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Audio tests

A blind test of preamplifiers

For the past seven years, I have used a Meridian 501 preamplifier in my main system. I mostly used it in combination with a Chromecast Audio, listening to Spotify Premium.

However, since I’m building new speakers with SPDIF inputs, I wanted to upgrade to a streaming preamplifier that could output a digital signal. I decided to buy a Yamaha WXC-50. Until my speakers are finished, I’m using the analog outputs on the Yamaha. Upon hooking it up this way, I got the impression that it sounded somewhat leaner than the Meridian. Being well aware that sighted listening tests are a pretty poor way to identify small differences, I decided to put together a blind test to compare the Chromecast Audio + Meridian preamplifier to the Yamaha.

I ran the outputs of both devices to my Behringer UMC202HD USB sound card, equalized the levels as well as I could using a 1 kHz sine, and recorded several samples of about a minute in length on each setup. For comparison, I also recorded the same samples directly from Spotify. That way, it’s possible to test if the sound card causes a noticeable deterioration of the sound. However, based on my experience with Ethan Winer’s loopback test, I did not expect this to be the case.

I trimmed the samples to make sure I could not identify them by their length. I then used an old version of WinABX to see if I could hear the difference. I was surprised to find that I did actually hear a difference in low frequency content between the two. Next up is figuring out where it comes from.

I’ve posted the samples below, so you can try for yourself.

Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk
Original file, Spotify 320 kbps
Chromecast Audio + Meridian 501
Yamaha WXC-50
Rage Against The Machine – Killing in the Name
Original file, Spotify 320 kbps
Chromecast Audio + Meridian 501
Yamaha WXC-50
Sergei Prokofiev – Dance of the Knights
Original file, Spotify 320 kbps
Chromecast Audio + Meridian 501
Yamaha WXC-50
Alison Moyet – Midnight (Live: In Session)
Original file, Spotify 320 kbps
Chromecast Audio + Meridian 501
Yamaha WXC-50
Labi Siffre – (Something Inside) So Strong
Original file, Spotify 320 kbps
Chromecast Audio + Meridian 501
Yamaha WXC-50

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