Some realizations about Digital Signal Processing

One of the realizations which I’ve just come across recently, about digital signal processing, is that apparently, when up-sampling a digital stream twofold, just for the purpose of playing it back, simply to perform a linear interpolation, to turn a 44.1kHz stream into an 88.2kHz, or a 48kHz stream into a 96kHz, does less damage to the sound quality, than I had previously thought. And one reason I think this is the factual realization that to do so, really achieves the same thing that applying a (low-pass) Haar Wavelet would achieve, after each original sample had been doubled. After all, I had already said, that Humans would have a hard time being able to hear that this has been done.

But then, given such an assumption, I think I’ve also come into more realizations, of where I was having trouble understanding what exactly Digital Signal Processors do. It might be Mathematically true to say, that a convolution can be applied to a stream after it has been up-sampled, but, depending on how many elements the convolution is supposed to have, whether or not a single DSP chip is supposed to decode both stereo channels or only one, and whether that DSP chip is also supposed to perform other steps associated with playing back the audio, such as, to decode whatever compression Bluetooth 4 or Bluetooth 5 have put on the stream, it may turn out that realistic Digital Signal Processing chips just don’t have enough MIPS – Millions of Instructions Per Second – to do all that.

Now, I do know that DSP chips exist that have more MIPS, but then those chips may also measure 2cm x 2cm, and may require much of the circuit-board they are to be soldered in to. Those types of chips are unlikely to be built-in to a mid-price-range set of (Stereo) Bluetooth Headphones, that have an equalization function.

But what I can then speculate further is that some combination of alterations of these ideas should work.

For example, the convolution that is to be computed could be computed on the stream before it has been up-sampled, and it could then be up-sampled ‘cheaply’, using the linear interpolation. The way I had it before, the half-used virtual equalizer bands would also accomplish a kind of brick-wall filter, whereas, to perform the virtual equalizer function on the stream before up-sampling would make use of almost all the bands, and doing it that way would halve the amount of MIPS that a DSP chip needs to possess. Doing it that way would also halve the frequency linearly separating the bands, which would have created issues at the low end of the audible spectrum.

Alternatively, implementing a digital 9- or 10-band equalizer, with the
bands spaced an octave apart, could be achieved after up-sampling, instead of before up-sampling, but again, much more cheaply in terms of computational power required.

Dirk

Comparing two Bose headphones, both of which use active technology.

In this posting I’m going to do something I rarely do, which is, something like a product review. I have purchased the following two headphones within the past few months:

  1. Bose QuietComfort 25 Noise Cancelling
  2. Bose AE2 SoundLink

The first set of headphones has an analog 3.5mm stereo input cable, which has a dual-purpose Mike / Headphone Jack, and comes either compatible with Samsung, or with Apple phones, while the second uses Bluetooth to connect to either brand of phone. I should add that the phone I use with either set of headphones is a Samsung Galaxy S9, which supports Bluetooth 5.

The first set of headphones requires a single, AAA alkaline battery to work properly. And this not only fuels its active noise cancelling, but also an equalizer chip that has become standard with many similar middle-price-range headphones. The second has a built-in rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery, which is rumoured to be good for 10-15 hours of play-time, which I have not yet tested. Like the first, the second has an equalizer chip, but no active noise cancellation.

I think that right off the bat I should point out, that I don’t approve of this use of an equalizer chip, effectively, to compensate for the sound oddities of the internal voice-coils. I think that more properly, the voice-coils should be designed to deliver the best frequency response possible, by themselves. But the reality in the year 2019 is, that many headphones come with an internal equalizer chip instead.

What I’ve found is that the first set of headphones, while having excellent noise cancellation, has two main drawbacks:

  • The jack into which the analog cable fits, is poorly designed, and can cause bad connections,
  • The single, AAA battery can only deliver a voltage of 1.5V, and if the actual voltage is any lower, either because a Ni-MH battery was used in place of an alkaline cell, or, because the battery is just plain low, the low-voltage equalizer chip will no longer work fully, resulting in sound that reveals the deficiencies in the voice-coil.

The second set of headphones overcomes both these limitations, and I fully expect that its equalizer chips will have uniform behaviour, that my ears will be able to adjust to in the long term, even when I use them for hours or days. Also, I’d tend to say that the way the equalizer arrangement worked in the first set of headphones, was not complete in fulfilling its job, even when the battery was fully charged. Therefore, If I only had the money to buy one of the headphones, I’d choose the second set, which I just received today.

But, having said that, I should also add that I have two 12,000BTU air conditioners running in the Summer months, which really require the noise-cancellation of the first set of headphones, that the second set does not provide.

Also, I have an observation of why the EQ chip in the second set of headphones may work better than the similarly purposed chip in the first set…

(Updated 9/28/2019, 19h05 … )

Continue reading Comparing two Bose headphones, both of which use active technology.

Is it valid that audio equipment from the 1970s sound better than modern equipment?

I’ve written about this before.

That depends on which piece of audio equipment from the 1970s, is being compared with which piece of equipment from today.

If the equipment consists of a top-quality turntable from the late 1970s, compared to the most basic MP3-player from today, and if we assume for the moment that the type of sound file which is being played on the Portable Audio Player, is in fact an MP3 File recorded at a bit-rate of 128kbps, then the answer would be Yes. Top-quality turntables from the late 1970s were able to outperform that.

OTOH, If the audio equipment from today is a Digital Audio Player, that boasts 24-bit sound, that only happens to be able to play MP3 Files, but that is in fact playing a FLAC File, then it becomes very difficult for even the better audio equipment from the 1970s to match that.

Top-Quality Audio Equipment from the late 1970s, would have cost over $1000 for one component, without taking into account, how many dollars that would have been equivalent to today. The type of Digital Audio Player I described cost me C$ 140.- plus shipping, plus handling, in 2018.

Also, there is a major distinction, between any sort of equipment which is only meant to reproduce an Electronic signal, and equipment which is Electromechanical in nature, including speakers, headphones, phonographs… ‘The old Electromechanical technology’ was very good, except for the basic limitation, that they could not design good bass-reflex speakers, which require computers to design well. With no bass-reflex speakers, the older generations tended to listen to stereo on bigger, expensive speakers. But their sound was good, with even bass.

Continue reading Is it valid that audio equipment from the 1970s sound better than modern equipment?