Monday, 16 September 2013

Computer Audio Design Windows 8 Audio Optimization Script


I have been working on a Windows 8 Audio Optimization Script for some time now.  If you want the details the best place to look is at the JPLAY forum:

I have two downloads available:

This zip file contains 3 separate scripts:
1)  CAD Windows 8 Audio Optimization V2_6.cmd
2) CAD Windows 8 Return to Original Settings V2_6.cmd
3) Desktop Services Killer V1_1.cmd

If you have run a previous script you must run the return to original settings before running V2.6.
The Desktop Killer can be copied to your desktop and run manually or I put mine in the startup folder.

The second download is:

This zip file contains 1 script and one executable
1)  CAD Windows 8 Shell Killer V1_1.cmd
2) NtSuspendProcess64.exe

This script will be a bit limiting for many!  It will turn your screen black instantly.  The only button that will work on your computer will be the power button.  This is how you have to reboot your computer.
Copy NtSuspendProcess64.exe to C:/
Copy CAD Windows 8 Shell Killer V1_1.cmd to your desktop

Now when you double click on the Shell Killer script located on your desktop the screen will instantly go black.  You can still use an iPad device and JRemote to control Jriver media center.  This is not a permanent change!  When you reboot your CAT it will be back exactly the same state with your screen just as always..  So the CAD Windows 8 Shell Killer V1_1.cmd needs to be run on every boot up.  If you are also running the Desktop Services Killer let that start before you run the Shell Killer.

Any questions please let me know!

Scott Berry

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Hi!  Sorry there hasn't been a post here in a while but I have just put up two papers on ways to improve the sound quality of a Windows computer on our website.  Take a look here: 

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Sampling Frequency & Bit Depth
Equally important for Sound Quality?

A week ago I attended the Audio World HiFi 2012 show in Weybridge, UK with my wife.  In one of the rooms we overheard two people discussing the different Sampling Frequencies and Bit depths available in high resolution music.  As we left the room, she asked me:  What is more important - Bit Rate or Sampling Frequency? As I started my explanation she looked a bit blank, so I went back to the basics. This is more or less what I explained to her. 
The first thing to realise is that these two parameters are completely independent. As an example:

A CD has a Sampling Frequency of 44.1kHz and a Bit depth of 16 Bits.
Sampling Frequency is how many times per second a continuous signal (analog) was "recorded" or sampled to make a discrete or digital signal.  With a CD this is 44,100 times per second.
Bit depth is how many values are available for each sample.  Bit depth is calculated by 2N .  Where N is the number of Bits.  So a CD has 216  = 65,536 different values available for each sample.

Are both Sampling Frequency and Bit Depth equally important to sound quality in home audio systems? Let’s start with Bit depth.

Bit Depth

A Bit is the abbreviation for a single binary digit, represented by a 0 or a 1.  For example, here is a 16-Bit binary number:


The right most Bit is called Bit 0 and the left most Bit is called Bit 15.  0 through 15 equals a total of 16 Bits.

The left most Bit is called the "Most Significant Bit" (MSB) and is equal to 2N-1, where N = the Bit number.  In this case N = 16 so the MSB is equal to 32,768.

The second Bit is the 2nd left most Bit and is equal to 2N-2

The third Bit is the 3nd left most Bit and is equal to 2N-3

The fourth Bit is the 4nd left most Bit and is equal to 2N-4
The 16th Bit is the right most Bit and is equal to 2N-N  or 20 = 1. This is also called the “Least Significant Bit” (LSB).

In the above 16-Bit binary number Bits 15, 12, 6, 2 and 0 are all zero, so these Bit values are equal to zero and contribute nothing to the output.

So the 16-Bit Binary number above is equal to:

214 + 213 + 211 + 210 + 29 + 28 + 27 + 25 + 24 + 23 + 21
Which equals: 

16,384 + 8192 + 2048 + 1024 + 512 + 256 + 128+ 32 + 16 + 8 + 2 = 28,602

If all the Bits in the 16-Bit binary number were equal to 1's like this: 1111111111111111 That would be the maximum output of the device, which is 216 = 65,536.

If all the Bits in the 16-Bit binary number where equal to 0's like this:  0000000000000000 That would be the minimum output of the device, which is 0.

This means with a 16 Bit system we have 65,536 individual values available.  In an "ideal" 16 Bit DAC the DAC can output 65,536 different values. 

Here is how the Bit numbers relate to the DAC output values:

1)  The "Most Significant Bit" (MSB) is equal to half of the maximum output of the DAC.
2)  The next (2nd) significant Bit will be half of the MSB.
3)  The third will be half of the 2nd MSB and so on. 

4)  The (LSB) can be calculated by the equation:  max output of DAC / 2N, where N is the number of Bits the DAC has. 

Think of the MSB as the coarse tuning knob on a radio and the LSB as the fine tuning knob on a radio.

To make it easier assume we have a 16 Bit "ideal" DAC Integrated Circuit (IC).   Some DACs output voltage, others output current.  Let's assume our "ideal" DAC outputs current.

Let’s also assume the maximum output of our 16 Bit "ideal" DAC is 5 milliamps.  The value of each Bit is then:

Bit 15 (MSB) = 2.50 mA
 Bit 14 = 1.25 mA
Bit 13 = 0.625 mA
Bit 12 = 0.3125 mA
Bit 11 = 0.015625 mA
Bit 10 = 78.125 uA
Bit 9 = 39.0625 uA
Bit 8 = 19.5313 uA
Bit 7 = 9.76563 uA
Bit 6 = 4.88281 uA
Bit 5 = 2.44141 uA
Bit 4 = 1.22070 uA
Bit 3 = 0.610352 uA
Bit 2 = 0.305176 uA
Bit 1 = 0.152588 uA
Bit 0 (LSB) = 0.0762939 uA

So the LSB involves only 0.0762929 uA of current!  That is 76.3 x 10-9 AMPS!

In a 24 Bit system where the maximum output of the DAC IC is 5mA the LSB will only be 2.98 x10-10 amps.

T o help you understand how small this value is say our maximum output is a distance equal to 10 miles. In a 24 Bit system the LSB is equal to:  0.03777 inches!  We are talking very small here!

I have chosen 5mA as the maximum output of the DAC.  Some DACs will have a higher maximum output which of course increases the value of the LSB.  But as the value of the LSB increases the resolution of the DAC decreases.  Many DACs have a maximum output that is less than 5mA - meaning the LSB value will be even smaller.

Assume we have a 24 Bit DAC with a maximum output level of 15mA.  The LSB will still have a value of only 8.94 x 10-10  amps.

In a perfect world the LSB should be as small as possible because it would allow a higher resolution and hopefully better sound quality.  Unfortunately the world is not perfect - there is noise and in addition to that there is “jitter”. At a simple level, jitter is related to timing errors. These timing errors also decrease resolution.

An issue I see with Bit depths that are 24 Bit (or higher) is that the LSBs are so small that the LSBs can easily drop below system noise level.  It is difficult enough to get full 16 Bit resolution.

Signal to Noise ratio (S/N) of a DAC is a reference output level of the DAC divided by the minimum level.  The reference output level must be declared when the S/N value is given.  The minimum level is the noise of the system.  

Dynamic range is related to S/N.  If the S/N reference level is the maximum output of the DAC then S/N and dynamic range are the same.

In a perfect world the S/N and dynamic range of a 16 Bit system is theoretically 96dB and a 24 Bit System is theoretically 144dB.  For each 1-Bit increase in Bit depth the S/N and dynamic range can theoretically increase by 6dB.  Dynamic range is the difference between the quietest sound and the loudest. In the real world 140dB is about where your ears start to hurt.  It is impossible for any audio system to have a dynamic range anywhere near 140dB. 

Another technology that is used to increase resolution is Dither.  Dither can be used to increase the resolution of digital audio by adding noise.  At first this does not make much sense (at least to me!).  Here is on one of the simpler explanations of Dither:

I do not want to get any more technical in this discussion but as soon as you start looking at how noise, jitter and frequency affect the LSBs you can quickly see we can get in trouble.  Being an electrical engineer myself I would not want to be the person responsible for designing a circuit where the S/N and jitter levels have to be low enough to be able to take full advantage of a 24 Bit system.

Sampling Frequency

For a DAC, "Sampling Frequency" is actually an incorrect term, even though we all use it.  An Analogue to Digital Converter (ADC) takes "samples" at specific intervals (frequencies).  A DAC has a maximum rate (frequency) that it can accept data.  What we are really talking about when we say "DAC Sampling Frequency" is the "speed" or "throughput rate" that the DAC can accept data.
DAC chips are specified for what their maximum throughput rate is and this varies greatly.  But the key issue here is that unlike Bit depth, throughput rates up to 192kHz and higher do not pose a difficult technical issue for the home audio DAC designer.  Higher throughput rates can of course cause issues, but nothing that is comparable to the issues cause by the LSBs of high Bit depth.

There are some downsides of Higher Sampling Rates:

It requires more CPU power to process audio at higher rates simply because the computer has more processing to do, but this is not a big issue with modern day computers.  Higher sampling rates generally increase Bit depth errors and can increase noise and jitter levels.  It will also heat the DAC chip up more.  The Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem states that when the sampling frequency is twice the maximum frequency of the signal being sampled that perfect reconstruction of the recorded signal is possible.  Human hearing is said to extend to 20kHz.  To satisfy the Nyquist–Shannon theorem the sample rate would have to be at least two times 20Khz, or 40kHz.  This is why CD sample rates are 44.1kHz.  There is quite a bit of discussion on the web about the possible benefits and drawbacks of using higher sample rates even though the Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem says it is not required.
Real Life Test

Please trust your ears!  If you can or cannot hear a difference than that is ALL that matters for home audio.

The above discussion was hopefully interesting to you but at the end of the day the best test instrument for home audio we have in my opinion is our ears.

I would ask the readers of this that have a DAC that can play 192kHz / 24 Bit files to try this experiment:

Take your favourite 192kHz / 24 Bit track and make two test files from this track.

One test file will be 44.1kHz / 24Bit and the other will be 192kHz / 16 Bit.

I will explain how to do this using dBpoweramp R14.x because this is what I use.  You can use any converter software you have but it is crucial that the software uses dither when reducing the Bit depth from 24 down to 16.  Please read the Wiki link I provided about dither to understand why.

1)  dBpoweramp R14.x has the ability to add dither when reducing Bit depth.  Using dBpoweramp R14.x Music Converter this can be done by manually choosing 16 Bit under Bit depth.  Now drop down and click Add by DSP Effects /Options.  Now click Add DSP Effect and choose Bit depth.  It is the forth one down from the top.  Click fixed Bit depth and choose 16.  Open the Apply Dither menu and chose TRIANGULAR (TPDF).  Now convert the file to a new file location and save it with some name so you know what it is.  The next time you open dBpoweramp the DSP effect will still be there so remember to remove it!

2)  Take the same 192kHz / 24 Bit track and use dBpoweramp R14.x Music Converter and convert your file to 44.1kHz. dBpoweramp uses a high quality SSRC frequency conversion by default.  This can be done by choosing "44.1kHz" under Sample.  Now convert the file to a new file location and save it with some name so you know what it is.

3)  Now play the 16 Bit converted file and compared it against the original.  What do you think?

4)  Now play the 44.1kHz converted file and compare it to the original.  What do you think?

5)  Now play the 192kHz / 16 Bit file versus the 44.1kHz / 24 Bit file.   What do you think?

Please let me know what you find! 

Monday, 19 March 2012

Digital Volume Control for fixed output DACs

Worryingly, my lovely wife has started taking an interest in the technical side of computer audio.... It appears she has been reading random websites about digital music, and even a couple of blogs. I am not sure this is entirely a good thing – for either her or me, but it did inspire me to write my own blog. I think I shall use her (usually extremely basic) questions as a start. 

So picture the scene as we sat down to coffee this morning (Weanie Beans from London – great coffee). There was a John-Lee Hooker track playing quietly in the background as I’m doing a bit of music software comparison work today.

She asked me:

“They say that you need to turn the volume to maximum on your computer. Does that mean you shouldn’t be controlling the volume on that thing?” 

“That thing” is the iPad, which we use as a remote to control the Mac Mini computer which runs our music software. 

I didn’t pursue the question of who “they” are but I thought it best to encourage her interest in How Things Work by giving my opinion of the topic. It took a while, but here’s what I explained. 

Quite a few digital music commentators say that digital volume control should never be used.  They say this because digital volume control lowers the resolution of the signal.  They are correct - digital volume control or "attenuation" does indeed reduce the resolution.  But I still believe this is outdated advice.  We must remember that volume control in the analogue domain also adds distortion.
The best audiophile music software these days has far more sophisticated volume control than in the past, and no longer impacts the sound quality as it used to.  Modern day software uses a technique called "dithering" that reduces the audible effects dramatically.  I have spent a considerable amount of time comparing the sound quality of digital "dithered" attenuation versus analog attenuation.   If the gain between your DAC and power amplifier is such that you are at a comfortable listening level somewhere around -10dB to -6dB setting on your music player then in my opinion dithered digital volume control is at least as good as the best analogue attenuation.
Secondly, by controlling the volume in the digital domain, you can output your DAC directly to your amp, entirely bypassing the pre-amp.  Now this is where things get interesting!  The 3 main reasons we use pre-amplifiers are:

1) Allowing switching between multiple sources into one amplifier
2) Impedance matching between source and amplifier
3) Volume Control

A pre-amplifier cannot "improve" the signal quality from the source that is connected to, and in my experience most pre-amplifiers degrade sound quality. 

If your DAC has the proper output impedance to work directly with your power amplifier you can plug the DAC outputs directly into the power amplifier and use the digital volume control. If you have a DAC (or any other source) that can do this I would ask that you give that a try one evening and let me know how much better your music system sounds.  Be careful that you start off with the volume setting as low as possible! 

The electronics of most pre-amps does far more damage to the sound quality than does the digital volume control. The advantages (direct transmission) far outweigh the small disadvantages that digital attenuation causes.

Here is some good information on dither: 

Of course, pre amps are around because most of us also want to have access to all of our sources.
But if you are looking for absolutely the best sound quality possible give it a try!

Along with an iPad controlling you DAC, and you never need to leave the sofa.   : )

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

This is Computer Audio Designs first post.

Hello, my name is Scott and I run a UK company that has been developing a Digital to Analogue Converter (DAC) that is designed to specifically work with computers.  The ONLY input is USB.

Our DAC is an all out effort to achieve the best sound quality possible.  If sound quality is your highest priority and you are sceptical about Computer Audio please get in touch for a demonstration.  All efforts have focused on sound quality.  From the non detachable mains power chord to the custom hand made output capacitors made for us, we have obsessed about ever single component in our DAC.  No MP3s allowed!

The CAD DAC 1543 will fit into any audio system regardless of price.  We have done many A/B comparisons to other digital sources and turntables costing vastly more and people are constantly amazed at what can be achieved with computer based audio.

We are currently manufacturing our first production build and units will be available in April 2012.

We source the best components from around Europe, USA and Australia.  We are a UK company that uses UK components where ever possible.

Please get in touch so you can hear for yourself what is possible!