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Why do CDs sound better than loss less audio files?

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by phoebefairchild, Feb 24, 2012.
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  1. PhoebeFairchild
    I ripped and encoded most of my CDs to .FLAC files a while ago. My laptop is connected to my CD player through a USB 2 cable and it has an upsampling DAC. When I play CDs in my CD player, the sound quality is usually much better with greater dynamic range, smoother transients, sharper attack, longer decay, and much more focused pace, rhythm, and timing than when I play the same music from the .FLAC file. In fact, .FLAC files sound lifeless and dull compared to the original CD.
    I have tested hundreds of CDs versus the .FLAC files for several months and I am puzzled as to why this is the same outcome.
    There should be no difference in sound quality between the original CD and the .FLAC files for the same music while using the same CD player and DAC. Yet, the CD sounds much more vivid and it sounds softer and more refined compared to .FLAC files which have a hardness to the sound and they lack the same emotional impact compared to the original CD.
    Why is this so?
    Am I hearing things that should not be?
  2. stv014
    Have you tried testing blind ? Not that it is impossible that the difference is real, and can be the result of a number of hardware or software problems, but it is often just imagined (especially when the perceived improvements are like you described).
    Eisenhower likes this.
  3. firev1
    You should post up your software implementation, because if its not placebo, that is where the problem often lies.
  4. stv014
    Yes, maybe the playback is simply not bit perfect, and is affected by software sample rate conversion and volume control, also making the comparison not level matched.
  5. Toxic Cables
    Not all .FLAC are created equal is probably part of the issue.  Have you tried flac of your own making compared to a identical song purchased?  Have you made other flac files from cd using different software?
    Need more information.  What is your software setup, which CD player are you using etc.
  6. JRG1990
    My cd player has a usb port for a usb drive can't be used a pc dac, I can't tell the difference between a 160kbps mp3 and a cd yet the difference between the mastering on recordings stands out as clear as day.
    Maybe your laptop has a really noisey or bad ground that is effecting the cd player, or your using some crappy software that is far from bit perfect.
  7. PhoebeFairchild
    I think it is due to the fact that USB 2 is an inherently noisy connection intended for data transfer and not high end audio applications. I plugged in my USB 2 cable to a USB 2 port and the amount of background noise and electronic interference was eliminated completely. Previously, I hooked it up to a Super Speed USB 3 hub and USB 3 port and it was just so noisy and there were definitely electrical interference. There are no ExpressCard 54/34 sound cards that support coaxial or optical digital output that work with Ubuntu 11.10 64 bit at the moment. I already checked the market and nobody offers such a solution. If I want top sound quality, I guess that I will have to spin a CD instead of playing a .FLAC file in the future because I am sure that my ears can hear the significant improvements in sound quality between the CD and the .FLAC file for the same music.
  8. scuttle


    High end audio is data.
    A USB cable may suffer from noise if measured with analog hw, but that doesn't matter unless the values of bits are changed. And if a cable was that poor - well, every time you tried to load a piece of software you get's unrunnable random junk bits instead of the binary for a program.
    To test your USB for a problem, read the same file from USB twice and compare the results at a bit level. Unless you have a badly screwed up cable or PC they will be *exactly* the same.
  9. scuttle
    As for the Reason Why...
    1. Placebo
    2. There's some component in the sound chain that differs (your description is a little vague for me, I'm afraid)
    3. Some encoder/decoder problem
    4. That "upsampling"* dac is better than whatever dac your pc has. Cheap dacs in portable players are almost universally excellent these days, but you still find crummy ones in phones and PCs - not always, but sometimes.
    *Upsampling is a very dubious technology: http://www.stevehoffman.tv/forums/archive/index.php/t-112560.html
    Eisenhower likes this.
  10. IEMCrazy
    What playback software are you using?  Does your USB connection have ASIO or WASAPI drivers or is it using the OS level mixer?  Is there any digital domain volume control, DSP, ReplayGain, upsampling, or anything else messing with the original source?
    PC playback of audio is subject to a lot of variables that need to be looked at...it's not as simple as a CD player or hardware music player.
    And even if your CD player is acting as your PC DAC, the USB interface to the DAC ins't likely the same interface it uses when going from CD.
    There's definitely a signal chain thing going on somewhere here, and there are oh so many places for that to happen when dealing with PCs.
  11. RonaldDumsfeld
    Download Foobar2000 and the ABX component. Try again and publish your results here. Then we can discuss in a meaningful manner.
    At the moment you are just offering a pesonal opinion that is not concistent with the weight of scientific studies.
  12. PhoebeFairchild
    I use Ubuntu 11.10 64 bit and I did not install the WINE package and I have no desire to do so due to security reasons. I do not want to run Microsoft software on my System76 Bonobo Professional laptop. So, I will not choose to run Foobar2000.
    I use DeaDBeef and I read the article to enable bit-perfect playback. I recently upgraded to an Audioquest Cinnamon 1.5 meter USB cable and I think that it solved my problem. CDs still sound superior when played through my Resolution Audio Opus 21 CD player, but .FLAC loss less audio files sound excellent and they sound close to the original CD now that I am using the Audioquest Cinnamon USB cable. I was using a cheap generic USB cable and it was terrible.
    I checked with Jeffrey Kalt at Resolution Audio and they said that the way in which they designed the Resolution Audio Opus 21 was to provide the best sound quality through CD playback and the Extra Sources box with its adaptive mode USB 2 connection should be viewed as a distant second in terms of sound quality. He recommended that I upgrade my USB cable to improve playback of .FLAC files from my computer.
    I think that I will spin some more CDs now.
  13. skamp

    Neither Wine or foobar2000 are Microsoft software...
  14. firev1

    I recommend a true USB DAC, either with ASRC or async transfer because obviously the Extra Sources box is not rejecting the interface jitter properly.
  15. paradoxper
    Is the not all FLAC are created equal stemmed from the basis that the FLAC was poorly ripped or are there other factors compounding the problem?
    Edit: I suppose I should specify I was only asking about CD ripped FLAC. Not digital purchased. 
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