I’ve done a preliminary read through a couple pdf documents that are purportedly supposed inform…both qualitatively and quantitatively… the companies behind the well-funded HRA study. I’m prevented from saying anything specific about the results or the information drawn from the online and in person components of the study. But I can say that it was more disappointing than I would have imagined. In a rush to get the study published last week, the documents were not made available to any experts (or maybe it was just me) involved in supplying the hardware and software components to the study…or anyone else that I know of. Apparently no one with the appropriate amount of technical knowledge read the final document prior to its publication. I’ve written and presented a lot of academic papers over my life and they are never released or published with numerous people facts checking and editing. Very sloppy.
There was simply no way that any productive information could be drawn from the actual listening tests. I knew that going in. The results confirmed what the famous Meyer and Moran study found back in 2006…although for different reasons and with different source materials. Unlike Meyer and Moran, the three tracks used in this study were all bona fide high-resolution tracks from my own catalog. I produced two versions of three different genres of music…in stereo. The first was the original 96 kHz/24-bit PCM file and the second one was a “lossy” MP3 encoded at exactly the same level. Groups of three individuals sat in the evaluation room (a very poor acoustic space…a glass walled board room) and listened through speakers and headphones.
My lack of surprise at the lack of any findings on the perceptibility turned to astonishment when I skimmed through the final report. The entire study refers to this as a comparison of “standard-resolution” audio vs. “high-resolution” audio. The study wasn’t design to compare “standard resolution” files with anything. Unlike the samples of the same files that I put on my own FTP that did have CD spec versions, I delivered only lossy MP3 files to people at the study (actually they were 96 kHz/24-bits files containing the MP3s). I know I tend to be a little harsh on the uninitiated but this is beyond my level of tolerance. If you were a big research firm that has been hired to do serious research for a major organization, I would expect accurate information on the basics. These people seemed to know nothing about the subject they were researching and didn’t bother to seek professional assistance.
As recipients of this study thumb those the pages of the reports, they’re going to going to say, “well that wasn’t too bad…I’m not sure if I could tell the difference between “standard-resolution”, CD Specification audio (or analog tape or vinyl LPs) and a high-resolution file. But it’s actually a lot worse then that. There weren’t any “standard-resolution” files present at the evaluations…only lossy MP3s and High-Resolution files.
I expected disappointment. The single biggest question that continues to loom over the whole HRA initiative is whether humans react differently to CD resolution or Hi-Res. I think it’s critically important to determine this once and for all. I’m going on a full court press in 2015. Let determine whether all of this is hype/spin or whether there is better sonic future ahead of us.