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How Well Can You Hear Audio Quality?


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Recently, the rapper Jay Z relaunched the subscription streaming music service Tidal, which includes the option to listen to high-definition audio for $19.99 per month. Tidal's HiFi, with its uncompressed audio files, promises a better listening experience than any other streaming service on the market.

Many listeners cannot hear the difference between uncompressed audio files and MP3s, but when it comes to audio quality, the size of the file isn't (ahem) everything. There are plenty of other ingredients to consider, from the quality of your headphones to the size of the room you're sitting in to, well, your own ears.

http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can-you-hear-audio-quality

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6/6, with a washing machine in the drying sequence 2,5 metres to the right! With a Focusrite Saffire interface and Ultrasone Pro 2900 headphones and quite a few times of going through the provided samples. The result might've indeed been different with an iPhone.

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5/6

I missed Coldplay

Big difference in classical piece

AKG K171 MKII, Audio interface the cheap one from PC

We listened again in professional studio with Focal Twin 6 monitors and Antelope Orion interface. The differences was huge here.

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very interesting. i have pretty bad ears, so i wasn't expecting much.

couldn't really make out any difference with my Mac mini connected to a Denon 510 amp to Ikon Dali 1 MKii speakers. replaced the speakers with Sennheiser HD-25 phones (on the the Denon) and things got clearer, but still only got 4 out of 6 (#1 totally wrong on 128kbit, #4 on  320kbit).

 

2 out of 6 would be random luck.

chris

 

 

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3 out of 6. The three others were 320kpbs. I've done it with a mac book air and a pair of headphones Audio Technica ATH M50X. I love those tests it tells you a lot about the way we like to listen to music.

For example i chose the 320Kps for the Suzanne vega song because to my ear mp3 compression actually smoothes out all the proximity effects of her voice (clics of her mouth)

For the Coldplay extract I 've got it right because I knew that the uncompressed version will reveal all the mastering artifacts due to dynamic hypercompression on rock music. I actually prefer the 320kps sample.

 

 

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2 out of 6 would be random luck.

​Perhaps with a big enough sample. With us individually anywhere from 0 to 6 out of 6 could be random luck.

And as others say, better processing and better codecs can narrow the gap between lossy and "uncompressed" audio. But decent MP3 files don't freak me out. As Ray Charles probably would have said, "I don't care how many bits you have baby. How do you play?"

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​Perhaps with a big enough sample. With us individually anywhere from 0 to 6 out of 6 could be random luck.

well, you're around 1 out of 1000 if you get 6 out of 6 with random clicking - so yes possible but pretty unlikely.

0 out of 6 is considrably more likely with 8,8%

personally i was surprised how hard it is to hear the difference between 128kbit and uncompressed, but at the same time that it was still possible to hear the difference between 320kbit and uncompressed.

chris

 

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Heard it with my crappy earbuds on my phone, got 3/6, but I honestly couldn't hear any difference. I'd like to try again with better DAC and better cans or monitors and see if I'm able to discern any difference between the uncompressed and the MP3 compressed files.

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Point is for the average public there is no need for them to subscribe a more expensive uncompressed option if all they do is listening to their music on cheap earbuds or one of those trendy "sound bars".

Some critical listeners will probably hear the difference on studio monitors (especially hypercompression artifacts) or high end hifi systems...but those differences will soon disapear after one or two glasses of wine lol

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I picked the 320 kbps version on 4 songs, got one right (the classic) and one wrong (Hi-Def Jay-Z, haha). I think in general it would be tough to tell 320 kbps from uncompressed on the kind of samples they chose. In general data reduction artifacts increase the higher the frequencies. Not sure if that's scientifically correct but that's my personal experience. I used Ultrasone HFI 780s on an Onyx Blackjack.

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I have a problem giving much, if any, credibility to this listening test, because there is no point of reference. What is quality or fidelity if not compared to the original source. The term fidelity means faithful, and when used to describe audio, it means faithful to the original sound. Who knows what the goal is if the original isn't there as a reference?

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Do you mean 'original' as in, being in the room while they're playing? Because they do have the original master in with the compressed versions.

I know that there are higher quality pieces of equipment out there, but the listening test is pointless when people speculate that listening in a studio makes all the difference without actually listening in a studio.

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In audio terms, "original" would mean the output of the microphone, which, of course, would be impractical when listening to mixed music. Possibly the most practical "original" for comparison would be a simple acoustical recording in a slightly live room with full dynamic range and plenty of space between the notes in order to hear the trails, and the fewer mics the better, placed at normal listening distance.

Music is usually mixed and mastered with dynamic range to match the limits of the listening parameters, and pop music in particular is mixed "loud" (very little dynamic range) so it can be heard in noisy environments like cars and clubs. The "Tom's Diner" piece should have been a good one for comparison, but who know's how it was miced, how much of the subtleties are synthesized and/or removed, and what else it went through before it got to our lap top's D-A converters?

Edited by Glen Trew
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@Glen, I think for the purposes of this test, fidelity can be defined as faithfulness to the uncompressed master. It's true that you can master a track specifically to the mp3 format, and clearly you do not gain anything by converting it to uncompressed format. But you can only lose fidelity when going from uncompressed to lossy compressed. The listening test is about whether we can hear that loss.

Edited by NewEndian
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I don't believe it makes sense to classify fidelity in terms of relation to being in the room because the original experience doesn't exist anymore (even if it did in the first place). Not only does the microphone alone forever change the sound, as does the ability to move in the space of the performance, all other senses must be accounted for, as does all of the emotion of the listener which can not be captured and replayed.

True fidelity will never be captured, but that doesn't mean that we can't relate lesser forms of fidelity to each other. In our day of digital audio, our best available recording formats impose much less signal distortion than ever before. But some of our playback formats impose their own distortion, and the sacrifice is made in the name of miniaturization and bandwidth. This test is about finding out how much of a sacrifice we are actually making.

To that end, I think an interesting point that has been made here is that maybe some music really does gain negligible benefit from the uncompressed format.

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Except for classical recording (and this is not even true anymore) who would want to listen to the original sound in the recording room...a Kick drum will always sound better gated, EQed and going through a compressor....

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Yes I agree for the physical sensations...but when I listen to a rock band music at home...I don't want it to sound like they are playing in a rehearsing studio or their garage. Some genre of music would not exist or be listenable if they are not amplified or going through some studio processings.

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Speaking of physical sensations, this band hands out big balloons for (at least certain) audience members to hold so they can feel the sound. Because...well, watch this one-minute video.  (sorry for the semi-hijack of the thread, but I think this gets at something we're discussing here and the band is cool).

 

Edited by Jim Feeley
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