Possible to stream better than CD quality?

  • 2 March 2017
  • 6 replies

Here's an interesting podcast on Scientific American:

Can better than CD quality music be streamed?
What would be needed to make that happen with our current technology/equipment now?

How should the music be mastered? SACD?, 24bit/96KHz (or higher) WAV?, other options?

Possible equipment setup
If I want to use headphones in this scenario I would imagine using a DAC like a Chord Mojo and a decent pair of earphones/headphones (Shure SE846)

Sonos equipment setup
I have a pair of Play:5 set up in stereo and I stream FLAC from Deezer Elite - sounds pretty much like a CD to me. Interestingly, according to this, Sonos supports audio files up to 16 bit and 44.1 kHz: https://sonos.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/80/kw/16bit/related/1

Just curious: Sonos, is that a software or hardware limit (or both)?

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6 replies

Already discussed. The "slight statistical significance" was rigged, as was the study (or at least the commentary on it was). There was no talk of picking out an increase in quality going from CD to Hi-res, only a "difference" between the two. A difference which can easily be explained by the introduction of intermodulation distortion in some playback hardware when reproducing hypersonic frequencies. This distortion is small, but audible, and unfortunately for "audiophiles" it is deleterious to the sound, not advantageous. Hence the reason the "study" only concentrated on "differences" and not a perceived increase in quality.

Nothing to see here.
Interesting. So it's not possible to have (and stream) better than CD quality sound?

Also, is the 16/44/1 limitation on the Sonos system a software or hardware limitation (or both)?
Interesting. So it's not possible to have (and stream) better than CD quality sound?

Also, is the 16/44/1 limitation on the Sonos system a software or hardware limitation (or both)?

According to mathematics, physics, and biological science, the CD standard is more than adequate for even the very outer limits of human hearing. The human ear is simply not capable of hearing any sound over 20 KHz, most are only capable of much lower. As stated by Nyquist-Shannon sampling theory, a 44.1 KHz sample rate can perfectly reproduce any frequencies up to ~22 KHz, far above the limits of human hearing.

Using dither techniques, the 16 bits bit-depth is capable of 120 dB dynamic range, able to duplicate the sounds from a mosquito flying around in a room up to a jackhammer at a distance of one foot, all in the same recording. In other words, enough to record the quietest of sounds all the way up to causing pain or hearing damage in seconds. So unless you are recording mosquitoes during a space launch, CD quality is not only very adequate, it is overkill.

Add in the fact that hi-res recordings can actually increase bad distortion levels in the playback stream, which means CD is in some cases higher quality (what a kicker that one is, eh?).

Whether or not the limit is a software or a hardware limit, Sonos has never stated. They have intimated it is a common sense limit. One of the founders, Tom Cullen, publicly stated:

“We’ve looked really hard at it”, says Tom. “Of course we want to make sure we’re not missing anything and we feel pretty good that we’re not. There are arguments you could make about deeper bit depth, but we are unable to make a meaningful argument on sample rate. We tried, we can’t – the math just isn’t there.”

Funny that he agrees with mathematics, physics, and biological science.
Even more interesting. So better than CD quality sound is fiction? Marketing? False advertising?
All three. Experimentally, when laymen to highly trained listeners were given an ABX test between 24/96 and the same tracks downsampled to CD quality, no one was able to detect the difference with any significance (a study which was curiously left out of the meta-analysis you linked to above). It was found that any differences between CDs and their separately distributed "Hi-Res" versions were due to re-mastering only. In other words, they cooked the "Hi-Res" master to sound different, and when the cooked version was output in CD resolution, nobody in the study could tell the difference.

In short, it's another way to trick you into buying music yet again, in a more expensive format. Except unlike many formats in the past, there is no real quality increase, at least not one that they cannot re-master into the standard 16/44.1 CD resolution. It's audio snake oil.

Read Monty Montgomery's statements on Hi-res audio in the link below (Monty is from Xiph, the creators of FLAC, and he knows a thing or two about digital audio);

Just a slightly different angle - CD quality sound is not a precise statement because a blank CD is like an empty container to which GIGO - garbage in/garbage out applies. How the CD will sound depends on the quality of the information stored on it and this is determined by the recording/mastering process. But no one has conclusively proved via well controlled listening tests that purely as a container, a CD isn't good enough for recording and then delivering sound quality as good as can be heard by humans, from mastering that is as good as any sound engineer can achieve.

As one example: Rudy Van Gelder is a very well known sound engineer. There are many jazz CDs that are available as originally released, and as remastered by RVG. The latter usually sound a lot better, though at times there are two views on this. But there is little disputing in these cases that the two CDs that are not inherently different from each other, with both containing the same performance, sound different.