Yet again, Channel D had an excellent sounding room at RMAF. Dr Rob Robinson is always a favorite stop; he’s one of the nicest guys in audio. Mark Block, Rob’s frequent audio show sidekick, is also great conversationalist, so to see both at the show is a treat.
As usual, Rob was showcasing his superb Pure Vinyl ripping application.Rob’s vinyl “needledrops” are world-class. The sound was magical, a real testament to PureVinyl as well to the great associated source and converter equipment.
About the equipment … Rob did a really funny thing. He disguised the two monitor speakers so there would be no way to find the brand and bring prejudiced views on the sound. He used a Hegel H20 for amplification, a Lynx Hilo converter, and added two subs time-aligned at 4.5ms via Pure Music 3 (!) to allow the sub placement to be placed anywhere in the room (in this case, behind the backdrop). A fairly generic Emotiva amp powered the subs. The speakers? A humble $300 a pair Polk RTi A1s.
Rob and I spoke earlier today and he mentioned that two big changes are coming up for PureVinyl: 1, incorporation of Pure Music 3; and 2, some “really cool” new features he did not yet want to reveal. No promises, but he is shooting for the next big audio show for the update.
This is all well and good, but as a hirez computer audio enthusiast I was really interested in the new version of Pure Music. I knew a LH Labs Pulse X Infinity was soon to arrive at home and I wanted to try Pure Music on my Macbook Pro which I use as a source to supplement and older Mac Mini.
In fact, one of the great things about this “show preview” is that I am now typing it from my listening room and listening to the application in question. Ta da.
Pure Music has always had a superb sound, but I confess I’ve had divided loyalties between it and the also-superb-sounding Amarra player. In my experience, they are both excellent, and the latest/newest version always seems to outperform the last on my system. Pure Music seems the more technical of the two, while Amarra seems more user-friendly. But things are changing. Pure Music seems to improve the user interface with each new release.
So let’s focus on what I am hearing — I downloaded the trial version onto my MacBook Pro to experiment. I pulled out my wonderful Audioquest Diamond USB cable and hooked that into my new LH Labs Pulse X Infinity (review forthcoming). After setting up the sound preferences in OSX, and seeing the Infinity get recognized, we were ready to go. This particular LH Labs DAC is sort of the ne plus ultra of the Pulse Kickstarter campaign, with all the parts and chip upgrades that Gavin Fish had on offer (and boy, were there upgrades!). It’s a very fine DAC, can handle both PCM and DSD, and has a VERY low noise floor due to designer Larry Ho’s engineering chops (and those newer AQ2M Sabre chips running in balanced fashion). So I believe, for these purposes, it’s a decent foundation for the sharing my initial Pure Music 3 impressions.
I listened to a variety of files, from 16/44 to 24/192. Sound was rich and open, but I think I can sum up the experience in one word: clarity. It felt like nothing was standing in the way of the performance and the sound just seemed a skosh more “open” than playback via the latest Amarra. User interface is quite good. You can go crazy with the technical adjustments, but the base settings are excellent. The app sits nicely on top of iTunes, so convenience factor is high. On Amarra, I tend to use the simpler “playlist” format but I do like seeing the album artwork and “live” status bar on Pure Music.
Some current users may be wondering what is new with Pure Music 3? For starters, this is more of a reengineering with lots of software components being optimized. Rob describes it as an “under the hood redesign and revamping.” Startup is much faster than before and in use, the tool feels smoother in my experience. It’s like they dropped a supercharger in to the engine. Rob says that any time you can make the app more efficient this reduces the CPU footprint resulting in smoother playback. Streaming has been worked on; it’s now more seamless and generally more responsive. Some users had experienced a few issues with “crackling” sounds when streaming in earlier versions, but this has been engineered away, so playback of Tidal and Apple Music are now much smoother.
I know that some think it is impossible to hear differences in software apps; it’s all ones and zeroes, right? I encourage skeptics to do a trial and listen to the improvements for themselves. I found Pure Music 3 to be a vast improvement over iTunes, and also a notable improvement over prior versions.
It’s impressive. Even on $300 a pair speakers.