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post #1 of 21 Old 11-15-2013, 04:27 PM - Thread Starter
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Unfortunately, I've been out of the home theater game for a decade.
As such, I've become completely ignorant as to what the best possible music formats are, for surround sound or otherwise. Talk to me like you're explaining this to a guy who hasn't paid attention to home theaters in a decade. smile.gif

When I left.... SACD and DVD-Audio were battling it out for top contender. You needed a specific disc-player to play either format.... although neither format included video. Both could be used for 2 channel or 5.1 channel music, depending on how it was mixed from the studio.

So first question: Do either of these still exist in any popular capacity? Are they still the kings of sound quality, or has music moved onto Bluray or something else on a disc?



1) What is the best possible sound-quality format for 2 channel listening? (be specific)
2) What is the best possible sound-quality format for 5.1 or 7.1 channel listening? (be specific)
3) I noticed that a lot of people are playing back downloaded music on their home theater... this used to be an abhorrent idea, since all you could really get were Mp3s. I assume you guys aren't using Mp3s.... What is the best possible sound-quality format for downloaded music?
4) Related to question 3..... what device are you loading your downloaded songs from? I assume it is some kind of digital media player that connects to a receiver? Are there differences in sound quality between the players?


Sorry for noob questions! Hopefully it will help me and others as well.
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post #2 of 21 Old 11-15-2013, 04:29 PM - Thread Starter
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If it helps.... the receiver I am probably going to buy is the Denon AVR X4000.

I want to know what my options are for playing back music in the best formats and qualities possible.
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post #3 of 21 Old 11-16-2013, 02:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Landmonster View Post

Unfortunately, I've been out of the home theater game for a decade.
As such, I've become completely ignorant as to what the best possible music formats are, for surround sound or otherwise. Talk to me like you're explaining this to a guy who hasn't paid attention to home theaters in a decade. smile.gif

When I left.... SACD and DVD-Audio were battling it out for top contender. You needed a specific disc-player to play either format.... although neither format included video. Both could be used for 2 channel or 5.1 channel music, depending on how it was mixed from the studio.

So first question: Do either of these still exist in any popular capacity? Are they still the kings of sound quality, or has music moved onto Bluray or something else on a disc?



1) What is the best possible sound-quality format for 2 channel listening? (be specific)
2) What is the best possible sound-quality format for 5.1 or 7.1 channel listening? (be specific)
3) I noticed that a lot of people are playing back downloaded music on their home theater... this used to be an abhorrent idea, since all you could really get were Mp3s. I assume you guys aren't using Mp3s.... What is the best possible sound-quality format for downloaded music?
4) Related to question 3..... what device are you loading your downloaded songs from? I assume it is some kind of digital media player that connects to a receiver? Are there differences in sound quality between the players?


Sorry for noob questions! Hopefully it will help me and others as well.
Welcome back. While you were gone SACD and DVD-A managed to be written off as a niche format and were left for dead by the mainstream music press.. Both however still exist with SACD showing more life than DVD-A. Unlike days of yore you do not need separate players. There are several brands available at different price points, but the most popular on this site is put out by Oppo. They make a combination blu ray SACD DVD-A unit that is hard to beat. As for the best format sound quality wise it can vary but fof the most part SACD gets my vote in either 2 channel or 5.1. There is music out on blu ray discs but it has come out at a time when discs are becoming less popular so it's chances of really taking off are slim. Downloaded music is big and getting bigger. Downloads are different than songs that you rip from CD's. You buy downloads from sites like ITunes, Amazon, HD Tracks. For downloads you pretty much need a computer. I use a Mac Mini which I have hooked up to my tv and pre-pro, so it doubles as a media player. DSD downloads were the talk earlier this fall with Sony getting involved but since they announced a couple of streaming players and a download site nothing has really happened. I hope some of this helps.
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post #4 of 21 Old 11-16-2013, 03:23 PM
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FLAC is a popular format for lossless music, but MP3 still rules the roost. Many studies have shown it is virtually impossible to distinguish an MP3 encoded at 256 or higher from the original lossless format. Of course, part of that problem is because of the loud wars and general terrible sound found on most CDs these days.
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post #5 of 21 Old 11-16-2013, 03:59 PM
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For two channel or surround, depending on the mix and mastering, you can't go wrong with Blu-ray, DVD-A or SACD. Try to avoid lossy formats for surround, like DTS and Dolby Digital. For downloads I'd go 24-192 flac for the best quality. no need for wavs.
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post #6 of 21 Old 01-05-2014, 02:14 PM
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My 2 cents:

1. SACD for MCH

2. SACD or BD-Audio for stereo, which makes the sound colored a bit more on some Universal "Pure Audio" reissue discs.

3. DVD-Audio multichannel, do not dismiss this format.

SACD education and free online library: www.sa-cd.net

DVD-Audio education: www.quadraphoicquad.com, check out their "HiRez Poll", I have yet to be disappointed by a choice from the top 100 on that list.

Two methods of playing, with #1 you will need a decent receiver/processor, the second is the money-hole (interconnects, preamplifier, monoblocks, the whole
shebang) but is ultimately very rewarding:

1. HDMI, either sending DSD native off SACDs or MLP-PCM-decoded off DVD-As, or PCM or DTS-HDMA native off BD-Audios. Thus your player becomes a transport (no in player processing, one step decoding if possible), all players are fairly equal here, except that some will do more transcoding and conversions which are not desirable from a purist standpoint. A good budget conscious choice is a used BDP-62FD player, which I used with all formats upstairs and liked a lot.

2. Analog audio out, balanced stereo stage preferred, get ready to shell out on interconnects. Here you get a plethora of 2-channel balanced machines,
but relatively few quality ones that will also do MCH analog well. My rank list is UD9004>DVD-A1UDCI (cousin with humbler balanced stage)>BDP-105>MVP891.

I ignored DVD-Audio for a long time but I now have many and love the colorful more vinyl-like sound or a good remaster.

Also, ignore the digital vs analog polemic that degenerates into 20 page threads every so often here, it has no merit.

If you plan on limited upgrades #1 is for you, the only addition should be a musical receiver with decent decoding.

To answer your other questions as niche formats they are alive and well, I rarely buy a new disc, used choices abound with wide discrepancies in pricing, I wanted to please my wife and got the $1600 Beyonce SACD for $80 used on Amazon.jp one day, pure luck I guess, but with patience one can find deals.

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post #7 of 21 Old 01-10-2014, 03:58 PM
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Welcome! Landmonster. I love SACD (2 channel). I do not have nor do I want an HT set-up.
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post #8 of 21 Old 01-13-2014, 07:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Landmonster View Post

1) What is the best possible sound-quality format for 2 channel listening? (be specific)

CD (ducks). From a technical standpoint, CD is as good as it gets until we are able to upgrade our ears. That said, SACD releases often sound better than their CD counterpart because they use better mastering or tailor the mix toward an audiophile listener. Blu Ray audio has the best specs, with 96khz/24 bit (over HDMI or optical) and occasionally 192khz/24 bit (over HDMI only), and also has the broadest compatibility, because BD-A will play at full quality in any blu ray player (unlike *cough* DVD-A).
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2) What is the best possible sound-quality format for 5.1 or 7.1 channel listening? (be specific)


The trend I'm seeing is that, when a popular music album gets a surround re-release, it's often available in a 2 disc DVD-A + CD set (for $10 more than the CD) and a 2 disc Blu Ray + CD set (for $20 more than the CD). Rush and Primus both went this route. Getting the Blu ray version is a no-brainer here, mainly because of the compatibility advantage, plus for many of these releases the blu ray version is 96khz/24 bit vs. 48khz/24 bit for the DVD-A version (DVD-A is capable of 96/24, but 48/24 is common too - Primus Seas of Cheese is one example). You'll never hear the difference, but the higher sampling rate doesn't hurt - compatibility is the real key.
Quote:
3) I noticed that a lot of people are playing back downloaded music on their home theater... this used to be an abhorrent idea, since all you could really get were Mp3s. I assume you guys aren't using Mp3s.... What is the best possible sound-quality format for downloaded music?

High bitrate MP3s (320kbps+, used by Amazon) and AACs (256kbps+, used in iTunes) have come a long way. At these levels, and with proper encoding, they're very hard to tell apart from the CD source. If you have a really good ear, you can tell them apart in ABX testing, but for most popular music, the difference is negligible, and won't detract from the listening experience. FLAC is the best lossless music format, and comes in at about half the size of an uncompressed Wav/aiff. ALAC is Apple's lossless format, which is very similar to FLAC, but ALAC doesn't always convert back to a bit-perfect copy of the original. FLAC does. If you want the broadest compatibility and no quality loss, good old WAV is the way to go. 650MB for a cd quality album is not a big deal anymore, so if you can conveniently integrate FLAC and/or Wav into your setup, that's the best SQ option. I avoid HD tracks because you can usually find the physical disc that includes a surround mix for the same price as the 2 ch download.

Personally, I use 256kbps AAC because the convenience boost for me is substantial, and the quality loss is negligible, but YMMV. I have my CDs backed up to ALAC, and will probably repopulate my main iTunes library with lossless when bigger iPhones become available. I have my 2 channel high res recording ripped to CD quality files because 44.1/16 files play better with iTunes. I tend to only pull out the actual discs for surround listening.
Quote:
4) Related to question 3..... what device are you loading your downloaded songs from? I assume it is some kind of digital media player that connects to a receiver? Are there differences in sound quality between the players?

I use an iPhone for portable playback, and i stream to my receiver using airplay from my computer and my phone. Airplay streaming is at 48khz/16bit, a little better than CD quality. For multichannel, I have a pioneer DVD player that does SACD and DVD-A, and also use it as a CD deck because it has better transport controls on the front panel than my blu ray. I have a separate sony blu ray player for blu ray audio and video. If you're starting from scratch and want a true universal disc player, the Oppo 103 is the best all in one player in the $400-500 range. If you already have a blu ray player, you can find a discontinued universal DVD player for $100-200 to cover the other surround formats. In general, as long as the source is streamed digitally, there is no difference in sound quality between source devices. Your AVR will decode a CD exactly the same as a WAV version from a computer. Blu ray audio will also be decoded exactly the same, regardless of whether it comes from an Oppo 103 or a $99 panasonic BD player.

Welcome back to the frustrating world of audio formats smile.gif
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post #9 of 21 Old 01-13-2014, 10:39 AM
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^^^^^^^
While it definitely seems to be a minority opinion these days, I agree that CD's 16/44 is all that is necessary for 2 channel music playback. But even those who believe that hi-res makes a difference would agree that the mastering is exponentially more important than the bit size/ sampling rate.

I agree w/ most everything you say- great post!- but one thing I'd disagree on is BR over DVD-A. Assuming one has a dvd-a player (a big assumption, I know), I feel that medium is better, simply b/c it's generally easier to access the music in 5.1 w/o having to turn on your monitor, whereas there's no SQ superiority in either. Also, DVD-a is certainly capable of 24/96 in 5.1 channels.
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post #10 of 21 Old 01-13-2014, 11:18 AM
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Originally Posted by JimWinVA View Post

^^^^^^^
I agree w/ most everything you say- great post!- but one thing I'd disagree on is BR over DVD-A. Assuming one has a dvd-a player (a big assumption, I know), I feel that medium is better, simply b/c it's generally easier to access the music in 5.1 w/o having to turn on your monitor, whereas there's no SQ superiority in either. Also, DVD-a is certainly capable of 24/96 in 5.1 channels.

Thanks for the clarification. I updated my post above - I didn't realize DVD-A could do 96/24. The DVD-A version of Primus's Seas of Cheese is only 48/24 for example.

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post #11 of 21 Old 01-13-2014, 11:32 AM
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Thanks for the clarification. I updated my post above - I didn't realize DVD-A could do 96/24. The DVD-A version of Primus's Seas of Cheese is only 48/24 for example.

But is the BR of SoC not also 24/48? I don't know why anyone would choose to down-rez to 48 when there is no need to... I have seen BR's that have 24/48 on them. It's up to whoever's doing the mix.
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post #12 of 21 Old 01-13-2014, 11:43 AM
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Amazon says the SoC blu ray is 96/24 for all surround mixes while the DVD-A is 48/24 for all surround mixes.
http://www.amazon.com/Sailing-Seas-Cheese-Primus/dp/B00BX8MM3Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389641625&sr=8-1&keywords=seas+of+cheese+5.1
http://www.amazon.com/Sailing-Seas-Cheese-Primus/dp/B00BX8MLQY

But....

Blu-ray.com says that only the 2 ch. mix is 96/24 on the blu ray, with the surround mixes being 48/24
http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Primus-Sailing-the-Seas-of-Cheese-Blu-ray/69799/

I could have sworn that Amazon is correct, but I'll have to check the disc when I get home tonight.

The reason to downsample for the DVD-A may have been a space issue to fit three versions (2 channel PCM/5.1 Dolby/5.1 DTS) plus lossy mixes for regular DVD players all on one disc? Either way, it still beats the hell out of the lossy dolby digital mix I'd get with a regular DVD player. smile.gif

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post #13 of 21 Old 01-13-2014, 04:42 PM
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Originally Posted by JD NC View Post

Amazon says the SoC blu ray is 96/24 for all surround mixes while the DVD-A is 48/24 for all surround mixes.
http://www.amazon.com/Sailing-Seas-Cheese-Primus/dp/B00BX8MM3Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389641625&sr=8-1&keywords=seas+of+cheese+5.1
http://www.amazon.com/Sailing-Seas-Cheese-Primus/dp/B00BX8MLQY

But....

Blu-ray.com says that only the 2 ch. mix is 96/24 on the blu ray, with the surround mixes being 48/24
http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Primus-Sailing-the-Seas-of-Cheese-Blu-ray/69799/

I could have sworn that Amazon is correct, but I'll have to check the disc when I get home tonight.

The reason to downsample for the DVD-A may have been a space issue to fit three versions (2 channel PCM/5.1 Dolby/5.1 DTS) plus lossy mixes for regular DVD players all on one disc? Either way, it still beats the hell out of the lossy dolby digital mix I'd get with a regular DVD player. smile.gif

Unless that album is really long, there should be plenty of space for 24/96 MLP. The new Close to the Edge dvd-a has 24/96 MLP for the album and the bonus America (both 2.0 and 5.1), plus 24/96 2.0 PCM flat transfer of same, plus DTS version of same, plus other extras.

But disc space is definitely one clear advantage BR has over dvd-a- if they decide to take advantage of it. You could probably fit 5.1 and 2.0 24/96 PCM and DTS-MA mixes of all of Yes' 70's output on one BR, though of course they'd never do that.
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Unless that album is really long, there should be plenty of space for 24/96 MLP. The new Close to the Edge dvd-a has 24/96 MLP for the album and the bonus America (both 2.0 and 5.1), plus 24/96 2.0 PCM flat transfer of same, plus DTS version of same, plus other extras.

But disc space is definitely one clear advantage BR has over dvd-a- if they decide to take advantage of it. You could probably fit 5.1 and 2.0 24/96 PCM and DTS-MA mixes of all of Yes' 70's output on one BR, though of course they'd never do that.

Not surprising - now that I think of it, my Skynyrd DVD-A has more music, and is 96/24 across the board. I checked the my SoC blu ray and the case says all three mixes are 96/24. So I officially have no idea why the SoC DVD-A would be in 48/24. Unless.... "You see, most blokes will be playing DVD-A at 48. You’re on 48, all the way up, all the way up...Where can you go from there? Nowhere. What we do, is if we need that extra push over the cliff...96. 48 better."
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post #15 of 21 Old 01-13-2014, 08:08 PM
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Originally Posted by JimWinVA View Post

^^^^^^^
While it definitely seems to be a minority opinion these days, I agree that CD's 16/44 is all that is necessary for 2 channel music playback. But even those who believe that hi-res makes a difference would agree that the mastering is exponentially more important than the bit size/ sampling rate.

I agree w/ most everything you say- great post!- but one thing I'd disagree on is BR over DVD-A. Assuming one has a dvd-a player (a big assumption, I know), I feel that medium is better, simply b/c it's generally easier to access the music in 5.1 w/o having to turn on your monitor, whereas there's no SQ superiority in either. Also, DVD-a is certainly capable of 24/96 in 5.1 channels.

I also agree that CD quality (44.1/16bit) is indistinguishable from the so called "high resolution" formats, but if you enjoy multi-channel presentations, that eliminates the CD quality options. Of far greater concern is the quality of the recording, and post production mixing/mastering work. I think one of the main reasons people believe that high rez formats are superior is simply due to better recording, and post production values given to media destined for the more discriminating buyers. With hybrid SACD discs, it's not complicated to directly compare DSD with the CD layer, given the same master, I have yet to be able to discern between the two.

Personally, I am quite fond of multi-channel music, this being the reason I look for supposedly "high resolution" media, I'm rarely disappointed with the quality of the recording. Most popular music on CDs these days have the life squeezed out of them by absurd levels of dynamic compression. There are, of course, exceptions to this practice, buyer beware!

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Thanks for the clarification. I updated my post above - I didn't realize DVD-A could do 96/24. The DVD-A version of Primus's Seas of Cheese is only 48/24 for example.
The DVD-A format is capable of supporting 2 channel @ 192KHz/24-bit wink.gif

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When I left.... SACD and DVD-Audio were battling it out for top contender. You needed a specific disc-player to play either format.... although neither format included video.

Both can include video. I have a Ray Charles SACD from Telarc that has an interview with Brother Ray.

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Both can include video. I have a Ray Charles SACD from Telarc that has an interview with Brother Ray.

Wow- I didn't know sacd did video. None of mine even have a menu on the disc; they all just use a standard interface that is generated by the player. How do you access the video?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Landmonster View Post

1) What is the best possible sound-quality format for 2 channel listening? (be specific)

CD (ducks). From a technical standpoint, CD is as good as it gets until we are able to upgrade our ears. That said, SACD releases often sound better than their CD counterpart because they use better mastering or tailor the mix toward an audiophile listener. Blu Ray audio has the best specs, with 96khz/24 bit (over HDMI or optical) and occasionally 192khz/24 bit (over HDMI only), and also has the broadest compatibility, because BD-A will play at full quality in any blu ray player (unlike *cough* DVD-A).
...

 

For those who question that, here is some worthwhile reading:

 

http://www.bostonaudiosociety.org/explanation.htm

 

http://www.bostonaudiosociety.org/bas_speaker/abx_testing2.htm

 

http://xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

 

 

For the second question of the opening post, I personally like hybrid SACDs.  The multichannel playback is fine (as are BD and DVD-A), but it has the advantage of having a CD layer that is compatible with any CD player to play back a 2 channel version.  So it is more universal than anything else, though its universality is only in 2 channel.


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post #20 of 21 Old 01-16-2014, 12:11 PM
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Wow- I didn't know sacd did video. None of mine even have a menu on the disc; they all just use a standard interface that is generated by the player. How do you access the video?

In the case of the Ray Charles SACD, I believe the CD layer was one that's encoded as "Enhanced CD", which can feature video.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enhanced_CD

For what it's worth, the CD layer of a hybrid SACD can also feature HDCD-encoding as well.

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post #21 of 21 Old 01-16-2014, 12:25 PM
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Originally Posted by ematcion View Post

In the case of the Ray Charles SACD, I believe the CD layer was one that's encoded as "Enhanced CD", which can feature video.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enhanced_CD

For what it's worth, the CD layer of a hybrid SACD can also feature HDCD-encoding as well.

OK- that makes sense. Thanks for the clarification.
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