Source units affect sound?

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I've noticed a thread here where there seems to be some argument over how a
source unit, such as a CD player, can affect the output quality of your system.
I've sold audio equipment and tend to have my own opinions, but I'd like to
hear some from those here on the board. Do you fellows (or ladies, as the case
may be) believe in the idea that spending $5,000 on a CD player, as opposed to
spending $500 on a player, will actually make any audible difference in sound
quality? I'll chime in with my own thoughts at some point but I want to hear
yours first. Is there really anything that an "audiophile" grade player can do
that a "normal" one cannot? And how about tape decks and turntables? Do your
feelings reagrding CD players carry over to those sources as well? Let's
refrain from arguing over the varying levels of video quality that DVD players
can produce. I only want to discuss audio here.
Steve Grauman
 
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Steve Grauman wrote:
> I've noticed a thread here where there seems to be some argument over
how a
> source unit, such as a CD player, can affect the output quality of
your system.
> I've sold audio equipment and tend to have my own opinions, but I'd
like to
> hear some from those here on the board. Do you fellows (or ladies, as
the case
> may be) believe in the idea that spending $5,000 on a CD player, as
opposed to
> spending $500 on a player, will actually make any audible difference
in sound
> quality?

I can't prove this, but I suspect that you can buy a CD player for less
than $100 that can deliver ruler-flat frequency response and inaudible
levels of distortion (including jitter) to a preamp. If that's true, no
one will be able to distinguish that player from any more expensive
player in a blind comparison--unless the more expensive player is
defective in some way.

> I'll chime in with my own thoughts at some point but I want to hear
> yours first. Is there really anything that an "audiophile" grade
player can do
> that a "normal" one cannot?

Last longer? Decode HDCD disks, perhaps, which may or may not be a good
thing. But I think the real difference is that "audiophile" CD players
can inspire the imagination in ways that Technics just can't.

> And how about tape decks and turntables? Do your
> feelings reagrding CD players carry over to those sources as well?

Analog's a different ballgame. No turntable or tape deck, at any price,
can deliver ruler-flat frequency response and inaudible levels of
distortion to a preamp. So naturally it's possible (make that likely)
that any two will sound different.

bob
 
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<nabob33@hotmail.com> wrote in message news:crrsbf01trr@news2.newsguy.com...
> Steve Grauman wrote:
> > I've noticed a thread here where there seems to be some argument over
> how a
> > source unit, such as a CD player, can affect the output quality of
> your system.
> > I've sold audio equipment and tend to have my own opinions, but I'd
> like to
> > hear some from those here on the board. Do you fellows (or ladies, as
> the case
> > may be) believe in the idea that spending $5,000 on a CD player, as
> opposed to
> > spending $500 on a player, will actually make any audible difference
> in sound
> > quality?
>
> I can't prove this, but I suspect that you can buy a CD player for less
> than $100 that can deliver ruler-flat frequency response and inaudible
> levels of distortion (including jitter) to a preamp. If that's true, no
> one will be able to distinguish that player from any more expensive
> player in a blind comparison--unless the more expensive player is
> defective in some way.
>

This assumes, of course, that the analog electronics contribute nothing to
the final quality. IME, this is where the biggest difference will be beyond
build quality...analog design as well as quality and expense of the parts.

> > I'll chime in with my own thoughts at some point but I want to hear
> > yours first. Is there really anything that an "audiophile" grade
> player can do
> > that a "normal" one cannot?
>
> Last longer? Decode HDCD disks, perhaps, which may or may not be a good
> thing. But I think the real difference is that "audiophile" CD players
> can inspire the imagination in ways that Technics just can't.
>
> > And how about tape decks and turntables? Do your
> > feelings reagrding CD players carry over to those sources as well?
>
> Analog's a different ballgame. No turntable or tape deck, at any price,
> can deliver ruler-flat frequency response and inaudible levels of
> distortion to a preamp. So naturally it's possible (make that likely)
> that any two will sound different.

Yeah, many more variables here requiring top-flight mechanical and materials
engineering as well as electrical performance. But once again, analog
design and build quality has much to do with final results...phono headamps
and preamps, tape recorder output stages, etc.
 
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I agree with Bob on CD players. If a high end player sounds different
it is because it is adding something such as a peak in the response
somewhere. For tape decks there are many differences. If you really
want quality, Nakamichi is the only way to go. I can make a tape of a
CD and be hard pressed to tell the difference (Nak ZX-7). With
turntables, most cartridges sound different, arms less so and the TT
itself (unless it is really cheap) has minimal effect on the sound. A
lot of high enders will argue on this (trying to justify all the money
they spent!).


---MIKE---
 

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Steve Grauman wrote:
> I've noticed a thread here where there seems to be some argument over how a
> source unit, such as a CD player, can affect the output quality of your system.
> I've sold audio equipment and tend to have my own opinions, but I'd like to
> hear some from those here on the board. Do you fellows (or ladies, as the case
> may be) believe in the idea that spending $5,000 on a CD player, as opposed to
> spending $500 on a player, will actually make any audible difference in sound
> quality?

It's possible that a $5K CD player may sound different than a $500 one.
However, the difference may be due to the $5K one being intentionally
(or sometimes unintentionally, too) made to be less accurate. Like using
tubes, for instance.

> I'll chime in with my own thoughts at some point but I want to hear
> yours first. Is there really anything that an "audiophile" grade player can do
> that a "normal" one cannot? And how about tape decks and turntables? Do your
> feelings reagrding CD players carry over to those sources as well? Let's
> refrain from arguing over the varying levels of video quality that DVD players
> can produce. I only want to discuss audio here.
> Steve Grauman

If you want an accurate CD player, one that measures flat in frequency
response and with excellent signal-to-noise ratio, you should be able to
get that for significantly less than $500.

Tape decks and turntables are highly mechanical devices, and it is easy
to find significant differences between units.
 
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Well I have to say that I'm both surprised and delighted at the
responses I got. I had to deal with a customer several months ago, nice
enough guy otherwise, but he swore to god that he could hear an audible
difference between the $2,000 CD player he bought, and the $900 dollar
one he had owned before. In my experience, at least when they're
connected digitally via toslink, there's absolutely no audible
difference between players costing around $150 and players costing 10
or 15 times that much. I've got a Denon DVD-1600 (DVD player) on our
primary system that was purchased for $329, in my room is a slightly
newer Pioneer player purchased for $199, I use both of them for CD
playback as well as for DVDs and did A/B testing with them on our
primary system, cinnected via toslink. The Denon is without a doubt a
superior DVD player, but the Pioneer offers (as far as I can tell)
identicle sound from CDs. I've also noticed that when running the same
cartridge, I'm hard pressed to hear any differences between the $500
turntable in my room and the one on our main system that retailed for
almost $2,000.
 
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Harry Lavo wrote:
> <nabob33@hotmail.com> wrote in message
news:crrsbf01trr@news2.newsguy.com...
> > Steve Grauman wrote:
> > > I've noticed a thread here where there seems to be some argument
over
> > how a
> > > source unit, such as a CD player, can affect the output quality
of
> > your system.
> > > I've sold audio equipment and tend to have my own opinions, but
I'd
> > like to
> > > hear some from those here on the board. Do you fellows (or
ladies, as
> > the case
> > > may be) believe in the idea that spending $5,000 on a CD player,
as
> > opposed to
> > > spending $500 on a player, will actually make any audible
difference
> > in sound
> > > quality?
> >
> > I can't prove this, but I suspect that you can buy a CD player for
less
> > than $100 that can deliver ruler-flat frequency response and
inaudible
> > levels of distortion (including jitter) to a preamp. If that's
true, no
> > one will be able to distinguish that player from any more expensive
> > player in a blind comparison--unless the more expensive player is
> > defective in some way.
> >
>
> This assumes, of course, that the analog electronics contribute
nothing to
> the final quality.

Well, no it doesn't. I said, "deliver[ed]...to a preamp," which means
that the signal's already been through the analog circuitry of the CDP.
I'm suggesting that there are $100 disk players out there with both
subjectively transparent analog stages AND subjectively perfect DACs.

I'm not arguing that every $100 player would meet this test, although I
suspect that the major, established manufacturers, who can amortize
their research budget over millions of units, would have no trouble
doing so.

bob
 
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On 1/9/05 3:42 PM, in article crs5060282@news1.newsguy.com, "chung"
<chunglau@covad.net> wrote:

> It's possible that a $5K CD player may sound different than a $500 one.
> However, the difference may be due to the $5K one being intentionally
> (or sometimes unintentionally, too) made to be less accurate. Like using
> tubes, for instance

Or, perhaps, that the power supply design was done more carefully, the
transport selected was capable of resisting jitter and the overall design
was made to prevent digital timing errors. Also use of digital techniques
to extract more information, lower the effective noise floor, a DAC that is
state of the art, as well as a well thought out analog stage with the
compromises made to be minor.

IN this case, while *sometimes* you might be correct, in the majority of
cases, it isn't true.

Distortion to make it "sound good" is more prevalent in the low end than the
high end - look at Bose as an example!
 
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On 1/9/05 3:42 PM, in article crs4ut027c@news1.newsguy.com, "---MIKE---"
<twinmountain@webtv.net> wrote:

> I agree with Bob on CD players. If a high end player sounds different
> it is because it is adding something such as a peak in the response
> somewhere.

You may agree, but I don't think that would always be correct.

Take a $500 NAD C542 against a Arcam CD192 ($1700) - you will hear a
definite improvement more detail, better high end and low end. Will be
about 20% or so better, but better overall none the less.




>For tape decks there are many differences. If you really
> want quality, Nakamichi is the only way to go. I can make a tape of a
> CD and be hard pressed to tell the difference (Nak ZX-7). With
> turntables, most cartridges sound different, arms less so and the TT
> itself (unless it is really cheap) has minimal effect on the sound. A
> lot of high enders will argue on this (trying to justify all the money
> they spent!).

I don't think this is the case with those others, but if you can't hear a
difference, by all means don't buy the stuff.
 
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On 1/9/05 3:41 PM, in article crs4tb0268@news1.newsguy.com, "Harry Lavo"
<harry.lavo@rcn.com> wrote:

>> Analog's a different ballgame. No turntable or tape deck, at any price,
>> can deliver ruler-flat frequency response and inaudible levels of
>> distortion to a preamp. So naturally it's possible (make that likely)
>> that any two will sound different.
>
> Yeah, many more variables here requiring top-flight mechanical and materials
> engineering as well as electrical performance. But once again, analog
> design and build quality has much to do with final results...phono headamps
> and preamps, tape recorder output stages, etc.

Also keep in mind the power supply and digital transport are big adders to
the final product.

If a $20 CDP were truly SOTA, then there would be no need for outboard DAC's
like the Benchmark DAC-1 which being a piece of pro gear for mastering
music, has to be more accurate than an Apex $20 portable in order to justify
its $900 price tag to the professionals!
 
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On 1/9/05 11:23 AM, in article crrlq801mup@news2.newsguy.com, "Steve
Grauman" <oneactor1@aol.com> wrote:

> Do you fellows (or ladies, as the case
> may be) believe in the idea that spending $5,000 on a CD player, as opposed to
> spending $500 on a player, will actually make any audible difference in sound
> quality?

It really depends upon *which* CDP's you are talking about rather than exact
proce tag. I will say that given the differences I have heard between $20,
200, 500, 1000, 2000 players (law of diminishing returns kicks in hard at
about $1k, I have found) - I certainly would think it is possible.

For some perpective, if you look at the gear they use to master music -
given the competition they face with all the other studios, you will find
their CDP's and other playback devices are a might more expensive than the
plain old mass market consumer gear - and it must be justified in terms of
delivering the value.

If you look at a Benchmark DAC1 and put it up against an $20 Apex player, or
even an iPod, you will find that it is leaps an bounds better at extracting
detail and presenting it in a manner that is accurate and revealing of flaws
in the recording. That is, in essence, what most Audiophiles are after -
though many get caught up in gear that may not live up to that standard for
a lot of money.
 
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B&D wrote:
> On 1/9/05 3:42 PM, in article crs5060282@news1.newsguy.com, "chung"
> <chunglau@covad.net> wrote:
>
> > It's possible that a $5K CD player may sound different than a $500
one.
> > However, the difference may be due to the $5K one being
intentionally
> > (or sometimes unintentionally, too) made to be less accurate. Like
using
> > tubes, for instance
>
> Or, perhaps, that the power supply design was done more carefully,
the
> transport selected was capable of resisting jitter and the overall
design
> was made to prevent digital timing errors. Also use of digital
techniques
> to extract more information, lower the effective noise floor, a DAC
that is
> state of the art, as well as a well thought out analog stage with the
> compromises made to be minor.
>
> IN this case, while *sometimes* you might be correct, in the majority
of
> cases, it isn't true.

In that case you should have no trouble coming up with a specific
example of a measurably accurate $5K CD player that is audibly
distinguishable from a $500 Rotel in a blind comparison.
We're waiting.

bob
 
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OneActor1@aol.com wrote:
> Well I have to say that I'm both surprised and delighted at the
> responses I got. I had to deal with a customer several months ago,
nice
> enough guy otherwise, but he swore to god that he could hear an
audible
> difference between the $2,000 CD player he bought, and the $900
dollar
> one he had owned before.

There are two plausible explanations for your customer's experience:

1) One player's output is slightly higher than the other; when he
switches between the two, they will sound different simply because of
the level difference (even if one doesn't sound louder than the other).

2) Expectation bias: Humans have a tendency to hear differences even
between things that are demonstrably the same, simply because they
*think* the two are different.

In other words, your customer isn't crazy; he's only human.

> I've also noticed that when running the same
> cartridge, I'm hard pressed to hear any differences between the $500
> turntable in my room and the one on our main system that retailed for
> almost $2,000.

Please identify these two turntables for us.

bob
 
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<<Or, perhaps, that the power supply design was done more carefully,
the transport selected was capable of resisting jitter and the overall
design was made to prevent digital timing errors. Also use of digital
techniques to extract more information, lower the effective noise
floor, a DAC that is state of the art, as well as a well thought out
analog stage with the compromises made to be minor.>>

I was waiting to see if someone would make these claims. In my testing
of several CD players at various price points and built by various
manufacturers, where all players were connected via toslink to the same
a/v reciever powering the same speakers for every test, the was no
audible difference between any of the players, ranging in price from
around $150 to several thousand dollars. As far as I'm concerned, this
is an indication that there is nothing that ultra expensive power
supply and clocking devices can do that the human ear is capable of
hearing. I've found that this is true of amplifiers too, that in
comparing stand-alone amps, there wasn't anything the most expensive
units could do to differentiate themselves audbilly form the least
expensive units. This is also true, in my experience of "high end"
wiring, where manufacturers and consumers alike are constantly assuring
one another that a $1,000 toslink cable actually provides some audible
level of difference over the $18 Acoustic Research cable sold at Best
Buy. While it;s certainly important that your sources, amps and wiring
be quality units, rarely, in today;s advanced world, could any of them
be bad enough to truly be making your sound *audiblly* worse. It's the
speakers being used and how well their being driven (powered) that in
my experience makes the biggest difference, of course, it's also
neccesary to have decent source material (a well mastered CD) and this
is only constant when talking about digital sources.
 
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On 1/9/05 7:25 PM, in article crsi230hh6@news3.newsguy.com,
"nabob33@hotmail.com" <nabob33@hotmail.com> wrote:

> I'm not arguing that every $100 player would meet this test, although I
> suspect that the major, established manufacturers, who can amortize
> their research budget over millions of units, would have no trouble
> doing so.

Actually, the major manufacturers know how to make a SOTA player - but
choose not to, rather competing on cost and cost reduction.

A CDP from Sony - if they decided to make a SOTA player (such as the SCD-1
or the SACD players they carried recently) it would be able to give you more
for your money - especially due to the scale as you said, but also the use
of factories in the developing world, such as China.

Could they produce a $5000 player by a small fry for $100? Probably not -
but they may be able to do it for $1-2k....
 

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B&D wrote:
> On 1/9/05 3:42 PM, in article crs5060282@news1.newsguy.com, "chung"
> <chunglau@covad.net> wrote:
>
>> It's possible that a $5K CD player may sound different than a $500 one.
>> However, the difference may be due to the $5K one being intentionally
>> (or sometimes unintentionally, too) made to be less accurate. Like using
>> tubes, for instance
>
> Or, perhaps, that the power supply design was done more carefully, the
> transport selected was capable of resisting jitter and the overall design
> was made to prevent digital timing errors.

You believe doing those things right cost $4.5K more?

The transports used in the $$$ players are just the same as those used
in players that cost an order of magnitude less. (In some cases grossly
inferior transports were used, like the belt-driven ones.) The DAC chips
used are often the same or even older than the ones used in the
mass-manufactured players. Not that you are likely to hear the
differences resulting from different DAC's used.


> Also use of digital techniques
> to extract more information, lower the effective noise floor, a DAC that is
> state of the art, as well as a well thought out analog stage with the
> compromises made to be minor.

Do you seriously believe that the boutique makers can do a better job?

We are talking about a CD player, and companies like Sony have been
making CD players for 20 years. Don't you think they understand how to
design CD players so that the errors are inaudible? I read that some
high-end CD players even eliminate the anti-alias filters. That should
tell you a lot about the design talent you find in some high-end labels.

You are simply repeating the myths perpetuated by high-end marketing.

>
> IN this case, while *sometimes* you might be correct, in the majority of
> cases, it isn't true.

In the majority of cases, CD players at $500 sound just as accurate, if
not more accurate, than those at $5K.

Please show me any measurement result that prove that $5K players
outperform the $500 ones.

>
> Distortion to make it "sound good" is more prevalent in the low end than the
> high end - look at Bose as an example!

Does Bose make a CD player? Have you listened to it? Does it sound bad?
 
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On 10 Jan 2005 01:05:20 GMT, B&D <bromo@ix.netcom.com> wrote:

>On 1/9/05 3:42 PM, in article crs5060282@news1.newsguy.com, "chung"
><chunglau@covad.net> wrote:
>
>> It's possible that a $5K CD player may sound different than a $500 one.
>> However, the difference may be due to the $5K one being intentionally
>> (or sometimes unintentionally, too) made to be less accurate. Like using
>> tubes, for instance
>
>Or, perhaps, that the power supply design was done more carefully, the
>transport selected was capable of resisting jitter

The lowest jitter transport assembly available *at any price* is the
basic Sony model. That's why Arcam and others use it.

> and the overall design
>was made to prevent digital timing errors.

The lowest jitter standalone players are mostly made by Sony.

> Also use of digital techniques
>to extract more information,

Fundamentally impossible - don't believe everything the adverts tell
you about upsampling!

> lower the effective noise floor, a DAC that is
>state of the art, as well as a well thought out analog stage with the
>compromises made to be minor.

State of the art DACs are less than $5 each, and the cheapest players
can produce ruler-flat FR with negligible distortion, proving that
their analogue stages introduce no compromises whatever.

>IN this case, while *sometimes* you might be correct, in the majority of
>cases, it isn't true.

Actually, it *is* true, and as has been pointed out by several other
posters, the only way so-called 'high end' players sound different is
when they *degrade* the sound. While I admire the thorough
engineering, state-of-the-art design, and immaculate construction of
the latest Meridian 588 player, it is sonically indistinguishable from
my 10-year old Sony CDP-715E.

>Distortion to make it "sound good" is more prevalent in the low end than the
>high end - look at Bose as an example!

Nope, tubed output stages and non-flat frequency response are the
exclusive preserve of the high end.
--

Stewart Pinkerton | Music is Art - Audio is Engineering
 
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I have never quite understood the philosophy behind $5K players. They
usually are very heavy, shock absorption everywhere, heavy heavy transport,
solid mechanisms, exotic materials and what have you. A lot of money is
being spent on a superior design with, as far as I can tell, the goal to
read the CD without any bit errors. And that's fine. But, wouldn't it be
cheaper and better to take a 48x CD rom drive, read the material a few times
as soon as the CD is inserted, compare the digital data, error check and
what have you, store the data in memory which is not prone to errors due to
vibrations and play it back from a memory buffer? Especially when taking a
fast CD Rom, the data can be read many times and compared and checked and
errors can be eliminated while the CD is playing. No need to have a real
time stream that can have errors directly from the optical pick-up element
in the CD player to the output of the DAC. The player could even let you
know exactly when there is a read-out error on the CD that can't be
corrected. I would say a design like that is superior to an on-the-fly
processing type CD player, and can achieve lower bit error rates, most
likely completely eliminating errors while under $1K, even with enough RAM
to store the entire CD content.


"B&D" <bromo@ix.netcom.com> wrote in message
news:crskcg0kef@news3.newsguy.com...
> On 1/9/05 3:42 PM, in article crs5060282@news1.newsguy.com, "chung"
> <chunglau@covad.net> wrote:
>
> > It's possible that a $5K CD player may sound different than a $500 one.
> > However, the difference may be due to the $5K one being intentionally
> > (or sometimes unintentionally, too) made to be less accurate. Like using
> > tubes, for instance
>
> Or, perhaps, that the power supply design was done more carefully, the
> transport selected was capable of resisting jitter and the overall design
> was made to prevent digital timing errors. Also use of digital techniques
> to extract more information, lower the effective noise floor, a DAC that
is
> state of the art, as well as a well thought out analog stage with the
> compromises made to be minor.
>
> IN this case, while *sometimes* you might be correct, in the majority of
> cases, it isn't true.
>
> Distortion to make it "sound good" is more prevalent in the low end than
the
> high end - look at Bose as an example!
 
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B&D wrote:


>
> If you look at a Benchmark DAC1 and put it up against an $20 Apex player, or
> even an iPod, you will find that it is leaps an bounds better at extracting
> detail and presenting it in a manner that is accurate and revealing of flaws
> in the recording. That is, in essence, what most Audiophiles are after -
> though many get caught up in gear that may not live up to that standard for
> a lot of money.

"Accurate and revealing of flaws in the recording". I am afraid that
only true believers in high-fidelity would like that kind of sound.


(subjective stereotypes coming up!)

You will find "audiophiles" who prefer a "warm sounding, lifelike" DAC
as opposed to the "sterile, clinical, lifeless" sound of an accurate DAC.

(i.e. not all audiophiles are after high-fidelity!)
 
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On 1/10/05 8:21 PM, in article crv9n101mgo@news1.newsguy.com,
"nabob33@hotmail.com" <nabob33@hotmail.com> wrote:

> In that case you should have no trouble coming up with a specific
> example of a measurably accurate $5K CD player that is audibly
> distinguishable from a $500 Rotel in a blind comparison.
> We're waiting.

NAD C541i vs. Arcam CD192 is what I can offer as an example. You can throw
in an iPod for comparison as well.

Music - Elvis Costello, early recordings - even the Rhino released "Best Of"
as long as you stick to the first few tracks.
 
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E Audio 2
A Audio 4
L Audio 2
D Audio 3
R Audio 2
B Audio 2
J Audio 1
A Audio 2
D Audio 2
F Audio 2
T Audio 3

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