Recently an audio guy visited me. I played to him some music as, as I uselessly do - from all possible sources and we ended up to have a conservation which sources is able to produce more interesting result. The people who hear my playback know that all in my installation all sources sound in the way identical. I might go from tape to CD and it will be very much the same sound. Sure it will be many differences in quality die to the frame of format but it still will be the “same sound” – it will be more Recording/Macondo/Melquiades sound then the sound of the format. Still, each format has own perks. I think I run each format at a pretty reasonable level, so I would like to pass some my own overview about which format is “better”.
mp3. At 320 kbit/s (or conditionally the 256 kbit/s) and 44.1-48kHz of sampling frequency it becomes almost listenable if the files are properly made. For whatever reason to make good mp3 file does require some skills. I do not have them but I heard the files from the people who do mp3 better than others. I still feel that 320 kbit mp3 quality-wise is more suitable for second echelon systems, like MiniMe but if you have no other sources of a given performance, then what would you do? Unfortunately the pool of good quality mp3 is insultingly small and it is very-very hard to find properly cooked mp3 files. Ironically however that practically all high quality mp3 files hat I heard were very good music. I think the Darwinism works in it – to make a good mp3 file requires a lot of understanding and there is very few accidentals people among those who do the high quality mp3 files.
CD. The quality of sound and the quality of recorded material wary tremendously but the pool of performances is huge. The best produced CDs might be very good quality but they are rare. HDCD had some advantage but it dead now. It is very difficult and expensive to make CD to sound good. At the best result CD still is loses to other sources in tone, space and imaging among a few other things.
16bit/44.1kHz uncompressed files. Playing the raw files in 16/44 is substantial steps forward from CDs. Of cause I am talking about original recordings in 16/44. NOT the WAV files taken from CDs. The raw 16/44 files are very good and they have no in tonal, space and imaging disadvantage of CD. The 16/44 files are not editable and have slightly corrupted transient qualities above 7kHz. Going to 20 bit and 48kHz substantially improves the result. Unfortunately the pool of the recordings available to public in 16bit/44.1kHz uncompressed files is very-very limited. There was a LOT of good music recorded in row 16bit/44.1kHz (some of it on disk and some of it on digital tape) and all of it is vandalized by porting it to CDs. The 16/44 uncompressed files require a very serious DA converter – it is probably the most critical element in the whole 16/44 saga, besides getting an access to the raw 16/44 data files.
High Resolution uncompressed PCM files. Usually 24 bit with sampling rate or 2X and 4X. Technically they are the most advanced format are able for very serious sonic result. The requirement to DACs with High Resolution uncompressed PCM files is way less demanding then it was at 16/44. The Hi-Res doe very good all aspects of dymick inflictions, noise, tone, all moment of imaging – it peaty much might be the “perfect sound forever”. However, the pool of the Hi-Res recordings is very small. Furthermore the Hi-Res concept gets some popularity among audiophiles that lead recording companies to furnish the market with Hi-Res recordings of very mediocre performances. Also, the “contemporary” idiotic recording techniques very much screw up the quality the we could get from Hi-Res. Anyhow, although the potentials are still tremendous with High Resolution uncompressed PCM files but the availability is very low and mostly very questionable audio and artistic quality.
DVD-A and SACD – accidental mistaken formats that do deliver better Audio result but demand to institutionalize the raw PCM or DSD.1 files and both are inferior to raw PCM files. Any SACD prose is happens by intermittent conversion to PCM and the best SACD mashien as those that do conversion to 385kHz PCM right after reading the SACD disk. There is a number of SACD and DVD recording available with sound quality vary from reasonable to questionable.
DSD – a wonderful original 4-bit format that never took off and was abandoned. The recordings are very seldom but the quality near ultimate.
LP – a huge pool of recordings with various level of sonic and artistic quality. The best examples of LP gives quality compatible to High Resolution uncompressed PCM files but it has advantage that LP were recorded many years back when the people who do recordings were are less idiots then the today audio professionals. Also, during the LP recordings were used mechanical editing/mastering that did not destroy sound as DSP editing/mastering does. The exception is the Digital recordings pressed on LP – with some exceptions it is better to avoid them. Unfortunately LP require quite expensive and demanding infrastructure to play.
FM – might be anything in audio quality but always with phenomenal artistic and cultural quality. The best FM audio-wise might be comparable or better then to a good CD/LP but it would lose to best CD/LP. However the diversity or material and the quality of content might leave any other sources in dust.
Tape – a demanding source that implies a lot of cost and infrastructure. The available commercial 7.5ips releases have artistic quality is from low to average. The sonic quality is at the level of good LP. The few best 7.5ips half-track tapes are able to demonstrate quality of the best LP and High Resolution uncompressed PCM files. The 15ips half-track rise to the quality of the best High-Resolution PCM files but there is not interesting artistic material publicly available. Some who managed to get the dub of the master-tapes might use this “quietly” but still the lack of the new material makes this source questionable.
This is just a brief overview. I feel very comfortable with any formats but I do not do DSD, DVD-A or SACD. To me the accessibility to the music I want is more important than a threshold capacity of a given format. As I said before a subscription-only, 24 hours, 20bit -24bit 64 kHz-88kHz live feed with a good team of program administrators on the other side would be the best audio source for me. That would be the ideal format and it would be a true high-end audio. Might be it will happen sometimes, I do not know. For now, we have the rest above mentioned.The Cat
"I wish I could score everything for horns." - Richard Wagner. "Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts." - Friedrich Nietzsche