Upscaling Impressions

You could be in single BNC mode or dual BNC mode (to unlock a million taps). If you’re using a single cable, you’ll be able to go up to 352.8 kHz (white). Please refer to the upsampling chart on page 31 of the manual.

One thing to note: There are two BNC outputs – BNC 1 and the S/PDIF. BNC 2 is only used in dual BNC mode (white). When in single BNC mode, the BNC 1 output sounds better than the S/PDIF. It’s quieter, more consolidated, and has more accurate timbre. The BNC 2 output is only engaged in the dual BNC (white) mode. If you try to use the BNC 2 as a single BNC output – it’s going to sound a bit off.

From 1X to 16X

I had a lot of fun doing the listening tests for this portion. In short, I feel it’s like focusing a camera lens from a distance. The higher the upsampling – the more focus you get – and the more clearly you see what’s actually there.

To keep things sane, the following is assuming 44.1 kHz files. I’ll be using the Chord Electronics DAVE in dual BNC and single BNC mode (BNC 1 output). The beauty of the M Scaler is that you have your choice in the degree of upsampling. With the variety of musical tastes and DACs – it’s a great feature to have. Many will prefer the maxed out 16X and some may prefer something in-between.

One of my favorite albums for testing was Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra’s The Capitol Studios Sessions. Just fun and high-spirited recordings. As part of my “routine,” I usually try to watch these live recordings after listening to them in the system. It helps in determining how well the essence of the music is captured and reproduced in a system.

Red – 1X (Pass-through Mode)

This mode essentially takes the original input signal and allows you to output it via S/PDIF to your DAC. Surely you didn’t buy an HMS to keep it in this mode. However, I’ve found that it sounds better than a direct USB connection to every DAC I’ve connected it to.

The HMS seems to be isolating some noise before sending it off to the DACs. This resulted in a quieter, more consolidated, and more well-formed sound. Also, a very noticeable improvement in stereo imaging and outlining.

To elaborate…

  • Much better focus, timbre, tone, and clarity.
  • Even with no upscaling, the tonal character is very natural. You’ll get more insight and resolution as you scale up.
  • Direct USB to DAVE sounded more grey and softer. The midrange is “fatter” and less textural.

To my ears, just having the HMS in the system already improved sound quality – even in bypass mode. Given that the DAVE already sounds great – this isn’t a small deal.

Green – 2X

The first step in upsampling gives the music shape. In other words, it unflattens the soundscape. At the same time, it gives the instrumentation and voices more heft and smoothness. The music essentially “snaps” into place.

In addition, it sounds quieter and more vivid. Pass-through mode sound a bit crowded and confused in comparison. This is obvious in albums such as Opus by Al Di Meola and Alice in Chains’ Unplugged. The 2X upsample rate does make you itch for more though…hence I’m rarely in this mode.

Blue – 4X

I gravitated towards this mode for a lot of my listening. On many occasions, I sat back and thought “Yeah, this sounds right.”

This upscale mode (176.4 kHz) places this combo in end-game territory. As such, it may be the sweet spot for many. For one, you don’t need two BNC cables. In addition, there’s a perfect balance of warmth and resolution. You’ll get the tightness and fullness of the 2X while retaining enough of the resolution of the 8X (in the next section).

I also found this mode to be more genre-independent. It’s more “earthy” for hip-hop, R&B, and rock. Rihanna, Kurt Cobain, and Adele’s voices have more soul. For example, the vulgarity of Nicki Minaj’s High School just isn’t as profound in the higher 8X and 16X modes. Admittedly, there is less of that lifelike resolution – but the difference in tone is apparent.

In comparison to 2X, the sound becomes more forward and fuller. It also sounds (surprisingly) warmer. Voices are more fleshed out and instruments have more dynamic strides and contrast. There’s more tonal assortment in comparison to the previous two modes. Bass gets punchier, the pace is more engaging, and the rhythm of the recordings is in plain view.

White – 8X (Single BNC)

As mentioned, you could only access this mode (352.8 kHz) via the single BNC mode. I recommend the BNC 1 output of the HMS.

In short, it strikes a very nice balance between 4X and 16X in tonal color, body, and resolution.

“Melodic with a slight warmth” comes to mind. Definitely not as spacious or detailed as 16X – but much more dimensional than the 4X. This mode gives performers more of a molded form. It does exchange some of the rich colors of the 4X. Sonic landscapes have better gradations and imaging is laser-focused. Tonal variations are also kept in check.

One of the biggest gains from moving up the scaling ladder is the bass definition (especially at 16X). You not only hear more of it, but you also hear how it bends, pounds – and with how much force. Lots of “how” something sounds within this mode.

White – 16X

This is the mode that sounds completely analog. You hear more of the congealed “material.” This includes the natural resonances of different makes of violins and guitars. You’ll get uncanny insight into the soul and personality of the singers. It sounds unbelievable – because it is. It’s almost like being in a dream world.

This is a huge jump in upsampling – and commensurate fidelity. This is where the music just wraps around you. It takes what sounded great – to something that sounded all too real. All veils are lifted and the level of articulation is extraordinary. Not only do you get an accurate perspective, but it’s also delivered in valiant strides.

Music is no longer just one holistic groove, but synchronous layers of texture, character, and timbre. It’s as far from a “blob” of sound as you could get. It essentially “folds back the skin” into something more tangible. The other modes sound a bit more confined and constricted in comparison.

vs. 4X (Blue)

Going back to one of my favorite modes. The 4X (blue) is noticeably warmer and more forward – but not as free and vivid as the 16X. In comparison to the 16X, it can’t complete on transparency and noise floor. The 16X mode digs so deep into the mix that sometimes the warmth from 4X sounds more like a veil.

For example, with the aforementioned My Baby Just Cares for Me track with Jeff Goldblum and Haley Reinhart – we get two different moods. The 16X mode sounds way smoother. Almost porcelain-like and a little more laidback. More importantly, you can’t tell the vocal recordings were done with microphones. This is especially noticeable towards the end of the track where they share microphones for a brief moment.

With 16X, it sounds more like 3D objects are placed in front of you with lifelike separation of all the spectral variations of piano, bass, guitar, and sax. The 4X upscale is grittier, more stretched, and doesn’t have nearly the same level of delineation or 3D molding. But it does have more blood flowing through it. For that reason, I prefer 4X for vocal recordings.

Update (6/4/2019): For what it’s worth, I much prefer the 16X (DBNC) on the TT 2 over the 4X. You get both the contouring and the warmth (Filter 4).

Over the course of a few months, I found myself switching between the 4X and 16X modes. Although 4X is not as technically superior – I enjoy this mode for other genres and studio recordings – mostly for its warmer tone. I don’t get the impression of a live performance as I do with the 16X – but it’s still a wonderful balance of tonal color and resolution.

The Verdict

The level of resolution is absolutely stunning at 16X. One thing this mode does much better than the rest is dynamic extrusion. The system sings into free space rather than being confined closer between the two speakers. 16X has a far blacker background, more spatial clarity, and “floats” with more ease. Macrodynamics are explosive while microdynamics remains delicate – yet pronounced.

As far as resolution, clarity, and lifelike realism – this is the perfect baseline for any digital playback system. “Tuning headroom” if you will. Above all, when I paired this mode with darker and thicker sounding cables – the performance is sublime.

The 16X mode serves as the ultimate digital foundation for any tweaking you want to do with your system. It sounds particularly good for live recordings (musicals and orchestral in particular). I can’t imagine anyone desiring more transparency than what the HMS already provides.

In any case, you’re free to get amplifiers, speakers, and cables to adjust to taste. The 16X is more than just insightful – but is also perfect for terrifying your friends on how real a system could sound.