This is a very interesting debate not least because it is heretical to hifi buffs. I suggest that some of the questions that the debate highlights include:
1. Can anyone really hear any difference in a 'real' environment between these formats?
2. Alternatively, can anyone who is not a trained and experienced sound engineer/reviewer (much like a 'sniffer' trained to appraise perfumes or wine') really hear any difference? e.g. Computers that claim to show Xbillion collours when the human eye can only detect X divided by 10 colours.
3. Even if there is a difference if that difference is negligable or at least marginal, is it worth the extra cost for that difference?
For what it's worth I agree with everything that cs and Mr H have commented. I have an interest in psychology and alternative medicine and it is uncontroversial to state that unless the test is double blind it is pretty worthlesss. I like the idea of Mr 's test but wonder if WHFM will take the challenge as a 'wrong' result could bring down the house of cards!
Now I'm not saying that there's no validity in reviews because I certainly value reviewer's advice and opinion on how speakers and receivers etc sound and, clearly, a great pair of speakers is going to sound far better than a smaller/cheaper pair. I just have doubts that most people (if any) can really hear any difference in most pop/rock recordings whether at 128kb or 1441kb. Maybe my system isn't good enough to discern the difference (or more likely I'm going deaf in my old age!). I have an MT30 home cinema coupled to a Denon A1XVA connected to an Onkyo SR875. Maybe the Denon is working hard to make the most of the mp3?
What do others think? Shall we bring it on and maybe save ourselves thousands of £££ in future?!!?
no offence, but im not at all sure what you've just said. exactly waht are you doubting the diference between in a "real" environment...?
Formerly known as al7478...
HC: Panasonic PXP 42 V20; Panasonic DMP BD35; Humax Foxsat-HDR
Music: Optical out from Asus P7H55-M Motherboard into AVI ADM 9.1 speakers.
"Music will provide the light you cannot resist"
Hi. Good post Ian!
First, I must agree with you with the idea of the House of Cards, especially in this forum and this magazine. I do think they make a very good job in testing equipment and aiming for the best, but in many cases it's really misleading.
Most reviewers usually end up saying "good for the price", "you won't find anything better at this price", or then they test many products under the title "best xxx under 1000", and they end up choosing the one which costs 999.99. But even then, at the end, they say "but not as good as my many million xxx.
Hence, I like your comments, especially 1 and 2, regarding whether people can actually hear a difference in a "real environment", and what I understand by this is simply the environment and conditions where you usually listen to your music. I enjoy listening to music, and I want to get the most out of it, but I don't really call listening to music sitting in my sofa for hours changing sources and components, and just listening to a 5 second extract to see which one sounds slightly better. I'm talking about real differences, which will make you miss, let's say for example, your equipment, when you're using another one. Or put it this way, suppose you had two rooms in your house with different equipment. One system is better than the other if you would only listen to music in one of them, and never in the other.
Regarding the original purpose of this thread, I must say that I'm a big supporter of lossless files. Generally, and especially in your home environment, listening to lossless instead of mp3 doesn't really incur a bigger expense. Hence, I'd always recommend to listen to lossless, even if it's not possible to tell them apart. Just rip all your cds to lossless and that's it. An ipod worth £150 can store 160 cds in lossless format. These 160cds would cost at least £800, hence spending around 10% of the cost of your music on the source it's really a good deal in my own opinion. So this is my response to what you suggested, "Shall we bring it on and maybe save ourselves thousands of £££ in future?".
However, the matter of choosing which source to use can make a huge difference in the cost of your equipment. There're cd players for £50, and some for 100 times this price or even more, around £10,000. Is it worth it? Or, is there at least any difference in a "real environment", as described above? That's my question and that's what I want to know!
also, can you check my other post, iPod playing lossless vs CD player, http://whathifi.co.uk/forums/p/12574/83021.aspx#83021, and tell me what you think?
The main point I'm making in connection to your reply is as follows.
Can anyone tell the difference between mp3s burned onto a cd and the source cd in their living room even at 128kbs? Some people say that you can if you turn it up very loud. Is that correct? I recently burned 'The Best of Roxy Music' frrom an SACD onto a cd at 128kbs and found it hard to tell any difference. When I thought I could hear a difference it may well have been just that the vollume was slightly louder on one of the discs.
Ditto for 256kbs all the way up to 881kbs. Is there a point at which the human ear in any environment, let alone in a living room maybe walking around or just changing position slightly, cannot discern any difference?
If we can't discern any difference but some people 'think' they can it puts into doubt their ability to discern quality differences in other tests.
Hi. I definitely agree, especially with the last point.
I'll repeat that I'm not that interested in the mp3 lossless comparison, since, as I said in my previous post, that has a very simple and cheap solution. However, I definitely agree that "If we can't discern any difference but some people 'think' they can it puts into doubt their ability to discern quality differences in other tests". Also, I think the mp3 lossless comparison can be used for giving a standard for audio quality. When people say a cd player of £1000 sounds much better than a £50 one, do they mean that this difference is comparable with, what I least for me, is the difference between a 128 mp3 an a lossless file? If so, I believe the £1000 cd player is a waste of money.
I also burnt many files in mp3 and lossless in an audio cd and listened to them with my Marantz cd player and Sennheiser headphones, and the difference is so subtle that I'm not sure it even exists. What usually happens is that I find a particular sound to be of slightly different quality in the lossless file, but then when I recheck with the mp3 I also find that same quality present in the mp3. So, maybe there something, not even audible, I'd say, that makes me notice more subtleties in the lossless file, but then this subtlety is also in the mp3, just what makes me notice it more clearly is missing in the mp3. However, this statement lacks a reasonable explanation, since if I'm using just my ears as input, then if there's any difference it's because my ears are hearing it, and hence the sound is different. Hence I mainly believe that it's a subconscious thing that when I listen to lossless I pay more attention to details than when with the mp3. Let's say "I don't trust the mp3".
(just a comment about your experiment: maybe you knew it but just in case someone reading this didn't, the file you imported from the sacd, it's actually imported from the cd layer of it, hence it's the same as if it was imported form a non sacd cd)
We did test all the various formats for a 'What MP3?' special, and Apple Lossless was the best-sounding of the bunch - though even at its best, it didn't match uncompressed (PCM) CD audio.
Clare, you're completely wrong. It worries me that you're running a magazine.
Definitely. I can tell the difference between an MP3 encoded at 128kbs compared to one encoded at 320kbs, let alone the source CD. Some people may not be able to, in which case, fair enough, don't worry about it for you. The only way to tell is to try for yourself.
The original argument is about lossless though - I've never tried listening to different lossless files, I suspect I probably couldn't tell a difference. However, that doesn't mean that because I can't no one else should be worried about it. If the guys at WHF can tell a difference, they're entitled to report that so that people can make up their own minds from this and try for themselves. If you can't, don't worry about it.
I don't know why there always has to be such a big argument about these things!
Well, I agree and disagree in part with you.
Lossless is better, obviously, just analyse the spectrum in an audio program and see that the edges of the wave are smoother in the lossless file compared to mp3. But then, lossless against cd audio!!! It's exactly the same! It's the same function, no difference at all, just check it graphically! How can you claim you hear a difference if you can't even see it with a dedicated program? It could be that a source, like an ipod, is better at decoding lossless than audio, but I don't believe that. Computers don't really work like this, they're deterministic in what they do. As I type this message it types what I input to it, not random words. If there's a spelling mistake it's because I made it, not because when I typed "A" my computer put "B".
Also, then Clare goes to say that if you match it with a decent pair of headphones "you'll head much more" from the mp3 than the lossless file. That's also a lie! Or at least I can't hear this difference at all! I have a decent pair of Sennheiser headphones, and it makes no difference which format I'm listening too in an ipod!!! The point is whether by using a high end cd player and amplifiers anyone could be able to tell file formats apart, but not by just using an ipod and decent headphones.
So because you can't hear it, it's a lie? That's fairly egotistical...
Also, I think you're understanding of digital data and it's transport from one system to another is fairly basic. You'd be amazed how much error control goes on in standard computers once you start transporting data around.
Well, I said "it's a lie or at least I can't hear it".
And then, yes, my understanding is probably basic, but could you explain us further the transport of information and how it can get "damaged" on its way? Also, could you point us to other examples where I can see this modification of the original information taking place?
Ordinarily I find this sort of stuff fascinating.
However, with formats I'm less interested. Why would anyone lie? If it's just their imagination, so what?
Personally, I would think that any lossless format would perform as well as any other. FLAC seems to be the favourite and is probably more to do with the fact that it isn't tied into any corporation as much as anything else.
So, why is everyone getting so heated? Beats me.
My useful(?) What HiFi Forum threads can be found here.
Well, sorry if I sounded heated. I'm also not very interested in formats. However, as Ian said it, "If we can't discern any difference but some people 'think' they can it puts into doubt their ability to discern quality differences in other tests". So, I'm just taking the mp3 lossless comparison as an example, which we can all also test for ourselves, of what reviewers refer to as better quality when comparing systems, and especially sources, which is not that easy to test for ourselves.
I agree with you that the formats we use are more of a personal matter, but as some people here say there's quality difference between them, I'm interested in them pointing me at these differences, so that then I can transfer this to the more hardware reviews.
Ok, I'm not going to get drawn into another digital / cable discussion as I think it'll be my third this week and I'm getting a bit fed up with it all. On the error control, when data is sent from one device to another, there is always some loss, it's inevitable. In the computing world, transport protocols such as TCP/IP work by handling these errors, requesting bad data is retransmitted etc. and in this, it works as an error-free transport protocol (it was actually developed by the US Department of Defense to cope with broken links due to battle damage etc.). Now, this works on the internet as, in computing terms, the data isn't really required in a hurry - a user can be expected to wait a few extra milli-seconds whilst this is all sorted out. In the hi-fi world though, video and audio data can't just be waited for until it's received correctly - a few milli seconds pause would be seen / heard, therefore any losses have to be dealt with on the fly with error control. Sometimes this is done correctly, sometimes not and this is why the difference in quality is heard.
If you want to debate this, go for your life, as I say, I'm not going to be drawn into another discussion on this. To be fair, my original point still stands. If you can hear the difference, then use the appropriate format which suits you i.e. the sound you prefer. If you can't hear the difference, don't get yourself in a fluster about it, just use the MP3 / lossless format whichmakes the most sense to you, or buy the CD player for the sensible money which sounds best to you, don't go for the more expensive one when you can't hear an improvement. Listening to music is supposed to be enjoyable, not an exercise in science!
I suspect that blind testing would flush this out....and that quality differences are flavoured with personal preference.
I would say that if differences do exist, then they would be marginal at best. Certainly, I cannot detect differences in lossless formats. Could be my ears, brain or kit are to blame here.
However, because reviewers claim to be able to detect differences in formats, it would not lead me to mistrust the advice given where much greater differences are evident (ie hardware)....even if it was proved beyond all doubt that all formats sounded the same.
Thanks professorhat, good post! I'm reading about this topic now, so that I can make a more informed post next time.
I agree with the prof. Enough said
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