My sabbatical is officially over. I returned to the classroom last Tuesday to teach Advanced Audio Recording and Strategies for Media Production. I’ve enjoyed being away from the campus, traveling to a couple of trade shows, working on my websites, and conducting the HD-Audio Challenge II survey over these past 8 months but I’m actually glad to get back in front of a group of students.
HD-Audio Challenge II Update
I was granted a sabbatical after submitting a proposal to research the perceptibility of high-resolution audio. The fundamental question I (and undoubtedly others) want answered is whether audio consumers can identify a high-resolution music track by simplyl comparing one a native 96 kHz/24-bit PCM (an AIX Records audiophile track) recording to a downconverted 44.1/16-bit Redbook CD version of the same recording. Over 700 individuals requested access to the files, 200 have confirmed receipt, and 122 people have submitted their results. I’m thrilled at the level of participation and want to thank everyone for your time.
The initial period of the survey will be ending soon. I won’t be closing down the site or stop sending the soundfiles to new participants…the more people that get involved in this study the better. However, I have to submit a post sabbatical report to the university AND I plan to submit an article for consideration by the editors of the AES Journal. I have no idea whether they will be interested in the results of my research. It may not reach their scientific standards, but I think the information contributes to the issue. I will provide the correct answers to all participants and to the public very soon.
So, if you haven’t yet asked to participate, downloaded the files, done some comparative listening, and submitted your selections, PLEASE take this opportunity to sign up and submit your results. I would like to especially encourage anyone under the age of 40 to take the challenge. It seems most of those that have submitted the final form are somewhat older. It would be great to get some younger ears involved.
You can sign up using the form below:
An Outlier Submission
I regularly collect any new submissions to the HD-Audio Challenge and append them to the master spreadsheet. And I glance at the raw statistics and percentages calculated by the spreadsheet. I’ve already got a pretty good idea of how most people are doing so it was somewhat surprising that one particular individual got 19 out of 20 correct! A 69-year old gentleman did way better than every other submission. I was surprised and naturally somewhat suspicious. There had to be a reason.
So I read his listening notes and there was the answer. He wrote:
“Comparison of A/B several times, taking a specific part with higher dynamics (15-20 seconds) and choose the one with the highest peak level which is given on JRiver DSP Studio Analyser shown during playback.
I used realtime switching between tracks comparing the peak level of 15-20 sec parts with higher dynamics.
In fact the determination of HR version by listening parts of the track and comparing A/B was confirmed or decided by the highest peak level if i could not hear any difference.“
He had ignored my requirement to use ONLY your ears to make a choice. He relied on the JRiver DSP Studio Analyzer to show which instantaneous peak was higher. As much as I tried to match the two versions of the files, they are different by about .1 dB, enough for the peak and hold metering of the software player to show.
So I wrote to him and explained the issue. He acknowledged that he had employed a “tool” as an aid in making his selections and offered to repeat the process. I scrambled the filenames and let him have another chance. I’m still waiting for the second round.
At the risk of encouraging others to employ “tools”, I mention this story because the survey is only as valid as the participants are honest. Please limit yourselves to listening only.
What is it that Art Linkletter used to say? Kids say the darndest things. Well, it seems some FB audio group administrators, audiophiles, high-end audio salespersons, audiophile society officials, and manufacturers also say things that make little or no sense when talking or posting about cables.
I usually steer clear of FB posts or online magazines that promote high-end audio cables. It’s just never safe to present with science, established electrical engineering theory and practice, or objectiveness when cables are concerned. A recent exchange on a familiar FB audio group page resulted in a member calling me a “cable denier” because I advocated for science and physics in evaluating power cords.
The thread basically dismissed my comments because I’m a member of the professional audio engineering community. Audio equipment salespeople, FB administrators, high-end audio marketing managers, and the general audio buying public are claimed to be better and more reliable sources of information when it comes to recommending expensive accessories and cables. According to the gentleman below, they are capable of listening in ways that audio professionals can not.
One commenter wrote:
“Mark is a pro and speaks just like one, but he is not a professional LISTENER, like you (Writer’s NOTE: the guy offering the ultra expensive power cords), I and so many others in the high-end industry. Interesting is that most so-called experts are also naysayers who work in the recording industry, not in the high-end industry.”
What does this statement actually claim? That professional audio engineers and producers do not know how to listen? That spending one’s professional life in front of speakers in a control room doesn’t require listening?Maybe…just maybe…the engineers responsible for producing the recordings that are played back in these guys high-end systems are correct in their assessment of power cords and expensive USB/Ethernet cables. Image that!
Can you really trust a gentlemen that just launched a new cable company that offers a 6-foot power cord for $3150? Oh and this person also believes that cables are directional! BTW They are not.
Here’s a couple of additional comments…
“Cables can make a difference. I’m glad I can hear those differences it truly enhances the experience. I have been a dedicated audiophile and in the industry for over 45 years and have been able to identify those differences since my first experience with Smog Lifters in the 70’s. I search for and usually discover great products that deserve special attention by people looking for the last bit of resolution and coherency. I’m truly sorry for those that wouldn’t hear the difference.”
Here’s a comment from an individual that swapped a normal Ethernet cable for an expensive one.
“…the Vodka seemed to remove a layer of film for superior textural reveal. There was also a shade more tonal depth and recording space ‘air’. Most noticeable of all was a further uptick in micro-dynamic jump.”
I don’t know about you but I cringe when I hear people talk about audio in such terms. And this after listening to a commercial album and then stopping, swapping the cable and relistening. It’s unbelievable.
I could pull quotes from cable reviews all afternoon but I think you get the point. When anyone starts spewing nonsense about power cords, digital interconnects, or network cables, run away. Keep your wallet in your pocket and unsubscribe from that group or online magazine. Their motivations are suspect. They either want to sell you something (usually at very high cost) or are dependent on advertising dollars from the companies they write about or the individuals they interview.
Another User Guide Is Coming!
I checked the sign up form for my next book and was encouraged to see over 250 people have expressed interest in A User Guide to Streaming, Downloads, and Personal Audio. I’ve started researching and writing the next book and will be launching the Kickstarter campaign in a couple of months. The plan is to finish the book by the end of the year. The emergence of high quality streaming as a major aspect of our listening ecosystem is the catalyst for this project. Stay tuned. If you would like to add you name to the mailing list for launch day discounts and other special offers, please visit the website at http://www.sdpaguide.com/. Thanks.
SPOOK Website Is Now Live!
I mentioned the project my son has been working on for about 3 years. It’s a 3 volume, 30 episode graphic novel about a former CIA Agent. I would encourage all readers to check out the project website, sign up to the mailing list, and help promote a soon to be announced Kickstarter campaign. Visit https://www.spookofficial.com/ for additional information and to sign up.