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Thread: How important are high resolution digital formats in the final in-room sound?

  1. #1
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    Question How important are high resolution digital formats in the final in-room sound?

    There are a few high resolution digital formats around that could have or maybe should have displaced compact disc as the format of choice for digitally-stored music. DVD-Audio, SACD, 24/96 DVD-Video, Blu-Ray with 24/192 LPCM, 24 bit downloads and probably more.

    Given the overwhelming importance of the speakers and room in defining the overall quality of reproduction, how much can these formats really contribute? What is possible?

    Many here are sure that their modestly-priced CD players are more or less as good as it gets - you do not even need an expensive CD player, let alone a SACD player to get near the top of fidelity and musical enjoyment.

    I have been 'downgrading' my system lately - selling my 12000 Nagra CD player and temporarily replacing it with a 400 Cambridge Audio BD650 universal player (CD,SACD,DVD-A,BD,DVD-V). In all honesty the difference between them is less than between my two pairs of standmount speakers (ProAc TR8 and Stirling Broadcast LS3/5a) that are only 400 apart...

    What is the rational, sensible approach here and what are people's experiences?

    Do your Harbeths maximise the 'benefits' of the high resolution formats or do you find them to be insignificant to your listening pleasure?

  2. #2
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    There's a danger of cause identification inaccuracy here. For example, my player plays CD (low res) and SACD (high res). SACDs sound better. However I have no way of knowing whether that's down to the resolution; it could be anything. Higher dynamic range, the fact that SACD low-pass filtering is easier for the player to handle than CD, possibly lower jitter from SACD, etc. Good question, though.
    Ben from UK. Harbeth P3ESR owner.

  3. #3
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    I have an all digital front end, and have listened to all the formats listed except the 24/192. Those are currently available for download on HD Tracks, but my USB Link won't handle the sample rate. My Harbeth M-30's are extremely revealing and, therefore, rather intolerant of a bad recording. Recoding quality, however, is not entirely defined by bit depth and sample frequency. In general, the higher the bit rate, the more information being transfered into the analog conversion process. That being said, I have heard 120kbs mp3 streams that sound better than some of my SACD's. SACD's recorded in DSD, overall, give the best sound, with 24/96 "hi-res" downloads coming in second. CD audio quality data (16 bit / 44kHz) can sound very good; in some instances its hard to tell whether I'm listening to the CD or SACD layer of a good recording. There is a bit more "air" on the top end, longer re-verb. trails, no pre-ringing, and instruments are better separated and more distinct. I am very interested in experiencing the HRx 24/176 files from Reference Recordings, but that would require a complete restructuring of my music server. Also JVC's XRCD format, compatible with Redbook CD, shows what's possible with 16/44 when mastering is done properly. A bit more dynamic range can be obtained with HDCD compatible players. There are also extremely high resolution formats used in the recording and pro-audio arenas: DXD and 32 bit 352kHz.

  4. #4
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    Post Hi-Rez thoughts

    Diminish...

    Did you know a lot of so called 24/96 downloads are just normal 16/44 files that have been upsampled to 24/96 before uploading. Very dishonest. Practically all CD players upsample the CDs 16/44 data before conversion to analogue, so it's very hard to make a judgement about hi-rez downloads when you can't be sure what you're hearing.

    I have a few DVD-A discs with 2 channel 24/192 layers and they sound very good. These are genuine 24/192 digital recordings put straight onto the disc. Also a few Blu-Rays have 24/192 PCM in 5.1, 2L of Norway's classical recordings, for example.

    As for JVCs XRCD process, I've seen that they're using a 24-bit system for that now. But what's the point if you have to throw away the last eight bits when making a Red Book CD? Does it help them to decide whether the 16th bit should be a 1 or a 0? If they used it to press DVD-A discs I'd be all for it. But a CD is (as you know) only 16-bit so it's impossible to gain any resolution with this process unless they invent an XRCD module to fit into the CD player that contains algorithms for reconstrusting the 24-bit data.

    It is a shame that 2 channel 24/96 DVD-V discs did not take-off as the natural successor to CD. I suspect that, although everyone had/has a DVD player compatible with 24/96 DVD-V discs, the electronics industry not only sabotaged itself with the SACD/DVD-A suicide pact, but also wouldn't need to sell us a new type of disc player for the format because we already had the DVD player at home. That would never do.

    SACD won over DVD-A because the latter is practically extinct and a good number of classical music is still released on SACD. It was not a total victory though, because the dominance in the video market of DVD-V meant that all the chips were optimised for DVD's 48kHz base sampling frequency and the DSD format received very little research and became marginalised due to a lack of profitability. It became unprofitable to design and mass-produce a pure 1-bit DSD chip solution.

    This has led to a bizarre situation where a typical SACD disc consists of music recorded and edited in 24/96 PCM, only then converted to DSD to get it on the SACD disc. The disc is then pressed, bought and put in our SACD players to play, whereupon the DSD data is read from the disc and then converted into, usually, 24/88.2 PCM to suit the DVD-era D/A converter chips and finally converted to analogue from this hi-rez PCM. So what does DSD really sound like? There is practically no way of finding out! Even players that don't convert to a 24-bit PCM format before D/A conversion, still convert to low bit PCM (eg. 5-bit 768kHz) internally in the DAC. Even SACD specialists dCS does this. As far as I know only some of EMM Labs gear and Playback Designs player uses true DSD-Analogue convertors. It's simply not financially viable for a mass-market product. A missed oppertunity.

    So we have ended-up with one failed format (DVD-A) that should have flourished and another technically crippled format (SACD) unable to live up to its' potential due to the dominant PCM silicon.

    I aim to buy as much quality vinyl as possible in the next few years - it's the best long term quality option. And the multi-nationals can't hold us to ransom with chips that break down every few years!
    Last edited by GregD; 19-03-2011 at 12:32 AM. Reason: paragraph spacing

  5. #5
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    Hi Greg
    I usually dl 24/88 or 96..or 24/44 & 24/48. I find that higher bit rates are more important than sample rate: ceteris paribus. And of course there is the rub: a well recorded and mastered 16/44 will out perform a poorly recorded and mastered DSD SACD (and they are available). Alot depends on your playback system.
    I can easily hear the differences between formats on my 5's. having said that Harbeths have the advantage of making everything sound great (well maybe not scratched & dirty vinyl!). So I tend to focus on the performances that I enjoy rather than the format.
    Mind you...there is something about vinyl...

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Concerti View Post
    Hi Greg
    I usually dl 24/88 or 96..or 24/44 & 24/48. I find that higher bit rates are more important than sample rate: ceteris paribus. And of course there is the rub: a well recorded and mastered 16/44 will out perform a poorly recorded and mastered DSD SACD (and they are available). Alot depends on your playback system.
    I can easily hear the differences between formats on my 5's. having said that Harbeths have the advantage of making everything sound great (well maybe not scratched & dirty vinyl!). So I tend to focus on the performances that I enjoy rather than the format.
    Mind you...there is something about vinyl...
    It's very true that it's more about the skill of the engineer, placement and choice of microphones and other factors over the type of converter. Indeed a 24/192 or pure DSD recording can be very poor if the above factors are neglected. Whereas a well set-up 16/48 recording can sound fantastic if care and attention is paid to set-up.

    I am of course aware that some recordings are produced entirerly in the DSD domain, but I was trying to illustrate in my previous posting what is the norm for SACD production. Even if they are recorded, edited, mixed and mastered in pure DSD, the data is still converted to PCM in the player after having been read from the disc. In 99% of players, that is.

    I have quite a few DSD-recorded SACDs from high-quality labels like Channel Classics, Telarc, Pentatone etc. and they tend to sound excellent. These labels are well-known for the attention to detail and quality of their recordings. But as we both agree, there are many factors involved in realising great sound in the listening room besides sample-rate and converters.

    I agree it's more important to focus on the performance rather than the format/sound. Otherwise it's just train-spotting isn't it?!

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