What would you think if you purchased a track from a provider of HD digital downloads in both 96 kHz and 192 kHz, played them both and they sounded only slightly different…a little more bass in one and little less detail in the other? Let’s say that the recording was done in the mid 1980s, meaning that it was produced using an analog multitrack tape machine. It also means that the dynamic range and frequency response will be commensurate with the specs of an analog production path…possible very good but not equal to either 96 kHz or 192 kHz at 24-bits.
You made the purchase at both sample rates to see for yourself if high-resolution tracks are actually real or just a marketing ploy. After extended solo listening sessions and others involving a variety of audiophile friends and family, no one could nail any differences between the two. What do you do?
Write to customer support at the website and ask what’s up with the “so-called” high-resolution tracks? Maybe the same files were mistakenly slotted into the 96 and 192 versions. Wouldn’t you hope that you could get a straight answer about the provenance of the tracks and maybe an explanation that they’re actually sonically the same. What you wouldn’t expect is for the company representative to tell you that your audio setup isn’t “high-end” enough for you or your friends to hear the “atmospheric space” that is uniquely produced by the 192 kHz/24-bit version of the file. Here’s the actual response from the company:
“The 24/192 is only going to reveal its potential with an ultra-high end system. Those higher frequencies will be transformed into atmospheric space, and (especially when amplified at a high volume) the difference will be discernible.”
So if you can’t hear any differences between the same pieces at different sampling rates…it’s your fault for not spending enough money on your system! The customer support person is telling you that you need a serious upgrade to your amplifier and speakers AND you need to turn it up really loud to enjoy the higher rate file. Huh?
This is exactly what happened to one of my readers. He purchased a very well known album from a very well known artist (one of the biggest jazz performers of all time!) at both sample rates. When he wrote to the company, the above response suggested that 192 kHz HD tracks require “ultra high-end” equipment and the customer’s current system doesn’t measure up. This is exactly why the emerging world of high-resolution audio is getting a bad reputation.
All the support person had to say was that the materials that they were supplied by the label were uploaded without alteration. They are the best that you’re likely to hear, but doing a transfer at 192 kHz doesn’t necessarily mean that there is music in the single additional octave that you get at that rate (never mind that your speakers can’t produce anything that high).
Look at the spectragram that I did of a track from the album.
Figure 1 – The spectragram of a “high-resolution audio” track at both 96 kHz and 192 kHz. There are differences between them…and it seems that the 96 kHz transfer is actually “better” than the192 kHz version in many ways. Neither one has any musical content higher than 30-35 kHz…so 96 kHz is more than enough. [Click to enlarge]
I looked on the download site for information that might provide more information about the equipment specifications required to enjoy 192 kHz high-resolution audio tracks and get the “atmospheric space” that is supposed to be there. There was nothing.
The marketing “shuck and jive” associated with high-resolution audio has got to stop, in my opinion. All providers of high-resolution audio should adopt a common code of conduct…when I grew up, it was called telling the truth. We need to identify the production provenance and be honest about the expectations that any particular format and production path can provide. It’s not true that 192 kHz PCM audio can give you a better listening experience…and only if you have a very high-end system AND you play the files back very loud.
Let’s move on.