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Article: Realism vs Accuracy For Audiophiles | Part 2: The Real Sounds Of Live Music


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Thanks for the recommendation - will listen to that concert ("One Night..."). Charlie Parker grew up in the "big band" era (not a term I like), played with several (including a year in Chicago with Earl Hines), so not surprising he fit in well.

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23 minutes ago, hopkins said:

Thanks for the recommendation - will listen to that concert ("One Night..."). Charlie Parker grew up in the "big band" era (not a term I like), played with several (including a year in Chicago with Earl Hines), so not surprising he fit in well.

Parker had a less than stellar early career.  Documentation is a bit inconsistent, but I think he first joined Jay McShann’s band in 1938.  He left for New York in ‘39, but worked several jobs (including dishwasher, which gives him something in common with Little Richard) because he was unable to survive as a musician.  So he returned to KC and McShann in ‘40 when his father died, playing for McShann until moving to the Hines band in ‘42. He then joined Billy Eckstine’s new band for some months before moving on to a life in bebop.

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I'm not that familiar with Charlie Parker, to be honest (sacrilege, I know, but I got a late start and am working my way there). Here's a partial "sologrophay" of his which I am sure you will find interesting and covers the early recordings (1940-1946) that have survived (I assume it is fairly complete): http://www.jazzarcheology.com/artists/charlie_parker.pdf

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, hopkins said:

Thanks for the recommendation - will listen to that concert ("One Night..."). Charlie Parker grew up in the "big band" era (not a term I like), played with several (including a year in Chicago with Earl Hines), so not surprising he fit in well.

Unfortunately, there was an AFM ban on recording in 1942-44, so we don’t have much to document and enjoy what was a very important period in jazz.  The Hines band in 1942 was really the first bebop band.  With Bird, Dizzy, and Sarah Vaughan, it must have been wonderful.  Then Parker joined Billy Eckstine’s new big band early in 1944 before moving on to being a star and playing in small groups.

 

Most people don’t realize that Parker played tenor sax too.  The story is that Hines needed a tenor but Parker only had an alto. So Hines bought him a tenor.  He recorded on tenor with Miles on Davis’s first Savoy sessions under the name Charlie Chan (Chan was his wife’s first name). There are some YouTube videos of early Miles with Bird on tenor.

 

This is yet another great example of the importance of accuracy in reproduction.  My bet is that many audiophile jazz fans have heard recordings of Bird on tenor and didn’t hear or notice a difference.  If you can’t tell a tenor from an alto on a recording good enough to differentiate between the two (which is almost all commercial jazz recordings), there’s something missing somewhere between the source file and your higher cortical centers 😗

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30 minutes ago, bluesman said:

This is yet another great example of the importance of accuracy in reproduction.  My bet is that many audiophile jazz fans have heard recordings of Bird on tenor and didn’t hear or notice a difference.  If you can’t tell a tenor from an alto on a recording good enough to differentiate between the two (which is almost all commercial jazz recordings), there’s something missing somewhere between the source file and your higher cortical centers 😗

 

In that particular case, I would say the system is certainly not at play - I would assume that most people who don't take note of the difference may simply not be interested in that aspect ? They may still appreciate the music, and still appreciate "audiophile" sound, if you see what I mean. 

 

Since I believe you are in the "music business", do you find that people who are very involved in music (musicians, collectors..) often don't necessarily have very "accurate" systems at home ? Open question...  I hesitate about the use of that term in my question - lets say they are not always very attentive to the performance of their home system ?

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44 minutes ago, hopkins said:

In that particular case, I would say the system is certainly not at play - I would assume that most people who don't take note of the difference may simply not be interested in that aspect

True for some.  But the note ranges of tenor and alto sax overlap by an octave and a half.  The alto’s range is from concert Db 3 (ie the one below middle C) up 2 1/2 octaves to Ab 5.  The tenor’s range is from concert Ab 2 up 2 1/2 octaves to E 5.  And most playing is within that overlap.  So even a slight midrange emphasis could make a thinner tenor sound more like a fat alto.  Throw in the many variants among mouthpieces, reeds, embouchures, and playing styles and you can find yourself loving an auditory mosaic that simply doesn’t sound like the player you think you’re hearing, if your system adds coloration similar to that of a thicker reed or a smaller instrument.

 

This level of distinction is far more obvious than the effects of many system mods and substitutions discussed on AS and elsewhere, and used by many audiophiles to “improve” the SQ of their systems.  If differences of this magnitude don’t matter or are inaudible to someone, I don’t understand how he or she could possibly hear or justify the effort and cost of “audiophile grade” stuff.

 

If there are audiophiles who don’t care enough about the sounds of music and of the instruments and musicians playing it to want to be able to enjoy the distinctly beautiful nature of whatever music they like (eg the very different sounds of Paul Desmond and Charlie Parker on the “same” song and instrument or the vastly different sounds of baroque and modern orchestras and instruments playing the same music), about what do they care?

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"If the phase relationships of the fundamental and harmonics are altered, everything from perceived pitch to timbre can change.  This is true whether the changes stem from construction of the instrument or from distortion in recording and/or playback. "

 

Hmmm...  This suggests then that only loudspeakers with first order crossover networks have a chance to get it right.  (There may be other way more sophisticated solutions, too...)

 

And, associated with that, the associated loudspeaker drivers must also be operated in the frequency range where they don't break up much and affect the relative time coherence of the signals across that range.

 

Tall order!

 

Based on the relative small percentage of loudspeakers available on the market that approach that, it may be that many people either aren't sensitive to this, or just don't care.  They may have other sonic priorities.  

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3 minutes ago, CG said:

 

Based on the relative small percentage of loudspeakers available on the market that approach that, it may be that many people either aren't sensitive to this, or just don't care.

These effects are not huge, and because they’re randomly distributed among all the components in a system (even drivers, crossovers, cabinets, baffles etc), some probably mitigate or counter the effects of others.  We all agree that even the best systems don’t have SQ indistinguishable from each other and that all fall short of total accuracy and perfect realism.  The effects under discussion are certainly one reason for this.  And the costly perpetual search for better SQ is ample evidence to me that people do care.

 

I just hope my input helps them understand a bit more, listen a bit more carefully, and learn to better distinguish among and appreciate the many potential sources of sonic differences.  Sommeliers, baristas, and security experts are trained to identify thousands of important (and sometimes blatant) factors that the rest of us don’t even know enough to look for, let alone care about.  But once educated and experienced, we learn.  Audiophiles are not immune to this effect.

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13 minutes ago, bluesman said:

And the costly perpetual search for better SQ is ample evidence to me that people do care.

 

Well, I think that a lot of audiophiles just like different.  So, they change their systems to get different.  A friend of mine told me yesterday that he'd swapped his loudspeakers in a big way recently, from time coherent models to horns with giant woofers and compression drivers.  He was clear that he wanted "radically different."  He got it!  This wasn't a $67 proposition, either.  To some degree, it's a lot like buying and trading expensive watches.  Most are pretty close to getting the time right, so the desire for more or different comes from someplace else.

 

That's caring, but maybe not in the way you suggest.  Converging on an optimum solution, however you care to define that, may not be for everybody.  But, as long as a hobbyist is having fun and not violating the law or basic rules for maintaining a relationship, that should be fine.

 

I think the big point that I've taken away from your articles so far is that the entire recording notion is far, far from perfect and is rarely even intended to reflect a musical performance by actual humans playing instruments together in the same room.  Whatever recording is made is usually highly modified by somebody who calls herself or himself the producer or engineer.  You end up with whatever that person thinks is the best rendition, usually based on what that person thinks the market will be interested in.  So, expecting anything remotely close to perfection is an insane proposition, since it doesn't even exist and never was the idea in the first place.  (A stereo microphone to a Walkman Pro is closer to the real thing!)  Better to accept that and do what you find pleasing and to your taste.

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1 hour ago, CG said:

To some degree, it's a lot like buying and trading expensive watches.  Most are pretty close to getting the time right, so the desire for more or different comes from someplace else.

I agre with that.  But watch aficianados collect watches for reasons that audiophiles deny considering, like appearance, prestige, and bragging rights.  As you correctly observe, keeping time is not the reason people buy Pateks, Ulysse Nardins, et al.  If you just want a timepiece, you can get equal or better accuracy for a lot less money from an inexpensive Swatch or G-Shock. And as the old saying goes, a man with one watch usually knows the time.  But a man with many watches rarely knows the time.  People buy multiple Pateks, Langes, VCs etc because of their artistry, their beauty, their rarity, their alleged investment value (which is usually no more than an excuse given to one's spouse and/or one's self), etc.  But many high end watch owners have them only because the watch makes them feel successful (or at least in their minds, makes others think they are). The basic raison d'être for all watches is (allegedly) to display the time - so they all fulfill their "main" function.

 

I'm assuming that the audio system's raison d'être is reproducing music well.  Most AS participants have systems that do a fairly good job of this, and no two of them agree on the "best" system or component.  So following your logic (with which I agree), audiophiles who can't live with the same system for very long are probably seeking something other than better SQ.  As you suggest, "different" is probably a common goal.  But it's an elusive one that brings only temporary satiation.  And audiophiles who seek change for change's sake may not be the best sources of critical analysis of recordings and equipment.

 

When we retired and downsized, we gave our kids their choices from our watch collections (which included our parents' and grandparents' watches plus a few dozen of our own acquisitions) and sold most of the rest (keeping only our few favorites).  Like most true watch collectors, we love to look at them as art, wear them as jewelry, and enjoy them as mechanical marvels.  Most of my good watches were almost as accurate as my Apple Watch, which is definitely more accurate as a timekeeper than my audio systems are at reproducing music.

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Bluesman,

 

I’m obviously not explaining myself very well. I’m purely referring to the sound we hear in our listening room and not anything to do with the musicians, their instruments or the recording process.

I’m asking if it’s possible that, because:


“(If) the phase relationships of the fundamental and harmonics are altered, everything from perceived pitch to timbre can change.”
 

“Along with their phase relationships, variations in the strength and frequency of harmonics can affect the perceived fundamental pitch.”

 

we could use the converse of this and listen to the perceived pitch of notes (as generated by various HiFi components) to give us an indication of how musically accurate each component is? That is, the more tuneful a component appears to reproduce music, the more the fundamental and its harmonics relate to one another (harmonically) and therefore, the more linear and accurate the component is.

 

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3 hours ago, bluesman said:

True for some.  But the note ranges of tenor and alto sax overlap by an octave and a half.  The alto’s range is from concert Db 3 (ie the one below middle C) up 2 1/2 octaves to Ab 5.  The tenor’s range is from concert Ab 2 up 2 1/2 octaves to E 5.  And most playing is within that overlap.  So even a slight midrange emphasis could make a thinner tenor sound more like a fat alto.  Throw in the many variants among mouthpieces, reeds, embouchures, and playing styles and you can find yourself loving an auditory mosaic that simply doesn’t sound like the player you think you’re hearing, if your system adds coloration similar to that of a thicker reed or a smaller instrument.

 

This level of distinction is far more obvious than the effects of many system mods and substitutions discussed on AS and elsewhere, and used by many audiophiles to “improve” the SQ of their systems.  If differences of this magnitude don’t matter or are inaudible to someone, I don’t understand how he or she could possibly hear or justify the effort and cost of “audiophile grade” stuff.

 

If there are audiophiles who don’t care enough about the sounds of music and of the instruments and musicians playing it to want to be able to enjoy the distinctly beautiful nature of whatever music they like (eg the very different sounds of Paul Desmond and Charlie Parker on the “same” song and instrument or the vastly different sounds of baroque and modern orchestras and instruments playing the same music), about what do they care?

 

I have a hard time following you here. What is your point exactly ? 

- we can't appreciate music without knowing how it is made ? if we don't care how it is made then we cannot appreciate it (and are not worthy of having a good system) ?

- or if we can't tell/care how it is made then it is because we can't hear it (system is not accurate enough and we are just wasting our time talking about audio and buying equipement) ?

 

No one denies that understanding "how" something is made can increase the appreciation we have of it. But here you are essentially referring to the "techniques" involved, and not other aspects which are just as fundamental, perhaps even more. Recognizing that there are different sound palettes in a musical piece is one thing, knowing which instruments are used to produce them is yet another, and explaining the effect produced is yet another (which does not require knowing the actual instruments). Obviously a system should be accurate, and an attentive listener should be able to hear all the nuances you describe.

 

If someone asked me - explain to me why you appreciate a certain musician, or a song ? I don't think listing the instruments would be of much value. It could give some clues as to the variety of sounds that are being heard. I don't need to know which brand of saxophone Charlie Parker (or anyone else) used to appreciate his music. It is an interesting piece of information, at best, but not really essential...

 

I think we can all agree that if one cannot hear the difference between Charlie Parker and Paul Desmond (even if you cannot name them) then it is probably not your system that needs to be changed but your hearing that needs to be checked. 

 

 

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50 minutes ago, Spanna said:

we could use the converse of this and listen to the perceived pitch of notes (as generated by various HiFi components) to give us an indication of how musically accurate each component is? That is, the more tuneful a component appears to reproduce music, the more the fundamental and its harmonics relate to one another (harmonically) and therefore, the more linear and accurate the component is.

I just don’t think that’s possible.  Our perception of pitch is not perfect, and I don’t know how to define, qualify, or quantify tunefulness.  And any component in the entire signal chain from mics to master could also alter harmonic structure.  In addition, you may judge what you hear to be tuneful even though it’s not an accurate reproduction of the source waveform.  
 

We’re talking about very subtle differences audible only as minor changes in timbre or tonal characteristics.

 

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2 hours ago, bluesman said:

their alleged investment value 

 

Dunno about that one.  My wife bought me what she considered a very nice expensive watch 35 years ago.  (It is very. nice and was very expensive foe the day.)

 

Today the same watch is worth roughly 30 times what she paid.  I know - had it appraised somewhat recently when the stupidly expensive maintenance came up.  The resale value has gone up far more than it should have in a sane world based on reality.

 

 

2 hours ago, bluesman said:

I'm assuming that the audio system's raison d'être is reproducing music well.  Most AS participants have systems that do a fairly good job of this, and no two of them agree on the "best" system or component.  So following your logic (with which I agree), audiophiles who can't live with the same system for very long are probably seeking something other than better SQ.  As you suggest, "different" is probably a common goal.  But it's an elusive one that brings only temporary satiation.  And audiophiles who seek change for change's sake may not be the best sources of critical analysis of recordings and equipment.

 

I agree with this.  And, to be sure, there are audio companies out there who cater to the jewelry perspective of audio gear.  No names from me, but although I find their gear visually attractive, it's not for me.  

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2 hours ago, bluesman said:

When we retired and downsized, we gave our kids their choices from our watch collections

 

I have a funny story with regard to that kind of thing.

 

Maybe two years ago, my wife gave our daughter the fancy watch that she bought years ago, but stopped wearing about years minus three ago.  (She now wears one of the aforementioned Apple watches.)  The kid had it redone at the authorized dealer a couple blocks from where she works.  She's quite happy with it.

 

But, here's the thing.

 

Although my kid's about to turn 30, has a fancy academic pedigree that entitles her to be put a fancy title on a business card after or before her name (which she doesn't), and is an associate at a fancy firm in a city with fancy firms, she also looks like she might still be in high school.  She gets carded at every restaurant she goes, for example.

 

When she'd go into a nice store or car dealership, most of the sales people pretty much ignored her.  ("Go away kid - you bother me...")  The stores that treated her well, like that jewelry store, always got her business.  The others not so much.

 

Anyway, she noticed that when she started wearing the redone fancy watch instead of an Apple or Shinola watch, all of a sudden the salespeople treated her much better.  She got instant attention.

 

That doesn't really reflect well on the sales people, but I guess they're trained to be a certain way.

 

Once upon a time, when audio stores actually dwelled in most cities, it was the same thing.  If you showed up looking like a normal person might on a Saturday, you often got the bum's rush.  If you got past the first inspection, you'd then get quizzed about your existing system.  If you passed that test, you might be allowed to actually listen and be considered as a possible customer.

 

Although I miss having brick and mortar stores, I don't miss the rest.  

 

Note:  The above was pretty much off topic.  I apologize and will behave better if I post again.

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43 minutes ago, CG said:

Today the same watch is worth roughly 30 times what she paid.  I know - had it appraised somewhat recently when the stupidly expensive maintenance came up.  The resale value has gone up far more than it should have in a sane world based on reality.

Right - and my 71 Rolex cost me $210 new.  When we downsized, we sold our better watches for similar paper gains.  But reality is that the total cost of ownership far exceeds purchase price.  This used to apply to audio electronics too.  I sold a Marantz 7 and 8 for far more than they cost new.  But serious maintenance and mods reduced “profit” to break even.  Tubes alone cost more than the electronics over the years I owned them.
 

I don’t know what watch you have, but service on a Royal Oak is a minimum of about $2k and on a Patek with any complications, it can run well over $3k.  Throw in routine service every decade plus agreed value insurance for 35 years and you haven’t really made a 30 fold gain.

 

These are concepts we use to make ourselves feel better, except for some spectacular and rare exceptions like a Nautilus or a rare and coveted amplifier.

 

FWIW, appraisals usually exceed real world selling prices.  I just love my watches, instruments, audio systems etc for what they do for me.  Anything beyond that is gravy.

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I figure the routine service is just the rental you need to pay...

 

There's no question that these are paper gains and can be completely illusionary.  But, it's still better than somebody saying that you need to give them $100 to take whatever it is away.

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56 minutes ago, bluesman said:

I just don’t think that’s possible.  Our perception of pitch is not perfect, and I don’t know how to define, qualify, or quantify tunefulness.  And any component in the entire signal chain from mics to master could also alter harmonic structure.  In addition, you may judge what you hear to be tuneful even though it’s not an accurate reproduction of the source waveform.  
 

We’re talking about very subtle differences audible only as minor changes in timbre or tonal characteristics.

 

I don’t understand why you think it’s not possible, given that you’ve stated:

 

 

“(If) the phase relationships of the fundamental and harmonics are altered, everything from perceived pitch to timbre can change.”
 

“Along with their phase relationships, variations in the strength and frequency of harmonics can affect the perceived fundamental pitch.”

 

This suggests to me that our perception of pitch is good enough for us to detect a change in pitch due to a change in 1) the phase relationships of the fundamental and its harmonics, and 2) the strength and frequency of the harmonics, unless I’ve misunderstood you.

 

The “tunefulness” of a HiFi component, in this context, cannot be quantified (as far as I’m aware), however one component can be compared directly against another, listening for whether it appears to play a melody more (or less) in tune than the other. The more “tuneful” component would be considered the most musically accurate of the two. Note that I’m talking about a relative difference here, not “perfect” pitch.
 

For the purpose of comparing HiFi components, changes to the harmonic structure during recording are relatively unimportant, it’s changes to the harmonic structure caused by the components under evaluation we’re interested in.

 

I accept that what we hear is not a perfectly accurate representation of the original waveform, however surely we can say that one component reproduces a “more (or less) accurate” representation of the waveform than the other?

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28 minutes ago, ARQuint said:

 

Part 2 is, if anything, more spectacular than Part 1. It illuminates the recording arts, the art of listening, and to me—the meaning of the audiophile pursuit.

 

It got me thinking again about a project I started a few years back, and have mentioned here once before. In 1998, the Chicago-based rare instrument dealer Bein & Fushi was responsible for the project of gathering in one place 30 of the world's most prized violins—15 Stradivaris and 15 Guarnieris. The instruments were photographed and each one played by the American virtuoso Elmar Oliveira. He was recorded by Mark Levinson (as well as by Jerry Bruck, though I don't know if that version ever saw the light of day.) The result was a beautiful 13" x 13" book that came with three CDs. There weren't very many copies produced but I reviewed it for TAS over 20 years ago and was permitted to keep mine. The assemblage of violins, by the way, was valued at roughly $100 million; I can only imagine what the value of the 30 instruments would be now, and what it cost to insure the undertaking back in 1998.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Miracle-Makers-Stradivari-Guarneri-Oliveira/dp/0966174208

 

Oliveira was recorded in a broad range of repertoire, but one of the three CDs was devoted to him playing the opening minute of the Sibelius violin concerto (unaccompanied, of course) on all 30 instruments. As my system improved, I became increasingly interested in whether listeners of various stripes could learn to tell the difference between a Strad and a Guarneri—and how they would do it. So I made a FLAC file of 12 of the 30 iterations of the Sibelius excerpt and—after letting the test subjects listen to several examples "sighted"— arranged them in random order and asked them to identify the instrument they were hearing as either an S or a G.

 

My "n" was/is small, but most test subjects to date haven't done better than guessing. There were three exceptions, though. Two were violinists—a middle-aged female and another woman who was in her 90s. The third was a good friend who would be proud to be called an audiophile, though he certainly knows a lot about music and we attend classical concerts together. He got a perfect score—12/12 instruments correctly identified. No one else came close.

 

I asked the audiophile friend then, and again yesterday, how he did it. Did he have a set of descriptors that he used to characterize each example, devised from listening to the "sighted" examples. I referred him to Bluesman's article and he answered me a few hours ago:

 

"… the heuristic I used was probably not very precisely defined (“list-y”) or calibrated. I’d say it was an attempt to infer from the known references a timbral signature, a kind of holistic “sound.” The best way I could describe it would be that the Strads seemed to speak quicker, to project power more quickly on attack, and the Guarneris seemed to have a mellower/warmer tone and to reach full power fractionally more gradually. After reading Bluesman’s piece and the comments, I’m inclined to hypothesize that both qualities might have to do with differences in the relative strengths/shapes of the fundamental and harmonic series between instruments from each maker."

 

I feel that this helps vindicate—if any vindication was necessary—the manner in which we address ourselves to recordings and to gear. It's how we characterize the success of engineers and manufacturers, beyond a strictly emotional response to what we're hearing. There's a language, a lexicon, that may sound unnecessarily effete to the uninitiated and there is, of course, no requirement that you be able to explain why a given recording or piece of audio equipment seems "realistic" and gets your juices flowing like the real thing does. But many enthusiasts find this an essential part of what we do as audiophiles.

 

Were there also people who did much worse than guessing?

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 -> wi-fi to router -> EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> USPCB -> ISO Regen (powered by LPS-1) -> USPCB -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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5 hours ago, Jud said:

 

Were there also people who did much worse than guessing?

 

There were.

 

I found 13 answer sheets, and these were the results:

 3/12 correct

 4/12

 5/12

 6/12

 6/12

 6/12

 7/12

 7/12

 8/12

 8/12

 9/12       (violinist)

 9/12       (violinist)

 12/12     (audiophile)

 

I don't pretend that this goes much beyond "anecdotal" but one other part of the experiment was interesting to me. The subjects were actually presented with two differently randomized series of files, the first encoded as 16-bit FLAC and the second as 145 kbps MP3. My "star"—the audiophile who got 12/12 correct with FLAC—got just 7/12 right with the MP3 trial.

 

Maybe you remember, Jud, I'd mentioned the idea of an online version of the trial. Originally, my thought was to do this via the TAS website but as the site is no longer "interactive" (a good thing, IMO, given the frequency of childish and totally OT posts) maybe we could do it here, if Chris was on board. Any interest?

 

Andy

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