In the middle of June, I posted a blog titled the HD-Audio Challenge. Readers were encouraged to download six pairs of music tracks, do some careful listening to determine which was the original 96/24 master, and which was a downconversion to 44.1/16 — CD specifications. Many authorities — including myself — question the value of “hi-res audio” files — at least the ones that are offered by the likes of HDtracks, Qobuz, SuperHiRez, and Tidal. My contention has always been that if you start with a standard-resolution master — typically a recording that was done using analog tape machines — and merely digitize it at 96 or 192 kHz and 24-bits, the end result won’t sound any better then the original. And these new transfers might sound worse because many times the original masters are lost or damaged. Mastering houses are forced to use safety copies or cassette masters instead of the actual master.
But what about new recordings? The AIX Records catalog contains over 80 newly recorded masters captured at 96 kH/24-bit in PCM format. The six tracks that were offered for analysis in the HD-Audio challenge were drawn from the AIX Records catalog. High-resolution audio advocates — and marketing types — believe that adding another octave(s) by moving sampling rates above 44.1/48 kHz and increasing the potential dynamic range by using 24-bits instead of 16 produces an audible difference — an increase in fidelity. I had more than a few readers tell it would be easy — that they would have no problem telling them apart. One of my favorites came from another audio professional who claimed he moved up to 192 kHz because “96 kHz is just too brittle and harsh”. Interestingly, he failed to identify the high-resolution versions from the CD ones, so there you go.
My tracks are much better examples for this type of comparison because the original masters actually possess more fidelity than most commercially available masters and CDs! Others have offered “hi-res audio” vs “CD spec audio for comparison but they used tracks provided by the major record labels or “so-called” high-resolution download sites — the famous Meyer and Moran study fell into this unfortunate trap. The tracks on SACDs/DVD-As and HD download sites are almost ALL standard-resolution recordings and thus make terrible candidates for study.
The HD-Audio challenge is not a rigorous study. Even if some participants managed to select all 6 high-res tracks correctly, there is a reasonable chance they just got lucky. I acknowledge that possibility. Almost 400 people contacted me asking for the credentials and just less than 100 responded. I haven’t yet had a chance to go through all of the responses but I thought it was time to reveal the answers. I’ll post a statistical breakdown soon.
The high-resolution, original 96 kHz/24-bit masters are:
I’ll start doing some analysis and see how people did. But my recollection is that very few people got them all right, most were about 50/50, and a large number responded by saying they simply couldn’t tell them apart. I fall into the latter category.