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Hi res....no audible difference?

post #1 of 42
Thread Starter 

Hi all,

         I'm a newbie to the sound science section (say that 10x fast...lol)and I had a question. Well, more of a request for other peoples opinions (which, I hear are plentiful here on Head-Fi). I have been interested in Hires downloads for a while. I don't have much experience with them, (just a few freebies from HD Tracks) nor do I have an external DAC (yet). I do have some decent headphones/IEMs.

 

While I was reading over in http://www.soundandvision.com/content/hra-masses in the comment section, I read someone quoting this article: http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=14195 which basically says a double blind test show no audible difference between hi res audio & standard (44.1-kHz/16-bit ) at "normal to loud listening levels".

 

Then, John Sciacca (from S&V Magazine) quoted something else from the above article:

“Virtually all of the SACD and DVD-A recordings sounded better than most CDs—sometimes much better.” This has been attributed to “engineers and producers being given the freedom to produce recordings that sound as good as they can make them, without having to compress or equalize the signal to suit lesser systems and casual listening conditions. These recordings seem to have been made with great care and manifest affection, by engineers trying to please themselves and their peers.”

 

I was kind of floored by these statements. I posted this over on Inner Fidelity, but I haven't received a reply.

 

So my question is, are the high res files so many people love really better than standard quality CDs?

 

If they are better, are they better because of superior sound engineering, or the higher bit-rate?

 

Does anybody else have any experience with a double blind test? It seems that's the only way to really measure these things.

 

I'd really enjoy hearing other people's feedback. 

 

Thanks

post #2 of 42

There's an ABX comparator plugin for the foobar2000 music player:

http://www.foobar2000.org/components/view/foo_abx

 

and similar tools elsewhere. That way, you can have the computer administer a blind test so you can hear for yourself.

 

 

Generally, high-res releases or different releases in general may be mastered differently and sound better, so the bottom line is that it may be worth getting them, regardless of whether or not any sound quality improvement can be attributed to the difference in format itself. If you want to compare the formats, take a high-res file, convert it down to 16/44.1 or similar, and (optionally) convert it back up. Then run ABX between the original and the processed file that went through 16/44.1. In the case you don't reliably hear a difference then, the format isn't seeming to matter. In the case you do, it might either be the format or some artifact of the conversion process.

 

(personally, I don't hear a difference when tested, and that seems to be the case for most. note that most claiming to hear differences aren't subjecting themselves to blind testing, for whatever reasons)


Edited by mikeaj - 4/8/14 at 8:12am
post #3 of 42

*

 

To illustrate the point of how different masters could sound drastically different.  Attached is a Jpop song which I obtained from two sources - one which I purchased from e-onkyo (which sells songs in hi-res wav and FLAC format) and the other is the same song from the CD which I ripped myself (so no dodgy sources).  The songs are viewed in Audacity and without me even telling you which is the "hi-res" one there's already one striking difference which you can visually see - the one at the bottom with massive red sections is Audacity highlighting sections of the waveform where clipping occurs.  And if I throw them into Dynamic Range Meter the top one gets about 8db worth of dynamic range whereas the bottom one only has about 5db worth of dynamic range.  No prizes for pointing out which sounds better nor which one is the "hi-res" one.  

 

However one must be careful to avoid falling into the trap that this is all thanks to a superior format - which it isn't - as there really is no reason why songs cannot be mixed on CDs which are freed from being mixed too hot and too dynamically compressed.  So part of what John Sciacca said actually has some truth in it I believe - that the "superior sounding" is a result of the engineers taking a greater care, rather than because the format itself is superior.

post #4 of 42
In my job, I once had access to a 24/96 ProTools workstation. I took high bit rate sound and bounced it down to redbook and compared the two. Try as I might, I couldn't tell any difference.

If mastering of music was up to scratch, there would be no need for high bit rate audio for home listening. A great example of that is the famously great sounding RCA Living Stereo releases. They were beautifully remastered and released on SACD to great reviews. A few years later, they took the same remasters from the individual sacd releases and put them in a big bargain priced CD box set... The CDs sounded *exactly* the same as the SACDs.

Was there a need to pay five times as much to get the same recording and mastering on SACD? Nope.
post #5 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by nanaholic View Post
 

Attached is a Jpop song which I obtained from two sources - one which I purchased from e-onkyo (which sells songs in hi-res wav and FLAC format) and the other is the same song from the CD which I ripped myself (so no dodgy sources).  

 

How do you like the e-onkyo site?  I've been thinking of picking up the high rez First Love remaster, but thought it was only available on the Sony site.  Are they DRM free FLAC files?  Would rather not beholden to some proprietary player or whatnot.

 

Best,

 

-Jason

post #6 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by bigshot View Post

In my job, I once had access to a 24/96 ProTools workstation. I took high bit rate sound and bounced it down to redbook and compared the two. Try as I might, I couldn't tell any difference.

If mastering of music was up to scratch, there would be no need for high bit rate audio for home listening. A great example of that is the famously great sounding RCA Living Stereo releases. They were beautifully remastered and released on SACD to great reviews. A few years later, they took the same remasters from the individual sacd releases and put them in a big bargain priced CD box set... The CDs sounded *exactly* the same as the SACDs.

Was there a need to pay five times as much to get the same recording and mastering on SACD? Nope.

 

The SACD's were for critical listeners and music buffs who can hear the difference.

post #7 of 42

Possibly audible if there's artifacts when bringing the mix to 16-bit.

 

16-bit has theoretical limitations versus 24-bit (i.e. 48dB of dynamic range), but virtually no practical limitations.

 

The former format encompasses 96dB of dynamic range. The widest dynamic range demonstrated in a recording over the past few decades has been less than 90dB. The most dynamic orchestral/opera pieces in specialized concert halls will obtain about 60dB of dynamic range.

 

24-bit confers no benefits to frequency response or distortion. In digital audio, 24-bit recording will lower the noise floor versus 16-bit but this is of dubious value since the ambient noise of any recording environment is at least 25dB greater than the established noise floor of 16-bit to begin with.

 

In other words recording engineers have the ability to produce recordings of the exact same practical quality as 24-bit SACD masters within the Redbook format. 16-bit imposes no real limitations in of itself.

 

Artificially engineering flaws and defects into the Redbook master would be an interesting theory, especially with the release of some controversial 24-bit hullabaloo around the corner (e.g. Pono). To that point I find @nanaholic's findings very interesting...


Edited by 3X0 - 4/8/14 at 5:10pm
post #8 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by Beagle View Post
 

 

The SACD's were for critical listeners and music buffs who THINK they can hear the difference.

 

Fixed it for you. I have both the SACDs and the CD box sets. They sound identical except for the fact that some of the SACDs have a third center channel.

post #9 of 42
Quote:

Originally Posted by 3X0 View Post

 

recording engineers have the ability to produce recordings of the exact same practical quality as 24-bit SACD masters within the Redbook format. 16-bit imposes no real limitations in of itself.

 

That's a bingo.

 

It's no great trick to bounce a recording down from 24/96 to redbook without artifacting. It's done with just about every recording nowadays. The Living Stereo recordings sound great, but that is because the quality of the engineers who oversaw the miking, mixing and mastering, not the particular digital format of shiny silver disk you buy it on.


Edited by bigshot - 4/8/14 at 6:04pm
post #10 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
 

 

Fixed it for you. I have both the SACDs and the CD box sets. They sound identical except for the fact that some of the SACDs have a third center channel.

 

The fact that you state there is no difference proves that there is  :p

post #11 of 42

And the fact that you are posting here proves that you've been banned from that other thread in the headphone forum. Go outside and soak up some sunshine. It would do wonders for your personality.

post #12 of 42

Sunshine...10:00 pm...LOL!

post #13 of 42

Then go out and howl at the moon, Mr Beagle.

post #14 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by jjcha View Post

 

How do you like the e-onkyo site?  I've been thinking of picking up the high rez First Love remaster, but thought it was only available on the Sony site.  Are they DRM free FLAC files?  Would rather not beholden to some proprietary player or whatnot.

 

Best,

 

-Jason

 



They sell their songs in wav and FLAC format - so no DRM. There's also no requirement to mandate the installation of a proprietary download app (although you can install one) and no region/Credit Card/IP filtering that I know of either (I've tried purchasing both from physically inside and physically outside of Japan, no using of internet magic like VPNs, using non-Japanese credit cards) which can't be said of most music sites where they prevent you from purchasing if you don't live in the country (eg iTunes). If you can navigate the Japanese only site then I don't see any downside to their site as it pretty much ticks all my "truly worldwide internet content business" checkboxes.
post #15 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by 3X0 View Post

Artificially engineering flaws and defects into the Redbook master would be an interesting theory, especially with the release of some controversial 24-bit hullabaloo around the corner (e.g. Pono). To that point I find @nanaholic's findings very interesting...


 



I wouldn't be so quick to assign malice and would still give them the benefit of doubt due to the well-known history of the loudness war and "mixing to the audience" seems like a plausible explanation. I don't doubt that the engineers were asked to mix it louder (or just keep it to the settings they were used to) because these general CDs which people buy would be played on "inferior" protable devices, cheap tinny speakers, radios or similar broadcasts where such deficiancies aren't as noticable and that the believe that most layman prefers a punchier song is still prevalent so they have to mix it hot. However I AM afraid that this may become the trend where they do it on purpose (or even make it worse) to push for re-purchasing of hi-res downloads.
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