I downloaded the test files from AVS Forum for the high resolution audio experiment. I played them on the Benchmark – Revel system combination. Dr. Mark Waldrep from AIX was kind enough to let me know which files were which and it looks like I got two of the three right.
Disappointing and head scratching. Does that shake my faith in my hearing? Nope.
The fundamental question to me isn’t whether or not one can discern a difference between hi-res music and CD-quality music files—indeed, there was clearly an audible difference. Rather, I’m trying to understand why we may have a certain preference for one file or another.
When I downloaded and played the files, I emailed Mark immediately with my answers to act as a “date-stamp” on my first listen and I noted to him the following:
I was so confident I knew the difference [between the files] that I never finished listening to any of the songs—that’s how obvious I felt the difference was—and only did the test once….In my particular review setup with the Benchmark/Revel combo, the differences in the files were easily noticeable within the first 10 seconds of each track. Even my teenager and my non-audiophile wife were able to distinguish differences between the files. However, who preferred which file varied!
So that’s the interesting question: preference. I’m going to go back and listen to the files again and especially the only track I got wrong, “Mosaic,” in more detail. Moreover I bet I know exactly where I got it wrong. One thing that really struck me was how different certain audible cues were between the files.
I’m quite certain that the audible cue leading me to that incorrect conclusion about “Mosaic” was the triangle. I know I focused immediately on that as the sole indicator as to which file was hi-res.
On what I know to now be the low res version of the file, I felt as though the triangles had a sharper, biting edge to them. I interpreted that as increased resolution and detail. The hi res version was indeed smoother but I clearly interpreted that as being a rounding off and dulling of the higher frequencies due to compression. I perceived that sharpness as the determining audio cue that “aha!” this certainly must be the hi-res version of the file.
Sometimes, I do loathe being analytical about musical reproduction. It then becomes more about the gear and not about the music. I’ve always passionately believed that being an audiophile is all about the music. The gear is just a means to an end.
I’m going to try and do this test again with a few people; and this time, I’m going to have someone else control which file is being played so that there’s no ability to know which one is A or B. This is by no means scientific but it’s certainly fun. If this experiment does anything, it certainly makes me agree even more with Mark’s long-time stances on the state of hi-res and the industry. In fact, if you’re interested in this topic, you owe it to yourself to visit Mark’s daily blog at: http://www.realhd-audio.com.
While I was hoping to go three for three, that just didn’t happen and I’m OK with that. This only further piques my interest in hi res audio. I’m hoping to do an in-depth interview with Dr. Mark Waldrep on the topic of hi-res audio in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.