Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 10 Old 11-03-16, 12:57 PM Thread Starter
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Todd Anderson
 
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Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again


The introduction of the MP3 player and the eventual rollout of smartphones, streaming media, and downloadable music files has fed a crucial consumer desire: convenience. It’s all about convenience, and speaking from my own experience, the storage and transportation of music media has always been an issue. My vinyl collection was stored and carried in old plastic milk crates and a large black footlocker. Procuring those milk crates was never an easy proposition and the footlocker weighed a ton. My cassette tapes were housed in rectangular plastic organizers and a wooden wall rack, and my CD collection eventually outgrew shelf space necessitating a migration to large leather-bound storage books. Anyone that has tried to keep a CD storage book alphabetized knows the pains of buying and integrating new albums.

The idea of carrying thousands of songs on a single iPod or iPhone (with instant sorting and access) seemed like a dream come true. In many ways, it’s the ultimate mixed tape (minus the hand drawn artwork and song notes). And while many (including myself) first balked at buy-in costs…well…we know how that story ends. Just take a look around and you’ll see 99-percent of the world carrying their entire lives around on a handheld device.

Aside from eliminating the joys of having a physical interaction with music media, the biggest victim in race toward convenience has been sound quality. There’s really no denying the diminished sound quality presented by the typical iTunes download. For the most part, it’s seemed as if Joe Public has been perfectly happy kicking sound quality to the curb. And while hardcore enthusiasts have remained faithful to putting quality first, the existence of 800 million iTunes accounts and nearly $10 billion in annual iTunes revenue speaks volumes about the sacrifices music fans have been willing to make in the name of convenience.

A shift, however, might be taking place. We know that audio equipment manufacturers have been pushing for a market shift. This is evidenced by the industry’s recent love affair with all things Hi-Res Audio. There’s also the emergence of streaming services such as TIDAL that deliver higher quality sound.

But what ultimately matters most is what the average consumer wants, because consumer money and actual sales drive the show. That’s where the story becomes interesting and different from years past. Based on a recent report by Qualcomm (called “State of Play”) it appears that the public is back to agreeing that sound quality truly does matter.

Qualcomm’s report surveyed 3,600 users from five countries that (1) own a smartphone and (2) consider themselves to be “music lovers.” Cutting right to the chase, 84-percent of those interviewed said they are concerned about compromised audio quality. That’s a number that’s hard to ignore.

Perhaps I’m assuming too much, but my general assumption has been that the average user simply doesn’t care to recognize variances in music quality across sources. It’s not that they aren’t capable, but that they simply don’t prioritize perceived performance enough to have much of an opinion to guide overall decision making. If you agree, then it looks like both you and I are wrong. Flat wrong. In fact, Qualcomm found that over half (54%) say they can recognize that sound quality varies across their devices, and 66-percent say they can tell the difference between technologies based on sound quality. What’s more interesting is that 85-percent of those surveyed say that “Excellent Sound Quality” is a major driver behind the decision to purchase an audio device, and 56-percent say they’d be willing to pay more for higher quality streaming or audio equipment that enhances sound.

Digging a bit deeper into the data shows how closely convenience is tied to listening. Only 9-percent of those surveyed listen to music on CDs “often,” while that number drops down to 1-percent when it comes to vinyl records. The vast majority listen to downloads (40%) and streaming services (33%). This notion of convenience is further supported by a huge desire for networked systems in the home and an expectation that devices will offer hassle-free compatibility.

Despite the desire for convenience, consumers are saying they want their convenient tunes to sound good. Qualcomm says that 89-percent of those survey say sound quality is important when streaming music, and 78-percent say they are interested in wireless audio devices that support HD. Also, 58-percent say they want to use Bluetooth audio, but that Bluetooth’s audio quality is too poor.

All-in-all the results of this research shows promise for the future of audio, which is great news for enthusiasts that want convenient options with top-shelf sound to be the status quo. We very well might look back at the last decade of mass audio and cringe, but there just might be some light at the end of the tunnel.

How do some of the numbers line-up with your own audio preferences? Let us know below!

Image Credit: Qualcomm
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post #2 of 10 Old 11-03-16, 05:02 PM
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Re: Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again

I think much of the youth in todays world care little about sound quality but as they age and get into their mid to late 20s I suspect that sound quality become more important.
I ripped every CD I own and stuck with a very high VBR mp3 file simply because of needing to keep my collection a reasonable size to fit on my devices. I eventually settled on a dedicated 64gb iPod that stays in the vehicle and I have two others that stay in the house One is an old classic iPod 80gb and the other a 3rd generation 32gb iPod. With a playlist called "All play favorites" at over 3000 songs and several other Jazz and classic playlists as well that just works best for me.
Im still buying all my music on CD rarely do I download off of iTunes unless I want a single song rather than the entire album.
I do think that sound has always mattered to most people although I do question some of todays recordings LOL

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Onkyo 805, Yamaha YDP2006EQ, Samson Servo 600 amp
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post #3 of 10 Old 11-03-16, 05:50 PM
 
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Re: Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again

I have ripped most of mine to FLACs to maintain quality. BTW, I saw a review where the LG C-5 phone has a audiophile quality plugin module for their phone.

Ron

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BenQ MH741 Projector, Yamaha CX-A5100, (2 pr) JBL 8340As, (2 pr) JBL 8320s, PS3, XBox One, (1) Asus Mini, Redmere HDMI cables, Monster Signature HTPS7000, (2) Furman Power Conditioners, (2) DTS-10 subs, SeymourAV 180 (195" diag) scope screen, Darbee Darcet,Yamaha P7000s, Oppo UDP-203

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post #4 of 10 Old 11-03-16, 09:34 PM
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Re: Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again

Quote:
Todd Anderson wrote: View Post

Despite the desire for convenience, consumers are saying they want their convenient tunes to sound good. Qualcomm says that 89-percent of those survey say sound quality is important when streaming music, and 78-percent say they are interested in wireless audio devices that support HD. Also, 58-percent say they want to use Bluetooth audio, but that Bluetooth’s audio quality is too poor.

Image Credit: Qualcomm
The consumers say sound quality is important but both convenience of use and the unwillingness to PAY more for better streaming rates are the important factors. What they are really saying is they want quality sound which really means sound that is adequate to their level of listening and they want it cheap. So how much difference does it really make to the average listener? Not all that much. The quality of your earphones, sound system or dock will ultimately determine how good your music sounds.

Spotify is proof of the pudding and makes them the leader. Spotify offers the 96kbps option as normal quality on Mobile, but also offers a high quality 160kbps with the free version of Spotify. When you pay $9.99 a month for Spotify you can stream at 320kbps “Extreme quality” for better sounding music. It really isn't "Extreme quality" but the subscribers think it is because it's adequate to what they are using to listen.

High-end TIDAL Hi-Fi at $19.99 a month you gain access to 320 kbps (AAC) and to Flac 1411 kbps – Lossless (16 bit/44.1 khz) CD quality. ($16.99 a month for 6 mo. pre-pay)

Tidal (the best quality) has only 3 million subscribers. The Spotify people say there is NO difference in the audible sound quality so why pay any more than you have to. So for half the price...Spotify is good enough for the masses.

The additional cost of only $7 a month is NOT worth it to the vast majority. 'Adequate' music service is more appropriate term to use than 'quality music service'. As most of us know the majority of the people have a pretty low standard to what will be 'adequate'.
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post #5 of 10 Old 11-04-16, 09:07 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again

I think we'll ultimately know how this plays out 3-5 years down the road.

I'd love to see a study done where users quantifiably rate sound quality in controlled setting... would be fascinating to see what adequate really is. I would assume adequate for the vast majority differs from adequate for enthusiasts.
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post #6 of 10 Old 12-27-16, 09:34 PM
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Re: Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again

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I think we'll ultimately know how this plays out 3-5 years down the road.

I'd love to see a study done where users quantifiably rate sound quality in controlled setting... would be fascinating to see what adequate really is. I would assume adequate for the vast majority differs from adequate for enthusiasts.

I've been thinking about this exact thing... Anyone want to participate in an experiment? I'm just thinking out lout here.... but if we started with a CD, and ripped the same track at say, four different bit rates, and had people play them back on their own setups (for example, I'd be listening on a PC with a Creative Labs sound card piped into a Presonus HP4 amp, with ATH-M50x's) and attempt to rank the files from lowest bit rate to highest. The real trick would be having them played back in such a fashion that the participant is unaware of the file format and method of ripping.

Obviously, the best approach would be to have a "blind test" with all participants on the same setup... but that also requires participants to physically be present at the point of data collection. Ideas?
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post #7 of 10 Old 12-28-16, 12:01 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again

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DqMcClain wrote: View Post
I've been thinking about this exact thing... Anyone want to participate in an experiment? I'm just thinking out lout here.... but if we started with a CD, and ripped the same track at say, four different bit rates, and had people play them back on their own setups (for example, I'd be listening on a PC with a Creative Labs sound card piped into a Presonus HP4 amp, with ATH-M50x's) and attempt to rank the files from lowest bit rate to highest. The real trick would be having them played back in such a fashion that the participant is unaware of the file format and method of ripping.

Obviously, the best approach would be to have a "blind test" with all participants on the same setup... but that also requires participants to physically be present at the point of data collection. Ideas?

I like this idea... not sure how feasible it would be to pull off, simply because of the copyright laws involved with individual songs.

That being said, the perfect place to do this would be an audio show.
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post #8 of 10 Old 12-28-16, 08:11 AM
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Re: Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again

Very few folks I know understand HQ music nor do they care to learn. If it plays on their Phone, they like it and care no further. Of all the fine folks in my small circle
I do not know any one that is interested in taking the time to invest or even try high quality music. If if it plays on their portable players or whole house sonus systems if if in whatever form they can download if, their more than happy. I have one good friend who is very much into high quality like myself if and that is that.
Personally, I rip music and its original form usually as a WAV file unless it is a high quality download. If im going to download music it will be in 24/96 a or better.
It is a lonely place this hobby, I do wish at least five more audio/video or enthusiasts would move to my area today.

Good Listening

Jack

"For those who believe no proof is needed for those who don't believe no proof is possible"
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post #9 of 10 Old 12-28-16, 08:54 PM
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Re: Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again

Very interesting topic you have started here, Mr. Anderson.

I was high school student in 1974 when music took my interst and didn't stop, since.

To understand the shift in sound quality offered to the mases, today and that's say 1970-80 and even 90's is to see the kind of mainstream music is produced since the start of the new millenium.
Time of 1970 - 80's was the time of actually taking time to listen to the music and it was very, very complex as well. Here are some of the acts of that time: Yes, Jetro Tull, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Tangerine Dream, The Band, C,S,N and Y, Iron Butterfly, Queen, Led Zeppelin... and list is a mile long. This kind of music offered to mases was major drive for masive interest for Hi-Fi equipment and golden age for high quality equipment manufacturer. Some of the product offered at that time are even by today's standard very much high quality equipment.
And if we look at the kind of music offered since the start od the year 2000, it is no wander that interest for high quality listening is not an interest of today's young generation.
Total musical minimalism (drums, sint and few uh,oh,ah voices) is followed by mp3 files and headphones, everywhere.
No one is listeninig to the music any more, today's music is just background noise and nothing elese.

For all those reasons, it is very interesting to see return of turntables and vinyl?
Very hard to explain it considering price of vinyl and painfull way of handling it.

Wishing you and all Shacksters, out there, very Happy new Year 2017.

Zoran from Australia.
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post #10 of 10 Old 12-29-16, 06:25 PM
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Re: Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again

Quote:
Todd Anderson wrote: View Post
I like this idea... not sure how feasible it would be to pull off, simply because of the copyright laws involved with individual songs.

That being said, the perfect place to do this would be an audio show.
That's a good point... and considering the number of times IP rights and laws have been a subject of consideration for me, I'm surprised I didn't think of it. I suppose if everyone in the test owned the song or album from which the source material was drawn, it would be a non-issue. In such a case, the tracks in question could arguably have been ripped from the owner's personal library. Another approach would be to seek permission from an artist to use a track... that might not be as hard as it sounds. OR... what if the sample material was not a complete track, but a ~0:30 chunk? That's approximately what iTunes/Amazon provide as free samples, so it could work.

Obviously, an audio show would provide the optimal circumstances... but speaking for myself, the odds that I'll ever make it to one are pretty slim. I don't know how representative I am of the rest of the community here. I was thinking in terms of maximizing the data collection and minimizing the inconvenience for test subjects... the thing we would have to consider from an experimental standpoint is how much a given setup (i.e. the overall quality of a system) might affect the listener's ability to distinguish between files. By distributing the data collection geographically, we introduce additional variables whereas at an audio show the environment and audio components are controlled. Kinda sounds to me like we should do both... distributed collection for a large sample population, and localized collection for variable control.

Anyone actually want to try this?
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