Saturday, 26 October 2019

On Audiophile Forums. Disagreements on MQA. (And Redscape preview...)


I thought for this post it might be good to talk about audiophile forums.

A couple weeks back, some of you expressed frustration with the Audio Science Review Forum, the opinions of the host there, and general MQA disagreement. Over the years, like probably many of you, I've had my share of participating in forums, disagreements with views expressed and the bickering at various venues. All in good fun however and nobody needs to get too perturbed... It's only a hobby, right?

I've read posters say that MQA is "the gift that keeps giving" :-). No doubt it's a topic that has provided for much discussion around here and elsewhere!

However future audiophile historians ultimately judge this time in our hobby, I think MQA will have its place as a controversy that divided the community deeply. I don't think this is a bad thing in that it has provided many opportunities for us to discuss and perhaps be enlightened by what is true vs. false, shown a divide between mainstream press with close industry ties vs. independents, objective vs. subjective testing, faith in (specifically one) authority of digital audio vs. skepticism. And this has played out publicly probably in its most dramatic fashion on audiophile forums these years.

On Forums

I don't think there is any question that the rise of public forums have revolutionized all hobbies. Whether it's audiophilia or cars or photography or computers, we can express our views in ways impossible even a decade or two ago (the interconnection goes even further and deeper with our virtual social networks). Furthermore, forums provide a level of freedom of expression beyond blogs like this one where I choose the topics but at least has an open, very lightly moderated comments section below (most of the time, all I'm doing is clearing out the multitudes of spam ads littered among actual reader comments).

It's nice to read well thought out responses on forums, especially those that contain factual content (of course there are various critiques one could make about ascertainment of said "facts"). But as in most human endeavours, there is always the element of perspective we must be mindful of. The atmosphere of a discussion forum shapes how content is viewed based on the personalities, values, and the intents of the host(s) and administrators that inhabit the place. Just as if one were to visit someone's home or join an administrative/leadership structure, the system will shape the culture of the "corporate body". Because forums are places where people can associate and dissociate freely (unlike say one's workplace where association is more viscous due to formal processes of employment and dismissal), over time the denizens (the "regulars") that stay do tend to take on the values of the leadership. Alternatively, I suspect if comments are primarily negative towards the views of the host, this is an unhealthy sign showing loss of respect and support.

There isn't (nor IMO should there be) absolute freedom of speech - hateful, threatening content should never be tolerated. At some level, all forums do need to be moderated. The best sites I've participated in are not heavy-handed around moderation. Some of the worst engage in active suppression of dissent. While it was never an open forum and more of a blog format, back in the day when AudioStream was more interesting, I thought it was the interactions in the comments section that provided much of the "food for thought". This was until Michael Lavorgna became intolerant of disagreements with his (IMO unhealthy) idiosyncratic perspectives.

As a participant in forums these days, I try to maintain the perspective of the "rational audiophile" who is to a large extent interested in achieving "transparency" as the audiophile goal. I think "truth" in audio, at least most of the stuff worth sharing, is arrived at primarily with objective means. Remember though that being "more objective" doesn't mean we discount all subjectivity; we should not in order to maintain the emotional and sensual elements of life as humans. There is a place for individual experiences and opinions as well. This balancing act is essential and part of appreciating the multitude of flavours of life. Subjective choices such as going beyond sonic neutrality, being OK with extravagance, and even eschewing what is considered "best practice" I think are acceptable so long as we are honest with ourselves, maintain a sense of humor as appropriate, and haven't lost insight into the effect of such choices on sound quality or perceived value. Within reason and one's budget, there's nothing wrong with acting in the service of our ego!

As public participants, when we go into a forum and discuss a topic, I trust that there is an expected bias for us to act civilly towards the host for his/her graciousness in providing the venue. Hosting the site and providing content does come at a cost to those running the forums and may need to be offset by selling advertising space, active promotion, or direct appeal to donations / Patreon / memberships.

If we look an specific examples these days, while I might disagree with Amir, the host of Audio Science Review in a number of ways, I do have respect for what he does. He has a very active role at ASR so obviously his personality and worldview will "color" the perspectives there (not necessarily a bad thing).

This same effect from hosts occur at other places; for example on the Steve Hoffman Forum, notice how sometimes posters will skirt around odd, vague comments or one-liners Mr. Hoffman might post. Perhaps ignore what looks like endorsement of Shakti stuff or pumping various cables. In any event, on the whole, I've appreciated the Hoffman Forum for being reasonably tolerant of skirmishes without being overly heavy-handed by the moderators. Plus the focus on the music itself in the "Music Corner" is a real smorgasbord of information to feast on!

There are forums where advertising clearly pays the bills. There's no value jumping into a Synergistic Research-sponsored forum to debate their beliefs in Tesla cables, ECTs, HFTs, UFOs, etc... :-) Not sure if there is such a place.

I value Chris Connaker's attitude and how he runs Audiophile Style and some of the writers he has on board. While I enjoy commenting on the "General Forum", it's good to see that he has clearly identified the sponsored forums as special "clubs" for those interested. I think we can all appreciate that in these sponsored areas, it would be rather poor etiquette to be rude.

I believe the rise of public discussion in general and audiophile forums specifically have been good for the hobby. I don't know what web traffic numbers look like these days comparing forums with major press-run sites but I would not be surprised if traffic on the whole continues to build in more independent places open to the public marketplace of ideas.

On MQA... Yet again...

Coming back to MQA and how divisive this has been on forums (including apparently Amir's stance on MQA and "hi-res audio" in general), first, let's not forget the facts about MQA (laid out in my article more than a year ago) - to recap:
- MQA is not "lossless" high-resolution. 
- The "deblur" claim appears to be without merit and the company seems to be distancing itself from using that terminology these days.
- The idea of needing to compress hi-res streams down to a 24/44.1 or 24/48 container is moot in the wake of Qobuz and Amazon HD capable of up to 24/192 FLAC.
- There is no rationale for why MQA-CD would sound "better" than regular CD as claimed by MQA. In fact, MQA-CD is anything but hi-res (worse than standard CD resolution) since the system robs bits and hence resolution from 16/44.1.
- When the MQA blue/green light/indicator goes on and the DAC says it's playing 176.4 / 192 / 352.8 / 384kHz, realize that this is not true 4X or 8X resolution. This is all upsampling from lossy reconstructed 88.2/96kHz. 
- If we shave off lower bits of audio data, the DAC blue light would still turn on! "Authentication" is at best partial and hence compromised. If they can't guarantee that something is "authentic", then clearly the name "Master Quality Authenticated" is a terrible misnomer.
- The digital filters used are questionable yet mandated for "full" MQA decoding.
As adults with our own experiences and biases, what is more important in life and which drives debates is clearly not just "data", it's about how we understand and value something, then eventually expressing those thoughts. Although there are some simply disagreeable people online ("trolls"), more commonly, I think that most audiophiles are reasonable and that it is due to breakdowns in communication and inaccurate perceptions that rallies our emotions and triggers unpleasant agitation and disagreements. It is how the thoughts and personalities come across that make people angry.

When it comes to MQA, it's not the technical points that bother me as much as how the message and messengers were portrayed. If Bob Stuart and MQA came out with clear explanations of what they're doing, I don't think many of us would be too unhappy with it from the early days. There is nothing wrong with introducing a bit-reduced semi-lossless way to stream audio data. Rather, the Company tried to persuade by betting on Mr. Stuart's personal "celebrity power" rather than facts to try to convince audiophiles that this codec was some kind of essential breakthrough. They twisted the messages in the advertising material. Well-established terminology like "lossless" became something else. The cute idea of "origami folding" got played a bit too hard to be believable. IMO, this style of up-selling a questionable product is what created the dissent. Online forum unhappiness against MQA was a reaction of their own making.

I don't think it's a sign of health that mainstream audiophile magazines and editors got co-opted into endorsing something without apparently any deeper analysis into what was going on. Perhaps this too was part of the scheme at using "celebrities" of the audiophile world to promote the product. At one time, MQA even made claims that their files sounded better than the original master (you can read some of that echoed here). Then there's the sticky subject of whether MQA represents some kind of "stealth DRM" so that record labels knowingly did not have to release the full hi-res master (fearful of releasing their "crown jewels"). Surely, for enthusiastic, knowledgeable audiophiles, this was all more than a bit too much to swallow without expressing discontent...

If one is in a leadership position in the media with a large influence on readers and participants, in light of what we know these days about MQA, do you honestly think that this product is overall "good" for music lovers and will propel high-fidelity reproduction forward? If an audiophile magazine or website has a "mission statement", in what way is MQA resonating with that ethos beyond the profit motive and just trying to make a buck off a slightly different file format?

Admittedly, I'm not sure what Amir's position is with MQA as I haven't read all the threads about MQA on Audio Science Review; he's of course free to change his mind over the years. However, I would think that Amir would dislike MQA and what it represents. I'm certainly not suggesting he should be rabidly anti-MQA (each of us will have different emotional responses), but a dis-endorsement seems appropriate at least. From what I can tell, he's a champion for hi-res audio (the audibility of which a topic we might disagree on). He claims that he can provide "conclusive proof" that hi-res sounds different (using nothing more than laptop audio output and the Etymotic ER4P IEMs I might add!).

For the sake of discussion, lets accept his claim of a reported "watershed event" in the link above and hi-res does sound different and typically "better". So why would it be OK to lose some of that potential quality with MQA compression knowing that MQA is incapable of actual 24-bit resolution and the frequencies above 22.05/24kHz are all lossy reconstructed at a lower resolution? Furthermore, Amir's reviews champion products with excellent objective fidelity such as the Benchmark AHB2 amp with fantastic SNR and THD+N. Can MQA compression allow the end-user to take advantage of such levels of fidelity? Furthermore, when he reviews a very high quality DAC like the Matrix X-Sabre Pro MQA, examines the quality of the digital filter options available, and states "I would probably go with filter 3" which represents a clean and "steep" option (maybe even linear phase), then why should he not be unhappy with the filters that MQA imposes? Remember, MQA uses inherently "shallow", slow roll-off digital filters that allows imaging artifacts to seep through (plus they're universally minimum phase). This might be OK with 88.2/96kHz material, but even with 44.1/48kHz samplerate material like Beyoncé's Lemonade, there's a lot of imaging to be found on the Tidal MQA decode!

If the hardware can only ever reproduce sound at the quality of the material we can feed it, do we want our music to be affected like this? If MQA became the so-called "hi-res" streaming standard, and more of us switched to a streaming service exclusively, would it not be a shame if the "best" we could ever have access to is something like 17-bits of resolution even if we're the proud owners of 20-bit resolution DACs and high resolution amplifiers to match? Amir awards recommendations for objective excellence in hardware, so isn't it a bit dissonant to concede to such a compromised codec for the software side without at least some inherent disapproval?

I've also heard about Amir talking about "authorityhood" of some individuals. Something about Rob Harley being an "authority on who high-end audiophiles are" for example. Harley might be around awhile in the Industry, but I have concerns about his reality-testing ability and motivations. Let's agree to disagree on this one. As for Bob Stuart, nobody is disputing his education, or titles, or years in the audio industry. However, do these accolades and accomplishments ever ensure honest, unbiased "straight talk" when it comes to his own product? Of course not! Intellect and experience do not imply honesty and I think with MQA, we've witnessed first hand this lack of correlation.

Anyhow, I had a look at this recent MQA-related thread on ASR the other day and noticed that most of the comments seemed very reasonable, and suitably unimpressed with MQA and its claims.

Seek Meaning, not just Facts

You might have noticed that on the blog here, the topics I've addressed have changed over the years. No longer am I posting as many measurements of products unless something special comes up. I haven't bothered to test cables in years. Bit by bit, issues like "Do all lossless file formats sound the same?", noise from Ethernet, jitter effects, worries about file formats, difference between digital streamers, vinyl vs. digital, concerns around "bit perfect", have become less talked about because I've found my answers to these "issues". When on the forums, I'll just post a link to previous articles when questions arise and look for evidence otherwise.

To me as a hobbyist, objectifying and collecting every piece of data on every device out there for the sake of comparison isn't that satisfying. What's more important is considering whether the gear likely achieves a level of transparency which is for me the ultimate end-goal of the hardware side of this hobby. As I expressed before, does it really matter if I measure yet another DAC with THD+N <0.001% (-100dB)? No, not really although it is good to let readers know when a device performs well for those who are interested in purchasing one (and to discuss hyped-up products like the recent AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt). These facts, figures, and measurements, are simply the foundation we use to build an understand of the technology and these products we buy.

Remember to go beyond the data. Creating mental models about what is real allow us to "see the forest from the trees", then we can make rational choices and express opinions with insight built upon empirically-based testing. Depending on who we're discussing the issue with, being able to point at some measurements represents a great start to explain to the person why we take a certain position. For example, the proliferation of high quality, inexpensive DACs that measure beyond what is likely ever audible for me has been an insight gained through the late 2010's. And with that, rejoice, we now have achieved a level of high-fidelity digital reproduction that the vast majority can afford. Manufacturers who sell >$1000 DACs of course might want to argue with this, but do they then have evidence for their products being superior?

Remember too that it doesn't end with just the objective stuff or the intellect. Don't forget to listen, experience, and feel the quality of reproduction correlated with those objective results. Sometimes we might want to make subjective decisions at odds with objective fidelity such as recognizing that a bass boost sounds more pleasurable for ourselves than flat frequency response. Other times we might recognize that in fact we need to learn to appreciate a less colored sound and the beauty of a more natural tonality. Sometimes we need to change and recognize that the objective results are in fact correct and that our beliefs are biased! In a world where consumerism and the media may push us to think of "me first" narcissistic entitlements, this idea that one might need to readjust and build one's skills in listening, that our ears might not be "golden" after all, can seem at odds with a culture that is far from humble in accepting what is true.

While it is possible that some major "paradigm shift" could happen in the future, it is not unreasonable to expect that this is unlikely given that the physics of sound waves and electronics for audio frequency reproduction have been maturing for generations and decades!

The hardware audiophile hobby for me is about appreciation of the world as is, discovery of self and what we can change, and of course partaking in the joy of music. In doing so, this blog is about sharing with you the paths I've taken and the "data" that have shaped my thoughts. I'm of course happy to discuss feedback and comments in the hopes that major, foundational differences can be addressed while we can also agree to disagree on the smaller stuff. If you haven't guessed, the sharing and discussions have been a huge part of the fun in writing this blog!

Whither, audiophile forums?

We go forward, of course!

The power of forums is that they represent many voices. Direct contact allows questioning and the hope of answers. News is disseminated much quicker - but the responsibility rests with the readers to weed out what is false and disinformation.

Unlike the days of decades past when there were the few voices in the official press, the marketplace of ideas has widened substantially. I believe this has taken some of the power away from the few and weakened the influence of Industry. Despite occasions when the "signal" appears to be drowned out by "noise" on forums, I do believe that the democratic nature of forums eventually provides a self-correcting mechanism whereby the most successful and best ideas likely are championed by multiple reasonable voices. Those forums (and websites) that end up being the "echochambers", closed to scrutiny, appealing to the fringe, lose relevance, eventually wither and virtually die.

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One recent development about MQA. Their 2018 financial statement was released on October 23rd.

Let's see... For the year ending December 2018, they had around 21 employees. The company took in a gross amount of £350k, presumably from Tidal and hardware licensees. However, they spent almost £5M in "administrative expenses"; hence they lost £4.6M (~US$5.9M) for the financial year. See page 9 for their assets - a good amount of cash on hand (£4.6M), most of it borrowed money with a net amount of £459k in assets once you subtract out all future liabilities.

Interesting that one of the directors alone got paid £403k in 2018 (page 22). This is 15% more money than the company's gross profit that whole year. Kudos man (woman?), exceptional work!

Remember this report was up to end-of-year 2018. Back then, there was table pounding at RMAF 2018, they were pushing the "MQA Live" realtime streaming idea, and the start of an attempt into car audio (?! why bother). In comparison, MQA has been rather quiet through 2019 so far to the point where even a MQA listening demo at RMAF 2019 appeared to have been aborted.

[Here's something else new. On MQA's Facebook page, they have a few posts on demonstrating MQA with Japan's WOWOW pay-TV video service. When I looked at the WOWOW Facebook page, there's no mention of this MQA collaboration. I'm guessing the level of excitement is asymmetrical. Considering they broadcast movies, I wonder why they would not just stick with Dolby EAC3(-Atmos), TrueHD, or DTS(-HDMA, :X) codecs to retain multichannel capability and lossless quality when there's adequate bandwidth.]

Well, at least MQA didn't lose as much as fiscal year 2017 (around £7M) but it looks like they're needing to secure additional funding in the short term (page 15). Who knows, maybe they have a benefactor like SoftBank ready to "double down" on the loans despite what looks like significant and ongoing losses, pretty good director remunerations, little actual assets, along with questionable demand and growth for the "product" after 5 years since introduction into the evolving and competitive audio streaming space.

Will be interesting to watch how this goes. I think I'm done with talking about MQA for awhile - I really hope!

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To end off... I've been listening to this device in the last week on my main workstation:


After I came back from RMAF 2019, I was contacted by Ryan Redetzke of Redscape as I had missed visiting his booth in Denver at the "Headspace" ballroom. He was kind enough to send me the product to try out with my Sennheiser HD800 headphones.

Basically the Redscape (US$199) is a Windows-only device that consists of both software and hardware components. The software component creates a Windows virtual audio device that takes in up to 7.1 multichannel data and outputs to your headphones. The virtual audio device DSP will spatialize the data it receives for playback to 2-channels. The hardware component is a little USB box with head-tracking accelerometer and gyroscope (that little box strapped to the top of the headphone).

Think of this as "virtual reality for headphones". Through the combination of virtualization DSP and linking this to head movements, it creates an illusion of listening to speakers anchored in space in front and around you. For example, if you have 2-channel music playing, as you turn your head, you can virtually "look" towards where the right and left speakers are located. Multichannel 7.1 movie playback recreates the feeling of a virtual room with the various sources around side and back. This same effect can be experienced in 3D games.

It's an interesting psychological effect that takes the "surround sound" experience one step beyond other technologies like the Creative Super X-Fi I mentioned a few months back. As suggested above, it's like VR (discussed earlier this year) without the visual component.

I'll speak more about this device in another post.

Currently enjoying Cigarettes After Sex's just-released Cry (DR7, 2019). For those who like sweet, yet dark, moody ambient pop, it's quite enjoyable. With a DR7 and rather high noise level, absolutely no need to get the 24/96 hi-res.

Have a wonderful week everyone. Hope you're enjoying the music and takin' it easy on the forums :-).

47 comments:

  1. You could have said all that in one sentence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. MQA is a scam and MQA advocates/apologists are dishonest, hypocrites, or simply misinformed.

      Better? :)

      Delete
    2. I forgot to include the word ‘lying’ in my post above.

      “…MQA advocates/apologists are dishonest, lying, hypocrites….”

      https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/smsl-m500-dac-and-hp-amp-review.9606/

      Related thread quickly locked.

      https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/amirs-preferential-treatment-of-mqa.9619/

      Delete
  2. But it would not have been much fun. 👍

    ReplyDelete
  3. Good post. Considering all the issues in the background with MQA, and audio forums I even consider it a succinct summation of the topics.

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I had to stop reading once I got to your bullshit about hate speech.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ?? Why ?? Do you not think that there are lines beyond which those who run forums should not allow to cross?

      Delete
  5. Nice post!

    Some have said that they see MQA as a gift as it’s exposed the liars, con-men and charlatans as never before.

    Read a few of Amir’s comments from the ASR MQA thread below. Despite the initial big talk, Amir is nowhere to be seen in that thread. Yet another failed defense of MQA and BS.

    “That is ultimately what this forum is about. We get down to data, bring in real expertise and knowledge.”

    “…I do consider Bob Stuart a professional colleague and one of our luminaries in audio. Show disrespect to him in that regard and you will motivate me to speak up.”

    “Promoting FUD toward MQA is wrong no matter who you think you want to protect. I am here to protect the truth. Say that I will be on board. Distort what I lived and did for more than a decade and I will object.”

    “I am not defending them. I am defending audio science/truth. I didn't tell you to go and buy MQA DAC, get MQA content, etc. I am objecting to mischaracterizing the situation. I don't want you guys going and saying things that are not correct.”

    “I don't consider this getting me a hard time Thomas. I am posting because I want the correct stance for and against MQA to be here. Heaven knows you won't read that on other forums where only one side is present to shout their message of anti-MQA.”

    “Ultimately as I said, I will defend the truth at whatever the cost. I don't know another way.”

    “If folks want me to chant the popular message, facts be damned, well, then I will take whatever hit there is and keep going.”

    He sure likes to use the word “truth.” :)

    "The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing "truth" or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible."

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/may/27/cults-definition-religion

    ReplyDelete
  6. It's all fun and games until money is involved. Even more so when someone makes a living from it.

    Forums in general are fading away as the new "instant gratification" generation doesn't have time to read through the threads. tHeY wAnT aNsWeRs NOW!

    Funny how you mentioned it, this post seems to have extra spam in comments than usual :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, don't know how the spamsters work Turrican. Some weeks they just pile on and I have to delete something like 20 at a time interspersed through the posts over the years.

      Maybe the "instant gratification" group might not read blogs or threads in general, but I think the passionate audiophiles will. It's with the passionate few where I think the best discussions are to be had!

      Delete
    2. Indeed!

      As for spamsters, they use semi-automated scripts that scourge for new content on popular sites and base their efforts where the click-through rates were good.

      Delete
  7. "As I expressed before, does it really matter if I measure yet another DAC with THD+N <0.001% (-100dB)? No, not really although it is good to let readers know when a device performs well for those who are interested in purchasing one (and to discuss hyped-up products like the recent AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt). These facts, figures, and measurements, are simply the foundation we use to build an understand of the technology and these products we buy."

    Someone on your favorite forum has asked that question:
    https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/why-is-audio-objectivism-so-frequently-focused-on-all-the-wrong-things.9588/
    The responses are predictably amusing ;-).

    As for MQA, give Amazon Music another year or 2, see if we're even talking about it any more...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting thread AJ and yeah, no surprise at the overall responses.

      Will be interesting to see how Amazon Music does in the next year or 2 just as much as seeing the fate of MQA!

      Delete
  8. I'm a bean-counter so I 100% agreed especially the financial statements parts.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Archimago!

    Yet again, I appreciate your balanced approach to audio, including your assessment of audio forums. I'm just like you in attempting to be a "rational audiophile."

    If I have one bee-in-my-bonnet, it tends to concern that tendency among many of us to not see beyond our own values in assessing the decisions of other people. This shows up a lot in audiophile discussions both on the subjectivist side that disparages any relevance of objective measurements to the objectivist side where pure neutrality is assumed as the value by which to disparage anyone who either offers products which depart from this, or those who would be "duped" enough to ever buy them. There's just a constant failure to see beyond the values we have assumed as our own, making the other guy's decisions seem flat out 'irrational' or 'stupid' by those lights.

    This is why, despite my deep commitment to empiricism/evidence/no-b.s., I find myself sometimes pushing back even in the "objectivist" oriented forums a bit, which ruffles some feathers there. For instance, while the ASR forum is certainly no Hydrogen Audio in terms of draconian or rigid approach, there is a tendency...completely understandable IMO...towards evaluating speakers in line with Floyd Tool's (et al) research. That's research that I hugely admire. But I've heard the speakers designed via the insights of that research (e.g. various Revels and others) and while they are impressive, I also, like a great many audiohiles, like a number of other speakers from the "Wild West" of high end speaker design. I've pointed out on the forum that, if speakers were only designed via the zealous opinions of a number of forum members, then many speakers I've loved, and many beloved through the years by audiophiles, would never have seen the light of day. And for me, that would be a real bummer. I want the science of speaker design to move forward, quantifying advance, relating it to human perception, so speaker designers have as much helpful data available as possible. But on the other hand, as long as that type of data is available, I also like designers to be free to follow their muse even if that means departing from the mean, and creating something that will find a happy audience of one size or another.

    But, many objectivists just see departing designs as "wrong, wrong, wrong" and the designers of such being therefore either incompetent or devious in terms of the product they offer. (Keep in mind, I'm referring here to speakers where there are audible differences, and those cases in which amps may sound different, e.g. poorly measuring tube amps). And from this perspective "vinyl should have stayed dead" because it's less accurate, and that's simply not what Hi Fidelity is about!

    I find I have to go back and forth between subjectivist and objectivist forums. I go to the subjectivist forums to exchange notes on subjective experience with gear (speakers mostly, I don't pay attention to the cable/tweaky stuff), which I often find lacking or dismissed on objecivist forums. But after a while of puresubjectivism, not to mention un-grounded claims, I go running back to objectivist forums to get my bearings again.

    BTW, you mentioned admiring the restraint of the moderators at the Steve Hoffman forum. That's interesting as I had heard just the opposite: that one wouldn't find more trigger-happy "bans" than in that forum. I like the forum quite a bit, especially since I became a member. But I have to say I was surprised that my comments were banned from a thread almost immediately in a thread asking "power cables: do they really matter?" I was banned for this post, which I thought was quite civil in adding some balance to the thread, and it seemed well "liked," yet banned I was:

    https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/power-cables-do-they-really-matter.888777/page-2#post-22287503

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great comment Matt both here and on the SH Forum. I like how you think and express yourself.

      Hmmm, that's disappointing about the ban hammer on SH. I think there might be some variation between the different "gorts" where some seem to be a little trigger happy whenever they see that dreaded suggestion of a "blind test". I've had a few threads I participated in closed or disappeared into the ether but thankfully not too many. I wonder if there's also sensitivity there around cables because there seems to be promotion of various products like the Grover cables.

      Like yourself, I do enjoy poking my head occasionally into the subjective sites for a peek. Mostly as a spectator than participant. It's a little like that Baz Luhrmann "class of 97" speech in "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)":
      Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard
      live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft


      New York City = pure objectivism
      Northern California = pure subjectivism

      IMO, gotta find a place in mind that doesn't get stuck in these extremes.

      Delete
    2. Thanks Archimago! I'm always happy to see that you "do nuance" rather than pursue audiophile purity testing of the type I indicated. If only everyone had as charitable an approach to conversation! I think you can see some of the issue I mentioned above playing out in this very comment section. ;-)

      Yes, I believe Steve Hoffman forums are particularly sensitive about cable battles (as is the case in many forums). Any forum that is open to any point of view being posted has it tough. Particularly in the tweakier areas like cables. My approach is that on one hand, I don't want to be some curmudgeon who breaks in to every cable thread and spoils everyone's fun. At some point of repetition, that seems more of a dick-move than a noble one. I don't feel like "I have to make EVERYONE believe what I do, and do the hobby the way I do!"

      On the other hand, it can be tough to sit by and watch so much poorly evidenced/reasoned claims influence people who may be just getting in to the hobby. So I just occasionally jump in to provide "the case for being more cautious." I was always appreciate when someone did that when I was getting in to high end audio way back when. Even when Arny K. showed up, despite how often he was castigated, I was happy he was there to provide his knowledge and opinions as counter-balance.

      BTW, not sure if I asked, but it seems from your writing that you have some familiarity with philosophy. Would that be correct? I'm a sometimes philosophy-nerd and I always appreciate seeing someone thinking in nuanced ways, with a feel for fitting everything in to the bigger picture.




      Delete
  10. "I'm just like you in attempting to be a "rational audiophile."

    For instance, while the ASR forum is certainly no Hydrogen Audio in terms of draconian or rigid approach, there is a tendency...completely understandable IMO...towards evaluating speakers in line with Floyd Tool's (et al) research. That's research that I hugely admire. But I've heard the speakers designed via the insights of that research (e.g. various Revels and others) and while they are impressive, I also, like a great many audiohiles, like a number of other speakers from the "Wild West" of high end speaker design. I've pointed out on the forum that, if speakers were only designed via the zealous opinions of a number of forum members, then many speakers I've loved, and many beloved through the years by audiophiles, would never have seen the light of day. And for me, that would be a real bummer. I want the science of speaker design to move forward, quantifying advance, relating it to human perception, so speaker designers have as much helpful data available as possible. But on the other hand, as long as that type of data is available, I also like designers to be free to follow their muse even if that means departing from the mean, and creating something that will find a happy audience of one size or another.

    But, many objectivists just see departing designs as "wrong, wrong, wrong" and the designers of such being therefore either incompetent or devious in terms of the product they offer. (Keep in mind, I'm referring here to speakers where there are audible differences, and those cases in which amps may sound different, e.g. poorly measuring tube amps)."

    http://seanolive.blogspot.com/2009/04/dishonesty-of-sighted-audio-product.html

    The unfortunate reality, is that no matter what, some people are incapable of grasping the difference between their own anecdote and science/facts. It doesn't matter how many times its explained clearly, for example, per HA "draconian" aka basic science rules.
    Belivers will simply dismiss, say they are "rational" via self assessment and thus their anecdotal sighted positive "experience" (for example) with poorly designed speakers, means the established science (Toole et al) is "missing" something.
    It's all very, very amusing ;-).
    Btw, all of Toole's et al listening tests, are "subjective". Just not "uncontrolled". Another nuance some cannot grasp.

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  11. AJ,

    It is unclear whether you are talking about other audiophiles, or whether your description of audiophile ignorance is aimed at me. It seems to be.

    For the record: If aimed at me, it's an unlightening strawman. As I mentioned, I'm quite familiar with and supportive of Toole's (et al) research, and with the methods and nature of that research (yes, I know the research focuses mostly on correlating subjective preference as it relates to speaker design). And I've spent one hell of a lot of time arguing the merits of blind testing to purely subjectivist audiophiles, explaining the various forms of bias that it helps control for.

    (BTW, by HA's "draconian/rigid" approach it was a cheeky reference to the disparagement of subjective descriptions "no subjective talk/anecdote" dictum for posting, where ASR is a somewhat more open to including subjective talk. Nothing wrong with HA's approach at all! Just doesn't fully serve the needs of those who also like exchanging subjective notes on audio gear).

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  12. " I also, like a great many audiohiles, like a number of other speakers from the "Wild West" of high end speaker design. I've pointed out on the forum that, if speakers were only designed via the zealous opinions of a number of forum members, then many speakers I've loved, and many beloved through the years by audiophiles, would never have seen the light of day. And for me, that would be a real bummer. I want the science of speaker design to move forward


    And I've spent one hell of a lot of time arguing the merits of blind testing to purely subjectivist audiophiles, explaining the various forms of bias that it helps control for."

    Great news. Can you detail all your controls for all the "in the wild" designs, free from objective "zeal",that you've "listened" to, loved and would be bummed if not available?
    How do you want the "science" of speaker design to move forward exactly and what relation does you loving these "wild" zeal free designs have to do with that?
    TIA

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  13. Hi again AJ.

    Speaking strictly in terms of progressing the science of loudspeaker design, the Floyd Toole approach would seem to be the best way I'm aware of. You are either doing science or you aren't, and that approach is the most rigorous attempt to uncover and control for confounding variables that I'm aware of.

    But I'm speaking from the stand point of a consumer, the mix of subjective experience and practicality involved. And I'm speaking *personally* in terms of how I balance my appreciation for objective empirical research with the practicality and reality of choosing my own speakers (realities reflected in the situation of many audiophile consumers).

    I did not claim to have used controls for all the "in the wild" encounters with speakers (or the ones I have owned). That is a clearly impractical demand, as you well know in asking your question, as most people don't have access to the type of double-blind testing facilities used, for instance, at HK laboratories.

    But I am speaking from the standpoint of a consumer, not as a speaker manufacturer or researcher. Which speakers appeal to ME. I like having a wide variety of choices available.

    I've used speakers of many types, from those that measure closer to the FT school of design goals to those that measure further away, and all of them have provided me with hugely rewarding listening experiences. Those are facts that are not in opposition to FT's research. The question would boil down, rather, to what exactly accounted for my enjoying the listening experiences (e.g. what possible mix of biases may have played a roll, along with differences in sound).

    Now, because none of my listening to speakers were done blind (well, one comparison was, but putting that aside), I realize that I'm not doing science and would not make any objective claims based on my subjective impressions. There may well be and probably are all sorts of factors at play. But however they shake out, the facts are facts in terms of what I actually enjoyed vs what I did not enjoy. I listen sighted, not in blinded conditions. The HK labs are great for predicting listener preference under blind conditions, for relatively short durations. This is great if you want to isolate ONLY the contribution of the sound and seek to perfect speaker designs that most people will prefer IN THOSE TESTS. But predicting which speakers people will prefer, or even just enjoy, in the normal situations in which people purchase and listen to loudspeakers, is another thing, obviously due to the addition of so many variables. If you tried to move from the FT research to statements like "well, nobody is going to like listening to THESE speakers...you could throw in all sorts of classic, popular and well loved speakers that have given their owners plenty of joy, from Martin Logans, to Maggies, Devore, Audio Note, Horn designs, Zu speakers...and on and on.
    Many have found long term listening satisfaction, as well as aesthetic satisfaction from speakers that depart to some degree from what a manufacturer strictly hewing to the FT research would design. And I'm sure they are quite glad their speakers existed on the market place, as I am for some of the ones I've owned and listened to.

    So, yes, given I don't have my own blind testing facility, as a practical matter I don't and cannot double-blind test speakers. Well, could I just then rely on whatever speakers I can find spinorama data on? That is certainly a reasonable approach one could take. But I personally would find that limiting. I find the varieties in speaker design fun, and there are so many speakers I'm interested in, for which that data doesn't exist. They may do well, they may not. So I listen to them and see if, all influences being part of the experience, I enjoy the experience.

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  14. As to the horror of a consumer like myself evaluating speakers on my own by auditioning them: Yes, there certainly IS unreliability involved. But not TOTAL unreliability. Even in the graphs Floyd Toole and Sean Olive have shown for the differences in sighted vs blind results, while the results change (and occasionally swap), some general trends seem to be preserved in the sighted/blind results.

    And in the Toole/HK tests, as I understand it, while the results have a correlation coefficient that is strongly predictive for populations, it is not *perfectly* predictive. As a matter of statistics, I should expect myself to *probably* choose, say, a Harman Kardon speaker over another speaker I liked in sighted tests. But I can not be certain of it. Likewise, if I say I enjoyed listening to the Devore O series speakers over the Revel speakers I auditioned (true), you could rightly suspect it was *probably* due to factors other than how the speakers actually sound. But you don't have grounds to definitively declare it to be the case "You didn't REALLY like the sound of the Devores better, it was actually these other factors." (I choose the Devore speakers as an example of a design I've seen castigated by the designed-by-good-science folks).

    So what do I personally do as a consumer when I find it to be the case that: After auditioning some Revel speakers several times (in good conditions) and after auditioning the Devore speakers, I found myself far more engaged when listening to the Devore speakers? The Revels I found very competent, but they just didn't grab me. The Devores just pinned me in my seat for hours and hours wanting to listen to track after track.

    If were choosing between those speakers, I'd buy the Devores. Why? For one thing, speakers DO sound different (unlike if I were comparing, say, AC cables). So the proposition that I was hearing audible differences between the Revel and Devore are perfectly plausible. And I do not have access to a double blind facility to do a shoot out of the two speakers, to see if I personally would choose the Revel over the Devore in blind testing. Did other variables influence what I "heard?" That is of course quite plausible. But it's also still quite possible I just liked the sound of the Devore speakers better too. And, perhaps most important, in either case the FACT is that I enjoyed listening to the Devores more than I did to the Revels. The reasons for that aren't perfectly untangled from the variables involved, but the FACT of what I enjoy seems portable - the speakers that I loved in store auditions (or wherever) impress me the same way when I have them home. So, all factors in, I go with the experience a speaker provides me under the sighted conditions in which I encounter them.

    I don't fool myself that this means I have great confidence that I'd prefer such a speaker under double blind listening conditions, nor do I attempt for a moment to proclaim that to you or anyone else.

    And for progressing the knowledge of correlating human perception of sound to measurements (and preferences to measurements), nothing beats the scientific approach. Which is why it should keep happening.

    But all things considered, I'm quite glad many of the designs I've enjoyed exist on the marketplace (e.g. Devore and others). And as I said, I'm certain many audiophiles currently, and down the years, are happy they had their speakers available. You may be able to predict someone is likely to prefer a Harman Kardon speaker over, say, a Martin Logan in blind listening tests. But if you tried to move from that to "therefore people won't find lasting satisfaction if they use Martin Logan speakers to listen go their music" you will have egg on your face. A great many audiophiles have found lasting satisfaction in a variety of speaker designs.

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  15. Wow, thats quite the Gish Gallop. Bravo.

    "But if you tried to move from that to "therefore people won't find lasting satisfaction if they use Martin Logan speakers to listen go their music" you will have egg on your face."

    No, only your strawman would.
    The reason why you and other audiophiles like inferior **sounding** speakers (as demonstrated in trust ears/just listening controlled subjective sound tests done by Harman et al), is staring you im the mirror. No explanation, science or otherwise, is needed for anecdotal preference. Whatever makes you happy.
    Btw, if you think Harman et al is unaware of price, looks, buzz words like "Beryllium" etc, etc. as factors for audiophile believers/consumers, think again. But they also know there's no guarantee either.

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  16. The day Amazon released 24/192 FLAC, it was the start of the end for MQA.
    The big big 2- Apple Music & Spotify will follow soon, and MQA will be a distant memory in 202x...

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  17. "Even in the graphs Floyd Toole and Sean Olive have shown for the differences in sighted vs blind results, while the results change (and occasionally swap), some general trends seem to be preserved in the sighted/blind results."

    Toole and Olive reported this? I recall there being a general trend in loudspeaker sound preference shared by untrained and trained listeners, but I don't recall the same holding for sighted and blind listeners. Am I misremembering?

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    Replies
    1. Steven 30 October 2019 at 21:59
      "Toole and Olive reported this?"

      No, that's VAAL trying justify his sighted preferences for poor "loved by audiophiles" speakers that "objectivists" pooh pooh on various forums, including "Draconian rules" HA.
      This is what Dr Olive actually said from my link above:

      "In summary, the sighted and blind loudspeaker listening tests in this study produced significantly different sound quality ratings. The psychological biases in the sighted tests were sufficiently strong that listeners were largely unresponsive to real changes in sound quality caused by acoustical interactions between the loudspeaker, its position in the room, and the program material. In other words, if you want to obtain an accurate and reliable measure of how the audio product truly sounds, the listening test must be done blind."

      My, my, it sure sounds like Dr Olive applies "Draconian rules" himself.
      Don't worry though, VAAL still loves the Harman Research. Got it?

      Delete
    2. Btw, still waiting on Arch to post those 1m quasi-anechoic measurements of his S8s, without and with blind far field "Room correction"....

      Delete
    3. Hi Steven,

      Of course Toole/Olive have pointed out the unreliability of sighted testing, which is why I said that I would not confidently declare my, your, or anyone's anecdotal listening should give anyone strong confidence in what is reported.

      I simply noted that, it seemed to me (and I could be wrong) that while there were certainly strong visual bias components showing up in the sighted vs blind tests, the graphs I'd seen still suggested some degree of similarities carrying through.

      For instance, look at the chart supplied by Floyd Toole in this paper, showing blind vs sighted preference ratings for 4 speakers:

      https://www.harman.com/sites/default/files/AudioScience_0.pdf

      The changes due to visual bias are obvious.

      Yet at the same time, as I mentioned, it seems there are some trends that carry through from sighted to blind. In both sighted and blind tests, Black and Yellow speaker are rated higher than purple and green speaker. And in both sighted and blind, the yellow speaker continues to be rated the best.

      So that's the type of thing I was referring to.

      I'm afraid that my anecdotal enjoyment of certain forbidden speaker designs has me failing some people's purity test, but I can live with that ;-)



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    4. No worries AJ, I haven't forgotten the pre- and post- DSP S8 measurements!

      It's coming... Just have other projects to finish off.

      Delete
  18. Maybe this one: http://seanolive.blogspot.com/2009/04/dishonesty-of-sighted-audio-product.html

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  19. If MQA is so bad and irrelevant as you think it is, why are you discussing it at all? It is just a matter of choice which format and even which brickwall filter you prefer to listen to. Some like streaming 24/353.8 MQA unfolds on Tidal, others prefer the Bluray version. Just buy a 145,- euro iFi ZEN DAC which plays DXD. DSD, Flac or MQA and compare. Do not worry so much for nothing.

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    Replies
    1. Long time no see, Peter! Not sure if anyone's "worried" these days about MQA. Although arguably at one point a few years back, the significance of MQA could have been much more of a concern.

      Like I said at the start, MQA has provided an opportunity to discuss truths and falsehoods. Something that the "high end" audiophile hobby has needed to face up to IMO for a long time. MQA just came at a very convenient time as a contemporary issue/example that facilitated discussions. In fact, well worth examining as a case study in what pseudo-progress in audio looks like and how it's being creatively marketed.

      Agree with AJ. Not sure why I'd want to give money to iFi. It's not really just that a portion goes to MQA licensing, rather, iFi likes to promote FUD such as with their "USB Audio Gremlins" article back in 2016 and complained to Google/Blogspot when I wrote my rebuttal around that time for their unfortunate article.

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    2. Hi archimago, indeed long time and I am surprised MQA still has your attention. I personally am not interested in the business model or marketing behind a format or a streaming service. All I care is "what is in it for me", sound quality and convenience wise. I just listen to it and have become a fan of MQA for that reason. With regard to fighting 'fraud' I am positive about the end-to-end aspect of MQA, since it offers protection for artists against illegal copy and distribution. The fact that MQA is used by products like Audioquest and iFi at budget levels, as well as by MSB and dCS in high(est) end DAC is for me a reason to keep on listening how it sounds compared to other formats. It is just fun and for those who appreciate HD flac, DSD or DXD, it is simply amazing that at this low price level we can choose.

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    3. Sure Peter.

      We're all entitled to express our own subjective impressions and preferences.

      The problem with MQA is that it's clearly not in the best interest of consumers or IMO those who care about high fidelity (adds cost, unnecessary intrusion of the company, is detrimental to optimal fidelity, and is intellectually dishonest).

      I'll probably be avoiding companies like iFi, MSB, dCS and definitely AudioQuest and its rather unfortunate Dragonfly Cobalt DAC as discussed previously:
      http://archimago.blogspot.com/2019/08/measurements-dragonflies-audioquest.html

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    4. "All I care is "what is in it for me", sound quality and convenience wise. I just listen to it and have become a fan of MQA for that reason. With regard to fighting 'fraud' I am positive about the end-to-end aspect of MQA"
      http://archimago.blogspot.com/2017/09/mqa-core-vs-hi-res-blind-test-part-ii.html?showComment=1506691513935#c8284795215390046490

      https://www.google.com/search?q=shill&oq=shill&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.1669j1j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
      Sure thing "Pedro"

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    5. Explain me the difference between the costs consumers pay, directly or indirectly, for other proprietary A/V formats like Dolby, Blu Ray, AAC, MPEG etc. End users are used to this and costs are relatively low.

      I am pleased to notice that flac seems to become the new standard for streaming services and hope that the truly detrimental MP3 and OGG Vorbis codecs will disappear.

      For me and many others, MQA offers more than plain flac and I do believe their claims that it is capable to compensate for the negative influences of brickwall filters used during the recording and mastering of an album. Besides enjoying listening to it, I am studying MQA as well and this has become part of the fun for me as well. I collect articles and publications and have special interest in older publications like this one by the late Julian Dunn from Nanophon (1998):

      "Anti-alias and anti-image filtering:The benefits of 96kHz sampling rate formats for those who cannot hear above 20kHz"
      http://www.nanophon.com/audio/antialia.pdf

      And this one by Mike Story, founder of dCS from 1997:

      "A Suggested Explanation For (Some Of) The Audible Differences Between High Sample Rate And Conventional Sample Rate Audio Material"
      http://sdg-master.com/lesestoff/aes97ny.pdf

      I am searching for answers from another perspective than you do and am still learning a lot.

      Since a few Months I own an streamer DAC which offers 7(!) brickwall filter selections and the MQA filter as well. It proves the audibility of these filters on the spot and since I am not interested to tweak each time again, the MQA filter is a relief (for me) I am also able to compare to 16x DSD and DXD now, so I downloaded all files from the 2L.no testbench and still have lots of listening hours to go through.

      So, let's see where this will all lead to, these discussions keep the spirit and curiosity around and about MQA alive ;-)





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    6. "I do believe their claims "

      Including the BS "Smearing"...hence Peter becomes "Pedro"

      https://www.google.com/search?q=shill&oq=shill&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.1669j1j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

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    7. I decided to reveal my real identity since I have nothing to hide who I am. Interesting to notice that for you and others it is important to hide identities and instead of normal communication, start getting emotional and change the subject by accusing me of doing something wrong here. Your loss mr Soundfield.

      Delete
    8. "I decided to reveal my real identity since..."
      ...you were BUSTED by Mansr.
      You decided to HIDE your identity because:
      https://www.google.com/search?q=shill&oq=shill&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.1669j1j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

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  20. Yes, "we" are so worried....that "you" had to post here on a blog.
    ;-)

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  21. "Just buy a 145,- euro iFi ZEN DAC which plays DXD. DSD, Flac or MQA and compare."
    Part of that 145 euro goes to MQA, hence supporting fraud.

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  22. MQA passed away, MQA RIP and never revive again

    MQA, a solution looking for a problem and not found any...

    Hope DSD goes the same way :)

    My three sentences.

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    Replies
    1. :-)

      I think DSD is dead already as well... Maybe more accurately in some kind of purgatory, awaiting its final disposition. While I'm certainly no big fan of DSD, I'm fine with its coexistance for those who have a preference. At least DSD128 sounds great and doesn't come with it the level of frank BS of MQA!

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  23. I've never had any interest in MQA, as the idea that somehow it captures the original sound better than lossless seems ridiculous depite the MQA psuedo-science blabble. It looks to me like a clever compression technique is about all. (Kind of/sort of applying Dolby's original HF noise reduction method, in reverse, to HF compression instead. Dolby "unfolded" the highs during recording, then "folded" it during playback to reduce tape hiss relative to signal. Seems to me MQA is doing the reverse for the most part). I can understand that whatever signal changes that result may be pleasant to some listeners. If they want to make that claim - fine - why not call it what it is - a Compression/DSP tool? ...Maybe because that wouldn't justify MQA being injected into the music productio and distribution revenue strream?

    re: DSD - would be fine if we all had unlimited drive space (probably the case eventually) AND the recordings were edited and mastered at DSD rez... But these people offering old 16-44's in DSD resolution are ridiculous. As I'm sure you've seen, all you get is the original 22 khz signal with a ton of higher frequency noise added in. I've remastered many of these and they are simply scams. Many of the expensive Esoteric classical reissues are like that. I've seen some where an engineer has "stretched" the signal upward into the 30's to attempt to add some audio value. Whether it does, I don't know - since can't seem to hear past 13khz :) I'm remastering much of my library to get rid of the physical lp's cd's. etc., so high rez is useful until that's done. Keeping 24 bitrate is important since it allows less aggressive dithering after editing and allows re-edits later with less degradation. But once I'm sure an album is finished, where I used to save everything at 24-192, then 24-96, I'm now fine with 24-48 unless there is unusually high freq content in the recording. Because I'm older, I have my 14 year old son, who has great ears, double check my opinions and he hears no diff from 192 to 96, and very rarely from the 96 down to 48. If he can't hear it, I can trust it doesn't exist.

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  24. Also - make sure to check out the gif I posted on your Twitter feed - thought you might enjoy it... https://twitter.com/Opal_Chip/status/1190955775406923776?s=20

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