I read a recent post from a fellow member of an audiophile FB group looking for any reasonable explanation as to why high-resolution audio might be better than CD spec. As someone that advocates for 96 kHz/24 bit PCM as fully capable of capturing real world frequencies and dynamic range — high fidelity, I also recognize that CD specifications do actually meet or exceed the needs of “normal” music capture and reproduction. But we’re not dealing with “normal” audio when we enter the world of audiophiles. Right away Ethan Winer (author of The Audio Expert) chimed in with his strongly held position that 44.1 kHz/16-bit PCM CDs are all we need in the world of music reproduction. He added the link to his comparison challenge (downloadable files that purport to be high-res vs. standard-res) and asked people to take his test. I was somewhat surprised that he persists in linking to his “challenge page” as I showed in a couple of recent posts that his “hi-res music” examples lack the requisite qualities that make a high-resolution file a high-resolution file. Music files that measure as 96 kHz/24-bits don’t necessarily deliver 96/24 fidelity. In fact, I’ve shown over the years of posting on this site, that virtually ALL “so-called” hi-res music available from the well known high-resolution download sites are no better then the vinyl LPs we enjoyed 30-40 years ago. A standard-resolution, analog master transferred to a 96 kHz/24 bit PCM bit bucket remains at standard-res music track.
The misinformation continues on both sides of the issue. I would argue that no satisfactory test has been done comparing hi-res vs. standard-res because the content used in these studies failed in the same way Ethan’s failed. You certainly can’t use any major label commercial SACDs or DVD-Audio discs — they originate from older analog masters. There continue to be new efforts to resolve the issue. I know Bob Katz is working on a new approach.
Let’s say I got funding for a rigorous, double blind ABX study comparing real high-resolution audio files (like mine) to downconverted versions of the same original masters. Inquiring minds really want to know if humans can “perceive” any differences between recordings made using 96 kHz/24-bit PCM and the same recording made at CD spec. I want to know if it really matters. I would assemble a state-of-the-art system in an ultra quiet studio environment and bring a sufficient number of listeners to get a good sample — maybe 100 or 1000 listeners at all skill levels. The test subjects could take as long as they want to make up their minds. They would be allowed to switch back and forth between examples as much as they want and an unbiased computer would tally the results. Would that convince those interested in the outcome one way or the other? Maybe or maybe not. Both camps are dug in pretty deep. I do believe that a survey done in this way would put the issue to bed once and for all.
But even a rigorous study that unambiguously proves people can perceive a real high-resolution recording vs. a standard-resolution track WON’T MATTER! Why? Because there simply aren’t enough artists, engineers, producers, and record labels interested in making and releasing real high-resolution recordings. Who really cares? The music industry would like us all to think fidelity matters but in all honesty they don’t. The hardware designers can brag about new digital systems using 192 and 384 kHz sample rates and 32-bits but without content made to take advantage of ultra high-resolution hardware, they are just pushing bigger numbers for marketing purposes. Ethan Winer is right. High-resolution audio doesn’t matter in the real world of music recording and distribution. The music industry is satisfied with “normal” fidelity. And I’m right too. A real high-resolution audio track has more fidelity than a downconverted version of the same track — and it doesn’t matter whether people can perceive a difference or not. A 96 kHz/24-bit recording captures and preserves everything in the original acoustic environment where it was made. That matters to me.
As audiophiles, we need to get over it. The debate about high-resolution is pointless because it won’t change anything. The music industry is promoting high-resolution audio but they know that it’s meaningless. I’ve been in those discussions. When I was on the CEA High End Audio board, it was obvious that they were interested in “commerce” over quality. The music business wants to maximize profits not fidelity. The real focus needs to be convincing the music industry that elevating fidelity would reap additional financial rewards. I seriously doubt that’s going to happen.