DSD256 upsampling for silky smooth tango nirvana

One of the persistent issues with tango music is the edginess. This is the most obvious with Pugliese. These are surely amazing recordings by great artists. They’re into the 40’s and the transfers are all very good. A lot of the harshness of earlier transfers has been solved by the more recent “Golden Ear” transfers by TangoTunes. And yet. These are not easy to listen to. There’s a brightness and edginess that makes them shouty and brittle. A sure recipe for listening fatigue. This is actually an issue with a lot of the 40’s recordings. I love D’Agostino’s Adios Arabal precisely because of the punchiness and dynamism. It’s really the epitome of danceable tango. And yet, it can be a bit in your face. There’s almost too much information coming at you if you’re just listening in your room. Or something.

In my journey as a musician and an audiophile, as I’ve been moving to ever greater heights of music production and reproduction, I find myself leaving a lot behind. I left behind the mp3 for CD quality FLAC only to abandon that for HiRes 24/96 files thinking that I’ve reached audiophile nirvana, alas only to then arrive at the holy grail of DSD. It was really an accident. I got a DSD256 quality recording by the Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio Misty for Direct Cutting. I tried to listen to this but my fairly high powered Mac was nonetheless struggling. I had to quit apps and avoid using the machine otherwise it was skipping. So I wasn’t really spending much time on this. But then I gave it another go. I found my room turning into a jazz club. I was hooked.

I got a bunch of other DSD transfers of music I already had in 24/96. My eyes glazed over. 24/96 receded into the distance as I bathed in the warmth and silkiness of DSD. I had no idea that it’s possible to improve so much from 24/96. I’m in audiophile heaven. But then I thought, darn, those tango transfers are in the 24/96. How can I endure going down to such an inferior format. My tango experience will never come anywhere close to the heights of the DSD.

Then an idea popped into my head. I’ve been using x2 upsampling on Audirvana, so that a 96kHz would be doubled to 192kHz, which I found was a noticeable improvement. I remember that Rob Watts of Chord Electronics (or maybe it was the Dutch audiophile guy on Youtube) said that actually upsampling works well because the whole idea is to smooth out the curve, which has been chopped up by digitisation, as you turn it back into an analogue form. The upsampling function guesses which information, which parts of the curve, are missing. This is actually better done by the computer software because computers have more processing power than DACs. You just need a DAC that’s capable of taking that upsampled information and my Chord Qutest can take up to DSD256.

So I had a look at the upsampling function on Audirvana and found that it can upsample to DSD256. I gave it a go, and lo and behold, what a difference! I tried it on D’Agostino Adios Arabal, D’Arienzo El Flete, and Pugliese Amurado. Everything sounds way better, but the most obvious difference so far I’m finding is with the 40’s recordings. When I switch back and forth, with the upsampling turned off, Adios Arabal sounds in your face and shouty. Upsampling smooths it out but without losing any resolution, and it actually it adds resolution. And what a difference with Pugliese. All the edginess is gone, and there’s loads more resolution and depth. Twenty seconds into the tune there’s a line of 16ths with the piano in the background. All harshness is gone and the piano is much clearer in the space behind the other instruments. Emotional impact and listenability in bucketloads. No listening fatigue, you just want more. I think this is it, I’ve arrived. That is, until I get into tube amps or something.

Post Scriptum

In a recent video Steve Guttenberg of the Audiophiliac Youtube channel touches on two topics pertinent to this blog post: the history of the Super Audio Compact Disk (SADC), and what different people look for in high fidelity sound.

Also, the Cambridge Audio website have an article which explains why DSD/SACD, while it failed to take off as a replacement for the CD, has remained as a specialist format into the era of computer audiophile:

DSD also came into being for slightly different reasons to most other formats. In the 1990s Sony and Philips worked together to develop the replacement for the CD. The result was Super Audio CD, a format supported by our CXU Universal Blu-Ray Player. The high resolution content on SACD discs is encoded as DSD. SACD didn’t go on to replace CD and remains a specialist format, but the world of digital audio has moved into places beyond physical discs.

This left DSD a format without a medium, but the ‘character’ many people feel that DSD brings to music has meant that it has returned as a downloadable format that can be used via UPnP Streaming or USB. So what is this character? Many fans of the format say that there is a naturalness and tonal sweetness to DSD that’s not found in more conventional formats and that it’s easier and more forgiving to listen to. This is hard to prove outright but our view has always been to try and let people decide for themselves

https://www.cambridgeaudio.com/usa/en/blog/what-dsd

Indeed, this is my experience, the music sounds smoother, more natural and easier to listen to without losing resolution or dynamic range. Perhaps this can be characterised as “euphonic sound” as opposed to detail, and many audiophiles look for that, and perhaps that’s what you want in listening to tango music.

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