Category Archives: Audiophile

A/B/C testing: August and Everything After, in 24-bit, 96kHz FLAC vs. 16-bit, 44.1kHz ALAC vs. 256 kbps AAC

I’m listening tonight to a “hi-res” 24-bit, 96kHz lossless version of “August and Everything After” through my good headphones, DAC, and amp tonight. I love this album. It helps that I was 15 when it came out, of course. But still, I think it is an emotionally rich artistic achievement. It surprised me when such an earnest, heartfelt record became wildly popular; only in the 1990s would that happen, I guess.

I compared this hi-res version, track by track, with two other versions I have on hand:

  1. my 16-bit, 44.1kHz ALAC rip from my original CD from 1992, and
  2. the 256kbps AAC version available through Apple Music.

Overall, all three versions sound almost identical, which is kind of what I would expect, actually, given that Apple Music’s lossy AAC encodings are of a very high quality, and that the bit rates and bit depths for CD-quality recording and iTunes AAC encodings were chosen very carefully. We are far from the world of mushy, sizzly 128kbps MP3 files now. That said, the lossless versions do sound a tiny bit better. They reveal more detail than the lossy version, notably in the snap of the bass guitar and in the attack of the snare drum. The difference is slight: you have to listen very carefully to hear it, and you need equipment sensitive enough to reproduce the sounds accurately.

The main improvement the hi-res version brings over the CD-quality rip, to my ears, is a lower noise floor. Otherwise, it sounds the same as the CD version. You gain about 1-2% in fidelity at the price of lot of extra bits on the hard drive, and, perhaps, more dollars out of your wallet. This is true even though the 24-bit version was mastered to be a little quieter than the original CD and iTunes versions. You have to turn it up a notch to match the others’ volume. Even with more amplification, the hi-res version’s noise floor is incredibly low, and everything sounds fantastic.

Overall, I would prefer to listen to all my music in lossless quality, in as high fidelity as possible. It can sound better than lossy rips, and, even if I can’t hear the difference on a particular track, why not listen to the best version available? That said, I subscribe to Apple Music, which serves AAC files, rather than Tidal, which has a lossless streaming plan, primarily for convenience. Fortunately, for me, Apple’s 256kbps AAC files are completely adequate substitutes for lossless rips. I do think, though, that if Apple offered a lossless plan at a slight up-charge, I would subscribe to it.

My slide into audiophile territory, Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts about my realization that I have become an audiophile.

Introduction

I have realized recently that I have slowly but surely slipped from the category of “normal person” to the category of “audiophile”. I never would call myself an audiophile before, so this is somewhat shocking to me.

I always thought that audiophiles were people who threw away thousands of dollars, unnecessarily, on audio equipment–speakers, headphones, DACs, and so on—to “hear” “something” that I could never, ever hear myself, and was probably not even there. After realizing that I spent, probably, $1,000 or more on audio equipment last year, I think I need to brand myself with the “audiophile” label. I am listening to lots of music and enjoying it immensely, but there is something clearly wrong with me. (Just kidding—I think.)

A princely four-figure sum over the course of 2017 netted me some great equipment:

  1. Apple AirPods
  2. Oppo PM3 headphones
  3. an Oppo HA-2SE DAC/headphone amp combo, and
  4. a BeoPlay M3 wireless speaker.

Even with all that great stuff at my listening desk, I am still dying to buy a HomePod (or two, even), open-back headphones from HifiMan, B&O Play headphones of some kind (did they just discontinue all their wired models?), and maybe a HifiBerry or a piece of Schiit to turn one of my old Raspberry Pis back into an AirPlay receiver.

I have no idea why this is. All I know is that the good audio equipment I have now has made all the other speakers in the house sound like garbage to me. In a way, I am glad I don’t have the money right now to buy any of this stuff. I certainly don’t need any of it, and it won’t make my life any better.

What the hell happened?

How did I slip from being a normal music listener to an audiophile or audiophile wannabe? I have a very good excuse—or, more likely, a series of somewhat poor excuses that snowballed into $1,000+ of spending on audio equipment in one year:

  1. I adore listening to music, and spend a lot of time doing so.
  2. I got, for free a couple times, better headphones than the ones I had before.
  3. I started to hear “something” that these better headphones brought out of my music that I never had heard before. The sound of the music became as important to me as the content of the music.
  4. And then, those headphones broke, and I had to get new ones. This has happened multiple times to me over the past five years, which is a bummer and encouraged me to try to buy higher quality headphones each time.

So what?

I thought it would be fun to write about all my gear from one the years, from the first crappy boombox to the amazing headphones and DAV/amp combo I am rocking these days. This is the first post in that series.