Technology & Design

Note Worthy - Playback Designs

The goal at Playback Designs was an easy one to set and incredibly difficult to achieve:

Most people consider digital playback to be sonically inferior to analog playback, whether tape or vinyl. We wanted to match or better the critical areas where we felt analog had superior advantages without losing the benefits of great digital playback.

Challenges:

  1.  Most digital playback systems produce high frequencies that tend to sound processed or harsh. It is commonly referred to as “digititus” or “digital hash”. It is an unnatural sound that can cause listener fatigue and irritation during long listening sessions.
  2. There tends to be a much more visceral experience when listening to analog. Listeners tend to be less analytical and just accept and enjoy the musical experience more so with tape or vinyl playback.
  3. Sonically there is less immediacy that one tends to experience with analog playback.
  4. System flexibility and modularity to meet various customer needs.

Solutions:

Playback Designs’ philosophy is very simple, but again, very difficult to achieve. In order to achieve the best possible sonic performance it is vital to understand all the details of the theories behind digital and analog signal processing. Relying on component manufacturers to solve signal processing challenges generally ends up in compromised performance. Playback Designs embarked right from the beginning on a path where it applied its vast technical expertise in analog and digital signal processing to design solutions that give “discrete” a new meaning: where standard chips for digital signal processing were not good enough, Playback Designs uses general gate arrays that can be programmed with their own discrete and proprietary algorithms, where standard analog integrated amplifiers (OpAmp) were not good enough Playback Designs uses discrete analog components to better the overall performance. Playback Designs did not leave any step untouched in the theory of Digital to Analog Conversion nor did it leave it to 3rd party vendors for any solutions.

Both the audiophile and recording industries have adopted SACD (Super Audio CD) as the premier format for both recording and playback. At Playback Designs we wanted to go much further. We decided to convert all digital audio to a format that has twice the data rate of SACD before converting it to analog. Most companies are upconverting 2, 4 or 8 times while we are doing it 128 times. You will hear greater resolution and detail, an improved sense of space with more precise imaging with much faster transient response. With a Playback Designs component your system will sound more alive!

Playback Designs’ players and DACs employ technology never previously utilized in this industry. Our PDFAS (Playback Designs Frequency Arrival System) is a ground breaking technology developed by Andreas Koch, that eliminates the need for conventional PLLs, also known as “Phase Locked Loops”. PLLs try to control and minimize jitter while our PDFAS completely eliminates it out of the audio signal. Regardless of the source, whether it is an external transport, music server, personal computer, portable MP3 or disc player, the connection to the Playback Designs is effortless and jitter free.

  1. Most standard off-the-shelf DAC chips introduce unnatural frequency effects (“brick wall filter effect” and others). With its discrete approach Playback Designs has control over every little step and algorithm inside the digital-to-analog conversion process and was able to address the fundamental flaws of the off-the-shelf chip solutions that other manufacturers generally use.
  2. The visceral experience is obtained by Playback Designs by using very unique technology to prevent the common side effects associated with digital signal processing.
  3. Through a combination of unique analog and digital signal processing technologies Playback Designs was able to achieve a sonic performance that maintains the character of analog playback and combines it with the advantages of digital.
  4. We know that every customer has different needs and different setups. With this in mind Playback Designs has designed the product architecture for the greatest flexibility and modularity. The modular architecture of the Playback Designs MPD-5 allows it to be upgraded at any time to a MPS-5. The MPS-5 can be expanded to a full 6-channel setup or a 4-channel system with center channel mixdown to the front L/R channels. Also, some applications require a multiroom distribution of the same 2-channel program. No matter what your requirements are, the Playback Designs system approach will be able to meet it.

Most educated audiophiles and studio professionals would agree that with digital playback the noise floor is substantially lower than with either tape or vinyl. This is hardly the only difference. By shifting some of the signal processing that is generally done in analog to the digital domain Playback Designs is in a better position to control phase shifts, filter accuracies and non-linearity issues than if it was done in the analog domain. This off-loads the analog stage and burdens it only with what it does best: give us this natural and undisturbed sonic performance that we all find so appealing.