CD Playing on Computer Sounds Better Than Tidal Streaming at 1411 KBPS from iPhone?
Apr 13, 2017 at 3:33 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 5

Jack71

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So am I imagining things? I've been using Tidal hi-res streaming from my iPhone at 1411 kbps lossless quality. Just for kicks, I decided to play a CD through my Sony laptop to see if I could hear a difference. I used the exact same DAC/Amp and headphones and went back and forth between the CD on the computer, and the hi-res streaming from the iPhone. I, of course, played the exact same songs.

The music coming from the CD playing on the laptop seemed fuller and punchier to me. It wasn't a night and day difference, but it was more than just slightly noticeable to me.

So, am I imagining things? Or is there a perfectly logical explanation for the differences that I'm hearing?
 
Apr 13, 2017 at 4:59 PM Post #2 of 5

Beyakusenn

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I don't think you are imagining things. If you used the same DAC/amp, it shouldn't matter whether it is your phone or your laptop, if it is exactly the same file, it should sound identical. However, it is possible that even if you play the same song, the audio is different on both files.
 
It most likely depends on the recording and mastering of the song. It might also be related to listening at slightly louder volume, which would give the impression of a larger soundstage, more detail, more punch and overall better quality. This however, is a fake sense of higher quality. The brain fools you to think the louder music is of higher quality, even if it is exactly the same file.
 
This perception of improved quality with more loudness is also what has influenced audio engineers to produce masters that are louder. There is a limit to the amplitude of the signals on digital media, so to make the record overall louder, the audio engineers soften or cut off the peaks and amplify the overall sound. This is dynamic range compression (not to be confused with audio format compression). This development that has been going on since the late 80's is now referred to as the 'loudness war'. By making the masters louder than the competitors, sales are generally better. However, the punch, dynamic range, detail and other aspects of the music are diminished and sometimes even largely lost in the process. Here is a simple explanation of the effect of the dynamic range compression:
 
A lot of music has been remastered and in many cases for the worse. Listening to different masters of the same song can make a large difference. One way to measure the compression is with the dynamic range of a song. you can get freeware to measure it yourself, or you can look up different masters in this (large, but incomplete) database: http://dr.loudness-war.info/
 
Apr 13, 2017 at 9:04 PM Post #3 of 5

Jack71

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Very interesting indeed. I forgot to mention and even at the same volume level on the DAC/Amp unit, the CD on the laptop started out louder than the streaming iPhone. But I think that is due to what I discovered next: while the volume on the iPhone was completely bypassed and had no effect on the music, the volume on the laptop still worked and affected the music in conjunction with the volume controls on the DAC/Amp. Perhaps the laptop was acting as a sort of preamp and that explains the fuller, punchier tone?
 
Apr 13, 2017 at 9:48 PM Post #4 of 5

buke9

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Very interesting indeed. I forgot to mention and even at the same volume level on the DAC/Amp unit, the CD on the laptop started out louder than the streaming iPhone. But I think that is due to what I discovered next: while the volume on the iPhone was completely bypassed and had no effect on the music, the volume on the laptop still worked and affected the music in conjunction with the volume controls on the DAC/Amp. Perhaps the laptop was acting as a sort of preamp and that explains the fuller, punchier tone?
I don't think any online streaming service will beat a cd as some compromises have to be made. The data has to be compressed and then reinflated so to speak and things can be lost there even though I think Tidal is very good at it. One thing I don't get is why you didn't try Tidal on your laptop to compare?
 
Apr 13, 2017 at 10:39 PM Post #5 of 5

castleofargh

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as @Beyakusenn explained, the cause might be diverse, and why not cumulative.
-loudness change
-different master
-different source that may not communicate with the DAC the same way(async, maybe the default resolution output is different...)
 
so you will have a hard time getting a definitive cause. now if you wish to simply confirm an audible difference, you can try to record  the output of the DAC with your sound card for a few songs and then listen to that, look at a peak meter, or look at the files in audacity.
 

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