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Ask Me Anything: Defining High-Res Audio

Welcome to a very special thread on AVS Forum, presented by Sony, which provides you the opportunity to ask any questions you like about defining high-resolution audio (HRA)—exactly what it is, how it's created, where to get it, and what gear you need to fully enjoy it. Today, from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM Pacific time (2:00 to 3:30 PM Eastern time), tech expert Bob O'Donnell will monitor the thread during that hour and a half for your questions on this hot topic and post his answers on the spot.



To get this party started, we began a pre-event thread inviting AVS members to post questions ahead of time, and many of you responded with some great ones. Bob will begin by answering a few of those up front. Meanwhile, feel free to post your questions in the new thread—the one you're reading now—and Bob will respond to as many as he can. Of course, he will respond only to questions about how HRA is defined, not other aspects of this topic, which will be the focus of other AMAs down the road.

Because of the functionality of AVS Forum, we decided the best way to conduct the AMA is within a standard thread. This allows people to quote and search for specific posts, but it also means you'll need to reload the page often to see Bob's responses as well any new questions that are posted. Also, because of time constraints, he probably won't be able to answer every question.

In addition to getting answers about the definition of high-res audio, those who submit a question will be automatically entered to win one of two prize packages, each including a Sony NWZ-A17 portable high-res audio player and a pair of Sony MDR-1A headphones that can easily resolve high-res audio. The two winners will be selected by random drawing from among those who submit at least one question; submitting more than one question will not increase your chance of winning. The drawing and announcement of the winners will be made at the end of the live session around 12:30 PM Pacific/3:30 PM Eastern.

After the live session has ended, this thread will remain open for 48 hours, during which Bob will answer as many remaining relevant questions as he can. However, he won't respond to questions posted after the live session is over. After 48 hours, the thread will be closed.

If you're confused about exactly what high-resolution audio (HRA) is, you've come to the right place. What would you like to know about the definition of high-res audio? Post your question(s) here and follow the thread in real time for the answers.

For the official rules and regulations of the giveaway, click here.
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post #2 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 10:10 AM
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Hello to everyone and thanks very much for joining. I’m excited to be hosting this AMA and look forward to what I’m sure will be a very lively session.

To get things started, I figured it would be appropriate to provide an answer to the question of what is high-resolution audio?

At one level, the answer is relatively easy: any digital audio file that is stored at a higher resolution than standard CD-quality audio (often termed Red Book Audio for the color of the binder that the specifications were stored in when they were created in 1980), is generally considered to be “high-resolution.” CD standards cite a 44.1kHz sampling rate and 16-bit word length, or resolution, so audio files recorded with a 48 kHz or higher sampling rate and 20-bit or higher resolution would qualify. Common examples of high-resolution audio files include descriptions like 96/24, which is shorthand for a 96 kHz sampling rate and 24-bit resolution, and 192/24, among others.

But of course, if it was that easy, we wouldn’t all be here today. In fact, understanding how high-resolution audio is defined can get extraordinarily complex. Part of the problem is that there has been an explosion of different digital audio-file formats that don’t seem to bear any semblance to these basic recording specs: FLAC, ALAC, Ogg Vorbis, MP3, WAV, AIFF, and AAC are just some of the many examples that you may run across.

In most cases, the reason for this is that these file formats are essentially containers or wrappers for the raw digital audio file. These container formats allow you to store additional information about the audio file—commonly called metadata—that can include very useful bits of info, such as the name of the song, the artist, composer, album art, lyrics, etc. What gets confusing is that it’s possible to have the exact same type of raw audio file in several different container file formats. It’s also possible to have two very different types of raw audio files in the same kind of container format. As a result, you can’t generically say that one file container format is “better” than another.

Except, that is, when we get into the next layer of audio file complexity, which involves the notion of file or data compression (different from dynamic-range compression, which is a common signal-processing technique used in recording music and audio). In the early days of playing music on computers, digital audio files were considered large—hard to believe today, especially compared to something like a 4K movie—so there were numerous efforts to figure out how to reduce, or compress, the size of the file to make it easier to store, transfer, playback, etc.

Many different methods were—and still are—deployed, each with different degrees of compression, but all of which essentially “throw away” some of the original bits in order to fit into a smaller size. As a result, these “lossy” compression schemes, such as the ones used to create MP3 and AAC files, all have some degree of impact on the quality of the audio file. Over time, more sophisticated “lossless” compression schemes such as FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) and ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) were developed that still allow files sizes to be smaller than uncompressed audio, but they manage to keep all the bits. Essentially, these use clever mathematical techniques to reconstruct an exact copy of the original data from a smaller file.

Today, there’s arguably no need for any kind of file compression for audio given the low cost of storage, whether that’s via a computer’s hard drive, a portable audio player’s flash memory or portable storage device such as SSD cards. As a result, you can also get uncompressed audio files in formats such as WAV and AIFF.

Of course, all of this is much more complicated than in the days of physical media, where a certain type of disc format, such as an Audio CD, guaranteed that you would get files in a known format. Part of the challenge with digital audio of any sort in today’s world is the level of complexity just in knowing that certain types of file formats are inherently compressed, while others could have compressed audio but might not. Plus, certain types of file formats have the same name as the container file format, while others don’t.

Tying this all back to the original question, it’s important to determine whether the raw audio component at the heart of any digital music file meets the initial sample rate and word-length requirements of high-resolution audio, and that they are not subject to any type of lossy compression. In most cases, the files you will come across do include this kind of information, but in some situations you may have to look harder.

I’ll stop my lecture now, but honestly, this is really just the beginning of the discussion. There are many, many other factors that go into this, which is why the pre-AMA thread was so long (and so heated!). I do, however, feel strongly that it’s important to have a baseline of understanding because many people who are interested in high-quality audio don’t always know many of these basic topics, so forgive my length.

Carry on!
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post #3 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 10:13 AM
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AVSForum member chmoran asked:
“What qualifies as hi-res audio? Could an analog recording, for example, never actually qualify as hi-res even if it was remastered due to how it was originally recorded?”
Technically, you could create a file that met the requirements of high-resolution audio from an old analog recording because you could digitize the audio at, say, a 96 kHz sampling rate with 24-bit resolution. However, here’s where we start to get into the murky and contentious side of the discussion.

In a nutshell, the problem is that, in addition to the absolute numbers, there is an enormous number of other factors that go into the quality of an initial recording and the ability to play it back. Plus, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what those numbers really mean. The sampling rate is directly related to the frequency range that can be represented when storing it digitally, and the resolution is directly related to the dynamic range that can be represented digitally. For CD-quality audio, the theory is that you can capture sounds with a frequency range up to 22 kHz (1/2 the sampling rate) and a dynamic range of 96 dB (6 times the resolution). In reality, however, the process is never perfect and that’s lead to an enormous range of efforts to figure out ways to optimize audio quality from an inherently imperfect process…but I digress.

Given that background, It’s also important to think about the question in the context of a more simplistic, but still useful, definition for high-resolution audio created by a wide-ranging and influential group made up of the major music labels, the Consumer Technology Association, the Producers and Engineers Wing of the Recording Academy (the Grammy people), and the Digital Entertainment Group, which they define as “an industry association that advocates and promotes entertainment platforms, products and distribution channels on behalf of the motion picture, music, consumer electronics and technologies companies.” Their definition says that high-resolution audio is “lossless audio that is capable of reproducing the full range of sound from recordings that have been mastered from better than CD quality music sources.”

Back to the original question, the problem is that old analog recordings don’t meet the requirements of being better than CD quality music sources. Though there is some debate (as there is about virtually every aspect of music creation, recording, distribution and playback that you can possibly think of, by the way), recording studio-quality analog tape players typically have both frequency and dynamic ranges that are well below “CD-quality” (in the 14-18 kHz frequency range and 70-75 dB dynamic range, respectively). So, to provide a brief answer to the question, I would say that no, you can’t consider most analog recordings to be high-resolution, even it was remastered and re-digitized with modern equipment.
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post #4 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 11:07 AM
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Back to the original question, the problem is that old analog recordings don’t meet the requirements of being better than CD quality music sources. Though there is some debate (as there is about virtually every aspect of music creation, recording, distribution and playback that you can possibly think of, by the way), recording studio-quality analog tape players typically have both frequency and dynamic ranges that are well below “CD-quality” (in the 14-18 kHz frequency range and 70-75 dB dynamic range, respectively). So, to provide a brief answer to the question, I would say that no, you can’t consider most analog recordings to be high-resolution, even it was remastered and re-digitized with modern equipment.
Then why was a (1958?) Frank Sinatra song ["What's new?"] used as demo material for Scott Wilkinson when HRA was being demonstrated to him?
Hi-Res Audio Symposium at Capitol Studios
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I have no idea; I wasn't there.
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post #6 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 11:12 AM
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When you say the source is hi-res, are you referring to everything in the chain? such as microphones, pre-amps, ADCs, storage media, etc? If ANY one of these is not Hi-Res capable, should the term Hi-Res be associated with the source recording?
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When you say the source is hi-res, are you referring to everything in the chain? such as microphones, pre-amps, ADCs, storage media, etc? If ANY one of these is not Hi-Res capable, should the term Hi-Res be associated with the source recording?
Someone else had a related question in the pre-AMA thread and here it is along with my response.

Quote:
AVSForum member 1984kapil asked:
“What are the specifications for high-res audio (HRA) and what devices available presently can record that? What is needed in a device to play HRA?
As I mentioned in my first post, the basic definition and specs for high-resolution audio are better than CD-quality, which translates to greater than 16-bit resolution and higher than a 44.1 kHz sampling rate. Devices that are capable of recording that resolution have been available for a long time and have now reached extremely low price points. In fact, if you do a quick search around sites like Musician’s Friend, Guitar Center, etc., you can find computer audio interfaces that support 24-bit, 192 kHz recording for under $100. So, there is an enormous range and diversity of equipment in the wild that can easily create audio files that meet high-resolution audio standards—from bedroom studios to concert halls to professional recording studios.

Of course, this gets back to a comment I made earlier. Just because you can create high-resolution files doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to sound good. Everything from the instruments, microphones, cables, signal processing equipment, acoustic environment and, oh yeah, engineering talents and skill can (and does) have a much bigger impact on overall audio quality than the “type” of file that it is.

As a result, many people want to know the entire history, or provenance, of how a musical recording came to be. What mics were used, what type of mixing board (if any), what type of recording equipment, which instruments, which software, what recording formats, etc. Plus, for some, it’s not enough to know how the basic tracks were recorded because for most recordings, you also have to deal with mixing and mastering, where yet more equipment and adjustments affect the audio path. Realistically, it’s almost impossible to get all this type of information for a single recording (with a few notable exceptions), let alone enormous libraries of music.

This also relates to the concepts of remixing or remastering, where someone will leverage the original individual recorded tracks and then redo the final process of creating a stereo track we can all listen to. In some cases, yes, a good engineer with newer, higher-performing, better-sounding equipment might be able to create a “better” sounding final mix, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes remixes sound worse.

Of course, this brings up a whole other issue regarding the subjectivity of what sounds “good” to one person vs. another. Music is an art form that creates strong emotional responses in people. Just as our emotions can impact how we feel, they can also impact how we hear. The exact same piece of music played back on the exact same set of equipment can sound different to us on different days—it’s a basic fact of being human. From a scientific perspective, it might generate the same waveform (although even that can be impacted by environmental factors ranging from the quality of the electrical power, the equipment, and lots more), but we can still hear it differently. That’s not a bad thing…it’s just life.

On to the second half of your question. In order to play high-res audio files, you need a source device that is capable of “reading” the high-res file format you’re choosing to play (not all high-res devices support all high-res audio formats) and some kind of audio reproduction system, such as amplifiers, an AV receivers speakers, and/or headphones.

Note that because different file “wrapper” formats can also support several different types of raw audio resolutions, you sometimes need to dig a bit deeper into the specifications than just knowing, for example, if a device supports FLAC files. You need to know if it supports FLAC files recorded at 192 kHz with 24-bit resolution, as an example. In addition, in the case of compressed audio-file formats, you need to know if, for example, your AV receiver, DAC (digital-to-analog convertor), or other audio component can decode and decompress the specific file format/compression method that you want to play. In some instances, you’ll also need to worry about audio-encoding formats—typically PCM and DSD—which technically aren’t file formats (they are different ways to represent audio in the digital domain), but are commonly grouped with them.

As to the exact type of components, well, that’s where things get interesting once again. Here’s where we get into even more spec wars (and much more heated arguments about science vs. subjectivity!). In theory, because high-resolution audio offers the potential for a wider frequency and dynamic range than standard CD-quality audio, the entire playback system chain, from source to amp to transducer (either speakers or headphones) should be able to handle a frequency response above 22 kHz and dynamic range of greater than 96 dB.

In reality, however, that’s difficult to do—and there is an enormous range of factors that can influence this. For one thing, no equipment exists that provides a perfect reproduction of audio waveforms. From the flatness of the frequency response over a range of frequencies to inconsistencies in output levels, anomalies exist and are compensated for in a wide range of different ways. The bottom line is that there are inevitable alterations to the sound that may vary across different types of music and may be more or less offensive to one set of ears than another. As I said, music and audio have a very subjective element to them.

In order to translate this extremely complicated set of requirements into something a bit more understandable to interested music consumers, it’s time to turn to yet another definition of high-res audio. The Hi-Res Audio logo program was first created by the Japan Audio Society, which includes a number of consumer electronics companies such as Sony, Pioneer and others, back in 2013, and was then licensed to the Consumer Electronics Association (now called the Consumer Technology Association) in 2014. The idea behind the logo program was to help provide both some additional technical requirements for different audio components, as well as allow consumers to easily identify which components meet those specs. Basically, if the components meet the spec, they are allowed to have a logo sticker identifying that they do. Easy.

A document outlining the specific elements of this definition (which was linked to in a few posts from the pre-AMA thread and, for the record, is not proprietary to Sony and is linked to again here) requires source devices to be able to playback 96 kHz, 24-bit files stored in WAV, FLAC and PCM formats, and recommends they can playback 192 kHz, 24-bit files for those three plus ALAC, AIFF and DSD-formatted DSDIFFF and DSF files (which feature 2.8 MHz, 1-bit sampling). In addition, any signal processing and digital-to-analog conversion, such as through the audio DACs, needs to support 96 kHz, 24-bit or higher data streams. Finally, any amplifiers, headphones or speakers are also expected to support frequencies to at least 40 kHz, although the frequency response can drop by as much as 30 dB from a flat response at 40 kHz. There are a few additional speaker specs that go into off-axis frequency response as well for those who want to dive even deeper.

One notable exemption from the Hi-Res Audio logo program is multichannel audio, such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. They are not included because the program is focused solely on stereo files and equipment (or systems) designed to playback two-channel audio.

While we’re on the topic of logo programs, it’s also worth mentioning that the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), which is a group of music publishing and record companies that certify a recording as being “gold” among other things, has a related definition and logo for Hi-Res Music (not Audio) that was just introduced last year. The Hi-Res Music logo, which can be assigned to both digital downloads and music-streaming services, requires that hi-res music be “lossless audio capable of reproducing the full spectrum of sound from recordings which have been mastered from better than CD quality (48kHz/20-bit or higher) music sources which represent what the artists, producers and engineers originally intended.”

The Hi-Res Music logo is meant to be complementary to the Hi-Res Audio logo and is designed to make it much easier for consumers to find music that will play properly on their audio equipment. Essentially, all digital audio files labelled Hi-Res Music will play back on all Hi-Res Audio labelled audio equipment. Given how ridiculously complicated this can get for even very tech- and audio-savvy consumers, this type of effort was desperately needed and should be applauded.
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post #8 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 11:16 AM
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I have no idea; I wasn't there.
As I understand it you are kindly speaking to us today as a representative of Sony, yes? Although I would tend to agree with exactly what you just wrote, that old analog music can't really be considered HRA, are you telling us this as being Sony's official position, and if so can you cite a reference link where we might learn more about this important distinction regarding HRA's definition, or are you merely stating your own personal opinion on the matter?
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post #9 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 11:19 AM
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Originally Posted by m. zillch View Post
As I understand it you are kindly speaking to us today as a representative of Sony, yes? Although I would tend to agree with exactly what you just wrote, that old analog music can't really be considered HRA, are you telling us this as being Sony's official position, and if so can you cite a reference link where we might learn more about this important distinction regarding HRA's definition, or are you merely stating your own personal opinion on the matter?
Yes, Sony is my host, but I do not speak on their behalf. So, yes, that is my opinion.
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Their definition says that high-resolution audio is “lossless audio that is capable of reproducing the full range of sound from recordings that have been mastered from better than CD quality music sources.”
.
So 44.1/16bit or "better", lossless, mastered from a process chain that was in its entirety "better than" 44.1/16bit (i.e the maximum range of human frequency and dynamic capability) is the definition of HRA for the members of the Group?

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If a source is recorded and edited at 96/24 PCM and then converted to/sold as DSD, is it still considered "hi-res" as that conversion is lossy?
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Originally Posted by whale-av View Post
So 44.1/16bit or "better", lossless, mastered from a process chain that was in its entirety "better than" 44.1/16bit (i.e the maximum range of human frequency and dynamic capability) is the definition of HRA for the members of the Group?

Thank you,
David.
No, technically it's better than 44.1 kHz/16-bit. Of course, the devil is in the details and trying to figure out whether the entire signal flow chain from the moment of musical performance, through, recording, processing, mixing, mastering is extremely difficult. Hence the interest in things like provenance.
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So ANYTHING recorded using a Pyramix system that records in DSD but edits in PCM (DXD) then outputs DSD files is not considered hi-res? There is VERY little music that can be considered hi-res by your definition. How do the companies that sell "hi-res" music get away with it?
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Originally Posted by mlknez View Post
If a source is recorded and edited at 96/24 PCM and then converted to/sold as DSD, is it still considered "hi-res" as that conversion is lossy?
DSD is a form of encoding not a form of compression, however, I honestly don't know if the conversion from PCM to DSD causes compression. If it does (and given the nature of how the two encoding mechanisms basically work, especially if we're talking 2.8 MHz sampling rate vs. 5.6 MHz rate for the DSD file) then that would not meet the definition of hi-res audio.
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Originally Posted by mlknez View Post
So ANYTHING recorded using a Pyramix system that records in DSD but edits in PCM (DXD) then outputs DSD files is not considered hi-res? There is VERY little music that can be considered hi-res by your definition. How do the companies that sell "hi-res" music get away with it?
Because it's significantly easier to edit in PCM than DSD, a lot of music is actually recorded in PCM, so I'm not sure I agree with your assessment that very little music that meets the definition is available.
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So what are people really hearing over CD quality? Or is it more about the recording process and mixing?


I know the Sound Quality of my CD's range from not so good to great. Were as my SACD's and DVD-audio quality is a smaller range.
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AVSForum member blackiederke asked:
“Is it still hi-res audio if the content has been ‘lossy’ compressed? I recently watched some Blu-rays and they stated that they had been ‘lossy compressed.’ What exactly does that mean? I thought that the sound was fine.”
As I mentioned in my opening monologue, files that have been subjected to any kind of “lossy compression” are not considered to be high-resolution audio (and hopefully my explanation there answered the second part of your question). However, that doesn’t mean that they can’t sound good—in fact, really good, especially on high-quality audio gear. Just to get this out there early on, you don’t “need” to have high-resolution audio files and equipment to hear great quality audio and, conversely, not everything that is labelled (correctly or not) as being high-resolution is always going to sound great.

As I hinted at earlier, there is a staggering number of factors that can influence how a certain piece of recorded music sounds to a given person in a given environment with a given set of equipment. (New dedicated power pole anyone?) We can easily let this conversation slip into the never-ending rabbit hole of “audiophilia” (which would ultimately benefit no one and which I have no intention of doing here), but suffice it to say that yes, even lossy compressed music can sound good in certain situations.

To your specific comment on Blu-ray, most Blu-ray discs use either Dolby or DTS technologies to encode the audio on the disc. While both companies now offer lossless versions (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, respectively), the original and more common versions of these technologies are forms of lossy compression that were designed to reduce both the size of the audio files on disc and the bandwidth necessary for playback and transmission (either from a disc or via a cable or satellite feed). Though it’s technically possible to use Dolby or DTS compression on pure stereo audio files, it’s realistically only used for multi-channel (5.1 and higher) audio for movies and film.

To answer a related (though unasked) question, it is possible to have high-resolution audio on Blu-ray discs because both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio not only support lossless compression, they also support up to 192 kHz/24bit audio (as does uncompressed linear PCM, which is another audio format permitted on Blu-ray discs and typically used on the little known BD Audio, or Blu-ray Audio format discs). Note, however, that just because a disc offers either Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio doesn’t mean it’s high-resolution audio because they both also support standard CD-quality audio. But again, that doesn’t mean they can’t sound great. Bottom line, when it comes to Blu-rays, if you have the necessary player and AV receiver to decode the lossless formats, always choose to use them (typically via the audio settings menu on the disc—they don’t always come on by default).
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post #18 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 11:39 AM
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No, technically it's better than 44.1 kHz/16-bit. Of course, the devil is in the details and trying to figure out whether the entire signal flow chain from the moment of musical performance, through, recording, processing, mixing, mastering is extremely difficult. Hence the interest in things like provenance.


Thank you Bob,
You confirm my personal doubts. Mastering is nowadays always "done" at sample rates and bit depth greater than 44.1/16 (freely available to anyone with a computer for at least ten years)..... so we can ignore that part of the definition.

Lossless will get you a 100% agreement if you put it to a vote..

Provenance..... impossible. Most of us have eaten horse meat at some time in our lives.

And that leaves the final HRA format. If as theory determines, and ABX listening tests confirm, "better than" 44.1/16 is not "perceivable" then why should anyone buy it.

David.
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Quad ESL63's and Gradient SW63 subs bi-amped with Quad520f's...... in 6M x 11M x 7M of air.......
Auratone 5C's for vinyl.....for which they sound GREAT! There are very good reasons for that!
..... the rest is relatively unimportant....
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post #19 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 11:41 AM
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Will HRA become some type of Standard?

So that when you see the Letters HRA on a piece of gear or recording that it will mean one thing?
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post #20 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 11:44 AM
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So what are people really hearing over CD quality? Or is it more about the recording process and mixing?


I know the Sound Quality of my CD's range from not so good to great. Were as my SACD's and DVD-audio quality is a smaller range.
There was another similar question from the pre-AMA thread. Here it is along with my reply.

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AVSForum member toxic teletubby asked: “What really sets Hi-Res Audio apart from any quality recording? I would be interested in this ‘new’ format only if I could test drive it with the equipment I already own. Is that possible?
Hi-res audio is different from traditional audio in that it offers the possibility of an extended frequency and dynamic range. As I have said several times already, however, that doesn’t necessarily translate to higher-quality audio. Again, audio quality arguably has both a subjective and objective (or scientific) element to it. From a subjective perspective, there are people who feel and believe that hi-res audio, in the right environment and with the right equipment, sounds better than “traditional” audio. If you read any of the pre-AMA thread, however, you also know that some people vehemently believe it does not. Now, for the subjective portion of the discussion, the truth is, there is no “right” answer. As my wife loves to occasionally point out, you can’t tell someone how they should feel. Similarly, you can’t tell someone what they should (or shouldn’t) hear. They just do.

As for the objective side, there is more room for discussion. Even here, however, there is also room for interpretation. Sounds in the real world do exist at frequencies above 22 kHz and at levels above 96 dB. To accurately capture them in digital form, therefore, you need higher than traditional digital audio recording rates. The debate is whether or not people can actually hear them. In the frequency domain (determined by the sample rate), you would be hard pressed to find people who can hear discrete frequencies beyond 20 kHz, let alone 22 kHz. However, there are some people who believe that the higher-level frequencies have an impact on the soundstage and other more subtle aspects of any recording. For dynamic range, it’s generally recognized that people can hear 96 dB above a noise floor in a given environment (which is typically considered the baseline for measurement and is used to calculate signal-to-noise ratios), but it’s difficult to recreate those levels without causing pain because of the volume.

Things get more complicated, however, because there are other factors that go into the audio listening experience. For one, as mentioned previously, the analog and digital circuits used in music recording and playback equipment don’t have a perfect response, particularly at the extremes of their usable range. As a result, there’s generally a desire to have an additional “buffer” that goes well beyond the theoretical maximum spec of the music. The idea is that if you create devices that can provide greater performance capabilities than the music requires, their ability to perform within the music’s specs should be better and more consistent.

I view this as being conceptually similar (but not identical) to a critical concept in the world of music recording that’s called headroom. When you’re recording an audio signal, you don’t want to record it at the maximum possible level because that risks causing distortion. Instead, you want to record at what’s called a nominal level so that you can accommodate some quick unexpected bursts in volume level and maintain the ability to mix multiple signals together without overloading the mixer or recorder’s maximum levels.

In the same way, by having equipment that can handle significantly more bits than are needed in an audio signal, the ability for it to perform better with all kinds of audio signals, including those at lower resolutions, is easier to achieve.

This leads to one more aspect of audio quality: the practical side. For people who not only completely understand but love to debate the minutiae of audio formats, equipment specs and much more, the whole glory of their audiophile hobby is the ability to look for, find and make even the smallest of improvements to their rig—in some instances, costs be damned.

However, for a much, much larger segment of the population who loves music, but primarily listens to 128 Kbps MP3 files and hasn’t bought any dedicated audio equipment in a very long time (if ever), the opportunity is much different. This where the value of very simplified logo programs, such as Hi-Res Audio and Hi-Res Music, can make a dramatic difference. Many of these individuals have started to wade into the morass of digital-audio standards and formats and were immediately confused or turned off and didn’t bother to look back. For them, things like Hi-Res Audio and Hi-Res Music can make a world of difference because it gives them an easy, yet trusted way of getting the better music experience they want but haven’t been able to figure out.

Ok, now back to the second half of the question. Without knowing what specific equipment you have, there’s no way to say for sure whether or not you can simply purchase a Hi-Res Music file and play it back. Hopefully the previous answers will help you determine if you have what you need to try it. What I can say is that one fairly common path into high-resolution audio is through the addition of a USB-connected DAC (digital-to-analog convertor)/headphone amp for your PC, such as the Sony PHA1A (listed here on Amazon), or you can find options from other vendors. These devices support most common types of hi-res audio files and let you listen to them via your favorite headphones.

Last edited by BobOD; 09-02-2016 at 03:59 PM.
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post #21 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 11:50 AM
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Are there any documented studies certifying that listeners can distinguish between 16/44.1 and high res audio? And if the difference is so subtle that high res samples cannot be identified, is there a benefit to the overall subconsciously percieved realism?
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post #22 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 11:52 AM
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Originally Posted by les_garten View Post
Will HRA become some type of Standard?

So that when you see the Letters HRA on a piece of gear or recording that it will mean one thing?
The purpose of the logo programs that I described in Post 7 is to make HRA meaningful to avid music consumers (i.e., more than just audiophiles).

Technically, I don't believe HRA is a standard in the same sense as, say MP3, but the idea is to provide a level of compatibility and understanding that people understand.
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post #23 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 11:53 AM
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Since we no longer have the limitations of the physical characteristics of the CD for a delivery mechanism, what is stopping record labels from recording and selling purely hi-res content? Is there the same worry that the Television news industry had when going to HD? (we will see all of their wrinkles?)
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post #24 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 11:57 AM
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Are there any documented studies certifying that listeners can distinguish between 16/44.1 and high res audio? And if the difference is so subtle that high res samples cannot be identified, is there a benefit to the overall subconsciously percieved realism?
The subject of audio perception studies is enormously controversial and honestly, is not part of this AMA.
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post #25 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 11:58 AM
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Are there any documented studies certifying that listeners can distinguish between 16/44.1 and high res audio? And if the difference is so subtle that high res samples cannot be identified, is there a benefit to the overall subconsciously percieved realism?
This would be my ever so slightly trappish question as well.

Once we reach the point past where differences can be reliably called out, what's to gain? (not rhetorical)
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post #26 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 12:01 PM
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Since we no longer have the limitations of the physical characteristics of the CD for a delivery mechanism, what is stopping record labels from recording and selling purely hi-res content? Is there the same worry that the Television news industry had when going to HD? (we will see all of their wrinkles?)
While that may true in some situations, a much bigger concern is that the extra effort (and, therefore, costs) to create and sell separate hi-res files has been more difficult to justify given the relatively small size of the audience for hi-res audio files to date. Hopefully, if the music industry is successful in spreading the value of listening to higher-quality audio, that situation will change.
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Do you think HRA will encourage more information about the recordings, i.e. provenance, from the industry as a whole?
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post #28 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 12:03 PM
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AVSForum member Wolfy 701 asked:
“Is hi-res audio even worth pursuing when people only listen to electronic music, pop songs and the like, where the emphasis is on visceral impact and not on musical subtleties like you find in classical music? What's the point of an audio format capable of resolving deep minute musical details when there's none to begin with?”
And so it begins. The philosophical debate about whether investments in audio playback equipment (whether high resolution or not) based on the music genres you prefer have been going on for decades and certainly aren’t going to get resolved here today, but they are worthy of some discussion. Traditionally, most audiophiles and others who consider themselves “serious” about audio have leaned heavily toward classical music, jazz and other genres that feature acoustic instruments because it’s music generated by these instruments that tend to have the subtleties that any kind of high-quality components are supposed to be able to bring out. As a trombone player and guitarist myself, I would generally agree.

It’s also important to have at least some understanding of how music is created and recorded. I started out my professional career working up to the editor position at two music publications (the now-defunct Music Technology and the still-alive Electronic Musician) that were deeply involved in reviewing high-tech instruments and recording equipment, and writing stories about how to use them. (By the way, quick side note. I’m proud to say that I am at least somewhat responsible for getting AVSForum editor Scott Wilkinson into journalism when I hired him as my technical editor at both Music Technology and EM. You’re welcome, Scott…;>)

In the process of working at those magazines, as well as dealing with professional artists and engineers, and the companies who build the equipment used in recording studios, I learned a fair bit about “what the artist and engineer intended.” In short, it’s not always about the highest-fidelity audio. For most of them, however, their efforts were focused on creating the best possible sound they could get. Not surprisingly, the ultimate goal for most music enthusiasts is to do the same.

Diving into the details of the question, it’s well-known that many pop records are highly compressed (this is the audio compression I mentioned at the beginning, not digital file compression), in order to make them sound louder. Compressors (or software that does audio compression effects) intentionally limit the dynamic range of either particular instruments, the whole recording, or often both, in order to balance out volume levels across track, make everything clearly audible in a noisy environment such as a car, or achieve other special effects.

As a result, yes, it’s very fair to question how much benefit high-resolution audio (or any serious audio investment) can make on this type of music. But, of course, there are always exceptions. Remember that music is fundamentally art, and there are different artists with different skill sets that achieve different types of results. Bottom line is that some pop music does sound better as you play it on higher-quality equipment and some really doesn’t. Then again, the same can be said of some classical and jazz recordings as well. Skilled musicians, skilled recording engineers, and skilled mastering engineers can and do make a difference, regardless of musical genre.
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post #29 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 12:04 PM
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I must agree that the way music is recorded has everything to do with whether or not "HiRes" sounds better... I have heard some MP3's that sound good to me. Have you?

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post #30 of 123 Old 09-01-2016, 12:04 PM
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Isn't it better to try to capture everything about a performance including stuff that we don't know that we are able to perceive (hi-res) rather than just throw it away and later wish we had captured it because we proved that we could perceive it later on?
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