Can you hear a difference?
Preamble: I am not looking to start yet another thread full of people calling each other idiots for liking OR disliking various levels of encoding/compression. To me the following comparison is incredibly apparent to MY EARS in MY SYSTEM and I genuinely want to see who does or does not feel the same way. This won't be for everyone because the tracks involved do cost money (one subscription the other a purchase) and no it's not a placebo controlled, double-blind case study. I am posting for fun... not science!
Personal Stance on High Resolution Audio... and other audio tidbits.
Over the past 15 years I've enjoyed a reasonable amount of "high resolution" music (PCM bit rates of 48kHz-192kHz and up to 24 bit depth as well as DSD's various formats). I don't buy a ton of it but I've been buying "better encoding" since the early days of HDCD (first major consumer format with encoding greater than 44.1kHz 16 bit aka Redbook). I am and have always been... on a budget. I buy gear for the long haul and am not afraid to spend a bit more than the average purchase for flexibility and long term viability.
I've purchased physical media such as DVD-Audio stereo and multi-channel, SACD in all its various incarnations, DTS Audio Discs, Blu-ray Audio Discs. For the most part I have generally noticed a difference but I am certainly not going to stand up on a soapbox and say it's for everybody. In addition to the physical side of digitally stored media I can also recall connecting to FTP servers that one got from IRC chat rooms of like minded music lovers and swapping .mp3's! Before anyone flames me on the ole FTP days... it wasn't yet illegal to swap digital media. In the early days it stood on the same legal footing as giving your friend a mix tape on a cassette/cd or dubbing from the radio. Windows didn't include a player that knew what the hell the .MP3 was and Napster was yet a long way out. Speaking of digital media I currently use Spotify Premium, locally stored phone media via Poweramp as well as jRiver Media Center with FLAC files to an outboard dac, and pre-amp/amp configuration at home. In the early days .mp3 came mostly in 96kbps and 128 kbps variety due quit simply to the slow ass connections we all had. As the bit rate increased and the codecs released later revisions (VBR was a game changer) the fidelity got better but still lagged behind all but consumer cassette tapes. Now we have 320kbps streaming at our finger tips and digital albums can be purchased in similar bit rates as well as lossless 44.1khz 16 bit and high resolution PCM, DSD/2x/4/xDXD etc.
If the album is from an artist I truly love, or one known to be immaculately recorded and an audio enthusiast staple I will think about picking up the high res version. Before I jump on the purchase I will typically look at reviews and see if a few key items are met:
1) Was it remastered for high resolution or in the case of multi-channel audio from the Quadrophonic tapes? I find that a lot of the benefit comes in the fact that the media was remastered with a known intended audience. And that audience is often quite picky and discerning so poor efforts don't sell in an already niche market. In some cases of previously well mastered media they decide they just need to "make it sound different" or use the same Redbook purposed master upsampled to the higher bit rate/depth. I blame this shady ass behavior for a lot of the negative perception of the various high res formats.
2) Is the price right? So much of the high res stuff is overpriced crap... but if you catch a coupon code or a sale it can make it into my "worth the purchase" range.
3) I don't buy high res Pop, Rap or EDM... for the most part, the dynamics are too low and the marginal benefit from the high resolution is often negated. I am not saying I don't enjoy those genres, I am just not paying a premium for them. Key high resolution genres for me are Acoustic/Instrumental, Jazz/Blues, some well recorded Classic Rock/Modern Rock/Hard Rock/Metal. Never been a big orchestral fan but I do own some high res Wagner.
Bottom Line: I think high res music does sound better than it's streaming or lossy counterparts but I also don't think it's enough of a difference that everyone will care to fork out the premium for it. I also don't see a huge difference between 192 and 320kbps or lossless Redbook FLAC and high resolution FLAC. The difference is there in some tracks but wholly masked to me in others by shite recording or some producer/engineer who just loves to add excessive layers of effects. I see pros and cons on both sides of the debate and everyone should make the right choice for their particular situation (aka wallet & ears).
Can you hear the difference between a lossy version of To the Sun and All the Cities in Between by Cities of the Sun and a high resolution version?
No these aren't from the same source up/downsampled because these days most users are presented with 5 options for consumption and I am again aiming for the practical not technical side of the debate.
1) Stream from a music service a la Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, Pandora
2)Stream from a hifi source like Tidal or Spotify (by invite ATM)
3) Purchase CD and rip to lossy or lossless format
4) Purchase digital lossy or redbook copy from Apple, Amazon, Google, etc...
5) Purchase high resolution copy from niche retailers like HDtracks
Spotify at 320kbps
192kHz/24 Bit copy from HD tracks
My audio chain(s):
1) PC using jriver MC>XUSB>XDA-1>2808CI>XPA-100 x 2> ERT 8.3 towers +SW-12 subs x2.
2) PC using jriver MC>XUSB>XDA-1>Lyr/H10>T1/HE500
In any of the above scenarios I hear a marked difference in the decay of the bass notes, the clarity of the guitars, the depth of soundstage and the overall cleanliness of the image. If anyone has access to the same music or is highly musically curious like myself and cares to purchase said track, I would love to hear your thoughts EITHER WAY!
Request: Please be civil, let's try to break the mold on this type of discussion, there are a ton of factors at play and everyone's ears are different.