Hi-Res Audio

I’ve been dealing with severe depression for months, so my posting will be sporadic. One small joy is music, and I realized that I’d been depriving myself of the full audio quality of my Steinberg UR22mkII by not plugging it into a separate 5V power supply and using the 500mA power from the USB interface alone.

Analog audio is strange and mysterious and requires different thinking from digital signaling, and yet we all know that “audiophiles” often go to bizarre lengths to spend ludicrous amounts of money on dubious improvements. Meanwhile, as someone with a good sense of hearing, I’ve figured out what really counts.

In the case of the UR22mkII, there’s a switch on the back to use the USB power or a separate microUSB power supply, which is what I normally use. I’d recently unplugged the power supply I was using to connect it to my Raspberry Pi 3 to work on RISC OS projects, and I figured the built-in USB power was adequate for watching YouTube interviews, and it was, but when I switched to listening to music, I very quickly got depressed by something missing from the sound.

It’s hard to describe, as all but the simplest audio characteristics are, but without a separate power source, music was sounding less clear and missing the bottom 1 or 2 octaves of bass (or at least it was massively attenuated). It also sounded like I was missing the “liveness” of the music and the separation of bass and treble.

Last night I dug up a 2000mA charger that came with a “Furbo” dog camera and remote treat dispenser that I’d received as a Christmas gift and never had much opportunity to use. I paired that with the first microUSB cable I could find (nothing fancy), plugged it into the UR22mkII, flipped the switch, and suddenly the audio was vastly improved and my joy in listening to music came flooding back.

Besides the UR22mkII, I’m using a Mackie Mix8 compact mixer as a headphone amp (the UR22mkII’s headphone jack sounds weak regardless of power supply), and dual-1/4″ TS cables from a music store. Nothing “audiophile” grade; everything’s “musician grade”. My headphones are the popular Sony MDR-7506. Hopefully this info is helpful to other music enjoyers.

The title of this post is a reference to Apple’s “Hi-Res Lossless” that some Apple Music songs are available in (typically 24-bit 96 kHz, but occasionally 192 kHz). I’m a tremendous advocate of lossless audio compression: I will often notice the drop in quality, even with relatively high bitrates such as 256 kbps AAC, although the loss is only with the subtle complexities of the echoes and “liveness” and not as immediately obvious to me as not using a separate power supply with my DAC. However, even though my UR22mkII is set to 24-bit, 192 kHz, I must admit that I can’t detect any improvement from the usual 16-bit 44.1 kHz “CD quality”.

It’s especially amusing to me when 1960s music digitized from analog sources is given the “Hi-Res” treatment because what are you really capturing? More analog noise? Is that relevant at all? At least with songs recorded in this century, one can claim that you’re getting the full 96 kHz digital sampling of the original tracks. Can you tell that I’m not a believer in the “analog sounds better than digital” snake oil?

Even in the earliest days of audio CDs, people who knew what they were talking about pointed out that the SNR of CDs was always higher than vinyl records, much less magnetic tape (even with Dolby NR). However, I have noticed that some CDs originally released in the 1980s and 1990s sound poorly digitized or mixed, so I can definitely see why so many people preferred a well-mastered vinyl LP to a poorly-mastered CD. These days, the real enemy of music quality is the “loudness war”, a trend that was only made possible by digital audio mastering.

Update: I forgot to mention that the relatively pathetic audio and graphics quality made me utterly dismissive of consumer VR headsets like Meta’s Quest 2. Would I feel differently about Apple’s $3499 headset? I doubt it. I have no hopes for VR, much preferring my tech to be in the real world, with all of its pain and sadness.






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