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 Posted:   Jan 26, 2023 - 1:03 AM   
 By:   Nicolai P. Zwar   (Member)

My personal experience is NO CD = NO SALE
I have never and will never pay for a digital release of any kind music genre.


Well, when I started to seriously collect music, it was with LPs.

Then came the CD, a much better format with more options, so I embraced it when it came along.

Nowadays, modern technology like NAS systems with high-res/losslelss ALAC/FLAC files offer so many more possibilities than these old plastic discs, I embrace that too.

If newer technologies come along which offer benefits, I am always happy to leave the outdated stuff behind me.

For me, it's very liberating to leave the physical disc aspect of music behind, I don't need that at all.

I can think of many advantages of high-res/lossless files over CD, but not a single advantage of a CD over a high-res/lossless file. Unless, of course, you like to hold a plastic disc in your hands.

 
 Posted:   Jan 26, 2023 - 3:34 AM   
 By:   MusicMad   (Member)

I've been an avid CD collector since I was 10. Now at my almost 40 years old I've gather a very big collection ...

Being somewhat older I (as with many others) have a few years on you ... more years of collecting. As with Nicolai, I started with LPs, temporarily tried musicassettes (but did use home made cassettes for may years) and for a few years used both vinyl and CDs. My first CD purchase: John Barry's Somewhere in Time ... March 1986 ... one or two months before I bought a CD player!.

For years I marvelled at this new technology, so much better in sound reproduction, convenience ... even storage ... than the vinyl records I sought to replace. Of course, in those early years so few of those soundtrack albums were released on CD (even now we have postings about vinyl releases for which there is no legitimate CD).

And with better Hi-Fi the sound reproduction got better and better until i started to discern that not every release was as good as it could - and should - be. Which is why for years I replaced CDs which I'd bought to replace vinyl with newly remastered releases (often with a few extra minutes' music, of course).

And the big problem (apart from spending so much money) ... was that old problem: storage. For a while our living room looked like a second hand CD shop with plastic cases filling every shelf and stand. Moving them elsewhere in the house helped - it hid them away - and made them somewhat inaccessible, i.e. one problem solved, one problem created. And don't mention the dust those cases attract.

Another problem was identifying which CD I wanted ... a large number of those scores were non-English titles and reading spines, especially on the lower shelves, isn't that easy. Again, we've had many discussion threads on how collectors store their CDs, especially for those which carry more than one score ... worse still: more than one composer!

The possibility of making these discs redundant by ripping and streaming the music looked to be a way forward. It's not been straightforward ... and I do still buy CDs (I can't kick the addiction) ... but with a new Hi-Fi streamer (just 13mths ago) the music sounds better than ever. Yes, I spend many hours working on my music library to get it as I want it but I can sit anywhere in the house, open the app on any of several devices, select music various ways (e.g. by artist (album or track), by composer, by year, by genre ...) ... even play my music selection randomly ...

And, yes, these last 12 months I've been downloading albums, some of which are better-than-CD quality.

There may be further advances within my lifetime but I struggle to believe that unless I'm somehow prevented from using the present streaming set-up I'll opt to change again.

 
 Posted:   Jan 26, 2023 - 5:08 AM   
 By:   First Breath   (Member)

The few soundtracks I get each year are bought on CD (or LP). If there is a downolad I absolutely want, I burn it to CDR and put in on my shelf. I only have a physical collection.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 26, 2023 - 5:30 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

With a few exceptions, I mostly abandoned physical media years ago, and now mostly play my iTunes collection, plus some occasional Spotify and YouTube. But it was only temporary. My CD shelf of some 1000 items still fill up part of my wall, and I aim to play them again once I have my stereo system up and working properly. Also, down the line, if I get a bigger apartment, I will install the turntable that my dad gave me some 3-4 years ago, and play my 100-something vinyls as well. I've found it tempting to go "back to my roots" again that way.

But hey -- this is a topic that we've had a million times over the last decade or so, so I'm sure I'm saying the same thing all over again.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 26, 2023 - 5:33 AM   
 By:   Peter Greenhill   (Member)

I never play a CD now. I've either downloaded or ripped the disc to FLAC. So convenient to access anything in a few seconds and I enjoy making playlists of various composers.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 26, 2023 - 6:16 AM   
 By:   jkannry   (Member)

I went digital a few years ago. Maybe five years ago. At first I started buying CD copies of everything I got digitally and then just decided I would go totally digital wherever I can could. It’s a matter of space. Unless you have a big home, it’s hard to store a larger size collection. I am now looking at finally moving to binders, hopefully they can store the inserts, and putting the CDs in them. Certain treasure box that since it is, I might not move to that. Converting the whole collection digitals gonna take a lot of time. I can always get to what I want. I can always see everything I own. And I can play it anywhere. If only a CD is available, I will buy it, but I will upload it or rip it into iTunes.

 
 Posted:   Jan 26, 2023 - 6:48 AM   
 By:   Oscarilbo   (Member)

Nick's probably expecting me to jump in with my usual post about people not being able to hear the difference between "high rez" files vs. CD quality files from the same master, so here it is. Since my last post on the subject I've been double blind comparing high rez original files with CD quality down rez versions and so far no one has been able to tell the difference. Our tests are level matched and blinded so the listener does not know if they are listening to the high rez original or the down-rezed copy. So far the percentages of correct guesses have fallen in line with what you'd get from pure chance (ie, guessing).

So for me the value in high rez is that various companies are doing back and remastering old recordings so they sound better no matter whether it's high rez or not. If you "only" have CD quality don't fret; it's the quality of the original recording and the remastering that matters, not the format.

For reference I am testing on the following system:

Preamp / processor: Trinnov Altitude32

Source: Roon streaming direct through the Trinnov, files through Qobuz or via hard drive rips

Speakers: Revel Salon2 (the same speakers Dolby has in their Critical Standards Listening / Testing room

Amp: ATI Signature Series AT6003 (350 watts)

Headphones: Mark Levinson 5909


I respect that. In my case I actually didn't know the bitrate would make a difference at all. But after a bit while of listening through my well known headphones (and desktop stack) I started to realize there were characteristics I hadn't perceived before. So started to check and the difference from source and the only difference was the bitrate. Then started to compare with my well known cds and although its a minimal difference, it was there.

I don't know if I could notice it doing a quick A/B test, but I definitely noticed after I while. Again, its minimal but enough for me to be impressed and to prioritize High-Res files over HD Files. Could it be that 24Bit albums are actually re-remastered? Maybe, but I find improbable that all High Res albums bare a different master than their HD albums counterpart.

 
 Posted:   Jan 26, 2023 - 11:13 PM   
 By:   John Schuermann   (Member)

In my case I actually didn't know the bitrate would make a difference at all. But after a bit while of listening through my well known headphones (and desktop stack) I started to realize there were characteristics I hadn't perceived before. So started to check and the difference from source and the only difference was the bitrate. Then started to compare with my well known cds and although its a minimal difference, it was there.

I don't know if I could notice it doing a quick A/B test, but I definitely noticed after I while. Again, its minimal but enough for me to be impressed and to prioritize High-Res files over HD Files. Could it be that 24Bit albums are actually re-remastered? Maybe, but I find improbable that all High Res albums bare a different master than their HD albums counterpart.


Hey if you are enjoying the listening, more power to you! I would guess you are experiencing expectation bias, but hey, placebos can sometimes be effective medicine.

That's not meant to be condescending, as all of us fall prey to expectation and confirmation bias, me included. That's why I conduct the tests blind, to eliminate bias as much as possible. When doing the tests someone can listen as long or as little as they like, and switch when they like.

My problem is not with those who enjoy listening, it's with the manufacturers who make outrageous marketing claims that they can't support with evidence.

Fwiw I'm in the home theater business and it's against my business interest to say these things, because the profit margins on many of the products associated with high rez audio are HUGE (just like with high end speaker cables and other high end audio "tweaks"). I could make a lot more money if I went along with the marketing BS.

Some of my cynicism here is from my retail years during the 90s. I worked at one hifi retailer that would fire you if your sales of Monster Cable weren't high enough. I proved at a Saturday morning meeting that no one at the store could hear the difference between the Monster Cable and Radio Shack zip cord. I personally refused to make false claims to our customers. If someone wanted to buy the fancy cables as audio jewelry, hey, that's fine, but I wasn't going to promise anyone magical and non-existent benefits.

My favorite story about expectation bias comes from a sighted listening test I did between a cheap Pioneer receiver and a high end PrePro / amp combo. When I would switch back and forth I would say, "now this is the Pioneer, now this is the xxxxxxxx system." About a third of the people there literally SWORE they heard a big difference between the Pioneer and the high end gear.

The kicker? They were listening to the cheap Pioneer the whole time - I never switched them. Yet they swore they heard differences.

I've done lots of tests like this over the years, and it has demonstrated to me just how influenced our brains can be by price, brand, and marketing claims (among other things).

Fwiw the listening tests have revealed big audible differences in speakers, so for me, that's where $$$ are usually best invested.

Last point - yes, often the high rez version is taken from a different master, so that can explain a lot of audible differences. It's also true that some high rez releases are just upconverts of something that only exists as CD quality to begin with.

But at the end of the day it's really all about enjoying the music, right? And if your new experiences are bringing you new joy, that's all to the good smile

 
 Posted:   Jan 27, 2023 - 1:42 AM   
 By:   MusicMad   (Member)

I can't believe how lucky we CD enthusiasts are ... to think that 40+ years ago when Sony & Philips were developing the format for home use they agreed on a standard: 44.1kHz, 16-bit which they knew could never be bettered.

Most other things developed, produced and sold during the amazing 20th Century have seen modifications which result in improved consumer experience but to think: CDs from the start were and are the best listening experience we can achieve.

Many thanks for your advice, John, I won't waste my money buying the Hi-Res (in place of the CD quality) download anymore.

 
 Posted:   Jan 27, 2023 - 3:57 AM   
 By:   Nicolai P. Zwar   (Member)



Many thanks for your advice, John, I won't waste my money buying the Hi-Res (in place of the CD quality) download anymore.


It's ironically more expensive to buy 16bith/44.1kHz downloads than 24bit/192kHz downloads with a Qobuz subscription (as the high-res files are always on sale for subscribers), so that would be a bad deal for me. :-)

 
 Posted:   Jan 27, 2023 - 4:39 AM   
 By:   Nicolai P. Zwar   (Member)


Last point - yes, often the high rez version is taken from a different master, so that can explain a lot of audible differences. It's also true that some high rez releases are just upconverts of something that only exists as CD quality to begin with.


Both true, though since high-res files at Qobuz (with a subscription) cost often only half of what a CD would cost, I would nevertheless pick 24bit/96kHz over 16bit/44.1kHz.

Years ago, I did some comparative listening between MP3 and CD sound, and it was fairly easy to distinguish between those two. One interesting thing I noted back then was it was especially easy to notice the sound differences in chamber music or solo instrumental music, stuff like a well recorded string quartet or a piano sonata.

I haven't really done comparative listening between lossless/CD sound and high-res files myself. By and large though, the evidence indicates that these differences can be heard. (There is a lot of pseudo-science in many articles though.) Note: CD audio quality is excellent already. No one questions that. My entire music collection ranges from 16bit/44.1kHz CD to 24bit/192kHz; no lossy files like MP3s are "tolerated" on my home hifi NAS: smile

Even so, I did notice some high-res masters which sound better than their CD counterparts. Interestingly enough, I recently noticed that the high-res version of the 2013 remaster of Peter Gabriel's SO seems to sound better than the 20213 remaster on CD, which I found surprising. (I never much thought abouto pop/rock music benefiting from higher resolution music.) I have not done a in depth side-by-side comparison (let alone a blind test) to confirm that.

As we had in other discussions before, blind testing certainly helps to determine the relevance of high-resolution sound, but it can always only focus on one aspect. (Blind testing also would often lead people to pick "brickwalled" sound as an immediate preference, even though they would chose differently after prolonged and more intense listening sections.)

For a "lossless vs high-res" audio quality double blind test to have any useful validity, a few things should be assured.

First of all, only people who are already positiv that they can hear the difference should be tested. The majority of people was happy to leave CDs for 128kbps, for cryin' out loud. It's perfectly established that the majority of people neither cares for nor hears much difference in sound quality. No need to proof that. Yet some of the high-res vs lossless test seem to have more or less randomly chosen test persons. That's why many of these tests come to the conclusion that the "majority" of people won't hear the difference. Yep, but that's not news. No one questioned that. The majority of people don't spend $30,000.- on a pair of B&W 800D3 speakers either. So tests should concentrate on those who actually claim to hear the difference.

Secondly, the people tested should be familiar enough with the actual files they are going to listen to in a blind test. No need to go into a test without establishing for yourself first on your own terms that you can actually perceive a difference.
Hearing is a very complex issue. If you put someone in a new room with new speakers and new equipment listening to unfamiliar music files, it's not very relevant what the person hears.

Thirdly, depending on what you want to test, it must be a mix of downsampled files and commercially available files. For example, if you compare a 24bit/192kHz master of a music file to the downsampled file, you are testing the technology itself. However, that's just part of the story.
The other part of the story is testing commercially available 24bit/192kHz masters with the commercially available CD sound. If there are then differences there, obviously, it would still be the case for high-res downloads, because obviously, the only way to hear these masters would be to get and play the high-resolution audio files.

If you take these things into consideration, there is ample evidence that people can perceive the difference between CD sound and high-resolution files.

Last, (but not completely least): high-res files are a great argument against those who claim vinyl has "better" sound than CDs (because of perceived lack of resolution). Obviously, high-res files have a much higher resolution than CDs. How much resolution does one need? If people think 16x44.1kx2 isn't a high enough resolution, well, there is plenty more if one is so inclined. :-)

 
 Posted:   Jan 27, 2023 - 9:13 AM   
 By:   Oscarilbo   (Member)


Last point - yes, often the high rez version is taken from a different master, so that can explain a lot of audible differences. It's also true that some high rez releases are just upconverts of something that only exists as CD quality to begin with.


Both true, though since high-res files at Qobuz (with a subscription) cost often only half of what a CD would cost, I would nevertheless pick 24bit/96kHz over 16bit/44.1kHz.

Years ago, I did some comparative listening between MP3 and CD sound, and it was fairly easy to distinguish between those two. One interesting thing I noted back then was it was especially easy to notice the sound differences in chamber music or solo instrumental music, stuff like a well recorded string quartet or a piano sonata.

I haven't really done comparative listening between lossless/CD sound and high-res files myself. By and large though, the evidence indicates that these differences can be heard. (There is a lot of pseude-science in many articles though.) Note: CD audio quality is excellent already. No one questions that. My entire music collection ranges from 16bit/44.1kHz CD to 24bit/192kHz; no lossy files like MP3s are "tolerated" on my home hifi NAS: smile

Even so, I did notice some high-res masters which sound better than their CD counterparts. Interestingly enough, I recently noticed that the high-res version of the 2013 remaster of Peter Gabriel's SO seems to sound better than the 20213 remaster on CD, which I found surprising. (I never much thought abouto pop/rock music benefiting from higher resolution music.) I have not done a in depth side-by-side comparison (let alone a blind test) to confirm that.

As we had in other discussions before, blind testing certainly helps to determine the relevance of high-resolution sound, but it can always only focus on one aspect. (Blind testing also would often lead people to pick "brickwalled" sound as an immediate preference, even though they would chose differently after prolonged and more intense listening sections.)

For a "lossless vs high-res" audio quality double blind test to have any useful validity, a few things should be assured.

First of all, only people who are already positiv that they can hear the difference should be tested. The majority of people was happy to leave CDs for 128kbps, for cryin' out loud. It's perfectly established that the majority of people neither cares for nor hears much difference in sound quality. No need to proof that. Yet some of the high-res vs lossless test seem to have more or less randomly chosen test persons. That's why many of these tests come to the conclusion that the "majority" of people won't hear the difference. Yep, but that's not news. No one questioned that. The majority of people don't spend $30,000.- on a pair of B&W 800D3 speakers either. So tests should concentrate on those who actually claim to hear the difference.

Secondly, the people tested should be familiar enough with the actual files they are going to listen to in a blind test. No need to go into a test without establishing for yourself first on your own terms that you can actually perceive a difference.
Hearing is a very complex issue. If you put someone in a new room with new speakers and new equipment listening to unfamiliar music files, it's not very relevant what the person hears.

Thirdly, depending on what you want to test, it must be a mix of downsampled files and commercially available files. For example, if you compare a 24bit/192kHz master of a music file to the downsampled file, you are testing the technology itself. However, that's just part of the story.
The other part of the story is testing commercially available 24bit/192kHz masters with the commercially available CD sound. If there are then differences there, obviously, it would still be the case for high-res downloads, because obviously, the only way to hear these masters would be to get and play the high-resolution audio files.

If you take these things into consideration, there is ample evidence that people can perceive the difference between CD sound and high-resolution files.

Last, (but not completely least): high-res files are a great argument against those who claim vinyl has "better" sound than CDs (because of perceived lack of resolution). Obviously, high-res files have a much higher resolution than CDs. How much resolution does one need? If people think 16x44.1x2 isn't a high enough resolution, well, there is plenty more if one is so inclined. :-)


Agree. I mean, I known my equipment, I know my headphones and my music, so I was able to tell a difference. But again, is not like the difference between mp3 to flac/wav. Its more akin to de difference between HD movies to 4K movies. Not a lot but its there.

 
 Posted:   Jan 28, 2023 - 2:14 AM   
 By:   MusicMad   (Member)

Many thanks for your advice, John, I won't waste my money buying the Hi-Res (in place of the CD quality) download anymore.

It's ironically more expensive to buy 16bith/44.1kHz downloads than 24bit/192kHz downloads with a Qobuz subscription (as the high-res files are always on sale for subscribers), so that would be a bad deal for me. :-)


Thanks, Nicolai, but as I don't use Qobuz I wasn't aware of this. In case of any misunderstanding, perhaps I should have included a smile at the end of my post. Many, perhaps not all, of the Hi-Res downloads I have sound "better" than all the CD rips/downloads I have. However as I haven't replaced any of the latter format with their Hi-Res counterpart I can't state categorically that the SQ is improved (my assumption is that it would be).

Improved Hi-Fi has had the most significant effect for me such that recordings I've known for up to 50 years sound so much clearer, detailed and open. I won't pay a large premium for Hi-Res over CD quality but the Hi-Res is always the tempting choice.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 28, 2023 - 5:29 AM   
 By:   jkannry   (Member)

I've been an avid CD collector since I was 10. Now at my almost 40 years old I've gather a very big collection ...

Being somewhat older I (as with many others) have a few years on you ... more years of collecting. As with Nicolai, I started with LPs, temporarily tried musicassettes (but did use home made cassettes for may years) and for a few years used both vinyl and CDs. My first CD purchase: John Barry's Somewhere in Time ... March 1986 ... one or two months before I bought a CD player!.

For years I marvelled at this new technology, so much better in sound reproduction, convenience ... even storage ... than the vinyl records I sought to replace. Of course, in those early years so few of those soundtrack albums were released on CD (even now we have postings about vinyl releases for which there is no legitimate CD).

And with better Hi-Fi the sound reproduction got better and better until i started to discern that not every release was as good as it could - and should - be. Which is why for years I replaced CDs which I'd bought to replace vinyl with newly remastered releases (often with a few extra minutes' music, of course).

And the big problem (apart from spending so much money) ... was that old problem: storage. For a while our living room looked like a second hand CD shop with plastic cases filling every shelf and stand. Moving them elsewhere in the house helped - it hid them away - and made them somewhat inaccessible, i.e. one problem solved, one problem created. And don't mention the dust those cases attract.

Another problem was identifying which CD I wanted ... a large number of those scores were non-English titles and reading spines, especially on the lower shelves, isn't that easy. Again, we've had many discussion threads on how collectors store their CDs, especially for those which carry more than one score ... worse still: more than one composer!

The possibility of making these discs redundant by ripping and streaming the music looked to be a way forward. It's not been straightforward ... and I do still buy CDs (I can't kick the addiction) ... but with a new Hi-Fi streamer (just 13mths ago) the music sounds better than ever. Yes, I spend many hours working on my music library to get it as I want it but I can sit anywhere in the house, open the app on any of several devices, select music various ways (e.g. by artist (album or track), by composer, by year, by genre ...) ... even play my music selection randomly ...

And, yes, these last 12 months I've been downloading albums, some of which are better-than-CD quality.

There may be further advances within my lifetime but I struggle to believe that unless I'm somehow prevented from using the present streaming set-up I'll opt to change again.


This is so perfectly said. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Space and storage and access are major issues. These are bigger issues for me. More so than bit rate and which sound system.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 28, 2023 - 6:16 AM   
 By:   Phil567   (Member)

Just a general question...when a soundtrack is available both as a physical CD and a digital download, does the digital download version tend to be cheaper because there are no CD manufacturing or handling costs?

 
 Posted:   Jan 28, 2023 - 9:33 AM   
 By:   Nicolai P. Zwar   (Member)

Just a general question...when a soundtrack is available both as a physical CD and a digital download, does the digital download version tend to be cheaper because there are no CD manufacturing or handling costs?

It really depends, sometimes yes, sometimes no. While CD and handling costs are gone, permanent presence in various digital download scores also cost something.
Intrada's EXTREME PREJUDICE cost me €7.49 for the 24bit/96kHz download, it would have cost me somewhere close to €60.- if I ordered just that one (yeah, I know it's 2) CD from Intrada directly, so a lot cheaper when it comes to international shipping and handling and customs. Sometimes downloads are more expensive than the CDs (often times, I have snatched some classical box sets on CD that would have been more expensive as a download, but it has also happened the other way around).
When it comes to new soundtrack releases from specialty labels, CDs and downloads are generally priced roughly the same, but you save a lot of shipping and handling.
However, only a limited selection of Intrada, FSM, Quartet, La La Land etc. titles are released as digital downloads.

 
 Posted:   Jan 28, 2023 - 10:10 AM   
 By:   Traveling Matt   (Member)

But hey -- this is a topic that we've had a million times over the last decade or so, so I'm sure I'm saying the same thing all over again.

Yup. There's a new thread on this same topic at the beginning of every year on this board.

 
 Posted:   Jan 28, 2023 - 11:04 AM   
 By:   EdG   (Member)

My experience with hi-rez audio is similar to John's above and although I don't have a system as high end as his I've carefully chosen the equipment based on objectively tested quality so I'm satisfied with it.

I compared the CD release of SOLO by John Powell to the expanded digital download. It's a superb recording and although there is a slight measurable difference between the two releases it's at frequencies that are beyond the range of human hearing. To my ears (and I suspect to anyone old enough to afford a high end system) there was no difference. I use ALAC files.

I will continue to support our soundtrack labels that have done so much for us by purchasing their cd releases no matter what. For current films and for classical I'm 100% digital.

 
 Posted:   Jan 28, 2023 - 11:57 AM   
 By:   John Schuermann   (Member)

As we had in other discussions before, blind testing certainly helps to determine the relevance of high-resolution sound, but it can always only focus on one aspect. (Blind testing also would often lead people to pick "brickwalled" sound as an immediate preference, even though they would chose differently after prolonged and more intense listening sections.)

As always, Nick, enjoy our back and forths even when we disagree.

Here you are talking about differently mastered versions of a recording; I'm talking about identical recordings and masterings released at a variety of resolutions. My response was only intended to address claims of audible superiority of high rez versions over CD quality versions of identical sources.

The "brickwall vs. not" comparison would be very hard to set up, since how would you level match it? One could try and level match using overall sound energy, but a straight volume match would be impossible. And this test could be affected by listening environment as well. One of the other factors that led to dynamically compressed music was the fact that people are often listening in noisy environments, like their cars. I think just about everyone here has had the experience of riding the volume knob to bring up quiet sections of music in their car just to turn it down again when the whole orchestra is playing triple fortissimo.

For a "lossless vs high-res" audio quality double blind test to have any useful validity, a few things should be assured.

First of all, only people who are already positive that they can hear the difference should be tested.

I don't know about "only" testing those that are positive they hear a difference, but the tests I've been involved with almost always involve those who claim to hear differences. That's why the test exists as a challenge. It's usually the people making claims like "if you can't hear the difference you must be deaf" or "your equipment is just not revealing enough." Hence my product list from my previous post - I'm talking some serious high end gear here. FWIW, confirmation bias also exists in the reverse - people who are convinced there are no audible differences should be tested as well.

The majority of people was happy to leave CDs for 128kbps, for cryin' out loud.

With more modern, refined codecs it's getting harder and harder for people to hear the difference between 128kbps or lossless. There's a great blind online test here - be curious to know your results correctly picking lossless vs. lossy using modern codecs (will only take up between 5 and 30 minutes of your time):

https://abx.digitalfeed.net/list.html

It's perfectly established that the majority of people neither cares for nor hears much difference in sound quality. No need to proof that. Yet some of the high-res vs lossless test seem to have more or less randomly chosen test persons. That's why many of these tests come to the conclusion that the "majority" of people won't hear the difference. Yep, but that's not news. No one questioned that. The majority of people don't spend $30,000.- on a pair of B&W 800D3 speakers either. So tests should concentrate on those who actually claim to hear the difference.

I have two open challenges here - one is for people claiming to hear big differences in electronics and high rez recordings to test their claims. So obviously it's tilted toward those claiming to hear differences.

The other is for people to bring in speakers of any brand and at any price range and compare them level matched and blind with a Revel, Perlisten or JBL Synthesis model. Since Revel in particular was developed from the Canadian NRC program that correlated listener preference with speaker measurements (the speakers that have the most neutral response on and off axis are overwhelmingly preferred in level matched, controlled listening tests), we usually use those as the benchmark. So far we have never had a speaker beat a Revel during one of these tests, though a few have come close to tying.

(FYI, B&Ws have done pretty poorly in blind listening tests and it's easy to tell why by looking at the anechoic measurements - there is a mismatch between tweeter and midrange driver that results in a large suckout in the upper midrange, right where the human voice lives. That big gold midrange driver on a B&W is mostly a marketing decision - it's part of the "look" - that sadly diminishes performance. One can hear that frequency response and directivity deficiency very quickly when comparing to a speaker that does not have the same problem. Note too that the blind listening tests at the NRC and at Northridge have shown a NEGATIVE correlation between perceived sound quality and speaker cost when going over the $10K per pair price range.)

After doing these tests for literally decades, I have come to find that most people can't hear any differences between well executed electronics. Little to no audible differences have been shown for competently designed amps, DACs, CD / Blu-ray players, etc. On the other hand, there are big audible differences in speakers and the various room correction schemes. The trick to these listening tests is to precisely level match the components (to within .5 db or better) and blind the test.

You have a good point about listening duration. For the tests people can switch at leisure, listen as long or as short as they like. NOTE though, that our auditory memories are short. Floyd Toole's research has shown that our ear / brain combo adjusts itself to even bad sound after awhile, which is the same reason we can tell we are listening to the same person whether they are talking to us in an anechoic chamber or a gymnasium.

Secondly, the people tested should be familiar enough with the actual files they are going to listen to in a blind test. No need to go into a test without establishing for yourself first on your own terms that you can actually perceive a difference.

Are you familiar with Harman's "How to Listen" program? It's terrific - it screens people for normal hearing, and for how to perceive timbre, resonance, and frequency response issues. It's a pretty grueling course - if you pass successfully you can really start hearing and identifying issues in a very specific way (as in, "that speaker has a resonance right between 2500 and 3000 hz.") When Harman does double blind listening tests, they make sure at least one group has been tested after passing standard hearing tests and the "How to Listen" program. If you are interested, you might check it out here:

http://harmanhowtolisten.blogspot.com/2011/01/welcome-to-how-to-listen.html

It was developed by Dr. Sean Olive, who has become a friend of mine (you might Google him; he's one of the top audio researchers in the world, with many awards for his published and peer-reviewed work).

Hearing is a very complex issue. If you put someone in a new room with new speakers and new equipment listening to unfamiliar music files, it's not very relevant what the person hears.

Agree in general, though it's interesting that the published work shows that people will still pick the same speakers as being best no matter what the room acoustics or associated electronics (again, assuming competency in the electronics, defined as a product that delivers flat response from across the audible frequency range, has extremely low distortion, and behaves linearly). Have you read Dr. Floyd Toole's book, "Sound Reproduction"? It's literally the textbook for the AES (Audio Engineering Society) as well as the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association). It's a fascinating read - it covers all of this research in detail, but in a way that's accessible to the audio-familiar general reader. Floyd has even more awards and published papers than his colleague Sean Olive:

https://www.audioholics.com/room-acoustics/sound-reproduction

Thirdly, depending on what you want to test, it must be a mix of downsampled files and commercially available files. For example, if you compare a 24bit/192kHz master of a music file to the downsampled file, you are testing the technology itself. However, that's just part of the story.

The other part of the story is testing commercially available 24bit/192kHz masters with the commercially available CD sound. If there are then differences there, obviously, it would still be the case for high-res downloads, because obviously, the only way to hear these masters would be to get and play the high-resolution audio files.


For testing I (and others) have tried:

Comparing the high rez download to the CD (or CD quality version) of the same track. We make sure they are from the same master release.

Comparing the high rez download to a CD quality decimation of the track (sometimes I do this myself in Adobe Audition).

Comparing various versions in Qobuz. Qobuz will let you switch between various resolutions of the same release. Qobuz will also let you let the program itself decimate a high rez file down to CD quality by choosing this option manually.

I use Roon as the playback engine, because it maintains end to end bit and sample accuracy if connected to a Roon Ready device. The Trinnov processor I'm using IS a Roon Ready device.

If you take these things into consideration, there is ample evidence that people can perceive the difference between CD sound and high-resolution files.

Let's just say that my own experiences actually testing this hypothesis show the opposite. And the majority of legitimately credentialled audio researchers agree with me. Just check out Mark Waldrep, who invested millions in creating a top to bottom studio for recording the very best high rez recordings, only to come out the other side admitting people could not hear the difference between his flawlessly captured high rez recordings and a CD quality down-rez:

https://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=6921

I'd love to have you over for a controlled listening test! I think we'd have much to share and talk about smile

Last, (but not completely least): high-res files are a great argument against those who claim vinyl has "better" sound than CDs (because of perceived lack of resolution). Obviously, high-res files have a much higher resolution than CDs. How much resolution does one need? If people think 16x44.1kx2 isn't a high enough resolution, well, there is plenty more if one is so inclined. :-)

Here's where I have the biggest problems with the marketing materials around high rez. They totally misrepresent what is meant by resolution. High rez means:

Greater dynamic range (96 db for 16 bit CD quality vs. 144 db for 24 bit). I don't know of a single recording that contains even close to 96 db of dynamic range. The average pop recording contains about 10 - 20 db of dynamic range (excluding brickwalled recordings that have even less). Classical recordings (analyzed by Yamaha) contain about 32 db of dynamic range. If a recording did have 96 db of dynamic range, it would essentially have the sound of a mosquito buzzing at its quietest point, and a jet engine as its loudest point. Not only would such a recording be incredibly jarring to listen to, it would wreck most audio systems.

Working on film mixes I get to hear the actual set recorded sound and also recorded foley fx. With the original tracks you sometimes get those huge dynamic changes, and trust me, you don't want those in the final mix. Very few speakers can handle them (the JBL M2 Reference Monitor comes to mind) and amplifiers are usually clipping when trying to reproduce them.

Expanded Frequency Response Here it gets really silly, because we are talking about reproducing frequencies we can't even hear. Yeah, some high end audiophiles make claims that we magically perceive them in other ways - yet not only can they never demonstrate the truth of this claim, they cannot even come up with an explanation how this could possibly work without breaking the laws of physics.

Where the marketing material on high rez gets really silly is when they bring in the "stairstep" pictures and show more "resolution points" on the waveform. But the truth is, as soon as you get enough points of data to properly draw the waveform, you are DONE. Extra points that add no new information are just worthless. It's kinda like talking about a high resolution square. All you need to accurately reproduce a square is four data points. Having a whole bunch of extra "resolution" to fill in the lines between the four corner points is redundant. For the same reason, the original Redbook standard was created to get us to as much frequency response and dynamic range as we could reasonably perceive without wasting bandwidth on inaudible "resolution."

Last point before I conclude this novel smile

Last night I spent some time listening to some Atmos remixes of favorite recordings. Some of those were absolutely sublime! (Some were awful too, but that's the way it goes with all things.) Now with multichannel you literally can hear more detail and sense of space between instruments because you have more channels to reproduce them with.

When I do home theater demos here I always include some multichannel music. People are usually astounded at the experience. IMO, that's where the future is - not with high resolution two channel.

Now here I will conclude by saying some nice things about high resolution audio. It HAS resulted in some stunning remasters of recordings that desperately needed them. It has also resulted in going back to the original multi-tracks and putting them back together using modern technology and monitors. And some of these multi-tracks were repurposed to create the immersive mixes I was praising earlier.

So, IMO, high-rez has been overall a win, just not for the reasons touted in so many marketing materials.



 
 Posted:   Jan 28, 2023 - 12:31 PM   
 By:   John Schuermann   (Member)

Thought those who are interested in how much of a variable the actual recording is in listening tests. This is from an exchange I recently had with Dr. Floyd Toole, who has literally done the most research in this area:

"Recordings are enormously variable, so what makes a good one? Here we must distinguish between a good "demo" recording and a revealing "test" recording. Years of listening to "audiophile" recordings tell me that most are in the "demo" category, increasing the probability of impressing listeners in spite of flawed loudspeakers. Isolated clear voices with simple accompaniments are always included. From our observations over the years voices and solo instruments are not very revealing of timbral problems. We learned much later that bass quantity and quality account for about 30% of an overall subjective sound quality rating, so recordings with good bass extension are useful, and dense orchestration with some reverberation (real or artificial) assist in revealing coloration due to resonances. Much to our dismay, the classical repertoire did not distinguish itself, but pop/rock with high production values did.

Listeners could not possibly know what such studio recordings should sound like, so how could they make reliable, repeatable ratings of sound quality. It was not because they were recognizing excellence. It seems most probable that they were responding to unnatural "foreign" sounding contributions to the recordings, by far the most common one being acoustical and mechanical resonances in the loudspeakers. By this reckoning, the "best" sound was in fact the "least bad" sound. "Perfection", “resolution”, “accuracy”, and the like, are revealed when audible colorations are attenuated. In our multiple-comparison double-blind listening tests the colorations in the loudspeakers were quickly recognizable as separate from the timbral content of the program. This was confirmed in measurements, with the currently standardized "spinorama" being a presentation capable of describing enough of the sound arriving at a listening position to be able to calculate a trustworthy prediction of subjective ratings. Timbral neutrality, it seems, is a necessary starting point for loudspeaker design.

In short, use a “test” recording because when they do not reveal audible problems they reveal a rich collection of highly enjoyable timbral elements.

Many people don’t realize that the entire stereo soundstage is anchored by hard-panned, essentially monophonic, left and right images - the loudspeakers themselves. In movies, arguably the most important sound comes from the center loudspeaker; in many movies much of the on-screen action is supported only by center-channel monophonic sound. In stereo, ALL phantom images between L & R loudspeakers are created by double-mono signals; the same sound from both speakers. The double-mono sounds generate acoustical interference (crosstalk resulting from both ears receiving sounds from both loudspeakers) which is most severe for the center image, ironically the featured artist of the recording. Amplitude and phase (i.e. waveform) integrity are not possible in the sounds arriving at the ears (fortunately phase only matters with respect to L/R channel similarity). Thoughts of technical “purity” need to be abandoned and replaced by notions of just being entertained - if it sounds “good” it is “good”.

Stereo is a two-channel record/playback system; it is NOT an encode/decode system. There are no rigid rules guiding how sounds are captured by microphones, how they are electronically processed, and how they are combined (mixed) into a final master recording with or without added synthesized spatial illusions. These are subjective decisions made by recording engineers and musicians while listening to “unknown” loudspeakers in “unknown” listening spaces - the basis for the “circle of confusion”.

Sound image placement across the soundstage is the result of interchannel time or amplitude differences generated by pan-pots, coincident directional mics, or spaced mics. All else generates poorly-correlated “spaciousness”. All of this is under the guidance of the recording engineer - it is an artificial artistic creation and the recording is the dominant factor, not the loudspeakers. If a listener happens to like a particular rendering of “soundstage and imaging” it is nice, but there is nothing to ensure that it will be a regular occurrence. Recordings are not consistent. I have gone into Tidal, selected a movement of a classical piece, and listened to many different recordings of the same music. The differences in sound quality and spatial rendering are huge! Some present a small and distant perspective. Others are close up and “HiFi”. Some are, in my judgment, quite natural, realistic in perspective. A few are just dreadful; muddy, colored, almost mono. It is an education. Popular recordings are likewise variable - even a few old fashioned L, C, R and not much else. It is art. There are no rules."

 
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