Simple Pleasures…

The Konus Audio Digitale 2000 Filter-less DAC

By Roy Gregory

A long time ago, in a galaxy that seems far, far away, CD didn’t so much burst onto the audio scene as land with a soggy thump. Not only were the first discs and players expensive, with few of either available, results were disappointing and worst of all – at least from a business and marketing point of view – the products that did exist presented anything but a united front. Initially, players were offered with 14 or 16 bits and various degrees of over-sampling and the first cracks were already appearing in the Pure Perfect Sound Forever mantra. It was a sign of things to come and, although bit-parity was achieved fairly early on, the echoes of the ‘over-sampling arms race’ still dominate the market today. In a market selling something as intangible as audio performance, sellers and buyers both seek certainty – and nothing is as certain as a numerical value. After all, if audio is digital, then simple logic dictates that the numbers have to matter and, the bigger the number the better – init?!

This addiction to sample rates and ever-bigger numbers is getting worse, not better. The supposed superiority of ‘high-res’ file replay has become an article of faith – based solely on the size of the numbers involved. Meanwhile, large slices of the industry ignore hard learnt lessons regarding hardware and issues around implementation and data transfer just as they ignore the a-musical cacophony that so often results. Over-sampling might have given way to up-sampling and the vocabulary might have shifted to algorithms and streaming, but the bottom line is still numbers: big – actually, these days, make that honest-to-God huge – numbers. But along the way, we forgot to wonder whether, just because we could, did that mean we should? For all their massive numerical superiority and ‘high-res’ claims, it’s disturbingly obvious that many (although not all) of today’s ‘big-number’ digital replay systems are musically dysfunctional and catastrophically sterile, bereft of human expression and human endeavour, musical botox laid on with a trowel.

For those that despise digital…

Where did it all go so wrong? Just as there are a few (a very few) high-end digital systems that actually do deliver, there are also those listeners that will tell you the train left the tracks right outside the station. As digital audio has ‘advanced’ the focus has shifted from this chip-set or that to the realms of DSP: It’s no longer the DAC(s) that make the difference; it’s the processing, the filtering, the noise shaping, the corrective elements that ‘cure’ all digital’s ills. But what if the cure is worse than the disease? What if it’s the filters and processing that, whilst they might ‘correct’ certain measureable errors, actually introduce artefacts that are far more disturbing on an almost subliminal level? What if, in seeking to fill in the theoretical blanks between samples and ‘correct’ measurable frequency domain errors, the processing is messing with the critical time and phase relationships within the signal?