Format wars

August 21, 2017
 by Paul McGowan

Whatever happened to the format wars? We lost sleep over FLAC vs. ALAC, DSD vs. PCM, MQA in competition with everything else.

Did our playback equipment suddenly get so good that these various formats now perform with varying degrees of excellence rather than acceptability?

I can tell you that playback of 44.1kHz through DirectStream is so close to higher resolution formats that one has to question the need to purchase higher resolution media. But that’s just us in a sea of other DACs.

Have we, as an industry, elevated playback quality to such a degree that the wars are over? Is there a white flag flying that I missed?

It’s hard to know if the most vocal among us got tired of the battle, or found peace in the improved performance.

I do appreciate a lull in the battles.

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59 comments on “Format wars”

  1. Paul,

    in a time when people say one has to use certain kind of cables and cable-elevators of course, when one has to use fuses of a certain kind and certain pedestals for your amps, in a time when one has to use certain power cables and line conditioners and USB regenerators even the format wars will never end. Each and every time the stereo system is tuned by using the proposed addons one gets to a higher level of performance a new window to the real thing is opened. In German, we say in such cases “Haben Sie es nicht eine Nummer kleiner?”
    I wonder how bad even your IRSs must perform when one does not use all of these gimmicks.

    Each and every high-end guru has his own disciples who do not know but want to believe.
    The vast majority of those gurus do not even give verifiable declarations why they are right and all others are wrong – They only pour us with assertions but very lyrical.

    If someone like me is initially skeptical, the adepts very quickly find flimsy explanations why I am wrong with my opinion.
    This happened to me and a few others even in this forum.

    Excuse me but I had to say this.
    Regards

    1. When it comes to the last questions and secrets of life and high end (!) audio most people are talking about creed and the discussion becomes a religious and mythical character. To behave skeptically means being a non-believer. And non-believers are most liable to be ignored or even eliminated by fanatical and fundamental believers. Only scientists are trained to respectfully and most sceptically discuss open questions and contradicting hypotheses. Who regularly discerns his assumptions, speculations, subjective opinions and convictions when making a statement?

    2. Bernd and Psq – the thing I think many of us wonder is A) Why you’re hung up about people having fun with their stereos, and B) Why you ascribe religious fervor to those who appear to be insufficiently skeptical to you.

      This whole thing gets to be too much like Politics in America at the moment – one “side” questions the fundamental assumptions and even sanity of the other. But this is only describing the popular demonizations of each “side” – and what percentage of all of us do these characterizations truly represent?

      1. bb,

        well I cannot speak for psq but what relies to me I can only say I wish all of you all the fun with your stereo you can get and I mean it honestly!

        What disturbs me is the inflationary use of superlatives when it comes to those things I mentioned in my first post. “This opens a whole new window”, ” I get a much wider and deeper soundstage”, “voices come much more realistic” and all the rest of it. This all by only changing of a cable, a fuse or by adding a USB regenerator.
        My question was meant seriously when I asked how mediocre the system in the listening room one should sound without all the nice accessories.

        Here, credibility is reciprocal in relation to the degree of exaggeration.
        Belive me or don’t – month ago I wrote in this forum that it is a hard job for me to listen to music with my stereo when I come home from a live event because of all the shortcomings I realize then. It take a day or two until I can enjoy the music reproduced by my system again.

        I do not want anybody to believe what I say.
        I do not want anybody to believe what anyone says but to make up ones own mind totally unprejudiced then many statements are relativized.

        Now go on and enjoy your music!

        1. Sorry to go on about it, but I don’t understand why, if someone hears something better from their system, and uses the odd superlative to express their subjective experience, this immediately triggers the “BS meter”. Or the “they must be stupid/delusional”-meter.

          Unless you were there and heard the before and after, you cannot possibly know what occurred. Why not accept what they say and be happy for them?

          The default scientific position, however is skepticism (when folks in other parts of the globe spell it “sceptic…” it reminds us of sewer systems) – in absence of The Method being applied. So have YOU tested any of these “tweaks” you disparage out of hand yourself, in your system (and then, that’s just your system and your ears)? Or do you assume (in Absence of application of the Method) that it “just sounds like BS” and everyone is “kidding themselves”? Or perhaps you have faith in the opinions of other Scientists you think are smarter than you?

          And – re: Live music vs. home reproduction…if I hear this argument one more time, I’m going to scream. (I’m casting a sidelong glance at you, Steven S.). Do ANY of you SERIOUSLY think that ANY of us ACTUALLY think the experiences are equivalent?!?! I appreciate that it is typical to discuss it AS IF IT WERE equivalent, but I would posit that few of us have difficulty making the distinction.

          This is to say nothing of the folks who SIMPLY CANNOT AFFORD either the time and/or the money to go to live events, whose excursions are curtailed by health/age/infirmities, etc.?

          There seems to be a concommittant assumption of “more money than sense”, and the ability to spend “excessive” (fill in your monetary amount here) sums on both components and tweaks.

          1. bb,

            you didn’t get me on the hook.
            Where did I say bullshit?
            Nowhere!
            I just said that ever again using these kind of superlatives – just go back to Friday last week where Paul wrote “… a whole world of transparency opened for me.” – is implausible to me.

            Yesterday I discribed the listening test on fuses. The only answer I got was “Try another brand”.

            C’mon what do you want to tell me when you say “This is to say nothing of the folks who SIMPLY CANNOT AFFORD either the time and/or the money to go to live events …” You got the money for an audiophile stereo but have no money for your local opera house or concert hall where we have also places for people in wheelchairs and where handicapped persons as well as pupils and students get special prices for tickets and where the rehearsals are for free.

            At least I do not want to repeat what I have already said but I come to the conclusion that you do not want to understand me. Well that is your problem not mine.

            Regards

            1. Apologies if I have misconstrued your intent. I would suggest that there are many people who love music, and love listening to music at home, who have built up systems over decades that cost a tiny fraction of what it would cost to regularly go to the Opera or Symphony. It is an extravagance for most people, which would result in familial strife, at the least.

              This is why I was suggesting that implicit in your suggestion that people attend live events was a very Large assumption of either the cost/relative affordability/availability of the live events in their area, and/or the cost of the individual’s investment (over decades?) in equipment to listen at home.

              Not all of us live a short car ride from the Great Orchestras of Europe. And I would further guess that not all of your neighboring music fans consider it a foregone conclusion that attendance of live events trumps home listening.

          2. The purpose of domestic audio has changed over time. In the early days of phonographic societies it used to be highly social. I have read articles from the 1920s about audio quality with reference to its use for piano instruction, so people could hear the technique of professional performers. From the 1950s it became very much live v records, reference the Briggs and Walker demonstrations in 1955 and 1956.
            I enjoy live and recorded music at home and in the office. I enjoy music on a $100 radio. I enjoy it on my home audio system. I have heard much better sounding systems for 10x the cost. I have also heard worse for 10x the cost. I don’t think I have ever posted a comment about my own audio comparing to live performance. I have many times referred to home audio as merely a trick or allusion to live performance, the first point of reference being able to recognise a familiar voice. Others pointed out yesterday that you can do that with a mobile phone.
            As I have limited financial resources I prefer to spend it on live performance than a new DAC. Audio will never match live performance simply because home audio is not an interactive human experience.
            My wife and I have made a life decision to live within easy range of cultural events, as it is a major part of our lives. Fortunately, these days disability is much less of an issue to being able to attend.

            1. “Audio will never match live performance…” fore-effing-gone conclusion. This was part of the point I was trying to make to Bernd.

              And very few people with what most Americans these days would consider TRULY – “limited financial resources” can afford to travel to Iceland or Germany to attend concerts – or even the drive/tube ride across town (and tickets) to the London venues where you attend concerts.

              I understand, yet envy you guys being so out of touch with how effed up shit is around here economically.

              It’s one thing if you want to argue that Badbeef (as Soundmind would put it, at a remove) can spend $4k on a used pair of Harbeths, and quite another to assume that Everyone who likes quality music reproduction in their home has either the inclination or the wherewithal to regularly afford $70+ dollar-per-seat concert tickets because it’s inarguably better than listening to your stereo.

              Some would say that for that $70, they can buy at least two high-res downloads that they can listen to For the Rest of Their Lives – and their children’s lives, for that matter – vs. the (again, inarguably better) One-Time experience of the live performance.

              I don’t think anyone would suggest that attending concerts in person is in any way comparable. If they write, “I was transported to the concert hall”, use your intelligence and discriminatory abilities to not take it literally. They’re either saying, “it reminded me of being there” or “it was like I imagine it would be if I could afford it”.

              1. I’ve been going to shows for decades, started with student discounts getting to see Solti and the LPO, Barenboim etc for $2, opera for about $8, there are student discounts, unemployed discounts, old age discounts, many arts students get tickets for free. My wife saw Pavarotti at the Met for free when she was studying at Martha Graham in New York. It’s taken me many years to get closer to the stage. The irony is that I have no idea how kids afford $300 to $500 for Kanye West on Ticketmaster or resale sites.
                I used to spend lots of money on CDs. I now have high res streaming and unlimited offline downloads for $40 per month. All the more reason to support artists at live events.

                1. Cool! Let me know where to get $2 Berenboim tickets! He used to work here.

                  And then I’ll buy plane tickets to travel there and hotel, etc. Easy for a more “money than sense” audiophile such as myself – and all the rest of us on Paul’s Posts who buy everything he makes without question.

                  1. At the Royal Festival Hall they used to be a system whereby 30 minutes before the performance they sold all remaining tickets for next to nothing (especially if you were a student). You could get tickets for just about anything. Now they sell out way in advance. Before the internet (remember?) we often had to go to the box office for advance sales.
                    Classical music and dance are some of the cheapest live performance because of public subsidy and sponsorship. Many European countries have state sponsored theatre, including the UK National Theatre with capped ticket prices. Most theatre is very expensive, but we use a theatre club that gets group discounts.
                    Most European countries are sufficiently small that you don’t have to travel too far for live performance and, certainly for classical music and festivals, cost is not a major issue to overcome.

              2. I also agree that audio will never match a live performance. Typically the recording is not as good as being there, but sometimes the recorded sound is better than being there. I have been to many symphonies and instrumental recitals where the sound in the hall was not as good as listening to the same musicians and instruments at home on my stereo system. It depends on where you sit in the hall, the balance of the instruments, the reverb of the hall, and the quality of the recording. So, to assume actual attendance is a better sound with greater presence is not always true in my experience.

      2. Indeed, sceptics and heretics run into most uncomfortable situations when trying to arg with believers Thus I start arguing only with people who have a least a slight ability for self-criticism. For the rest: just listen, confirm their beliefs and smile. No non-believer likes to become a martyre.

    3. Thanks, Bernd, and you bring up some very good points. Here’s the thing. If you take the IRSV and a set of our BHK electronics and one of our DACs as a starting point and then begin to think about playing them, you immediately run into trouble.

      Where will you put them? In a room, of course, but what about that room? I spent a lot of effort getting the room correct in ways precious to Audiophiles. So, we cannot just talk of such things in a vacuum as you are suggesting.

      Or cables. We must connect the IRSV and BHK electronics together to make music. And we must have a good source to begin with. Now, you’re into the cable discussions.

      But your question, how does this system sound without all the “gimmicks” is still a valid one (though I’ll ignore the criticism implied). Even if you placed these speakers in an off-the-shelf living room (if there were such a thing) and connected them with lamp cord and throw-away RCA connectors and cables (like you get when you buy a new DVD player), it would still sound good IF you set it up properly.

      That’s a lot of ifs. I’ve heard these systems with the most expensive set of “gimmicks” in the world sound awful because of poor setup or too many gimmicks. I’ve also heard them sound terrific in the most sparse conditions too.

      I don’t think you can easily get to your point, which is, of course, “If it takes all THAT to make them sound good, how bad must they sound without it?”

      And that question is just too broad for an adequate answer.

      Maybe it’s helpful to remember we’re speaking of incremental improvements that assume a good starting point.

      1. Paul,

        taking all those things you mention as granted:
        Carefully setting up the speakers in the listening room using all tools available, choosing the right amplifiers an sources.
        No the tweaking begins.
        You’ve got a level of performance that is much better than everything you’ve heard before. Then you say ” “This opens a whole new window” by only changing the speaker-cables. This is somewhat disturbing to me. If you’ve said “I got more transparency that with the former cable and I do not want to miss it” everthing were fine. Why the heck has one to use always descriptions, which sound so exaggerated?
        For example, if someone uses the “audiophile fuses” and does not conclude that they improve the reproduction in any way, the person who praised the fuses loses credibility.

        Regards

  2. There is no format war as most formats work on most machines, so it really doesn’t matter and no one is being asked to pay more for one over another. DSD seemed to have become Died Sudden Death. MQA is the joker in the pack because it is (a) unnecessary, (b) will add cost, (c) is not compatiable with most kit and (d) has been debunked technically.

    1. In the era of vinyl playback there was a war of needle shape/geometry. Or MC versus MM or MI. My final solution was the laser turntable from Finial/ELP Corp. This turntable clearly revealed that the basic problem of vinyl was the quality of the grooves! I appreciate when engineers try to optimise a solution. But optimising at the wrong end seems to be just stupid or simply business-minded. If many cannot discern a MP3 track from RBCD the assumption is triggered that highres-formats are just business-minded – especially when based on poor and mediocre master tapes.

      1. Do you own a laser turntable? This is really interesting! If so and if you previously owned a decent mechanical unit, what was the essential difference?

        1. The only downside of the laser turntable: the laser pick-up detects every speck of dust and scratch while a needle might be able to push the dust through the grooves without any click or pop. The rest is pure comfort: no fiddling around with tracking force, VTA, azimuth, settings on the phono-preamp, tonearm-cartridge resonance, removal of electrostatic surface charge, specific mono cartridges etc.. The laser turntable plays every “format” and you only have to set the correct speed. Remote control (skipping tracks) is simple. And you can order the TT with an integrated RIAA equalisation. The sound as I perceive it is simply “stress-free”. I guess that vinyl and cartridge aficionados (I belonged to this group too) just love fiddling around and like the specific distortions of their preferred cartridges/step-up transformers and phone-preamps. However some vinyl records with specific groove “roughness” are played via my needle cartridges. The spherical needle of a Denon DL-103 seems to smooth out the “roughness” . From the home page of ELP Corp. you can download music samples! Finally: I prefer the read out without mechanical contact if I get the grooves cleaned dustfree. The Audio Desk Gläss Ultrasonic record-cleaner is a great help here.

          1. Thanks! I read reviews but this is a special focus on it I didn’t know yet.

            You said the ELP is more sensible to dust and the Denon runs over roughness and on the other hand you wrote you prefer mechanical read out if in case it’s dust-free….doesn’t fit together for me…am I wrong?

            1. Just look at the large radius of the Denon’s needle compared to the sharply focused laser beam detecting the “tiniest’ variations in the grooves. One of the laser’s USPS is it’s ability to resolve the highest frequencies with ease! No varying misalignment angles and corresponding reading errors. Not to mention that the laser beam doesn’t generate a braking force varying with the grooves amplitude.

              1. Got you in the meantime, was a language problem for me.

                I thought the ELP somehow ignores dust or wipes it with a mechanism before read out.

                So maybe the light conductor cartridge with traditional needle is the best new approach? It also has an own phono amp/equalization. Or maybe records are just made to be played pure traditionally…

                1. Records are produced from a master where the grooves were made by a cutting head moving on a straight (!) line from the outer to the inner groove (or the other direction for some records from Tacet). while the platter rotated with constant (!) speed. The best read-out system would be an inert (mass-free) system following the groove’s amplitudes without delay or overshoot not influencing the platter speed. Finally it is a matter of minimising deficits of different non inert read-out systems and platter drives. Don’t forget warped records! 🙂

              2. “braking force” , never thought about this effect. If this is really happening, it would mean that there is jitter also in analog playback via turntables. Amazing.

                1. There a multiple sources for “analog” jitter – thus not different to “digital” jitter being caused by different phenomenons. Think of wow&flutter showing that the speed is varying in time. The belt might be non homogeneous. The contact area between belt and platter might be non-homogeneous. The motor itself shows flutter and it’s control induces short variations. If the record is not perfectly centered you get a jitter-problem. Etc., etc..

      2. Very well said but this commits that some should not have a voice in opion
        While I agree with your commnet and it’s a true fact it also pushes on some who feel different in what they value. One thing that always has bothered me is when someone claims to hear what Most do not. It may be true as there are things I hear in others setups they don’t. But in doing so part should be how to educate them to why and how they may acquired a gift.
        I don’t have any source of real and do not attend such live events
        But yet I have acquired Some.
        So my question is did I really get them or do I just know better what to listen to.

  3. In conjunction with yesterday’s post, my response then got 4 thumbs down. I referred to the fact that my audio system has a universal power supply; it can be plugged in anywhere in the world, with or without fuse, any mains voltage, two or three pin plug, and work optimally. That seems to be a reasonable and practical design proposition to reduce complexity. Format wars are just another complexity that is the lifeblood of audiophilia. If it isn’t formats, it would be something else. The question is, is the complexity real or needed to satiate audiophiles?

      1. There seems to be quite a lot of drift towards simplicity in high fidelity audio, whether all-in-one systems or streaming DAC pre-amps. A universal power supply is a good idea and certainly beneficial for the manufacturer. Some companies make in large enough volumes that there is no added cost manufacturing different voltages for different regions. There are plenty of components that have 120/240v switches on the back panel. Some companies don’t think internal mains power management is an issue. Devialet saw it as a massive issue. Devialet set out to reduce rather than propagate complexity, which is why some love it and many hate it.
        I do wonder how many audiophiles, if their favourite manufacturer came out with a no-compromise one-box solution, would actually go for it.

        1. “When I get older, losing my hair…..” and getting presbyopia etc and really simply wanting to enjoy just the music I agree that simplicity is highly preferred! And Devialet just makes a great job here.

          1. Devialet were (and probably still are) high end industry outsiders. Why is it that high end companies don’t want to do simple one-box solutions? Would it be killing the golden goose of multi-box solutions?
            Companies like Naim and AVM in Europe come close, but don’t package with amplification as they are still in Class A/B. Linn Exakt is very clever, but very expensive.

            1. Asked and Answered here, methinks – one Box solutions Typically represent compromises, for those of us that haven’t caught up with you, and your state-of-the-art system.

              The silly ongoing assumption of Presidential-level greed in the audio industry is, frankly, tiresome.

              Many of us have invested incrementally over time, and scrapping all of the components we have to buy a one-piece system is a leap into the unknown. Maybe you’ll turn out to be prophetic.

              1. My system is not state of the art, but it suits me in terms of sonics and moreso convenience for what I want to invest. I had a more expensive system a few years ago and sold off units, replacing with items as good but cheaper, an education in itself. I then bought an all-in-one and have paid for it by selling off the cheaper system.
                My limited experience of the route to happiness with expensive audio was to focus on eliminating weaknesses rather than constantly seeking illusory improvements. To do so requires resistance to “upgrade path” marketing commonplace in audio, the worst culprits being cable sellers.

            2. You are talking about one box solutions, but with speakers it will be a three box solution. There are many more intelligent solutions in other parts of Europe you might not have heard of. Two box solutions. All you need is two active speakers with built in DACs. You can get them from fair Nubert level up to real high end stuff by Backes & Müller.

    1. Both suggestions are correct.
      And how you use your system is yours to choose. Now if you asked how to improve it or what you wanted to change is when suggestions come in. U sound like you enjoy it.
      Cherish it and don’t be swayed by negative energy from others.
      Do read and learn it only make changes if you want change.

  4. I agree with CD playback being really good now. I posted earlier that I’m not a fan of servers, as I don’t want to be on any type of computer, iPad, iPhone or whatever when listening. Getting rid of the server pretty much gets rid of the format war. CDs are pretty cheap now, which is really nice. I had somewhere around 15 DACs from the start of the server inception until recently, largely due to format/sampling rate offerings.

  5. Yes stevensegal, you gotta be very careful with what you say or your popularity is fading away in the blink of an eye. From hero to zero in one post.
    But I know what you mean. I had dislikes for just telling what I like or not like (like vinyl).
    People (including me) just wanna believe in their own fantasies/dreams, like cables do or don’t matter, one format sounds better or worse than the other. I beg you, don’t shatter our dreams.
    And your system is so simple and (most of all) affordable. You said that several times. And that’s good, but does not make you the most popular guy here.
    We audiophiles with our bulky 60 lbs amps, garden hoses (aka cables) and coffins (speakers) can’t handle that. We believe in what we bought. But that doesn’t mean we do not envy you.
    And I agree with you (but only with that) there is no format war (anymore).

    1. I’ve had a modest career as an audiophile and there is always the risk of a relapse. I have other things to worry about. Do I spend £400 on a pair of tickets for a new production of La Boheme? Do I wait for the reviews? Do I spend a bit less for a Saturday matinee, but who goes to the opera at noon? Decisions, decisions.

    2. It’s not a popularity contest either !!!
      Audiophilia is the most fascinating obsession. My hobby of choice is photography. Cars is another one, of no interest to me, but I know one or two people who are obsessed. With cars and photography, people tend to agree on a lot of things – why this or that lens or body is better suited, which car goes faster, is better round corners etc. Personal preferences are easy to cater for. It is also very easy to establish whether or not you are getting value for money and upgrade paths are easy to define.
      In audio, there seems to be little agreement on anything, Soundmind taking it to unparalleled levels (I do enjoy his posts when my brain can take them in). I have two all-in-one systems and they give me peace of mind and good sound. I appreciate for others such an arrangement would be unlistenable on principle.

  6. I read an article a few years ago where the author stated “I don’t want to buy my music again, I want the music I own to sound better”. I kept that in my back pocket as I returned to audio enthusiasm. That path led me to PS Audio as I have a large CD collection. I hope the novelty of my 30+ year old CDs sounding so amazing never wears off. I am glad I won’t have to buy Machine Head again! I have purchased it in vinyl x3, countless self-made cassette tape recordings, CD and FLAC download. I have not experienced MQA yet, but I am perfectly content with PCM through my DMP/DSD kit. Maybe, maybe not my 55+ ears could hear the difference. Maybe listening to Deep Purple for so long could be a factor . . .

  7. … or see a live broadcast in the cinema for £30.
    I do find it amusing that the average price I pay to go to Covent Garden, sitting in the stalls, is only fractionally more than a ticket to see Chelsea (my son’s team) play at home.
    I have a big issue with audiophilia relative to the cost of live music. Opera is a luxury, and is 50% subsidised by the taxpayer (me again). We always get best seats in London and over all genres the average is about £40, say $50. Don’t know how that compares to other major cities.
    I just can’t reconcile that I could get say 100 tickets or alternatively an audio component with marginally better performance than something I already have.
    As my wife was a dancer, I also have a profound drive to give my money to feed live performers, most of whom struggle to make a living, but can contribute so much. Why don’t I have similar feelings towards audio manufacturers?

    1. ss,

      maybe it’s because you love performing arts more than tubes, transistors, diodes, capacitors and so on. But don’t worry – that is the right way!

      Regards

  8. The battle still rages on. Just spend some time at the Asylum, it is mostly MQA these days. Although this time there is almost a clear majority. Only the representatives of some of the magazines are open to or pro MQA. And the rest of us, are less against the format, providing it doesn’t become mandatory, and are against the business of it. And even though they now admit that digital can sound good, they still prefer or believe that vinyl is the best. The difference is that there are no format wars, that at present will have any real effect on the masses. Not like the days of Beta vs VCR, SACD vs DVD-A vs CD, and before Blu-ray players being universal, and backwards compatible, Blu-ray vs DVD-V. The last never really got any traction.

    I have a bug report in at Tidal now, because at least one MQA file is skipping every other track. I’m beginning to think as I only do the first unfold it is time to spend a few hours comparing Tidal’s standard files against the MQA. I won’t know what is playing, but I am beginning to hope I can go back to just the 16/44 files, way less aggravation. I may have that opportunity, as next week we are finally going to compare the BHK preamp vs AR Ref6, and various combinations of the DMP, DSD Snr vs the AR CD9. May as well add MQA in, as I think there will be a Bridge II installed by then. Sadly none of this fine gear belongs to me. The BHK 250 won’t be involved due to it’s weight. Neither one of us can easily move it to the first floor, from upstairs.

    And finally, I don’t know why people keep declaring DSD as dead. Sony may not be supporting it, but I see just as many titles being released in SACD as I did 3 years ago. They are from audiophile labels of titles that have been released in the past, but I don’t see them going away. And vinyl has not been this popular, since the release of the CD. On most of the late night talk shows, when a band is being announced the host is holding up an LP cover, very seldom is it a CD.
    If studios would all record with hi-rez PCM or DSD, I think we would see files available in higher than CD quality as a regular option.

    1. “If studios would all record with hi-rez PCM or DSD, I think we would see files available in higher than CD quality as a regular option.”

      Scrolling down my (Qobuz) streaming service, just over half of new releases are available in high resolution. Seems pretty good to me (includes some double listed as HD and 16/44). They are including DSD streaming in a month or two – will be interesting to see how many DSD titles come up. For example, Alia Vox have been releasing SACD for many years as their primary format. I can currently stream most of them at 24/88.2 or 24/96, will they become available in DSD?

      1. Initially I was very sceptical about availability of hires material…in the meantime nearly half of my ~4000 albums are hires and yet not all (but nearly all) 16/44 are replaced.

        Certainly depending on genre, but for my mixed bag of jazz/classical with less Rock/Pop/HipHop etc. it’s quite a lot available as hires. And as most record in hires in the meantime (seems to me at least), there’s going to come more probably.

      2. Have you actually checked those hi-rez files to see if there is any data/music above 22hz? Unfortunately we can’t get Qobuz in the States, at least legally.
        I’ll be happy to admit that I may be wrong. I remember reading that many studios were still recording in 16/44 or 16/48. It has been awhile, so the source was either one of the newsletters from Mark Waldrep, or ???
        I do know that until recently, most downloads on Bandcamp that I was interested in were only available in MP3 and 16/44 downloads. The last one I bought was 24/96. Seeing as many albums are recorded partially, or completely in home studios, are we sure they are recording at higher than CD bit rates?
        My understanding was that download sites that were selling higher rez files, those originally recorded in digital were often 16/44 upsampled with no actual music above 22hz.
        Wasn’t one of Neil Young’s gripes that bands were not able to supply music at higher than 16/44. I would think if studios were recording in 24/88 or higher they would do all editing, and only down sample as the final step.
        So why weren’t those files being made available?
        Same with mastering, do they master at higher rates, then down sample as the last step, or down sample than master?
        As to Alia Vox, I never heard of it. I had to Google it. Blue Coast Music records in DSD too, but the content is not mainstream. We could also site Chesky, Acoustic Sounds, and ECM, all audiophile labels. After the initial cost of the processors, recording at 16/44 or 24/192, should not cost anymore, as the only difference would be storage space, but can you buy the hi-rez versions when the albums are first released on major labels?
        Another thing I’d like to know is when major studios first started digitally archiving tape, what resolutions did they use? I believe now they are archiving in DSD or at the very least 24/88. But I have no inside knowledge. And now you have albums like Beyonce’s Lemonade released on Tidal as MQA. Was it recorded using MQA processing?
        Until Pono, I wonder what percentage of artists were even aware of of resolution. Some did seek out the use of tape for the recording, but beyond that, I don’t think the average artist was all that savy. Of course some were very aware. Like I said, I based my statement on what I had read, and am very likely completely wrong. When it comes down to it, I have more questions than answers.

    2. I can’t think of anyone who has actually recorded in the studio in 16/44.1 – ever since ANY higher rate has been available. The Alesis ADAT was an early, affordable-by-mortals, digital 8-track, crappy-sounding digital recorder (which could be slaved together for much larger-track-count systems). This didn’t stop it from being used to record a number of chart-topping albums. It had the option to record in 48kHz, which made an easily-perceivable extension in the high end.

      There was an interesting anomaly a few years ago – a Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden record (Jasmine) they did at Keith’s home studio, the “high res” release of which was in 24/44.1. Though frankly, I don’t know if that was the original recording format. For many years it has been standard practice to record in divisible multiples of 44.1 if there is intent to release on CD, as the down-res math enables better results on disc.

  9. Just a quick comment. I have tried a lot of the stuff discussed here. I regenerate my USB from the computer. I have pretty good wires, both audio and power, and I’ve paid attention to reviews in the audio press. I have to say my systems ( I have 6 of them in a couple homes) sound incredible. The emotion in the music is there for me and that’s really all I want.

  10. Not being much of a digital person I really can’t say but it appears that the multiple ways of doing the same thing is indicative of a process which is in it’s evolutionary stage. A lot of me to’s are involved and It is possible that people have had enough of this versus that and not finding much difference between the various methods are sticking to what they have till the dust settles and the final winner is declared. Remember the video wars ? Regards.

  11. I was very surprised to hear Paul say that RBCD was better than the best streaming audio. This ran counter to his enthusiasm for downstreaming. But he’s not alone. Dr. Mark Waldrep also admitted that comparing his true high resolution audio recordings (there aren’t really that many of them in existence, only a few thousand of them according to his most recent statements), no one could hear the difference between the hi rez version of his recording and a version of the same recording downconverted to RBCD on a direct A/B comparison. This included not only him but his recording engineering friends in an experiment they performed. This is consistent with what science tells us about our hearing ability compared to the technical capabilities of RBCD in those areas this type of recording in any format that is required. Could there be a difference in the sound? Yes but it could not be attributable to additional technical capabilities of the hi rez technology whichever one it is, the reason lies elsewhere. It seems the people at Phillips and Sony did their homework when they invented the digital compact disc. Unfortunately for many, the CD is going out of favor for streaming commercially. This leaves vast libraries of used or unwanted stock new CDs that sound pristine available at low cost and if you are willing to pay new prices for them, you can get almost anything from Amazon or ebay quickly.

    The vinyl record industry continues to have a resurgence as new pressings are being produced and sold. The joke of it is, many if not most are recorded digitally and then converted to analog.

    The abundance of software in many formats and the ability of people to make fairly high quality recordings with relatively inexpensive equipment even in their homes has challenged the notion that the recording industry is a huge money maker. Pirating is also a factor. Only the most popular performers will make any money at it. If your thing is to play recordings of Taylor Swift on a $500,000 sound system, well lucky you.

    1. Is it possible that there’s a difference between a 16/44 recording played back 16/44 and a hires recording downsampled to 16/44?

      At least I have the perception many of my hires files sound better in terms of top end resolution, mid smoothness and ambiance/air around instruments than my redbook files. The redbook somehow sound rougher sometimes and other times very similar.

      I was too lazy so far to make serious extended comparisons.

      1. The only audible change would be due to the downconversion process which altered it or by using a different D/A converter. If done correctly there should be no audible difference. The reason is simple. No matter what anyone tells you, your ear drum cannot vibrate faster than 1/40,000 of a second, that’s half a cycle at 20 khz. As I’ve pointed out in the past, the limits of hearing are defined by the points where the threshold of hearing crosses the threshold of pain usually considered at around 120 db SPL. As you grow older the high end capabilities diminish. Women have problems at the low end, their eardrums being smaller and therefore have a higher range of resonance frequencies.

        You can test your high frequency hearing limits at a site called Mosquito Ringtones. This site was developed for children to secretly hear their smart phones ringing in a classroom because the frequencies available are within their hearing range but not within their teachers’ who may be only in their 20s or 30s. So they can secretly text each other. The tiny speaker in a smart phone should be able to reproduce these very high frequencies.

        The original CD players had a problem. To prevent what is called aliasing distortion they had to employ a brick wall filter, that is one with a very steep cutoff between 20 Khz and 22 khz. these multipole filters invariably created problems at lower audible frequencies with frequency response irregularities. The precision to construct such an analog filter correctly is beyond the capability of anything commercially viable. The problem was solved by oversampling, that is repeating the same digital signal over and over again at much higher scanning frequencies and then converting it back to analog at these high frequencies. This placed the brick wall filter far beyond the audible range and that is usually how the problem has been solved ever since. A brick wall filter in the digital domain just above 20 khz before the D/A conversion should give similar results but the oversampling method is so inexpensive and widely used there’s no point it reinventing the wheel.

        1. Thanks, I didn’t know this with the oversampling that concrete!

          What I remember is, that compared to my first CD player the following oversampling players had better resolution and better extension. But until the DS they all sounded as if the cymbals were of damped plastic compared to vinyl. Bad CD players certainly could sound shrill, but either this or recessed (within the price spectrum I had CD units until then …from 1-12k one box players)

          So, that the DS could extract such good top end extension from 16\44 speaks for your theory that the information can be generated out of what’s available on redbook.

          As I mentioned above, hires for me with the DS then didn’t add that noticeably more extension, but top end resolution, mid smoothness and ambiance/air around instruments. Same with DSD and the Huron effect (assumed) of doubling previous sampling rate.

          So far I assumed redbook/hires differences can be heard easier on units different than the DS.

  12. So many of these “what is the better format” questions, as well as “what is the better cable or fuse” questions could be answered with carefully designed and executed double blind listening tests — but such tests are difficult to set up and expensive. Most reviewers know the switch that was made and therefore can’t be totally objective from the skeptic’s point of view, even though we trust our own judgement infinitely. Reviewers often introduce their wife’s or friend’s positive comments to substantiate their own reactions. That typically scores points with me, but we never hear about the contradicting opinions of wives or friends. There a few true blind tests that I’ve read about. One was a subwoofer shootout and another was a cable shootout. In the subwoofer shootout a couple of subwoofers clearly stood out from the crowd, even though some reviewers incorrectly guessed the brand. In the cable shootout results were all over the map, reflecting the different tastes of the reviewers. In both shootouts reviewers had no idea what they were listening to. My favorite blind test of all time was the one in which a $1 million Stradivarius lost to a cheap violin.

    It seems to me that I recently read a scientific article on bit-rates that showed that in blind listening tests most people could not tell the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit. I can’t remember where I read the article nor do I have any expertise or opinions in this area. PS Audio and forum experts are very familiar with such research available and probably have exhausted this topic in the forums. I do think the newer generation formats may benefit from better recording techniques that may add to the perception, real or imagined, that the newer formats are superior to the older ones, vinyl being a possible exception. However, I often wonder if everyone had only vinyl in their system whether the first reviewer who heard a CD would proclaim it a quantum leap forward in sound quality, especially if it was played on a DirectStream MP and DirectStream DAC. I’m guessing he would.

  13. I play basically three formats.
    Dsd
    Pcm of the pcm flac but not just flac
    Also dxd a dead format that does sound good.
    Dsd to me is closer to analog but I don’t feel analog is better than digital
    Pcm is closer to live be it amped or not. But I don’t go to coral or classical. My point is formats matter to those who want a certain sound.
    There is also many who love to upsample to dsd 512 being thebso called sweet spot of upsampling.

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