Streaming Audio: Part II

The Kickstarter campaign for my second book on high-end audio streaming, downloads, and personal audio successfully reach its financial goal a few days ago. Thanks to everyone that backed the campaign! Almost 300 people decided to support this project and my efforts to advance audio knowledge. I’m very grateful.

There are only 8 days left to take advantage of the steep discounts and special rewards on A User Guide to Streaming, Downloads, and Personal Audio, bundles with the first book Music and Audio, and 5 albums from the award-winning AIX Records catalog. And I just added a “stretch goal” to further entice potential backers or to convince those who have already signed up to increase their pledges. I will provide a free AIX Records sampler (either disc or downloads) to all backers if we reach $15,000 — and we’re not that far away.

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to make a pledge, don’t wait any longer. Now that we’ve reached the goal, I’m committed to writing the book. Thanks for your support.

Click on the image to be taken to the Kickstarter page!

Systems Are Not Good Enough?

I’ve refrained from commenting on audio-related FB groups whenever the topic of cables is rears its ugly head — and not a week goes without an online cable debate. It’s just not worth the time to respond and try to explain why cables are not a major determining factor in the sound of your system. I’m not sure where or when Max discovered my thoughts on cables but today I received and unsolicited email — with attachments — restating the reason why rational, informed audiophiles fail to appreciate the value of $3000 RCA interconnects or $4000 power cords. Here’s his complete email:

“Hi Mark, One reason that you and many audiophiles can’t hear the difference between CD and Hi Res is because their systems are not good enough. The mistakes made are universal. One is the speaker cables. See attached. Regards, Max”

Why is it that when all else fails, those supporting the myth of “high-end” and high cost cables resort to this very tired retort. If we don’t hear the claimed dramatic differences in fidelity, the new levels of blackness, the high-frequency extension, the increased sound stage, or the new musical dimensionality, then our systems aren’t good enough, our ears are failing, or we’re biased against their “truth.” To be honest, I’m over it.

As you might expect, Max owns and operates a company that designs and sells crazy expensive interconnects, isolation products, and other high-end audio components. His product descriptions are a mix of techno jargon (“cryogenic treatment” and “fractal” processing) and ridiculous reviews (“…my music is clearer, faster and with a greater depth of soundstage, and extension of low and high frequencies.”) Does anyone really believe using cables to EQ is the right approach?

He was kind enough to attach some white papers that details an experimental method for testing speakers cables. Max states,“The results of this experiment may embarrass those cable sound deniers who have hindered the advance of Hi Fi for the past 50 years, and hence may allow the quality of high-fidelity sound reproduction to advance.”

I’m one of those cable deniers and I don’t believe that I’ve “hindered the advance of HiFi.” Quite the contrary. I’m confident that my own work has helped advance our hobby, inform audiophiles, saved people thousands of dollars, and presented a mostly balanced view of what maters and what you can skip. You can skip expensive cables.

Is Streaming from a NAS the same as TIDAL or Amazon Streaming?

A reader responded privately to my last post introducing high-end audio streaming. He asked if I would consider a NAS (networked attached server) and his network to be an example of streaming audio. Is the mere transference of digital data from one physical location or device to another streaming or not? In the case of one’s own LAN (local area network) where the origination and storage of the music files is on your own devices, it’s probably best not to consider that music streaming in the same sense that listening to TIDAL or Amazon Music HD streaming music services are.

First, the content on your NAS is yours. If you get cut off from the Internet backbone, you’re still going to be enjoying your tracks. And there’s a good chance that you ripped your aging collection of CDs yourself using bit perfect software like dBpoweramp. You also know exactly what the specifications of your audio files, be they 44.1 kHz/16-bit Red Book PCM, DSD 256, or some “high-resolution” specification. Do you know the specifications of the audio that Amazon Music HD or Apple Music stream? They are not streaming the native PCM or DSD streams, that’s for sure. Even if their marketing materials profess that we’re receiving “CD quality or HD Music,” we know that there are codecs (like MQA) standing between us and the original masters that WB, SONY, or Universal licensed to TIDAL or Qobuz. As because the music is streaming, we have to trust the specifications provided on the front of our hardware or software players. But can you really trust a company that elevated CD spec to HD status with the wave of their corporate hand?

I have captured the native streams from some of these services and have analyzed them. The fidelity coming through most is no better than Red Book spec. It’s probably a good thing that my HD-Audio Challenge II confirms that audiophiles cannot perceive differences between CD and high-res audio. What IS critically important is that the streaming services do no harm to the native files they receive from the labels. And some do. If we can reliably count on 44.1 kHz/16-bit PCM fidelity, we should be happy.

Next time, I’ll look upstream at the masters that the labels are providing to their licensees. Does fidelity in equal fidelity out?

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

4 thoughts on “Streaming Audio: Part II

  • October 21, 2020 at 12:59 pm
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    I am looking forward to the book!

    Keep bashing the cable loonies! 🙂

    I have to say the $100 Schiit Audio Modi 3 I recently purchased sounds great using some old thin RCA cables into a Yamaha amp.

    Can you confirm that best performance on Windows 10 for a DAC means setting the advanced properties for the device to a default to 24bit 192000Hz? My default was higher when I installed the DAC and in Amazon HD the device capability was listed as lower until I changed it (was 32 bit 96000Hz I believe). Thanks!

    Reply
  • October 21, 2020 at 3:36 pm
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    Mark I will contribute to the second wave but not at the audiophile level. After all I’m a professional in audio as well as accounting.

    I agree don’t respond to the cable guys but maybe this is the time for me to write an article about bias. The new Statement on Auditing standards Number 142 recently issued provides a good framework to discuss the types of bias high end audio conveniently forgets.

    Reply
    • October 21, 2020 at 6:03 pm
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      Steve – re your Windows settings question: No. That setting simply tells Windows audio subsystem to upsample any audio signal it receives – whether it’s a YouTube video, cell phone video, CD playback or a voice mail message. Upsampling = unnecessary or unwanted signal processing by Windows, and isn’t bit perfect treatment of the audio file

      Reply
  • October 21, 2020 at 11:56 pm
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    The biggest issue I have with streaming services is that you cannot choose which issue of that album or track if they have been remastered over the years. Often the remasters do not sound as good as the original issues due to modern trends of excessive compression, limiting and loudness and they are mostly the only ones available from these services.

    Until that issue is addressed, I’ll stick to streaming music stored on my NAS as I’ve put in a lot of effort in finding the best sounding releases and largely avoiding crushed remasters.

    Reply

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