Thursday, 29 January 2015

MUSINGS: What Is The Value of High Resolution Audio (HRA)?


enough?
I promised not to talk about Pono anymore, so I won't to a significant degree :-). This article is one about high-resolution audio in general.

It has been interesting seeing the audiophile press's responses to articles such as:
Gizmodo's "Don't Buy What Neil Young Is Selling"
Pitchfork's "The Myth and the Reality of the $43 Download"

with these:

Analog Planet's (Michael Fremer) "Gizmodo Won't Post My Comment So I'm Posting It Here"
AudioStream's (Michael Lavorgna) "Is High Resolution Audio Elitist?"

As I had laid out in this blog a number of moons ago (March 2014 to be exact) in "High Resolution Audio (HRA) Expectations (A Critical Review)...", there are many challenges to overcome in order to perceive an audible difference between a true high-resolution recording and the same track down-sampled to standard CD (16/44) resolution. This challenge is significant and technically difficult; culminating in the ultimate question of whether one's own hearing mechanism is even capable of the feat. (Remember folks, aging is good for wine, not so much for hearing acuity!)

I think there are a number of issues here and it's important to treat each separately without getting overly simplistic into a single declaration of whether HRA is "good/needed" or "bad/worthless". Furthermore gentlemen, there's no need for name-calling or ad hominem attacks.

For your consideration, here's how I see it:



1. Is the high resolution 24/96+ PCM format better (more accurate)?
Of course! Assuming we have a good quality recording, high-resolution formats afford better objective dynamic range for the music and accurately records more of the spectrum than 44kHz sampling rate. We know that LPs retain more than 22kHz of sonic information (the resolution of course is limited in dynamic range and distortions are higher with LPs). High sample rates will get us away from any concerns around ringing due to filters functioning near the audio spectrum which Fremer refers to. But folks, let's not overplay this either because "issues" like pre-ringing from digital filters are of questionable audibility and papers like this one from the Meridian folks (see this thread by page 5 for details and criticisms) show that even if we ignore all the concerns raised, aggregate correct responses was only 56.25% (160 trials) - just above their statistical significance level.

Higher 24-bit resolution is obviously beneficial in the studio to allow for more accurate digital processing. These days I'm doing digital room correction on playback with convolution filters so I think it's nice to have 24-bit files for that extra bit of accuracy during playback.

As a perfectionist audiophile, I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting the most accurate version of the album if available as a high-resolution file representing the "studio master". However, we have to realize that the perfectionist audiophile's desires are not the same as most mainstream music lovers. I don't know if anyone has done a demographic survey, but I'm sure it's a pretty small sliver of the music-buying public that would even care.

2. Is High Resolution Audio (HRA) audible?
For the vast majority of people, I believe the answer is clearly NO.

Differences are at best subtle. Neil Young's musician buddies (video) are clearly over-dramatic about what they heard or he did something to the car audio to accentuate the difference between MP3/lossless/hi-res in my opinion. CD vs. HRA is not analogous to the visible difference between DVD 480P and Blu-Ray 1080P obviously, otherwise we wouldn't be arguing about this. The 24-bit audio test performed here last year as well as the 44kHz vs. 88kHz sampling rate discrimination test from this study for example are consistent with this conclusion (for the 44 vs. 88kHz paper, the abstract was vague and I think misleading, look at the overall results and you see only 3/16 listeners able to get significant results but selected the wrong answer consistently; 13/16 trained listeners scored non-significantly). Other studies in the literature over the years have not been able to show significant effects at all (such as this 2005 study with 24/192).

Despite the above, who knows, maybe there are lucky (and more than likely young!) folks who have awesome auditory acuity. The DAC has to be good enough. Amps, speakers, headphones will need to be up to the task of reproducing the dynamic nuances and high frequency response in a reasonably flat fashion without exciting too much intermodulation distortion or high frequency ringing (like with the tweeter in the old Meridian DSP8000 active speaker measurements). Plus you need a quiet sound room. (Remember folks, research studies are generally conducted in controlled ideal environments using equipment with known objective capabilities. I have a sneaky suspicion that showing off hi-res sound quality in a car ain't gonna cut it!)

[For completeness, I've included Appendix A below for those who want to think about the Oohashi "Hypersonic Effect" referred to in Fremer's article.]

As demonstrated by the Fremer and Lavorgna articles, the audiophile press really likes to claim that the Meyer-Moran study from 2007 has been "debunked". One really should not expect large magnitude differences anyway based on existing literature, so the Meyer-Moran negative study is absolutely to be expected. For those who are unfamiliar, this study basically is a blinded ABX test to see if members (presumably audio enthusiasts) of the Boston Audio Society, around 60 of them, can tell the difference between "high resolution" SACDs and DVD-As played back directly versus going through a 16/44 A/D/A chain (basically "dumbing" the signal down to CD resolution). You can look at the equipment and music used here. The result was that respondents detected the 16/44 "loop" playback accurately 49.8% of the time - purely chance. No evidence the women or younger folks were any better either. To make a long story short, I think it's fair to criticize the study for using questionable high-resolution recordings (like old classical albums, or questionable quality analogue recordings, I've listed many SACDs already which are likely just upsampled PCM here). But remember these recordings were available and sold as high-resolution and would be typical audiophile fare back in 2007. There were at least six albums from Chesky, a couple from Telarc, Steely Dan's Two Against Nature DVD-A, the Dark Side Of The Moon remastered SACD from 2003, and Patricia Barber's Nightclub SACD from MFSL. Sure, we can discount the study as "flawed" because the music wasn't good enough or of high enough quality, but then we would have to contend with the following question...

3. Do we actually have many albums worthy of High Resolution Audio?
As I indicated last week, this is the BIG problem - literally the elephant in the room. I can understand why the industry may not want to talk about it! Because to change it will require massive effort and criticism of what has been "business as usual" for decades in terms of digital production standards since the mid-1990's. And it also means taking a hard look at whether there is truly any benefit issuing old recordings in the analogue era for high-resolution reissues.

Other than new audiophile all-digital recordings (mainly classical, jazz, vocals from specialized sources like Channel Classics, 2L, AIX, etc.), or maybe remasters from high-quality sources from Audio Fidelity/MFSL/SHM-SACD, etc... the vast majority of music does not require the resolution of HRA whatsoever. Heck, most of the top-40 pop/rock tunes don't even challenge high bitrate MP3. Mark Waldrep (Dr. AIX) has been warning us about this for years in his blog - I believe he's right. Highly dynamically compressed music with high inherent noise floors and unnatural recordings that were done without intent to preserve the full frequency spectrum or decent dynamic range does not sound any better in 24/96+. In fact, to truly take advantage of the resolution available, one must ensure full resolution through the whole production chain from recording to mixing to ensuring digital processing is done with adequate precision, to the final mastering step. I think Waldrep is right that the high resolution era (that is, capable of utilizing both >16-bit resolution, and >44/48kHz sample rate) truly began after the availability of high-quality digital recording gear (mid to late-90's?). All the music before then in all likelihood may only benefit from higher sampling rate, but 16-bits is all that's needed. As an example, although we can use 96kHz+ sampling on our favourite analogue recordings to preserve as much of the extended frequency as reasonable, I think most of us realize that as much as one may "love" yet-another-remaster of Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue, Jazz At The Pawnshop, Dave Brubeck, Living Stereo classics or the Rudy Van Gelder discography, the dynamic range for these recordings are limited and 16-bits would be more than enough to capture everything down to the tape noise.

It's easier isn't it to pretend that all music can be digitized in high-resolution and sold in this "new and improved" format? The music industry of course would loathe to not be able to sell yet another re-issue (this time with the HRA sticker on the cover) and have us all buy another copy of something we already have...

4. How much 'should' this cost?
Ah, the billion dollar question! The other day, I was in BestBuy and noted that the high-resolution Blu-Ray copy of Gone Girl goes for $25 and the "standard resolution" DVD was $20 (enjoyable movie BTW especially if you're a David Fincher fan). So, unless one is still stuck with a small (<30") TV or incapable of viewing higher resolution video, having access to a high-resolution movie (which by the way also has lossless surround soundtrack to boot) costs 25% more. Considering that HRA isn't as easy to differentiate from a CD compared to 480P from 1080P video, should we even be charged a 25% premium? Consider that a CD can be bought these days for $10, how much do you think we should be charged for a digital music download when all it is is a data copy sent down a utility which I personally pay for (ie. my internet provider's monthly cost)? We do not get a plastic case, printed cover/booklet, or a piece of polycarbonate in hand even. Furthermore, the CD can be resold! Can I resell a 24/96 music download?

Ultimately the market will sniff out what the cost should be based on demand... Personally, I have purchased many SACDs and DVD-As over the years at significant premiums over the CD. Only a couple music Blu-Rays so far. Truth be told, I mostly buy those with a 5.1 surround mix or maybe a 3.0 mix (like the Analogue Productions Nat King Cole SACDs) and there being a "collectability" component to the purchase which a download will never have. If I were to throw out a number, I think $13 for a high-resolution 24/96+ FLAC download is OK with me (assuming the CD costs $10) knowing that it's a more specialized item and there's a cost premium to that. Short of some kind of inflationary tailspin, I can't see spending $20+/album as reasonable for a standard digital download. I personally cannot see the jump from 24/96 to 24/192 as representing any value so would not likely pay more than maybe a dollar or two. I'd love to hear what others think should be the target price.

High Resolution Elitism!?
In the "Is High Resolution Audio Elitist" post by Michael Lavorgna, he suggests "you have to wonder if some of the stronger negative takes on what is a plea for better sound quality are rooted in an emotional response as opposed to a technical one". Indeed, there has been a strong negative emotional response hasn't there? But really, is this surprising? Considering the unrealistic hype around HRA (like the 'artist coming out of car' video above), and misleading diagrams (the underwater qualitative diagram, Sony's stair-step digital waveform), it's no wonder folks who know a thing or two about digital audio cannot help but feel perturbed by the claims. Mr. Lavorgna, it's not "envy" that is the primary emotion; it's actually disgust.

I find it fascinating that Mr. Lavorgna will even bring up the price issue or "elitism" with HRA. The truth is that even relatively inexpensive devices these days like say a $200 24/192 DAC off eBay from China can easily achieve high-resolution playback (even this oldie). USB-stick DACs like the AudioEngine D3 are also fine (up to 24/96 in this case). What's the big deal?! From a hardware perspective, $$$ should really be spent on quality speakers, a decent sound room, and room treatments for the best "bang for the buck" in general and especially for high resolution music reproduction. In fact, I think it's important to scrutinize expensive audiophile gear and ask for objective evaluation - even the highly touted PS Audio PerfectWave DirectStream DAC doesn't have an impressive measured noise floor that can benefit from >17-bits resolution (it sounds good at the local dealer BTW, but the accuracy is measurably limited). Definitely avoid weird expensive tube DACs like the Allnic and Lector Strumenti. Objective reviews with measurements become even more important when we get into high-resolution audio. Furthermore, just because some piece of equipment is expensive doesn't mean it's desirable. And just because some people criticize the cost of the hardware and software doesn't mean there's an underlying unfulfilled desire because they're lacking financial resources available to the "elite" of this world! Sometimes the asking price is just obviously ridiculous for what one gets. (And "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.")

In Summary...
Ultimately, I hope folks don't get too side tracked by things like the hardware, whether any particular company/spokesperson is worth backing (ie. Pono/Young, HDTracks/Chesky, Sony Walkman, Astell&Kern, etc...), or even what encoding technique (DSD, PCM-FLAC, PCM-MQA/Meridian/Stuart, etc...). HRA has been around for more than a decade with SACD and DVD-A; it's not really that new or sexy for many of us listening to this stuff for awhile. Better recordings are really what the world needs, not bigger file sizes. Recordings truly worthy of 24-bits and >44kHz because care and judicious processing were applied to maintain nuances and realism. Whether we can hear the difference with HRA or not I think we have to leave to each audiophile to decide through experience, intellectual consideration, or likely some combination of the two. In time, we will see just what "value" digital high resolution recordings hold in the marketplace from a cost perspective and whether lossless/high-resolution store fronts are able to succeed in the face of competition like the streaming services and traditional physical media. If companies, consumers, reviewers, and the press unite to advocate for and get us better sounding albums that can actually benefit from high resolution instead of the crappy, loud, typical mastering "quality" we've been subjected to in the last 2 decades, we all win. This, in my opinion, is the evangelical "mission" which audiophiles and music lovers should be pursuing.

Isn't it ironic that over time, for the most part, hardware like DACs objectively improve and become cheaper, yet it seems like the mainstream music software side just gets further away from high fidelity and realistic sounding recordings?

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Appendix A: The Oohashi "Hypersonic Effect"

I'm sure some folks will raise the spectre of the Oohashi (J Neurophysiol, 2000) study as evidence that ultrasonic frequencies make a difference - the "hypersonic effect" (a presentation was made by the same group in 2002). Michael Fremer already has in his spiel. (I see he just posted up another piece using this paper as the main point.)

In a nutshell, this study showed that there was enhanced alpha-frequency EEG occipital-parietal power when test subjects were played music with extended frequency response (up to 50kHz; the 20-50kHz ultrasonic contribution peaking at -30dB compared to the audible spectrum normalized at 0dB), and also PET scanning demonstrated increased deep brain activity (increased rCBF in the midbrain and lateral left thalamus) with full frequency music which was not noted when a low-pass filtered version of the sound was presented. I actually like this study and it's one of those nuggets in the audiophile psyche that stands out as a fascinating talking/thinking point! Remember though that functional neuroimaging is a hot topic these days, and there are many reports out there of questionable significance. Suppose we accept fully the methodology, there still remains the question of what it all means... For example, the recording equipment is a "high-speed one-bit coding signal processor operating at 1.92 MHz" - I'm not clear how good this is compared to modern ADC/DACs (it's supposed to have flat frequency response over 100kHz, so did they use noise shaping, if so, doesn't that introduce ultrasonic noise? The sample rate is obviously lower than SACD/DSD64 at 2.8MHz so noise shaping could be more intense!). The music chosen was the "Gambang Kuta" from Bali (have a listen here) - lots of high frequency content; can the results be generalized to Western music? We don't know if the test subjects even like this music so it's worth considering if subjective pleasure would change these results (what if most of the test subjects thought the "music" sounded like fingernails on chalkboard!?). Oohashi also designed the Pioneer-made "super-tweeter" that's supposedly flat to 100kHz - practically, how many reviewers/writers/listeners have speakers/headphones capable of this?

As far as I am aware, nobody has replicated the PET results. The same Oohashi group has now published again in 2014 (Fukushima, PLOS, 2014) using DSD128 (1-bit, 5.6MHz) and the TAD PT-R9 ribbon super-tweeter. They used the same Bali music. This time they feel there is both a positive hypersonic effect (with high frequencies >32kHz added to the audible component) and a negative hypersonic effect (for lower ultrasonic frequencies up to 32kHz) determined by whether the alpha-EEG power increases or decreases! There's even a vague reference to whether there's safety issues with these high-frequencies. Ultimately this appears to be even more confusing. Since they didn't ask about perceived subjective sound quality, we don't seem to know which (positive or negative) hypersonic effect sounded better in this study! If the negative hypersonic effect is "bad" for perceived quality, does that mean it's better to low pass down to 20kHz than retain all the frequencies up to 32kHz? But if the music recording has lots of frequencies >32kHz, then it's better to retain that since the brain then experiences a positive hypersonic effect? Even if these neurophysiological effects were real and replicable, should we even care if there's no conscious awareness? (It's worth mentioning again that DSD generally uses noise shaping and adds to the ultrasonic noise, so in the 2014 study, what happened to the noise that usually accompanies DSD128 playback starting around 50kHz?! In 2014, 24/192 PCM would have been better with less quantization noise I think.)

Bottom line: Before we accept theories around the importance of high frequencies affecting central nervous system functioning, realize that the data is limited and significance unclear. I think it's highly speculative to link these studies with the idea that they argue for high-resolution audio.

One more thing while we're speculating here... I wonder why there's no discussion about beta EEG frequencies? Cortical processing and alertness is correlated with the higher frequency beta activity. Studies of temporal processing for example will use beta-band activity for auditory guidance (like this one). Furthermore, alpha tends to be concentrated occipitally which is of course the major visual processing cortical area (usually when eyes closed, at rest)... Since we're thinking about music as perhaps being emotionally and cognitively engaging, we really should be looking for frontal and temporal activity I suspect although sensory modalities can cross-affect processing (example).

[Of interest, in the Oohashi 2000 paper, they also claimed that the 26 young (18-31, 42% female!) Japanese subjects who took the "psychological experiment" portion scored significantly and presumably in favour of the full-frequency test sample compared to presumably a 22kHz low-pass version (I'm unclear because they also used a 26kHz cut-off version for one of the EEG tests). I would have loved to see a more rigorous examination of the "psychological experiment" portion since they claim that the respondents were able to hear the full-spectrum sample as "softer, more reverberant, with a better balance of instruments, more comfortable to the ears, and richer in nuance". Considering all the negative or barely significant studies in the literature over the years, even this alone would be worth discussing irrespective of EEG or PET data!]

20 comments:

  1. Really nice article Archimago.
    I enjoy my Hi-Res files usually 24/96 or 24/48 just because that way I don't have that nagging feeling about losing some details in my future hardware updates, but I admit I don't notice any difference with blind tests.
    As for Pono I think the way it was marketed was full of BS, audio "nirvana" inside a car? I'm always happy to have more Hi-Res software but like you I want better mastering.
    Sometimes I understand why NwAVguy disappeared from the audiophile circle, if you actually try to have your own opinion some White Knighs come and bash you until you don't really care about the community anymore.
    I must admit I had fun reading some comments in Mr.Fremer blog, I agree with a lot of Vinyl lovers and I don't even own a turntable, many of my pals enjoy it and I respect that. Sadly for some on that comment area Vinyl more that a physical medium, it's like a religion. I don't enjoy click and pops because they distract me from the music, just because of that I consider Vinyl inferior to digital lossless files.
    It might have better mastering but if I get distracted from the music, it's not good for me. Thats about it.
    I'm usually moderate about all this "religious" holy bullshit war about audio formats, I enjoy mp3 on the street and I enjoy lossless digital at home. As for vinyl, every time some know it all comes and say it's so much superior I must smile and think that this hobby is personal and people are free to express their passions even if sometimes they go beyond what is socially acceptable.

    Rafael Lino aka Jouneyman @ journeymantoolbox.pt
    I don't hide behind any alias like someone said in the comment area, in fact I have a domain name registered. XD
    Some people don't use google. Archimago it's always an amazing pleasure reading your articles and commenting on them!
    My sincere best wishes all way from Portugal.

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    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment Rafael.

      Yeah, I have wondered whatever happened to NwAVguy as well. Some excellent discussions from the engineering perspective; I've certainly missed that as well.

      I still collect vinyl but like you said, not with religious fervor nor belief that it represents some kind of ultimate sound quality. There's a recent article about the sound quality of LPs here:
      http://www.laweekly.com/music/why-cds-may-actually-sound-better-than-vinyl-5352162

      I think an honest discussion with good interviews from guys who know their stuff!

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    2. I actually made some comments there...someone said Vinyl wouldn't degrade at all with High quality gear, I said it wasn't possible and actually had to refute him with an old study from the golden age of Lps. I don't get some people, Vinyl needs a stylus to work by contact just that actually degrades the sound in every listening even if todays turntables are amazing in terms of engineering, they still work by contact unless one goes to the laser ones.
      Those kinds of comments make me a bit sad specially when they come from musically educated persons. I really enjoyed that article, it has sources and good writing.

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    3. Good discussion, and I loved the referenced article in the LA Weekly. Thanks.

      One of the reasons I was pleased to ditch vinyl was having to flip the damn LP over after 20 minutes. You get into a nice relaxed state of mind enjoying some great music, then 'thump', 'thump', 'thump' as the stylus bumps up against the end groove. The bliss of being able to listen to a whole album without click, pops or 'thump' 'thump' 'thump', enhanced my listening experience no end. Talk about the soul of the music? Not if you have to 're-find' your listening state every 20 minutes.

      Also, who hasn't put an LP on then got distracted, fallen asleep, or even forgot you put it on, and come back some time later to find it dutifully spinning at 33 1/3?

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  2. I very much appreciate your honest comments on this issue, something that I cover regularly on my website as well. And I strongly agree with the conclusion to your article:

    "If companies, consumers, reviewers, and the press unite to advocate for and get us better sounding albums that can actually benefit from high resolution instead of the crappy, loud, typical mastering "quality" we've been subjected to in the last 2 decades, we all win. This, in my opinion, is the evangelical "mission" which audiophiles and music lovers should be pursuing."

    However, all this talk of bad mastering really only affects the most popular types of music. Classical recordings are, for the most part, well mastered (though I have heard some recently that are over-compressed), and most jazz recordings seem pretty good as well. The over-compressed badly-mastered argument applies to pop, rock and dance music, for the most part, which isn’t the type of music that most people who care about good sound listen to.

    There’s another element that’s just as important; I wrote about it here:

    http://www.mcelhearn.com/audiophiles-are-attacking-the-wrong-target-in-their-crusade-for-better-quality-digital-music/

    Most people listen to music on crappy systems, so what does it matter how good the sound quality is (to them)? Perhaps the true audiophile mission should be about getting people to appreciate good sounding speakers, and headphones better than Beats.

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    1. Great! Thanks for the link Kirk!

      Yup, lots of small portable audio being sold these days with just mediocre sound at best... No way these little speakers convey decent frequency response or resolution ability. Sadly, it's also these devices that highly compressed masterings are targeted to.

      Many of them are unable to play loud and a nicely dynamic mastering will require many of them to be pumped up to 100% volume. Sadly, I think folks will gravitate to the highly compressed sounding masterings and feel that they sound "better" as a result on these devices...

      How I wish we can see the day when the "loudness" button can be reintroduced to allow dynamic compression in the *hardware itself* instead of being baked into the songs!

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  3. As always excellent article!!! My 2 cents on the topic.

    Objective accuracy: Nothing to say here ... the numbers are there although some my challenge them

    Audible: Here is the real pickle. In December Linn were offering the possibility of downloading samples for free. I downloaded: 44/16, 96/24, 192/24 versions of the same song. I did some random listening and I COULD NOT identify the versions of the song. My system is not a gazillon dollar one but it's not crap either (Schiit audio, YBA, Sonus Faber ...) It may be my 44 year old years ...

    So this takes us back to the studio and the impact of the talent, passion for music of the people working there. Just take any record mastered or remastered by Steven Wilson (Jethro Tull Aqualung comes to mind) and all will be revealed!!

    My personal conclusion: CD is fine. The last year of HD non sense was very eye opening for me: to much talk on numbers not enough about music!

    Continue your great work!

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    1. You know, there was a time when I would be all excited about high-resolution downloads like those Linns! Alas, I think I downloaded one of them in December when I got notice off their mailing list and forgot to even check thereafter.

      Having said this, Linn does have some fantastic classical recordings I really like. Alas, my main audio staple is still in the rock/pop/jazz/vocal genres like the majority of folks (I read that classical constitutes just about 1% of music consumption these days).

      Nice system! As the academic papers suggest, we cannot expect to hear much "more" from HRA no matter what some folks want us to believe...

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  4. 24/96 arguably is a better format than 16/44, there doesn't seem to be any argument about it.

    The question is how many people (and recordings) and listeners would actually benefit from this larger filetype.

    About the many tests/studies that have been done over the years:

    I have a lot of questions with tests done by both scientists, audiophiles and wannabees.
    They all have a point to prove and are often looking for an answer that suits their views.
    Just like cellphone usage 'research' and even about smoking. you can find tests about those topics that show it is either harmless or that show it is pure evil.

    One should do their OWN tests in the proper way for your own education not to prove to others.
    What's proper ? one may ask.... very good question.
    The answer won't fit in this comment field for sure.

    So many people so many opinions.

    Fact is the majority of people (about >95% of all 'consumers' is my unfounded guess) will not even hear differences (nor care) between HR and MP3 128kbs for instance, lets call this 'the market' where the 'manufacturers' aim at.
    They just want music they like on their high fashion and popular branded portable gear they can 'show off' with.

    Those that cannot hear the differences between CD and HR (from the same master and downsampled/converted PROPERLY should buy the CD. If they still want to buy HR I say let them, they (could) have been warned.

    The audiophiles that want 'the best' should buy HR or DSD, just to be sure IF they don't mind wasting their cash on it. No harm in that for me personally.

    The very small minority (mostly guys >50) that 'clearly' hear audible benefits should buy even higher samplerates/bitdepths filetypes... It is good for the economy and I don't care. There will always be snakes seeking to make a profit of them.

    Those that get suckered into buying into HR deserve to be 'robbed' by the industry. Again... I don't care it's their own fault and they (could) have been warned when they read the other sites than they are used to.

    I feel one should actually own a physical product (disc) with value instead of a downloaded file (with or without DRM) or have at least one backup in case the HD crashes.

    Every one should be free to spend their money on things they prefer/can afford.
    Those that get 'lured' into spending more than needed deserve to be plucked like a chicken by hawks that are after that easy money. I don't feel sorry for them, they should have done proper reading about it.
    Those that already know, most likely, do not have to be warned at all as they already know WHAT is audible to them or not and how much they are willing to spend on it.
    Lets call this 'freedom'.

    I do sort of hate (envy ?) the guys who sell snake oil and make a bundle of money while ripping-off their clients knowingly or in ignorance.
    As long as the ones being ripped off don't feel that way I won't care, let them be happy with their miracle cures, uber expensive gear and mega sized music files.

    I almost agreed with:
    Better recordings are really what the world needs, not bigger file sizes.
    What I would change?
    Better recordings are really what some (caring) music lovers need, perhaps even at the expense of bigger file sizes.

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    1. "Better recordings are really what some (caring) music lovers need, perhaps even at the expense of bigger file sizes."

      Yup, I can go with that :-).

      Thanks for the note Frans.

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  5. Great article! Always enjoy your balanced and fact based views. For some reason this site is showing as infected with malware by Bitdefender. Could be a false alarm but thought I would give you a heads up. ... Sent from my iPad

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    1. Thanks for the note John. Don't know if others have seen this!?

      Delete
  6. I just thought I would add one little point, with specific implications Pono and Michael Fremer's understanding of that whereof he speaks. Even if Oohashi's hypersonic effect is to be taken seriously, it doesn't occur when sound is only played into the ears -that on Oohashi's own follow-up study
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006899305019499

    It would therefore follow that the hypersonic effect is of no relevance to the benefits of hi rez when played through headphones. So if we were taking abut a portable music-playing device designed to be played through headphones... HELLO.

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    1. Oh. Thanks for the link! This adds another dimension to this whole Oohashi convoluted story...

      So these high frequencies are supposed to be stimulating other parts of the body (or even the brain directly?) to create "enhanced" alpha rhythms. I'll vote for the pineal then since that's supposed to be the "seat of the soul" :-).

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  7. The idea of the 'Oohashi effect' is so seductive that once it is described, only the most hardened sceptic could doubt it. Everything fits: the horribly restricted, brick-wall filtered, frequency response that must surely leave our senses gasping, and then the restoration of the higher frequencies that wash over us like ionised air, refreshing us through every pore. It just *has* to be true!

    But I'll bet it isn't...

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  8. Re: Dr. Oohashi, you might find this HA thread about his curious body of work interesting....he's gone quite, um, *far afield* at times. http://www.hydrogenaud.io/forums/index.php?showtopic=102670

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  9. I feel that all this argument over the audibility of one high-res' format over another sort of misses a bigger point. As I've hinted at in another post on this blog, the biggest influence / limiter in the audio chain is the speakers. In fact everything in a digital playback system after the D to A conversation is going to influence the nature of the playback in some way (note, I didn't say degrade as that's not always the case). We get fixated as enthusiasts about whether a DAC has less jitter than other unit (I do this too) and so forth. The reality is, unless we are running VERY expensive reference quality speakers / headphones, apart from the obvious bandwidth restrictions in the transducers, we have a floor of distortion of many types that will mask any differences between different formats and resolutions. The differences may be real but they are beyond the resolution of the analogue end of our chain.

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  10. While I do agree transducers (recording and playback) are bigger bottlenecks than electronics are, the fact that even with decent setups (not necessarily $$$$) one can easily hear substantial differences in recording quality tells me that recording quality is the biggest bottleneck.
    Some recordings sound really poor while others can sound heavenly and everything in between, even regardless of 'format' I dare to say !

    To me the biggest bottleneck is the recording quality itself (from mics to matstering) followed by the transducers, followed by the DAC (in conjunction with sample rate) and finally amplification.
    Assuming all meet at least some minimum requirements.
    Also taste and preference of sound 'colour' come into play when choosing 'components'.

    When the DAC and amp are excellent and the playback system as a whole isn't 'broken' somewhere, the differences between poor and good recordings are more obvious on hires capable systems than on poorer systems.
    Agreed that differences between transducers (and placement/room) are indeed bigger than those in the electronics but even with poorer quality tranducers and well made recordings certain 'differences/changes' in the playback chain can still be heard (and measured) reliably.

    What Archimago is showing with his blog is similar to what the mythbusters are doing, but in this case on audio related cases.
    The fact that many audiophiles (audiophools ?) don't buy what Archimago sells (figuratively) is a firm believe that things don't work the way 'objectivists' think it works and/or measuring the wrong aspects or cannot measure certain things (yet) by lack of knowledge/means and trust their mighty ears a fair amount more.

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  11. @Solderdude. I don't think we are disagreeing here. I agree that the recording process is a large influence in the audio "chain". The point I was trying to make was strictly in the context of arguments over the different resolutions of digital audio - which was after all the original point in the author's article. Leaving aside the issue of recording and assuming a well recorded piece of music played from an ultra high DSD file compared to the same file from a lower sampling rate, it might be hard to pick due to the noise floor in your speaker / headphone. Having said that, a higher sampling rate should reduce ringing into the audible range but where do we need to stop? Personally I CAN hear the difference between 48khz and 96khz playback. Anything above that though and I fail to hear a difference. Perhaps I have cloth ears.

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    1. I haven't seen ANY ringing in the audible range in 44.1/48kHz files yet, except when artificial signals like squarewaves and needle pulses, that do not exist in any recording, are used.

      I just did the following experiment with a recording with varified and relevant HF up to 42kHz.

      Took a recording made on 192/24 and downsampled it with a known good converter to 48/24 (Awave Studio).

      That creates some pre- and post-ringing as it was done using a FIR filter (24 bit).

      Subsequently upsampled that 48/24 file again to 192/24 so I have an equal amount of samples yet have removed everything above 22kHz. Also any ringing of the sharp low pass filter used is 'added' to the converted 48kHz file.

      Those 2 files were 'mixed' in Soundforge 10 (the down- and up-sampled file was inverted).
      This nulls out the 2 files and everything that differs (be it phase, time or amplitude differences) will be in the 'difference' file.
      That should only be the harmonics above say 22kHz + any ringing that wasn't in the original file.
      If any ringing in the audible band is there it will reveal itself in the FFT.

      You can also play back the difference file.
      This only has contents with frequencies ABOVE 23kHz and NOTHING below it … NO audible ringing below 23kHz (which is to be expected)
      I played back this file on equipment that is varified to reach at least 30kHz (flat) yet, even amplified by 40dB shows NOTHING (also as expected)

      I recommend you repeat such a simple to do test yourself.

      If so desired I can upload screenshots and the files somewhere.

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