How Well Can You Hear Audio Quality?

snappy

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Pibroch

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I think most of the recordings were very poor quality to begin with or of music where sound quality is unlikely to matter. That test is basically a complete waste of time, apart from an example of how not to do such a test.
 

hsosdrum

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A valid test for this can't be done over the Internet — too much audio tomfoolery is possible. If you have DAW software you should be able to output a mixdown of a recording in MP3 format at a variety of bitrates. Doing this, I've found that MP3s at 256kbps can be difficult to tell from a WAVE file, depending on the program material. (The more dynamic and spacious the program the easier it is to tell the MP3 from the WAVE file. 320kbps MP3s are pretty much impossible to tell from a WAVE file.

I make all my native drum recordings in 24-bit/96kHz format, and those are relatively easy to tell from even a 320kbps MP3. But again, it depends on the program material. A CD that's been mastered with lots of compression so that all of it sounds LOUD doesn't stress the MP3 algorithm in ways that will expose its weaknesses. A good recording of a snare drum solo with lots of dynamics can be very good program material to use. Or a good recording of a piano. (BTW, making a good recording of an acoustic piano is exceedingly difficult for a variety of reasons.)
 

Barden

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Some of the clips lended themselves much easier to identify the uncompressed audio.

The two artifacts that I listen for are "crispness" in high frequency content like sibilance, cymbals, and such and dynamic range. When a background part comes in it sounds louder and closer to the foreground part.

For the clips where I heard a difference in "crispness" I got it right. For the clips where I heard a difference in dynamic range I got it opposite.

That was listening through this dac on shure e5.
 

k_50

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From my internet connection, to my laptop's hardware, to my headphones, and god knows what else in-between, it's pretty much a guessing game.
I do, however, hear a difference between a vinyl, and a (not remastered) CD version of the same album. And I tend to prefer vinyl. To my ears (and through my system) it has a warmer, more engaging sound.
 

hsosdrum

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From my internet connection, to my laptop's hardware, to my headphones, and god knows what else in-between, it's pretty much a guessing game.
I do, however, hear a difference between a vinyl, and a (not remastered) CD version of the same album. And I tend to prefer vinyl. To my ears (and through my system) it has a warmer, more engaging sound.
If you're listening to CDs of albums that were originally mastered for vinyl, naturally they'll sound better on vinyl since that was the mastering engineer's goal — he had to employ mastering techniques that would put the music within vinyl's deficiencies.

If the record isn't re-mastered for CD the format's more extended high-frequency response, much wider dynamic range and much lower noise floor expose those vinyl mastering techniques (dynamic limiting & compression, reduction of bass extension, high-frequency rolloff), and they make for a pretty lousy-sounding CD. But CDs that are re-mastered without the limitations imposed by the vinyl format can sound much better than their vinyl counterparts; indeed they will sound much closer to the original studio master tape than the vinyl record will. And the original studio master tape is the work of art the artist created, so it makes sense to want a copy to sound as close to it as possible.
 

drumgadget

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The answer to this endless question depends entirely on WHAT you are listening to and WHY you are listening. If you are a musician, trying to learn a tune ...... the micro-fidelity of the sound is really irrelevant. My opinion, of course ....... and subject to the usual caveats (how bad is bad?).

But, if you are an experienced listener, with plenty of time to lie back in the sweet spot of your speaker array - it is really interesting to compare recordings and their quality. This cuts across all genres: rock, pop, jazz, classical; the number of factors that influence the sound you actually hear is pretty large. The size and nature of the recording space, the choice and placement of the mics, the skill of the recordist ..... to name a few. And of course, the quality of your reproduction system ........ ! Just to take one parameter that touches especially on pop music: the use of compression and limiting and the "stuffing" of tracks to make them louder. Amazing to run a playlist of old and new pop recordings ...... just try to NOT touch the master volume control ........

Mike
 

dcrigger

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IMO lots of material sounds perfectly fine at 128 - but lots of stuff really doesn't. For me, I rarely find any difference between CD quality - 16bit/44.1k and mp3's at 320bps. I always find that a subtle difference. But 128 - again depends on the material... some stuff can sound fine... other stuff just awful.

My results on the test - was I guessed either the 320 or the uncompressed 4 out of 6. I picked the 128 as best 2 times - once I was surprised (the classical piece), the other I wasn't because the Jay Z track was so stylized sonically I couldn't discern one as being "better" than the other - or even different.

As far as the legitimacy of a test like this over the internet - I don't see a big problem. YouTube can output 360p and 720p videos files and I can easily see the quality difference. Sending out uncompressed audio is a piece of cake by comparison.
 

bellbrass

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A valid test for this can't be done over the Internet — too much audio tomfoolery is possible. If you have DAW software you should be able to output a mixdown of a recording in MP3 format at a variety of bitrates. Doing this, I've found that MP3s at 256kbps can be difficult to tell from a WAVE file, depending on the program material. (The more dynamic and spacious the program the easier it is to tell the MP3 from the WAVE file. 320kbps MP3s are pretty much impossible to tell from a WAVE file.
Yes, I agree very much with this, and it's just the beginning. This is why I don't stream - I tried it for exactly 1 month, and found the audio quality to be all over the place.
This is also where zillions of comments from zillions of people can muddy everything. One person says, "There's no difference in sound quality", while listening on their phone with $8 earbuds. Another says, "I can hear the difference easily." It's like buying a car and stating "This car gets bad gas mileage." Well....there are many factors that weigh into gas mileage....same with sound quality.
Quality of sound source (lossy mp3 vs 256k mp3 vs 16/44 lossless, uncompressed, etc.)
Quality of electronics (phone with low-quality music player vs high-quality mp3 player vs $3000 audio system vs $20,000 audio system, etc.)
Added sound enhancements that actually reduce sound quality (Mega Bass, sound-level attenuation, etc.)
Quality of speakers (portable radio speaker vs decent Bluetooth speaker vs good wired speakers vs high-end wired speakers)

And many more factors that seriously affect "sound quality". People never want to write, "I listened to your awesome sound file, but it sounded lousy, because I have lousy equipment and processing."
 
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bellbrass

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If you're listening to CDs of albums that were originally mastered for vinyl, naturally they'll sound better on vinyl since that was the mastering engineer's goal — he had to employ mastering techniques that would put the music within vinyl's deficiencies.

If the record isn't re-mastered for CD the format's more extended high-frequency response, much wider dynamic range and much lower noise floor expose those vinyl mastering techniques (dynamic limiting & compression, reduction of bass extension, high-frequency rolloff), and they make for a pretty lousy-sounding CD. But CDs that are re-mastered without the limitations imposed by the vinyl format can sound much better than their vinyl counterparts; indeed they will sound much closer to the original studio master tape than the vinyl record will. And the original studio master tape is the work of art the artist created, so it makes sense to want a copy to sound as close to it as possible.
This is 100% true, and for further reading (for those who don't know): RIAA Curve
 

avedisschwinn

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I got half correct. I listened to a few seconds and just did a gut check. Headphones from computer
 

avedisschwinn

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This is 100% true, and for further reading (for those who don't know): RIAA Curve
If you're listening to CDs of albums that were originally mastered for vinyl, naturally they'll sound better on vinyl since that was the mastering engineer's goal — he had to employ mastering techniques that would put the music within vinyl's deficiencies.

If the record isn't re-mastered for CD the format's more extended high-frequency response, much wider dynamic range and much lower noise floor expose those vinyl mastering techniques (dynamic limiting & compression, reduction of bass extension, high-frequency rolloff), and they make for a pretty lousy-sounding CD. But CDs that are re-mastered without the limitations imposed by the vinyl format can sound much better than their vinyl counterparts; indeed they will sound much closer to the original studio master tape than the vinyl record will. And the original studio master tape is the work of art the artist created, so it makes sense to want a copy to sound as close to it as possible.
I was in the high-end home a/v business in the mid 80's. I was told that so many CD's sounded "harsh" was because 1) The remastering engineer wasn't used to adjusting for the difference in frequency response. 2) The re-mastering engineer was doing a LOT of coke which attenuated his high frequency hearing. That was the 80's! It helped give digital a bad name.
 

snappy

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The reason I posted was because of this video I saw.
I tried to upload it right away with the NPR test but after numerous attempts I was unable.
Today the YouTube link worked.
Rick has someone take the test.
- she has a degree in music production from Berklee
-has perfect pitch
-can hear a sine wave up to 18.1 kHz
 
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tbird8450

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In my experience, the method (and effort) put into a given recording / audio rip matters far more than raw bitrate / depth. Once you've essentially equalized the former, sure, there is a small amount of runway left where higher quality recordings can be noticeable to a discerning ear, particularly if you're comparing against 128 and...below (eww). But, in most cases, it's far less important.

The most disappointing thing that happened when I invested in some nicer stereo gear and speakers was that it instantly made half of my music collection sound like hot garbage, and that includes a fair amount of high-bitrate, "lossless" recordings. Even YouTube "audiophile" videos sound better than some of these. Of course, when I do spin up the more pristine recordings - wow. As someone eluded to above, a rare, high quality acoustic piano piece played on a quality system can provide a surprisingly deep emotional experience. The mediocre ones can make you cringe. It's definitely both a rewarding and frustrating hobby.
 

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Most tests I've seen have too few listening samples to accurately determine if someone can in fact tell the difference between two choices. Let's say there are 10 different pairings. Random chance is 50/50. But flip a coin 10 times. If you guessed right 7 times, that doesn't mean you are able to guess a coin flip 70% of the time. It just means you haven't guessed enough coin flips for the results to return to the mean of 50%.
 

Deafmoon

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Hu?



After 50 years of playing, I'm deaf in one ear and can't hear crap out of the other
I spent years in the club scene with the Hard Rock Band Teaser back in the 70's/80's. We pushed a Tri-amped Sound System of 2400 watts, so volume has taken a toll on my ears. But, most of my listening today is through my Apple Desktop through Audio Engine Desktop speakers at a low to medium volume and I am just thankful I don't have tinnitus.
 


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