I see it everywhere. Marketing departments, music reviewers, writers, and audio pundits all writing things that at best stretch the truth and at worst outright falsify things. I don’t want to become the online, high-resolution audio fact checker, but it seems every time I pick up a brochure or read an online post there’s inaccurate information being presented as fact.
Here’s a quote from the front page of a brochure I picked up in Washington DC during the Capitol Audio Fest:
“24-bit, 192 kHz digital music processed during studio mastering retains 6.5 times the information that is lost when transcribed to a standard audio CD. 24-bit audio results in a finer, more precise and enhanced sound. We refer to 24-bit audio as Mastering Quality Sound (MQS).”
This is an example of “blinding people with science”. It works by taking some math or big numbers and using them in some sort of comparison in the hopes that readers will be impressed. If you follow the logic of the sentences quoted above, you might assume that having a digital container that is 6.5 times bigger than a CD would result in “finer, more precise and enhanced sound”. Not true. It’s only true if the source recording was made using 192 kHz 24-bit PCM…not just because the mastering engineer converted it to 192/24.
Here’s another example from a recent webpage that is focused on high-resolution audio. Under the “LEARN” tab, the author wrote the following:
“On a CD, each audio sample is stored using 16 digital bits, which means a CD can produce 65,536 different volume gradations. That may seem like a lot, until you calculate that the 24-bit high-resolution downloads can produce 16,777,216 volume gradations! That’s more detail, more depth, more subtlety. It’s also less noise: With CDs, the noise is –96 dB below the highest sound level. With high-resolution downloads, it’s –144 dB below.”
There are some chunks of truth in the preceding paragraph but most of it is completely wrong. CDs do have 16-bits to store the amplitude of an analog signal but this doesn’t mean that they have 65,536 different volume gradations! And moving to 24-bits and its 16 millionish discrete values aren’t volume gradations either…the increase moves the potential dynamic range for 93 dB (accounting for dither which is a must have process) to something around 132 dB. Both 16 and 24-bits deliver dynamic range…the 24-bit flavor can handle higher input and output levels not more resolution within the amplitude range.
Decibels are not linear and the increase is substantial (although not routinely heard in the real world or in recordings) but the numbers aren’t actual volume levels. And this was written by a respected audio writer…I actually know him and consider him a friend.
My last example today is a blatant sales pitch and completely misrepresents the facts. I’ve been tempted to write a comments on the blog page and have actually started a couple of times but resisted. Here’s the pitch:
“MP3 is fine for headphones but it distorts when played loud on a stereo system. That’s what compression does, it squashes the dynamic range (life) out of your music so it takes up less space.
To restore the dynamic range, you need a ‘digital hub’, a device that can ‘up-sample’ your low res music to 24 bit/192K Hi-Res so you can crank it up at home when you want to rock. The sound quality is stunning, the best fidelity in audio history. That’s why Neil Young is behind it with his own Pono Hi Res Music service. Once you hear it, you’ll understand.”
This reminds me of the confusion about compression in the “Distortion of Sound” film mentioned a couple of weeks a go in these posts (click here to read my comments).
MP3 files use of data compression (not audio compression) and do not affect the dynamic range of music…it reduces the size (and the bandwidth) of a track. MP3s can sound bad at very low bandwidths (but actually pretty good at 256 or 320 kbps)…they can be distorted. But the distortion is the same in a good set of phones as it is in loudspeakers.
And thinking that you can “restore dynamic range” through upsampling a low resolution MP3 to 192 kHz/24-bits is pure nonsense. You’ll get a perfect (and very large) version of the file with the same fidelity you had with the MP3. To state that this audio alchemy outputs the “best fidelity in audio history” is laughable.
Furthermore, Neil Young is not talking about the same thing in his Pono effort. He’s trying to capture the magic, the “soul” of analog tape recording using higher sampling rates, longer words and FLAC compression (but just got in bed with people that are ripping CDs for delivery through PonoMusic…go figure).
We all know that we shouldn’t believe everything that we read. I do my best to present accurate information with minimal spin…but we all have an agenda.