The Sound

PGGB’s upscaling to 705.6/768kHz at a bit depth of 32 bits with 256 bits of precision (computational accuracy used during the upscaling process) unveils layers and details in music that are often lost in the original resolutions. Transients are snappier, and the soundstage widens and deepens, offering a more immersive and enthralling listening experience. In other words, the music is immediately more dynamic and exciting with textural cues laid out in front of you. It’s absolutely incredible how much more of the music you’re hearing with the PGGB upscaled files.

Let’s cut to the chase. With PGGB, I often find myself being remind of some of the qualities of the Plixir power supply I reviewed a while back (which many of you really enjoyed). When directly comparing PGGB-upscaled tracks against their original 44.1/48 kHz versions, there were some noticeable merits and drawbacks for both.

What’s the catch?

However, there is a potential deal breaker. This sonic microscope can sometimes render the music less “romantic,” with a slight recession in midrange richness and low-end heft. With the non-upscaled file, the midrange has this touch of soul, especially for vocal recordings. For some classical, jazz, electronic, and world music, this downside isn’t as apparent. Mostly because you’re too busy being mesmorized by how “new” the upscaled file sounds.

Now, this isn’t just a characteristic of PGGB’s processing. If you listen to the same recording on Spotify (320 kbps) and then play the same lossless track on Tidal or Qobuz, you’ll notice that although you get clarity with higher-res, you lose a little bit of that forward warm midrange. This seems to be the expected tradeoff when experimenting in this hobby. Typically, the more resolving the sound, the cooler it tends to be. Just how it is. And this is a reason why I actually prefer the 320 kbps files on Spotify over Tidal for some recordings.

Headphone Listening

Considering the transparency boost provided by PGGB, headphone enthusiasts stand to benefit significantly from upscaling. Through headphones, I discerned finer details and subtleties that a traditional 2-channel setup might not reveal as clearly, offering a “pure” sound free from the acoustic variables of a listening room. I listened to a variety of high-end headphones for this review. Each pair of headphones delivers a unique sonic signature, showcasing the diverse potential of PGGB.

Danacable Lazuli Reference Headphone Cable

I consistently choose the Danacable Lazuli Reference for all my headphones. This cable significantly enhances the listening experience, so be warned: it’s hard to return to stock cables once you’ve experienced it. It reveals a depth of texture, nuance, and dynamic range that breathes life into music, making performances like Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” emotionally charged and incredibly vivid. Having seen her perform live, I can attest that no other cable has come as close to replicating the natural tone of those experiences.

Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC

These headphones are one of the very few pieces of gear I’ve kept over the past 8 years. Some of you are surprised given that I gravitate towards a warming sound. But these headphones are so fun and gets me closest to feeling like I’m listening to loudspeakers. They’re incredibly smooth, resolving, and have unlimited bass for your noggin.

“9 Crimes” showcases PGGB’s ability to enhance the articulation of piano notes, making them more distinct and resonant. The low end never bleeds into the rest of the music. The improved clarity in the arrangement allows for a deeper emotional connection with the music. However, this precision comes with a trade-off, as Damien Rice’s soul-stirring vocals may lose a bit of their natural warmth. The original recording, while perhaps not as sonically precise, maintains a heartfelt intimacy that is central to its appeal. But it’s clear that PGGB gives you more of the impression that “they’re in the room” due to its unapologetic unveiling of everything.

In Diana Krall’s rendition of “A Case of You,” PGGB brings an expansive soundstage that places the listener right in the heart of the performance, with each note of the piano and brush of the snare drum gaining a newfound clarity. It sounds scary real during many parts of this recording. Yet, this brilliance can sometimes diminish the intimate ambiance that is a hallmark of Krall’s style. The original track, with its rich low-end and cohesive presentation, might not dissect the music as clinically but keeps the emotional and sonic warmth intact. But without the upscale, you lose refinement in the decay of reverberations. It’s flatter. That said, PGGB’s ability to just make the noise floor disappear in this recording is simply jaw-dropping.

Linkin Park’s “One More Light” under PGGB treatment becomes a study in sonic cleanliness and separation, where each element of the mix gains individual spotlight. This can illuminate hidden details in the music, providing a fresh perspective on a familiar track. Nonetheless, the original version, with its cohesive blend of vocals and instruments, conveys the poignant message of the song with a directness and warmth that can be somewhat diluted in the upscaled version. Again, it’s flatter and more blurred, but does exhibit more soul.

Thoughts with the Abyss Phi TC

Exploring the synergy between PGGB upscaling and the Abyss Phi TC headphones unveils a harmonious blend that leverages the headphones’ inherent strengths while mitigating their cooler tonal bias. The Abyss Phi TC, known for its expansive soundstage and technical prowess, finds a complementary partner in PGGB’s smoother, more controlled presentation.

Upscaled files retain the headphones’ dynamic and articulate nature, infusing tracks with enhanced dynamics, depth, and a touch of treble sparkle that elevates the listening experience. Particularly with tracks upscaled to 705.6/768 kHz, the improvement in vocal and instrumental definition is palpable, with sounds emerging more sculpted and isolated within a three-dimensional space. This pairing respects the Abyss Phi TC’s technical capabilities, enriching its already impressive imaging without detracting from its low-end authority, making it an enticing proposition for audiophiles who appreciate precision and detail.

What works for this headphone?

I believe a good balance for this headphone is to use the 352.8/384 kHz “warm” flavor. The transition from the original 44.1kHz files to PGGB’s 352.8/384 kHz warm upscaling reveals a transformative effect on the music, particularly evident in tracks like Eric Clapton’s “Layla,” where the guitar strings gain a lifelike presence against the backdrop of a deep, crystal-clear soundstage. While the original recordings carry a certain warmth and intimacy, they often appear flat and somewhat constrained in comparison. Lacking the dimensional depth and articulate separation that PGGB brings to the table.

However, it’s important to note the trade-offs involved; as the upscale moves towards 768 kHz, there’s a noticeable shift away from the original’s warm tonality towards a sound that’s tighter, cleaner, and more focused, albeit at the expense of some low-end punch and the “golden hue” that characterizes the 44.1kHz recordings. Again, for listeners who prioritize tonal richness and the emotional resonance of vocals, the original files might still hold appeal. Underscoring the subjective nature of this hobby and the importance of matching system characteristics to personal listening tastes.

Audeze LCD-5

With the Audeze LCD-5 headphones, the transition to higher resolution files via PGGB provides a remarkable enhancement in focus, clarity, and texture. All enveloped in a smoother auditory canvas. The upscale brings a palpable sense of quietness to the background, allowing each nuance and dynamic shift to stand out with pronounced articulation, making the music more gripping and engaging. However, while the technical improvements are undeniable, there remains a certain intangible warmth and ‘soul’ in the original recordings that seems diluted in the upscaled versions. This loss is most noticeable in the voices and instruments, which, despite gaining in precision, lose some of their raw, emotive heft that was present in the 44.1 kHz files. But then again, the 44.1 kHz files are mushier and less coherent.

Taylor Swift – Red (Taylor’s Version)

In exploring the upscaled version of Taylor Swift’s “Red (Taylor’s Version)” album, the difference between PGGB and the original file shifts noticeably across three distinct tracks, each embodying unique thematic elements. The chosen tracks for this comparison are “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)”, “I Knew You Were Trouble”, and “Begin Again”, offering a wider spectrum of emotional and musical diversity.

“All Too Well (10 Minute Version)”, known for its poignant narrative and emotional depth, gains an expansive soundstage and heightened clarity in its upscaled PGGB version, making each strum of the guitar and nuance in Taylor’s voice more pronounced. However, this increased transparency comes at the cost of the song’s inherent warmth and the raw, emotive undercurrent that the original 44.1 kHz file preserves. While the PGGB version excels in articulation, there’s a subtle retreat in the vocal warmth and a thinning of the low-end, which might distance some listeners from the track’s emotional core.

“I Knew You Were Trouble” presents a different scenario with its energetic pop production. The PGGB upscale injects this track with a vivid and holographic presentation, especially in the dense electronic segments, offering an exhilarating listening experience. However, the original file’s gritty, raw edge — aligned to the song’s rebellious spirit — becomes somewhat sanitized, trading the track’s rugged soul for a polished clarity that, while impressive, might not resonate with all listeners seeking the song’s original bite and punch. But this comes at the cost of pin-point imaging, molding, and a quieter background.

“Begin Again”, showcases the subtleties of acoustic instruments and tender vocals. The original 44.1 kHz version maintains the warmth and intimacy, offering a cozy, enveloping musical embrace. The upscaled versions, particularly the PGGB at 352.8 kHz warm flavor, find a middle ground, enhancing detail and spatial cues without losing too much of the track’s emotional warmth, making it a potentially satisfying compromise for those torn between fidelity and feel.

In summary…

The LCD-5 headphones themselves, known for their neutrality and laid-back presentation, present a conundrum in this high-resolution context. While the PGGB upscaled files inject a level of excitement and detail that might be missing in the headphone’s “native response,” they also highlight the LCD-5’s inherent relaxed and somewhat more mellow character. For some listeners, this might justify a desire for a more vibrant listening experience, potentially leading to considerations of switching to a different pair of headphones that naturally offer more punch and energy. For many, however, marrying PGGB and the Audeze LCD-5s might be the perfect balance of vivid without being overpowering. This juxtaposition of the Audeze LCD-5’s inherent sound signature with the detailed, quiet, and textured presentation of PGGB upscaled files presents a fascinating case study in how equipment synergy can profoundly influence the overall listening experience.

Meze Empyrean

The Meze Empyrean headphones, known for their lush warmth and comfort, undergo a notable transformation when paired with PGGB-upscaled files. While they may not match the sheer resolution of some competitors like the Audeze LCD-5 or Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC, the Empyreans gain a significant boost in clarity, focus, and separation from PGGB’s meticulous upscaling, making tracks like Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together” pop with newfound detail and spatial definition. This slight recalibration of their sound profile, with a marginal reduction in warmth and weight, might just be the nudge towards perfection that Meze Empyrean enthusiasts have been seeking. The balance struck here enhances the Empyrean’s inherent strengths, providing a more defined and quiet listening backdrop that retains the headphone’s musicality. All while injecting a dose of much needed precision.

In my experience, the combination of PGGB with the Meze Empyrean strikes a captivating harmony between warmth and clarity. While this pairing may not top the charts in resolution or dynamism, the listening experience is undeniably enriched by PGGB.

Thoughts on PGGB with Headphones

In essence, the choice between PGGB-upscaled tracks and their original versions is still personal preference. I think most audiophiles can appreciate what PGGB does – because the differences aren’t subtle. PGGB offers a window into the intricate fabric and layers of music. Presenting an analytical yet immersive listening experience. In contrast, original recordings preserve the warmth and emotional coherence that often resonate with listeners on a visceral level. Balancing these aspects is key to achieving the perfect sound. With PGGB serving as a fascinating alternative perspective on our beloved collection of albums.