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Hi-MD Sound Quality?

A recently became aware of a fanatic following of Hi-MDs on the internet.  Many claim that they have superior sound quality to HDD mp3 players. The MD acolytes especially seem to favor imported Hi-MD players from Japan by Sony, but especially Sharp.
1. How do MDs rank in terms of sound quality?
a.  Can MDs play lossless formats?
b. how does atrac3 rank with high bit rate lame mp3s...
c. What is a 1-bit digital amplifier, how does it work with external analog amps or do these just ruin the 100% digital circuitry...
d. God forbid I want to use quality cans or buds instead of the supplied buds.  Will using analog buds instead of the insane 4 prong format reduce quality?
e.  Atrac3 codec usable with EAC?
Hope someone can answer some of these questions, feel free to reply to only one part.
Thanks for the help guys. 

Edit: Sorry if some of the questions are illogical, I have a pretty poor technical understanding of how minidiscs work.

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #1
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1. How do MDs rank in terms of sound quality?


Not particularly good. ATRAC was quite bad to start offf with but sony have steadily improved the encoding over the years. HiMD uses a newer scheme.

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a.  Can MDs play lossless formats?


Depends what you call a lossless format. HiMD can record either ATRAC3plus which is lossy or standard PCM audio which of course is not lossy...

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b. how does atrac3 rank with high bit rate lame mp3s...


Well since HiMD players now play MP3 as well a fair comparison can be performed however this would require buying  HiMD player....

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c. What is a 1-bit digital amplifier, how does it work with external analog amps or do these just ruin the 100% digital circuitry...


Marketing bullsh*t. Amplifiers are an analog concept.

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d. God forbid I want to use quality cans or buds instead of the supplied buds.  Will using analog buds instead of the insane 4 prong format reduce quality?


See above all headphones/speakers etc. are analog in nature. If the HiMD player is capable of drivering HiFi headphones, which will have totally different electrical characteristics to the supplied ear buds is another matter.

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e.  Atrac3 codec usable with EAC?


The only way to encode to do this would be to rip to an uncompressed format in EAC then import into Sony's proprietary application. However if the version for the previous NetMD is anything to go by it will be crippled not to encode at the highest bitrate available. To get that you probably have to play in real time into a hardware minidisc recorder.

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #2
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1. How do MDs rank in terms of sound quality?

The quality depends on the artrac versions of the recording and playing MD decks (or at least on one of them).
ATRAC on MD recorders (standalone or portable) is NOT the same like atrac 3 used on Sony's memory sticks and such, I really hate that Sony confuses them. Current  MD-ATRAC is called ATRAC DSP type S. Bitrate in shortplay is 292kbps and quality is much better than other lossy codecs, because a lossy codec needs to be very shitty to give bad results at such a high bitrate.
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a. Can MDs play lossless formats?

Normal MD's can't, only ATRAC.
I think HI-MDs can store and play some lossy formats like ATRAC of course and wma (ugh). They can also store ANY files, including lossless audio files, but can't play.
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b. how does atrac3 rank with high bit rate lame mp3s...

Lame is in general the best lossy encoder, according to Roberto's last listening test.
I know that I know nothing. But how can I then know that ?

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #3
There was some anticipation of digital amplification in HI-MD, which has produced good quality speaker amplifiers at low prices, but the HI-MD players tested on head-fi disappointed somewhat. It would be nice if differential connectors become more popular. You can always use line out to an external amplifier if they have one.

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #4
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c. What is a 1-bit digital amplifier, how does it work with external analog amps or do these just ruin the 100% digital circuitry...


Marketing... Amplifiers are an analog concept.

Not so. Switching amplifiers have a different scheme to others and sony's s-master technology (for speakers, I'm not sure how its headphone amplifiers work) does not involve any line-level analog signal.

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #5
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Marketing bullsh*t. Amplifiers are an analog concept.

Fully digital amplifiers exist. Only speakers need analog signal, since digital audio isn't audible.
That "1-bit" probably refers to the digital to analog converter of the amplifier.
I know that I know nothing. But how can I then know that ?

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #6
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Will using analog buds

Of course the supplied buds are not digital buds

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #7
I like the sound quality.  Unfortunately, my ears were accustomed to a Rio S10 which isn't the best Rio has (had) to offer.  Hi-MD (Atrac3plus) has a rich smooth base.  I notice artifacts at some mid-frequencies and moreso at higher frequencies.
In our house, we have 2 Sony MD's MZ-NH 700 and the MZ-NH600D as well as a few flashed based Rio DAP's.  I'm the only who will be a more scrutinous toward DAP's. 
Make no mistake, getting into a Sony has some serious drawbacks.  It's not the dream DAP.  For me, the software (Sonicstage) to transfer from CPU to player is very poor.  It commits the biggest sin of being resource hungry.  There are more shortcomings.  I don't have at my fingertips any links to threads that provide a balanced review and fair comparison to other types of DAP.  The upsides are good sound quality to my ears at low bitrates, huge storage capacity on a relatively inexpensive Hi-MD disk (up to 45 hours: a little to generous), good battery life and fairly easy scrolling through your music.
On the balance, a Hi-MD is good but that opinion would be in the minority.

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #8
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Will using analog buds

Of course the supplied buds are not digital buds
[a href="index.php?act=findpost&pid=330741"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


Thats what the voice of reason told me... but then why is the ridiculous 4-prong format used?
Also I could be wrong but from a little surfing i think i read somewhere that the circuitry is COMPLETELY digital (including) the amp in Hi-MDs. EDIT: as CSMR said. Fact or Fiction?

Mickel:How does the sound quality rate compared to your  HDD mp3 players (if you have) using the same amp and cans? Also I thought a lot of people just ignored sonicstage and plugged their cd player straight into the Hi-MD with an optical cable.

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #9
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from a little surfing i think i read somewhere that the circuitry is COMPLETELY digital (including) the amp in Hi-MDs

Almost all amplifiers in the world are (largely) analog and most likely the "amp" of a portable HI-MD recorder is also.
But usually, as long as the music is only transferred between different media, data carriers and formats, the signal stays digital. It becomes analog and amplified before listening to it.
I know that I know nothing. But how can I then know that ?

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #10
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Marketing bullsh*t. Amplifiers are an analog concept.

Fully digital amplifiers exist. Only speakers need analog signal, since digital audio isn't audible.
That "1-bit" probably refers to the digital to analog converter of the amplifier.
[a href="index.php?act=findpost&pid=330740"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


Since a digital amplifier still produces an analoge output, I wouldn't call it fully digital.

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The upsides are good sound quality to my ears at low bitrates, huge storage capacity on a relatively inexpensive Hi-MD disk (up to 45 hours: a little to generous), good battery life and fairly easy scrolling through your music.
On the balance, a Hi-MD is good but that opinion would be in the minority.


ATRAC3 Plus is good for low bitrates?  IIRC thats the 48kbps one right?  From what I've heard, its quite awful.  Am I thinking of the same thing you are?

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #11
With new mp3 capable Hi-MD players, you can forget abour Atrac3.
we was young an' full of beans

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #12
I am an owner of iPod nano in the recent and MD for years and years.  I have used MD not because of superior sound quality or because as some fanatics who just won't let go of the deamon will say, you can edit on the disk, meaning change the track by cutting any piece and putting it anywhere in any other song you want... it sucks to do that with md, just upload it and do in on computer.

As for sound quality, Atrac 3 is sony's fairly recent codec which was made to compete with MP3 at 128 kbps.  It does however not stand up to lame 128 even though it clocks in at exactly 132 kbps itself.  The usual 292 is pretty good, that is just called ATRAC SP or 4.5 or R or S... they are essentially very similar with very few differences.  As for EAC, that is entirely your computer doing the business.  The current crop of MD do playback mp3, but they can onlyl be transferred via Sony's Connect software, or SonicStage.  It is rubbish, sometimes songs that you have from other countries or even ones you have encoded on your own computer, do not transfer, stating a problem of ownership and these are unprotected mp3's... rubbish.

The sony models have trouble playing disc's coded with Sharp or Kenwood recorders, but play mp3 just fine.  What is not fine is the sound.  They feature 6 band-equalizers but the sound very very slightly changes if at all and the bass becomes a muddy splashy mess. As for any ATRAC 3 or + that is less than 132bps, it sounds rubbish, complete and simple.  the 48kbps is the best i have heard for that rate, but it is not fit even for cheap earbuds.  Maybe if you were a logger carrying a chainsaw and needed only to hear something other than the humming of the blades, it would be good, but it is rubbish.  The new ATRAC 292 replacement, 256 ATRAC 3 + does not sound nearly as good as old 292 which was quite silky, with a bit of crystalization on the uppers and some wiping in the mids.  The new one is like wrapping what was good into plastic wrap and then calling it dinner after putting it in the range for 2 hours.  Stay away.

Hi-MD is only Sony for portables, not even Sharp or Panasonic who have been stonch supporters of MD have jumped on the bandwagon.  Saying so is sad because of all the portables I have owned, the sharp for mere output has been among the best.  I am just washing a bit between the nano and that.  I have heard the iriver etc and creative and I still like the nano quite well.  But the sharp use 1-bit audio, which is basically the same spec as for SuperAudio CD, with 2.8 megaherts sampling, 64X the speed of cd, frequency resolution.  It is used in all SuperAudioCD equipment and produces the cleanest of any CD sound on sub 1000 dollar equipment I have heard.  I have a 1-bit home system which has changed the way I listen to my computer music. 

the portable Sharps basically employ this same DAP and it sounds fantastic.  The 4 pole plugs only isolate the stereo in a tighter fashion, they are merely senheiser mx400 earbuds with 4 pole contstruction.  The sound for that sort of bud is the best I have heard and I own the regular mx400.  But that 1-bit (basically holding onto the digital signal longer and releasing it to analogue in the end, so that it saves battery life and does not go through as much conversion) is only a Sharp affair and while it is amazing, the bloody thing is slaved to MD format, meaning only lossy at best 292kbps ATRAC.  It will probably not make its way to Hi-MD nor any other portable audio for a bit as Sharp has not really branched into that world other than MD and they have stopped that too I think. 

It was slick, smooth and beautiful, but MD really sucks unless you need recording, then it outshines them all for interchangeable, quick access ot high-fidelity recordings.  Cheers

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #13
Sharp does make Japanese Hi-MD w/ 1bit digi amps which can be bought for resonable prices (around 200 to 300 greenbacks) now which would you prefer? Nano or  Sharp Hi-MD 1bit amp+lame mp3s?

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #14
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Sharp does make Japanese Hi-MD w/ 1bit digi amps which can be bought for resonable prices (around 200 to 300 greenbacks) now which would you prefer? Nano or  Sharp Hi-MD 1bit amp+lame mp3s?
[a href="index.php?act=findpost&pid=330777"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


As stated earlier, only Sony has made Hi-MD units; Sharp does not. Sharp made regular, std-MD players with 1-bit amps. The so-called "digital" amps everybody is talking about are simply class-D amplifiers (and no, the "D" does not stand for "digital"), which have been around in some form or another since the 60's. They are not meant to sound any better than conventional amplifiers, but rather, draw less current (and thus, lengthen play times).

Also, let me add a few things to consider here:

1) Hi-MD's are MO discs with a USB 1.1 interface, and have very slow write times (4x CD/600KB/sec at best), so filling up a 1GB disc would take quite some time. If you buy a lot of discs and simply swap them out, this might not be an issue, but at 6-7 bucks per disc, I can't imagine that would be affordable (might as well buy a HDD-based DAP!).
2) Hi-MD Discs are almost non-exisistent in most brick-and-mortar stores; you'll have to order them online, most likely. My local malls/stores have mostly stopped carrying regular MD's, let alone the 1GB discs.
3) Only the 2nd-generation Hi-MD units will play back MP3's, and there have been issues noted with the playback decoder applying a lowpass that makes MP3's sound "dull" when compared to ATRAC3plus.
4) There's currently a lot of buzz on the MD sites about whether Sony will even continue making MD units as part of its restructuring; an announcement is supposed to come soon. This might not be a good time to get into MD if you have no vested interest in it already.

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #15
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c. What is a 1-bit digital amplifier, how does it work with external analog amps or do these just ruin the 100% digital circuitry...


The output is always analog.

"digital amplifier" is the market name of a particular class D amplifier driven by a specific digital signal -maybe sigma-delta modulation, if I remember- So Digital/analog conversion and amplification is done by only one stage.

I don't know why it should be better... 

(sorry I'did not fully read the post of Cygnus)

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #16
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c. What is a 1-bit digital amplifier, how does it work with external analog amps or do these just ruin the 100% digital circuitry...


The output is always analog.

"digital amplifier" is the market name of a particular class D amplifier driven by a specific digital signal -maybe sigma-delta modulation, if I remember- So Digital/analog conversion and amplification is done by only one stage.

I don't know why it should be better... 

(sorry I'did not fully read the post of Cygnus)
[a href="index.php?act=findpost&pid=330791"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


Hey mate, you are right.  For the portables, it is mostly a great battery saver, while maintaining high quality.  Newer ones have upped the speed to 5.4mhz for portables, and the battery life is actually a step back from what I have DR7 of two years ago. 

I am not sure the proper technical reason it sounds better, but i think the reason the marketing girls and boys will say is that the super-fast delta-sigma 2.8mhz processor will process the music through faster wavelengths, giving a sense of higher fidelity of music.  I just know it sounded bloody good for minidisk and my home system is bliss. 

But hell, nano with lame?  haha, heads and hands down over any sony offering of I don't care if ATRAC3plus or Lame.  That thing made me  feel that I was sick.  As well, the best you could get with battery life is around 12 hours on their best mp3 ability recorders. 

In any case, to whomever picked this thread (Akathriel?), go for a nice mp3 player for listening, SonicStage and MD's are not worth the fuss anymore.  They were the stuff in the 90's, but that was almost 6 years ago!

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #17
Thanks guys just wanted to know what all the fuss is about but it sounds like I should stick with my micro

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #18
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Thats what the voice of reason told me... but then why is the ridiculous 4-prong format used?
Also I could be wrong but from a little surfing i think i read somewhere that the circuitry is COMPLETELY digital (including) the amp in Hi-MDs. EDIT: as CSMR said. Fact or Fiction?
[a href="index.php?act=findpost&pid=330745"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

The four-prong connector is a differential input. Each headphone speaker has a positive and negative connection. With a three prong connector the negative connections are connected. There are advantages to differential connections - the main advantage Sony will have been interested is power consumption, but there are also potential sonic improvements.

The amplification is digitally controlled class-D. Power supply voltage switching is controlled digitally.

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #19
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Current  MD-ATRAC is called ATRAC DSP type S. Bitrate in shortplay is 292kbps and quality is much better than other lossy codecs, because a lossy codec needs to be very shitty to give bad results at such a high bitrate.
[a href="index.php?act=findpost&pid=330737"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


Are there any blind listening tests proving it?
High bitrate? There is an MP3 encoder "BLADE" - just try it at high bitrate and you will see that bad quality is possible at high bitrate.
;-)

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Lame is in general the best lossy encoder, according to Roberto's last listening test.
[a href="index.php?act=findpost&pid=330737"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


 
It seemed to me MusePack and Ogg Vorbis are generally better than LAME now (of course if we are talking about quality and not popularity)
Ogg Vorbis for music and speech [q-2.0 - q6.0]
FLAC for recordings to be edited
Speex for speech

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #20
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Are there any blind listening tests proving it?

In my own blind tests I wasn't able to distinguish, it was MD-ATRAC 4.0 and no "killer" sample. There are no other tests which I'm aware of. I'm no longer interested in ATRAC blind tests, since I'm no longer using MDs for new records.
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It seemed to me MusePack and Ogg Vorbis are generally better than LAME now

Yeah, I was wrong. I found the test results that I had in mind on Roberto's site:
http://www.rjamorim.com/test/multiformat128/results.html
I know that I know nothing. But how can I then know that ?

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #21
See this thread. The end of MD is apparently very near.
The object of mankind lies in its highest individuals.
One must have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #22
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c. What is a 1-bit digital amplifier, how does it work with external analog amps or do these just ruin the 100% digital circuitry...


Marketing bullsh*t. Amplifiers are an analog concept.



NOT SO!!!  There is a whole class of amplification called "pulse-width modulating switching amps" or, less of a mouthful, "Class D" amplifiers. In portable, low-power applications such as iPods and their competitors, including Sony portable MD recorder/players, Class D amplifiers offer special advantages the "classic" classes A, B and AB cannot match.

Class A offers the best sound, but at very high cost. Pure Class A power amps of even relatively low wattage - whether tubed or solid state - are big, heavy, expensive and inefficient; but on the bright side, they can heat your living room in the winter. Despite this, many audio perfectionists still seek them out and willingly pay through the nose for them for their inherently pure and transparent sound.

Class B offers much better efficiency, but at the expense of high amounts of distortion. Pure Class B amps are considered unsuitable for high-fidelity applications for that reason.

Class AB is, as the terminology implies, a hybrid of Class A and Class B characteristics. Most amplifiers intended for consumer high-fidelity use are of this type. They operate close to a pure Class A mode at low signal levels, where distortion is most audible, and closer to pure Class B at loud levels, where the cross-over notch distortion is not likely to be audible. This engineering compromise still is capable of offering high quality, but at more reasonable cost and higher efficiency.

None of these, however, is efficient enough or powerful enough per unit weight to give acceptable performance or battery life in a shirt-pocket portable music player. This is where Class D amplifiers come in. Below is an excerpt from the website of Extron Electronics in Anaheim, CA. Their Vice President of Engineering provides the following excellent description of the principles of Class D amplification:

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Class D amplifiers are not digital in the true sense. They are not driven directly by coherent binary data. They do act digitally in that the output drivers operate either in the fully ON-region or fully OFF-region. Think of Class D amps as being similar to a switch-mode power supply, but with audio signals modulating the switching action.

A switch-mode power supply uses pulse-width modulation (PWM) to control the on/off duty cycle of the power switching transistor(s) providing power to a load. The efficiency is high because there is little voltage drop across the switch transistor during conduction. This means very low power dissipation in the switch while virtually all the power is transferred to the load. During the OFF period, there is essentially zero current flow. The quality and speed of MOSFET (metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistor) devices has led to compact, efficient, high frequency power supplies. Switch-mode power supplies are more efficient at high frequencies. At higher operating frequencies, components may become smaller and the power supply becomes very compact for the power delivered. In addition, the output filter components may be much smaller. Today, switching frequencies over 1 MHz are not uncommon. But, as you probably know, switch-mode supplies generate considerable noise.

What does this have to do with audio? Audio signals can be used to modulate a PWM system to create a high power audio amplifier at nominal voltages using small components. Class D audio utilizes a fixed, high frequency carrier having pulses that vary in width based on signal amplitude. Class D amplifiers reach efficiencies as high as 90%. This is of great importance to portable applications relying on battery power. Class D portable, battery-powered audio gear may have battery life extended by 2.5 times or more.

Saving electrical power is now becoming a concern. Equipment utilizing Class D systems save significant operating power. For equipment having a limited power budget or available voltage range, Class D can get the job done without redesigning power supplies for more signal headroom. Sound like a system fraught with poor performance? I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the quality.


To add, while Somers says that Class D amps are not digital "in the true sense," they are in fact more digital than say, a CD player or iPod. A CD player or any other digital music player includes an entire stage of analog amplification between the Digital-to-Analog converter and the line outputs or headphone jack. By the time the signal reaches your buds, it has already been through a fair amount of analog processing.

But with a Class D amplifier, the actual amplification happens entirely in the digital domain, after which there is a stage of low-pass filtration to remove the nasty quantization noise. So if one is to be absolutely rigorous, there is no such thing as purely digital audio at all, since the audio information is always in the analog domain by the time it reaches one's ears. But for real world intents and purposes, Class D amplifiers ARE digital amplifiers because unlike all the other amplifier types, they make NO attempt to amplify a signal that is "analogous" to the shape of sound waves, which indeed is the definition of "analog" sound in the first place. But instead of effectively snapping tens of thousands of "freeze frames" each second (anywhere from 32KHz to 192KHz) of the analog signal, as a A/D converter does in the standard methods of digital recording, Class D amps produce digital pulses (zeros and ones) of constant amplitude, the width of which are modulated by the analog signal.

Pure digital? No, because analog goes in (usually) and analog ultimately comes out. But in between, the pulse-width modulation is a digital, not an analog, process. To invoke sharply rigorous and literal, as opposed to practical operational criteria for what is and is not "digital" is splitting semantic hairs beyond the point where it is useful. Moreover, statements that offhandedly dismiss digital amplifiers as just "marketing bullsh*t" take the conclusions arrived at by means of those fastidiously reasoned semantics and - in a fit of ironic self-contradiction - fashion them into a rhetorical blunderbuss, flailing about, betraying their fundamental ignorance of the processes and technologies involved.

These are the same forums, after all, where people seriously and sometimes even passionately debate the metaphysical attributes of speaker wire!  Read any ad by high-end cable vendors in Absolute Sound or Stereophile; the pseudo-scientific hugger-muggery and flim-flammery carefully crafted to justify $1,000 for a 2-meter pair of speaker wires reads like Astrology or New Age religion! But digital amplification is just "marketing bullsh*t"? Why? Because Sony refers to it in their ad copy? And no one can believe anything Sony says?

BTW, I and others have been admonished, chastised, even pilloried by the H.O. community in the past for a lot less blatant, outrageous and inaccurate "shooting from the hip" commentary than this. Is H.O. going soft on us?

If anyone wants to read the entire text of Somers' paper - including some pretty diagrams of Class D circuit topology and performance charts, visit the URL below:

http://www.extron.com/technology/archive.asp?id=ts122001

Hi-MD Sound Quality?

Reply #23
What weirving says about Class D is correct - it's possibly the most important amplifier topology available today because it is, for any cordless device, vastly superior in overall performance to traditional class AB designs. A good class D amp operates at about 95% efficiency at 100% output (just before clipping), whereas a class AB designed for efficiency generally achieves results closer to 60% efficiency at the same level. Not only does less power dissapation mean less batter usage it also means less heat, smaller switching devices (MOSFETs in most designs) and lower cost.

However, chelgrian does have a valid point - Sony claiming that Class D gives inherently better quality because it's digital is clearly marketing bullshit. While Class D can offer excellent sound quality, quality has nothing to do with why manufacturers use these designs in their portables.

Here's a nice article on how Class D works:
Class D Amplifiers

 
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