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Since its inception ten years ago, the Harbeth User Group's ambition has been to create a lasting knowledge archive. Knowledge is based on facts and observations. Knowledge is timeless. Knowledge is human independent and replicatable. However, we live in new world where thanks to social media, 'facts' have become flexible and personal. HUG operates in that real world.

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The truth about high-resolution audio compared with std. CD 44k?

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  • #31
    Digital A/B - but what were we actually comparing?

    It's hardly worthwhile to argue about the merits of the CD format any more since it won't be with us for much longer, save for the Redbook encoding standard of 16 bit / 44100 Hz. As Alan and others have pointed out, the Sony/Philips engineering team did a masterful job of designing a practical and extremely fault tolerant medium along with players that could be produced in large numbers at low cost by unskilled labor. But if you look around the developing world, you'll see that people are finding that streaming music is even cheaper and even more reliable. It takes us from the simple CD mechanism to, well, no mechanism at all once we rid ourselves of mechanical hard drives. Years before the practice became popular here in the West, I started to see taxi drivers in places like Myanmar plugging USB keys into slots on the faceplates of their car stereos. I for one am glad to see CD players disappear from the scene.

    A few months ago, a friend of mine and I set up a little demo for ourselves. We took a pair of MacBook Pros and connected them via S/PDIF (Mac notebooks have optical interfaces integrated into their headphone jacks) to a Bel Canto C5i integrated amplifier, which has dual optical inputs. We queued up the same track on both MacBooks - one was an Apple Lossless rip from Ray Charles' "Genius Loves Company" CD. The other was purchased as a 24bit/88.2kHz file from HD Tracks. We started both Macbooks at the same time, which allowed us to do some A/B tests comparing the two files. We used a pair of Mackie HR624 studio monitors connected to the Bel Canto's preamp output and listened in the nearfield*, around 8 feet from the speakers.

    We each closed our eyes and listened while the other switched inputs on the Bel Canto from one optical input to the other. The only difference we could discern was that the 24/88.2 tracks gave a us a larger mental "picture" of the performance. It was as if, by switching from one track to another, we were switching between two rooms, the 24/88.2 room about 20% larger than the 16/44.1 room.

    Could we hear the difference between 16/44.1 and 24/88.2? Yes, we could discern the difference blindfolded 100% percent of the time, but only when switching between sources.

    Could we walk into the room blindfolded and identify which version of the track was playing? Absolutely not.

    I would like to try this again, eliminating some of the variables. Among them:

    1) Were we listening to the same recording at two different resolutions, or was the 24/88.2 version remastered? Surely the "bigger room" effect we heard could be added in the mastering process.

    2) Was the 24/88.2 version simply and "uprezzed" version of the Redbook track? There have been some scandals surrounding some companies selling "HD" recordings who have been doing just that, though I don't think HDTracks has been involved. In this case, the "bigger room" effect could be a by product of the algorithms used to pad the data.

    3) We did not switch MacBooks. It is possible that variances in manufacturing of the S/PDIF interface or even the particular instance of iTunes on each machine could have introduced the difference. Another possibility is that the MacBook's S/PDIF interface behaves differently at various sample rates.

    4) We did not switch DACs. The Bel Canto was the only DAC that had dual S/PDIF ports and upamples to 24/192. The sound difference we heard could be attributed to the DAC upsampling. I now have a Wyred4Sound DAC2 that I will use to continue these tests at some point.

    Last year, I watched a demo conducted by John Atkinson using some of his own recordings. Without telling us what he was doing, he played the same recordings at a variety of sample rates, ranging from 24/88.2 all the way down to a 128mbps MP3. He played each version and after each (lower resolution) version, asked us if we heard any difference. And guess what? Not a single person in the room detected a difference in the sound!

    Something to think about...

    {Moderator's comment: * listening 8 feet from the speakers cannot be described as 'nearfield', it is 'midfield'.}

    Comment


    • #32
      Comparing two digital recordings side by side

      Originally posted by jplaurel View Post
      ... We each closed our eyes and listened while the other switched inputs on the Bel Canto from one optical input to the other. The only difference we could discern was that the 24/88.2 tracks gave a us a larger mental "picture" of the performance. It was as if, by switching from one track to another, we were switching between two rooms, the 24/88.2 room about 20% larger than the 16/44.1 room....
      Wonderful experiment. I'm fascinated by how well-intentioned audio enthusiasts structure 'comparative tests'. As you say yourself, there are a number of uncontrolled variables which unfortunately leave the results open to interpretation. The most obvious one is that neither you nor I, as ordinary members of the public, have absolutely no awareness of the mysterious process of 'mastering' these recordings. We would be barred from the CD mastering facility. Their tricks and techniques are closely guarded commercial secrets. Their secret business is of increasing the appeal of recorded music. The more they sell the better so 'mastering' is an absolutely crucial step in the commercial process of bringing music from the recording studio to our homes. 'Whatever it takes' is their motto.

      How about these two recordings from last night's live concert of Rachmaninov's 3rd piano concerto. Let me set the scene: "one recording is from the standard low-bit rate feed, the other from the high bit rate feed". Can you hear the difference between them? And how would you describe the sound - especially the 'spaciousness' of the sound of the piano and hall. The volume levels are identical. These are presented here as 196kb 48kHz MP3 = very high quality. Allow time for the players to load (big files).

      Loading the player ...
      SD example

      Loading the player ...
      HD example
      Alan A. Shaw
      Designer, owner
      Harbeth Audio UK

      Comment


      • #33
        Lossless ripping - more cons than pros?

        Originally posted by jplaurel View Post
        Last year, I watched a demo conducted by John Atkinson using some of his own recordings. Without telling us what he was doing, he played the same recordings at a variety of sample rates, ranging from 24/88.2 all the way down to a 128mbps MP3. He played each version and after each (lower resolution) version, asked us if we heard any difference. And guess what? Not a single person in the room detected a difference in the sound!

        Something to think about...

        {Moderator's comment: * listening 8 feet from the speakers cannot be described as 'nearfield', it is 'midfield'.}
        All my CDs are now on a music server, ripped using Apple lossless. For sure to me, the music sounds just the same as when I play the CDs through a well specced SACD player.

        There are three penalties to doing this as compared to AAC at 128 mbps. The larger HDD to carry the files, which isn't such a big factor with costs spiraling down for the memory. Then the price one pays as the battery of the iPod runs down a lot faster when replaying lossless files. For portable listening, that can be a disadvantage. It doesn't matter at home when playing the music from a docked iPod when charging is also happening at the same time as music replay. Third, and most important, for listening via wifi across the home, the uncompressed files demand more of the wifi network than the compressed versions that can sometimes play without interruptions when the uncompressed ones may not.

        Given the above, is lossless ripping an overkill with more cons than pros?

        Comment


        • #34
          Results on cheap PC speakers

          [QUOTE=A.S.;15964]

          (audio clips here, see post #32)

          I haven't got my Harbeth speakers yet (two monthes left for November shipping)... when I listen both recordings through my cheapo computer speakers:

          first recording has (relatively) less bass and more (irritating) treble; lack of dynamics; no spaciousness at all... latter one has made me feel the heaviness of the piano and I could hear the wall limits of the performance hall surprisingly, I didn't know my computer speakers are capable of producing such details.

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          • #35
            Music streaming and lossless

            Originally posted by Kumar Kane View Post
            All my CDs are now on a music server, ripped using Apple lossless. For sure to me, the music sounds just the same as when I play the CDs through a well specced SACD player.
            For a variety of reasons, a music server can actually have superior audio quality. One reason is that a CD transport gets just one chance at sending the bits to the CD player's internal DAC. CRC failures on a damaged CD may result audible interruptions in the sound from a traditional "real time" CD player. Unlike a track ripped by computer, the CD transport cannot go back and re-read a section of data that fails a CRC check and apply an error correction algorithm. With a computer, you may be able to successfully rip a track from a surface-damaged CD that cannot be played properly with a CD player.

            Originally posted by Kumar Kane View Post
            There are three penalties to doing this as compared to AAC at 128 mbps. The larger HDD to carry the files, which isn't such a big factor with costs spiraling down for the memory. Then the price one pays as the battery of the iPod runs down a lot faster when replaying lossless files. For portable listening, that can be a disadvantage. It doesn't matter at home when playing the music from a docked iPod when charging is also happening at the same time as music replay. Third, and most important, for listening via wifi across the home, the uncompressed files demand more of the wifi network than the compressed versions that can sometimes play without interruptions when the uncompressed ones may not.

            Given the above, is lossless ripping an overkill with more cons than pros?
            No, I don't think it's overkill. As you point out, the cost of storage continues to drop. Over 10 years ago, and largely due to storage limitations, I ripped much of my collection at 128mbps. What a waste of time, as I've had to do it all over again. Lesson learned! While Apple Lossless and FLAC are indeed non-lossy formats, they are both compressed and so consume less storage space. The compression does not affect sound quality, since the files are decompressed in real time by the player. Think of lossless compression like a Zip file. When you open that Zip file, there is no loss of "fidelity" in your documents, right?

            We moved to streaming music in our house about a year ago. Once we upgraded our network from a rag-tag assemblage of junk and tangled wires to a more rationalized topology, streaming 16/44.1 lossless files wirelessly has not been a problem. We still have the occasional dropout here and there, and it's worse with 24/96 material, but in the face of the many conveniences offered by the system, it's only a minor annoyance. You can eliminate these minor dropouts completely by hardwiring your streaming device to the network. Better quality wireless routers will also make a big difference.

            There is now an option in iTunes that will convert your lossless music to 128kbps during the sync process. With this option enabled, you can enjoy lossless audio on your computer, while conserving storage space and battery power on your iDevice.

            Comment


            • #36
              Comparison results with my wife as A/B operator

              [QUOTE=A.S.;15964]How about these two recordings from last night's live concert of Rachmaninov's 3rd piano concerto. Let me set the scene: "one recording is from the standard low-bit rate feed, the other from the high bit rate feed". Can you hear the difference between them? And how would you describe the sound - especially the 'spaciousness' of the sound of the piano and hall. The volume levels are identical. These are presented here as 196kb 48kHz MP3 = very high quality. Allow time for the players to load (big files).

              (audio clips here, see earlier post #32)

              I listened to these on my desktop system with the speakers around 76cm from my ears. @HUG-1, that would be near field, right? ;-) To me, the difference in these two files is dramatic and obvious to anyone. It's the same effect I described in my earlier post. On the "HD" file, the sound is more spacious. The hall sounds bigger.

              I just asked my lovely wife to come in and help me with a little test. She clicked randomly on one file or the other 10 times and asked me which was playing, then recorded whether I was correct or incorrect. I scored 9 out of 10 correct. Identifying them by switching A/B was very easy in a single sitting. Interestingly, my incorrect answer was the first, which leads me to ask whether I could have identified the files walking into the room stone cold with a few minutes break between attempts. In that sort of test, I expect my score would not be so good. I'll see if I can get her to help me do that test over the next day or so.

              I still believe that it would be possible to achieve the "larger room" sound of the HD file during the mastering process with a lower bitrate. For all we know, Alan's two recordings may be identical except for some DSP effects.

              Comment


              • #37
                CD transport - a marvel of engineering

                "CD transports are elegantly simple devices. Have you looked inside one? You just can't get simpler than a motor, a spindle and a laser arm and a little processing logic. Would you like us to disassemble one to show you?"

                Thanks, but I've already seen a transport. If your purpose in showing me would be to persuade me; that a mechanism that uses 3 servos (rotational, focus, and tracking), a laser, pickup, and photo detector to read objects that are about 1/100th the size of a human hair; process, extract, and perform error correction on this data, and generate another completely separate bitstream, while maintaining picosecond time domain accuracy throughout; that this is a simple process, I'm afraid that you'd be wasting your time. I've already defined the word "complex" and admitted that far greater complexity exists. The gauge for comparison was the player's DAC; not the Mars Mission or a cassette head. Its not the parts count that accounts for complexity. I'm speaking about the volume of information that is input and output along with the transport's inherent precision, and the fact that this occurs on mechanical, optical, and electronic levels.

                There's little agreement in the audio world as to whether simplicity invariably equates to improved sonics. If I'm not mistaken, Harbeth favors comparably complex crossover designs. Most high end component manufacturers employ highly complicated power supplies with very simple analog circuits.

                Once again, I was not attributing differences in sound quality among CD players specifically to the degree of complexity within the transport. My point was that factors occurring in the generation of a SPDIF bitstream can audibly influence sound quality. Sub-optimal performance in any of the (electronic, mechanical, or optical) functions has the potential to degrade the output. This potential simply doesn't exist in the DAC (functioning only in the electronic domain). I chose to use the word "complex" to speak to the fact that a transport combines these operations. While not incorrect, in any sense, perhaps a better choice of words would be; multifarious, heterogeneous, divergent, or manifold. We are in agreement that the CD transport is a marvel of engineering, so how about if we just leave it at that?

                Comment


                • #38
                  Playing an audio disc rotating at "1 time" 1X as audio CDs do is a pathetically slow data rate of 150,000/bits sec.

                  The 52X CD reader/burner in this PC has a data rate of 500,000/bits sec. Home ADSL broadband is about the same data rate down-stream.

                  A typical home CAT5 network will be 100,000,000 bit/s second or thereabouts and Gigabit networks 10x faster again.

                  In that context reliably reading an audio CD with a conventional laser head and motor transport is a very low technology trivial matter indeed.

                  Comment


                  • #39
                    Verifying CD data rate?

                    "Playing an audio disc rotating at "1 time" 1X as audio CDs do is a pathetically slow data rate of 150,000/bits sec"

                    I think you might have your books confused. The bitrate for Redbook CD is: (44,100 samples/sec.) x (16 bit samples) x (2 channels) = 1,411,200 bits/sec. You are citing a Wikipedia article that is talking about the Yellow Book standard for CD-ROM; indeed apples and, er, lemons. Reading directly from Ken Pohlmann's "Principles of Digital Audio", "CD-Audio is a specific application of compact disc technology; it is a standard for recording PCM audio. The CD-ROM standard is derived from the CD-Audio standard, but defines a format for general data storage." (Pohlmann, 2008, pp.276) CD-ROM/XA (eXtended Architecture) is the most efficient Yellow Book format. It has a bitrate of 1.4Mbps, the same as Redbook.
                    It is important to recognize that the 1.4Mbps data rate for CD refers to the SPDIF output of a transport. The EFM coding that actually appears on the disc itself is read at 4.3218Mbps. We have to allow for the subcode, modulation, TOC data, and clock synchronization information. So, if you want to get caught up in numbers, this is well over 4 times the data rate of your CAT5 network!

                    Comment


                    • #40
                      More on BitRate?

                      Originally posted by Diminish View Post
                      "Playing an audio disc rotating at "1 time" 1X as audio CDs do is a pathetically slow data rate of 150,000/bits sec"

                      I think you might have your books confused. The bitrate for Redbook CD is: (44,100 samples/sec.) x (16 bit samples) x (2 channels) = 1,411,200 bits/sec. You are citing a Wikipedia article that is talking about the Yellow Book standard for CD-ROM; indeed apples and, er, lemons. Reading directly from Ken Pohlmann's "Principles of Digital Audio", "CD-Audio is a specific application of compact disc technology; it is a standard for recording PCM audio. The CD-ROM standard is derived from the CD-Audio standard, but defines a format for general data storage." (Pohlmann, 2008, pp.276) CD-ROM/XA (eXtended Architecture) is the most efficient Yellow Book format. It has a bitrate of 1.4Mbps, the same as Redbook.
                      It is important to recognize that the 1.4Mbps data rate for CD refers to the SPDIF output of a transport. The EFM coding that actually appears on the disc itself is read at 4.3218Mbps. We have to allow for the subcode, modulation, TOC data, and clock synchronization information. So, if you want to get caught up in numbers, this is well over 4 times the data rate of your CAT5 network!
                      CD transfer rate is 1200kb/s or 150kB/s or 0.14MB/s.
                      10base Ethernet in the 80s was at 1.25MB/s.
                      Fast Ethernet in 1995 was at 12.5MB/s.

                      Diminish, I have the earlier edition of Pohlmann but unable to find the info about 4.3218Mbps for EFM coding.

                      ST

                      Comment


                      • #41
                        Bits or bytes?

                        @ STHLS5: "Diminish, I have the earlier edition of Pohlmann but unable to find the info about 4.3218Mbps for EFM coding."

                        C'mon, I'm not making this stuff up! One place it can be found is in the chapter entitled "The Compact Disc", p.244 in the 4th Edition. "Each audio disc stores a stereo audio signal comprised of two 16 bit words sampled at 44.1 kHz; thus 1.4 million bits / second of audio data are output from the player. Other data overhead such as error correction, synchronization, and modulation are required. Altogether the channel bit rate, the rate at which data is read from the disc, is 4.3218Mbps."

                        The figures given by HUG-1 simply were not correct. The 150,000 Bps figure for CD ROM is in Bytes (not bits) per second. Internet connections as well as CD players are concerned with bits per second. More notably, the Yellow Book standards for CD ROM are not particularly relevant to a discussion on Redbook vs. hi-res audio.

                        Comment


                        • #42
                          Cat5 v. CD data rate?

                          Originally posted by Diminish View Post
                          @ STHLS5: "Diminish, I have the earlier edition of Pohlmann but unable to find the info about 4.3218Mbps for EFM coding."

                          C'mon, I'm not making this stuff up!..
                          ...
                          Thanks. I found it. It was never my intention to suggest you are making up those figures.

                          You mentioned earlier “ the disc itself is read at 4.3218Mbps............this is well over 4 times the data rate of CAT5 network”. I am only interested to that statement and not about the general discussion about CD vs Hi-Rez.

                          In the wikipedia (Redbook standards) it is stated that the raw bitrate at optical pick up is 4.3218Mbps but it is not exposed to the application reading the disc. The actual data read is 2048 bytes per sector x 75 sectors per second = 150KiBytes/s (1228.8 kbit/s).

                          Even if we agree that the transport reads 4.3128Mbps, it is still about 0.54MB/s which is far below than the earlier 10base Ethernet capabilities. So how can it be over 4 times the data rate of CAT5 network?

                          (Note: 8 bits (b)= 1 byte(B))

                          ST

                          Comment


                          • #43
                            Data rates, Redbook and iTrax recordings

                            @ ST "In the wikipedia (Redbook standards) it is stated that the raw bitrate at optical pick up is 4.3218Mbps but it is not exposed to the application reading the disc. The actual data read is 2048 bytes per sector x 75 sectors per second = 150KiBytes/s (1228.8 kbit/s)."

                            I'm not sure what you mean by the distinction "not exposed to the application reading the disc". The optical pickup is what reads the disc, correct? If you intend the DAC section as the "application reading" the data and define the data to be read as the SPDIF audio stream, I agree completely. I've said several times now that the transport is concerned with much larger amounts of data than the DAC section. This, along with the fact that this process exists in mechanical, optical, and electronic domains, represents the entire basis for my argument. Your Wikipedia article says "By comparison the bit rate of a "1x" data CD is defined as ... (1228.8 kbits/s)" The 150KBytes/sec. figure was also for the data CD. So, the difference is that the data CD has a slightly slower data rate (1411.2kbit/s versus 1228.8kbit/s), so what?

                            Now, in terms of the comparision to networking. I misread HUG-1's 1,000,000,000 bits/s figure, and regarded it at 1,000,000 bit/s. Since large bit / byte rates are normally given with Kilo or Mega prefixes, I misinterpreted his unit by a factor of 10 which lead to an improper conclusion. I was completely wrong in the statement that a CD transport's data rate exceeds that of such a network, however, I don't see where this nullifies my baseline contention.

                            One major difference between a modem and a CD player is the importance of timing. For accurate playback, not only must the DAC decode the correct value, but it must do this at precisely the right time. Any deviation from this is known as "clock jitter". This is a difficult thing to measure because the time intervals are so minuscule. There are also different types of jitter (random and deterministic are two types) with deterministic jitter being the more sonically detrimental. Disparities in the pico second rage (1/1000000000000 of a second) can be audible.

                            Internet protocol involves data being sent in discrete packets where timing is much less crucial. Another reason why this is not a fair comparison is the method of data transfer. CAT5 cables carry parallel data where bytes of data can be transferred through many different paths. Generally speaking, the more channels available for transmitting data, the faster the transfer and greater the throughput. The SPDIF specification is for serial transfer over a 75 Ohm coax.

                            I am not and was not contending that a CD transport represents the largest, or fastest method of data transfer. Neither am I saying that it is state of the art in 2011. One has only to look at a Blueray mechanism to see far greater data capabilities. For the last time, the point was that; due to the potential for errors in the mechanical, electrical, and optical domains and the higher data rate present in the pickup, that a transport would have more potential to effect the overall sound quality than the player's DAC. I don't know that there's much to be gained in exploring it any further.

                            Personally, I would much rather resume the conversation about Redbook vs. Hi-Res. Along those lines, I purchased some tracks from AIX Records (iTrax) yesterday and was very impressed with the quality of sound of the Jazz and Folk tracks. I also got 6 tracks from their Classical catalog, but I was somewhat less than impressed by these.
                            All of the tracks were 24 bit 96kHz Hi-Res. LPCM. I bought them as WMA Lossless files, but its also possible to buy the entire CD Audio files. You can get them in 2 channel or 5.1 surround from a Stage or Audience perspective. I only concern myself with 2 channel. I converted the WMA's to FLAC to be consistent with the rest of my Library. Prior to deleting the WMA's, I listened for differences in the FLAC files and heard absolute nothing. I also burned a CD copy which effectively "downsamples" them to Redbook. In order to do a comparison, I have to listen to the Hi-Res. from my computer, and compare that to the 16/44 from my transport through the same DAC. I could downsample in JRMC or rip the CD's back into the Library for a closer comparison, but I think that the above method is sufficient.

                            You could argue that the JRMC software is imposing a sonic characteristic during encoding, decoding, importing, burning. Using my CD player as a transport would certainly allow for some differences. I use a Sonicweld Diverter 24/96 USB>SDIF converter for computer playback. This is a high quality device that may well yeild a better (less jittery) SPDIF output than my Marantz R15S2. That notwithstanding, the sound is quite good on the Jazz and Folk tracks through CD or JRMC. I hear the same drawbacks to the Classical tracks through either medium, but the Clarinet's texture becomes a bit harder on CD. The soundstage is a bit better defined on the Hi-Res. material and perhaps a bit deeper. Comparing from memory, in a broad sense, I would say that the sound offered by the best of the AIX tracks exceeds the best I've heard from CD.

                            {Moderator's comment: noted about the hires tracks and Alan's demonstration recently of 'spaciousness'. What did you make of that demo?}

                            Comment


                            • #44
                              Redbook again

                              Originally posted by STHLS5 View Post

                              In the wikipedia (Redbook standards) it is stated that the raw bitrate at optical pick up is 4.3218Mbps but it is not exposed to the application reading the disc. The actual data read is 2048 bytes per sector x 75 sectors per second = 150KiBytes/s (1228.8 kbit/s).

                              ST
                              Actually, according to the Wikipedia article you cite, the 2048 bytes per sector figure is for a data CD (CR-ROM). The figure for an audio CD - which I think is what this discussion is about - is 2352 bytes per sector. The 75 sectors per second figure is the same.

                              Comment


                              • #45
                                Didn't realise I was listening to MP3

                                Hi Diminish, thanks for clearing up the confusion. Please carry on with the discussion about Hi-Rez but I have reached a point that my ears only good enough for CDs only. Though, I prefer to buy SACD, XRCD, HQ etc etc I believe their superiority is in recording or mastering techniques and not in the format. I am even contended with MP3 nowadays after realizing some oldies that I was listening were actually in MP3 and I didn't even realize that.

                                I just learned how to use my laptop as a music server using the ONkyo NDS-1 as an interface to my legacy DAC Theta Digital GenIII and my young children didn't even notice any difference until I began side by side comparison. And speaking of hi-Rez, it is only recently I found out my SACD Marantz Reference SA11S2 is using the the good old 44.1kHz 16 bit to play Cd. Even though, the industry standard for most high end player is 24bit and 196khz DAC, Marantz engineers thought it was okay to stick to the old 16bit/44.1Khz and it was positively reviewed by Stereophile.

                                Originally posted by EricW View Post
                                Actually, according to the Wikipedia article you cite, the 2048 bytes per sector figure is for a data CD (CR-ROM). The figure for an audio CD - which I think is what this discussion is about - is 2352 bytes per sector. The 75 sectors per second figure is the same.
                                Yes, you are correct but the 256 bytes of CRC and another extra 48 bytes do not contain any data. So technically only 2048 is important for the discussion above in regards to data transferred.

                                I am no expert in digital audio so any further arguments by us about what is the actual data stored, read or transferred would be like the story of the blind men and the elephant.

                                ST.

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