Biting bits

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Yesterday we talked of the difficulty understanding how digital audio bits could be higher or lower quality. Would we hear differences in sound quality between digital bits streamed over the internet vs. those found on our local hard drives or CD players?

The simple answer is no. Given identical source files, bits are bits when transferred between data sources and their end clients. There are no clocks associated with streamed, stored, or transferred data. So, for example, one cannot accurately suggest that the “timing is off” on CD or hard drive stored data since the data itself are unrelated to timing devices. Once that data gets delivered to our DAC the server or CD player has added a clock to the bits. That is a horse of a different color. If the timing of streamed bits is off, it’s the server or CD player we can point a finger at.

The quality of the switch handling our network data is meaningless. It either faithfully passes the bits or it does not.

So, why do people hear differences with various switch types and connecting cables managing our internet traffic? My guess is other reasons than data corruption. Fact is, we know the data is uncorrupted so finger-pointing probably needs to change direction: shielding, power supply noise entering the DAC, ground noise or contamination.

When investigating a commonly held belief it’s always beneficial to assume the many observations are correct. That attitude leads one to quickly dismiss the obvious and dig deep for underlying possibilities.