Stereophile Reports Proof of High-Rez Audibility Over CD-Quality

For me, the entire high-rez "debate" is of little interest. The fact of the matter is I own and enjoy high-res recordings so from that perspective, which is the one I value most, reading or listening to people going on about how they didn't hear a difference or how I can't hear a difference is irrelevant. From a purely theoretical basis, we've seen a number of tests and blog posts that "prove" high-rez audio is a waste of time and money, but when tests and blog posts don't match reality, I file those tests and blog posts under "A" for Agenda or "IF" for If It Was Only That Simple.

John Atkinson, in his recent As We See It in Stereophile Magazine titled, To the Simple, Everything Appears Simple, references an AES workshop presentation by Joshua Reiss of Queen Mary University, London, where Dr. Reiss (see his bio) performed meta-analysis on 80 published papers concerning high-resolution audio wherein he found in JA's words:

"...the overall result was that trained listeners could distinguish between hi-rez recordings and their CD equivalents under blind conditions, and to a high degree of statistical significance."
Of course without the benefit of reading Dr. Reiss' results (and perhaps even with that benefit), the skeptical and the believers will remain skeptical and continue to believe whatever it is they believe. That's the nature of relying on "proof". For those of us who simply listen for enjoyment, the proof lies in the listening. For those stuck somewhere in between, feel free to be swayed, or not.

I highly recommend reading JA's entire AWSI as it puts this news in a more informed context.

To the Simple, Everything Appears Simple

otaku's picture

I have the Beatles "Love" DVD-A + CD set.
Although it is not a blind test, I can quickly switch between streaming the CD via a Bel Canto DAC and also playing the DVD-A thru the same DAC. The sound is probably closer than I can distinguish, but on "Octopus's Garden" the bell buoy is much more clearly audible on the DVD-A, no blind testing required.

soundman45's picture

I think the word trained is the operative word here. I think if people know what to listen for alot of the naysayers might change their minds. Im an audio engineer of 30 years and I still recall the sensation of hearing good 24 bit resolution for the first time.

ashutoshp's picture

or reading this because last I heard, he was promoting a book describing, among other things, how to clean the insides of a microwave oven!

Fine, if you must know, just heat a cup of water for 5 minutes!!!

LS35A's picture

The fact that whether or not you can hear a difference is controversial really says everything that needs to be said on this topic.

EdAInWestOC's picture

But its all about the content and how demanding the analog waveform is. There can be content that gets left out between samples and that can be significant to the performance. It is very content related and I find high resolution much more agreeable to my ears.

I could go on about this that or the other but I recently found a paper on the internet that explains it better than I can.

See What Nyquist Didn't Say and What To Do About It


Fetuso's picture

What's forgotten sometimes in this debate is the significant price premium one has to pay for high res. I think that premium is what forces some into a corner to rabidly defend their position that you can't hear a difference. Personally, I haven't tried high res because of that premium. A cd is just too cheap these days to justify spending $25 on a fully high res file. I mean really, what am I gonna do, go and buy all the music I already own in high res?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
This post was simply focused on the 'technical' side of the debate.

I'm not a big fan of buying music over again but I do buy the hi-rez download of new releases when available, which are often only a few bucks more than the CD-quality version.

Harold48's picture

The stair steps in digital are like a saw blade.
The finer the music the more the necessity for a fine blade.
Otherwise the subconscious rasp leads to fatigue.

ecrimjr's picture

So we (the audiophile community) seem stuck in a debate about whether we can hear a difference between more bits and less bits and also about the mechanisms by which those bits are delivered (pcm vs dsd). And is some respect Elvis seems to have left the building in terms of whether streaming is the same, better or worse than a physical disc medium. I have in fact heard differences between high res files recorded well and lesser res files when streamed and if the high res file is a well recorded file then is can sound quite good and probably better than a lesser res file also streamed. But I have not heard even a well recorded high res file sound better than a cd physical disc on an excellent disc player. I've been to AXPONA now several times where I could listen to lots a streamed music from a variety of sources and I have owned a few streamers and also used a computer in my system and to my ears my cd player (A now discontinued Parasound CD 1) sounds better than all of the streamed music period. I could not explain why but that's my reality. I work at an audio store where we run streamers of various sorts in our systems and they all sound very good. But we hooked up a Rega Saturn today and it crushed them. So I guess I get the support for streaming from a (this is the place where innovation is happening perspective) but if we are talking absolute sound quality that the numbers of bits matter less than the way in which those bits are delivered cd on up. I do resolve and accept that once you rip all of your music and get it set up there is a convenience and cool factor with play lists and album art etc but there is a sonic compromise and for me I'm not parting with an actual disc player yet and frankly I found many of the streaming solutions frustrating because you end up spending way too much time doing computer related crap like ripping and searching for files, figuring out what's wrong with your wifi etc when all I really wanted to do was put on some music and listening. Having said all of that I don't begrudge people that want to spend time doing it. When you get it all done and if you get it set up right it sounds good. Just not as great as it could have. I also have a hard time understanding how come so many succumb so easily to the simply haviving more bits is better philosophy

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I disagree completely, of course, and my experience is the exact opposite of yours. My feeling is we're both 'right'.
ecrimjr's picture

Thanks for reading it. My daughter just saw my comment and said "Oh daddy, That's a lot of words." I can't say that I have heard every streamer and there is the issue of what I can afford but it would be an interesting contest.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Just enjoyment ;-)
dcbingaman's picture

This discussion seems to ignor the criticality of the reconstruction filter and the time-domain aspects of any digital audio recording / playback system. Meridian's MQA system sounds better than any CD/ Hi-Def Disc or Hi-Rez stream I've ever heard, and its precisely because of the attention Bob Stuart and his team have paid to the time-domain vs. the frequency domain in all their design decisions. In particular, since switching to a Meridian G68 with an apodizing reconstruction filter, the differences between Redbook CD, DVD-A, SACD and Hi-Rez streaming sources are much harder to discern. My guess is the widespread use of MQA coding will, finally, put vinyl, and consumer analog recordings in general, into the history books, because it works on both ends of the process.

The bigger issue for me is 2-channel vs. "stereo" multi-channel (MCH) recordings - I think MCH is the wave of the future, as does my friend Kal Rubinson, but that is a subject for another debate.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
"My guess is the widespread use of MQA coding will, finally, put vinyl, and consumer analog recordings in general, into the history books..."
I don't think so. What I think is we have to accept the fact that there's more to the enjoyment of music reproduction than theories.
Sal1950's picture

Vinyl resurgence has MUCH less to do with sound quality and is ALL about the "boys and their toys" aspect. The whole 5 minute procedure of getting the LP out, mounting it on the turntable with record clamps, etc. At some point in the process cleaning it along with cleaning the stylus, etc, etc, etc. It's all about the ritual of playing with the toy that brings enjoyment to the user. Vastly accentuated if there's someone there to watch the magic being performed.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
From Haruki Murakami's South of the Border, West of the Sun
“Shimamoto was in charge of the records. She'd take one from its jacket, place it carefully on the turntable without touching the grooves with her fingers, and, after making sure to brush the cartridge free of any dust with a tiny brush, lower the needle ever so gently onto the record. When the record was finished, she'd spray it and wipe it with a felt cloth. Finally she'd return the record to its jacket and its proper place on the shelf. Her father had taught her this procedure, and she followed his instructions with a terribly serious look on her face, her eyes narrowed, her breath held in check. Meanwhile, I was on the sofa, watching her every move. Only when the record was safely back on the shelf did she turn to me and give a little smile. And every time, this thought hit me: It wasn't a record she was handling. It was a fragile soul inside a glass bottle.”
ecrimjr's picture

I doubt that any advance will put vinyl into the history books. There is just something cool about listening to vinyl on good set up. Reading the information in the jacket which can have some interesting historical information. For me they likely will all coexist in my system. Some nights I am in the mood for vinyl and all that goes with that. Some nights I just want play songs and I don't want to get up out of my chair and some nights I want to listen to an excellent cd. I find when I listen to a cd I tend to listen to the whole thing. When I listen to the music on my NAS drive I jump around creating a diverse play list, and when I listen to vinyl I listen to a side or an album. I have fun either way and I am shocked at the number of young people and women that are getting into vinyl. We have newbies all the time come in to our little shop and start the journey to vinyl enjoyment. Lastly I have a strong preference for physical music that I can do what I want with. I am a tidal subscriber but I don't do any serious listening with it. I use it to listen with convenience while I work out, or travel, or while I am working on something. I also no longer buy any music on the apple store. I haven't for more than a year as I realized that ownership in that environment is an illusion as they control whether you can transfer it to another computer or device that you own which essentially mean you don't own your own copy.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
If you check out my recent post, "The Barn: The Final Version", you'll see two system; one for playing records and the other for digital.
Sal1950's picture

I tend to find the results of these tests and arguments irrelevant, of at least they should be. In a few days it will be 2016 and the technology of recording and the distribution of such has and is continuing to advance rapidly.
There is no reason at all why any studio today should be recording at any lower resolution than 24/96. Required distribution bandwidth is all but complete non-issue today and in the immediate future we have tech such as MQA which should put the final nail in the coffin of any argument against the bandwidth needs for downloading/steaming HDA files.
So why argue over who can or can't hear a difference? Just start offering everyone a gorgeous HDA stream and let's move on.
I did leave out one thing, cost. Well the cost of developing and distribution one quality of file instead of 3 to 5 should lower marketing costs and the distributors should be able to give everyone 24/96 files at the same cost of MP3 now.
Put everything else on the totaly obsolete shelves with Edison cylinders and wire recorders