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OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? #2714032
02/13/18 04:31 PM
02/13/18 04:31 PM
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Dave Horne Offline OP
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I've been seeing a lot of Qobuz ads on my Facebook feed. I have a paid subscription to Spotify and am happy with their service and the size of their library.

I took the following test and scored three out of six. At the very least, I nailed the piano selection though without the comparisons, I would have been happy to listen to the ... inferior format.

https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can-you-hear-audio-quality


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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714035
02/13/18 04:36 PM
02/13/18 04:36 PM
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I've done a lot of tests like that and my result is always at around 50%. Just for clarification, in tests like that a result of 50% means that you don't pass the test at all since even if you clicked randomly you would still get around 50% because that's how probability works smile One should consistently produce high scores like more than 80 or even 90% correct guesses to consider the test as passed.

Last edited by CyberGene; 02/13/18 04:39 PM.

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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714041
02/13/18 04:42 PM
02/13/18 04:42 PM
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I don't see how you would score this test.
That web page asks: "For each song, listen to all three samples and choose the one that you think is the highest-quality audio."

I got 100% on this.
When asked for my opinion how can I possibly be wrong?
I cannot be wrong! I'm 100% correct. Always.

Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714045
02/13/18 04:54 PM
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So, if you choose one in three files, then the random-click chance would be 33%, so 50% is not a bad result.


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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: CyberGene] #2714048
02/13/18 05:01 PM
02/13/18 05:01 PM
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Originally Posted by CyberGene
So, if you choose one in three files, then the random-click chance would be 33%, so 50% is not a bad result.


The only selection that I might have bet money on was the piano selection. There was a very slight difference that I could hear (or thought I could hear). I would imagine small classical groups like a string quartet would also highlight subtle differences in the various audio formats.

I can also imagine if they cheated and used the same exact file for all three examples ... and if one of those examples were 1/3 dB louder, we'd choose the louder of the three even though they were identical in all other respects.


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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: CyberGene] #2714057
02/13/18 05:29 PM
02/13/18 05:29 PM
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Originally Posted by CyberGene
So, if you choose one in three files, then the random-click chance would be 33%, so 50% is not a bad result.

50% on the presented test is just 3 correct answers, just 1 more than the most probable scores when answering randomly. I won’t consider it a good result.

However 50% in a similar test with let’s say 20 questions would be more a sign of a heard degradation of MP3.


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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: MacMacMac] #2714059
02/13/18 05:33 PM
02/13/18 05:33 PM
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Originally Posted by MacMacMac
I don't see how you would score this test.
That web page asks: "For each song, listen to all three samples and choose the one that you think is the highest-quality audio."

I got 100% on this.
When asked for my opinion how can I possibly be wrong?
I cannot be wrong! I'm 100% correct. Always.


Now you sound like my missus . . . .


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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714060
02/13/18 05:34 PM
02/13/18 05:34 PM
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Distinguishing 320kbit from Flac or wav is VERY difficult and only really works if problem samples are present.
You have to listen intently to the background and crank the volume way up. I managed to hear it once but not in this test.

During casual listening at my typical low volumes, everything above 192kbits sounds the same to me (barring problematic samples). I can hear compression artifacts when listening to YouTube.

In the test of the OP I listened to the piano piece only and was not able to hear any difference between all 3.

Last edited by Granyala; 02/13/18 05:34 PM.

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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: peterws] #2714062
02/13/18 05:42 PM
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No, really. How can I be wrong when asked which sound I think is best? I won't lie. I'll give an answer. So what's the point of scoring?
You, too, will get 100% on the test, because you'll say which sound you think is best.
Originally Posted by peterws
Originally Posted by MacMacMac
I don't see how you would score this test.
That web page asks: "For each song, listen to all three samples and choose the one that you think is the highest-quality audio."

I got 100% on this.
When asked for my opinion how can I possibly be wrong?
I cannot be wrong! I'm 100% correct. Always.
Now you sound like my missus . . . .


Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714072
02/13/18 06:19 PM
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Seems like 320 kbps is enough for me. With a quick listen, I chose it 4 times out of six. Once I got the uncompressed and with JayZ I thought the 128 kbps one sounded best (maybe it's the warbling background that's kinda like compression smile. But with only 1/6 being fooled by the lowest rated, I'd say there it at least a bit of a difference.

Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: CyberGene] #2714079
02/13/18 06:47 PM
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Originally Posted by CyberGene
So, if you choose one in three files, then the random-click chance would be 33%, so 50% is not a bad result.


Mac is being somewhat pedantic about the poorly phrased question smile



Anyway I picked 4 uncompressed, 1 320kbps (the coldplay) and 1 128kbps. Given that was the one I was given first (it randomises the order) and was the Suzanne Vega track that was one of the key bits MP3 was tested on I'll let myself off that.

I did have my headphones up considerably louder than I normally would and most of the picks between the 320 and the uncompressed were far from certain.

I'm curious what encoder they used as that makes a huge difference, I'd expect with a vaguely recent version of something like LAME that it should be a struggle to tell at 192, let alone 320 so my suspicion is that they didn't use something that good.

Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714082
02/13/18 07:03 PM
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5/6 ---- Although I suspect the less then WAV files may have been tweaked with some EQ.

I still think the "Star Wars" test is the best demo to someone who doubts Vinyl vs CD, etc. I discovered this in the age of VHS, CD and Laserdisk... hmm, interesting. The biggest fault is usually the ambiance and the loudness losses its peak from the original. But CD/MP3 is a tried and tested system.... uh ha, $15USD please.

Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714085
02/13/18 07:06 PM
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Yes, I saw this test a while ago too..
The great thing about this test is, it randomizes the file orders every time, so nobody can memorize or anticipate the correct answers. It's really a blind test every time and forces you to listen.
First time I tried it playing through laptop speakers it was hopeless...
Switching to my studio headphones and outboard DAC and turning up the volume, I could just about hear the differences.
I found the 128kbps was usually easiest to spot and rule out, but the other two sounded quite similar until you really concentrate on the transients and the extreme HF.
After quite a few test attempts, my score gradually improved, until finally I got the hang of it and could hear 6 out of 6 correctly every time I did the test.
The WAV is the only one that fully extends up into 20kHz range, whereas the MP3s are more limited bandwidth except on very strong transients. 128kbps averages about 15kHz top end cut off, but the 320kbps is probably about 18kHz cut off.

Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714091
02/13/18 07:26 PM
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My ears are apparently broken. The only one I could tell was any better was the classical selection, and I got it right multiple times after reading the comment about how they change positions. All the others I seemed to prefer the 128k sample by quite a large difference. Not once did I pick the uncompressed for anything other than the classical.

Last edited by squidbot; 02/14/18 01:11 AM.


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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714111
02/13/18 08:47 PM
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I don't think the test is very helpful as the music production quality varies so much among the songs.

The Mozart Concerto & Suzane Vega bits were well recorded and mastered so quality differences to mp3 should be more obvious and were to me.

The JayZ, Katy Perry and Coldplay recordings were terrible as "uncompressed WAV" files. Super-processed, super-compressed, low dynamic range music always sounds flat and lifeless. And sounds equally terrible when compressed. I owned a few Coldplay CDs and was always irritated by the poor production work.

If one listens to concertos, do the test only with concertos. If one likes jazz, do the test only with jazz. etc.

Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714116
02/13/18 09:00 PM
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I only tried two tracks (Murray Perahia and Coldplay in that session), but managed to select the Uncompressed WAV on both occasions. Maybe I was just lucky. I noticed that in the Coldplay tune, there is narrowing of the stereo image at different points of the song - a detail that seemed to be lost by the MP3 encoding.

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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: propianist] #2714150
02/14/18 12:57 AM
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Originally Posted by propianist
I found the 128kbps was usually easiest to spot and rule out, but the other two sounded quite similar until you really concentrate on the transients and the extreme HF.
After quite a few test attempts, my score gradually improved, until finally I got the hang of it and could hear 6 out of 6 correctly every time I did the test.
The WAV is the only one that fully extends up into 20kHz range, whereas the MP3s are more limited bandwidth except on very strong transients. 128kbps averages about 15kHz top end cut off, but the 320kbps is probably about 18kHz cut off.


Well my hearing stops at around 12.5KHz. Maybe that's why it is harder for me to hear. laugh


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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714168
02/14/18 04:33 AM
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Tests like this don't tell us very much, because there are so many unconstrained variables. MP3 compression, at least, has been tested in lab conditions for at least ten years, and the consensus seems to be that for most people, with most material, the cut-off point where it becomes impossible to tell the compressed from the uncompressed material is somewhere between 128 and 192 kbits/sec. The question of which question a person "prefers" is even more complicated.

This figure of 128-192 kbits/sec is based on the use of lab-grade equipment in closely controlled listening conditions. I suspect that it's even harder to distinguish compressed from uncompressed audio with consumer apparatus.

Of course, these are typical figures, and I know of one person who can reliably distinguish 192 from 320 kbits/sec MP3 recordings when played on an ordinary domestic hi-fi. Unless he's cheating somehow, e.g., by reading my mind smile I suspect that this is something you could train yourself to do, if you really wanted to, and if your high-frequency hearing range extends far enough (you'd probably have to be under 20).

Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714170
02/14/18 04:46 AM
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There are many great tests at this website:
http://abx.digitalfeed.net

Click on the other tests. For instance the one for MP3. Using my best equipment: Apogee Groove DAC/Amp and Sennheiser HD-650 I was consistently able to guess with almost 100% certainty only MP3 at 128kbps compared to WAV. Starting with 160kbps I was able to hear difference on only one track while the rest are indistinguishable to my ears. I believe 192kbps are a nice starting point. Better even would be a VBR that varies bitrates depending on complexity.

Now, I know an aidiofool who claims to hear difference between FLAC and WAV laugh Schizos around us everywhere frown

Last edited by CyberGene; 02/14/18 04:48 AM.

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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714175
02/14/18 05:40 AM
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2/6 here.
The first sample has an evident hiss in the wav file, that made me click on the best mp3 as I thought it was an artifact.
I selected best mp3 over worst in all but one ocassion.
I nailed the piano one smile

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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714181
02/14/18 06:48 AM
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Well talking about cheap, I tried it on my appalling tablet speakers and got 6/6, repeatedly. Why? Becuase they're horrible and they really bring out the very high end which, as someone noted above, is lacking in the compressed samples which makes it quite obvious if you've still got fairly youngish ears.

(actually I got the very first one wrong as I thought the high pitch noise was encoding artefacts)

I remain unconvinced that these are good examples of what's possible, particularly with the 320kbps compression - I've tested myself on my own 320kpbs encodings before and been completely unable to tell the difference.

Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714182
02/14/18 06:49 AM
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OK, we have a winner here! I mean the other way around. Ladies and gentlemen, my score is 0/6 laugh In three of the questions I chose the 128kbps LOL. And in the other three, the Perahia included I chose the 320kbps. I'm listening to it on my DT-770 Pro 250 Ohm headphones connected to a hybrid-tube amp connected to the line out of my MacBook Pro 15" with touch bar.

I will admit I didn't hear any difference anywhere, so mostly clicked randomly.


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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714192
02/14/18 08:47 AM
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Only time/will to do the first three, and got 3/3, but more interestingly, the difference was notably more apparent when using HD-600 headphones with my O2 amp and X-Fi Titanium HD, compared to HD-595 and a Dragonfly 1.2 DAC/amp. I did the latter first, and could pick out the first two okay, but the third one honestly felt like pot luck. Listening again through the HD-600 setup the differences were clearer, and there was just about a reliably detectable difference in the third sample this time. I think the difference between 192 and 320 was almost as apparent as the difference between 320 and uncompressed wav, so I guess if you have to do lossy compression, a higher bit rate does make a noticeable difference.


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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: CyberGene] #2714193
02/14/18 09:10 AM
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Originally Posted by CyberGene
Now, I know an aidiofool who claims to hear difference between FLAC and WAV laugh Schizos around us everywhere frown


In theory, true there should 0 difference between FLAC and WAV. Yet its all about the source; if you made a FLAC of a master track, and then made a WAV of the same track (but is used on a CD) do you think there is a difference? Of course, CD is sampled so the loss of sound is replaced with modeling. Even if you had 100% WAV of the master, now you're relying on software and mathematical algorithms to encode/shrink the file size and playback and hence depending on the skill/lack of skill of a programmer. And let's not forget that FLAC claims to be "lossless" ---- okay, from what source?

Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714198
02/14/18 09:45 AM
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He was doing comparisons: he ripped a track from a CD in WAV, then encoded the WAV into FLAC and he was able to hear differences smile I find that ridiculous. On the other hand, it seems I can't hear a difference between 128kbps above and WAV so maybe I am far from golden ear, rather... brown ear laugh


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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Cinjero] #2714202
02/14/18 09:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Cinjero
Even if you had 100% WAV of the master, now you're relying on software and mathematical algorithms to encode/shrink the file size and playback and hence depending on the skill/lack of skill of a programmer. And let's not forget that FLAC claims to be "lossless" ---- okay, from what source?


The FLAC algorithm is loss-free with respect to its digital source, provided the sample rate and sample bit-width are the same. This isn't a matter of opinion or ear quality, but of simple math.

Of course, if the FLAC compression or decompression is implemented badly, then there's no way of knowing what the results will be. But a de-compressed FLAC is mathematically identical to the digital source from which it was compressed, assuming the same sample rate and bit-width. Anybody who claims to be able to distinguish them is either lying, deluded, cheating, or using broken math.

Last edited by kevinb; 02/14/18 10:00 AM.
Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Dave Horne] #2714204
02/14/18 10:09 AM
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I could barely hear a difference on the Perahia track, where one of the three sounded just a tiny bit better.
As for the others ... no difference at all.

Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Cinjero] #2714216
02/14/18 10:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Cinjero
In theory, true there should 0 difference between FLAC and WAV. Yet its all about the source; if you made a FLAC of a master track, and then made a WAV of the same track (but is used on a CD) do you think there is a difference?


What is the master made of in this case, if not a sampled wave?

Originally Posted by Cinjero

Of course, CD is sampled so the loss of sound is replaced with modeling.


How is the loss of sound replaced by modelling?

Last edited by toddy; 02/14/18 10:59 AM.

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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Cinjero] #2714248
02/14/18 12:26 PM
02/14/18 12:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Cinjero
CD is sampled so the loss of sound is replaced with modeling.

Ehh WHAT?

"samples" in case of a CD has only one effect: limiting your frequency range. According to Nyquist: f(signal) < 2f(sample).
Violate that and you will introduce artifacts known as aliasing. Meaning, you need at least 2 points per period.

All frequencies within the Nyquist range are able to be restored w/o error from the sample data. If we would not be able to do that, our technology would be in serious trouble.

Now the problem lies within the volume. We indeed only have a limited amount of steps when it comes to that. That is known as the bit rate. 16 bit = 2^16 ~ 64k different levels. So if the signal volume is between step 32546 and 32547 the system has to choose one. This is known as "quantization error". It gets smaller the higher you crank the bitrate. 24bits = 16.7M steps.

Now, assume a rough 100dB of real world dynamic range, divide that through 64K and you get ~ 0.0016dB increments.

Putting things into context:
Redbook 44.1KHz 16bit can reproduce Frequencies up to 22KHz in 0.0016dB increments.
human hearing goes up to 20KHz and many have difficulties hearing a whopping 1dB increase.
Funky test with a static signal: i miserably failed to recognize 1dB. ._.
http://www.audiocheck.net/blindtests_level.php?lvl=1

So, 44.1/16 is already an overkill format in terms of playback.
All that "high res" audiophile jung you find on the net is marketing blah and a complete waste when it comes to simple playback, introduced because the audio industry would like to have a pendant to the HD/UHD etc of the video industry.

Bottom line: if the mastering is done correctly, you should not hear a difference between CD or Master. Your dogs mileage may vary, given speakers that can produce frequencies beyond 20KHz.

Last edited by Granyala; 02/14/18 12:27 PM.

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Re: OT audio quality, can you hear the difference? [Re: Cinjero] #2714256
02/14/18 01:02 PM
02/14/18 01:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Cinjero
And let's not forget that FLAC claims to be "lossless" ---- okay, from what source?

Lossless compression is the standard in computer science since its beginnings. No application would work if its installer had been compressed with a lossy compression method. Almost anything you download from Internet to your computer or phone is compressed lossless to save bandwidth and storage.

The output of a lossless compressor/de-compressor is always identical to the source regardless of the input (text, machine code, images, audio, video etc.) and this is verified using checksums. If the checksum doesn't match, the file is damaged an the output is deleted (because it becomes unusable garbage).

As a lossless method FLAC can compress anything too, but it is optimized for PCM audio. Something like PNG is used for is a lossless image compression instead and dictionary-based formats like ZIP work best for text and code.


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