AudioPraise VanityPRO HDMI audio extractor

The increasing prominence of Blu-ray explains why a device to extract audio from an HDMI stream has become necessary. At first, Blu-ray players had HDMI outputs for video and audio, but to speed their adoption, they also sported analog audio outputs to help users who had older AV receivers (AVRs). Bye the bye, those audio outputs were pared off. First, the multichannel jacks, then the stereo jacks, and finally the S/PDIF jacks were eliminated. In parallel, dedicated SACD players began to disappear, except at the very high end. The result: Most players, including so-called universal disc players that handle CD, DVD, Blu-ray, and often SACD, output only HDMI.

If you want to get audio out, HDMI is the only way. Those of us who want to play discs on our dedicated audio systems, few of which are compatible with HDMI, have long sought out breakout boxes to extract audio from the HDMI stream. Those legacy players with other outputs won't last forever.

HDMI audio extractors aren't new, but most are cheesy gadgets targeted at users of older, non-HDMI AVRs and they rarely support lossless multichannel. The AudioPraise VanityPRO ($1595) is different. It comes from two companies, AudioPraise and JVB Digital, with long histories of high-end audio and video modifications. Some readers will know them best as the source of boards to modify Oppo disc players so that they output multichannel digital. The VanityPRO was developed to extract a digital audio signal from the HDMI stream and optimize it for playback on a high-quality audio system. Once the audio data are freed from the constraints of HDMI, there are many things you can do.

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The AudioPraise VanityPRO comes in several versions. The version I auditioned was fitted with an output module with four AES3 (XLR) stereo outputs that support up to eight channels of audio. This multichannel version is also available with four electrical S/PDIF outputs with either RCA or BNC connectors. The version with the stereo output module, which costs the same, comes with AES3, S/PDIF over RCA, and TosLink-one of each. Unless you anticipate needing that kind of output versatility, it makes sense to buy one of the multichannel versions, since, with a stereo source, two-channel audio is output through the first digital output. But of course, you can't do multichannel with the stereo version.

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All four versions have a single HDMI 2.0a input and a single HDMI 2.0a output. The output is Audio Return Channel (ARC) compatible (footnote 1).

The HDMI and audio data sections of the VanityPRO are powered separately, each with its own power supply. The two sections are said to be galvanically isolated. You can buy the VanityPRO without power supplies (supply your own) or with any of three that add between $55 and $65 to the price. The VanityPRO is sold online at jvbdigital.com with free shipping and a 14-day home trial.

In the May 2020 issue of Stereophile, I reviewed the GeerFab Audio D.BOB digital breakout box, which can extract the DSD stream from an SACD player and output it as DoP. The VanityPRO can do that, too-but it can also convert the stream to PCM via processes that significantly reduce signal jitter and noise. An AudioPraise white paper describes the issues, the signal processing, and the results, with traditional and newer methods of jitter testing. They do not state so explicitly, but AudioPraise implies that their approach is superior to simply packing the DSD data into a DoP package. At the very least, it obviates the need for a DSD-capable DAC while also allowing downstream DSP.

Setting up the VanityPRO will be simple for anyone who has ever hooked up a DAC or installed a disc player with HDMI output. The manual is brief, but it covers everything you need to know clearly. I simply connected an HDMI cable from the output of my Oppo UDP-105 to the input of the VanityPRO and another from the output of the VanityPRO to my video monitor. Then

I connected an XLR cable from the AES3 output of the VanityPRO to an input on my Okto dac8 PRO or, alternately, the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+. Since the VanityPRO isolates its HDMI circuitry from its audio circuitry, I connected the two mini power supplies provided to the two power inputs on the VanityPRO.

The VanityPRO in Action
The VanityPRO display screens offer rich information and a rich set of options. The Home screen shows the format of the incoming data (PCM or DSD), its sampling rate, bit resolution, run/stop status, number of channels and-the most useful bit-the status of the HDMI input and output. The Audio Setup screen offers interesting DSD-to-PCM choices including output sampling rate (88.2, 176.4), bit resolution (16, 24), conversion filters (footnote 2), PCM/DSD level matching, DoP output, DSD 4.0 Downmix (about which, more in a moment), and Output Volume. These two screens get the most facetime.

The System Setup screen has options for Extended Display Identification (EDID) mirroring, screen brightness, screen timeout, LED brightness, and On/Off for the clocks. It's basically set-and-forget. The remaining screens-HDMI AV Info, Audio Meters, and System Status-are rich with information but will get little facetime except from techies, obsessives, and the constitutionally curious.

The VanityPRO offers several options for processing and outputting the extracted audio. Let's begin with the simplest and progress to the more complex and interesting.

Extracting DSD and outputting DoP
I began with the Oppo playing an SACD, sending stereo DSD via HDMI to the VanityPRO; the VanityPRO was sending it out to the Mytek as DoP. Operation was flawless, and the sound was similar to that coming from the analog outputs of the Oppo. I saw no evidence that the VanityPRO was doing anything to the datastream other than packaging it inside a DoP carrier. The Mytek's sound (via the VanityPRO) was at least as good as the Oppo's direct from disc.

The less-expensive GeerFab Audio D.BOB can do this, too. But the VanityPro can do more.

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Extracting DSD or PCM and outputting PCM
I navigated back to the Audio Setup screen, turned off DoP, and replayed the same SACDs I used for the DoP test. Now the Mytek showed PCM 24/176.4 as the data format instead of DSD64. I had also invoked the VanityPRO's option to match PCM and DoP output levels by attenuating the PCM by 3dB, so I was able to make fair A/B comparisons between the two. I had the consistent feeling that the PCM output was clearer, more articulate, and a bit more dynamic. That's just the sort of impression one might get if there were a slight level imbalance in favor of the PCM, but there wasn't; I checked.

Moreover, with PCM data (from DVD, DVD-A or Blu-ray discs), both HD and non-HD Dolby Digital and dts played at their native bitrates and benefited from the DACs in the Mytek or the Okto dac8, a distinct advantage that the Oppo's analog outputs. The VanityPRO does not support any compressed formats, lossless or lossy, so the disc player must be set for PCM output.

Extracting DSD or PCM, DSP and playback
That's not all the VanityPRO can do, assuming you have the necessary associated equipment. The AES3 output (and the S/PDIF outputs if you get the stereo version) can be connected to a PC-based audio processor for DSP and other operations. After it has been processed, it can then be output in real time or stored.

I connected the VanityPRO to an AES3 input of my Okto dac8 and used its USB connection to pipe the stream into JRiver running on my Baetis server. JRiver's output was directed, by USB, back out to the Mytek; it could have been directed to any endpoint or player, connected directly or by LAN. One could also run it the other way, the Mytek sending PCM data to JRiver and its output going to the Okto or another DAC, although I did not try this. What I did do was to run this option with both input and output routed through the Okto in its "AES/USB" mode.

This is the most exciting application for the VanityPRO. It offers the opportunity to apply DSP, channel-level adjustments, active crossovers, and room correction while playing discs, without redundant D/A–A/D conversion. It's a pleasure to run DiracLive—to balance channels and compensate for room acoustics-not just with files but also while playing discs. Very cool.

Multichannel
Now for the icing on the cake: The VanityPRO can do all of the above in up to 8 (as in 7.1) channels! As stated in the Specifications sidebar, the VanityPRO I received (upon my request) has four stereo AES3 outputs, which I can feed into the similar inputs on the Okto dac8 Pro. A miniDSP U-DIO8 or a stack of Brooklyn DAC+s would do as well. For the latter, the VanityPRO offers clock outputs that can be daisy-chained through the Brooklyns to keep all the low-jitter signals in synch.

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For some time now, I have been auditioning new discs with the Oppo's multichannel RCA outputs feeding my otherwise balanced system without DSP, to decide if I want to rip them for my library. I could appreciate them in their full, DSP'd glory only after they're ripped. With the AudioPraise VanityPRO, I can now enjoy the full advantages of DSP without ripping first.

Finally: The VanityPRO includes yet another feature that will be welcomed by quad fans: an option to properly downmix 5.1 DSD to 4.0, a task that eludes many AVRs.

Simple conclusion
In stereo or multichannel, the VanityPRO turns your disc player into a transport and enhances the quality of the output from all discs, including CDs, DVDs, DVD-As, Blu-rays, BD-As, and SACDs. Did I miss anything?


Footnote 1: Support for eARC is supposed to be forthcoming, which will permit connection directly to a smart TV.

Footnote 2: Sharp High Bandwidth, Slow High Bandwidth, Sharp Low Bandwidth, Slow Low Bandwidth. All explained and illustrated with recommendations in the manual.

COMPANY INFO
Audiopraise s.r.o.
S distributor: JVB Digital USA
Grosse Ile, MI 48138
(734) 307-7184
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
RH's picture

"The increasing prominence of Blu-ray explains why a device to extract audio from an HDMI stream has become necessary"

^^^ I had to double check the date of this review when I read that opening line :-)

But, there's always a (ever diminishing) niche to serve, so good on this company for serving it.

Jack L's picture

Hi

The Sony Blu-ray WiFi universal player I got from Best Buy come with RCA S/PDIF coaxial output for audio besides HDMI. So with my 24bit192KHz DAC, I can stream in any musical performances with decent stereo sound thru my rig.

Simple & neat.

Jack L

Kal Rubinson's picture

Yup. Some may S/PDIF still and that's great if stereo is sufficient for you.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Yes, I believe only stereo can reproduce music closest to live.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Sal1950's picture

That's just silly.
When equal quality gear is used for either, multich reproduction can go miles beyond stereo in reproducing a live event.
A simple 5.1 rig can deliver 3 times the musical information of a 2ch one. The math doesn't lie.
You need to put together a SOTA multich system and experience it for yourself. It's not about movies, it's all about the music. Come out of the stone age. ;)

Kevin M.'s picture

I respect those who like stereo. I used to be one of those people too. I agree with you that once I was able to have multi-channel at the same level as my stereo, I love it. I've had a few universal player with multi-channel outs but they were not able match the best stereo players or stand alone dacs.

Now, I'm able to use high quality external dacs, and get superb sound. I"m truly impressed by this product. Before this, in my mind, multi-channel audio always meant some sort of degradation. Not so with this product with my external dacs.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Another innocent "victim" of audio marketing !! How much your hard-earned money already gone to the 5.1 rig vendor's vault. YOU are not alone, pal

It reminds me JVC CD4 (Compatible Discrete 4 channels) which was jointly invented by RCA & JVC in 1971 but folded up in 1979 for good. Since CD4 required special-built phono cartridge with special-shaped stylus: Quadra-Point or Shibata. So quite a few brandname catridge makers, like Ortofon, Audio-Technica invested big bucks to go into the then 'revolutionary' quartraphonic market.

Who knew such new 1970 4-channel invention would die in a few years so soon !
How much money wasted in such audio venture by JVC/RCA, CD-4 LP makers, 4-channel home electronics makers, vendors who stocked up tons of equipment for the then new 4-channel market & tons of innocent audio consumers who stocked up CD-4 LPs & home rig ??? Astronomical !!!!!!!

Only God knew this CD-4 "Titanic" went under in a few years !

Would 5.1 & its upgrade version: 7.1 Blu-ray & Digital Cinema follow the same destiny of its precedent ?? Let.s see !

5.1 first commercially used in the movie "Tommy" 50 years back in 1975.
Now after half a century, do we see anything very exciting to learn about 5.1 ? Sorry, I don't.

Right, " A simple 5.1 rig can deliver 3 times the musical information of a 2ch one. The math doesn't lie."

So what? Back in 1971, JVC/RCA CD-4 also told the whole world its CD-4 coded LPs can deliver up to 45KHz - much much more information than any stereo. Yet the owner of 4channel.com commented: : "CD-4 4-channel is a real JOKE !".

FYI, I worked at Best Buy for many years as a part-timer while retaining my electrical power engineering day job. I heard enough 5.1 - 7.1 digital surround sound demonstration in my stores. I never like it as the music sounds too man-made ARTIFICIAL, nothing like live performance in a concert hall !

5.1/7.1 are synthetic music primarily used in movies to make it sound overwhelmingly "supernatural" in the cinema. Go for it & spend big bucks on it.

FYI, HD Vinyl, a space-aged stereo digital development is just around the corner which will reportedly enhance stereo music to much higher level. I look forward to it, bigtime.

Listening to live stereo is believing

Jack L

Kal Rubinson's picture

Whew! Sounds like you have been burned in past and can't let go. Sorry.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Sorry. I've never liked & ever used any multi-channel synthesized music - way way too artificial !!

Listening to live stereo is believing

Jack L

PS: no vendor can so easily take my money as I am well ahead the audio game. Knowlege saves !

Kal Rubinson's picture
Quote:

Sorry. I've never liked & ever used any multi-channel synthesized music - way way too artificial !!

I've never liked & do not use any multi-channel synthesized music - way too artificial !!!

I use and enjoy only discretely and directly recorded multichanel music. It is entirely different from any synthetic product.

Jack L's picture

Hi

That's great. So you are more priliveged than many may Joe Blows out there, including yours truly.

I wish I could enjoy discrete multi-channel live musical performances in any concert hall.

Please tell us which concert hall(s) already got discrete multi-channel
performances. I think I should go there !

Listening live stereo is believing

Jack L

Kal Rubinson's picture

Funny. You took my meaning to be that the performances themselves were multichannel when I meant that the multichannel recordings were made at a live performance in real time (with or without an audience) and not synthesized or constructed in the studio. While my wording was ambiguous enough to permit that, it is really no more so than your mantra "Listening live stereo is believing."

There are many sites that offer downloads of "live performances" in stereo and in multichannel, so that the actual performance and conditions are the same. (For example, most recordings by Channel Classics are made that way.) The only difference is the number of channels and, if you had access to a suitable system, you could compare stereo vs. multichannel fairly and to your own satisfaction.

You might still prefer stereo, many do. There are many possible reasons but personal preference cannot be denied.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Glad you get my humour on your being somewhat "ambiguous" in yr multi-channel music.

Having worked in a major recording equipment supply store for a few years when I was young young, selling Neumann, AKG, Beyer mics etc etc, to recording studios, I know very well recording of any multi-channel live performances got to be done in a large studio behind closed door.

My question is: where you get discrete multi-channel amplifiers ? Special order from some specialist suppliers ?

Fully agreed; "There are many possible reasons but personal preference cannot be denied."

Should I have offended your goodself, I hereby apologize considering I am a nutty die-hard stereo analogue guy.

Jack L

Kal Rubinson's picture
Quote:

Having worked in a major recording equipment supply store for a few years when I was young young, selling Neumann, AKG, Beyer mics etc etc, to recording studios, I know very well recording of any multi-channel live performances got to be done in a large studio behind closed door.

Perhaps, at the time, that was the case for pop/rock but no longer and certainly not for jazz/classical. In fact, even large venue events (e.g., in stadiums) can be well captured today.

Quote:

My question is: where you get discrete multi-channel amplifiers ? Special order from some specialist suppliers ?

Not necessary. I use multiple mono and stereo power amps, each situated close to the speaker it drives. The real issue, imho, is to circumvent the use of HT AVRs (although that is changing, too) and to use high quality components. I do this by using a software player (Jriver or Roon) to play files that I have ripped from discs or downloaded. The software's host streamer feeds quality multichannel DACs. It can also be implemented to play from a disc player with the AudioPraise VanityPro (just to get this thread back on topic).

Quote:

Should I have offended your goodself, I hereby apologize considering I am a nutty die-hard stereo analogue guy.

I was not offended at all, merely challenged to respond as the nutty die-hard multichannel digital guy that I am.

Sal1950's picture

Silly Again
CD4? Why do you want to discuss a 50 year old obsolete tech, another completely silly line of thought. How about going back another 50 to Mono 78's, they also failed in the face of more modern advanced technology. The Mono LP (long playing record) brought a media that offered a near 30 minute playing time per side that gained prominence in the very early 1950's A wonderful consumer tech that later brought the Stereo LP to homes around the world in the early 1960s.
Time marches on and we progressed from Stereo to various quad multich LP systems. Now for the last 2+ decades we've had the incredible high resolution SACD, DVD-A, and BluRay-Audio storage medias. Some capable of up to 16 channels of object based or discrete music.
If you prefer to remain stuck in the ancient history of music reproduction, feel free. Just remember your Stereo LP is about as relevant for SOTA music reproduction today, as a 1920's 78 was in 1959, time marches on.
Your choice.

Jack L's picture

Hi

YOU "silly again" ! Vinyl marches on !!

I repeat what I told you: HD Vinyl invented in Austria, backed with multi-milliion-dollar funds, is around the corner in vinyl mastering cutting.

HD Vinyl : - HD = High Dynamic - High Definition - Highly Deserved. Stick your head out of yr multi-channel music box to see at the real analogue world, pal.

My question to YOU: you still want to believe your ONE pair of ears can differentiate up to 16-channel music DISCRETELY after spending big big bucks to own multi-channel amps & loudspeakers to reproduce it ????

I would assume your listening venue were spacious enough to house the multi-channel rigs & to allow multi-channel music DISCRETELY go to your ears without unavoidable soundwaves reflection & deflection.

Get real !! Free free to get "silly again" !

Listening to live stereo is believing

Jack L

MatthewT's picture

Will you be playing these vaporware HD records wet as you do with your other records?

Jack L's picture

Hi

Bear with my ignorance. What is "vaporware" to do with HD Vinyl ?

I do NOT find HD Vinyl from the current list of "vaporware" ? Your unproven allegation or imagination, pal ?

I always play WET my 1,000+ stereo LPs with probably the purest liquid on this planet (my purity meter reads 0 ppm vs bottled "pure" water which reads 150ppm & tape water 155ppm) since day one many years back.

Wet play with 100% pure agent makes music sounds soooo much more fluid & livelike. I never want to play dry again for pure sonic reason.

To crush the myth hearsay of wet play damaging any vinyl & the phono cartridges, I do not find any sound deteriation even if I play my wet-played LPs dry. No damage to my MC & MM cartridges both of Japanese origin after so many years of wet play.

To answer yr question: wet play of HD vinyl LPs, I don't know until I get one HD vinyl LP made with HD Vinyl laser cut stamper.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Kal Rubinson's picture

Then, for you, it is sufficient.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Why not. When one got a charming wife at home, should he still be hanging out?

I am no movie fan, so multi-channel movie audios (or home theatre) is redundant for me. I would surely spend the movie hours on my vinyl & digital (for convenience), considering I am still working a 40-hour day job.

Many yr readers may be home theatre fans, but not yours truly !

Listening is believing

Jack L

Kal Rubinson's picture
Quote:

Many yr readers may be home theatre fans, but not yours truly !

You are way off base. This has little to do with home theater and a lot to do with BluRay-Audio and other multichannel music. And if you don't care, that's OK but why do you need to rant?

singingg's picture

Someday my Esoteric DV 50 universal player (pre-BluRay, USB, HDMI) may die. In such case these extractors make sense to get all formats to a DAC. I am well beyond the bits-are-bits stage. You use your legacy Oppo to review this product. The only UPlayers that currently work with this Vanity unit are Sony, and Reavon. Could they possibly sound the same as your Oppo?

Kevin M.'s picture

I'm using three Theta Gen VIII dacs with the Vanity Pro. I have had the Oppo players and a six-channel analog preamp. This with my dacs is capable of sound quality beyond the Oppo players as great of a bargain as they were.

Kevin M.'s picture

You can use a PC. I use a HTPC running Jriver and Dirac live with this device. The HTPC is connected to the Vanity Pro via HDMI. My unit has BNC connections which connect to my dacs.

Kal Rubinson's picture
Quote:

The only UPlayers that currently work with this Vanity unit are Sony, and Reavon.

Nope. Any BD player will. My old Samsung did.

Quote:

Could they possibly sound the same as your Oppo?

Probably.

singingg's picture

Thanks Kal. I am grateful of your experience. I should have said that the only UPlayers that are currently on the market that play DVD-Audio and SACD are made by Sony and Reavon. Are there others?

So, regarding transports, bits-are-bits. Just get a bit-perfect stream to the extractor and all will sound the same?

Kal Rubinson's picture

I do not know if there are others or not.

If you can assume "a bit-perfect stream," then, yes, bits-are-bits. I think the VanityPro makes a good case for that.

T.S. Gnu's picture

There’s a bit of ambiguity that might be helped with some clarification.

“The VanityPRO was developed to extract a digital audio signal from the HDMI stream and optimize it for playback on a high-quality audio system.”
What do you mean by “optimize?” And what do you mean by:
"it can also convert the stream to PCM via processes that significantly reduce signal jitter and noise." And “ AudioPraise implies that their approach is superior to simply packing the DSD data into a DoP package.”

It appears that you are either quoting or repackaging marketing/pseudomarketing material from the manufacturer, because you later write:
“I saw no evidence that the VanityPRO was doing anything to the datastream other than packaging it inside a DoP carrier.”

Are you basically saying, extremely tactfully, that you didn’t see any evidence of the manufacturer’s claims, especially with the current comment I am replying to? A little clarity and a clearer staking out of your position would be extremely helpful.

I see the biggest advantage being that “The AES3 output (and the S/PDIF outputs if you get the stereo version) can be connected to a PC-based audio processor for DSP and other operations. After it has been processed, it can then be output in real time or stored.“.This is really what makes this device a good purchase, without giving voice to, what seems upon closer reading, baseless claims of “optimizing” the audio…especially when you write that it merely appears to be format/protocol shifting the audio and outputting a bit-perfect signal. Promoting/propagating dubious claims actually undermines the otherwise excellent capabilities of the product and detracts from in other respects a rather excellent review.

Regards

Kal Rubinson's picture
Quote:

It appears that you are either quoting or repackaging marketing/pseudomarketing material from the manufacturer, because you later write: “I saw no evidence that the VanityPRO was doing anything to the datastream other than packaging it inside a DoP carrier.”

First, when I said that "AudioPraise implies......" I was clearly taking it from the manufacturer.
However, the distinction they make (and I should have made more explicit) is that this is in reference to the difference between their DoP option and their preferred option of DSD extraction and conversion to PCM with reclocking. This reclocking at the native PCM bitrate is the "optimization" referred to and something not applicable to the DoP output.

JRT's picture

This is just a thank you for another interesting article and review, in the interest of promoting and encouraging more, toward tipping the balance more toward modern digital audio playback systems and subject matter.

Trevor_Bartram's picture

I'm hard of hearing. With my Sony AVR I'm able to customize the speaker sound to improve speech intelligibility (5.1 surround on but surround speakers disconnected, subwoofer on but disconnected and front speaker size set to small) but on the headphone output (that I use a lot) no such customization is possible. It would be simple to implement via the AVR settings menu and cost very little but apparently no AVR provides the capability. Rant over!

Kal Rubinson's picture

Those are limitations of your particular Sony AVR but not all pre/pros and AVRs are so limited.

rex's picture

2 channel audio is so dependent on Room, Room Dynamics, Speaker Positioning and that's before you start the fun part of picking your componentry. 5.2 audio muddies the audio waters with computer
algorithm twiddle, sound engineer twiddle on top of all the normal audio twiddle.

If you think that your 200,000 evolutionary year old homo sapient brain is
inferior at recognizing time delay and surface reverberations, then Kal twiddle away.
I'll stick with my inherited hearing and that's coming from a 5.2 cinema lover.

Kal Rubinson's picture
Quote:

2 channel audio is so dependent on Room, Room Dynamics, Speaker Positioning and that's before you start the fun part of picking your componentry. 5.2 audio muddies the audio waters with computer
algorithm twiddle, sound engineer twiddle on top of all the normal audio twiddle.

The above reminds me of the following quote from a mid-1960s letter to Stereophile, originally published in Vol. No. 4:

"Sirs: I say that stereo is a first class fake and the biggest fraud ever put out by American Mfr. I have never found anyone who knows audio engineering or music that did not agree with this. All those who disagree just don't know enough to know the truth or they are liars engaged in selling stereo equipment. The only reason that most people have gone for stereo is that they have not had time, and will not take the time to get all the facts, so they are victims of advertising, the biggest con game in the world, and I am not so sure that they don't deserve what they get."

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