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Testing audiophile claims and myths

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by prog rock man, May 3, 2010.
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  1. old tech
    According to their website "After about 14 days of settling, the sound quality becomes even more organic and life-like."
     
  2. TheSonicTruth
    In fourteen days I might try a different mastering of the same album, then I'll hear a difference, LOL!
     
    rocksteady65 likes this.
  3. castleofargh Contributor
    organic and gluten free.
     
    colonelkernel8 likes this.
  4. gregorio
    1. It would be a reasonably safe bet to say "none at all"! More accurately, there maybe a handful but I doubt a single one of them were using "these ultra-expensive cables", most likely the cables were the exact opposite of "ultra-expensive", they were most likely free (or very close to free). IE. Installed free of charge under some sort of endorsement deal. They list just two studios in the world that use their products: One is a specialist retro studio in Latvia, decked out with a bunch of vintage studio gear, and the other isn't even a commercial/professional recording studio, it's a private/home studio in Kazakhstan used only by the musician owner and his friends. That's it, not a single one of the dozens of world class studios or thousands of high quality commercial/professional studios, that's a pretty sad indictment!

    2. Studios are relatively cheap and easy to setup these days and many are owned by musicians, very few of whom have any audio engineering training/education and are entirely likely to have an understanding of audio based on audiophile claims/myths. Of course, it depends on what we mean by the word "studio" (and the word "professional"), do we mean a home studio or do we mean a high class commercial studio? There are some very well specified home studios (probably over 100,000 worldwide) but there's still a big difference between these and high class commercial studios.

    It's a typical audiophile nonsense company/website, that you'd have thought even the most avid audiophiles wouldn't all for! Listen to the "High Resolution Audiophile Recordings" for example. Does "high resolution audiophile" mean cr@p? OK, "cr@p" is a bit unfair, they're very good compared to someone recording a gig on their mobile phone but they're poor (even to the point of unacceptable) compared to what one would expect of good professional/commercial standards. Listen to the drums recordings, hear that nice punchy kick drum? No, because they've recorded it poorly! I could rip those drums recordings apart in a number of other ways too (but won't bother). Do you hear those lovely Bach Sonatas for Flute and Basso Continuo? No, they've turned them into Sonatas for Bassoon (with flute and harpsichord accompaniment)! And the piano is hilarious, they even say this: "Download three excerpts of this amazingly pristine grand piano recording. The audio quality will speak for itself. You shall notice a disturbance in the right channel. This had to do with the faulty electrical wiring of the facilities (there was no ground) and we could not manage to keep this disturbance from entring the audio recording." - Hang on, if the recording's got distortion on the right channel, then how is it "pristine", let alone "amazingly pristine"? In the audiophile dictionary, does "amazingly pristine" mean "incompetent"? If that's not bad enough, isn't this supposed to be a high-end wire/signal conditioning company? And the best advert they could come up with is an example that even they admit suffers from "faulty wiring"! Similar story with the drums recordings: "This recording is absolutely pristine except for occasional very low-level 50 Hz buzzes which we have not yet tackled." - And my piano playing is absolutely perfect, except for occasional beginner mistakes which I have not yet tackled! This is all hilarious, do audiophiles really fall for this nonsense?

    G
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2019
  5. KeithEmo
    No list of pseudo-scientific audiophile stuff would be complete without these two....

    http://www.pwbelectronics.co.uk/

    http://www.machinadynamica.com/

    As for LessLoss.....

    Unless I missed it, I don't see their magic brick any more, the one that absorbs black body radiation and shines it on your equipment to lower the noise floor.
    (The technical descriptions of how that supposedly worked were very... err... colorful...)
    Although I do see several new more timely items - including a very exciting USB noise filter (and an even more special gadget for combining them in sets of four).
    And I see they now have a DAC.
    And a streamer that's only $91,000 (but you do get 10% off if you buy four)...

    It does really make you wonder if anyone actually buys this stuff.... :grimacing:

     
    rocksteady65, Joe Bloggs and old tech like this.
  6. bigshot
    Generally, when cable companies say that their cables are used in recording studios, they offer a recording studio to wire them up for free in exchange for the right to say that their cables are used there. It's no skin off the studio's nose and they get free wire. But the cable companies that do this really aren't marketing to studios. They're marketing to consumers who want "the same cables that recording studios use".
     
    rocksteady65 and colonelkernel8 like this.
  7. KeithEmo
    Would that be after the boll weevils settle in and start eating the organic cotton insulation?
    (But, ignoring all the technical issues, with their products and their explanations, their web site sure is pretty.)

     
  8. gregorio
    1. Yep, as I mentioned, that's how it works, some sort of endorsement deal.
    2. In practice, it is some "skin off the studio's nose". Commercial studios all use good quality, relatively cheap cables from companies such as Klotz, Van Damme and Mogami (for example). Audiophile makers/manufacturers are by definition speciality companies and often/typically take a different approach to solving problems which have already been solved, in order to differentiate their products both from other speciality companies and of course the much cheaper mass market manufacturers. The end result is commonly no difference from the far cheaper "mass market" solution but it's also quite common that there is a difference, a difference for the worse! This is entirely logical, an existing mass market solution by definition has been around longer (sometimes a decade or more "longer"), is more widely implemented/used and has therefore been widely and thoroughly tested by numerous end users over a long period of time. An audiophile solution therefore doesn't always work as well in practice as expected/advertised and even if it does, it's not uncommon that the maker has completely overlooked some other problem/issue that maybe more significant than the issue their esoteric solution is designed to solve! The "skin off the studio's nose" is that they'd have to install and thoroughly test the audiophile cables (or other audiophile equipment) to make sure it performs as well as standard mass-market cables/equipment. This requires technicians' and engineer's time, as well as studio downtime, all of which is expensive for a commercial studio and would still not be entirely revealing, as only relatively short term testing is practical. In other words, even if the audiophile cables (or other audiophile equipment) are offered completely free, it is still too much "skin off the studio's nose" to be worth it! The only exception would likely be a very few, small, privately owned studios specialising in recordings aimed solely at the audiophile market and therefore using audiophile cables might be seen as a marketing advantage (regardless of actual performance). Incidentally, I would expect such a studio to probably be owned by an audiophile/s in the first place.

    3. Audiophile cable companies can't really market to commercial studios. Not withstanding the fact they'd be ignored (for the reason above), they just don't make many/most of the cables studios require. They make standard consumer speaker cables and interconnects, they don't make the mic and multi-core analogue and digital cables that studios use.

    G
     
  9. old tech
  10. stonesfan129
    Hello all, I didn't think this warranted a brand new thread so will ask here. I have lots of CDs which I have ripped to FLAC with Exact Audio Copy to store on my server. I listen to the FLAC files at home because I have plenty of HDD space. I generally use LAME -V0 MP3 or Purchased AAC files from iTunes (256kbps vbr AAC) for my mobile devices. I also have a FiiO X1 that I use once and then too. My question is, what do I have to do to hear a difference between lossy formats and FLAC? I hear lots of people saying different things from the difference being obvious to the difference being impossible to hear at that bitrate to needing high quality equipment, killer samples and knowing what artifacts to listen for. My headphones are Sennheiser HD598SE. At home I just use either my Sony soundbar or my Logitech speakers on my computer. This isn't by any means a high quality listening setup. Can anyone tell me what is needed to hear the difference? Is the difference revelatory or is it pretty minor?
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2019
  11. Steve999
    It looks like LAME -V0 is the highest quality optimized vbr preset for LAME and the stated quality for that setting (and some significantly lower bitrate vbr settings) is that the result will be “transparent,” i.e., it is intended or proposed that almost no one will be be able to tell the difference between that and the flac file or other non-lossy source except perhaps in very rare cases. Reference:

    http://wiki.hydrogenaud.io/index.php?title=LAME

    It looks like LAME -V0 is a specific and the best quality optimized preset in LAME and it’s about 245 kbps variable bit rate (VBR) MP3. It looks like the testing has generally shown that’s the best sound you can get out of LAME. You can use the chart in the above link to hone in on where in the LAME presets you would more likely start to be able to hear a difference. You might be disappointed unless you practice a lot—that is, don’t be too down on yourself if you can’t hear a difference somewhere in the LAME vbr 128-170 kbps range. Your headphones, from what I have read, should be easily up to the task so don’t worry about that. If you don’t like your headphones please PM me and I will give you my address and make the sacrifice of taking them off of your hands. ; )

    I used LAME for years. I use Apple 256 VBR AAC now just because it’s so easy and I’m very confident in it (just pop the CD in and rip it in iTunes without changing anything and that’s what you get) and it is a progression in the lossy encoding technology.

    My short opinion answer is that I personally would not expect to be able to hear any difference at all between LAME -V0 and a flac file for listening to music on any system period, and my best guesstimate is that you are way within the safe zone of being able to use those files for anything.

    My long answer is to find out for yourself for sure download Foobar2000 and the encoder pack and comparomoter and you’ll be able to run your own automated abx tests and see at what bitrates you can hear any difference. Actually that long answer was shorter than my short answer until now. :)

    Resources for anyone who is interested:

    https://www.foobar2000.org/

    https://www.foobar2000.org/encoderpack

    https://www.foobar2000.org/components/view/foo_abx
     
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2019
    bfreedma likes this.
  12. KeithEmo
    Some people will claim that "the difference is obvious and huge" - while others will argue equally vehemently that "if you think you hear a difference you must be imagining it".
    (And, obviously, what one of us might consider a barely noticeable difference, someone else might consider to be a tragic flaw.)
    I'm going to ignore both of them and try to answer your question.

    Another suggestion would be to encode a few files at a very low bit rate - where the differences are clearly audible - and listen to them.
    Since the encoding philosophy is the same, but applied more aggressively for lower bit rates, you can assume that files recorded at a higher bit rate will contain similar flaws as those encoded at lower bit rates, but that they will be less audible.

    As for what to listen to or for... each of us seems to find specific types of flaws to be especially obvious or annoying and others to be inaudible or simply trivial.
    Here are the things I would listen for... (because, to me, they are often badly reproduced - for various reasons - and I tend to find those particular issues annoying)

    - Try to use recordings you are familiar with
    - Obviously, first listen for ANYTHING that seems to be more or less emphasized in the encoded copy than in the original (since they are supposed to sound exactly the same)
    - Listen to some familiar human voices (do they sound honky, or tubby, or just plain odd?)
    - Listen to some voices where there are lots of sibilants (sharp "ssss" and "tssss" noises; these often sound unnatural; do they sound sharp, or like the person is spitting, or like a steam leak from a radiator?)
    - Listen to some well recorded cymbals and wire-brish cymbals (the Eagles Hotel California album is good for this; do they sound like someone hitting a piece of metal, or like a steam leak going hiss, hiss, hiss?)
    - Listen to some recordings that contain plucked guitar strings (this will vary a lot from recording to recoerding - with some a lot clearer than others - but all we're looking for are differences between the original copy and the encoded copy)
    - Listen to some well recorded piano music (do the keys make a nice sharp plink when hit... or do they sound sort of jangly?)
    - Find a recording with a lot of background noise or tape hiss (does the background noise sound "natural" or does it seem to sort of bunch up in certain places, or seem sort of like it's breathing, or otherwise sound odd?)
    (this may seem like an odd flaw to listen for - but there are definitely recordings out there where, thanks to excessive or bad processing, the music itself sounds OK, but the background noise sounds so odd it has become distracting)
    (specifically, with some very outdated surround sound systems, low level background hiss is reproduced in monaural - and monaural noise sounds distinctly different than noise that is randomly different in each channel)
    - Try to compare the sound stage (not only should each instrument or voice sound right, but it should be located exactly in the same place, and the location should seem equally sharp and concise)
    (some recordings start out this way, and the actual sounds in some poorly encoded audio signals may sound fine, but their location in space may sound vague or indistinct, or they may seem to move around or waver unnaturally)

     
    ruthieandjohn likes this.
  13. gregorio
    1. You would have to do one of two things: A. Evolve into a new species, with more acute hearing than Homo Sapiens or B. Buy very expensive audiophile gear, read the forums here on head-fi (except this one) and try to believe all of it. You still won't hear a difference but you might develop some cognitive/expectation bias that makes you think you can (IE. Perceive a difference rather than hear one).

    2. As far as I'm aware, no one has successfully passed a DBT/DBX using the recent LAME -V0 setting and many thousands have tried, including highly trained professional listeners and some audiophiles who were absolutely convinced there was an obvious difference!

    If you can't choose between the reliable evidence and all the audiophile hyperbole, then by all means try KeithEmo's methodology and find out for yourself.

    G
     
    colonelkernel8 and sonitus mirus like this.
  14. bigshot
    At the data rate you're encoding your lossy files, I doubt anyone can hear a difference between that and FLAC. I use AAC 256 VBR and it is audibly identical to lossless too.

    The best way to figure out what to listen for is to encode a favorite song at various data rates from very low all the way up. Listen to the files in order. You'll hear clear artifacting in the low rate files. Note the location and listen to that spot as the data rate gets higher and higher. The difference is mostly about artifacting... it isn't listening for veils or soundstage or distortion or small details in the music... it's listening for weird digital splats and gurgles. At some point the gurgles fade away and the file achieves audible transparency. Once there are no artifacts any more and you've reached the line of audible transparency, you can up the data rate, but it won't improve the sound quality. Transparent is as good as it gets.

    An even more useful exercise is to note the way people who are generally dead wrong about things talk. You'll see a certain vocabulary. They use vague terms that don't relate to specific aspects of sound fidelity... flowery terms like "veil" and incorrectly used terms like "soundstage width". They relate sound fidelity to specific musical aspects and talk about how to "train your ears". But they aren't describing sound quality. They are describing how they *feel* about the sound. They are describing placebo effect and helping you to share their completely uncontrolled bias. If you do a little research and focus on aspects of sound reproduction like distortion, noise, frequency response, etc. Understand how it works. Don't just take audio salesmen's word for it- you will figure it all out. It really isn't hard to spot the phonies.

    One really fun thing to do is to ask someone who claims to be able to hear a "night and day" difference between lossless and lossy if they use lossy files. Odds are, they don't and they haven't used once since the days of 128k MP3 downloads in the 1990s.
     
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2019
    colonelkernel8 and ruthieandjohn like this.
  15. james444 Contributor
    The LAME project keeps a list of (mostly user provided) test samples that have been known to cause (minor) problems with their psycho-acoustic and noise shaping model:

    http://lame.sourceforge.net/quality.php

    I don't know if the list is still being kept up-to-date or if recent LAME versions are free of these weaknesses now. But if I wanted to find audible artifacts in LAME encoded files, I'd probably start with that list.

    That said, I personally don't bother. All the mentioned issues seem entirely negligible to me.
     
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