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Audiophiles & the Masses Deserve the Best Quality

Whether or not someone can hear the differences between 16/44 files and 24/192 files, audio hobbyists and music lovers still have the right to purchase the highest-quality audio files.


Robert Archer · April 11, 2012

It’s like shooting fish in a barrel I suppose. In many cases it’s understandable why the audio production industry dismisses so-called audiophiles’ listening methods as unproven and their equipment choices as expensive hyperbole, and why the general public mocks their behavior as dorky fanaticism.

It is unfair, however, that they have been criticized for their desire for something that we all should want: The best sounding recordings.

A recently published article on a think tank type of website asserts that high-resolution audio files offer no discernible improvement in performance, and that audiophiles aren’t capable of hearing any difference between CD quality (16-bit/44kHz) files and 24-bit/192kHz files.

The author of this essay “Monty” on the website Xiph.org attempts through the use of a number of scientific papers to build a case that there are no such thing as “golden ears.” Then he systematically breaks down 44kHz sampling rates versus higher sampling rates, as well as 16-bit word length files versus 24-bit word lengths.

His conclusion as I alluded to earlier is that consumers, which include audiophiles, don’t need high-resolution files and that the best way to improve the listening experience is to buy better headphones and to use lossless audio formats. Taking it a step further, he adds buying high-resolution files doesn’t solve anything because there was never a problem with CD quality audio file levels, and those who promote high-resolution files are “scamming” people.

There are a number of flaws with “Monty’s” assertion that people don’t need high-resolution files, beyond the fact that if people want to buy them they should be allowed to. For instance, his point that they are large files is irrelevant because hard-drive space is cheap today. Storing these files is no longer an issue with external drives well below $100, NAS drives priced incrementally higher at approximately $125 for 1TB and cloud computing with nominal subscription fees.

My biggest gripe with this paper is that he makes no attempt to interview anyone from the Audio Engineering Society (AES) or any professional engineers or musicians. Every piece of data he offers to support his point is scientific theory that really has no basis in the real world—they are nothing but whitepapers.

The one test he does use from the Boston Audio Society (BAS), which tested trained and untrained listeners, found that just over 49 percent of those who participated said they could not find a difference between high-resolution music played from DVD-Audio and SACDs, and CDs. The problem with this test is that if he can conclude that participants were simply guessing, I can state that the 49.8 percent who could identify the differences in music were the trained listeners and that this listening test doesn’t prove a thing. I’ve always stated that audiophiles need to take ear training classes to validate their hobby and the BAS’ test does nothing to disprove my stance.

I could be wrong though, maybe “Monty” the New Englander did contact an expert like fellow New Englander Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering or perhaps he spoke to some music professors at the Berklee School of Music, New England Conservatory (NEC) or the University of Massachusetts Lowell and didn’t get the answers he wanted.

The way I think of it is kind of like the world of exotic cars. If a consumer has enough money to afford a Corvette, Ferrari or Lamborghini, all the power to them; I hope they enjoy their purchase. Most likely these owners will never drive on Germany’s Autobahn never mind fly down Interstate 95 at a 150 mph in these vehicles, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed to buy them. Maybe a few of these car owners take driving courses to have a little back road fun with them ... but even if they buy them to pick up girls, who cares, it’s their money.

Following the same rationale, there’s no harm with consumers buying these high-resolution audio files. Consumers don’t have to have the listening skills of Alan Parsons, Bob Ludwig or Steve Vai. There is nothing wrong with wanting the best possible quality available, even if they can’t totally comprehend the full benefit of the technology, might not have the highest-quality gear to play back the files, or if the advantages are just theoretical.



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  About the Author

Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons in Haverhill, Mass. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Robert at robert.archer@emeraldexpo.com

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  Article Topics


Blogs · 24-bit192kHz · Alan Parsons · Audiophile · Gateway Mastering · All Topics
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