The Laufer Teknik Memory Player 64: New and Improved
[April 2012] - Six years ago, I marveled over the world's first high-end computer-based CD transport called the Nova Physics Memory Player. I went to great lengths explaining to fellow audiophiles that this sophisticated computer-based transport outperformed every other conventional CD player I owned. Few believed me. Many felt, even after hearing the Memory Player (MP) for themselves, that they were being tricked somehow. "The quality has to be coming from somewhere else in the system... perhaps those expensive speakers, amplifiers and cables," commented one person during a listening session in my home. Remarkably, a few brave, open-minded audiophiles (brave enough to include a computer in their rig) took the plunge and purchased an MP of their own. In each case, and across a wide assortment of hi-end rigs, ranging from ribbons to horns, from low-wattage single-ended amps to massively powerful solid state amps, their emails expressed the same amazement, calling the MP's performance “…the "best digital ever!" [Five other ST reviewers also own and reference the MP64. They include Mike Girardi, Moreno Mitchell, Dennis Parham, Dan Secula and Don Shaulis).
Mark Porzilli, designer of the MP, discusses the logic functions behind his design in a white paper. (Note that the name of the player was changed when Nova Physics was purchased by Laufer Teknik.) These include his versions of RUR (Read Until Right), ECC (Error Code Correction) and most notably IDEAS (Impulse Discharge of Events in Atemporal Space.) Of these functions, IDEAS is of particular note. He writes, “IDEAS removes non-audio bits, bits created from noise and the gaps created once the bad bits are removed. IDEAS then realigns them into sequential order and the data is a near perfect replica of the original. The problem now is, how do we keep the data pristine when we play it and save it in our music collections?"
Regrettably, instead of being lauded by the press for delivering the world's first hi-end audio music server, Porzilli was instead ridiculed. Many felt the MP was nothing more than a glorified PC and Porzilli a charlatan. Porzilli's theories on how he went about solving the problems that have long plagued CD playback created a firestorm on the hi-end forums. Some branded Porzilli, his white paper—and my review—as BULLSHIT. Imagine that. People who had never heard the MP felt themselves qualified to dismiss it!
As recent as 2006, Porzilli's outlandish claims of the Memory Player outperforming any reference-caliber CD player were deemed sacrilege. Today, it's common knowledge that even a relatively inexpensive Laptop, PC or hi-end server will easily best an expensive CD player.
What a difference a day makes!
Yes, many manufacturers and designers I have spoken with admits that a computer-based server as the superior format over conventional Redbook CDs. Problem is, everyone thinks they've got themselves a Memory Player!
Digital is Perfect: Remember?
If the compact disc medium has provided 'perfect' sound since 1982, numbers in, numbers out, then why do we hear improvements from CD mats, green inks, special feet, and other ancillary devices? I have heard the ‘digital is perfect’ claim from some of the loftiest players in this industry, and the mantra of 'bit perfect' presented as the answer to everything. "...[B]it perfect makes certain the bit count is correct," says Porzilli, "but at the cost of early stage jitter that the system is blind to. THIS is the crux of the MP. Accepting that we hear things that are 'impossible' by traditional thought means it's NOT quantified yet, NOT impossible. We just have to quantify it."
On the subject of jitter, Porzilli goes on to state, "I think that in early stages, before the stream of data is in 16/44 or 24/192 formats, the bits can be severely jittered BUT it is never measured at the streams. It's always measured at the output. Early Jitter or Early Stage Jitter is when bits scramble during a laser read or an Internet download or the like. Time periods distort but there is no opportunity to measure it. The problem is that if the data is jittered at the early point of being a simple stream of data, a point where it is the jittered data becomes part of the newly formatted data and so it becomes part of the "original" as the DAC sees it and so there is no jitter to correct by the time it reaches the DAC."
For me, six years after the first review was published, the MP still stands as the centerpiece of my system. In that time, I can recall about three upgrades that were of sonic consequence. However, this latest upgrade to 64-bit platform has improved its performance to such a degree that I felt compelled to write this follow-up review.
When I asked about how the 64-bit platform relates to sonic improvements, Porzilli responded, "You cannot get something from nothing, and naturally, this is true for digital audio. If you play a CD, your ultimate resolution is 16 bits at a 44.1kHz sample rate. That's all, folks. You cannot get more if you upsample it to 24 bits or even 64 bits, as we do. But that is not the goal. The goal is this: To use 64 bit audio technology to get as much of the 16/44 music data output with as little jitter as possible. Of course this is also true of 24 bit audio and SACD audio files as well. What The Memory Player 64 does is that it copies the data to a block of memory, be it a CD copy or a music download, place the data in its entirety on our Fractionalized Memory TM and then 'clean' it with IDEAS. The sheer power of IDEAS jitter reduction software cannot be overstated. IDEAS removes non-music bits, noise bits (bit inversions) and the gaps of time left when these corruptions are deleted, such that the music data may populate the memory unobstructed. With irrelevant bits in the way, it takes time to read the music bits scattered around them. The same can be said of the empty gaps. A bit or a gap adds time to a contiguous playback of bits, and so the jitter is deeply 'cleaned' from the music data."
Porzilli also talked at length about his new Fractionalized MemoryTM stating "This feature adds what may be the most spectacular aspect of the design of The Memory Player 64: It liberates the system from dependence on the master clock. Fractionalized Memory is simple and easy to use in The Memory Player 64, and is known as the Jukebox. This is an area of great contention, but ears and jitter meters are on the side of this exotic and very special memory structure. Fractionalized MemoryTM requires only one of every 256 clock ticks. In between these ticks, the data has been stored without any system bits or gaps between the music bits. It is a near replica of the original master bit by bit, time by time. As it requires less clocking, there are far less opportunities to be jittered. Fractionalized clocking, of course, is well known as a technique in satellite tracking to reduce the burden of clock variations. In audio, it's only used by The Memory Player, to our knowledge."
Physically, the new MP-64 looks virtually identical to the previous model minus the loss of the 7" LCD screen. It was rendered useless by more affordable computer monitors and the number of far-sighted owners who couldn't navigate its small LCD screen. The MP's ability to sync wirelessly to iPads, tablets, laptops and other peripherals makes far easier to operate and navigate. Flash storage capacity is now scalable to over 1TB, twice the size of the original player. This equates to hundreds of CD's additional capacity and removes the need to drag or copy music from the internal hard-drive. This has made getting to my favorite music much quicker and easier.
The graphical user interface (GUI) has always been a challenge for both Porzilli and Sam Laufer. Though improved, I still think it’s a sore thumb and the least attractive feature to the MP. The MP is capable of downloading high-rez audio files, art work and other types of music info from associated websites. But its almost prehistoric-looking GUI has been a thing of contention among its owners.
I don't know what the future holds...but I know who holds the future!
When asked what the sonic differences were between the old and new versions of this player, I said "...more air, transparency, substance, dynamics, articulation (especially in the bass), depth, timbre accuracy and, most impressive in my system, was the overall purity and absolute sense of quiet.” These factors lead to far more dynamic realism and harmonic integrity.
When I first heard the intro to Seal's heart wrenching "Love's Divine," from the CD of the same name, I did not anticipate the improved substance, airiness and the overall openness to his voice. Seal's rough vocal tone came through even more edgier and gritty but not nearly as thick and wooly or crowded in by the other musicians. The strings, synthesizers, bass and drums had more weight and substance yet, were more spread out across a wider stage with tighter focus and image specificity. The musicians sounded in perfect unison, size and distance from Seal's microphone. Nothing was overshadowed, overblown nor oversized giving my huge horns a finer feel in the areas of imaging and sound-staging. If I hadn't heard this in my own system, I would have sworn this was an enhanced or hi-rez version. In fact, I double-checked and grabbed the CD out of my library and yep, sure enough, it was a standard Redbook copy. Oh boy, what the hell do I play next?
One of my favorite songs is Sade's "I Couldn't Love You More" from her multiple-platinum Love Deluxe (which was right next to Seal in my library). I had to keep reminding myself that these are just standard, commercial discs. Through the new MP64, I could hear for the first time the computer-enhanced handclaps riding over the synthesizers and drums, creating a groovy syncopated rhythm leading right into Sade's legendary raspy-voiced cry of "I couldn't love you more....if time was running out." For the first time, the MP64 illustrated the strength of Sade's vocals is demonstrated not by a means of force as much as by a smooth and even-tailored elegance.
Like the great Billie Holiday, Sade is a perfect example of a stylist, as opposed to a pure singer. And her style is what gives her such substance and staying power. Some argue she's singing minor lines over major chords. Who gives a hoot. I enjoy the mood she creates through her style and interpretation of a song. Via the new MP64, the noise floor is so low, I felt like Sade was singing in a free - but in a ever-so-slight over-damped space. The delicate echo effect added to her vocals is what gives her a sound that is immediately identifiable. Through the MP64's translucent window, I got a sense, and certainly a greater appreciation, of what's going on in the recording process like nothing I have encountered before.
What's even more impressive is the MP64's methodology at allowing me to hear into the music. It renders these impressions by taking the noise-floor to vanishingly low levels which thus eradicate audible distortions in and around voices and instruments. And like we all say at one time or another, "I didn't even it was there until it was gone!" Isn't interesting how the addition of a 64-Bit platform, creates a subtraction in noise levels? For the first time, if I chose, I could follow a musician as though he were playing solo. Want to swing to the new and improved bass line, follow a chorus or tap my toes to the crisp and effervescent play of a drummer? For the first time, the MP64 makes this possible by its unrivaled retrieval of fine details—low-level details in particular.
Another rewarding and awe-inspiring recording is trumpeter and composer Mark Isham's “Blue Sun” from the self-titled CD. This melancholy and hypnotic instrumental has been getting regular play in my system since it debuted in the fall of 1995. I know it very well but was immediately taken aback by the improved clarity, harmonic depth and color saturation when played through the MP64. Again, a new level of dynamic swing engulfed my listening space which gave the already excellent bass a most mesmerizing feel. Remarkably well-recorded, these taut and reverberate bass notes imparted a sense of clarity that actually ended up having me in a state of suspense. It's these kind of listening sessions where I hear things I never heard before that I appreciate and admire the most. They tell me something really is new. Not different. The MP64 is doing something new to this old song indeed. The delicate play of drum mallets for example were wafting ever so sweetly in the background. More scintillating, however, was the blending harmonies between the trumpet and saxophone that created a unique sound of their own. Once again, I could clearly discern each instrument independently. Overall, the music came across so much more vibrant with a life-like thrust, I had to shake my head and wonder aloud, "What on earth had Porzilli done to provide this level of improvement to an already world-class device?"
Due to time constraints I was unable to audition any hi-rez downloads. What I’ve heard so far sounds closer to vinyl than I could have ever imagined. I promise to add additional comments in the coming weeks.
Years before I ever heard the Memory Player, Mark Porzilli spoke about the day when digital downloads and music servers would become the norm and CD players a thing of the past. He couldn't have been more correct. [Yep, that sexy hunk of gleaming lights and glistening aluminum — will become as relevant as Tyrannosaurus rex.]
To say I am smitten by the performance of the MP64, whose predecessor was already a world-class product, would be an understatement. Having owned the MP since its release back in 2006, I've always had a great sense of pride of ownership. However, after hearing the improvements in the 64-bit version, I am convinced the Laufer Teknik Memory Player 64 will become the standard for which all hi-end type digital players will be measured.
The Memory Player 64 Transport $14,950.00 (reviewed)
192 kHz Digital Output standard
1TB* Click-and-Play Solid State Library, configured with our patent pending IDEAS technology
2 TB Archival Library (for music archival storage)
The Memory Player System Bundle (Copier, Player,
High Resolution Audio Copier, and Browser for downloading High Resolution files)
* The MP64 comes standard with 1TB of Multi Level Cell NAND. We can make available, at no extra charge, 256gb of Single Level Cell NAND which is approximately a 5-10% sonic improvement over MLC. Once music has been placed in playable memory, it is easy to replace it with other music from your archive, if necessary. Both 192 kHz analog and The 1TB store about 500 CDs worth of music, as compared to about 128 CDs worth of music on a 256gb drive. Once music has been place in playable memory, it is easy to replace it with other music from your archive, if necessary.
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