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