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Bits, ghosts, and metaphysics...


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I have been following the "First Mile" thread with interest. The claims about hearing differences between two files with the exact same bit information because of things like power supply used on a certain piece of equipment along the chain is interesting. There is obviously a deep, deep confusion as to what digital information IS, on a basic physical, mathematical and even metaphysical level. Some people evidently believe that mathematical information is what it is (i.e. information), but that it also carries with it a sort of "ghost", a spirit of "sound" that inhabits it and expresses itself through playback. Thus, two bodies of digital information (two exact bit copies of music, for example) can have a different sound because of this mysterious (meta)physical entity/quality. They can't prove it, but they insist on hearing it.

 

I was just reading this article:

 

Beyond High-Resolution | The Absolute Sound

 

The claims are impressive. However, I am not at all sure the author really understands mathematics/digital information based on some of the salesmanship that happens at the beginning. Perhaps MQA is a truly quantum leap in loss-less compression and the digital encoding of sound (it makes both claims). However, I suspect the author is out of his depth and is regurgitating sales material. I am personally withholding judgement for now.

 

Which brings me to my point - it strikes me that there is a coalescence of two "streams" going on. On the one hand, you have a basic ignorance of what "digital" means - what "information" is and is NOT when it is encoded digitally for a computer to "act on" (which is, to calculate). On the other hand, you have folks who want to sale their wares. These two things seem to lead to the belief in a metaphysical "spirit" which haunts the bits and which people can hear the effect of. I wonder in what other ways these largely benign spirits interact with our world. I thought with Halloween coming up it is as good as time as any to reflect on this mystery...

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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The flip side of this is realizing that digital files are ultimately stored and transmitted by electrons and/or photons :)

 

Yes, information is always "stored" and "transmitted" by a physical medium of one sort or another. How does that "effect" or "change" the information? If I write "I don't like green eggs and ham" in blue ink on paper, in black ink on wood, and in an arrangement of stones on the ground that can be seen from space - in what way does the meaning of the words themselves change?

 

This is the nature of information - it has a real metaphysical "break" and separateness from the medium in which it is stored and transmitted. "digital files" contain information, and it is that information that is "processed" by a computer. I can transmit/store a "digital file" (such as a high-res music file) to a computer in all sorts of of ways. The information is still the same...

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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Yes, information is always "stored" and "transmitted" by a physical medium of one sort or another. How does that "effect" or "change" the information? If I write "I don't like green eggs and ham" in blue ink on paper, in black ink on wood, and in an arrangement of stones on the ground that can be seen from space - in what way does the meaning of the words themselves change?

 

This is the nature of information - it has a real metaphysical "break" and separateness from the medium in which it is stored and transmitted. "digital files" contain information, and it is that information that is "processed" by a computer. I can transmit/store a "digital file" (such as a high-res music file) to a computer in all sorts of of ways. The information is still the same...

 

The information is still the same, but the electronics which render the information into sound waves might be affected.

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Yes, information is always "stored" and "transmitted" by a physical medium of one sort or another. How does that "effect" or "change" the information? If I write "I don't like green eggs and ham" in blue ink on paper, in black ink on wood, and in an arrangement of stones on the ground that can be seen from space - in what way does the meaning of the words themselves change?

 

This is the nature of information - it has a real metaphysical "break" and separateness from the medium in which it is stored and transmitted. "digital files" contain information, and it is that information that is "processed" by a computer. I can transmit/store a "digital file" (such as a high-res music file) to a computer in all sorts of of ways. The information is still the same...

 

You're talking about "metaphysical separateness" and saying you're mystified by *other folks'* fundamental lack of understanding of digital audio playback? What does metaphysics have to do with the engineering design of electrical circuits?

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> iFi NEO iDSD DAC -> Apollon Audio 1ET400A Mini (Purifi based) -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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Sneer all you want, but the Nobel Prize in physics next week will most likely be awarded to some audiophiles who, in the comfort of their own listening room, discovered new physical phenomena using a variety of expensive cables and interconnects. That is to me the most rewarding part of this hobby -- the chance to make an original scientific discovery.

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You're talking about "metaphysical separateness" and saying you're mystified by *other folks'* fundamental lack of understanding of digital audio playback? What does metaphysics have to do with the engineering design of electrical circuits?

 

That's what I am trying to understand. One poster on the last mile thread said that he and others can hear the difference between two identical bit files. If they are identical bit wise (and subsequently played through the same audio chain), what's the difference? Well, one was ripped from a CD player with a different power supply than the other. My only conclusion is that the power supply imparted something to the otherwise identical bit files on a level that frankly can only be described as "metaphysical" - bits "with the spirit" of the power supply maybe. Midichlorians, perhaps?

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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That's what I am trying to understand. One poster on the last mile thread said that he and others can hear the difference between two identical bit files. If they are identical bit wise (and subsequently played through the same audio chain), what's the difference? Well, one was ripped from a CD player with a different power supply than the other. My only conclusion is that the power supply imparted something to the otherwise identical bit files on a level that frankly can only be described as "metaphysical" - bits "with the spirit" of the power supply maybe. Midichlorians, perhaps?

 

We do understand from a physical point of view how it might really be possible that the bits themselves might be stored on the physical media along with a noise signal. That sort of thing actually does happen. At the "PHY" level, the digital signal is analog.

 

Now it is conceivable that under very specific circumstances, such media noise might actually affect the playback system.

 

We do not have a good theory nor understanding how such out of band information would possibly survive network transmission, storage and retrieval on a second system, buffering into RAM etc.

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We do understand from a physical point of view how it might really be possible that the bits themselves might be stored on the physical media along with a noise signal. That sort of thing actually does happen.

 

Now it is conceivable that under very specific circumstances, such media noise might actually affect the playback system.

 

We do not have a good theory nor understanding how such out of band information would possibly survive network transmission, storage and retrieval on a second system, buffering into RAM etc.

 

This can't be right. We actually do have a good idea how the "noise" of say, storing a file on a magnetic medium such as a modern HD effects the data - because that is how we have such remarkable consistency with even very large high level programs, such (as just an example) Microsoft Word, or the web browser I am using right now. The end user errors in these programs are almost entirely attributed to programming errors, not bit defects in the original files due to storage varibility. One can copy an immense program (as an example, the Windows 10 roll out) over a remarkably complicated and "noisy" system (such as the internet) with remarkable consistency.

 

Even with the occasional bit error (it would be a remarkably occasional thing) it is really beyond belief that a person could "hear" this through a DAC.

 

The music I am listening to right now was downloaded over an incredibly "noisy" chain (from ChannelClassics to my computer). If there was really such "noise" coming across as bit errors, then my copy sounds different (all else being equal - such as the rest of the audio chain, etc.) than everyone else's copy.

 

Nope, my copy is the same bit for bit as some incredibly high sample - a 99 with lots significant digits I think. Perhaps an electrical engineer and/or computer scientist can comment.

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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That's what I am trying to understand. One poster on the last mile thread said that he and others can hear the difference between two identical bit files. If they are identical bit wise (and subsequently played through the same audio chain), what's the difference? Well, one was ripped from a CD player with a different power supply than the other. My only conclusion is that the power supply imparted something to the otherwise identical bit files on a level that frankly can only be described as "metaphysical" - bits "with the spirit" of the power supply maybe. Midichlorians, perhaps?

 

Well, a couple of things:

 

- I don't understand how such a thing could be possible either.

 

- The closest I've read to an engineering explanation of *part of* this is that electrical variations during rip can be stored as variations in saturation in disc or flash storage. That does not explain how those saturation differences would be transferred to variations in the bitstream and on through the playback chain.

 

- While I can certainly say I don't know a mechanism by which it might occur, even confess to skepticism, I try to be careful to keep that separate from "that's impossible!" To say otherwise would credit my own (lack of) knowledge far too much.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> iFi NEO iDSD DAC -> Apollon Audio 1ET400A Mini (Purifi based) -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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This can't be right. We actually do have a good idea how the "noise" of say, storing a file on a magnetic medium such as a modern HD effects the data - because that is how we have such remarkable consistency with even very large high level programs, such (as just an example) Microsoft Word, or the web browser I am using right now. The end user errors in these programs are almost entirely attributed to programming errors, not bit defects in the original files due to storage varibility. One can copy an immense program (as an example, the Windows 10 roll out) over a remarkably complicated and "noisy" system (such as the internet) with remarkable consistency.

 

Even with the occasional bit error (it would be a remarkably occasional thing) it is really beyond belief that a person could "hear" this through a DAC.

 

The music I am listening to right now was downloaded over an incredibly "noisy" chain (from ChannelClassics to my computer). If there was really such "noise" coming across as bit errors, then my copy sounds different (all else being equal - such as the rest of the audio chain, etc.) than everyone else's copy.

 

Nope, my copy is the same bit for bit as some incredibly high sample - a 99 with lots significant digits I think. Perhaps an electrical engineer and/or computer scientist can comment.

 

You are getting stuck in your assumptions about how digital circuits are known to work.

 

I am specifically NOT talking about actual bit errors, rather the simple and undisputed fact that a range of varying voltages can legally be present during the transmission of both "0" and "1". Similarly such bits are represented as signals on physical media and these signals have a range of valid forms.

 

One proposal is that when the physical representation varies close to the limit of allowable, the "readout" circuitry does more work to lock onto the signal and this causes increased ground plane noise. That is one example. This example is most definitely the case with 1g copper Ethernet. The power requirements go way up as the length of the cable goes up (and signal degrades). Still works but generates more noise as it faithfully transmits the "1"s and "0"s. This is one reason I've advocated fiberoptic networking -- fiberoptic transceivers are not as subject to the this issue. Many people, including myself, hear an SQ improvement.

 

Simple and very measurable physics applies.

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This can't be right. We actually do have a good idea how the "noise" of say, storing a file on a magnetic medium such as a modern HD effects the data - because that is how we have such remarkable consistency with even very large high level programs, such (as just an example) Microsoft Word, or the web browser I am using right now. The end user errors in these programs are almost entirely attributed to programming errors, not bit defects in the original files due to storage varibility. One can copy an immense program (as an example, the Windows 10 roll out) over a remarkably complicated and "noisy" system (such as the internet) with remarkable consistency.

 

Not correct that your example proves impossibility. Robustness of one process in the face of noise doesn't show a lack of effect of noise on an entirely different process. Where's the sensitive DAC clock circuitry in your Word example?

 

Edit: And as jabbr says, bit errors are not what's being discussed.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> iFi NEO iDSD DAC -> Apollon Audio 1ET400A Mini (Purifi based) -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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You are getting stuck in your assumptions about how digital circuits are known to work.

 

I am specifically NOT talking about actual bit errors, rather the simple and undisputed fact that a range of varying voltages can legally be present during the transmission of both "0" and "1". Similarly such bits are represented as signals on physical media and these signals have a range of valid forms.

 

One proposal is that when the physical representation varies close to the limit of allowable, the "readout" circuitry does more work to lock onto the signal and this causes increased ground plane noise. That is one example. This example is most definitely the case with 1g copper Ethernet. The power requirements go way up as the length of the cable goes up (and signal degrades). Still works but generates more noise as it faithfully transmits the "1"s and "0"s. This is one reason I've advocated fiberoptic networking -- fiberoptic transceivers are not as subject to the this issue. Many people, including myself, hear an SQ improvement.

 

Simple and very measurable physics applies.

 

The "varying voltages" still indicate a 1 or 0 - until they don't. The variability of the "analogue" background is still not relevant to the meaning of the file until the digital information is actually changed, no? I could attach some sort of optical sensor to a DAC and a big buffer, and send up smoke signals from a mile away, and as long as there was a buffer (and a very long time - me and my forest of firewood ;) ) the end result (the actual 1 and 0's the DAC processes) would be the same, no?

 

Anything that runs over Ethernet (typically TCP/IP) is check summed for accuracy no? So, the underlying transmission quality is relevant as long as the DAC is buffering (until the buffer runs out), because the data (i.e the "meaning") is the same, no?

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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The "varying voltages" still indicate a 1 or 0 - until they don't. The variability of the "analogue" background is still not relevant to the meaning of the file until the digital information is actually changed, no? I could attach some sort of optical sensor to a DAC and a big buffer, and send up smoke signals from a mile away, and as long as there was a buffer (and a very long time - me and my forest of firewood ;) ) the end result (the actual 1 and 0's the DAC processes) would be the same, no?

Anything that runs over Ethernet (typically TCP/IP) is check summed for accuracy no? So, the underlying transmission quality is relevant as long as the DAC is buffering (until the buffer runs out), because the data (i.e the "meaning") is the same, no?

 

What is the "meaning" of an AIFF file? Why should I care? Are you suggesting that the human auditory perception of song is denoted by its AIFF file? Who suggested that to you?

 

By this logic all DACs should sound identical. Heck just plug in your earbuds and take your iPhone and listen to music ... why are you wasting your time here?

 

The fact that there is a workaround or solution for an issue hardly implies that the issue doesn't exist. It should be obvious that buffers are one such solution. In which Word document or Internet Explorer screen did you read that as long as you buffer, the issue is solved? Is that for all fonts, or just Arial?

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What is the "meaning" of an AIFF file? Why should I care? Are you suggesting that the human auditory perception of song is denoted by its AIFF file? Who suggested that to you?

 

By this logic all DACs should sound identical. Heck just plug in your earbuds and take your iPhone and listen to music ... why are you wasting your time here?

 

The fact that there is a workaround or solution for an issue hardly implies that the issue doesn't exist. It should be obvious that buffers are one such solution. In which Word document or Internet Explorer screen did you read that as long as you buffer, the issue is solved? Is that for all fonts, or just Arial?

 

The "meaning" is the bits, just like the meaning of words the alphabet is found in the characters. The "analog" background of the characters (their color, font, brightness (as long as they can be seen), etc. does not matter). Therefore, a bunch of bits strung together has the same "meaning" just like letters strung together. If the bits are the same (two bit perfect files) they can not mean or sound different from one another, all else being equal (DAC, etc.).

 

Yes, buffers "solve" problems that "noise" causes (e.g. they allow time for transmission of bits, proper ordering, etc.). Thus, if two files with same bit's get processed by same DAC/Audio Chain, then any variability heard in the sound can not be because of the files - it has to be something else. Thus, one can not "hear" differences in bits that are exactly the same - like some are asserting they can (and pointing to the bits, and not other factors)...

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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The "varying voltages" still indicate a 1 or 0 - until they don't. The variability of the "analogue" background is still not relevant to the meaning of the file until the digital information is actually changed, no?

 

No. Please name for me a source of digital distortion that does not occur in the analog world. Now tell me whether that source of distortion requires bits to change.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> iFi NEO iDSD DAC -> Apollon Audio 1ET400A Mini (Purifi based) -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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crenca, digital is still square waves down at the wire and is subject to all the conditions of the analog world. Take a look at these articles from Audiostream where John Swenson has given a very interesting explanation of digital.

 

Q&A with John Swenson. Part 1: What is Digital? | AudioStream

 

Q&A with John Swenson. Part 2: Are Bits Just Bits? | AudioStream

 

Q&A with John Swenson. Part 3: How bit-perfect software can affect sound | AudioStream

 

 

Speaking of noticeable differences - I find in my setup a difference in sound between PCM and DSD. To my understanding DSD being a bit stream is susceptible right from the computer transport. Change anything on the computer and you hear it with DSD. PCM on the other hand is more dependant on the DAC onwards for voicing.

Custom Win10 Transport | Mutec MC-3+ Smart Clock USB | Lampizator Amber | Acoustic Portrait Thiyaga | ATC SCM20SL

 

 

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What is the "meaning" of an AIFF file? Why should I care? Are you suggesting that the human auditory perception of song is denoted by its AIFF file? Who suggested that to you?

 

By this logic all DACs should sound identical. Heck just plug in your earbuds and take your iPhone and listen to music ... why are you wasting your time here?

 

The fact that there is a workaround or solution for an issue hardly implies that the issue doesn't exist. It should be obvious that buffers are one such solution. In which Word document or Internet Explorer screen did you read that as long as you buffer, the issue is solved? Is that for all fonts, or just Arial?

 

I think your conclusion that all DACs would sound identical takes the reasoning too far. At best, i think, you can conclude that all DACs would have the same starting point in terms of incoming signal. Of course, the quality of the analog part would/could impact the sound signature.

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The claims about hearing differences between two files with the exact same bit information because of things like power supply used on a certain piece of equipment along the chain is interesting. There is obviously a deep, deep confusion as to what digital information IS, on a basic physical, mathematical and even metaphysical level. Some people evidently believe that mathematical information is what it is (i.e. information), but that it also carries with it a sort of "ghost", a spirit of "sound" that inhabits it and expresses itself through playback. Thus, two bodies of digital information (two exact bit copies of music, for example) can have a different sound because of this mysterious (meta)physical entity/quality. They can't prove it, but they insist on hearing it.

 

two files ripped from one source, using different equipment... if said files are tested (rigorously) on multiple systems and proven to be 'perfect twins' beyond reproach, then the ripping process should not have made a difference.

if differences may still be heard while playing back these 'bit identical’ files, in the same system on the same settings in the same environment by the same persons, such anomalies are likely to be caused by:

 

  • the software/hardware managing the handling, transmission and/or manipulation of bits in the digital realm during playback;
  • the digital-to-analogue interfaces employed; and/or
  • the electronic/electrical components responsible for the delivery of sound waves into the analogue world.

in this specific scenario: the ghost(s) in the machine(s), if any, are more prone/likely to reside in the hard/wetware downstream of the ripping, storage and testing processes.

 

however, some would like to believe that the truth is out there.

 

^ should not imply that we are confused or ignorant. or that we do not understand, each in our own way, how things should work in CA.

perhaps, it means we simply do not (yet) understand why what should work as it should reportedly did not.

hence, many ‘deep, deep’ discussions, this being the latest… which may (hopefully) lead to somewhere pleasant/illuminating.

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My money is on embedded jitter.

 

That's one thing I wouldn't bet against.

 

How a Digital Audio file sounds, or a Digital Video file looks, is governed to a large extent by the Power Supply area. All that Identical Checksums gives is the possibility of REGENERATING the file to close to that of the original file.

PROFILE UPDATED 13-11-2020

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The "meaning" is the bits, just like the meaning of words the alphabet is found in the characters. The "analog" background of the characters (their color, font, brightness (as long as they can be seen), etc. does not matter). Therefore, a bunch of bits strung together has the same "meaning" just like letters strung together. If the bits are the same (two bit perfect files) they can not mean or sound different from one another, all else being equal (DAC, etc.).

 

Yes, buffers "solve" problems that "noise" causes (e.g. they allow time for transmission of bits, proper ordering, etc.). Thus, if two files with same bit's get processed by same DAC/Audio Chain, then any variability heard in the sound can not be because of the files - it has to be something else. Thus, one can not "hear" differences in bits that are exactly the same - like some are asserting they can (and pointing to the bits, and not other factors)...

 

This is not the most obvious meaning of the term "meaning", but let's assume that the bits in the file convey the intended information. In this case the files should sound identical. If by the use of the term "meaning" you mean that according to specification, they must sound identical, then any change in sound between bit identical files would be a protocol violation. Fair enough.

 

What you need to realize is that digital sound systems, while ought be immune from issues such as noise, jitter, cycle of the moon etc., in practice are affected by such issues, and we are trying to eliminate these issues. If you are looking for a product/DAC etc. which properly renders your "meaning" of a digital file, then welcome to the club. Do you have an easy way verify that your meaning is being properly rendered? Do you have a list of renderers which properly render your "meaning"?

 

On the other hand when you say that the "meaning" is always exactly rendered, that is to say that the bits in the file always exactly determine the sound which emanates from a DAC, you are sadly mistaken about the world we actually live in.

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No. Please name for me a source of digital distortion that does not occur in the analog world. Now tell me whether that source of distortion requires bits to change.

 

In my (granted limited) understanding "digital distortion" refers to the distortion of sound through encoding into digital and the decoding of same sound (in the DAC). There is no "digital distortion" per se from the file itself - at this level (referring to the "sound" of two identical bit files) the bits are really just bits.

 

To your second question, that is not what is being claimed - they are claiming two identical bit files have a different "sound" and that this difference is repeatable through the same audio chain. How can two bit identical files be the source of "distortion" - it's from somewhere else and is independent of the bit identical files yes?

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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I think your conclusion that all DACs would sound identical takes the reasoning too far. At best, i think, you can conclude that all DACs would have the same starting point in terms of incoming signal. Of course, the quality of the analog part would/could impact the sound signature.

 

Yes this. Again, the DAC is not in question - of course DAC's have different architectures and decoders, thus they sound different. Yes, the analog chain sounds different. That is not what is being claimed - the claim is that two bit identical files (i.e., the input at the DAC - the "starting point") have some characteristic that leads two a different "sound" through exact same audio chain.

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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