24-bit FLAC Crash and Burn

After listening to a video interview with Neil Young tell us music lovers who listen to MP3 files we’re settling for 5% of music data from a studio master I wrote The Quest for the Highest Fidelity.  Since then I’ve been experimenting with 24-bit FLAC files to see if I could hear the stuff I’m missing.  I downloaded a copy of Fubar2000 to play FLAC files and then downloaded a selection of sample FLAC files from 2l.no.  I did not notice a dramatic 20 times better sound quality from having 100% of the music data.  I couldn’t even tell if it was 5% better.

The big question is why not?  Some possible answers are:

  • My ears aren’t good enough (60 years old)
  • My PC speakers aren’t good enough (Kliptsch THX 2.1)
  • My PC audio isn’t good enough (RealTek HD Audio)
  • I don’t have things set up right
  • I don’t have auditory skills to notice a big difference
  • I don’t have all the various components working together properly

If I had $10-20,000 in audio gear I might notice a significant difference but I’m not going to spend the money to find out.  But even if had the money and was willing to spend it, I think I’d need a degree in audio engineering to set up the system.  There are damn few books about setting up high definition digital audio, and not that much on the Internet either.  My Realtek HD audio supports playing 24-bit 96kHz and 192kHz files, and I download FLAC files of each type, and damn if I can tell any difference.  I could tell a slight difference between the 24-bit FLAC and the streaming MP3 music.

And even if the sound was dramatically better, would I really switch to buying $25 albums?  A terabyte hard drive would hold about 100 albums, which would be $2500.  I get a million albums for $10 a month from Rdio, and they sound great.  But then I’m happy eating beans and rice.

I suppose if I was a rich dude living in a big house and had lots of money to burn, I’d build a room for high definition audio, and a RAID NAS with many terabytes of free space, assemble a high end stereo system and collect 24-bit FLAC files, but I doubt I’ll ever be a rich dude.

But you know what?  I recently created a playlist of 1963 songs on Rdio and played them through Roku box connected to my $400 Pioneer amp, with a pair of Infinity floor standing speakers and cranked up the volume, and that was the best I ever heard those songs since 1963.  Neil, I might be missing 95% of the music data, but the 5% I had sounded great.

Even on my PC, if I crank up the volume, the songs sound way better than when I first heard them on a clock AM radio with a single 3” inch speaker.

Streaming MP3 music is just too damn convenient.  This experiment is over.

JWH – 2/15/12

5 thoughts on “24-bit FLAC Crash and Burn”

  1. About a week ago I wrote this on my facebook page.
    Playing around with mp3 encoding quality. I found that itunes uses 256k aac and google music uses 320k mp3 and amazon mp3 uses 256k mp3. So I took one of my good CD’s and ran some different quality options using lame and found that 256k or 320k they sound similar but 320k with full stereo was the best with the command lame -m s -q 0 -b 320 song.wav sound.mp3. The difference is small but there. A lot of the compressed music is compressed with compromises for size and quality without very good stereo separation. Fun stuff. To bad we can’t get 160khz 32bit recordings. The current standard is 44khz 16bit at 320k mp3 compression.

    Looks like there is better music available. I also found a cool walkman like player for about $1,000 that will play the high quality music. Looks like I’m not the only one thinking about quality music.

    1. What was that $1,000 player? Can you use Lame at the command line?

      There’s another factor to consider: convenience. For me, streaming music is just too damn convenient. I can’t go back to buying music because I don’t want to be a music librarian and manage all those files. MOG claims to use 320k streams, and Rdio I think claims a mixture of 256k and 320 streams, but I’m not sure. If it’s practical, I assume streaming music will eventually move to lossless encoding, but broadband will need to improve significantly, like that of South Korea.

      1. The Colorfly C4 Pocket HiFi in the UK.
        http://www.custom-cable.co.uk under headphone amps. Zoom H2 or H4 can record at 24/92k but I don’t know about quality playback. Lame works great at the command line with the settings I suggested. I build some of my own 320 files and my streaming player could just do it over Verizon 3G. If reception was not top notch or if I tried checking a web page the stream would cut out. With LTE coming online it should be no big deal.

        1. Wow, that’s some music player. I found a nice review here that mentions other high-end players.

          I’m moving away from owning music and get my tunes from Rdio and Rhapsody. You might look into them. They both let you download albums to your player to play when you’re not in network range.

          What I’m looking into now is how to get the most fidelity from subscription music. I’m curious if spending money for USB DAC would make a significant difference.

  2. MP3 headphones are commonly purchased the ear bud style. Most mp3 headphones are small, semi-circular speakers that are right into the end of our ear canal and point the speaker in to the head. Mp3 headphones of this kind produce fairly reliable audio nevertheless in case a significant of ear of wearer is big, these are typically extremely uncomfortable to use. The ear buds has to be in the right size for every wearer of mp3 headphones.`

    Have a look at the newest write-up at our very own blog page

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