Thursday, March 8, 2012

Audiogate: Gateway to good sound

Professional musicians and studio technicians should be familiar with the brand 'KORG'. It makes digital pianos, keyboards, wavedrums, monitor amps, DSD/PCM recorders and other stuff for the pros.


I think almost every CD you have heard would have featured some KORG component in its making.


So when it releases a music player for free download and especially since the music player is bundled software with every purchase of KORG digital recorders, you have to take note.


Called Audiogate, the freeware player (V 2.2.1) can be downloaded from http://www.korguser.net/audiogate/en/download.html#

Along with J River V17, it is one of the few music players that can handle DSD files (both DSD64 and DSD128) and PCM files up to 24/192.


It has downloads for Windows and Mac OS. So Mac users need not rely only on iTunes to play their hi-res files.




Audiogate music player user interface.
It can convert any file to DSF format.

It can convert any file to DSD 1bit 5.6448MHz.


The highlight of Audiogate is its ability to convert any format into any format. Audiogate supports WAV, BWF (Broadcast Wav Format), AIFF, DSDIFF, DSF, WSD and FLAC. It also supports WMA, WMA Professional, WMA Lossless, AAC, Apple Lossless and MP3 (some of these formats require add-ons like QuickTime7, Flip4Mac or Windows Media Player 10). Unlike J River which has video functions, Audiogate is a pure music player.


From KORG's website: "Repeated updates to AudioGate have continued to expand the list of supported formats; currently thirteen file formats, and twenty different combinations of sample rate and bit depth. Regardless of the format of your master, AudioGate will take care of your conversion needs. A high-resolution master recorded on the MR series (of recorders) as 1-bit DSD or 24/192 PCM can be used to create a compressed file for network distribution, a PCM file edited and mixed on your DAW can be used to generate a DSDIFF file for use as an SACD master, or an SACD DSDIFF master can be converted to the native DSF file format of a DSD disc.


"KORG's products are developed by world-class audio engineers with an exhaustive knowledge of digital audio. The design of the sample rate conversion filter built into AudioGate takes into account the tonal character heard via the final playback from the hardware, including the characteristics of the A/D and D/A converters themselves. For each combination of sampling rates, filter coefficients have been carefully designed with optimal values, and have already earned a high degree of respect in the professional mastering workplace.


"In many cases, dither processing is an important factor in determining the quality of digital audio. In addition to the 'TPDF dithering' commonly used to minimize distortion components, AudioGate also provides the proprietary 'KORG AQUA' dithering algorithm developed by KORG to match the response characteristics of human hearing. The perceptual result far surpasses the theoretical S/N ratio based on the quantization bit depth, and has the potential to capture the spatial character of a high-quality master and preserve it even in the down-converted file."


Another exciting feature of Audiogate is its ability to create DSD Disks which can be played on some Sony SACD players and the PS3.



"AudioGate is one of the most innovative software applications that support the creation of DSD discs, a topic of interest among audiophiles. When used in conjunction with an MR series recorder, AudioGate lets you transfer your recording to media without impairing the pure audio quality that is distinctive of DSD, allowing you to not only create reference discs but also providing the ideal solution for archiving.


"AudioGate's powerful functionality also comes into play when creating conventional audio CDs. AudioGate contains a decimation filter that is far superior to those built into a typical AD converter for PCM, as well as a proprietary dithering algorithm developed by KORG to match the characteristics of human auditory perception. This functionality ensures that regardless of the source you're using, you'll be able to create even higher-quality audio CDs," KORG's website stated.



I spent some time last night and this morning comparing J River V17 with Audiogate using files ranging from MP3 to FLAC to DSD.


I had to set output to Direct Sound before music could be played in my system.


Then I set 'Sampling' to 'Auto'.


Strangely in my system using a Wyred 4 Sound DAC2 and a Toshiba laptop with Windows 7 64bit, I had to use 'Direct Sound' output before things worked even though Windows 7 would normally handle 'WASAPI' output.


Then I had to set 'Sampling' to 'Auto' and strangely, the sampling rate shown on the W4S DAC2 display was stuck at 192 no matter what file was fed to it. But the Audiogate showed the sampling rate of the file it was playing.


With Audiogate, DSD files were converted to 24/192 PCM when playing while J River V17 converted them to 24/96.


There were differences in sound quality - the Audiogate sounded cleaner, clearer and more transparent with greater depth in the soundstage whereas J River sounded more amorphous but a tad more pleasant. Well-recorded files featuring lots of musicians like Jazz At The Pawnshop sounded very good with lots of space and air with Audiogate, but MP3 files were revealed to be what they are - stripped-bare music. Audiogate can be quite merciless while J River is more forgiving.


Audiogate emphasised clarity and the images were slightly leaner while J River was easier to listen to. I could not pick a winner and it would depend on the system and mood. I could live with either one and indeed I have both Audiogate and J River V 17 in my laptop.


If you love details and clarity, go for the Audiogate and if you love smoothness and don't mind amorphous images, go for the J River.


Since it's freeware, it's a no brainer to download Audiogate.



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