Originally Posted by Landmonster
1) What is the best possible sound-quality format for 2 channel listening?
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).
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.
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.
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 Edited by JD NC - 1/13/14 at 11:16am