Aug 19, 2018578 views

How Well Can You Hear Audio Quality?

I see a lot of folks around here raving about raw/lossless formats and buying a ton of gear to match. But can you really tell the difference between 128kbps and 320 kbps (shouldn't be hard, right?). Howe about between mp3@320 to lossless wav?
Well, if you're brave enough and honest enough, you should go ahead and take this quiz.

https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can-you-hear-audio-quality

Cognitive dissonance likely.
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It greatly depends on the music. Some simple** acoustic music - probably not for 128kbps. Some more complex music - absolutely, I can tell the difference right away.

Also, there's a very good reason A/B testing, as opposed to A/B/C testing is generally in properly conducted studies. People have a really hard time discerning between three things, as opposed to two. Either the people who did the test don't know what they're doing, or they intentionally sabotaged the test to prove a point.
With just the speaker on my phone I got a 4 out of 6. With headphones I could do much better.

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If you want to fool yourself that 1) your phone's built-in speakers can resolve the difference and 2) your ears can perceive the difference perfectly it's your prerogative.
rdodev
Now you are starting to sound like a troll. Enjoy trolling someone else.
Fun and fascinating test. Thank you, rdodev. My setup was PC USB audio to my Denon PMA-60 compact integrated amplifier, connected directly to my Focal Elex headphones. I got 4/6 correct, missing Neil Young and Perahia's Mozart. I agree with the comments that the Mozart was surprisingly poor quality for a classical recording and that Young's performance was poorly mastered.

I rarely stream music (Amazon Prime Music only very occasionally), because a major part of my experience is the control I can exert researching, collecting, organizing, and curating my absolute favorites. Listening to exactly what I when, when I want, no strings attached, is immensely satisfying.

When I shop for music I've read about or heard and like (usually on Sirius XM), my first stop is 7Digital. If they don't have a FLAC version, I'll buy the mp3 from Amazon. If 7Digital does have FLAC, I'll usually spring for the highest resolution. Lossless vs. lossy is one thing - why would you buy 70% of something if the 100% version is available for a little more money? The storage space and download time arguments are no longer valid. And for the most part, yes, I can tell the difference between mp3 and FLAC/CD quality - mp3 is weaker, shallower, less detailed, phony. It just feels like there's less music there. What about higher sampling rates? If scientists have proven that we can't hear the difference, you may wonder why I bother. Elitism? Probably. But I need that. I want to be among the elite, the cognoscenti, the discerning, refined listeners. A few more cents for a 96 kHz/24 bit version vs 44.1 kHz/16 bit? Definitely worth it to my ego.

As many other commentators have pointed out here, there are many pieces to the puzzle. The entire chain from performance to listening is important - engineering, mastering, playback, decoding, software, hardware, all of it. When you put garbage in, you'll get garbage out. But well-produced music can be thrilling at most levels. I'm listening to the Special Disco mix of Blondie's "Rapture" right now in 269 kbps mp3 (on Monitor Audio Bronze 2 speakers), and it is VERY good. I know it would be even better in lossless.
5/6. TIL Neil Young's stuff is mastered like shit.
Welp, this pretty much sold me on not needing to switch from Spotify to Tidal. I only got one right (two really, I did it on my phone and poked the wrong one, but the results are sufficiently clear regardless).

Listening on my Galaxy S9 with brand new Shure SE846s. Someone convince me I need a DAC! Surely I'd have aced this quiz with a proper DAC to complement my overpriced (but absolutely lovely) IEMs.
Higher sampling rates will not produce a more accurately recreated sound wave in the frequency range humans can hear.

Search online and you can find many articles written by experienced and well educated engineers who all explain why it is simply not possible to hear any difference. It has to do with the way the original sound wave is handled mathematically. If the sampling frequency is at or above about 40 kHz, every part of the original sound wave that a human can hear can be recreated perfectly. A higher rate will not produce a more accurate recreation of that wave. Higher rates can obviously record higher frequencies, but those are normally filtered out anyway and in some cases their presence can cause unwanted problems.

For "better" sound, look to the amplification end of the chain, as well as the headphones you use.
BlueSkies
This is why I'm often baffled at so many folks throwing ooodles of money at DACs just because they support xyz bitrate dsd and flac and $100 "audiophile" usb cables (which makes absolutely no sense, btw).
rdodev
I don't think people actually spend more money on DACs just for higher bitrate and DSD, rather those are just the icing on the cake for them. I'd hope...

On the subject of DACs though, it is true that its impact on the sound is probably overrated for non-electrostatic systems. E.g., I was using an Audeze LCD-4 and LFF Code-6 (modded HiFiMan HE-6) earlier this year with a Mjolnir Audio Pure BiPolar amp (which is about as good as it gets), and Chord Mojo vs Chord Hugo 2 was a noticeable but not gigantic difference. Can easily live with the Mojo there. Though the difference would be a bit more pronounced with the Focal Utopia, Sennheiser HD 800, and Abyss Phi I'm sure.

Once you get to elite Stax systems though (and electrostatic loudspeakers of course), they become so revealing that DAC differences become bigger than amp differences if comparing DACs/amps to others in the same class. Chord Mojo actually completely ruins the system compared to a Hugo 2, makes it sound like crap in every way compared to a Hugo 2.
I refuse to take part in any quiz that forces me to listen to Jay Z and Katy Perry!
Rigged quiz, so unfair!!!
Sad.
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We each have our limits, Mr. Hardt.
I found those two hardest (plus Coldplay). I think they were most likely to have been mastered with typical consumer listening setups (low quality mp3 and meh earbuds) in mind.
Got 5/6 right, chose the 320kbps one for Suzanne Vega - Tom's Diner. Was running straight out of my laptop soundcard into a speaker! I think the more horrible it sounds, the easier it is for the human ear to pick out the differences XD
http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.com/format.htm

A day late but these are the files my prior post was referencing. Great set of files where the only difference is the level of encoding. Same mastering session, decently long samples. I like to "blind" my friends and then ask them to guess the encoding level of the first randomized sample. I then ask them if the next two samples were higher or lower sample rates than the first track.
Setup:
audio-technica quietpoint ath-anc7b (noise canceling on) (my workplace gave me it, not a huge fan but it was what was at hand) plugged directly into my iPhone.

Got 3/6 right, only picked the 128 one once (what the fuck, Coldplay?). So by my book, that's 5/6 for "not being a complete and total pleb".
I already assumed I can't tell the difference between 320 and uncompressed, and this only confirms that.
Fluffy.Benis
Side note: I think I subconsciously cheated because the uncompressed takes the longest to load.
Fluffy.Benis
Clever one
Do you guys adjust the DAC's sample rate and bit depth to suit that of the music file you're playing? I find the native one in my laptop way more sensitive in this regard compared to, say, something like the SDAC or ODAC revB
Surprisingly, when I did the test, for me it was easier to spot the difference between 320kbps and lossless format, rarther than between 320kbps and 128 kbps