The extraordinarily simple idea behind digital audio was its robustness. Once in the digital domain, your original analogue signal cannot be corrupted, other than by gross negligence, and so can be reconstituted perfectly into the original analogue waveform. Ergo perfect music reproduction (that is what they said!).
Well, we have known that CDs were not always equal. CDs burnt on a laptop didn’t sound as good as pressed CDs. CDs stamped on Sony presses tended to sound better than those on Polygram presses. The apparent ‘fact’ that the digital data was equal but different storage methods affected the sound quality wasn’t acknowledged in the industry. This changed when Sony produced Blu-spec CDs. These CDs were pressed to Blu-ray standards, with much better definition of the ‘pits’ read by the laser mechanism of your CD player. On a good CD player, these discs sound extraordinary!
While forums erupt in crescendos of bile and vitriol if the very subject of bit storage and transfer affecting sound quality is proposed, the people who understand the process have been quietly getting on with improving digital music reproduction, both in terms of the software and the hardware available.
What About Streaming?
Streaming data integrity (ie the bit definition during storage and transfer) has lagged CD by some margin, although, again this information is not widely known amongst audio experts. However, some people who know what they are doing have been quietly working behind the scenes to transform data storage and transmission in networked systems. The company that, as far as we know, has taken this particular bull by the horns, wrestled it to the ground, and tied its legs together with pink chiffon, is Melco.
In identifying the weakness in digital domain data handling, and addressing the inherent weaknesses of the ‘computing’ approach, they have produced a series of networked storage devices that provide a new level of audio performance. These devices can be used as network players, through their own USB connection, as locally connected network storage by direct connection to a streamer through ethernet, or as a superior NAS drive.
In tests, the performance of the lowest cost Melco unit (the N1A), clearly outperformed all other of our storage devices even when using something as modest as a Naim Uniti Qute. Higher performing systems benefit even further.