Tribalism. It seems to be baked into human DNA. The compulsion of most of us to divide into groups. To associate with those that think like us, look like us, worship like us or worse, actively exclude those perceived as different from us. It invades our politics, our religious thinking. Audiophiles are not immune to tribalism as we all know. From tubes vs. solid state, to vinyl vs. digital, we see and hear the same topics brought up and discussed ad nauseam in various audio related magazines and on websites, like The Computer Audiophile. Even the digital tribe is further broken down into what sounds better, PCM or DSD. Some extoll the virtues of converting all PCM to DSD as that is the path to audio nirvana, and visa versa. Of course, simple DSD is not enough. We need quad DSD or even octa DSD to sound the best. Of course, red book Is not enough on the PCM side, hence the move to 24/96, 24/192, 24/384 etc. The higher the number, the better the sound, right? And, let’s not even get started with MQA. Please?
My personal philosophy is that I am format neutral. For me, the format of the digital file is one of the least significant factors in getting true audio fidelity in the home. Assuming that one has competently engineered and manufactured electronics, which I find to be generally the case, the most significant and most often overlooked factor by audiophiles, is the room itself. The room can make or break the aural experience, the illusion of real musicians, playing in a real space. Perceived issues with our equipment can be room related, or a simple matter of dialing in speaker placement. Audiophiles can far too often find themselves essentially chasing their tails, constantly changing their equipment or cables or trying the latest and greatest USB dongle when simple room treatments or the tweaking of speaker placement will yield far more satisfactory results and more importantly, long term listening pleasure.
As for the format of the recording, I find that the quality of the recording itself to be far more important than the format. The skill of the recording engineer, the microphones used, the placement of same, the recording venue, the placement of the musicians in that space all trump whether the format is DSD or PCM or analog tape. With great engineering and or course, a light touch by the mastering engineer, all of these formats can yield spectacular results. An example of this is a stellar recording by a local Philadelphia area group, The Hazelrigg Brothers, and their CD, “songs we like”. This group performed recently at the Capital Audio Fest. While I was not able to attend, I obtained a copy of their CD and was gobsmacked by the quality of the recording. The recording and the performances are superb. Beautiful piano sound, deep, tuneful and impactful bass and realistic drums that all recordings should strive for. The recording was made in their home studio at DSD 128. Despite the fact that the recording was “downrezed” to redbook, I really can’t imagine how this recording could sound better in my room than as presented on this CD. The CD is simply that good. A beautifully recorded album will sound sensational regardless of what format it was delivered to the listener. The fidelity of this recording comes through in spades on this CD, even if it was originally recorded in DSD. Whether it is delivered to you in redbook or some higher rez format simply does not matter, at least to me. Kudos to whoever performed the transfer.
I think we can all agree the digital has come a long way since the introduction of the CD. The newer DACs available today are superb. The advent of computer based playback has further improved the sound we can get at home, with software programs that can playback all digital formats with aplomb, and convert PCM to DSD and visa versa at whatever resolutions one’s heart and ears may desire. Just give me well engineered recordings in whatever format the engineer or artists think sounds best to them. I will play them back in my format of choice depending on the formats my DAC or DACs support. That will make me a very happy audiophile. In short, it is the engineering that matters, not the format.