If it’s on the web, then it must be true, right? This whole “I can hear it why can’t you?” debate is getting tiresome. On one side are those that believe that they can hear the difference between 192 kHz/24-bits and 44.1 kHz/16-bits. Cookie Marenco of Blue Coast Records says she can teach people to hear the difference. Michael Fremer picked three out of four of my native high-res tracks correctly and then proclaimed that vinyl LPs have more dynamic range than CDs! I just read a piece by John Darko that insists that all it takes is a great system (or a really good set of phones) to hear the improvements that high-resolution audio can bring (click here to read his article).
Readers of Michael Lavorgna’s Audiostream.com might have seen the challenges that both Paul and Cookie sent out to Mario Aguilar and David Pogue after they dissed the Pono player and high-res audio. These articles and assertions contain lots of bad information but their conclusions were pretty much spot on. According to John at DigitalAudioReview, all you have to do is pull out a favorite CD, go to HDtracks and download the high-resolution version (which in actuality is a newly remastered version made from a fresh transfer of the source analog master…when they can locate it). Play one and then the other through your system and you’ll be amazed at the difference. Not so fast.
Following this methodology might be entertaining and fun, but it won’t get us any closer to the answers we seek.
In order to judge whether high-resolution audio is deserving of your dollars or any 1000-word article on the web (either for the hardware or the “hig-res” content), you have to make sure you’re comparing the same source in two different formats. However, Mr. Darko…and most of his readers given the comments that followed his article…fail to realize this. The McGill study that I referenced the other day did a great job of testing the differences between a new recording made at standard and high-resolution (although they only accounted for an increased sample rate). They concluded that some people could select the audio with the higher sample rate but that the differences were “very subtle and hard to detect”. I don’t think hearing high-resolution audio is easily teachable, if it can be taught at all.
John Darko also makes the point that “much of the music for sale in the PonoMusic store is encoded at 16bit/44.1.” How about 99.99 % of the tracks/albums on PonoMusic are rips of CDs? I stated this fact loudly for months…let’s be straight about what is and what isn’t a high-resolution audio track. Even the analog transfers of classic albums can only quality as “master source” quality NOT high-resolution because they were created before high-resolution was available in professional recording studios.
So here’s my invitation. I don’t really care if David Pogue or Mario Aguilar wants to come to my studio and experience real high-resolution audio. I’m inviting some of those that claim they can hear the difference…Paul McGowan, Cookie Marenco, John Darko, and Michael Fremer…to AIX Studios to prove what they claim. I want to see if they can beat random choice in selecting between a real high-resolution track and a CD spec version of the same track. I’ll setup my room so that they can instantly switch between the same track at 44.1/16 and 96/24.
I’m an advocate for high-resolution music. But unfortunately, outside of the McGill study, I’m not aware of anyone doing tests between CD res and High res using the right source and the right hardware. How can anyone make claims about the topic if they’re not doing a rigorous test?
For anyone interested in doing this test at home, just go to the FTP site associated with this blog and you can download a number of tracks are various resolutions. If you need the credentials, drop me a note or click on the box on the website.