Life at 44100 hertz – I

Despite claims by the creators of the Digital Audio Compact Disc, CD audio quality is far from perfect. Low cost CD players often sound harsh lacking the warmth and vibrancy of analogue and high resolution digital formats such as SACD and DVD-A.

Many would claim that the differences between CD players are non-existent or minimal. What they do not understand is that the human brain is extremely adept at picking out differences in distortion even though they might not be audible.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide, but you may find that a run of the mill low cost audio system will eventually fatigue your ears. If so, it’s highly probable that the CD player is the culprit.

There are 2 main factors that affect the quality of audio emitted by a CD player.

The transport : This is the mechanism that not only holds the disc but also spins it and moves the laser mechanism. If you do spend a not so inconsiderable amount of time at your local audio dealer (I assume that you’ve established a good rapport with the staff) you’re bound to find that the costlier players have better transports. How do you find the better transports you ask? Better transports are sturdier and they don’t tend to shake or wobble when you open the tray. Apart from that, better transports commonly employ mechanisms to dampen vibrations from external sources thereby ensuring that discs are read without having to resort to rely on the error correction mechanism to fill in erroneous bits.

The DAC : The Digital to Analogue converter is the system responsible for converting data read from disc into analogue signals that can be amplified by your amplifier. It is the DAC that primarily denotes what a player “sounds” like. (In other words, it separates the winners from the loser)

I don’t want to get into the technical aspects over here , but I would like to say that tremendous progress has been made in the quality of signal generated by DACS over the last couple of years.

Here’s the catch, players with good DACs are costly but money is often (for me at-least) scarce. How does one upgrade the sound of their player while keeping costs as low as possible? The next article in which I’ll be able to share my (hopefully useful) experiences aims to answer this question.

– Anand Balaji

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