SACD which is copy-protected). But many vendors offer DSD and (in some cases) DXD downloads. If you purchase the highest resolution files you often can access the lesser files as well, making interesting sound quality comparisons.
Most telling is DXD versus Quad DSD: one uses a PCM DAC and the other a DSD DAC, so it allows a lot of insight into the performance of your hardware.
There are many vendors of DSD, but we do enjoy relationships with HighResAudio.com and Native DSD.com, plus both have samplers available for Melco owners. Particularly fine recordings are:
We hope this helps introduce you to the world of DSD – enjoy!
Meet the Melco Master Dealer
In each edition of Sound Matters, we’ll be focussing on one of our Melco Master Dealers. Melco has a training programme dedicated to creating a network of skilled Master Dealers who have been assessed in respect to Melco features, installation and support, as well as advanced Hi-Res music techniques and network infrastructure for hi-fi devices.
Which brands do you sell?
We sell and specialise in high-end hi-fi, with some of the finest audio equipment that the UK has to offer: loudspeakers from ATC, KEF, Harbeth, Neat, ProAc and Shahinian, to name but a few.
We also cover a wide range of electronics: amplifiers, turntables and digital sources from Chord Electronics, Melco, Naim, Linn, Rega and Sugden; we have some amazing brands at our disposal!
What do you enjoy about Melco?
What Melco have been able to achieve with their products is particularly impressive – especially sonically, when paired with some of the DACs at our disposal. Initially, it could be easy to see Melco as another NAS drive option, but looking just a little deeper and after speaking with Melco’s enthusiastic reps, you soon realise that the products Melco are producing are something far ahead of the competition.
The control of the manufacturing process and the variables taken into consideration have culminated in creating some fantastic equipment and we’re proud to be part of the Melco Master Dealers programme.
Do you have a recent customer success story?
We’ve often encountered customers who have vast music collections but lack the physical storage space and who are, perhaps, a little hesitant to enter the world of streaming. For this reason, Melco has been an amazing bridge between the two worlds – storing their music collections, offering a streaming solution and delivering great performance, simultaneously.
The D100 Compact Disc Drive (loader) has also excelled of late – we’ve recently had a customer who moved to Melco from an alternative network storage device/ripper and having made the decision to re-import their collection, was surprised at how much better the D100 is; noting the superior rip quality of the drive, as well as excelling when dealing with CDs that other rippers were unable to read!
With thanks to Ed Selley, freelance journalist for avforums.com, Hi-Fi Choice and Home Cinema Choice
Melco N1A - an instrumental part of my review hardware
When I was sent the Melco N1A for review back in 2015, I will freely admit to a degree of scepticism about the notion of ‘audiophile storage’. Even by that time, I had been using network audio players for a number of years and the storage arrangements I had up until that point, had seemed perfectly adequate for the task. After a week or so, my attitude had changed to the point where I purchased the N1A and it has remained with me ever since!
The initial testing I carried out on the N1A was enough to demonstrate that Melco has not only built a range of products that improved the performance of a network audio set-up I had previously thought was performing optimally, but had done so at the same time as producing a product that actually felt more robust and rugged than the equipment I had previously selected for that purpose.
In some ways, the sonic benefits are the ‘expected’ bit of the equation. Thanks to the use of audiophile components in critical areas of the design, the N1A ensures that content is delivered in the most accurate fashion to your network audio player. Thanks to the use of a dedicated output from the Melco drive to your player, the connection between the two units is not being called upon to do anything else and the benefits of this arrangement are considerable. Crucially, across dozens of different test subjects, although the level of improvement has varied a little, the Melco has always improved the performance of the device connected to its output over using it in a normal network arrangement.
There are other hi-fi considerations, too. Firstly, it is completely silent, not ‘silent from my listening position’ or ‘silent until you’re near it’ but silent. The idea of my old NAS drive sitting in the same rack space would have been crazy (and by the standards of most ‘bay’-type NAS drives, it was pretty quiet) but the N1A has done so since day one without a second’s thought. Perhaps less importantly, (but still something I like) is that it looks good while it does so.
For me though, the ruggedness and reliability of the N1A have been just as important to it becoming an instrumental part of my review hardware. It has been in constant use since it arrived and on occasions, has travelled offsite with me to be used to test other systems and it hasn’t missed a beat. It still boots from a standing start in 18 seconds and appears on my network with the reliability of a bullet train.
It is also worth noting that despite being an original Melco product and one superseded by the improved Melco N1A/2, I still receive software updates and functionality roll-outs for it. Melco has supported their products with a diligence that any high-end brand would be proud of and ensured that my N1A is better now than when it originally won me over when it first arrived. I don’t regard hi-fi equipment as an ‘investment’ but if any piece of equipment I’ve bought could justify the term, it would most likely be this one.
In the press
We’ve got a busy year of hi-fi shows planned and we’d love to welcome you to our room at one of the forthcoming events.
Thanks to Melco customer Meni for sharing this photo of his hi-fi system, including Melco N10 two-box music library – what do you think? Melco integrates nicely with Naim, making a great match!
A breakdown of his set-up can be found below:
Naim ND 555 network player
Naim NAC 552 preamp
Naim NAP 500 DR power amp
Naim Super Lumina cables
Naim SL2 speakers
If you’d like to feature in Sound Matters, please send a photo of your kit with a breakdown of models to: email@example.com or DM us via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
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