Jan 18, 201912269 views

HiFi Music: Listening, Sources, Tracks?

Howdy folks. I want to up my music listening game. Where are the best places, and what are the best methods for me to do so? A few more questions I have:
  • Does streaming high quality on Spotify count?
  • Do I need to use a service like Tidal?
  • What details should I look for besides the music being "lossless"?
  • Can I truly get the most out of HiFi music with standard equipment?
There has to be more to this than I realize and I'll put it to you all to let me know. And if you have links/examples to tracks as well that would be awesome so please share. 🗣THANK-YOU
Ricky Schofield, Ivan Sacali, and 40 others

First of all, Tidal has more songs than Spotify. Second of all, Tidal offers a free 60 day trial if you sign up for Hi-Fi. While on Hi-Fi, you're able to switch your playback between all 4 different quality tiers. You can switch on the fly for A/B testing. Going from Standard (MP3-128) to Premium (AAC-256 / MP3-320 equivalent) to Hi-Fi (FLAC 44.1/16) to Master (MQA 96/24) I can hear a major improvement with each step up in tier. To my ears, it's no small margin, either. Is it worth the extra $10/month, though? Well, you could always get a couple of friends to join the Family Plan with you, which cost $30/mo. Split 3 ways, that's only $10/mo each, which is the same price as all the other services. If you can mange it, you can have up to 6 members in a Family Plan, and that's only $5/mo ea. Also, you can use PayPal, and PayPal has a feature that lets you instantly send money to another PayPal account. So, you don't have to worry about collecting cash from your friends. You can even set it up to automatically send the money each month. You can also bill them. It really takes the sweat out of it. Getting your friends involved means you'll be able to share playlists, talk about stuff, and get to enjoy a more fun and social listening experience. So, Tidal does not have to be expensive, if you're willing to share. I recommend you start a 60 day trial, and decide for yourself. Get your friends involved, and ask their opinions. You never know, they might already have a subscription, and be willing to let you join their family. You'll be helping each other out, in the end.
Quick comment... I think it depends on the kind of music you listen to. I listen to a lot of acoustic jazz and symphonic, chamber music. When I listen to rock music (I like Radiohead) I hear a lot of dynamics compression, so there's a distinct lack of dynamic range (difference between quietest and loudest sounds). Contemporary pop music is just loud, all the time. That means having this music in high-res audio formats is a waste. There will be no difference between CD quality or anything higher resolution. BUT... If you listen to high quality masterings of good acoustic recordings, with 12dB or more dynamic range, then you *might* hear a minor difference between a CD quality FLAC and a 24-96k FLAC. (Maybe.) I find that I hear only the slightest difference between 16-44.1k and 24-96k, but it's worth it for me. I can't for the life of me hear any difference between 24-96k and 24-192k. So, long story short, if all you listen to is pop recordings, even 'acoustic' pop music, save your money and go with something of standard 'CD quality' res. Just my humble opinion. FWIW.
+1. You can put me down for this too... With just one (already discussed elsewhere in this thread) caveat: *Sometimes* there are differences between the 24-bit "Hi-Rez" release and the CD/MP3/etc other than just the sample rate and bit depth. Not always. But sometimes HiRez gets a "better mastering" built to sound better for"audiophiles" who aren't listening as background music but REALLY focusing on a quiet space using good gear. The CD release is (sometimes) made to sound "better" in people's cars, where there's lots of ambient background noise and people don't want to be fiddling with the dial while the background noise changes as a function of how they drive... When it's purely apples to apples and the CD is the same mastering as the HiRez, my experiences and opinions are nearly identical to yours...
Hi Duncan, The best advice i can give is this: Can you hear a difference? With G6 > MCTH > HD800 the difference between lossless and lossy audio formats is painfully obvious. Its still very clear running G6 to AKG k553. MP3 is by far the worst. Harsh, whistling and pathetic. AAC and MP4 just lack any kind of engaging texture, soundstage, timbre or realism. Moving up to high res yields improvements, but only really on well recorded, mixed and mastered material. Thats what i hear, with my equipment. Maybe to you it wont matter? Please tell us more about how you listen. It could be that there are other areas that you could make more significant improvements such as your DAC and amp? In brief, dont ask. Try it yourself! If there is a difference, you'll hear it!
I attended a lecture on high resolution audio by a pioneer in the field, and he basically said that high res audio is a scam. He explained that many ultra-high resolution recordings actually sound worse than CD quality, because they mix in the noise floor which is filtered out of CD quality recordings. His words, not mine. I've had both Tidal and Spotify. I did a lot of research and couldn't find any evidence that anyone can hear the difference between the Spotify's sound quality and Tidal. In fact, the scientific evidence points to the contrary. I have golden ears and I really care about this question, but when I went back to listen critically, I confirmed it for myself. The main advantage of Tidal is you can pair it with Roon. (On Android, USB Audio Player Pro plays a similar role.) Depending on your platform, Roon can sometimes squeeze out a bit more fidelity by optimizing system resources for audio playback. I've tried Roon and it does seem to produce a just noticeable difference on my Mac. But it has nothing to do with the bitrate. Long story short, I gave up Tidal and kept Spotify Premium because of its larger selection and lower price. I haven't regretted my decision.
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Very interesting! Thank you for your impressions. Please feel free to update if your ideas develop. Personally I have never touched DSD. I do hear discernible improvement with higher resolutions with my rig. As for MQA, I only heard it once on a vastly superior rig (DCS Rossini > SPL Phonitor). Needless to say it was superlative. I believe much of it has to do with the ability of the DAC to make use of a higher bandwidth description of the analogue signal. With USB for example, a more volatile usb mode is necessary to communicate more bits, and as a result errors are much more common. I didn't set out to write all that, but since you are taking this so seriously I thought you might be interested.
Since the Liquid Spark amp seemed like a weak link in my system, I upgraded it to a Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear, which is near-reference quality. My system is now Tidal app on Galaxy S10+ --> Audioquest Jitterbug USB decrapifier --> Audioquest Carbon USB cable --> Chord 2Qute DAC --> Cardas Quadlink 5C interconnects --> Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear headphone amp --> Sennheiser HD6XX. The upgrade to the amp fixed the problem with MQA where it was sounding worse than CD quality. MQA at 192 kHz decoded from the Tidal app now sounds excellent on good recordings. I can no longer distinguish MQA from CD quality, but that goes in both directions. Meaning I don't hear any clear improvement of MQA over CD quality. On DSD high-res test tracks I can't reliably hear any difference from the identical track in CD quality. There might be some microscopic differences but they're not better or worse overall. If anything the soundstage collapses at DSD256, but that might be a limitation of my DAC.
Ohhh Niko..... so limited... and yet,..... so vocal ...
Here is my take: Spotify Premium is 320kbps MP3 which is very compressed. CD's and Tidal HiFi ($20/month) are 44.1khz (which translates to about 44,100kbps) so more than 100 times the sampling rate of Spotify Premium. Tidal HiFi are FLAC files. That means they employ data compression similar to ZIP. The difference between this type of compression and the compression employed by the MP3 is that the decompressed version of a FLAC file is an EXACT copy of the CD source. This is FAR from the case with even the best MP3's. There are other lossless formats: ALAC (used by Apple) and WAV (no compression). To get the benefit lossless formats offer you will need a decent Digital Audio Converter. Forget the one in your PC. Unless you have a high end mixing board, you can be certain it is garbage. If you use your PC to stream, you will need to make sure you are sending the pure digital stream to your external DAC. Some phones have decent on board DACs: Top of the line LG and Samsung units for example. Even in these units, you will get a benefit by incorporating an external headphone amp. TIDAL HiFi (which I subscribe to) produces FLAC files of CD quality with some recordings that are 192Mhz at 24/bit (as opposed to 44.1/16 bit for CD) using a technology called MQA which allows them to be played by devices that do not support 192/24 input. Since I use an external streaming device that does not support MQA (Cambridge CXN) I cannot comment on the difference in quality. Clarifying a little to get 192/24 performance from tidal, your DAC must specifically support MQA as well as the 192/24 rate. This is because MQA in effect sends both 44.1/16 and 192/24. Units that do not support MQA will ignore the 192/24 signal. It is also significant to note that at the time of this writing TIdal Masters recordeings are only supported on the TIDAL desktop app and a few select streaming devices. The list includes ROON, and there are a large number of Network Audio players that support ROON. ROON is a subscription service: $199/year or $499/lifetime. Even higher sampling rates are available in other formats (DSD for example). I do not know of any streaming service that includes such files. Generally you purchase downloads of these ($30-$40 for an 'album') and store them on your own media - usually a hard drive or 6. These types of files require high end equipment to decode properly and the files tend to be quite large, so if you want to go that route, prepare your wallet. Another downside of these files is they are generally not playable on portable devices. A word about TIDAL in your car: Android Auto does support TIDAL, but the current state of the Android Auto interface is it sucks, so I would recommend interfacing directly to your phone. Depending on the capabilities of your head unit (radio) you can (in order of preference) (1) send the digital stream to your head unit and use its DAC; (2) send the audio stream to your head unit (via the 3mm jack) In this case you are using your phone's DAC which could be good or bad depending on your phone; (3) Send audio via Bluetooth to your head unit.
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We all make 'em!
A wav has a bitrate of [bit depth] * [sample rate] * 2 for two channels. For 16/44.1 that's 16*44,100*2 = 1,411,200bps or 1,411kbps. For 16/48 that's 16*48,000*2 = 1,536kbps For 24/96 its 4,608kbps! FLAC and ALAC losslessly compress these with varying degrees of sucess depending on the Tomball complexity of the music encoded. MP3 is to be avoided as it sucks. MP4 is better, though flat and dull. High res is noticeably better on a revealing enough system.
Tidal supposedly has Master tracks...ive just signed up for the trial and so far Tidal tracks seem cleaner to me. Im a noob in this HiFi stuff anyway, so take that with a grain of salt. What sounds better to me may not sound the same for you.
They all coint, but for kost of the music, the source file matters the least.
Yes and no. With the decent quality of Apple Music, Spotify Premium, Amazon Music, Google Play, etc, you could argue that the source doesn't matter. The vast amount of music people listen to is on/from these services. They are all good. You could also argue that it's the most important part because your musical chain is only as strong as the weakest link. You can hear a difference between garbage files and good files on even the cheapest gear nowadays. But this goes back to the first point; most people's source is good enough that it seems like a non-issue. Back when illegally downloading music was more popular (Limewire), half the files on there were terrible. No amount of hardware could make them sound good. I'll occasionally come across one of these files that I've missed (when deleting them) and it makes me want to vomit. Apple Music sounds way better. Whether or not hi-res music is worth it to you over the standard streaming options comes down to whether or not you can hear a difference. Of course, this boils down to your hearing, whether or not you care about the small differences, and whether or not your gear can make the differences noticeable. There's no harm in doing a free trial of Tidal or Qobuzz to see if you can hear it. If not, then it may not matter to you or be worth the cost.
In fact, the hires standard itself proves nothing whether human hear them(they use a different sensor for higher range) and I personally cannot blind test myself between standard loseless and 96 24. Plus, one of the audiophile hearing test from Philips actually implies that mp3 identification was much harder over frequencies, soundstage, noise... What hires pcm could do is that higher sampling most of the time means a lower noise in the file, dsd has same advantage when they simply pushes all noise to higher inaudible frequency and cut off using low pass filter.(yes, one of the reason why you feel dsd is much more clear, even if you pass a standard loseless to upscaler like dcs Vivaldi for conversion) Seriously, the file itself matters the least unless you are listening some stupid 128k stuff.
A good recording makes a huge difference, especially the mastering phase. Most sound engineers tend to compress the sound (don't confuse this with data compression) so that it sounds louder (google for loudness wars). This usually means that parts of the audio spectrum are misrepresented and basically forces you to a specific type of listening experience that dates back to radio broadcasting (on radio broadcast you had to be loud to survive the RF noise floor). This "tradition" is present on a lot of studio releases, even now that we have better ways of storing, reproducing, and transmitting audio. You 'll have to look for a release (or a label) that focuses on sound quality, and doesn't mess up with the mix, but presents it in the most neutral/natural way possible so that -if you want- you can "tune" it later on to your own preferences, or just listen to the thing as it really was. No matter how much money you are going to pay for your HiFi system or the X subscription service, nothing can fix a bad recording ! The best experience to me is a live performance, nothing beats the real thing, especially for jazz or classical music, you also better support the artists this way, it's a win win situation. So to answer questions about what details you should look, check out the various releases of an album you are after and get the one that has the best reviews in terms of sound quality, communities such as discogs or musicbrainz can help you with that (whatcd used to have a lot of information on the sound quality of each release, too bad it's dead). Once you have a good recording, you are looking for a good media that can hold it. Studios use ADCs and processing tools, usually with 24bits of dynamic range and 96KHz of bandwidth. This way they can sample audio signals (google for Shannon-Nyquist sampling theorem) up to 96KHz / 2 = 48KHz, with a dynamic range of 144dB (~6bits per dB so 24*6 = 144, in reality it's mostly 118 - 120dB at best). Our ears have a dynamic range of almost 120dB under ideal conditions, so 24bits are just what we need since it goes in multiples of 8bits (an octet), 16bits (what the CDs use) give us ~96dBs which is mostly OK and 32bits are just too much (but it's more "natural" for e.g. a PC so it helps when processing). As for the frequencies of the audio signal, the audible spectrum is (theoretically) 20Hz - 20Khz, we can feel sounds outside that spectrum (especially the lower end of it, with proper speakers) but in most cases, most people are not able to listen to anything above 20KHz, especially as we get older, where we loose perception of higher frequencies. So why do we go for 48KHz instead ? In digital recording the audio signal is split in pieces/samples (or if you prefer quanta), it's not continuous as in an analog recording, this affects both the recording and the reproduction of the analog signal. To put it differently there are volume changes that are too small or too short to be represented. A rough example for a small change is to have a value of 1.4 and only be able to write 1, 2, 3 etc, so 1.4 will become 1 instead and some accuracy will be lost. This is known as rounding error (or quantization error) and is a thing both ADCs and DACs has to deal with (google for dithering). A rough example of a short change is to think of a repeating pulse, if for example there is a beep every 1 second and we sample every 2 seconds we can't distinguish this beep from another beep that goes on every 2 seconds or from a continuous beep. In a worse scenario if we miss the bit for less than a second we'll never hear it ! So from a beep that goes every 1 second we get three possible signals (including the silent one) or "aliases" along with the original. A similar thing happens on the DAC side when in the process of re-creating the analog signal, if we get the 2 beeps/sec signal, and the DAC reads 2 samples/sec, it will also produce a constant beep along any other analog signal that could result these 2 beeps/sec, e.g. a 1 beep/sec, 1beep/0.5 sec etc, all with higher frequencies than the original, another version of "aliasing" also known as "imaging" in this case. In order to avoid such noise, we need to have a low-pass filter on the ADC input so that signals with frequencies higher than the maximum frequency the ADC can sample do not get recorded, and on the output of the DAC so that any generated "aliases"/"images" don't reach our ears. This filter is called an anti-aliasing filter when used on ADCs, and a reconstruction filter when used on DACs. Its cutoff frequency is the ADC's/DAC's Nyquist frequency, which is half its bandwidth, so for an ADC/DAC with 96KHz bandwidth, the cutoff frequency would be 48KHz and for one with 44KHz bandwidth it would be 22KHz which is just above the audio spectrum. So now you know why the CDs have a bandwidth of 44KHz ;-) Since the aliases produced by the DAC will be above the audible spectrum, people have argued that there is no need for a reconstruction filter or any further processing needed. This makes sense especially for DACs that operate on a single bandwidth such as the DACs on CD players that only work on 44KHz, and have an adequate dynamic range of at least 16bits. This approach is known as filter-less, non-oversampling (NOS) DAC design and is only possible for DACs, on ADCs we always need an anti-aliasing filter, as for the oversampling, we'll come back to that later on. In practice a filter is not ideal, you can't have a filter that goes from 100 to 0dBs instantly, the same way a car can't stop instantly, it needs some "space" to work (aka transient response), which means that you have to start filtering before 22KHz in order to reach the desired level at 22KHz. So an ADC/DAC that operates on 44KHz of bandwidth will need to start filtering from ~18KHz in order to reach e.g. -60dBs when it reaches 22KHz, which means you will loose some of the audio on high frequencies (to some people this seems like a "warmer" sound and they are OK with it). To deal with this, we may use a higher bandwidth, so for example instead of 44KHz, we can use 48KHz and filter anything above its Nyquist frequency (24KHz), only now the DAC will have 2 more KHz to work with so it will start filtering from ~20KHz instead, and get closer to the "20 - 20" range. We could be fine with 48KHz (and many people are) but there is still another issue we have to deal with. The filter's response is very important for the sound quality, it doesn't only affect the level of signals above the cut-off frequency (in this case the Nyquist frequency), but also their phase. In other words the signal gets a delay while it gets filtered, relative to its frequency, which in turn affects among other things the stereo imaging of a stereo recording. Stereophonic audio depends on the L and R signals being in-sync, if you create a time difference between them -aka change the signal's phase- you break this and you get less separation between the 2 channels, hence the "sound stage" becomes narrower. This distortion may happen on frequencies even lower than the cutoff frequency which means we need to move the cutoff frequency (hence the Nyquist frequency / bandwidth) even more, since the "steeper" the filter the greater the distortion. Creating good filters is a challenge, especially in the analog domain, on the digital domain on the other hand we have more options available. Instead of filtering the signal outside the ADC/DAC, we can do the filtering on the data itself, at a much higher bandwidth than the one used for A/D conversion, a process called oversampling. So for example in the case of the ADC we'll get an input signal of 24KHz bandwidth, do the A/D convertion using 48KHz bandwidth, oversample it to 96KHz (*2), 192KHz(*4), 384KHz (*8), 768KHz (*16) or more, do the filtering there at a much better resolution and either output the oversampled signal for processing, e.g. a 24/96KHz signal, or down-sample it to the desired bandwidth. This way we'll not only be able to filter out the aliases, we'll also be able to further filter out the noise created due to quantization. On the DAC side, an input signal of 48KHz will arrive, it'll get again oversampled to 96KHz (*2) or more, do the filtering there and output either the oversampled signal, or a down-sampled version of it. That oversampling now can be a huge mess because the DAC needs to "invent" new samples to place in-between the existing ones, a process called interpolation. If this is done poorly, instead of making things better, it can add distortion to the audio and "dry" it up, it may also create phase distortion. Even worse the bandwidth of the oversampled output signal may not be a multiple of that of the input signal, for example 48KHz is half of 96KHz, so if you get an input signal of 48KHz and oversample it to 96KHz you need exactly twice the samples, which makes it easier since you'll just need to place one sample between each two successive samples. If however you get an input signal of 44.1KHz and the output bandwidth is 96KHz you are in trouble, you'll first need to resample the input signal to a rate that is divisible by both 96 and 44 (aka Least Common Multiple), do the processing there and then downsample it to the output bandwidth (44 -> *24 -> 1056 -> / 11 -> 96), or even use multiple resampling steps (e.g. 44 ->* 12 -> 528 -> / 11 -> 48 -> *2 -> 96, so that it re uses 48 to 96 conversion). To avoid this some DACs also support native handling of 44.1KHz so they can also output 88.2KHz (*2), 176.4KHz (*4) and so on. In general resampling is tricky and can add distortion, especially the "uneven" kind, you can get an idea here -> http://src.infinitewave.ca/. The reason I mention all this technical stuff is to give you an idea of how complex a DAC can be, a hint of why e.g. a 32/768 DAC may not be better than a 24/96 DAC, and also to point out that this whole marketing with higher sampling rates and bit rates doesn't make much sense if the rest of the DAC is not implemented properly. Other things that are important for ADCs/DACs is to have a solid clock, one that doesn't loose ticks (google for clock drifting), when that happens the ADC/DAC will skip samples and generate a very ugly noise known as jitter or "digititis". A poorly designed filter even with good resampling in place, can be too steep for example and generate "ringing" noise. In general don't let the bit rate and sampling rate numbers fool you, as with any audio equipment, you should listen to a DAC before buying it, or at least look for trusted reviews. Just don't settle for anything less than 24/96 and look for DACs that can also do multiples of 44.1KHz as well such as 88.2KHz (*2), 176,4KHz (*4), 352.8 (*8) etc, also it's a good idea to check the specs of the DAC chip, since some times the manufacturers of the device will fail to mention that capability since the marketing is mostly on multiples of 48KHz. In terms of digital audio encoding, FLAC is probably your best option, then comes ALAC that's also lossless, and then you go for lossy encodings such as OGG/Vorbis with a high quality setting and then MP3 above 192Kbit/s with multiple passes. What you want is to have the whole spectrum available so that you don't loose any spectral content and the more lossy the encoding, the more spectral content you loose. Obviously if you get a lossy file and re-encode it to lossless, that won't fix your problems and there are marketing people out there that do just that so watch for it. You may use a tool such as spek to figure out if your file is truly lossless and retains the full spectrum. Because of the lost spectral content, if you try to post-process a lossy MP3 or OGG, you'll get various artifacts because the filter or the audio compressor / limiter will see an incomplete spectrum and add noise for the missing parts, you can get away with it with various re-construction tools that try to re-create the lost spectrum by generating harmonics (look for "bass enchancer" or "crystalizer" or "exciter" etc) but again these need a lot of tweaking to get it right and are not suited for all types of recordings. Analog media such as Vinyl or Tapes have a dynamic range of less than 110dBs (110 is a perfect vinyl, it's usualy 60 - 70dBs) and in case of Vinyl you can go up to 50KHz in terms of frequencies (quadraphonic records used such frequencies to encode the rear channels). You don't need anti-aliasing filters used on ADCs/DACs but you need pre-epmhasis/de-emphasis filters such as the RIAA curve on Vinyl (that's what a phono stage does) and the various Dolby filters on Tape. In general the analog path is closer to the way our ears operate and it sounds more naturally, for example in case of overdrive (think of electric guitar distortion), a digital recording behaves worse than an analog one (google for clipping), it distorts the sound pretty badly, where the analog recording will behave more like the real thing (obviously there are high quality tools for dealing with this during mastering so hopefully you won't get such issues on the final mix). However in order to get that experience you'll have to pay a lot of money for your equipment and properly maintain/store your media since they tend to degrade with time. It's also useless to go for analog media when the recording itself is digital, unless your only alternative is the CD version which can indeed be worse since it has to be downsampled to 16/44.1. Another thing to keep in mind is that some engineers do a different mix for the digital media than for the Vinyl version so the Vinyl version may sound better because of that since it's more focused for audiophiles, but in general Vinyl or Tape is not better or worse than a digital recording, again there are lots of details to take into account. As for the rest of the system:
  • For the amplifier check out its linearity and total harmonic distortion. The best amplifiers are those that behave the same across all frequencies (aka linear amplifiers), they are the most expensive and eat the most power, this property is found mostly in A-class amplifiers. If you think of a speaker moving back and forth, A-class amplifiers amplify both the forth and the back movement, B-class amplify only the forth movement and let the speaker come back on its own due to its elasticity, saving power in the process, AB are a hybrid between them, C is garbage, D use PWM for more efficiency and are more common and cheap, you can get high-quality D-class amplifiers but it takes a lot of work to design one.
  • For the Headphones/Speakers the larger the better IMHO, in case of speakers make sure you get something that fits your room specs, getting speakers to loud or too weak for your room will do you no good. Listen before you buy, even reviews here won't help you much, get something that matches your ears. It's easier to get the Speakers wrong than headphones so I suggest you start with a good pair of headphones such as the HD6xx, it'll cost you less and you also don't depend on the room. A good reference is if you have frequency response diagrams from a trusted source.
  • For the cables, prefer balanced systems over unbalanced if your cable lengths are longer than a few meters to avoid interference. The lengths of the cables matter, especially for multi-channel setups, but not that much, most people don't notice anything related to the stereo imaging and different cable lengths. The materials of the cables are mostly a marketing thing, just make sure it's not crap and the connectors are properly attached.
Since you asked about tracks, this is what I use for determining the quality of audio gear:
  • Nardis from Bill Evans (the Riverside recordings) to check how well the bass is represented (it's hard to get jazz bass right, it's usually "muddy")
  • Because from Beatles (the original stereo mix) to check the stereo imaging (huge stereo separation on this song)
  • Various tracks from Ozric Tentacles (I usually go with Kick Muck) for the dynamic range
  • Various tracks from Alan Parsons Project (Alan Parsons is a legendary sound engineer, among other things), especially for verifying a neutral post-processing (these are engineered so well that any post-processing messes them up, just don't touch them !)
  • The Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd (look for the Japanese releases) (Alan Parsons was the sound engineer on this one btw) because I've heard it a thousand times
  • Rudy Van Gelder (RVG) recordings from Blue Note (another legendary sound engineer)
  • Symphonic music in general (I love Tchaikovsky, look for Swan Lake, check out Deutsche Grammophon and other relevant labels, also check out for any good recordings of Moriconne)
  • Various disco / synth-wave etc tracks for checking dynamic range (80s productions are in general awesome, for more recent stuff check out Daft Punk and more recently I found Chrome Brulee that I enjoyed)
In general pick some tracks that you are familiar with, you'll instantly notice the difference, and most importantly don't let anyone tell you what "sounds good" or not, just because it's not FLAC or it's 16/44.1 instead of 24/96 or 32/768. Hope this helps + it wasn't too much :-) P.S. For more information https://www.audiosciencereview.com is a great resource ! It also contains trusted reviews on DACs and other equipment. P.S.2 Here is an interesting site that monitors the dynamic range of various recordings, it should help you verify if a recording was overly compressed or not -> http://dr.loudness-war.info/
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Here is a chart with the frequency range produced by most musical instruments, it shows a range of approximately 25 hz to 14Khz , CD quality 16/44.1 is more than adequate to represent any kind of music , anything beyond that is totally redundant and mostly marketing hype (like audio cables above a $100) if one considers that most people can't hear any frequencies above 18Khz and musical instruments don't produce any frequencies above say 15khz

Just got JRiver 25 - Its a big improvement aurally! And its a bargain. I use it for ripping CDs, and organizing my collection. It offers countless ways to sort your tracks. JRiver is under constant development, but upgrade 25 sounds like a huge improvement in sound quality to me.
I'd reccommend watching you youtube videos from this person: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCR4tuhqPppVp-PD0q17sPEA Hans really breaks down what matters and why in each part of the digital audio pipeline so you can understand what improves quality and what to look for.
one do the few Sound Engineers turned Audiophile.... a dying breed of sorts. i’ve tried only Pandora, Spotify, Tidal, also Roon (does not enhance the sound only the organizational and visual experience). i would put Tidal as # 1 in sound quality and Qobuz hi res as a number 2. the rest they’re more or less very close to each other in sound quality in my opinion. i have an Innuos Zenith Server Streamer, that sounds amazing, any difference enteren streming services will show it and throw it on your face, the rest of that system is incredibly revealing and musical. i can hear the music either sound like live, studio, or every single process that is taking place in the recording and the recording venue, without sounding analytical or sterile, which that is what the sound industry uses as a norm for mixing, editing, dubbing... as engineer I used Benchmark Media, Grace, and a few other considered high end professional gear. All for engineers not for the music lover. therenis only a handful of manufacturers that offer the best of both worlds. tidal, use SSD memory on your server Streamer, Innuos is my favorite.
First step in my opinion is to decide whether you gravitate more towards more of an "accurate" presentation of the music compared to a "warm" approach. That will help guide you on both your system and your media format selection.
I think most people could write a lengthy Post here. But anyways, here's mine! I'll get started with one of my favorite places right now. And I know I am probably missing the point of 'places' in this context. But here is an answer. Without exposing too much personal details I am in the physics department at Cal Poly Pomona, hmu if there are any audiophiles on this campus. Occasionaly I will bring some of my set-up to the library while I study. My whole headphone set-up would be stupid to bring and I would probably get some weird ass looks, lol. For this reason I would say one way to up your audio game if you are like me is to have a decent portable set-up. I have a friend who invested in a shanling dap and andromeda's. I am always tempted to steal them lol.( I am only joking) I would say, if you want to use HD 6xx's like I do find an isolated or noisy place in the library because people will hear what you are listening to. I personally use Tidal for most "general" music. However, my desktop library is like 600 gb's of mainly Flac. It's a bit excessive. I also would say if you like an obscure genre like I do, become a collector. I love collecting old Japanese City-Pop Albums. I have a freind who has terabyte's of tohou songs. I feel like making it a goal to collect and explore everything about a genre I love has exposed me to a HUGE amount of music that I love. I would also recomend listening to a genre you never thought you liked. I have been a big fan of classical music and jazz since I was in high school. I used to very much dislike a lot of rap and hip-hop. However, after spending a lot of time listening through people's recommendations I have found album's Like Ye from Kanye West which I legitametly think is some of the best music ever produced. Keep an open mind! A good way I have found to enjoy the money I have wasted making speakers, repairing amps, and buying headphone stuff is to share it. My two best friends have also invested in headphones and we constantly share music and gear. Even though they have moved far away. I also enjoy it when my girlfriend uses my stuff. In general, I like being a bit social with the whole audiophile stuff. I would also extend a warning to anyone reading this thread looking for a place to learn. Do not listen to the snake oil of most of the idiots online spouting crap about audio. A $3999 amp is not going to give more 'MUSICALITY'. In japan we have places you can go and hear some of the highest end stuff. Take for example Dyna5555. It's an audio shop in akihabara that is been there for a very long time. They have set-ups in excess of $200k! In taiwan there are IEM shops that sell all sorts of headphones and IEMS. I have heard almost everything and I can say, the only things that make a huge difference in the sound are the tranducers. The speakers, Iems, headphones. Most dacs and amps are fine, even if you are only spending $100-200. However, something like the massdrop x THX 758 + like a $200 dac are about the limit to measurable significant differences. And just because our machines can see the difference, doesn't mean we can hear them.
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Hey Niki, i think your air of self superiority speaks volumes about how much of an ass you are. those feelings of self importance need to be treated or medicated before they get to be a real problem for yourself. I think you're just a plant trying to sway the markets in a particular direction with a specific agenda. if you really are an audiphile you couldn't be such tone deaf tin can ear. Just saying i can see right through that self important pompous bull$-it.
Obviously I have no agenda towards swaying a market if I advocate for the cheaper option. I simply believe in science. Im positive that if someone tells you something sounds better you would probably think so. You have to consider what makes something sound good. Not just its "improved microphonics". I can see the case for some specialized equipment but typically. In addition I am most specifically reffering to headphones. I spend a lot of time building speakers and repairing amps and it is my beliefe that with greater power you can more easily distinguish faults in an anplifier.
Best places and methods; I think starting at the hugely respected Headfi.org,(and a few other sites), to get a good grip on gear and gear reviews, all the way from entry level to the highest of high-end,(Summit-fi), is a good way to go. You can never have too much education, especially in an arena where plenty of money can be spent. Learning from others experiences with schtuff BEFORE you sink hundreds-to-thousands really can't be beat. Of course your own ears are the ultimate....but the reality of a gear-centric pursuit is that other folks can help you find your starting point. Also a good place to pick up used gear for not bad cash. When I was a student, I couldn't afford new higher end gear. The ONLY way I could snag some NICE gear was to purchase used equipment. It's the only way I could afford to EXPERIMENT, which is, IMO, the best METHOD. The only way you will know what YOU like, and where to focus your purchasing, will be to experiment, because only YOUR ears can do that work for you. So starting your journey with good, well cared for, already burned-in, gear isn't a bad way to try things out. Shoot, my school pay-off still has me buying used, still on a budget, and my taste for vintage equipment has me on eBay or the classifieds over at Head-fi anywayz. I don't do Spotify or Tidal.....so, I'd say you DON'T need either of them. I refuse to participate in Spotify anyway. so....... it's an opinion. ;) If you are going to use a service, well, use a GOOD one, right? I do use FLAC and Lossless and I have a rather huge CD and vinyl library,(with the appropriately excellent machinery on which to play that), and I guess that means my ears want to hear the highest quality repro that I can afford. Standard gear; Depends on what you mean by that....but if we are talking about an iPhone and a set of ear-buds, then..... NO!!!!! There has to be a reason that we're spending majillions of dollars on amplifiers and headphones and great speakers and power source purifiers and and and.... there must really be something going on that drives the human species to seek better and better reproduction quality, whether we are talking audio or video or both- look at where TV and movies have gone just in the past couple of years! My best recommend here is to go for the highest quality gear,(and which suits your listening prefs), that you can AFFORD*...build from there. Use sites like Head-fi for insight and even gear swapping to establish your core gear set. Get a handle on what you like to listen to, and then purchase equipment that is most likely to do justice to your listening preferences. Remember that music and gear appreciation is subjective. Don't EVER EVER EVER let somebody else tell you that your impressions are wrong, or bully you into some idea that, as a newbie you can't possibly have a valuable impression of how something sounds. Sure, some gear is ABSOLUTE dreck, and should be identified as such, that's the merit of participating in a forum... but "I like the way these sound!", isn't sneer-worthy either. How much something costs really doesn't mean it's guaranteed to be as good as its dollar figure implies. There really is HYPE, after all. Best wishes on your pursuit! *people do really go broke pursuing audio excellence. ebay is full of people who have to sell stuff they couldn't afford at the time they bought it.
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-"I want to up my music listening game. Where are the best places, and what are the best methods for me to do so?" Up until 3 weeks ago, I listened to/discovered new music using Google Play Music (high-bitrate-lossy 320 kbps MP3). Good enough to discover new music. I kept multiple "albums I don't own" playlists of things I liked and thought I might want to acquire in higher quality for optimal listening under ideal circumstances. If I decided I liked it enough to buy a better copy of it, I'd either:
  1. Buy the CD (often referred to as "Redbook" or "lossless") and rip it losslessly to FLAC files using a free program called Exact Audio Copy. CD-quality is done at 16-bit depth and sampled at 44,100 Hz; 16-bits * 44,100 samples/second * 2 channels (left and right) = 1411.2 kbps for uncompressed CDs.
  2. Buy the lossless CD-quality direct from websites like 7Digital.
  3. Buy HiRez FLAC files from sources like 7Digital or HDTracks. HiRez is defined as being stored at 24-bit depth and sampled at frequencies of at least 44,100 hz (96,000 hz is common).
I often made the decision between CD-quality (either via disc or digital download) vs. HiRez by first checking "the dynamic range database" (http://dr.loudness-war.info/). If users/posters had data supporting that the HiRez version had gotten a better recorded version (less-brickwalled, more dynamic range), that would often drive me to splurge for the HiRez version rather than Redbook. For modern/synthetic music (stuff that was "played" through a digital system before it was recorded) I generally find their to be minimal benefit to anything beyond "high-bitrate-lossy" (256 kbps or 320 kbps), but for anything with strings that are plucked (piano's, acoustic guitars, violin/cello/etc), and for very complex or nuanced vocals, I think the difference between 320 kbps and CD-quality is pretty significant. If the CD and the HiRez are of the same mastering, I think the difference between 16-bit "CD quality" and 24-bit "HiRez" is usually pretty minimal, but not necessarily "always zero" the way some will claim. I stream my local FLAC files and cast to my whole-home-audio of Google Chromecast Audios by way of the Plex Media Server that I run within my home. I recently signed up for a 30-day-free-trial of a streaming service called Qobuz, and I think I"m going to keep it. I really like it. I tried Tidal and liked it, but Qobuz works better for me. Tidal sounded great; it was clearly a step up, sound-quality-wise, from lossy streaming services, but I often felt like it didn't sound IDENTICAL to my own CD rips. Sometimes I thought it was as benign as maybe Tidal bumped the gain up, even just a little bit, to make Tidal sound louder than the CD? Sometimes I could hear the "watermark" some refer to with Tidal. Sometimes I couldn't. With Qobuz, so far, my experience has been that Qobuz streaming, at CD quality and at HiRez, sounds (to my ears) IDENTICAL to my own FLAC library of CD rips and HiRez purchases. The fact that it supposedly integrates well with Roon will probably be the final straw/tipping point that causes me to give Roon a go sometime in 2019 too. - "Can I truly get the most out of HiFi music with standard equipment?" In short: no. I generally can't hear much difference between CD quality and compressed "streaming" music on what I consider "standard equipment," but on my best speakers-and-headphones, the difference is real. In my opinion and experience, the last component to upgrade in the chain is the DAC. It's not unimportant. That's not what I'm suggesting at all. What I'm suggesting is that upgrading the DAC will make the least benefit/improvement to sound quality UNTIL your source material (files) are in good shape and you have quality transducers (speakers or headphones) to play them out of (and obviously, whatever speakers/headphones you end up with need to be properly powered, so make sure you don't buy high-impedence low-sensitivity headphones if you don't also have or plan to buy a proper AMP to drive them with). Get your files right, and get a quality pair of speakers or headphones (and whatever power you need to properly drive them) first, then look into different DACs, is my general recommendation. Hope this helps.
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I have no experience with DSD. I'd love to check out someone's else's DSD collection sometime, as I'm into that sort of thing. I don't have much appetite to bring it into my own house/ecosystem/listening setup(s).
You may like DSD, if you know someone with quality DSD ready hardware, it would be worthwhile to check it out,, well anybody for that matter... A true , recorded in 5.6 DSD - not upsampled, comparison set of eight (8) format files: https://bluecoastmusic.com/meghan-andrews/fire-single#.XH84yaROklQ
Qobuz is available in the U.S. now. There are various tiers available, first month free though I don't know at what level. At the Sublime level, which I opted for, music is available in high res 24 bit and available for purchase at discount. I think that's 24.99 monthly, though I paid for a year. 40 million song library. The sound quality is stunning with a decent rig and good earphones. As I write this I'm listening to Taeguk Mun's "Songs of the Cello" in 24 bit 96.0 khz and I can literally hear every time the man draws a breath with my RHA CL2's.
Will check that out. Thanks!
Do me a favor, grab a decent DAC or HIFI internal soundcard like a AudioTrak, get a nice stereo amp, or some decent IEMs or speakers, and test them with these tracks. These guys have over 25 years of mastering and music production with an added bonus of extreme talent. Since they are classically trained musicians, your speakers & ears will go for a ride. Any song from these albums will test your setups full capability. Infected Mushroom : Converting Vegeterians II The Legend of the Black Shawarma Army of Mushrooms Vicious Delicious
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Ah, that's right--the one I got at Onkyo Music is the "Deluxe Edition," which includes both Vol.1 and Vol.2. I'm not sure exactly which tracks are on which volume since I have them all on one "album."
Actually I just checked and both songs are on vol.1 and vol.2 . Speaking of vocals, the track "maniplulator" on the "Return to the Sauce" album is apparently all manipulated vocals done with their plugin with the same name. Great track...
Happy to share my personal experience here! 1. I have three sets: one on road, one in office, one at home. 2. The set on road composes of (1) SONY ZX-1 + (2) B&W C5. 3. The set in office composes of (1) red dos tube headphone amplifier, available in Massdrop + (2) very nice DAC (using ESS9028pro) + (3) a decent Marshall Monitor [expecting to get my KOSS ESP/95X from Massdrop] and (4) the sound source is an Apple Mac Pro running VOX and exporting signals via optical link. 4. The set at home composes of (1) Denon CD player (with DSD) + (2) Audio Research tube pre-amplifier + (3) Threshold Mono blocks + (4) GNP Valkyrie speakers. 5. My sound sources are Spotify + CD + DSD + Hi-res from website. All three systems sound differently.  It is a matter of hi-fi (hi-res) quality and music enjoyment. If your focus is music enjoyment and don’t care too much on the exact texture and details, so there is no need to waste money on expensive gear even there is differences.  If you want to have both of the world, then be prepared to pay.  Does streaming high quality on Spotify count? My hearing ability is normal (tested), I can easily tell the differences between the same CD playing on Spotify versus any of my set.  I can tell the differences of recordings sampled at different rates and bits, because I know how they different, and so I know what to look for.  Do I needto use a service like Tidal? Only streaming at 1100kbps is really not Hi-res. I have no comment.  What details should I look for besides the music being "lossless"? You should pay attention to where and who make the recording, because good recording make a lot of differences.   By the way, in my Audi, I play "wav" format. forget about "lossless"  Can I truly get the most out of HiFi music with standard equipment? Definitely NO!  I spent few years experimenting what kinds of accessory (such as cables, power supply, stand, spike, room acoustic, etc.) to get the most out of my gear at home. Not many people know how to use the equaliser to the best benefits. Not to mention about the dual sound volume control. There is long way to learn. A last piece of advise: if you are a music lover, somewhere in your gear, you MUST have a tube pre-amp or power amp.   Enjoy the music...!
Want to find out with your own ears whether lossless matters? Go listen to Radio Paradise, through whatever gear you listen through. First, listen to their 128K stream. Then their 192K stream. Then their 320K stream. Then their 16/44 lossless stream. Decide. Important to blow off all the "nobody can tell the difference" cult since several million people clearly seem to be able to tell. But there are things to consider. Now this gets long. What you listen through matters. If you're streaming through your iPhone, you won't be able to sort 320K from any lossless. That's not because humans can't tell the difference. It's because iPhone's DAC is a secondary feature, implemented to be good enough with 256K Apple files. If it sounds good enough for YOUR ears with the gear you listen through, why bother with more? On my three main listening rigs streaming Radio Paradise, I can accurately ID each of the different stream depths. So have many guests who aren't terribly interested in fancy audio gear but who asked me the questions you're asking. You can accurately tell even with an old Logitech Touch as the DAC, if the rest of the sound production gear is high quality. I always get "wow, this sounds so much better on your gear" when guests are over. People get up in the middle of dinner and look around the corner into the family room because it sounds like the performers are in there. My library's minimum bit depth is 16/44. About a third of my music library is 24/48 or better. I don't have a million dollar rig (I have friends who do, bless them.) My whole family room setup, acquired over the years when I could afford to upgrade this or that, would go for under $10,000 brand new. Five speakers, DAC, AV pre-pro, and amp. On that system, I can (and so have visitors) accurately tell the difference between a 24/96 version of a song and a 16/44 version. Same is true of the system that would, all in, go for less than $6,000 (my art studio). And for the system that all in would go for under $2500 (master bedroom.) On that lowest end system, I can't hear differences between 24/96 and higher bit depths. I can easily tell 24/192 versus 24/96 on the other two. Here come the exceptions. Electronica is PRODUCED at 16/44 (or worse, some EDM producers record at Apple Store bit depths) most of the time so anything at higher bit depths is simply reproducing 16/44. Some music gets recorded at 16/44, or on low quality recording gear, or just badly. Higher bit depth files don't fix that. If your music is Alabama Shakes, MC5, SoundGarden, Metallica - you'll be hard pressed to tell 16/44 from 192K. The music is all compressed up with no dynamic range (search "loudness wars"), and dynamic range is one area where bit depths really matter. If an album's DR is less than 7, don't buy anything over 16/44. Another factor is complexity of the musical sounds. A vibrating acoustic string puts out huge numbers of harmonics, as do most acoustic instruments, and most sound profiles for electronic jazz guitar or bass. Once you start electronically mashing, twisting, and stretching tones through electronic amps and distortion rigs, the complexity is reduced. Another area where bit depth matters is presence. You won't ever hear the sound of the hall where a live orchestra or jazz group played below 16/44. A space creates harmonics. That sense of the space improves with bit depth, to a point. Many producers close mic and lose that sense of space. That's why performers seem to materialize in my listening rooms much more on some albums than on others. David Chesky records his label's albums in a handful of acoustically interesting spaces, using a recording mic that looks like a head with ears, and the mics are in the ears. Yes, you can absolutely tell that recording rig from a mass of regular microphones. Finally, back to hearing. Just like you can learn to tumble, or drive a race car better than others, you can learn to hear better than others. I was a professional musician into my mid-20s, classical, big band, jazz, rock. I can tell if an orchestra is tuned to A at 440 hz or not. (Some orchestras tune slightly brighter, some slightly darker.) I can tell if a trumpet has a brass bell or a silver bell listening live, and on recorded music can only do that at 24/96 and above. All that and more was learned. Trust your ears. If it doesn't sound different to you, think about all the money you'll save! If it does - why would you deprive yourself of more engagement and joy?
It's so nice when people know what they're talking about.
I've been following this thread for a while and realize that the most important question has NOT been framed in all the posts.  That is "Why am I listening to music in the first place?"  To me there are two main reasons, as a pleasant background to what I'm really doing at the time … or.... ONLY listening to the artist, music and recording he is making, with no other distractions, just the music. (There are different reasons to listen within serious listening but they are not worth discussing for this topic.) So if your goal is to create a pleasant background to what you are doing, then I fully agree with all that say the quality does not really matter that much.  You'll never here it while your playing a game, studying for a test, posting on Facebook, etc.  I know because part of my listening is just this kind of listening, background while I work or am cooking or having a party.  I still have pretty good equipment for that purpose but it likely is not necessary for the purpose it serves.  And the source material sound quality is of little importance.  Content is far more important.  For my background listening, I usually stream a good jazz radio station (WWW.JAZZ.FM) which offers pretty crappy sound (in absolute terms), even though I have a Tidal subscription, and could easily be listing to it. I do use the odd Tidal composed playlist for parties every now and again but all reports say that Spotify play lists are way better.  When I have time, I'll spend some time with Spotify and see if it is worth getting it, as well, for their playlists. But when it comes time for me to LISTEN to the music, I head downstairs to my dedicated HiFi room, close the door and put on vinyl, cd's or Tidal.  All playing on my mega expensive equipment that I've invested hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours setting up for optimum sound (speaker based system).  And I'm still playing around with the room (currently adding corner traps all over the place).  When you actually sit and listen to the music, the smallest improvements jump out.  And once your used to listening  for them, they become painfully obvious. But you HAVE to be LISTENEING. So the first question anyone has to ask themselves, is "Why do I put on music".  If your answer is to create a pleasant background, save your money but if your serious about actually listening to the music, get ready to spend way too much time and money on chasing the Holy Grail :-) BTW, for all out there that say they want both, then your stuck with chasing the Holy Grail (meaning your going to have to spend the time, but not necessarily TOO much money, if your smart about it).  Everyone out there, enjoy life.  And to quote the great jazz/pop singer, Al Jarreau,  "  It's nice to be important.... but it is far more important to be nice"   
24 bit is a lossless codec 320kbps is an MP3 file ...... This man above me is wrong tidal offers Mastered audio at 24 bit and 16 bit which is equivalent to CD quality
Don't fall for 'audiophile' elitist bullcrap. Spotify premium highest quality will do. You will not be able to discern the 24bit 320kbps 48khz Spotify songs from lossless. It has been proven that you can't hear the difference between 16 and 24bit so don't even worry about higher bit rates haha. Anyone who says otherwise is either a god or did not do a blind test. Regarding source what phone do you use? Most are very capable and can beat some high end stand alone dacs/amps. Just Google and you will find that even the 7 yr old iPod touch 5g is more than capable as a hifi dap. Otherwise invest in phones with good audio quality such as lg v20/30 or HTC phones. or Xiaomi or Huawei which have Dirac Sound (amazing DSP which will rival some of the best dacs). This way you have a great portable listening device and a phone, whilst a "hifi" standalone DAC/amp would cost nearly the same or only slightly less. If phone can't supply enough power for your headphone to get to listenable levels then buy a cheap amp, don't spend more than $150. All an amp does is increase your volume. The thing that makes the biggest difference beside source is the headphone/earphone/speaker so invest in a good sounding one. Also remember higher price doesn't equal better sound, there's a study which actually proves that higher price = worse sound. Go out and demo a bunch yourself, don't trust others opinions or reviews. Stay wary my friend, the audio industry has eaten up many uneducated people. Like others say, it's all about enjoying the music, don't get lost in this chasing audio perfection conundrum.
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We're not 1-in-10 million. All of the "internet shtuff" about how people CAN'T hear the difference is all nonsense. It's done by people that don't know how to conduct a proper test, and/or don't know how to interpret their results, and/or fail to provide proper context. If *you* can't hear a difference? That's fine. I believe you. I have no reason to doubt you. I can. And so can my wife. And my father. And friends. Blind, using speakers, a Chromecast Audio (so someone can work the Roon or Plex App from their phone or tablet without the other seeing what file is being played), and a playlist built with files that are ripped from one CD disc; one rip done using lossless FLAC, the other a 320 kbps compressed rip... that way their's no difference in terms of the "original master" or the volume/levels. EDIT/UPDATE - I reread your entire first post, and the one thing you said that I agree with THE MOST is: "The thing that makes the biggest difference beside source is the headphone/earphone/speaker so invest in a good sounding one. " You followed that up with some more statements that I don't necessarily agree with, and I mostly find to be bad advice: "Also remember higher price doesn't equal better sound, there's a study which actually proves that higher price = worse sound." In my experience, price relates very strongly to performance as you move from $5 to $50 to $500. From $500 to $5000, what you've said here can (but is certainly not "always") true. I don't own (and likely never will own) anything much beyond that, but from the things I read and podcasts I listen to, the phenomena you've described here is *most often* true for things well beyond $5000, which has "no impact or relevance" to most people, including myself, that have no intention of ever buying absurd car-priced gear that I refer to more as "art pieces" than audio equipment. My main point/rebuttel to your original post, as someone who owns LOTS of different ~$500ish (in terms of orders of magnitude) gear that I have compared extensively against LOTS of different ~$50ish and ~$5ish dollar gear, and one living room setup that's along the lines of ~$5000ish, with no intention of ever owning anything that approaches that ~$50,000 venue: 1) Disc space is dirt-cheap in 2019, in a way that it never was in 1999 when we were all relying on compression so we could have a reasonably sized collection available to us digitally, for all the conveniences that digital files offer. 2) CDs *rarely* cost any more than a $1 or $2 more upcharge when compared to buying the album as MP3s or AACs or whatever... and when you buy them from somewhere like Amazon they often come with something like a 256 kbps VBR digital autorip, for convenience... 3) Qobuz "CD-quality" costs $80 a year more than your average "$10 per month" streaming-subscription-of-your-choice... As someone that owns multiple different $500ish rigs, one "headphone rig" that's probably halfway-ish between that $500-ish-land and $5000-ish-land, and one legitimate $5000 stereo 2.1 setup in my living room, with all of THAT "skin in the game" hardware-wise (which you noted above, and I agree with, is where you get best bang-for-your-buck), it seems to me to be a foolish place to pinch a penny to not spend a $1 or $2 more for CDs rather than digitally compressed albums, and/or $6.67-a-month for lossless streaming, even if you're skeptical about any audible improvements (as I often am when it comes to certain types of music, like modern hard rock). I'm telling you *I CAN AND DO* hear the difference, with some types of music, in a blind test, and furthermore, I'd encourage anyone else who is into this hobby to BUY SOME CDS AND FIND OUT FOR THEMSELVES. Simple as that.
Agreed! Enough now!....Go and live your lives for bejesus sakes!
Can listening on spotify be enjoyable?maybe. Is it the best streaming experience for sound quality? Hell no! Spotify premium has worse bitrates than soundcloud premium (knowing soundclouds reputation this is for comparison only) Tidal on the other hand has either lossless full value cd quality or even the mqa masters of many albums. It absolutely sounds better and is well worth the upgrade if its higher cost can be fit into your budget. That said the best way to achieve good quality is to buy the high res versions of your favorites as it is far from a guarantee they will always be found on streaming services. Define standard equipment? I can tell the difference between flacs and mp3s on $25 chifi earphones but all files are more enjoyable and the differences between them are more apparent with my sennheisers. I'm certain that were I able to afford to upgrade to and even higher quality headphone it would be even more impressive in the same ways.
Mate what are you on about. SoundCloud has the worst audio quality of probably any streaming service. Max quality is currently 64kbps, previously it was 128kbps, dunno why they decided to lower it. On the other hand, Spotify highest quality is 24bit 48khz 320kbps which is indiscernible to lossless.
Both are a lossy compression which is undesirable but soundcloud doesn't employ additional replay-gain compression to equalize the volume levels between tracks which from my experience is way worse than the lower bit-rate but as with all things audio ymmv. As for 320 lossy compression being indiscernable from lossless I would say that depends heavily on the circumstances in which listening is taking place, the equipment available for testing and of course the ears of the listener. From what I have witnessed with even inexperienced listeners on low end (for hifi) equipment there is a massive difference.
If I'm just casually listening while working, I don't notice the difference between 320kbps streaming from Spotify and lossless. It really depends on where my focus is though. When I'm going to critically listen to something for all of the details and just completely enjoy sound, I'm pulling up HDTracks and lossless CD rips. For my usage case, I can't justify the additional monthly costs of Tidal. Call me old fashioned if you want, but I feel obligated to help support an artist when I go to listen to their full album. I'm going to spend my money on the album I'm interested in instead of on a service which, like Spotify, which pays them some ridiculous pittance for their efforts. Spotify still has a use to me as a place to find new music to enjoy (similar to the radio of days past). My payments there perform the same role as the commercials that drive me away from radio. In my experience "Hi-Fi" as a thing is more of a logarithmic gradient, if that makes sense. With entry level gear, coming from crappy gear, you can make huge leaps in sound improvements, and beyond that your expenses keep going up but your improvements get smaller and smaller. To some these small differences make all the difference in the world, and to each their own. My point is that chasing this thing they call "Hi-Fi" can cost more than you're ever going to make and still leave you wanting more, if you let it. If you were happy with your gear once, but not any longer, try some new music first. If you really want to do more with your gear, go to your local stereo shop and listen to the gear first hand and do so for as long as they will let you. If they want you to spend a small fortune on their products, they better be willing to let you find out if it's really what you want first. If you want real Hi-Fi sound, go find the real thing. Buy a ticket to a show. The chances of getting recorded sounds to ever sound exactly like the original source, are slim in my opinion. There's too much ability to lose/degrade signal in any electronic chain, from the one recording the sound to the one replaying it. There's also no way to fully reproduce sound coming at you from a 3D space using a microphone/speaker that only has 1D capture/replay ability. I'm rambling again. Probably doesn't make sense, but I hope you can find something of value in my thoughts.
Against popular opinion, don't go for a schiit stack, get a jds atom or geshelli's 100$ amp schiit only was good then schiit was the only viable option :/ Z reviews did a comparison between the 100$ amps, not sure if its put for the public yet. Get a pair of sennheiser hd 6xx or the 58x jubilee for headphones, maybe go for a fostex t50 mod, like the argons for 300$ if you want a more engaging and exciting sound and dac wise you can go for a micca origen, the 100$ schiit dac or even an audio interface from focusrite (i.e. scarlett solo) - it's also nice if you want to get a xlr mic or so for communication Use Spotify's highest quality settings and you will be happy. Z reviews said something about Spotify re-mastering brickwalled tracks and making them much more enjoyable or just use youtube, don't get caught up with chasing some high numbers, you don't need it. just download some song from bandcamp get it in flac and mp3 and just compare if you even hear a difference
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Great post. Would you please add information (for the benefit of op and myself ) about how you get Spotify to your dac?
i used to use usb to get to my old sdac but had some ground loop issue with my eddie current zdt jr so i got a smsl su8, now I'm using my on board optical to feed it the optical is mainly to decouple all electricity between pc and dac and thus eliminate the ground loop issue. I also tried to use the stupidly overpriced ifi ipurifier to fix it, but it was useless :/ Edit: i use my pc for 95% of my music consumption. if you don't have that option and want to kit out your whole apartment/house I'm the wrong person to ask. but if you have a living room set up i/e and want to use your phone you could get a fiio btr3 and (if you don't have an iPhone :>) use the Bluetooth ldac connection and feed your speaker/headphone amp with that
I ripped all our CDs to flac files and am using Plex to distribute music (and movies) to my home network and I even stream when I'm away. I have a couple of schiit stacks for listening with headphones, but I can also stream to a chromecast music and Google home minis. The kids use Plex from the Xbox if they want to listen to music. It's not the most audiophile-centric setup, but it works simply and uses equipment we already had in the house. For new music purchases, I buy flac files from bandcamp and other online stores. Many of my recent vinyl purchases have also included download codes, some have flac as an option.
Get a set of Sennheiser 650/XX and a Schiit stack along with Spotify Premium. With anything beyond this setup, you’re just chasing a rainbow. Go through the Chesky Records catalogue, Muddy Water’s The Folk Singer album, etc.
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Spotify highest is 320 K Ogg Vorbis compression, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vorbis. It is very good, but it is lossy and does not reproduce the full spectrum compared to Redbook or 44KHz PCM (CD). It is not superior in quality to CD/FLAC. As for the point regarding bias far outweighing audible effects at this point, however, we are in total agreement.
It gets much better than a 650. All personal preference on that front. Personally I liked the 600 better than the 600. Regardless, its unfair to say that anything more than the 650 is chasing a rainbow because there are certainly better headphones and better amps (although this makes less of a difference). But yeah, 99% of people can not tell the difference between FLAC and 320kbps. Only people who can are people who either work in audio production or those who have talked to those who work in audio production and understand where to listen. I am not among either of those categories.
Personally just stick with spotify. First of all you get to hook any flac files you have if you really want to your spotify playlist. and Second of all I did try tidal and the music selection I found was VERY lacking. You also can't even add your own music so it wasn't worth it to me. I didn't hear a difference either when A/B the same music I did find on both spotify high quality and tidals master quality. The difference was so minimal I was glad it was only a free month trial. It's not even a month and I stopped using it. Spotify isn't perfect, I can't always find my music on it either, And even online downloads are usually limited to 256kbps or 192kbps mp3 files which I find upsetting. Although it works for me well enough. I usually try keep it all at 256kbps but sometimes there is that one music file that is at 192kbps. Although I still like that song anyway.
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Like maybe 1 week ago. My internet isn't the fastest so like if I want to get master quality it's a constant rate of 10 mbps ish on each song which is a lot for me at home and while using my phone. My download speeds are about 15mbps and it literally chokes up the whole internet in the house if anyone else wants to do something on the internet. I don't have unlimited data so it's not like I can use tidal outside in public without worrying about data usage. Spotify is a lot too but I mean it's not $20 a month too. My taste in music isn't very mainstream while they do have a good selection of mainstream songs(top 100 radio songs) they don't have any kind of my selection of music. I think I may have found 1/4 of my spotify music list on tidal. It's not really worth it in my opinion especially since I can rarely find my songs in good quality bitrate. I still enjoy my music though, I think 256kbps is good enough for most people. I think everyone should just enjoy their music and not worry about achieving the most highest quality file they can get.