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22 thoughts on “The High-Resolution Audio Challenge

  • June 14, 2018 at 5:32 pm
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    Mark

    I would be willing to support a crowd sourced study. Keep up the scientific research.

    Cheers
    Drew Wilson Toronto Canada

    • June 17, 2018 at 4:00 am
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      Hear Hear!!!

  • June 14, 2018 at 5:47 pm
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    I have a lot of high-res; both LPCM (24/96) and SACDs as well as DSD recordings I’ve made myself. I’m not convinced that any High-Res sounds better than Red Book due to the higher sample rate or bit depth. I believe that well produced Red Book can sound just as good (and in some cases better) than commercially available High-Res. Here’s an illustration of what I mean:
    JVC has produced some carefully remastered Red Book CDs using a process that they call XRCD. They are expensive, but they sound really good. A case in point – I have a remastered RCA Victor Red Seal from 1955 of Prokofiev’s Lt. Kiji ballet in XRCD. I also have BMG’s SACD of the same title from the same performance and master tape. The XRCD sounds so much better than the SACD that it’s hard to believe that they are the same performance from the same master!
    It seems to me that a carefully mastered and produced Red Book CD can sound better than a mediocre produced high-res release of the same material. The production is everything, while the high-res processes seem to be mostly icing on the cake. If every record producer did as good a job as JVC does with their XRCD process, high-resolution formats would not be necessary.

    • June 14, 2018 at 6:31 pm
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      The XRCDs are very, very good CDs…but they are still CDs and therefore aren’t capable of providing real high-res music. But I’m with you that most — virtually all — recordings can be successfully delivered on CDs. The Prokofieff you refer to would have been made from an analog master, of course. If you transferred the master to SACD and to CD, they should sound identical. The fidelity of both formats is far greater than analog tape. I suspect the products you refer to were mastered from different sources.

  • June 14, 2018 at 6:03 pm
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    Mark,
    It is my opinion that perhaps the greatest audible difference between “high-res” and Redbook audio is due to the filter employed in the playback of the Redbook format. A dramatic example can be heard by listening to the three different antialiasing filter characteristics that can be selected in recent Mark Levinson products that incorporate Precision Link DACs, such as the No.519 Media Player, No.585 Integrated Amplifier and the No.526 Preamplifier. You can choose between “Fast,” which has a steep roll-off, offering the best measured performance, “Slow,” which has a gentler roll-off of high frequencies and exhibits less pre- and post-ringing on transients, and “Mininum Phase,” which has a steep roll-off of high frequencies, but unlike the other two filters, only exhibits post-ringing on transients. The fact that there are very obvious audible differences between these three options is what causes me to conclude that there is a clear advantage to sample rates that move any filter artifacts well-into the ultrasonic range. Clearly, one can also conclude that any comparison between high-res and Redbook quality must take into account the type of antialising filter in use, and the artifacts arising thereof.

    • June 14, 2018 at 6:32 pm
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      Thanks Kevin…I think you’re right. That’s why this Hi-Res Challenge doesn’t really matter to me. I want the added bandwidth as a safety margin.

  • June 14, 2018 at 6:43 pm
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    Regarding Kevin’s comments, does Audition describe the type of low pass filter used in the down sampling step?

    • June 14, 2018 at 6:49 pm
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      Yes, it does.

  • June 14, 2018 at 6:57 pm
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    I love the intent and the methodology of your test. To me it seems a no brainer, when you listen to older analogue music upsampled to higher res. The tape hiss and background noise are so evident. Dynamic range non existent.

    I think the test is so dependent on the audition stereo that is being used in the test.

    Is there back ground ambient noise in the room? my back ground in a small city urban area in a old house is 47-53 db.

    I am listening and testing on a pair of Klipshorns, one of the highest sensitivity speakers over the last 70 years. When I put you AIX 5.1 discs on my system it is so evident, as there is no, not a lick of background noise or sound until the music passages start. I set my system for a average of 95db. The dynamic range jumps out of your disc like a lightning bolt. Most of the modern tracks recorded in the loudness wars era are ~10-15 db higher from a base level. Should it not be easy to sample your music profile and compare it to regular CD, Flac, and lesser music on a studio system like you have and perform a real time comparison??
    It is one thing to perform testing on a wave form scope, but in real life on a good sound system, the Dynamic range and soundstage particularly when I go to 5.1 with your material is so discernible. Asking people, even audiophiles to listen when the parameters are not preset, I think is a stretch. Just as you have expounded on to a great extent. I listen to vinyl and I am dumbfounded on how any audiophile who has evolved can say that it sounds anything like your true 5.1 24/96 content??? Looking forward to the sample material

  • June 14, 2018 at 7:11 pm
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    Great! I will give it a go.

    Also, I am delighted to see that the LUFS is set to nearly -20 dB for these files. If only that was more common!

  • June 15, 2018 at 12:45 am
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    Mark,

    great stuff! I totally agree that the right way to do the HiRes – RedBook comparison is to start off with material that’s truly HiRes, not some transfer from an old analogue master. The UK magazine HiFiNews publishes reviews of HiRes releases every month and thus reveals that a very large proportion of those releases constitute upsamples of 44.1/ 48 KHz material. I believe that, apart from some notable exceptions, the music industry is not really interested in audio quality. It is much more interested in reselling its back catalogue in infinite variations.

    An example of a positive exception is the 40th anniversary edition of Supertramp’s Crime of the Century (A&M 0600753307885), published in 2014. Clearly, the remastering was done with a lot of tlc and it’s shipped in beautiful packaging. If all rereleases were of this quality I’d be a very happy bunny, indeed. Still, probably due to the clean remastering, it is very obvious this was recorded on 70’s analogue tape equipment, especially in the more ‘intense’ parts of the songs. You can transcribe them to DSD or HiRes PCM, but that won’t make any difference.

    Now, I just need to think about tackling your challenge, as I have just my NAIM UnitiLite as the one device capable of playing HiRes files – need to think how to get your files there – probably a USB stick. Thanks for the challenge!

    Cheers,
    Hans Sas.

  • June 16, 2018 at 4:11 am
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    I have a question and a suggestion:
    Question:
    The link leads to the contact page. Is that correct? Should I just write you an e-mail to get the credentials to the server?
    Suggestion:
    Edit your post here and ask participants to download the free program Foobar as well as its separate ABX plugin and then do an ABX test of the files, preferably with 16 trials, and then have them save and send you the log it produces. If they get a really good result, please ask them to take the test again to avoid any false positives.
    This is a much better way to determine if anybody can hear a difference than have them guess which file is which. Not to sound too paranoid, but it is after all possible for people to lie and say they didn’t check the files in an audio editor when in fact they actually did – some hi-res advocates are not the most honest people it seems (case in point: most refuse to take a blind test).

    • June 16, 2018 at 6:25 am
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      This is a terrific idea. I’m sorry I didn’t think of it although I am aware of Foobar and the ABX plugin. I’ll post an update today and make that suggestion.

      • June 17, 2018 at 9:36 am
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        Great :-)!
        So is it correct that I would need to send an e-mail through the contact page to get access to the server?

  • June 16, 2018 at 10:58 am
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    I downloaded two file sets and brought them into Sound Forge. The file identities were immediately obvious just by looking at their spectrum. Nearly 80 people responded to my test, and many of them admitted they looked at an FFT. So your test here is fatally flawed because there’s no way to know who looked and who only listened.

    To anyone who lives near me in New Milford, Connecticut (near Danbury), you are invited to arrange a visit and I’ll play Mark’s files through either or both of my two very high fidelity systems while you listen blind. That avoids any chance of cheating, and then we can report here what happened. This is the only way to know if people can tell HD from CD, short of Mark doing what I did to add fake ultrasonic content to defeat cheating.

    • June 16, 2018 at 6:39 pm
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      Ethan, I’ve acknowledged that this survey is not a rigor study. I asked participants to confirm that they only listened before making their choices and will trust that they did so. Messing around with the ultrasonics is not a good idea IMHO. I’d rather trust people to report. What is there to gain by cheating?

      • June 17, 2018 at 7:26 am
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        I agree there’s nothing for your benefit to be gained by cheating, but people will anyway if only to impress you with their submission. But the core principle you are testing here is flawed. Nobody can hear ultrasonics. That’s what the “ultra” part means. :->) So why does this topic warrant endless interest and investigation? It was determined more than 50 years ago that people can’t hear when ultrasonics are present then removed. The famous Oohashi study was easily refuted when the test was repeated with extra care to avoid IM artifacts aliasing down into the audible range. How many more tests must be done before people will stop fretting over silly stuff that doesn’t matter at all, and start focusing on what really does matter? For example, loudspeaker distortion and beaming, and of course room acoustics which VERY FEW audiophiles even know about let alone address.

        • June 17, 2018 at 7:54 am
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          I do believe that the people that read my blog and appreciate what I have to offer on this topic don’t need to “impress” me. You insist that history has already determined that ultrasonics have no impact — maybe they aren’t perceptible. But it’s simply too easy to capture, reproduce, and distribute audio that matches the entire frequency output of a musical performance, I would argue why not?

          • June 17, 2018 at 9:48 am
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            You ask “why not?” Besides bandwidth and storage costs, which are never free, all of the HD content I see costs more than normal audio. So there’s three reasons for you.

            Look, for me the issue is keeping the facts straight and avoiding unscientific nonsense to become accepted as true. Fake news, if you will. It just makes society dumber. The fact is nobody can tell HD versus CD, and that’s the real point. for me.

          • June 17, 2018 at 11:12 am
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            The bandwidth and storage of 96 kHz/24-bit PCM is trivial these days. The additional cost of “high-resolution” audio is market driven and thus not a constant. It could cost the same as standard-resolution. My point has always been that the stuff being offered as high-resolution is not worth the added storage and bandwidth — and certainly not worth the added costs. You don’t want to acknowledge that pre and post ringing are moved out of the audio band, LPFs filters are less harsh, fidelity to the content present in the room during performances is increased, dynamic range matches real world hearing, and maybe there are unknown benefits that we haven’t yet identified. It’s just too easy to not do it for me. You’re welcome to disagree and as I’ve said in practical terms high-resolution is meaningless because the industry is using it for marketing purposes alone.

          • June 17, 2018 at 9:54 am
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            And that’s why I’ve always respected your opinion on this topic, Mark, because you say “well, I can’t hear the difference, nor does it seem that anybody else can, but if the content is in the original signal, I want to include it in the product I sell to my customers”.
            There are intellectual reasons why I choose certain products over others as well. An obvious example is that I might like the sound of tube amp XYZ over solid state amp XZY, but I don’t feel comfortable paying a lot of money for distortion and an uneven frequency response (the latter I can probably make myself with an equalizer, which will be much cheaper).
            So, I think it’s perfectly fair to choose A over B for intellectual reasons, as long as that’s stated, which it is in your case :-).
            Personally, I still choose CD quality due to cost, accessibility (most of my music is only available on CD) and disc space (and, obviously, because I can’t hear a difference), but I have no problem paying for hi-res if that’s all that’s available (as with your catalogue).
            So, let’s just do the test (preferably ABX as I suggested yesterday) and see what it leads to, and then we’ll hopefully all be the wiser :-).

  • June 17, 2018 at 3:56 am
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    Hi Mark, I applaud you for doing this and lets hope it garners more interest…
    The realisation is that – as has now been admitted with nutritional studies – the only way to get accurate data is in a ‘closed ward’ study. In other words the participants are effectively ‘contained’ within a controlled environment so they don’t sneak in candy bars, you get the point in hope! Human beings lie, often without realising they are doing so and the end result is studies that are fatally flawed.

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