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Why 1-Bit Sigma-Delta Conversion is Unsuitable for High-Quality Applications

Why 1-Bit Sigma-Delta Conversion is Unsuitable for High-Quality Applications

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Audio Engineering Society
Convention Paper 5395
Presented at the 110th Convention2001 May 12–15 Amsterdam, The Netherlands
This convention paper has been reproduced from the author’s advance manuscript, without editing, corrections, or considerationby the Review Board. The AES takes no responsibility for the contents. Additional papers may be obtained by sending request and remittance to Audio Engineering Society, 60 East 42
Street, New York, New York 10165-2520, USA; also see www.aes.org. All rights reserved. Reproduction of this paper, or any portion thereof, is not permitted without direct permission from the
 Journal of the Audio Engineering Society.
Why 1-Bit Sigma-Delta Conversion is Unsuitablefor High-Quality Applications
byStanley P. Lipshitz and John VanderkooyAudio Research Group, University of WaterlooWaterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1, Canada
Single-stage, 1-bit sigma-delta converters are in principle imperfectible. We prove this fact. The reason, simplystated, is that, when properly dithered, they are in constant overload. Prevention of overload allows only partialdithering to be performed. The consequence is that distortion, limit cycles, instability, and noise modulation cannever be totally avoided. We demonstrate these effects, and using coherent averaging techniques, are able to displaythe consequent profusion of nonlinear artefacts which are usually hidden in the noise floor. Recording, editing,storage, or conversion systems using single-stage, 1-bit sigma-delta modulators, are thus inimical to audio of thehighest quality. In contrast, multi-bit sigma-delta converters, which output linear PCM code, are in principleinfinitely perfectible. (Here, multi-bit refers to at least two bits in the converter.) They can be properly dithered soas to guarantee the absence of all distortion, limit cycles, and noise modulation. The audio industry is misguided if it adopts 1-bit sigma-delta conversion as the basis for any high-quality processing, archiving, or distribution formatto replace multi-bit, linear PCM.
This paper is an enlarged and extended version of [1], and itsfindings regarding 1-bit sigma-delta modulators are explored ingreater detail in an associated paper [2].In the past twenty or so years we have seen the multi-bit convertertechnology used in professional and consumer equipment progressfrom 14, through 16 and 18, to 20 or more bits of resolution. Indeed,the 16-bit linear PCM format became enshrined in the CD standard,and was the basis of most digital audio storage devices for manyyears. All analogue-to-digital and digital-to-analogue conversionsand intermediate digital signal processing steps were performed inthe linear, multi-bit PCM format, using internal processing word-lengths greater than the desired final numerical precision. Oneprimary benefit of this format is the fact that such systems can berendered completely linear, with infinite resolution below the leastsignificant bit (LSB), by the adoption of proper dithering at eachquantizing, or (in the case of editing and signal processing) at eachrequantizing, stage. Such dithering, with the optimal triangularprobability density function (TPDF) dither, in principle completely
15 2
eliminates all distortion, noise modulation, and other signal-dependent artefacts, leaving a storage system with a constant, signal-independent, and hence benign noise floor (see [3] and [4]). This isnow well understood, and such practices have been the norm in theindustry for over a decade. In practice, of course, no actual analoguerealization can achieve this theoretical perfection, but in the digitaldomain the departure from perfection can indeed be zero due to thenumerical precision of the arithmetical operations involved.In recent years, we have seen the consumer audio industry perform aremarkable feat of salesmanship by proclaiming that 1-bit convertersare better than multi-bit converters, and succeeding in marketing 1-bit products as preferable for the highest-quality performance. Theoriginal primary motivation for pursuing the 1-bit converterarchitecture was not superior performance, but rather the fact that itis cheaper to manufacture, consumes less power, and can operatewell at the voltages used in battery-powered portable equipment.This has now become secondary, as 1-bit converters are currentlyused in consumer audio equipment at all price and quality levels.The manufacturers of high-quality converters struggled mightily toproduce 1-bit devices that met the performance goals of the industry.But, they could never eliminate all the undesirable artefacts of suchconverters, and after more than a decade of trying, they came to therealization that they could produce better performance by using
converter architectures in their products. The one inherentadvantage of the 1-bit architecture, namely its avoidance of the level-matching difficulties found in multi-bit converters, turned out not tobe as significant a benefit as one might have thought. If oneexamines the current data-sheets of all the major high-qualityconverter manufacturers, one finds that they have almost universallygiven up on the 1-bit sigma-delta topology in favor of oversamplingconverters using more than two levels. Such converter architecturescan avoid the intractabilities of both the 1-bit and the 20+ -bitdesigns. They can be properly dithered, and can thus be guaranteedto be free of low-level, limit-cycle oscillations (“birdies”).Moreover, they do not suffer from the high-level instability problemsof the higher-order, 1-bit sigma-delta converters.In light of the above, it is with alarm that we note the adoption of thesingle-stage, 1-bit sigma-delta converter architecture as the encodingstandard for a next-generation (and supposedly higher-quality)consumer digital audio format. We refer, of course, to the DirectStream Digital (DSD)
encoding which forms the basis of the SuperAudio CD
format introduced recently by Philips and Sony (see, forexample, [5] and [6]). The original intention to have the digital audiodata at every stage of the processing — from the original analogue-to-digital conversion, through all the editing and masteringoperations — stored in the DSD 1-bit format has apparently nowbeen abandoned. This was a wise decision. The conversion to thefinal 1-bit DSD format, however, still represents a required, and quiteunnecessary, degradation of the quality of the audio signal. Everysingle 1-bit data conversion entails an inevitable loss of signal qualityin a way which need not occur with multi-bit, linear PCM. Theoriginal rationale for storing a 1-bit DSD format signal on the SuperAudio CD has now entirely vanished. The analogue-to digital anddigital-to-analogue conversions, and all intermediate digital signalprocessing, will likely be done using multi-bit converters and storageformats. There really is no point in degrading the signal, bysqueezing it onto a 1-bit Super Audio CD for transmission to theconsumer, only to have it converted back to multi-bit PCM in theprocess of being played back. We shall now explain our reasoning indetail.
1, 2
Trademarks of Philips Electronics NV and Sony Electronics Inc.
In a normal multi-bit digital audio system, the intention is that thequantizer (
, essentially the number system) is never deliberatelydriven into saturation. Because one has enough levels available,avoiding saturation is not a significant problem in practice.Moreover, there is no problem in devoting a few LSBs of headroomto ensuring that quantization errors are properly dithered. In straightlinear PCM encoding, the proper (
, TPDF) dither spans preciselytwo LSBs. For example, in a straight 16-bit system, the ditheroccupies only two out of the 65,536 levels available. This causes anegligible reduction in system headroom in return for all theacknowledged benefits of properly-dithered signal manipulation. If one wishes to reduce the data word-length used, one can recover thelost signal-to-noise ratio by a combination of oversampling and noiseshaping. Alternatively, one can increase the system’s signal-to-noiseratio by the use of oversampling and/or noise shaping, while leavingthe word-length unchanged. Noise shaping allows one to increasethe signal-to-noise ratio in the audio band at the expense of decreasing it at frequencies above the audio band. One can even use
noise shaping without oversampling to significantly increasethe perceived signal-to-noise ratio (see [7] and [8]). As long as thequantizer inside the noise shaper does not saturate, and is properlydithered, one is guaranteed that this process is completelytransparent, in that it is totally distortion free.Noise shaping entails negative
error feedback 
around the quantizer.In a noise shaper, a filter H(z) is used to spectrally shape thequantization error E. Fig. 1 shows the architecture of a simpledithered noise-shaping quantizer.
Figure 1
. Simple dithered noise-shaping quantizer.In this diagram, X is the input signal, N is the dither, W is the totalinput to the quantizer Q, and Y is the output signal. The quantizationerror E is extracted around the dithered quantizer (which can bemulti-bit or single-bit), and subtracted from the input after passingthrough the noise-shaping filter H(z). H(z) can be either recursive ornon-recursive. This is the error feedback loop. The signal in thisloop is very small as long as the quantizer does not overload. Thedither N controls the statistics of the error signal E such that, withTPDF dither, E has zero mean, constant variance, and a constantwhite power spectral density, independent of the input signal —indeed, E is then uncorrelated with X. This means that there is nodistortion or noise modulation (see [3] and [4]). In addition, thenegative feedback loop is stable as long as there is no overload, andthis is easily achieved with a multi-bit quantizer Q. The theory of such dithered noise shapers can be found in [7], [8], and [9] forexample. In a sampled-data realization, the z-transforms of the input,X(z), output, Y(z), and error, E(z), are related byY(z) = X(z) + {1 – H(z)}
15 3
The signal thus passes through the system unchanged, and thequantization error E(z) appears at the output shaped by the effectivenoise-transfer function {1 –
H(z)}, to become the system
s total error{1
E(z). Proper TPDF dither N controls the statisticalproperties and power spectrum of the error signal E, and hencecontrols the power spectrum of the shaped output error {1
E(z). For stable operation, and the least possible noise for agiven noise-shaping curve, the equivalent noise-shaping filter {1
 H(z)} must be minimum phase. Of course, for computability, H(z)must incorporate at least a single sample delay.It should be noted that, in the absence of proper dither in Fig. 1, thecircuit exhibits not only the expected signal-dependent quantizationdistortions and noise modulations, but also low-level limit-cycleoscillations, because of the nonlinearity Q within the feedback loop.These
are input dc-offset dependent, and are frequencymodulated by the audio signal. They can be quite pernicious andaudible, and are an artefact of undithered noise shapers in general,but are
eliminated by proper dithering. We shall considerquantizers Q(W) of the mid-riser type shown in Fig. 2, since thischaracteristic is most appropriate for the 1-bit case, which we shallshortly be considering.
Figure 2.
Mid-riser quantization characteristic adopted.In Fig. 2, the size of the LSB is represented by
, so that thequantized output levels are
 /2, etc. In an N-bitquantizer, there are 2
levels (
, LSBs). In a 1-bit quantizer,however, there are
the two indicated central levels present,namely
 /2.At this point one should note a couple of very important facts:1) If the
input W to the quantizer always lies in the range
, no additional output levels beyond
 /2 will be calledupon, and a 1-bit quantizer will behave just like a multi-bit one.Under these conditions, the full theory of dithered multi-bitquantizers can be applied to deduce the system
s behaviour. If W lies outside this range, however, the 1-bit quantizeroverloads (
, saturates), and the multi-bit theory breaks down.2) The noise-shaper circuit of Fig. 1 is functionally
 equivalent to the single-stage sigma-delta converter, whichforms the heart of the DSD 1-bit encoder of the Super AudioCD. Simple circuit transformations allow one to convert theone configuration into the other. This is exhibited in Fig. 3,which shows in (a) the most general noise-shaper topology, andin (b) its equivalent sigma-delta form. In contradistinction tothe error feedback of the noise-shaper topology (a), theequivalent sigma-delta topology (b) could be said to representstraight
negative feedback 
. (To obtain the most-frequently usedsigma-delta structure, where the filtering is done solely in theforward path, we set F
1, and the forward-path filter thenbecomes {G/(1
G)}.) The advantage of looking at the circuitas a noise-shaper is that it is easier to understand than thesigma-delta circuit. Moreover, the error signal E is explicitlyavailable in the former topology, but is implicit in the latter.We shall use the basic noise shaper circuit of Fig. 1 for theexperiments to follow. Everything we have to say about thenoise shaper thus applies equally to the corresponding sigma-delta converter under the transformation shown in Fig. 3. If thelatter has enough bits so that it does not overload when properlydithered, it can thus in principle be perfect. That it
 misbehave when it has only two levels is what we want toprove.
Figure 3.
Showing the general equivalence of the noise-shaper (a)and sigma-delta (b) topologies.We claim that a 1-bit sigma-delta converter
overload whenproperly dithered. This follows at once, since the TPDF dither N,which is needed to fully linearize the quantizer, itself swings thequantizer
s input W over its full no-overload range of 
. This isillustrated in Fig. 2. To obtain the total quantizer input W, we mustadd to N both the input signal X and the fed back error signal {
HE}(see Fig. 1). Now, the dither samples are statistically independent of the other signals in the loop, and so clearly the quantizer
s total inputW
to produce overload, and its consequences
distortion, noisemodulation, and instability
if there is any input or feedback. Onemight think that one could maintain most of the benefits whilepreventing the overload caused by using full TPDF dither, by usingonly partial dithering and/or a reduced maximum input signal level.This is true. But, reduction in the maximum signal level isundesirable because of its direct impact on the signal-to-noise ratio;

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