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I just found this via a well know music industry commentator on YouTube:
I took the test using the following setup:
Mac Book Air >> AudioQuest Dragonfly Red with Jitter Bug and DragonTail USB cable>> Sennheiser HD540 (very old but in good working order AFAIK)
I was rather disappointed with my ability to identify the highest resolution version of each track.
In my slight defense I was doing this in a room with other family members watching TV and those headphones are open back so there was some background noise.
Is this a valid test? Are the files actually being rendered properly from this website?
Interested to hear others views on this.
I took this test a while back. IIRC, I got about 2/3 correct. Therefore the test must be flawed, because as audiophiles we naturally have perfect hearing in all circumstances! 🙂
I think that file resolution matters more for some songs than others. The more detail and dynamic range in the original recording, the more it matters. I relate this concept to computer graphics because it helps me conceptualize it in a way I can comprehend. Think about a low-resolution JPG showing two different pieces of art. Mondrian’s Composition II will certainly look better than one of William Blake’s Great Red Dragons.
I’m sure others can chime in with more specific information on this topic and the test itself.
Thanks for the feedback. I am suspicious of the why the files render on the npr.org website.
Out of interest I ran my own test, using Suzanne Vega’s Toms Diner track (as used in the npr.org test) streaming from Tidal and toggling through the various resolution options.
According to my research, the Tidal stream rates are:
Normal – AAC at 96kbps
High – MP3 and 320 kbps
HiFi – FLAC at 1400kbps
I am sure I can identify the quality, especially the normal rate at 96kbps.
On the Toms Diner track, the lowest quality has an unpleasant sibilance which emphasises and seems to add in extra unpleasant sounds around the breathing and mouthing of the vocals.
As quality increases, I found the sibilance is much reduced and the impression of speed or time keeping improves, the music appears to speed up a little in the way it is heard (not the physical length of the track). Also a general smoothness is gained and everything sounds more pleasant.
Interestingly on Tidal, the next track after Toms Diner is Headshots from Nine Objects of Desire, which opens with a Snare and Bass Guitar. Cycling through the stream quality options, the bass just sounds much worse on the lowest resolution – kind of dirty and ill defined.
I am encouraged that:
a) my ears work
b) my headphone setup works
c) I haven’t wasted my money over 30+ years of buying good HiFi equipment and media.
Would love to hear anyone else’s findings.
We do comparative listening a lot at our local club meetings, it makes for great discussion.
One of our members is way big into the “vast” levels of improvement he notes with upgrading AC power cords, but can’t discern even the lowest bit rates from the higher resolution versions.
I find SACD, in general, most pleasing, but that may be my own lack of dedication to getting the most out of hard drive files or streaming.
Tidal Masters (MQA) can sound strikingly great. They had a Master version of Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” that was simply astoundingly good.
MP3 cues hit me most where stringed instruments exist (especially acoustic guitar) and seem to emphasize their characteristics, and the vocal quality seems a little “phasey” to use an rank amateur word. It is usually a very easy tell. Also, the more things happening in the sound of a recording, the more MP3 suffers.
I know it’s a cliche recording, but Steely Dan’s “Aja” comes in all flavors. We compared everything from low rez and MP3 to the coolest Japanese SACD, from the original LP pressing to the Mo Fi to the Cisco pressing, even to a ‘master tape’ a friend has.
Mostly, it seems we can pick out different mix aspects to many LP pressings, and the ‘master tape’ has won the shoot out sometimes, and the Cisco pressing others, with the SACD taking honors…on differing systems.
I admit finding the differences is more fun for me than declaring one version the best and then only listening to that one.
There’s really a great collection of different versions of Aja out there to make for good discussion and comparison.
Another surprisingly good comparison album is Exile on Main Street. It’s not Hi Fi, but lots to find in the different releases and bit rates.
We have also done literally dozens of different pressing and releases of Kind of Blue. Our cumulative verdict is that EVERY version makes you think your voice coil or mid or tweeter is busted during those opening trumpet notes of “So What!” If that one part of this classic recording doesn’t make you wanna jump up and put your ear to your speakers, then it’s an inferior recording or system. ;-D
(Our winner, even over some original promo pressings, has been the Classics Records Clarity SV-P II 45 RPM version. I am not even sure if Classic was allowed to make this specific version, but there are copies that showed up direct from Classics that just sing!)
Thanks Anton. You’ve really put in some dedicated listening time on this subject.
I’d absolutely love to get my hands on a Mobile Fidelity copy of Kind of Blue on 45rpm, but its out of print and new copies are being offered around the £70 mark in UK. I can see the Classic Records versions are selling for much higher than this.
I have the Dire Straits Brothers in Arms MFSL 45 rpm and it is wonderful.