Jan 18, 20195080 views

HiFi Music: Listening, Sources, Tracks?

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Howdy folks. I want to up my music listening game. Where are the best places, and what are the best methods for me to do so? A few more questions I have:
  • Does streaming high quality on Spotify count?
  • Do I need to use a service like Tidal?
  • What details should I look for besides the music being "lossless"?
  • Can I truly get the most out of HiFi music with standard equipment?
There has to be more to this than I realize and I'll put it to you all to let me know. And if you have links/examples to tracks as well that would be awesome so please share. 🗣THANK-YOU
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Samuelsv, ThomasNeville, and 18 others
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-"I want to up my music listening game. Where are the best places, and what are the best methods for me to do so?" Up until 3 weeks ago, I listened to/discovered new music using Google Play Music (high-bitrate-lossy 320 kbps MP3). Good enough to discover new music. I kept multiple "albums I don't own" playlists of things I liked and thought I might want to acquire in higher quality for optimal listening under ideal circumstances. If I decided I liked it enough to buy a better copy of it, I'd either:
  1. Buy the CD (often referred to as "Redbook" or "lossless") and rip it losslessly to FLAC files using a free program called Exact Audio Copy. CD-quality is done at 16-bit depth and sampled at 44,100 Hz; 16-bits * 44,100 samples/second * 2 channels (left and right) = 1411.2 kbps for uncompressed CDs.
  2. Buy the lossless CD-quality direct from websites like 7Digital.
  3. Buy HiRez FLAC files from sources like 7Digital or HDTracks. HiRez is defined as being stored at 24-bit depth and sampled at frequencies of at least 44,100 hz (96,000 hz is common).
I often made the decision between CD-quality (either via disc or digital download) vs. HiRez by first checking "the dynamic range database" (http://dr.loudness-war.info/). If users/posters had data supporting that the HiRez version had gotten a better recorded version (less-brickwalled, more dynamic range), that would often drive me to splurge for the HiRez version rather than Redbook. For modern/synthetic music (stuff that was "played" through a digital system before it was recorded) I generally find their to be minimal benefit to anything beyond "high-bitrate-lossy" (256 kbps or 320 kbps), but for anything with strings that are plucked (piano's, acoustic guitars, violin/cello/etc), and for very complex or nuanced vocals, I think the difference between 320 kbps and CD-quality is pretty significant. If the CD and the HiRez are of the same mastering, I think the difference between 16-bit "CD quality" and 24-bit "HiRez" is usually pretty minimal, but not necessarily "always zero" the way some will claim. I stream my local FLAC files and cast to my whole-home-audio of Google Chromecast Audios by way of the Plex Media Server that I run within my home. I recently signed up for a 30-day-free-trial of a streaming service called Qobuz, and I think I"m going to keep it. I really like it. I tried Tidal and liked it, but Qobuz works better for me. Tidal sounded great; it was clearly a step up, sound-quality-wise, from lossy streaming services, but I often felt like it didn't sound IDENTICAL to my own CD rips. Sometimes I thought it was as benign as maybe Tidal bumped the gain up, even just a little bit, to make Tidal sound louder than the CD? Sometimes I could hear the "watermark" some refer to with Tidal. Sometimes I couldn't. With Qobuz, so far, my experience has been that Qobuz streaming, at CD quality and at HiRez, sounds (to my ears) IDENTICAL to my own FLAC library of CD rips and HiRez purchases. The fact that it supposedly integrates well with Roon will probably be the final straw/tipping point that causes me to give Roon a go sometime in 2019 too. - "Can I truly get the most out of HiFi music with standard equipment?" In short: no. I generally can't hear much difference between CD quality and compressed "streaming" music on what I consider "standard equipment," but on my best speakers-and-headphones, the difference is real. In my opinion and experience, the last component to upgrade in the chain is the DAC. It's not unimportant. That's not what I'm suggesting at all. What I'm suggesting is that upgrading the DAC will make the least benefit/improvement to sound quality UNTIL your source material (files) are in good shape and you have quality transducers (speakers or headphones) to play them out of (and obviously, whatever speakers/headphones you end up with need to be properly powered, so make sure you don't buy high-impedence low-sensitivity headphones if you don't also have or plan to buy a proper AMP to drive them with). Get your files right, and get a quality pair of speakers or headphones (and whatever power you need to properly drive them) first, then look into different DACs, is my general recommendation. Hope this helps.
Qobuz is available in the U.S. now. There are various tiers available, first month free though I don't know at what level. At the Sublime level, which I opted for, music is available in high res 24 bit and available for purchase at discount. I think that's 24.99 monthly, though I paid for a year. 40 million song library. The sound quality is stunning with a decent rig and good earphones. As I write this I'm listening to Taeguk Mun's "Songs of the Cello" in 24 bit 96.0 khz and I can literally hear every time the man draws a breath with my RHA CL2's.
Do me a favor, grab a decent DAC or HIFI internal soundcard like a AudioTrak, get a nice stereo amp, or some decent IEMs or speakers, and test them with these tracks. These guys have over 25 years of mastering and music production with an added bonus of extreme talent. Since they are classically trained musicians, your speakers & ears will go for a ride. Any song from these albums will test your setups full capability. Infected Mushroom : Converting Vegeterians II The Legend of the Black Shawarma Army of Mushrooms Vicious Delicious
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Ah, that's right--the one I got at Onkyo Music is the "Deluxe Edition," which includes both Vol.1 and Vol.2. I'm not sure exactly which tracks are on which volume since I have them all on one "album."
SpeleoFool
Actually I just checked and both songs are on vol.1 and vol.2 . Speaking of vocals, the track "maniplulator" on the "Return to the Sauce" album is apparently all manipulated vocals done with their plugin with the same name. Great track...
Happy to share my personal experience here! 1. I have three sets: one on road, one in office, one at home. 2. The set on road composes of (1) SONY ZX-1 + (2) B&W C5. 3. The set in office composes of (1) red dos tube headphone amplifier, available in Massdrop + (2) very nice DAC (using ESS9028pro) + (3) a decent Marshall Monitor [expecting to get my KOSS ESP/95X from Massdrop] and (4) the sound source is an Apple Mac Pro running VOX and exporting signals via optical link. 4. The set at home composes of (1) Denon CD player (with DSD) + (2) Audio Research tube pre-amplifier + (3) Threshold Mono blocks + (4) GNP Valkyrie speakers. 5. My sound sources are Spotify + CD + DSD + Hi-res from website. All three systems sound differently.  It is a matter of hi-fi (hi-res) quality and music enjoyment. If your focus is music enjoyment and don’t care too much on the exact texture and details, so there is no need to waste money on expensive gear even there is differences.  If you want to have both of the world, then be prepared to pay.  Does streaming high quality on Spotify count? My hearing ability is normal (tested), I can easily tell the differences between the same CD playing on Spotify versus any of my set.  I can tell the differences of recordings sampled at different rates and bits, because I know how they different, and so I know what to look for.  Do I needto use a service like Tidal? Only streaming at 1100kbps is really not Hi-res. I have no comment.  What details should I look for besides the music being "lossless"? You should pay attention to where and who make the recording, because good recording make a lot of differences.   By the way, in my Audi, I play "wav" format. forget about "lossless"  Can I truly get the most out of HiFi music with standard equipment? Definitely NO!  I spent few years experimenting what kinds of accessory (such as cables, power supply, stand, spike, room acoustic, etc.) to get the most out of my gear at home. Not many people know how to use the equaliser to the best benefits. Not to mention about the dual sound volume control. There is long way to learn. A last piece of advise: if you are a music lover, somewhere in your gear, you MUST have a tube pre-amp or power amp.   Enjoy the music...!
Want to find out with your own ears whether lossless matters? Go listen to Radio Paradise, through whatever gear you listen through. First, listen to their 128K stream. Then their 192K stream. Then their 320K stream. Then their 16/44 lossless stream. Decide. Important to blow off all the "nobody can tell the difference" cult since several million people clearly seem to be able to tell. But there are things to consider. Now this gets long. What you listen through matters. If you're streaming through your iPhone, you won't be able to sort 320K from any lossless. That's not because humans can't tell the difference. It's because iPhone's DAC is a secondary feature, implemented to be good enough with 256K Apple files. If it sounds good enough for YOUR ears with the gear you listen through, why bother with more? On my three main listening rigs streaming Radio Paradise, I can accurately ID each of the different stream depths. So have many guests who aren't terribly interested in fancy audio gear but who asked me the questions you're asking. You can accurately tell even with an old Logitech Touch as the DAC, if the rest of the sound production gear is high quality. I always get "wow, this sounds so much better on your gear" when guests are over. People get up in the middle of dinner and look around the corner into the family room because it sounds like the performers are in there. My library's minimum bit depth is 16/44. About a third of my music library is 24/48 or better. I don't have a million dollar rig (I have friends who do, bless them.) My whole family room setup, acquired over the years when I could afford to upgrade this or that, would go for under $10,000 brand new. Five speakers, DAC, AV pre-pro, and amp. On that system, I can (and so have visitors) accurately tell the difference between a 24/96 version of a song and a 16/44 version. Same is true of the system that would, all in, go for less than $6,000 (my art studio). And for the system that all in would go for under $2500 (master bedroom.) On that lowest end system, I can't hear differences between 24/96 and higher bit depths. I can easily tell 24/192 versus 24/96 on the other two. Here come the exceptions. Electronica is PRODUCED at 16/44 (or worse, some EDM producers record at Apple Store bit depths) most of the time so anything at higher bit depths is simply reproducing 16/44. Some music gets recorded at 16/44, or on low quality recording gear, or just badly. Higher bit depth files don't fix that. If your music is Alabama Shakes, MC5, SoundGarden, Metallica - you'll be hard pressed to tell 16/44 from 192K. The music is all compressed up with no dynamic range (search "loudness wars"), and dynamic range is one area where bit depths really matter. If an album's DR is less than 7, don't buy anything over 16/44. Another factor is complexity of the musical sounds. A vibrating acoustic string puts out huge numbers of harmonics, as do most acoustic instruments, and most sound profiles for electronic jazz guitar or bass. Once you start electronically mashing, twisting, and stretching tones through electronic amps and distortion rigs, the complexity is reduced. Another area where bit depth matters is presence. You won't ever hear the sound of the hall where a live orchestra or jazz group played below 16/44. A space creates harmonics. That sense of the space improves with bit depth, to a point. Many producers close mic and lose that sense of space. That's why performers seem to materialize in my listening rooms much more on some albums than on others. David Chesky records his label's albums in a handful of acoustically interesting spaces, using a recording mic that looks like a head with ears, and the mics are in the ears. Yes, you can absolutely tell that recording rig from a mass of regular microphones. Finally, back to hearing. Just like you can learn to tumble, or drive a race car better than others, you can learn to hear better than others. I was a professional musician into my mid-20s, classical, big band, jazz, rock. I can tell if an orchestra is tuned to A at 440 hz or not. (Some orchestras tune slightly brighter, some slightly darker.) I can tell if a trumpet has a brass bell or a silver bell listening live, and on recorded music can only do that at 24/96 and above. All that and more was learned. Trust your ears. If it doesn't sound different to you, think about all the money you'll save! If it does - why would you deprive yourself of more engagement and joy?
EdinNJ
It's so nice when people know what they're talking about.
I've been following this thread for a while and realize that the most important question has NOT been framed in all the posts.  That is "Why am I listening to music in the first place?"  To me there are two main reasons, as a pleasant background to what I'm really doing at the time … or.... ONLY listening to the artist, music and recording he is making, with no other distractions, just the music. (There are different reasons to listen within serious listening but they are not worth discussing for this topic.) So if your goal is to create a pleasant background to what you are doing, then I fully agree with all that say the quality does not really matter that much.  You'll never here it while your playing a game, studying for a test, posting on Facebook, etc.  I know because part of my listening is just this kind of listening, background while I work or am cooking or having a party.  I still have pretty good equipment for that purpose but it likely is not necessary for the purpose it serves.  And the source material sound quality is of little importance.  Content is far more important.  For my background listening, I usually stream a good jazz radio station (WWW.JAZZ.FM) which offers pretty crappy sound (in absolute terms), even though I have a Tidal subscription, and could easily be listing to it. I do use the odd Tidal composed playlist for parties every now and again but all reports say that Spotify play lists are way better.  When I have time, I'll spend some time with Spotify and see if it is worth getting it, as well, for their playlists. But when it comes time for me to LISTEN to the music, I head downstairs to my dedicated HiFi room, close the door and put on vinyl, cd's or Tidal.  All playing on my mega expensive equipment that I've invested hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours setting up for optimum sound (speaker based system).  And I'm still playing around with the room (currently adding corner traps all over the place).  When you actually sit and listen to the music, the smallest improvements jump out.  And once your used to listening  for them, they become painfully obvious. But you HAVE to be LISTENEING. So the first question anyone has to ask themselves, is "Why do I put on music".  If your answer is to create a pleasant background, save your money but if your serious about actually listening to the music, get ready to spend way too much time and money on chasing the Holy Grail :-) BTW, for all out there that say they want both, then your stuck with chasing the Holy Grail (meaning your going to have to spend the time, but not necessarily TOO much money, if your smart about it).  Everyone out there, enjoy life.  And to quote the great jazz/pop singer, Al Jarreau,  "  It's nice to be important.... but it is far more important to be nice"   
24 bit is a lossless codec 320kbps is an MP3 file ...... This man above me is wrong tidal offers Mastered audio at 24 bit and 16 bit which is equivalent to CD quality
Don't fall for 'audiophile' elitist bullcrap. Spotify premium highest quality will do. You will not be able to discern the 24bit 320kbps 48khz Spotify songs from lossless. It has been proven that you can't hear the difference between 16 and 24bit so don't even worry about higher bit rates haha. Anyone who says otherwise is either a god or did not do a blind test. Regarding source what phone do you use? Most are very capable and can beat some high end stand alone dacs/amps. Just Google and you will find that even the 7 yr old iPod touch 5g is more than capable as a hifi dap. Otherwise invest in phones with good audio quality such as lg v20/30 or HTC phones. or Xiaomi or Huawei which have Dirac Sound (amazing DSP which will rival some of the best dacs). This way you have a great portable listening device and a phone, whilst a "hifi" standalone DAC/amp would cost nearly the same or only slightly less. If phone can't supply enough power for your headphone to get to listenable levels then buy a cheap amp, don't spend more than $150. All an amp does is increase your volume. The thing that makes the biggest difference beside source is the headphone/earphone/speaker so invest in a good sounding one. Also remember higher price doesn't equal better sound, there's a study which actually proves that higher price = worse sound. Go out and demo a bunch yourself, don't trust others opinions or reviews. Stay wary my friend, the audio industry has eaten up many uneducated people. Like others say, it's all about enjoying the music, don't get lost in this chasing audio perfection conundrum.
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I agree that when technology is implemented PROPERLY it can be very beneficial. I trust that the focal beryllium is very light, but you could have beryllium drivers that are heavier than your standard polymer drivers. Depends on how much beryllium they use and the quality of beryllium. Ultimatelyess if you're happy then that's all that matters. Everything we do in life all points to happiness. I find it also very important to be content with what we have. Kind of like the never ending cycle of unhappiness, rural/agricultural families seem like they live an easy going, simple, harmonious life to the common person. On the other hand the rural family, they wish they had the money common subuarban people have and enjoy the technology and other granduers of a modern life. Then again, I always question when should we be content. When is enough enough, and when is it not enough. Should we just settle for sub par earbuds or go for $$$$ headphones. And should $$$$ audio gear have some objective performance standard? Or should we just ignore performance and take in the fact that some people are really happy they have a $$$$ headphone which they think perform better than others purely because their brains equate price with performance. Sometimes they do sound bad, sometimes they don't, but is it worth breaking these people's happiness and saying it is crap even when measurements prove this? Kind of like someone obese, should we tell them they're unhealthy and overweight or let them enjoy the food which they love sooo much and praise their bodies (just like the crazy modern trend of fat is beautiful). That's why i'm so intrigued and a big believer of the diffuse field curve and especially the Harman curve. There must be objectivity in sound, just like everything else in life. Even love is not just love. Many senses, chemicals, and biological interactions take place unconsciously when one becomes attracted to another. Just like majority of humans find standing more exhausting than sitting, and sitting more exhausting than sleeping. I'm really into psychology at the moment. Going through some tough times, so like a typical engineer I thought I might learn some psychology to help me understand and work through my problems lol. Learning about sound science has also kept my mind at bay. If you're interested I suggest you check out emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman. If you liked the book I suggest you read another book of his called social intelligence. Great books for the common person who wants a bit of knowledge on psychology and neuroscience. You'll find that even emotions is not all irrationality, a lot boils down to evolution and the environment/experiences we had growing up.
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Showpan
"Don't fall for 'audiophile' elitist bullcrap. Spotify premium highest quality will do. You will not be able to discern the 24bit 320kbps 48khz Spotify songs from lossless. It has been proven that you can't hear the difference between 16 and 24bit so don't even worry about higher bit rates haha. Anyone who says otherwise is either a god or did not do a blind test. " ^^^ All of the "stuides" concluding that human's can't hear a difference between 320 kbps compression and CD-quality (16-bit/44.1 kHz) are flawed. Since I'm also a big Craft Beer fan, I like to think of it as being analogous to "randomly surveying" 1000 Major League Baseball fans outside the stadium, having them blind taste-test some Craft-y all-grain Pilsner against an adjunct-y BMC offering, and if/when the results don't conclude a "statistically significant percentage of people could taste the difference," proclaiming and publishing that human being's CAN'T taste the difference. It's IMPOSSIBLE. Human's "aren't capable of it". Meanwhile, the official judges at The Great American Beer Festival (or the 1000's of patrons that have traveled from out-of-state to partake) nail the "test" with ease. It's not a debate. Human beings are very capable of tasting the difference between an all-grain "craft" pilsner and a BMC beer made with cheaper extracts. The fact that "random" people (NOT craft beer fans, people that spend their free time reading craft beer reviews, posting on BeerAdvocate's forums, traveling far-and-wide to visit distant breweries and attend beer festivals, etc) can fail the "test," and someone can turn a camera on and film them do it and post it to the internet, doesn't prove that all human's can't. Same thing with audio. Any study done that targets self-identified audiophiles, people who spend their free time either listening to music or reading about gear/equipment on the internet, people that *know* the easy/simple "tells" that allow you to readily hear the difference (the "decay" in the way a cymbal/high-hat rings around in the room that it was played in, well after the initial *strike*), can pass the "test" and correctly identify the CD quality (or higher) bitrate over the lossy MP3/AAC/whatever with very high statistical significance, if the test is administered using good gear and with good source material.
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Can listening on spotify be enjoyable?maybe. Is it the best streaming experience for sound quality? Hell no! Spotify premium has worse bitrates than soundcloud premium (knowing soundclouds reputation this is for comparison only) Tidal on the other hand has either lossless full value cd quality or even the mqa masters of many albums. It absolutely sounds better and is well worth the upgrade if its higher cost can be fit into your budget. That said the best way to achieve good quality is to buy the high res versions of your favorites as it is far from a guarantee they will always be found on streaming services. Define standard equipment? I can tell the difference between flacs and mp3s on $25 chifi earphones but all files are more enjoyable and the differences between them are more apparent with my sennheisers. I'm certain that were I able to afford to upgrade to and even higher quality headphone it would be even more impressive in the same ways.
Dmt37
Mate what are you on about. SoundCloud has the worst audio quality of probably any streaming service. Max quality is currently 64kbps, previously it was 128kbps, dunno why they decided to lower it. On the other hand, Spotify highest quality is 24bit 48khz 320kbps which is indiscernible to lossless.
Showpan
Both are a lossy compression which is undesirable but soundcloud doesn't employ additional replay-gain compression to equalize the volume levels between tracks which from my experience is way worse than the lower bit-rate but as with all things audio ymmv. As for 320 lossy compression being indiscernable from lossless I would say that depends heavily on the circumstances in which listening is taking place, the equipment available for testing and of course the ears of the listener. From what I have witnessed with even inexperienced listeners on low end (for hifi) equipment there is a massive difference.
If I'm just casually listening while working, I don't notice the difference between 320kbps streaming from Spotify and lossless. It really depends on where my focus is though. When I'm going to critically listen to something for all of the details and just completely enjoy sound, I'm pulling up HDTracks and lossless CD rips. For my usage case, I can't justify the additional monthly costs of Tidal. Call me old fashioned if you want, but I feel obligated to help support an artist when I go to listen to their full album. I'm going to spend my money on the album I'm interested in instead of on a service which, like Spotify, which pays them some ridiculous pittance for their efforts. Spotify still has a use to me as a place to find new music to enjoy (similar to the radio of days past). My payments there perform the same role as the commercials that drive me away from radio. In my experience "Hi-Fi" as a thing is more of a logarithmic gradient, if that makes sense. With entry level gear, coming from crappy gear, you can make huge leaps in sound improvements, and beyond that your expenses keep going up but your improvements get smaller and smaller. To some these small differences make all the difference in the world, and to each their own. My point is that chasing this thing they call "Hi-Fi" can cost more than you're ever going to make and still leave you wanting more, if you let it. If you were happy with your gear once, but not any longer, try some new music first. If you really want to do more with your gear, go to your local stereo shop and listen to the gear first hand and do so for as long as they will let you. If they want you to spend a small fortune on their products, they better be willing to let you find out if it's really what you want first. If you want real Hi-Fi sound, go find the real thing. Buy a ticket to a show. The chances of getting recorded sounds to ever sound exactly like the original source, are slim in my opinion. There's too much ability to lose/degrade signal in any electronic chain, from the one recording the sound to the one replaying it. There's also no way to fully reproduce sound coming at you from a 3D space using a microphone/speaker that only has 1D capture/replay ability. I'm rambling again. Probably doesn't make sense, but I hope you can find something of value in my thoughts.
Against popular opinion, don't go for a schiit stack, get a jds atom or geshelli's 100$ amp schiit only was good then schiit was the only viable option :/ Z reviews did a comparison between the 100$ amps, not sure if its put for the public yet. Get a pair of sennheiser hd 6xx or the 58x jubilee for headphones, maybe go for a fostex t50 mod, like the argons for 300$ if you want a more engaging and exciting sound and dac wise you can go for a micca origen, the 100$ schiit dac or even an audio interface from focusrite (i.e. scarlett solo) - it's also nice if you want to get a xlr mic or so for communication Use Spotify's highest quality settings and you will be happy. Z reviews said something about Spotify re-mastering brickwalled tracks and making them much more enjoyable or just use youtube, don't get caught up with chasing some high numbers, you don't need it. just download some song from bandcamp get it in flac and mp3 and just compare if you even hear a difference
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e.xo
Great post. Would you please add information (for the benefit of op and myself ) about how you get Spotify to your dac?
JamesForte
i used to use usb to get to my old sdac but had some ground loop issue with my eddie current zdt jr so i got a smsl su8, now I'm using my on board optical to feed it the optical is mainly to decouple all electricity between pc and dac and thus eliminate the ground loop issue. I also tried to use the stupidly overpriced ifi ipurifier to fix it, but it was useless :/ Edit: i use my pc for 95% of my music consumption. if you don't have that option and want to kit out your whole apartment/house I'm the wrong person to ask. but if you have a living room set up i/e and want to use your phone you could get a fiio btr3 and (if you don't have an iPhone :>) use the Bluetooth ldac connection and feed your speaker/headphone amp with that
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I ripped all our CDs to flac files and am using Plex to distribute music (and movies) to my home network and I even stream when I'm away. I have a couple of schiit stacks for listening with headphones, but I can also stream to a chromecast music and Google home minis. The kids use Plex from the Xbox if they want to listen to music. It's not the most audiophile-centric setup, but it works simply and uses equipment we already had in the house. For new music purchases, I buy flac files from bandcamp and other online stores. Many of my recent vinyl purchases have also included download codes, some have flac as an option.
Get a set of Sennheiser 650/XX and a Schiit stack along with Spotify Premium. With anything beyond this setup, you’re just chasing a rainbow. Go through the Chesky Records catalogue, Muddy Water’s The Folk Singer album, etc.
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Spotify highest is 320 K Ogg Vorbis compression, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vorbis. It is very good, but it is lossy and does not reproduce the full spectrum compared to Redbook or 44KHz PCM (CD). It is not superior in quality to CD/FLAC. As for the point regarding bias far outweighing audible effects at this point, however, we are in total agreement.
Left-Coast-DJ
It gets much better than a 650. All personal preference on that front. Personally I liked the 600 better than the 600. Regardless, its unfair to say that anything more than the 650 is chasing a rainbow because there are certainly better headphones and better amps (although this makes less of a difference). But yeah, 99% of people can not tell the difference between FLAC and 320kbps. Only people who can are people who either work in audio production or those who have talked to those who work in audio production and understand where to listen. I am not among either of those categories.
Personally just stick with spotify. First of all you get to hook any flac files you have if you really want to your spotify playlist. and Second of all I did try tidal and the music selection I found was VERY lacking. You also can't even add your own music so it wasn't worth it to me. I didn't hear a difference either when A/B the same music I did find on both spotify high quality and tidals master quality. The difference was so minimal I was glad it was only a free month trial. It's not even a month and I stopped using it. Spotify isn't perfect, I can't always find my music on it either, And even online downloads are usually limited to 256kbps or 192kbps mp3 files which I find upsetting. Although it works for me well enough. I usually try keep it all at 256kbps but sometimes there is that one music file that is at 192kbps. Although I still like that song anyway.
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Like maybe 1 week ago. My internet isn't the fastest so like if I want to get master quality it's a constant rate of 10 mbps ish on each song which is a lot for me at home and while using my phone. My download speeds are about 15mbps and it literally chokes up the whole internet in the house if anyone else wants to do something on the internet. I don't have unlimited data so it's not like I can use tidal outside in public without worrying about data usage. Spotify is a lot too but I mean it's not $20 a month too. My taste in music isn't very mainstream while they do have a good selection of mainstream songs(top 100 radio songs) they don't have any kind of my selection of music. I think I may have found 1/4 of my spotify music list on tidal. It's not really worth it in my opinion especially since I can rarely find my songs in good quality bitrate. I still enjoy my music though, I think 256kbps is good enough for most people. I think everyone should just enjoy their music and not worry about achieving the most highest quality file they can get.
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Agreed!
Good source if you want to see if you can hear a difference between CD quality and higher encoding rates http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.com/format.htm
There are a lot of places to read about HI-FI. I would suggest starting with the Daily Audiophile which is an aggregator site that accumulates posts from a host of web sites dedicated to this pursuit. https://www.dailyaudiophile.com/ My personal favourite site these days is Darko Audio. https://darko.audio/ It's run by John Darko. Of all the sites that I read he's the one that seems to speak most directly to what I'm interested in. He's a really good writer, he uses a lot of video to communicate his content and he also has a podcast that is updated periodically. He's also a little younger than most audiophile writers so his musical tastes tend to be more up my alley than what you get from most of the other writers. If you're really interested in HI-FI quality I would suggest that a CD quality streaming service is worth the money (which frankly is pretty minimal anyway). Tidal is available in many countries and Qobuz is available in parts of Europe and in the US (currently in beta). Spotify has a bigger library of songs and is a good place to find music but if your goal is to get the best sound quality then I would recommend a lossless service. The subject of HI-FI equipment is a big one. First I would say that hardly anyone starts with great equipment. It's a process. It should be about the music. That's the reason we do this in the first place. Too many people get too wrapped up in the specs of gear. The equipment is just a means of getting the enjoyment from our music. When you're young or just starting out few of us can afford great equipment anyway. Get what you can afford for now. If you already have a system, use it, and then upgrade it when you can. For me it's been a process of slowly upgrading equipment until I get where I want to be. Try to find a good dealer. Talk to them about what you're looking for. You can't beat good advice from knowledgeable people. Listen to systems at the dealers. Bring your own music because this is what you'll be playing on the equipment when you buy it. Read about equipment in the various audiophile sites. Consider used equipment. There are a number of sites that sell second-hand audio gear and it can be a good way to get better gear than you would normally be able to afford. I'd say close to half of my current system is made up of second-hand gear. But most of all, never forget it's about the music.
sg60
I second Darko... if you want to hear a reasonable take on what some would consider quite expensive gear. Audiostream.com can also be of benefit from time to time for the digital realm in particular.
I just bought an album on Bandcamp that is high-resolution, I do have a few others as well from Bandcamp. I knew from listening to album on the stream I liked it's production quality, and then upon purchase and download see the album was nearly 1 GB for 9 songs. It's 24bit, 88.2kHz sample rate with 2.6Mbps average bitrate. Very nice sounding album, mesmerized by it right now on my STAX setup. https://allindiaradio.bandcamp.com/album/s-p-a-c-e


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VRacer111
Well I be damned, good to see Bandcamp getting in to FLAC above Redbook Std. Thanks for the post!
ElectronicVices
I have several artist I listen to that consistantly put out some releases I like which are beyond redbook standard (Snail's House, Inu Machine, and Lena Raine mostly), but just 24bit/44.1kHz instead of 16bit/44.1kHz.
(Edited)
I recently noticed my old LG V20 is now outputting 96 kHz standard via USB. 44 kHz PCM is being upsampled, and MQA is outputting at least first software fold via Tidal (verified MQA hardware link via iFi Nano that has its own native support). Pretty cool of Android and or LG to backdoor this kind of support. . . no idea if it's something Android wide, or LG specific, but it's cool to be able to use slower roll off filters without fear of tapering into anything audible :)
GiantHeadphoneSquid
Good to know, was thinking of upgrading to the V40 to dabble in mobile MQA. Looks like the V20 may stick around for a bit.
I don't know why people are saying Spotify is MP3. High quality on desktop is 320kbps Ogg Vorbis which delivers better sound quality at the same bitrate compared to MP3. Format matters in addition to bitrate. Source on Spotify streaming qualities: https://support.spotify.com/sk/using_spotify/system_settings/high-quality-streaming/
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I'm not sure what people mean by "blacker" background. I assume blacker as in less or inaudible hissing or other noises/distortions? This could be due to lower output impedance.
Showpan
reduction in noise/interference/lowered noise floor depending on who you are talking to. If you have a pair of noise cancelling headphones the sensation could be somewhat similar to turning on good ANC but not near at that magnitude.
HI: Really quick answer: No to any MP3, like Spotify or Apple music, yes to Tidal.  It will cost you $20 per month but gives almost any and all the music you could possibly want for the price and at full CD quality,  You should be able to hear the difference on any headphone based system unless it's really bad. Try it out for the first, free month.  As far as a previous post saying it does not have much selection, that was obviously posted by someone with incredibly weird taste or someone who did not know what he was talking about.  I have a speaker based system and have new people over all the time.  My favorite game is "Pick a song (or artist), any song" About 98% of the time, it's on Tidal, at full CD quality. There is also MQA for even higher quality if you care. (I do, but let's not get into that rats nest). As far as getting HiFi with standard equipment, that's tough to answer because I don't know what "standard equipment" is.  If by standard, you mean the average stuff available on Mass Drop, then yes.  All the equipment I see come up will likely be capable of providing real HiFi if properly set up. A final note for all reading this,  If you don't have one, get a proper power filter.  It should provide full EMI/RFI filtering and have a 20amp rating.   If you are OK doing extension cord repair then you can easily build your own.  Go onto eBay and search for EMI/RFI filters and then buy one that is at least 20 amps. When you get it, cut the power cord on your power bar and wire in the filter module (Line goes to the wall and Load goes to the equipment).  You'll be amazed and all for peanuts.  
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rayschoepfer
Re: Power filtering. As you probably know, the noise removed has to go somewhere (likely into the air in the room) and it can get picked up by tubes. I think when responding to a questing like OP’s this should be mentioned, in case he might like to get a tube pre or nice little tube headphone amp (like they sell on here) for the analogue part of her/his experience.
JamesForte
Hi James: You don't understand how these filters work.  An EMI/RFI filter takes all the garbage from the AC line and sends it to ground, not disperse it into the air.  Having said that, it is really important that when you use a power filter, you have a guaranteed good ground otherwise the filter does nothing. So for all, a proper EMI/RFI power filter that has AT LEAST 20 amp capacity hooked into a system that is fed with AC that has a good ground, is the MOST important thing you can do to improve any system.  And the cost is peanuts. On a slightly unelated  subject that James brought up, tubes are NOT prone to being interfered with RF type waves (airborne) but they are very susceptible to audible, low frequency vibrations.  This causes the elements in the tubes to vibrate, therefore changing their electrical characteristics.  This is why some people sell add on tube vibration isolators.  But don't worry about them until you have proper power filtering in place.
A few considerations:
  • Music services state they stream HD in 320 kbps, this is not HD, neither is CD quality.
Spotify stream 160 or 320 kbps CD quality stream is 1500 kbps HD quality 24/44 to 24/196 streams at 2000 to 5000 kbps
  • More expensive equipment is likely to give better results only with well recorded and mastered source material.
  • Headphone listening only gives you partial feeling of the music in your ears. Listening through hifi speakers will give you physical feeling in your guts; this is where you hear and feel the difference between a CD and say 24/96.
  • David Elias has some free HD /DSD downloads.

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There is a reason why sound engineers use 24bit/192 Khz/s and up to record studio masters. No one is obliged to hear the difference but pity if you don't experience it.
mayaux
The real reason why sound engineers record in 24/192 is simple: They have more information to work with. They dont hear a difference either but the more sound information you have the better you can edit and master audio. In the end even professional sound engineers compress their finished track down so that it sounds good but doesnt waste a lot of space. Its the same as in professional photography. They use RAW format (uncompressed) to edit their image and in the end when their work is finished they convert it to jpeg or png. But in the end you are free to believe whatever you want and if you want to believe in 24/192 or headphone burn in or all that other audiophile bullshit then do so.
  1. Even Spotify's highest quality setting is lossy, and to my ears, not quite as lush as a redbook standards. You'll hear it especially in the cymbal crashes, and down low in the bass drum kicks. However, if you're looking for new stuff to explore, nothing beats them. Simply fantastic for that. I have a premium account for that reason, and because when I travel, I'm not traveling with my high-end gear, so my travel equipment doesn't reveal its shortcomings, and it works tremendously for that. I've been tempted to try out Tidal, but the last time I checked, the selection was sub-par, so while more "popular" stuff might be presented at 16/44.1 or above, the obscure stuff I like isn't available at all, so the trade-off to lossy quality works out for me, despite being a bit of an audio quality pedant.
  2. You don't NEED to do anything. Not sure why people want to be told what to do. Music is an artform, so there is no corridor in which you NEED to be.
  3. As others suggested, find an audio producer or engineer who has created solid albums, and see what else they've done. And remember, sometimes the genre matters. For example, I find it risible that fans of heavy metal invest in high-end systems to extract the "subtleties of the mix," and equally silly when fans of super hi-res classical music listen to it with crappy headphones or whatever. So for example, it's not my go-to genre by any stretch, but my home equipment SOARS when I play lossless 'smooth jazz' through it, especially if it was mastered in the mid-to-late 1990s. Hard rock, classical, grunge, pop, and other genres I like require a bit of tweaking to get them to sound right. So consider the genre too - some genres are just inherently mixed and/or mastered better than others as a general rule (though not comprehensively).
  4. Not sure what you mean by "standard," but I'm guessing you're using a computer as your primary source, in which case I'm guessing Windows or Mac, and so I'm going to say you can be happy, but with a few hundred dollars extra, you can "de-crap-ify" the audio drivers in those operating systems with external, off-board equipment that really shines. I'd start with the DAC and then move forward. A warning though: START SMALL. Don't dive in spending thousands. For example, you can build a nice bitperfect DAC from a Raspberry Pi 3 and a GPIO board that snaps right onto it (no soldering), and you'll hear a difference from your PC's audio card right away. IQAudio, HiFiBerry, and a few others offer little $100 kits for you to play with. From there, you can scale up, but again, go slow. Take your time, and remember it's not a race. If you don't understand something, just ask. Anyone who lambasts you for asking questions is just revealing their own insecurities. It's a journey, so enjoy it!
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Ok.
if everyone had the same taste in music and equivalent quality auditory processing abilities in their cochleas, science could define what sounds best but like with food, no amount of expert opinion will make your own taste buds experience their personal experience
Does streaming high quality on Spotify count? Not if it's your only source. While absolutely amazing for finding new music with a solid UI, it simply cannot compete with local or streamed lossless files if you are aiming for High Fidelity. Do I need to use a service like Tidal? No, Tidal's library wasn't quite up to snuff for me shortly after they launched. I let my free trial expire at that time but have recently circled back around. I've used HDtracks.com for years and still recommend it. Sign up for the newsletter and wait for the 15-25% off codes. One of the best sources for DSD if you feel like tabling in "exotic" codecs. Tidal is nice, quality is noticeable and software decoded high resolution tracks (96kHz limited) sound good enough to interest me in hardware decoding options. What details should I look for besides the music being "lossless"?
Sound Characteristics: As far as differences between a compressed lossy stream/file and a compressed lossless stream/file are mostly present in the "finer" details IMO. Things like greater bass impact/authority, the frequency extremes are more apparent. There is a greater sense of space around the instruments and they have a wider range of placement (soundstage depth). Instruments and vocals have a greater sense of texture and nuance. Source Discrimination Look for reviews if you will be purchasing tracks/albums, remasters are often good sources but this isn't universal. Early days of high res involved a lot of basic CD transfers getting upsampled and slapped on SACD's or DVD-Audio discs. "Publicly available" FLAC files can often have questionable sources. If this is your thing don't judge the medium on these files alone. There are certainly exceptions but EDM, Pop and Rap generally have poor dynamic range and may not yield the most differences from lossy counterparts. The bass benefits remain present in the aforementioned genres but Acoustic/Folk, Jazz, some Rock/Blues and Classical may make that difference more apparent. Can I truly get the most out of HiFi music with standard equipment? Depends on one's definition of standard equipment. I personally feel you can spend $300-$500 bucks and put together a killer entry into HiFi. Tidal is worth a go as even a full month's cost is less than most single albums on HDtracks. On the headphone front an ifi idsd nano BL is a highly versatile device that allows you to play with full MQA unpacking (192kHz/24bit max) from Tidal, The HD58X should be a great start on the HiFi journey. All in that "starter pack" will let you take HiFi every where you go and cost you under $400 bucks. After that one is chasing the last 5-10% performance and the cost goes up exponentially relative to performance gains.
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ElectronicVices
"Can I truly get the most out of HiFi music with standard equipment? Depends on one's definition of standard equipment. I personally feel you can spend $300-$500 bucks and put together a killer entry into HiFi. Tidal is worth a go as even a full month's cost is less than most single albums on HDtracks. On the headphone front an ifi idsd nano BL is a highly versatile device that allows you to play with full MQA unpacking (192kHz/24bit max) from Tidal, The HD58X should be a great start on the HiFi journey. All in that "starter pack" will let you take HiFi every where you go and cost you under $400 bucks. After that one is chasing the last 5-10% performance and the cost goes up exponentially relative to performance gains. " As an example, I will give you a personal experience to consider. I bought into an ELAC Debut 6.2 audio loudspeaker system on a Black Friday 50% off sale. I purchased these components at a 50% off their already surprising value, considered by many to be a terrific investment at full retail pricing, for my Master Bedroom sound system. These speakers were designed by Andrew Jones, of Pioneer, KEF, and other respectable company's background. These speakers are not a top end line, but a value oriented line of ELAC speakers. I feel that, for the price I paid, these speakers are a total bargain. I say that by knowing these were designed by an accredited designer whose accolades are quite substantial, and whose current offerings are lauded by the public as some really outstanding bargains in the audio loudspeaker industry. I am not exaggerating here, that I purchased these speakers at a price that would rival the cost of a DIY system geared at the same outcome as far as what was purchased. Between knowing that they were designed by a respectable engineer, purchasing at a 50% off Black Friday sale, (this was a TRUE 50% off sale, not just gimmick sale pricing) and having been well received by the public since their inception, I feel that there is something to be said for obtaining a really credible HiFi sound system at bargain prices.
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Was using Desktop! Really weird how it didn't work.
My rule #1 with music - find what you like and go with it. However, as far as your questions go:
  1. Sure, Spotify or Google Music can count.
  2. Not necessarily. If you enjoy Spotify/ Google Music then that is fine. If you cannot tell the difference between Spotify and Tidal on your equipment, then there is no point in paying more for a service that sounds the same to you. Ears are strange.
  3. The mastering and recording plays a big role here. I have come across some recordings where the lossless and the 320kbps sound indistinguishable to me on my home gear... then there are other times where I am skipping the song because of the harsh clipping or shrill tones that I do not enjoy.
  4. This fully depends on your definition of "standard equipment". My TurtleBeach x12 with onboard sound card most definitely cannot give Google Music's high quality the best representation, so there is no point in using that setup for Tidal. Likewise, my home system with blind A/B testing between Tidal and Google Music (with normalized volume), I continually pick out Tidal as my preferred source. So, what it comes down to is for $40, I would say you cannot get the most out of your system, but by the time you look at $1000 to $1500, I would say you can get a really nice system set up.
For me it is streaming, Spotify, Google Music, and Tidal. Sure you can buy HD music, but streaming is just so convenient, plus you can download the songs for offline listening. Spotify High Quality does it make a difference with the right equipment. You don’t need Tidal HIFI, but yes it sounds better, and of course at a price. I have been told the sample rate is the most important factor. But I have not had enough experience to say. “To get the most of HIFI Music” and “Standard Equipment”. Better the equipment, better the reproduction of the recording. What is a standard equipment? The Shure SE846 earphones sound much better than the AKG that the Samsung S8 came with, and  by using the MOJO with the phone it sound a lot better.   Long Version I can hear the different difference between Spotify normal and High Quality when using good equipment, otherwise you cannot tell the difference. What I mean is if you have Ok earphones and using your phone (Samsung S8 in this case), I cannot tell the difference listening to Pop. With a good pair of earphones (Shure SE846, Cardas EM5813), then you can hear the difference a little. If you add a good DAC \ AMP then you can hear the difference between the two qualities. I don’t think you need Tidal to enjoy your music, but Tidal HIFI makes a difference. I mostly listen to Spotify, Google Music, and Tidal (HIFI). I have a collection of MP3s, but I don’t listen to it much anymore. Using the same equipment and playing the same songs I can feel the difference between Spotify \ Google Music and Tidal HIFI. The Master \ HIFI quality of Tidal it feels like it increases the soundstage and clarity. I am using a free Tidal HIFI subscription, but the question will be, if it is worth the US$20?  I have few samples files in different formats, which I played with Foobar2000. The files are PCM, MQA, and DSD (FLAC and MP3). The difference between them was very little to my ears. Good equipment does it help regardless the source. My test was using AudioEngine HD3, Chord MOJO, Liquid Carbon X + SDAC DAC/Amp, and Sennheiser HD6XX. From example, listening through the normal DAC that comes with my PC, then and add 1.      Listening through the DAC that comes with my PC, it sounds good. 2.      Add AudioEngine HD3, it sounds less compress. It is like you are in a bigger room. 3.      Then replace the AudioEngine HD3 for a Massdrop Liquid Carbon X + SDAC DAC/Amp, then the room became a bigger room and the clarity is clearer! 4.      Now using a Mojo DAC \ AMP, you can drive the HD6xx louder for those special songs. At the end of the day, music is to enjoy the feeling, which most of the time it does not required much of equipment. If you enjoy the technical side of sound, no necessary music, then better equipment will make the sound more interesting.  
I have to disagree about higher sampling rates and bit lengths not making a difference, though I listen to and love vinyl and it gives me plenty of chills. The best sound and music combination I’ve heard is from a Blue-ray music-only disc of Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, played in 2-channel stereo, not the available surround mix. The sound simply jumped at me and took me by surprise, making the album seem completely new and full of hidden nuances. My wife remarked on it from the next room and came in to finish listening to the rest of it, which I played twice more. It was magical. It went from a universal player through a hybrid preamp and solid state amp to my speakers. I also have some high resolution downloads that sound spectacular, better than any other version of the same recording I have. There are other cases where I can’t notice a difference or prefer the vinyl over the download. I can now, as of very recently, decode very high resolution files but I don’t want to pay for them. I do have quite a few SACDs and many of those are great, while others are simply different from the vinyl and/or CD. One problem with CDs has nothing do with the limitations of 16/44.1: there are a lot of very badly mastered CDs out in the world. I don’t notice this as often with LPs, though there are obvious exceptions where you are better off listening by car stereo than home HiFi. The industry of remastering CDs has sometimes helped and sometimes not, it depends who was in charge. Many of the projects have turned out great, however. The Beatles in Mono is one nice example, in my opinion. People argue like crazy over the quality of the “Rudy van Gelder” Jazz remasters. I have five copies of Moanin’, including analog and digital, and frankly, I love them all. They do not sound the same, but I cannot pick a favorite. I think I have more copies of Kind of Blue, with the same result. Yeah, some have an extra track or two or ten. Not sure it matters. In general, I would say that care in mastering is the most important facet of putting good sound in your home, followed by preserving the data as well as possible using vinyl or high-resolution digital sources. One needs to read record reviews, sometimes old reviews, to find out which albums were mastered well. Then you can pick your source material, analog or digital, or both, as with some of the new anniversary box sets, or you can stream. I use Tidal high res and really like the classical selections available- there is some pretty obscure content that I am glad to have access to.
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Not always. There are great performances that were slaughtered by poor mastering. Much of the Billy Joel remasters fall into this category.
DanTreview
Yes, I think that was what I meant about so many bad CDs out there, for example, but other media are affected by mastering, too, of course. However, great mastering of a bad performance still gives you a bad performance - that's what I meant by the additional comment.
Some little while ago, I began listening to flac files via my FiiO X5. Up to that point, I'd been quite content and happy with CD's, I felt as though I should be trying the "new things". CD files at 16 bit /44.1 khz either in WAV or flac are as good as my ears can take. I find the problems arise when files are "compressed" to enable higher volume levels. MP3 files at 320khz are smaller, yes, and just as loud or louder, but do they "sound" as good, no they don't.
Where are the best places, and what are the best methods for me to do so? -A quiet place. Just listen. A few more questions I have:
  • Does streaming high quality on Spotify count?
-Sure, why not?
  • Do I need to use a service like Tidal?
-No, there's a lot more than Tidal.
  • What details should I look for besides the music being "lossless"?
-You don't need "lossless". You won't be able to actually hear a difference.
  • Can I truly get the most out of HiFi music with standard equipment?
-Yes. There's not much to "get out" of it.
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Correct. Yeah if you ever read anyone say that lossless doesn't matter as a general statement, be cautious. Not everyone hears music the same way, and that's great for the "lossy sounds as good as lossless" crowd, but for me, I am KEENLY aware of the differences, and so I only engage in lossy music as a means of exploring and trying out new stuff. Once I decide on a purchase, I match my equipment's lossless capabilities (so, 99% of the time, redbook standard).
Yeah not even close, 320k Spotify is ok but ideally you want lossless. Tidal offers a lot of MQA songs, but the hifi subscription is really worth it, especially if you can split costs in a group.
To answer your third question, specifically when it comes to specs with digital music, 16bit sample size and 44.1KHz sampling rate is more than enough. These specs will recreate the original signal perfectly. Whatever you do, don't ever fork out extra money for music with higher specs than those, you will NOT hear an improvement, and whoever tells you that higher "fidelity" music actually does sound better doesn't know what an ABX test is. 16bit sample size is more than enough for basically all recorded music. 24bit will not harm the original signal, but file sizes are larger for no added benefit, so don't bother. Sample rates beyond 44.1KHz will not add more detail to the original signal. Infact, it is likely that sample rates at 88.2KHz or higher might actually introduce unwanted distortion into the signal. So far I've been speaking about PCM files. The question about DSD is still in the air, since it's a completely different way of representing music digitally compared to PCM. I can't tell you which sounds better. Some people swear by DSD, others really can't tell the difference. My advice is that you're covered with PCM. PCM music at the specs I listed above is guaranteed to recreate the original signal perfectly, so I wouldn't really bother with a completely different file format. By all means though, if you happen to stumble upon the equipment, do give it a shot to see for yourself whether you prefer it. (I must add, as much time as I spend listening to lossless music, I personally can't tell the difference between lossless and 320kbps music. Still, with lossless music, I have peace of mind that my source is as close to the original signal as possible. If money is a concern for you, you might want to see if you can hear a difference yourself. If you can't, you might save quite a bit of money on the long run if you only paid for compressed music)
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What cracks me up is when these same hipsters buy vinyl records that were RECORDED DIGITALLY and then claim it sounds better....
JustASnack
Honestly the reason I believe that SACDs sound better is just the superior mastering they tend to have, being a high res counterpart dedicated to high quality audio. The just tend to be held to a higher standard than cd