Talk Digital: Non-Oversampling, TDA 1540 1543 and Old CD Players
I am not the only one; there are many like me. We always feel we belong to a bygone era. For me, due to my ethnicity, no, not so far back (not in America anyway), but I would not mind to have stayed in the 70's forever. Then was when I, as a teenager new in the country, absorbed everything voraciously. Yes, there will always be the good, the bad and the ugly, but I remember the people as more generous than now via the help I have received.
I have always liked vintage things. I still remember with fondness the beautiful cigarette box cum lighter of my father, and I still hold on to the cashmere cardigan of my father, even if I have outgrown it. Somehow the old black and white photos don't look any less sophisticated than the exuberantly colored ones we take with our cell phones now. Vegetables and meat have lost their taste. Is that progress?
But this is an audio blog, so here are the reasons why you should get into vintage audio:
- Things always come back Just as vinyl has come back and is staying forever, and soon to outlive CD (physically, not as format, due to CD deterioration), just as books have made an "improbable" comeback, vintage audio is thriving and is here to stay. Not to mention reel-to-reel; even cassettes are showing sign of rejuvenation. And how many of you have discarded your LPs, fully embraced the digital "revolution" and then come back to vinyl? Quite a few, I tell you! It is like the people who follow "prophets" who promise a better life and fulfillment but then become disillusioned that their guide is even more misguided than they are. And then, you find out that that "totally outdated" gear that no one would buy, that you begged someone to buy, now sells on ebay for 10 times the price you sold it for! Sounds familiar?
- There is nothing new under the sun Fashion is a finicky thing, even more so now that there are so many "influencers". But "classics" shall always remain so, and above fashion. Things just come and go, but then they "come full circle" with a vengeance. Vacuum tubes were out and then came back fully. The newest circuit turns out to be an updated version of an old idea. Part of the problem are the reviewers, who are either too forgetful or too inexperienced. Which brings us to the next one...
- New is usually not better Yes, there are new developments, but while they can be exciting, are they better? Usually not. T-amps, Class-D (not new really) etc can be quite good, and I appreciate their green credentials, but they are not better. Only those silly head-fi and forum people believe that every new can, or DAC, is better than the last, and the manufacturers play to that. As I write, I am listening to a vintage Thorens TD-124 and a 14-bit Magnavox CDP and I don't feel much lacking. In fact, they engage me like few new gears!
- Non-Ownership in Digital and Physical Media "Perfect Sound Forever"? Digital files was the audio mainstream for a while, but it has completely lost ground to streaming, and for good reason. Many digital files are expensive, often corrupted, even of doubtful origin, and often not very good sounding in my experience, whereas streaming has gotten steadily better, and cheaper (witness the recent price drop offering of Qobuz), and is becoming quite irresistible (even for an old fart like me, I think about it). If you can easily have access to a huge library that you do not own, that paradoxically makes Physical Media more attractive than ever. You buy something you can look at, and feel, not to mention with liner notes that make you learn about the music and the performers!
- Vintage holds value Over time, vintage equipment (by which I mean mostly tube gear) hold their value. Can you say the same about any digital equipment? Today, the day after thanksgiving, I spent half a day perusing eBay, an addiction I have long given up. There are so many beautiful vintage things I'd like to own, but I no longer have room, so I passed. But if I were starting on my audio journey, I'd find the world of vintage bewitchingly beautiful and enticing. The current hi-end offerings pale in comparison (with few exceptions). Salut!
- Vintage is green OK, not entirely. Tube equipment usually waste quite a bit of electricity, if compared to some of the modern energy-efficient products (like T-amp or Class-D). But, the last decades have seen a despicable trend in hifi hi-end - for no good reason, carving a chassis out of a large block of aluminum (usually expensive solid state gear of low merit) is a sin against the world. Restoring any number of vintage gear is more environmentally sound.
- Vintage sounds better You may not believe me, but in terms of absolute sound, audio has not progressed. In fact, one can make a case that the best has already happened. Nothing is going to be better than Western Electric, and horns. Why else should vintage gears hold their value?
- Vintage is Sexy Indeed. Modern equipment mostly look alike, plain Jane. When they do try for a different look, most efforts are failures (there are some exceptions). But vintage stuff differ - it is a huge universe, and there are so many beautiful designs (like the pic above, the Art-Deco Western Electric-era Altec 323, now highly valued). Even the very common Quad 2 is beautiful looking to my eyes. Compare the turntables now, mostly chunky metal and square corners, without the grace of yesterday's Thorens TD-124, Garrard 301. Tonearms too. Even my LS3/5A, it just looks right, as few modern bookshelves do.
Suddenly in the mood, I pulled out three old CDP with classic Philips swing arm laser pickup to listen to. The audition was surely affirming of what I wrote above. Read on...
The CD 2000 is supposed to be identical to the CDB49x.
NOS Today After all these years of digital evolution, it is in fact quite startling that many, like me, still prefer NOS. That NOS is used in some of the high end (Audio Note, 47 Labs, Sparkler, Totaldac, etc) is quite amazing, a testament in sort to our age that, despite overwhelming popular perception and professional opinion to the contrary, dissent is heard and thrives. Take a more recent contestant, the Border Patrol NOS 1543 DAC, which I'd love to hear, the good review it got from Herb Reichert in Stereophile and the bad measurements of John Atkinson sparked a controversy (see here, very funny). I do know, NOS is not for everyone.
TDA 1540 and 4x Oversampling All of the (many) 14-bit TDA-1540 CDPs that I have experienced all employ 4x Oversampling, but they almost down to the last one sound excellent. This is for sure due to the excellence of the TDA 1540 (which I love), but perhaps also in part due to the 4x Oversampling, which we see from one of the quotes above some prefer. My feeling is that, 4x is still closer to NOS than later and ubiquitous 256x, not to mention even higher rates and more modern Upsampling, which mostly do nothing for me.
Less is More The beauty of it is, whether the earliest (expensive or cheap) TDA-1540 with 4x Oversampling machines or the later cut-cost budget-sector NOS TDA-1543 machines, they all sound very musical. Amazing!
Hiccups As you can see, two of my three machines have some hiccups. So, beware, if you are a newbie, you'd want to be extra careful in acquiring one. Even good sellers don't test their machines thoroughly enough (no one can), so human judgement errors can and do creep in.
Above, innards of the FD-2041.