We started our R&D for a high-end digital streamer in late 2016. Our sister brand had previously launched the well acclaimed Aletheia DAC and we learned a great deal about digital systems whilst conducting research with the University of Manchester. Our research showed that, although many of the basics of digital recovery and conversion were correct, the performance of even the best performing transports and DACs fell way short of the potential.
We realised that one of the fundamental issues with digital circuits is that they are prone to significant damage due to the speed of the signals being transmitted. We found that the more complex the music the more damaged the musical signal would be rendering many musical performances to be labelled either poorly recorded or mastered. We also discovered that the more mathematical approximations were required to repair this damage the more likely these techniques were to be incorrect. In fact, in some cases, the replay was so bad that cymbals would manifest themselves as white noise, violins would be harsh and vocals would just sound synthesized.
We decided that we wanted to learn more and design a product that would play what the theory states is possible. This led us to divide the problem into four main areas:
- Disruption that causes damage to digital signals and why
- The effects of power supplies and speed of transients in a digital system
- The inter-modulation of a digital front-end with other parts of the audio system
- The effects of software and operating system
Once we had answers to the four areas, our designers then set about finding non-intrusive methods to prevent the damage. Our digital streamers use many pioneering techniques to proactively deal with RFI, EMI and microphonic damage. We use many of the techniques deployed on the Aletheia but have taken these to a new level with the help of our 3D modelling and CAD/CAM capabilities. Every component and sub component of our systems is reviewed for potential damage it may inflict on other components whilst operating and a solution found to solve. Even the casework has been designed to eliminate damaging effects that are caused as a result of passing a digital stream through a circuit.
In our desire to ensure open standards are deployed, we researched motherboard architecture and the effects of high speed memory and processors on sensitive signals. Rather than abandon the idea of using standard computer technology, we were determined to find new ways of deploying our technology to bring these damaging effects under control.
We use high quality components of course but all of these elements are operating in the many MHz or even GHz ranges which radiate energy in many different ways and in many different directions. Many other manufacturers will either avoid these engineering challenges or resort to correction techniques. The former will lead to closed proprietary solutions which have a limited life in a fast-changing world of digital and the latter leads to, in our view, a sythesized presentation due to incorrect approximations especially when the music gets more complex.
At Quiescent we use tried and test techniques that we have learned from Vertex AQ and extend those techniques when we have new challenges. The power supplies are all treated with acoustic absorption to prevent inter-modulating signals between them and the digital electronics. EMI and RF absorption is used where know high-speed circuits are emitting this in great quantities. The CPU itself has a purpose built quiet cooling system which also acts as an acoustic path into the specifically designed heatsink.
The long-term support of software in our digital products is a very important ownership issue. Many manufacturers have spent large amounts of time and effort in creating bespoke streaming packages which are often unwieldy to use, unreliable and, in most cases, have poor ongoing product updates and support. It is for this reason that we are deploying products using open-architecture standards allowing our customers to choose their streaming software. We, of course, have tested a multitude of packages that all achieve outstanding results when using our products but Quiescent is partnering with roon and TIDAL to provide an out-of-the-box solution. You will be able to use and test the roon product for a period of sixty days without being charged. If you don’t like it, you can use your own preference but we think you will!
The goal with an open standards approach is that you are not tied into expensive licensing agreements or bespoke solutions which are poorly supported or outdated within months of a fast-paced digital streaming world.
The open-standards approach also extends to our approach on which media formats to support. Over the years, consumers of high-end audio have been offered a multitude of formats starting from the Red Book standard for CD up to yet another new format targeted at consumers. In our research we have found that the original Red Book still has much information contained within to provide an exhilarating and involving musical experience. What we have also found is that more attention spent on preserving the integrity and quality of a digital stream yields stunning performance when passed through a high quality DAC.
Our streamers can play back many formats up to an including 192KHz 24-bit and DSD over PCM when using the USB output to a compatible DAC. We also provide an internal DAC which is capable of converting up to and including 192KHz 24-bit and providing a very involving and musical experience. What we do not support though is proprietary locked-in formats such as MQA. Indeed we have found MQA to be actually more damaging to the musical signal than the designers and promoters state.
While the onboard DAC and two-channel analogue outputs in our streamers will provide many hours of enjoyable listening, the biggest leap in performance is when they are connected to a Quiescent Non-Oversampling DAC. In this setup, the core principle is that no component should add or detract from the signal that is provided to it. The component's sole task is to prepare the signal for the next component in the replay chain. So for our digital front-end, we focus on ensuring that the digital stream is of high quality and not rely on mathematical or noise-shaping techniques to "repair" streams that have been damaged. This is is another reason why will not adopt re-packaged technology such as MQA. In our view it is is better to take a stream as was intended by the recording engineer and ensure that damage caused by inter-subsystem interference and feedback is minimized to deliver a truly exceptional musical presentation.
And so back to the question of MQA. In our customer demonstrations and testing, we asked our critics to listen to the exactly the same music media using the Red Book and MQA versions. The feedback was unanimous and without doubt. To understand this more and experience what a Quiescent streamer does, please contact us or one of our Consultants who will be able to explain the science and, more importantly, allow you the chance to listen.