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  1. #1
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    CD WAV vs. HDTracks WAV Blind Test

    ...and the winner? You'll need to scroll down!

    Background: after decades of owning progressively-better rigs, two weeks ago I "maxed out" the stereo in my main listening room, our carpeted 19 foot x 28 foot basement recreation room. As in, I don't believe I will ever own finer equipment in this lifetime. It starts with a dedicated ReadyNAS Pro 2 box with a fast HDD in the server closet whose sole purpose in life is to host LMS and about 8,300 uncompressed WAV CD rips for the five Squeezeboxes strategically positioned throughout our house, all wired in-wall CAT6. For this room the player is an SB3 Classic, AudioQuest Carbon digital coax cable to a Yamaha Aventage RX-A3060 receiver (Yamaha's current flagship AV receiver), a pair of Klipsch RP-280 dual-8" towers (62 pounds weight each--cherry finish, of course), Klipsch R-112SW sub crossed over at 60 Hz so the towers will handle bass guitar, the sub is more or less just for bass drum. I use analog outputs in the rest of the house but this Yamaha has a superb DAC that trumps the SB3, so I'm using digital outputs in this room.

    Although the sound was like nothing I have ever heard, in a way I was sad that now I had nothing to shoot for. It doesn't get any better than this. Now what?

    Oh wait! I had heard about those fancy 96 KHz / 24-bit recordings. Let's find something new to blow money on!

    So I headed over to www.HDTracks.com, whipped out the credit card, and was soon the proud owner of some 96/24 and 48/24 versions of some CD's I already had in 44/16 WAV. This must be it! If anyone can hear a difference, I'm sure I will on this stereo in this room!

    First test: classic 70's Black Sabbath. I own the "Black Box" CD set of all 8 original Sabbath albums, remastered in 2004 with the mixing personally overseen by Sharon Osbourne (Ozzy's wife), and was sure that the HD version must have used this same recording as its source. WRONG! The HD versions were just higher-bitrate rips of some older garbage mud recording. It sounded AWFUL. Waste of $120 for the whole set.

    Second test: an album that has never been remastered, to rule out the quality of the mixing. Surely a newer album would rule out the risk of the remaster dictating the music quality rather than the bitrate and sample frequency since that’s what I was testing. I chose “Linkin Park - In The End”. I made a playlist with just the CD 44/16 and HD 48/24 tracks, hit play, and hit fast forward about 25 times. I had no idea which file was which. Listen to the first 20 seconds. Fast forward. Listen to the first 20 seconds. Fast forward again. Repeat. Elongate sample length. Repeat about 20 times. Finally choose a winner.

    Repeat Test 2 for "Disturbed - Overburdened" 96/24 and "Disturbed - Land Of Confusion" 96/24 (in an adjacent room using a Touch).

    Results? 3-0 in favor of... CD.

    They were incredibly close. Differences could entirely have been in my head, but for some reason I sensed something better about each of the tracks. Then I looked at the track properties to find out which one it was that I preferred. Statistically I should have seen a more even distribution, and probably should have done more tests, but 3-0 was a strong margin in my mind.

    Final verdict? Three lessons learned:

    1. Don't assume that just because a recording is HD that uses a good master. We are still at the mercy of remastering studios and their whims of either doing a poor job or of calling it "remastered" when all they did is blast the volume so every track is clipping.

    2. For newer albums, I can't tell a difference. Except an HD album sucks up 1.81 GB of hard drive space whereas the CD WAV takes up 569 MB. So the HD version is 3.26 times bigger.

    3. There is a possibility that some bands will release remasters on HD but not release them on CD. I have not found this to be the case but it happens with Blu-ray all the time (where the DVD version stinks but the Blu-ray is gorgeous and sounds great.) But do your research very carefully before assuming this is the case.

    HD Audio... a great triumph of marketing over engineering. Oh wait, it flopped, it wasn't a triumph of marketing after all. Maybe this is why SACD and DVD-Audio are dead.

    So now I feel better about my 25 years’ worth of accumulated CD rips. CD truly is as good as it gets! It’s as if those thousands of audio engineers at Sony and Phillips in the late 70’s and early 80’s actually thought this through when they invented the CD Digital Audio format.

    EDIT: I initially oversimplified this story (this post was getting too long). I performed the 96/24 tests in another room using a Touch with analog outputs that went to a Yamaha RS-700 amp with Klipsch bookshelves and stereo DefTech subs. Same results. Sorry for any confusion I may have caused by initially implying that the SB3 plays 96k sample rate files. It says "unsupported sample rate" when you hit play, something I didn't bother mentioning initially.
    Last edited by Agent Smith; 2017-03-02 at 09:10.

  2. #2
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    They didn't think it through at all. Where was the copy protection?!
    --
    Hardware: 3x Touch, 1x Radio, 2x Receivers, 1 HP Microserver NAS with Debian+LMS 7.9.0
    Music: ~1300 CDs, as 450 GB of 16/44k FLACs. No less than 3x 24/44k albums..

  3. #3
    Senior Member Fahzz's Avatar
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    Obviously you need to upgrade your cables and speaker wire! Check out the audiophile forum for how to spend the most money to do that. LOL
    Living Room: Squeezebox v3 (Wired), Pioneer Elite VSX 80, KEF LS50, Paradigm SE center, SVS SB12-NSD Subwoofer, Paradigm Atom Monitor v.5 surrounds
    w/ Harmony 650 Smart Remote
    Dining Room: KEF Q100
    Anywhere Else As Needed: Boom
    Router: Asus RT-N56U
    Server: LMS Version 7.9, Dell Laptop, Windows 10 Home

  4. #4
    Senior Member Apesbrain's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Agent Smith View Post
    Repeat Test 2 for "Disturbed - Overburdened" 96/24 and "Disturbed - Land Of Confusion" 96/24.
    If you're playing through a SB3/Classic, be aware it maxes out at 24/48.

    Quote Originally Posted by Agent Smith View Post
    Don't assume that just because a recording is HD that uses a good master. We are still at the mercy of remastering studios and their whims of either doing a poor job or of calling it "remastered" when all they did is blast the volume so every track is clipping.
    Very true and just about everything I've ripped that says "remastered" on the label has squashed dynamic range.

    Quote Originally Posted by Agent Smith View Post
    So now I feel better about my 25 years’ worth of accumulated CD rips.
    That's good and I'm not saying you're wrong, but see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fahzz View Post
    Obviously you need to upgrade your cables and speaker wire! Check out the audiophile forum for how to spend the most money to do that. LOL
    And don't forget to install all new unidirectional-copper AC wiring, all the way out to the utility pole!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Apesbrain View Post
    If you're playing through a SB3/Classic, be aware it maxes out at 24/48.
    Yeah, sorry about that, I oversimplified the story a bit because my post was just getting too long. I did the 96k tests in an adjacent room using a Touch. Didn't mean to cause any confusion there, my apologies.
    Last edited by Agent Smith; 2017-03-02 at 09:08.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Mnyb's Avatar
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    Other tidbits.

    There are in many cases not the same masters HD vs CD ( compare Apples and oranges ) and as you said, it's a toss up which ones the better

    Most recordings ever made are intrisinicly not better than the CD system anyway i.e. Noise frequency response distortion etc.
    Whatever fidelity the record has is well cointained in 16/44.1 more just gives you a bigger bucket .

    So selling rock records from the 70's as hirez yeah
    --------------------------------------------------------------------
    Main hifi: Touch + CIA PS +MeridianG68J MeridianHD621 MeridianG98DH 2 x MeridianDSP5200 MeridianDSP5200HC 2 xMeridianDSP3100 +Rel Stadium 3 sub.
    Bedroom/Office: Boom
    Kitchen: Touch + powered Fostex PM0.4
    Misc use: Radio (with battery)
    iPad1 with iPengHD & SqueezePad
    (spares Touch, SB3, reciever ,controller )
    server HP proliant micro server N36L with ClearOS Linux

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

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mnyb View Post
    So selling rock records from the 70's as hirez yeah
    Great point. Pretending that stuff needs 96/24+ digital resolution is either stupid or duplicitous. Doubly so after they do a "loudness wars" conversion to bring it up to "modern standards".

  9. #9
    Senior Member wortgefecht's Avatar
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    I stopped reading after the words bass and guitar ... ;-)

    Gesendet von meinem Nexus 6 mit Tapatalk
    Current setup:
    • EEEBox, Xubuntu 14.04, LMS 7.9, FLAC
    • Duet > Pro-Ject DAC Box E > AKG Hearo 888 Titan (home office), Boom + Canton ASF 75 SC (master bedroom), Boom (master bathroom), 2 Radios (guest bathroom and garden deck), RPi3 + LibreELEC + XSqueeze > Samsung TV > NAD L53 > Mission 2.1 speakers (living room)
    • Transporter > vintage Wega Modul 42V amp (42E equalizer, 42T tape deck + Thorens TD 160 Mk II turntable) > Quadral Vulkan Mk II (music room)

  10. #10
    Senior Member Archimago's Avatar
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    "It’s as if those thousands of audio engineers at Sony and Phillips in the late 70’s and early 80’s actually thought this through when they invented the CD Digital Audio format."

    Apparently the human ear/brain didn't evolve much over the last few decades .

    Good job testing. I wish the old shills writing in audiophile magazines would try something like this out and be honest about it.
    Archimago's Musings: (archimago.blogspot.com) A 'more objective' audiophile blog.

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