Does Digital Try Too Hard?


Digital glare. A plague of digital sound playback systems. It seems the best comment a CD player or digital source can get is to sound “analog-like.” I’ve gone to great lengths to battle this in my CD-based 2-channel system but it’s never ending. My father, upon hearing my system for the first time (and at loud volumes), said this: “The treble isn’t offensive to my ears.” What a great compliment.

So what does digital do wrong? The tech specs tell us it’s far superior to vinyl or reel to reel. Does it try too hard? Where digital is trying to capture the micro details of complex passages, analog just “rounds it off” and says “good enough,” and it sounds good enough. Or does digital have some other issue in the chain - noise in the DAC chip, high frequency harmonics, or issues with the anti-aliasing filter? Does it have to do with the power supply?

There are studies that show people prefer the sound of vinyl, even if only by a small margin. That doesn’t quite add up when we consider digital’s dominant technical specifications. On paper, digital should win.

So what’s really going on here? Why doesn’t digital knock the socks off vinyl and why does there appear to be some issue with “digital glare” in digital systems.
mkgus
I used to have digital glare many years ago. Not even a hint of it now. Streaming sounds even better than my expensive CD transport/DAC combo. The solution was clean power - via power conditioners, power supplies and quality copper cabling.

If you search the Audiogon discussion archives, there are many posts about resolving digital glare.

Oh so you are going to open that can of worms again Huh? LOL!

Technically digital does not have a sound. All sound that we hear is analog. So when we say something sounds more analog that is a good thing. The more analog it sounds the better. So it is a complement when digital audio is compared to analog. Digital to analog converting is very difficult to get right and it has taken a long time to learn how to do it well. I think the technology is finally maturing to the point where it is very close to sounding like analog. My CD rig is so close to my TT sound that I enjoy both equally. Banishing noise and jitter, better power supplies all that stuff has improved greatly.
As always in this hobby YMMV.   
The solution was clean power - via power conditioners, power supplies and quality copper cabling.

That makes me happy to hear as I am about to embark on a journey to clean up the power going to my CD player. 😀
I used to have digital glare many years ago. Not even a hint of it now.
Yeah, me too, when it was in it’s infancy yes it did have glare courtesy of the "brick wall filters", and bad analog stages jiter ect ect, but now it’s got more detail, separation, smoothness and dynamic range than even the best vinyl, even playing the older CD’s, which btw have so much less compression than today’s reissues and remasters.

These new reissues/remasters are relentless and can wear you down, everything’s the same volume level there’s no breathing space in between notes, that’s probably what the OP is hearing. And those ones are the compressed ones you get on Tidal, Spotify ect ect ect

Just look at the compression in the later reissue/remaster versions of Sade’s Diamond Life.
http://dr.loudness-war.info/album/list?artist=Sade&album=Diamond+Life
Green is uncompressed red orange yellow is very compressed.

Cheers George
Some recordings are better than others, especially ones not affected by the loudness war. Even the best recordings can sound harsh at times. As I upgrade my system, digital glare seems to diminish. Next up is a power supply upgrade. I’m thinking that will help a lot. 

Electricity is the fuel that powers your rig. High performance requires high octane.

Dirty power has multiple sources - including:

- Your utility box (noise accumulated from the miles of transmission lines, junction boxes, transformers, etc).
- Neighbors’ appliances (if you live in an apartment building).
- Appliances within your home (including computers, digital clocks, etc - in another room, on another circuit). Having dedicated circuits is a proven improvement - but might not be enough.
- Digital components within your audio rig create noise that can be injected back into the circuit - a digital backwash - which may cross-contaminate the power to the analog components.

The entire audio rig needs to be addressed. In the Audiogon forum archives, members have recommended many different solutions that have worked for them. My approach includes separate power conditioning - each for digital and analog.


No, digital doesn’t try too hard. It has distortions which are new to audio playback. In the early days the designers didn’t even know about jitter. I remember the cover announcement on Stereophile when jitter was finally determined to be a problem. These distortions and their sources will be discovered and eliminated.

We’ve come a long way since early digital and I only see digital getting better. Some people think describing digital as analog like is the highest compliment they can give it. Those people are usually vinyl fans. I don’t have a problem with that. If anyone prefers vinyl to digital, that’s fine with me, and I want them to enjoy vinyl as much as they can.

Vinyl has its own distortions, though, and in the not too distant future I think that digital will reach a point where it is generally considered the best sounding format, IMHO.  
Digital can’t get out of its own way. It might be difficult to set up an experiment but if it can be done a direct comparison of a very good vinyl system to a very good CD system should reveal a few things about digital. To whit, digital exhibits:

1. loss of bass information and dynamics
2. unnatural midrange and high frequencies
3. unnaturalness of soundstage 
4. two-dimensional sound
5. congealing of the sound across the board
6. Lack of sweetness and air 
Maybe it's just because my ears are getting old, but to me digital glare is essentially gone.  I currently get just as much glare (and other nasties) on vinyl. In other words, as far as I can see/hear, all the glare is already there at the source.
Digital glare. A plague of digital sound playback systems.

Great thread starter. Or it would have been in 1980.  :-D 

edcyn
Maybe it’s just because my ears are getting old, but to me digital glare is essentially gone. I currently get just as much glare (and other nasties) on vinyl. In other words, as far as I can see/hear, all the glare is already there at the source.

>>>>>Bzzzz! Wrong answer. Have you had your ears candled recently? 🕯
My digital setup has no trace of any glare....the devil is in the detail 😊
I’ll be the judge of that. If only you could hear what I’ve heard with my ears. 
My digital setup has no trace of any glare....the devil is in the detail 😊
So what are you doing right? What does your power supply game look like?
I’m fairly certain that digital glare is not in the recording, unless it’s a bad recording. I’ve managed to clear a lot of it up with power cord upgrades, power supply upgrades and unless my mind is playing tricks on me, with crystals like shungite and quartz placed near certain components.
mkgus OP
So what are you doing right?
geoff listens through this **** that’s what he’s doing right
A $99 zip bag of rocks per channel, he sells them on his web page, voodoo exotica
http://www.machinadynamica.com/machina31.htm

Ignore him, it's the only way
Cheers George
“So what are you doing right? What does your power supply game look like?”

@mkgus,

I am currently using Nordost QRT system to cleanse incoming power along with Furutech Rhodium receptacles. You can find more details on my system page. 
Shungite is not a crystal. 
I cannot detect what people name " digital glare" in my audio system (files read from the computer)… But I remember very well when I listened to that " glare" on some very known and atrocious dac, or some few others less atrocious one some years ago... Thanks to my actual dac, Starting Point Systems nos dac, my sound is organic, 3-d, musical, with an increasing better imaging, but mostly thanks to my continuous tweaking...


Very good dac exist, this is the first point.... Taking care of the level of noise in your electrical house audio embeddings my second point... After that you will be no more hearing glare...

(By the way a power conditioner are not a solution for that in itself, it is not enough,neither some cables change are sufficient to kill the "glare")
(....the riders glare @ each other, crops in hand.  Their mounts nervously tread and paw, awaiting....)

"They're at the Post! *short pause*the bell rings*

"They're Off and Running!" *hoof beats pound randomly hard, falling into the familiar semi-syncopated staccato rhythm of racing....*

Yep, @erik_squires ....they're at it, yet again....;)  No trophy, no winner's circle....just competition.....*mock sigh* 
All you have to do is draw a sine wave. Then make 250 equally spaced marks on the x axis, starting with 0 and ending at 2pi. Use each mark as the step boundary of a step function. Just like elementary calculus.

Now calculate the mean square difference between that step function and the sine wave, and divide by the sine wave area - it’s about 5%. You may infer that 250 samples per waveform delivers about 5% distortion. Now, how many samples per 20KHz waveform?

That’s where your digital glare comes from - at least, part of it.
@terry9 ....and that's where the algorithms have been dispatched to 'smooth' the 'lumps 'n bumps'.  DAC's have made tremendous inroads in that regard....*S*   No end in sight...or for D amps, either.

As processors speeds continue to accelerate (Moore's Law still seems to be in effect I've noticed), the 'glare' seems to be diminishing....

Pretty soon, the 'sunglasses' might become superfluous. ;)

Imagine that.

I'm not saying that analog will totally disappear, no..

I used to own an SL-10, which is the only turntable I can think of that could work in zero-G.  In fact, I could pick it up, turn it upside down...and it wouldn't miss a beat.

"First TT to Mars!" *L*
...not too sure about vacuum tubes, though....
Geoff Kait said “Digital can’t get out of its own way. It might be difficult to set up an experiment but if it can be done a direct comparison of a very good vinyl system to a very good CD system should reveal a few things about digital. To whit, digital exhibits:

1. loss of bass information and dynamics
2. unnatural midrange and high frequencies
3. unnaturalness of soundstage
4. two-dimensional sound
5. congealing of the sound across the board
6. Lack of sweetness and air”

This is exactly the way I hear it too.

“I’ll be the judge of that. If only you could hear what I’ve heard with my ears.”
👍 for the Rutger Hauer BladeRunner reference. 

 Thanks Geoff.
I've heard things you people wouldn't believe. Attack notes on fire off the shoulder of Mozart. I've heard C-notes glitter in the dark with the PPT Gate. All that music will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
Other than the quote is out of context,  it should read 'If only you could hear what I hear with YOUR ears.' But I notice a lot of this guys quotes are out of context or completely wrong, anyway digital any more sounds fine I hear no glare no matter whose ears are employed, that's  been the case now for a number of years not like back in the early years of digital.
“I’ve heard things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack notes on fire off the shoulder of Mozart. I’ve heard C-notes glitter in the dark with the PPT Gate. All that music will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

😂 I remember when I had my first beer
@geoffkait you stated:
”To whit, digital exhibits:

1. loss of bass information and dynamics
2. unnatural midrange and high frequencies
3. unnaturalness of soundstage
4. two-dimensional sound
5. congealing of the sound across the board
6. Lack of sweetness and air”

I have to assume your digital chain (if you have one) is not setup properly, isn’t highly resolving, or you have damaged or inferior digital equipment in your system.

I don’t hear any of the things you mention, but I don’t say they don’t exist for you. With digital like analog everything matters but making blanket statements of what digital exhibits is just silly.
You quoted the wrong dude, dude. Try to pay closer attention. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: but my system sounds fabulous!
djones51
Other than the quote is out of context, it should read ’If only you could hear what I hear with YOUR ears.’ But I notice a lot of this guys quotes are out of context or completely wrong, anyway digital any more sounds fine I hear no glare no matter whose ears are employed, that’s been the case now for a number of years not like back in the early years of digital.

>>>>Other example of an argumentative reactionary. “My system sounds fabulous!” Yeah, sure, pal. I’ll be the judge of that. Besides I didn’t even mention glare. But now that you mention it...
@geoffkait I updated my post to correct the quote.  I apologize and will buy you a beer if you are ever in Sarasota. :-) 
And I would never say my system sounds fabulous.  That would be pretentious and would leave me open to flaming and personal attacks.

I've heard things you people wouldn't believe. Attack notes on fire off the shoulder of Mozart. I've heard C-notes glitter in the dark with the PPT Gate. All that music will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
Roy, where have you been all this time?


Post removed 
@asvjerry 

Don’t quite see how smoothing is going to help all that much with 2 samples per waveform. Or even 4 (for example when samples are taken at pi/4, 3pi/4, 5pi/4, and 7pi/4).

And never mind phase distortion (by which I mean the distortion inherent when subsequent waves are sampled at different places on the x axis). But is that not the underlying insight of Nyquist/Shannon, that frequency information can be recovered to arbitrary precision at the (temporary) expense of phase information? But real-time sampling still leaves us with this ’temporary’ problem, or so it seems to me.
terry9
All you have to do is draw a sine wave. Then make 250 equally spaced marks on the x axis, starting with 0 and ending at 2pi. Use each mark as the step boundary of a step function. Just like elementary calculus.

Now calculate the mean square difference between that step function and the sine wave, and divide by the sine wave area - it’s about 5%. You may infer that 250 samples per waveform delivers about 5% distortion. Now, how many samples per 20KHz waveform?
This argument suggests that you misunderstand the math that underlies digital audio. You might want to view this.

Don't get me wrong - I'm an analog guy. But we can't improve digital if we don't understand how it works, and how it doesn't.

@cleeds 

Thank you for your friendly and helpful response. I'll take a look and we can discuss.
“I’ve heard things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack notes on fire off the shoulder of Mozart. I’ve heard C-notes glitter in the dark with the PPT Gate. All that music will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
I don't always appreciate MC's posts or the tenor thereof (and we'll leave the question of a PPT-related quid pro quo un-asked) but for that bit of genius quoted above, all can be forgiven.  Well done.  

Sadly, you will probably know Rutger has passed.
@cleeds 

First, I learned something useful from the presentation you referenced, that step functions are no longer used in DAC. Thanks for that. However, I still have concerns, which may arise from misunderstanding, which I submit for comment and correction.

It follows that some form of interpolation is being used to convert the discrete sample values taken at discrete time intervals into an analogue signal. The alternative, a smooth perfect fit to the data, appears from the presentation to require the SW to know which frequency it is dealing with  (although it might be able to guess, using FFT on previous segments for example, so informing that interpolation). This is important because the talk continues to use this result (a perfect, smooth waveform) as proven, which I do not grant, but also appears to assume mathematically perfect observation (else how could there be a unique waveform which fits the data?).

There seem to me to be only two alternatives: (1) stick with a safe linear interpolation, or (2) guess. But with a guess, sometimes the SW is going to guess wrong (perhaps on transients?), and then the output is going to be far more distorted than a simple linear interpolation would suggest.

Therein lies information loss. What is known comprise the samples and intervals - the rest is processing. I hypothesize that the success of one processing algorithm over another represents digital's progress. Is this correct Cleeds? 

Oddly enough, I was just reviewing uniqueness theorems concerning representations of ordered semi-groups, which, assuming perfect information, is pretty much what we are dealing with here. A few points occur to me: (1) samples are taken in finite time, and are therefore averages of some kind  (2) samples are taken at intervals of finite precision, therefore there is temporal smearing (3) samples are taken with finite precision, hence further uncertainty is built into each (averaged) sample.

In physics, data are always presented with error bars in one or more dimensions. It leads one to ask, why does this engineer think he has points? Is he confusing this problem with talk of S/N ratio?

These considerations lead us, contrary to the presentation, to the conclusion that we do not have lollypop graphs of points, we have regularly spaced blobs of uncertainty, which are being idealized. However, this also shows that, regardless of the time allowed for sampling and reconstruction, there is an infinity of curves which fit the actual imperfect data. Not a unique curve by any means.

Again, I have Cleeds to thank for refining my understanding of digital. I agree that we can't discuss digital intelligently unless we understand how it works and how it doesn't. Please correct that which you find to be in error.



So terry9 are you accusing Monty of somehow messing with the scope or hacking the SW since it showed a perfect smooth waveform ? I am not sure anyone cares whether you grant it simply get the equipment and replicate it or can you prove he was wrong? Just announcing " I do not grant " isn't going to cut it when we can all see his work, where's  yours? Post a YouTube refuting it. 


"This is important because the talk continues to use this result (a perfect, smooth waveform) as proven, which I do not grant" 
I gave my conclusions and my reasons for all to see and criticize. That's the way of math and science. I suggest that you re-read my post and then decide who it is that is "Just announcing".
Ok I re-read your post and you begin with an assumption that the waveform isn't  really what we are seeing in the experiment  with no other proof than "I do not grant".  The only conclusion  i can make is you are saying that Monty the engineer somehow is rigging the experiment because you don't grant there is really a perfect waveform there. 
I'm talking about the graph of an arbitrary waveform, not any specific wave form. At the point where he says something like, "There are no steps" and refers to "lollypops". The general case.
There is no arbitrary waveform it is simply the way the software represents the waveform on the computer, he can manipulate it to look like a lollipop or stair steps or waves or whatever there are no steps or lollipops like he said it's just a lazy way of showing the digitized  signal. There is the analog signal sent through the computer where it's  digitized then sent back through the dac and sent on to the scopes they show the same signal. It would be analogous to saying the signal of the waveform on the oscilloscope is " arbitrary " because you are simply looking at  a picture of a wave on its  screen. Is the waveform on the oscilloscope  arbitrary? Or is it a 1khz signal? Why is the picture of the signal on the computer monitor arbitrary and the same signal on the oscilloscope not? They are both just a means of showing us a representation of sound whether they are waves or lollipops.
Perhaps I should have said "abstract" instead of "arbitrary". Does that make it clear?
@cleeds , thanks for the link...'lollipop' markers and all...;)  Noting that the vid is also from 2013-ish does allow for the improvements of DAC's and digital clock speeds.  24/96 seems to be (more or less) being considered 'acceptable' generally.

I've also noticed that 'glare' and 'jitter' seems to be less of an issue for the majority of 'listeners' currently.  Yes, those who can and feel the need to have the 'latest and greatest' stand-alone DAC in their systems will do so.  Such has always been part of the landscape of 'hi-end audiophilia'...

Speaking for myself (which I typically do...I know myself. I know zilch about you...or anyone else at AG, for that matter *S*), I've never really noticed 'glare or jitter' as a discrete issue to note and/or get upset about....

Now, if I have experienced 'G&J', it's likely I chalked it up to:
-Differences in the age of the original performance, how it recorded, how that was processed. the duplication of it, and how it ended up on my speakers.
-The sheer variety of the previous note.  Unless there's voluminous information attached, one has no way or means of knowing what has happened to what I'm trying to reproduce and potentially enjoy.  But I do notice the differences between them; even with reproductions of the same damn thing.

Some are Wonderful....the next, woefully Bad.  And applicable to Analog>Digital, D>D, D>A...it seems a 'common thread' in remasters of older recordings, but even those are all over the board...'compression', age of the source material...

But, then again, there are those that can say: 'Well, Jerry, that's because your equipment is trash."  Well, true.  I haven't invested multi-K$ in it, nor will likely in the future.  But I Do notice the 'glaring' differences.

I've expressed MHO in rather non-technical terms because I don't listen to my system.  I listen to what it's playing for me.

And any shortcomings of my 'pile of trash' vs.anyone else's does not bother me in the slightest....no 'jitters' at all...

And. if that renders me as 'clueless'...there's a certain serenity in that. ;)

"Does Digital Try Too Hard?"
No...it's just evolving.  Just like everything else.  But Faster.
My  Lampizator dac with top final touch audio usb cable truly made a very big upgrade sonicly and digital glare is no longer there .you are still at the mercy of the recording vinyl,as well as cd,or steaming ,and hard wire streaming 
still sounds better then wireless.
terry9

It follows that some form of interpolation is being used to convert the discrete sample values ... There seem to me to be only two alternatives: (1) stick with a safe linear interpolation, or (2) guess. But with a guess ...

No, there's no interpolation going on here - unless there's an issue reading the disc that requires error correction - and there's no guessing either. Neither is needed because it's a bandwidth limited system.


Quick update: I just modified my CD player to run off a large battery. My CD player takes two voltages: one for the circuitry and one for the motor. It sounds best when the motor is powered by a separate battery instead of both on one battery. This really cleaned up the sound and things are sounding way more analog with a lot less digital glare. Conclusion: Clean power seems to be very important when it comes to converting ones and zeros into an analog signal. (Not that this should come as a surprise to a lot of people)
My own experience is yes the same, clean power for me is almost more important than any electronic upgrading component...