Hi Res, 24bit, and DSD

  • 5 January 2017
  • 21 replies
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As a long time Sonos user I'm disappointed to say I'll be moving on. I have started looking for a system that can handle hi res files like DSD, or at least 24 bit. How i can appreciate the value in not having to upgrade my Sonos equipment, you'd think after over a decade there would be some interest in tackling sound quality.

Sonos was once the choice for audiophiles, but without support for high sound quality, we're moving on. This seems like a tremendous opportunity to sell new equipment to people you haven't made money from in a long time. Why not embrace better quality?

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21 replies

Why not embrace better quality?

Because it's not better quality. In fact, it can cause intermodulation distortion in the playback stream that can actually decrease quality. Sonos' decision makers, being actual scientists instead of marketing gurus, realize Hires audio is snake-oil, and would rather not rip off their customers. As distinctly stated by Sonos co-founder Tom Cullen:

“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.”


http://www.whathifi.com/features/sonos-plans-brighter-and-brighter-wireless-music-future
This seems like a tremendous opportunity to sell new equipment to people you haven't made money from in a long time.
Unfortunately that's exactly how some of the less principled purveyors of equipment and content view 'HiRes': as a means to relieve consumers of yet more money, by convincing them that they must replace their equipment and buy their music collection all over again.

Any supposed improvement you can hear from 'HiRes' stems from more careful mastering. Downconvert that content to 16/48 and you'd not be able to tell the difference (other than the lack of IM distortion potentially improving the quality). Indeed, in the cases where it's been found that some '24-bit' mixes are in fact 16-bit with 8-bits of zero padding there isn't any difference.

Any supposed improvement you can hear from 'HiRes' stems from more careful mastering.

Unfortunately there is more to it - Expectation Bias, which is another example of the power of the mind of which anyone that is at all familiar with the placebo effect will have some knowledge. For anyone afflicted, it is very real, as real as placebo caused cures are.
Fortunately, this bias also operates like a conflict of interest in that declaring the interest usually dissolves the conflict. If one wishes the bias to go away.
Of course. My comment related to the fact that 'HiRes' mixes can often be totally different from the original Red Book issue.
Understood; and that leads to Expectation Bias in general getting reinforced for the wrong reasons!

While downsampling the hi res mix is all that is needed to get the "different" sound, a method that allows all the convenience and features of Sonos to also be retained.
The trouble is that the user will 'expect' a downconverted version to sound worse. "Night and day" worse...
Yes, I can see that. Perhaps that is one reason for Sonos to do this on the fly! I understand the inefficiency argument, but I recall a Sonos executive once saying that this is an option they are considering. And before someone shoots this down as a trick that will also fail, I have used the word "perhaps" !
Just as a thought experiment, I wish Sonos would do downsampling on-the-fly without telling anyone. Then after listening to the audiophiles crow about the "night and day" differences they hear, Sonos can drop the bomb.

Then again, the (now defunct) Pono store already did this when they revealed that a significant portion of their "night and day" difference "hires" files were just 16 bit versions upsampled to 24 bit, with zeros padding the extra bits. Alas, the audiophiles' belief in hires didn't skip a beat.

I guess the late George Michael was correct when he said "You gotta have faith, faith, faith!"
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I'm convinced that if you had a live artist beside a blindfolded listener and played a lossy file and then the artists live, telling the listener that the second was a 'lossy' file format would generate mush discussion of how obviously lower quality the second sampling was .....

I gotta be honest and say that for me, anything of 'higher quality' - on spec - would never transfer to any discernible listening difference... I think I have pretty good ears (as my annual hearing tests will attest) but the subtleties, after recognizing that I'm listening in a living space that isn't perfectly designed for audio perfection and acoustics... simply wouldn't translate. Yes, I hear much much much more definition on my Sonos system than I've ever heard on any system I've owned... but further improvement on this? I don't see it.

This seems a lot like a UHD TV playing a 720p stream... to a viewer 10 feet away from the screen.... versus a 1080P screen... playing the same file.... (i know I know... there are other variables other than res... it's just an example ok!!) the truth is the marketing hype is selling TVs ... and after all "you are 'future proofing' your system... ". unfortunately it is working, and I think, at the appropriate time, Sonos will provide the support they need for certain lossless and highres formats just to maintain the reputation they have, but I'm pretty confident they will do it well and do it right, and communicate it in a way that doesn't insult the customer asking for what will not actually sound better.

Trying to convince consumers that they are wrong and don't hear a difference isn't a way to win in business.... but finding a way to meet the need in an innovative and quality way is something that's may need to happen...
I'd be amazed if at the point of sale the lack of HiRes was a deal breaker, whereas asking the guy in a big box store to explain the virtues of SonosNet was obviously too much hence 'Standard Setup' (WiFi mode).
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Oh I don't think that's fair ratty,

I think you underestimate the consumer's ability to be deceived.... and convinced they are missing something if they don't have HiRes... or any other silly spec...

How many technical products can you see that splash features and specs that are, essentially, meaningless to the end consumer... but people want 'the best'... people who connect two i5 legacy computers to a wifi network on a 5Mb/s internet connection 'need' to have a 2,350 Mbs router... ... ... to watch YouTube...

In many many areas specs rule. Despite their actual utility ...
I think I have pretty good ears (as my annual hearing tests will attest) but the subtleties, after recognizing that I'm listening in a living space that isn't perfectly designed for audio perfection and acoustics... simply wouldn't translate.

Trying to convince consumers that they are wrong and don't hear a difference isn't a way to win in business.... but finding a way to meet the need in an innovative and quality way is something that's may need to happen...

Two good points.

Actually there is a vast loss of quality in any home audio set up compared to a live act that is apparent to anyone that has heard a live act. But even these folk can enjoy music at home because the brain does a great job of filling in the gaps. While the gap between the best of Sonos kit and the best hifi at any price is much much smaller in comparison and is effortlessly bridged by any brain that is not stuck in a "looking to find the gaps" mode.

But specs does sell kit, and these days making home audio kit hi res capable is probably cheaper than not doing so because the ICs and other stuff of a higher spec may be cheaper while the older generation componentry may well be out of production. So even with hi res music never taking off, Sonos may need to do something on the spec front, even if it merely ticks a box. And it may even cost less to do so, from a hardware point of view.
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Hey chicks

Really want to say thanks for posting that vid... sure, lots was over my head... but I caught a lot of it, and really enjoyed hearing someone knowledgeable about the subject... that was totally worth the time. 🆒
This was a great video. Basically clarified that unless a recording is done digitally from the source and not a transfer from analog that it is not Hi-Res, rather Master Audio. Which makes complete sense. Basically upscaling. Then goes on to justify the recording and use of Hi-Res. "If its coming out of an instrument...in the room where you are listening to it...acoustically....I'd like to capture it and put it back in the room where you are listening to it....just maybe there is something going on...that says you can react differently." Exactly how I feel
Then goes on to justify the recording and use of Hi-Res. "If its coming out of an instrument...in the room where you are listening to it...acoustically....I'd like to capture it and put it back in the room where you are listening to it....just maybe there is something going on...that says you can react differently." Exactly how I feel
I haven't seen the video, but does it suggest that the quoted effect is not possible with a well made recording on a CD?
I don't really understand what you mean by "quoted effect." What he mentioned is that obviously we know human hearing only goes up to 20kHz so anything past that is theoretically inaudible, however it shouldn't discount the recording from capturing it and allowing the playback of the original recording in its full bitstream. So I guess no, the same "fidelity" isn't possible on 16bit/44.1kHz file. What is audible is arguably limited to a range, however, just because you don't hear it doesn't mean the "fidelity" of a 44.1kHz is the same as a 92kHz. I guess it depends on if your definition of "fidelity" revolves around the theoretical ability to perceive acoustics in a specific range or not. I myself hear differences in the same recordings at different resolutions doing ABX tests. Even if it is placebo and a hi-res recording sounds better to you shouldn't discourage the listening of that recording since it obviously offers you a more enjoyable experience.
If you can honestly discern between different resolutions of audio from the same masters in an ABX test, you should be able to sell your ears to the Hi-res audio manufacturers for millions. Because you would be the very first person in history to ba able to do it.

Unless we are talking about intermodulation distortion in the Hi-res playback hardware,, in which case the higher resolution sound would be inferior. Of course a properly conducted ABX test would eliminate this distortion from the playback chain.
Even if it is placebo and a hi-res recording sounds better to you shouldn't discourage the listening of that recording since it obviously offers you a more enjoyable experience.
The problem with most people - certainly with myself - is that once something is understood to be a placebo, it is no longer effective. This is as applicable to music listening as it is to medicines, where the placebo analogy is derived from.
Hi res CAN sound better, but this is just because it is often better mastered and those benefits can also be obtained without buying Hi res capable hardware.
And no consumer advocate would ever allow for placebos claiming extraordinary curative powers with no proof being sold at astronomical prices to unsuspecting laymen wothout calling attention to it. These types of medical charlatans may exist, but the scientific community certainly does not let them go unchallenged.
By the way, why all the "theoretical"s in regards to the range of hearing? The range of human hearing is not theoretucal, it has been proven to be not much more over 20 KHz by hundreds of years of medical experiment and observation. Nothing theoretical about it, and if you can prove differently, I imagine Harvard would be calling.