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Hi-Res Albums vs. Mastered for iTunes (or Apple Digital Master) Albums - Which is Better??!

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by RockStar2005, Dec 5, 2017.
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  1. RockStar2005
    It's 2017, and Hi-Res albums are getting more and more popular all the time. I've compared them to my mp3s and CDs, and I can say that like 90-95% of the time I can tell a difference (esp vs. mp3). Over the last few years I've accumulated a pretty extensive collection of Hi-Res albums, which has made listening to music (both old and new) a lot more exciting than it ever was before (although having much nicer HPs and amp/DACs has made a significant impact on the sound as well!). 24/96, 24/192, even DSD albums..........I've bought them all!

    But I keep noticing this "Mastered for iTunes" thing coming up, so I did some reading on it. It sounds really interesting, but my purpose in starting this thread is to try and get people who have purchased albums (especially the SAME album or singles) in BOTH formats to come forward with their thoughts on the matter. I want to hear which version of that album sounded better to you, or if they perhaps sounded the same??! Mastered for iTunes albums are less expensive than their Hi-Res counterparts, so if they do sound the same or "as good" as Hi-Res, then perhaps I should look into them more?

    Before replying, please understand that I DO NOT believe that a 24/96 or 24/192 Hi-Res albums sounds ANY different if you downsample it (the same album) down to something like 320 kbps AAC. Statistics have shown that people can't tell the difference, and my own experience with doing ABX Tests brought me to the same conclusion. So whether you downsample your Hi-Res albums as I do (usually to 320-512 kbps AAC) or not is irrelevant to me. I just want to know how the MFiT albums sound vs. the SAME album released in Hi-Res to you.
  2. Dobrescu George
    Sadly, I can hear the differences between FLAC and MP3 - no idea about AAC.

    As for which is better, it heavily depends on the band.
    RockStar2005 likes this.
  3. RockStar2005
    There's NOTHING sad about that! That just means you have incredible hearing!

    I can hear a difference typically b/t mp3 and FLAC (and even mp3 vs. AAC), but I am just wondering what people think about Hi-Res vs. MFiT, which based on the reading in the link above, actually BEGIN as 24-bit albums which the studios submit to Apple to being being MFiT. So the key item there is that they both start out as 24-bit. But what I REALLLLYY wanna know is, is Apple getting the SAME 24-bit master for MFiT as one would get when buying the same album in Hi-Res? If they sound the same to people on here with great hearing or listening skills, then it's likely they ARE getting the same master. Since studios typically reserve the BEST sounding master for 24-bit/Hi-Res release, it's quite possible they are the same, which would be awesome!

    I'd say like 99% of the time, I can't tell a difference b/t a 24/96 and 24/192 album. They are supposed to get different masters, but I don't they do, 99% of the time. I think they just typically are mastered at different "resolution rates" (for lack of a more proper term). There was only ONE time I could hear a difference b/t a 24/96 and a 24/192 album (Beach Boys), but other than that, I never have. And I can't really say the difference was worth the extra money, esp if it's so rare anyway.
  4. castleofargh Contributor
    mastered for itune is basically telling you they get money from the song and that if something is clipped, it was an "artistic" decision as it's a lot less likely to come from inter sample clipping thanks to mastered for itune's guidelines.
    beyond that, there is no guaranty of anything at all concerning the original mix used. which is also the case for most highres album TBH. in the actual business model we get sold a final number and we have to assume that somehow it's representative of a resolution from the start. which of course is silly given how even modern ADCs don't really have 24bit of resolution.

    and it's the same problem when it comes to tracking one mastering from another. you don't really know what you're purchasing until you get it and compare to the same album purchased at another format(or find someone online who did it for you). your Beach Boys albums were probably different mastering. and as such sounded different because they were, not because of one having superior resolution or being made using the true original mix that probably doesn't exist anymore anyway.

    a few small studios make it a point to have great traceability about what they're using and the resolution being kept all the way. but don't expect more than some bot, batch checking if the highres file has some signal above 22khz when it comes to big names in the distribution bizz.

    and before you ask, yes I'm super fun at parties. :imp:
    Dobrescu George and RockStar2005 like this.
  5. RockStar2005
    Hi castle,

    Thank you for that post. Very informative!!!

    Do you work in the recording field?

    I really like the guidelines Apple has set forth for MFiT. It's def a step (or big step) in the right direction.

    Yeah that's what sux...........no guarantee. But I'm looking for averages even as that's prob the BEST I'll ever get info-wise. lol I agree that with Hi-Res there is no guarantee either, but there is a very solid trend where I notice a difference when I do actually check for comparisons.

    I guess it would help make a more accurate comparison if there is only ONE Hi-Res version available of an album vs. multiple. Like with the recently remastered Led Zeppelin Hi-Res ones, they all ONLY come in 24/96. So that helps when comparing them to the remastered MFiT versions because you don't have to consider other Hi-Res versions and how they sound.

    Oh for sure............I have NO DOUBT the two Beach Boys HR albums were from different masters, and that the difference in resolution had nothing to do with the difference in sound. I completely ignore ppl who say they can hear a difference. From what I've seen, those people are never able to pass an ABX Test (with passing = 70% or better) anyway, so whatever. I've saved A TON of room and money by downsampling my Hi-Res tracks. Plus by downsampling the files become smaller and therefore require less battery power to play vs. the huge 24/96 (etc.) files.

    I wish all studios were upfront regarding their masters, and I wish they'd release more of the really great ones in Hi-Res.

    I may bite the bullet and try buying a couple MFiT tracks and comparing them with the Hi-Res versions I have. If I do I will surely report my findings here. But I always like to get other perspectives on things as I feel that is the best way to make the most informed decision possible.

  6. castleofargh Contributor
    nope I'm just a very random consumer, but like many others around here, and even more since I became quasi-modo, I got dragged in way too many discussions on this subject, often involving at least a few professionals.
    I remember some Rocky Mountain Audio Fest videos on youtube talking about the issue of tracking the actual resolution of tracks. with some extreme example where someone mentioned a track being rejected from getting the high-res tag because some short sample used in the mix wasn't high res. is that good or bad? hard to say. at the same time you'll have some stuff recorded in highres from old vinyl that might make the cut because the masters have been lost. and some super old masters damaged by time and/or steadily losing bit depth from transfer to transfer on tapes, that you will be able to purchase as 24/192khz.
    it's a dysfunctional system, but getting one better isn't really simple. I personally have a lot of critics but not much of a solution.
    now for sure they could make some efforts when it comes to tracking and stating the origin of some masters. that part is just lack of organization, not a technical difficulty.
    RockStar2005 likes this.
  7. saddleup
    I think Apple/iTunes is losing relevance in the market place and 'Mastered for iTunes' is merely marketing drivel. Call me jaded. Is MQA dead yet?
    RockStar2005 likes this.
  8. stuck limo
    There's really no way of knowing. Some of them are the same exact master, just different formats. Some of them may be the same source, but a different mastering. Some of them may be different sources and masterings. Regardless, most Mastered for iTunes are going to be essentially identical to what you'd (expect to) get in a "hi-res" format.

    I suggest going to check out the Steve Hoffman forums for further information over the differences in masterings for the albums.
    RockStar2005 likes this.
  9. RockStar2005
    Perhaps. That is what I'm trying to figure out. The only way I can think of to do that is to compare the Hi-Res albums out there with MFiT's albums. Again, I'm hoping MFiT's sound as good or better even because they are cheaper, but I guess we'll see what's what soon enough. At some point very soon I will get a few random MFiT tracks from albums also available in only ONE version of Hi-Res, and then compare them.

    I really kinda hate MQA, because it seems like you have to buy all new equipment just to play it, or get new albums that are in the MQA format to enjoy it. I'd rather just buy Hi-Res albums or MFiT. lol MQA seems like a bigger scam than anything to me, but I don't know for sure cuz I haven't heard any MQA tracks as of yet, and maybe never will?
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2017
  10. RockStar2005
    Hi limo,

    That's really what I want to find out, is if the studios are giving Apple the SAME 24-bit masters they use for their Hi-Res releases, or not.

    I guess it COULD be same source, different master, but I hope not. lol

    Well yeah that's what I'm hoping is ACTUALLY true.................that MFiT sounds identical to a Hi-Res format, or that they both get the same source and mastering too (at the very least, the same source). Hopefully someone who has bought both versions of the same album finds this thread and comments on their experience. I will do that soon as mentioned earlier, but I still would like to hear from others who have done the same already.

    Ok I just did that now. Great idea! Here are some posts I found that seemed to favor MFiT even over SHM-CD (Super High Material), which is interesting:

    Post #4: I have a number of these MFiT (Stones, Led Zep, Billy Joel and Black Sabbath) and enjoy them all with no complaints.
    I've compared the Led Zeppelin files with the SHM-CD and prefer the iTunes version. The big selling feature for me is the fact that I can get all of these artists complete studio recordings in a very decent mastering for a fairly attractive price compared to buying the Hi Res downloads of each.
    I imagine and hope we will see more of these in the near future. Would love to see bands like Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd and Yes come out as complete studio recordings Mastered for iTunes.

    Post #5: Yes. I bought a couple of LZ albums from there and they definitely sound good and dynamic, no brickwall.

    Post #7: Yeah, I went on such an insane mfitunes binge, just before I left on vacation a few weeks back.

    The Zep sounded so dang good on my iPod that I just kept adding titles: Springsteen, ZZ Top, Bowies latest (his only mfitunes), Triumph, AC/DC, Clash, Elton John, Stones (Live from Charlie is My Darling), Frampton Comes Alive....a few others.

    But the one that really got my attention was this one:

    Post #14: I have a few AC/DC songs and they sound great. On the other hand, I compared the MFiT "Hateful" by The Clash to its HDtracks counterpart and here is what I discovered: the MFiT version sounded punchier on my headphones, but the HDtracks version sounded much better with regular speakers and a sub (this is not the result of difference in resolution, but a different mastering). The reason why this Clash comparison is so interesting is that they were released at the same time (last year when they reissued their catalog). It's something to keep in mind. Overall, I like MFiT. Zeppelin sounds great.

    Given that I typically listen to my Hi-Res tracks on my headphones (currently, Meze 99 Classics), this actually is a vote for MFiT over Hi-Res IMO. I listen to music in my car too, but I'm less picky about that than I am with music for my headphones. In a car you'll have a much harder time noticing specific details than you will on good headphones.
  11. RockStar2005
  12. god-bluff
    Just buy the CD (usually cheaper than even iTunes downloads?!?) do what you wish with it and sell it or keep it.

    (edit.. rip it, play it, decorate your walls with the artwork and use the CD as a coaster; the world's your oyster. It's a physical medium that you own)
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2017
  13. RockStar2005
    Yeah it's cheaper, but the CD master from my own experience is not usually as good as the Hi-Res version because for the Hi-Res releases the studios almost always use better sounding masters (or remasters).

    If an album I really want is not available in Hi-Res, I actually have been buying either the digital CD-Quality/16-bit version, or else a "used but like new" physical CD album (whichever is cheaper). Then I rip it to 320 kbps AAC (not mp3). They say really anything from 256 kbps AAC and up sounds the same statistically, so yeah.
  14. god-bluff
    I buy downloads only if they are

    A. Much cheaper albums of obscure hard-to-get music often MP3 or standard FLAC

    B. Cheaper than CD Hi Res albums (often available from Qobuz, with unlimited downloads in any format of your choice on any number of devices)
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2017
    RockStar2005 likes this.
  15. voxie
    Interesting Thread that has been civil and to point (not like similar ones, that are just an ego fest) In a past life I used to mod Bass amps for a famous Irish bass player who tragically is no longer with us. In studio, directly hearing a finished master and cut, it just sounded overwhelming. Listened to the same master at home via cd before general release ..Blahh. Hearing the same song via Qubuz and Tidal cant hear the difference from the original. The song was "Out in the Fields" by Phil Lynott and Gary Moore.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2017
    Fixxer6671 and RockStar2005 like this.
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