The people who take the time to do a controlled, line level matched direct A/B comparison of file formats (which I've done) overwhelmingly find that high bitrate lossy sounds just as good as any lossless format, even high bitrate lossless. The people who swear they hear a difference are generally those who have just done informal listening and have the impression that lossless sounds better. This impression disappears when they do a controlled test for themselves.
I see that you have 9,360 posts and that you are in Hollywood. So it's entirely possibly that you have been close to audio for a very long time and I give deference to you. I am quite certain you know more about audio technology than I. Formats, sources, mastering, algorithms...
However, ....It's still your ears and "peoples" ears... A/B Xing music and expressing an "opinion". That's as subjective as it gets.
Steak vs chops. Coke v Pepsi. Ride quality of a Lexus. Sennheiser HD650 vs. HiFiman HE 500
The whole discussion is 70 parts subjectivity and 30 parts serendipity. Has anything authoritative been published? It's subjectivity, not science?
My opinion, I believe I can hear a difference, and if I wasn't absolutly blown away by HD Tracks I wouldn't pay more, wait for 100Mb files to download, transfer music file to my server import them using Amarra, use an outboard DAC and connect it to a tube amp.
I also believe I can see the difference between a print from a 500K jpeg image and one from 12MB RAW file. Why? There's more to see. That's why books are printed Hi-Res. Web site images are edited HiRes and converted to Low-Res for speed and portability. Quality vs Practicality. Still, it's subjective. Eyes to brain... Ear to brain.
You brought up a good point with adjusted line levels. I noticed a significant difference in the volume between albums on HD Tracks. Jr.Wells might be soft and Cat Stevens loud. That makes sense to me. Different engineers, different setup, different source levels. Yet for me iTunes recordings almost never require volume adjustments between albums.. why not iTunes? Is this my imagination? Could be.
Perhaps iTunes music has been sanitized for my protection. Is Apple pouring Welches grape juice into a Bordeaux and selling it in little boxes? Still a subjective statement.
A big By The Way. Straight from HD Tracks web site FAQ:
320kbps MP3's are compatible with most players on the market, including iTunes, Windows Media Player, Winamp, Media Monkey, and Songbird. We recommend that you use this format if you are not sure what to choose, or you do not have a lot of space on your hard drive. 320kbps MP3's are compatible with most players on the market, including iTunes, Windows Media Player, Winamp, Media Monkey, and Songbird. We recommend that you use this format if you are not sure what to choose, or you do not have a lot of space on your hard drive.