CDs and downloads

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CDs and downloads

Hi.  I've been away from home quite a lot recently, and to entertain myself while I'm away I have for the first time been buying downloads rather than CDs, and in addition ripping some CDs to my laptop, which is a rather basic HP Pavilion.  The downloads are generally in WMA format, because after some experimentation I've found the Windows media player simplest to use, though I've also used FLAC and Apple lossless, and I've also ripped to lossless formats.  The sound quality, played through the universally recommended B&W P7 headphones, initially struck me me as being quite excruciatingly bad, and I wondered if I was doing something wrong.  I invested in an HRT Microstreamer, which does improve the sound quality somewhat, though it still falls way below what would seem to me to be a standard in which one can take any pleasure.  I've noticed that if I play a CD on the laptop rather than play the ripped and supposedly lossless version the sound quality is perhaps fractionally better - there is a bit more depth and a slightly less brittle quality to the sound.  Does anyone have any comments or suggestions?  Is there anything else I can do?

 

Also, I notice that there is a very audible join - a sort of hiccough - between one track and another in all the lossless formats.  This doesn't matter greatly between the movements of a symphony but is infuriating if you're listening say to Wagner.  The microstreamer seems to mitigate the effect somewhat, but the join is still noticeable. Everyone warns you about the clicks that come with MP3s but the similar problem with downloads seems to pass by unacknowledged.  Surely I am not the only person to be bothered by this?  I can't see how anyone could choose a download in preference to a CD for opera!  Again, I'd be interested in other users' experience.

ripped sound quality

The sound quality of losslessly ripped cd's should be exactly the same as the cd played directly, all through the same system, of course. And the same applies to lossless downloads if from the same mastering (which is not always the case). So either you are imagining something, or your rips are in fact not lossless. The first time I ripped cd's to my laptop because I would be away from home for months, I was not aware that the default in Windows is actually not lossless but 256 kbits (as are some downloads), and that was audibly slightly inferior.

The sound quality of laptop audio through the built in dac (i.e. coming out of the headphone connector) is indeed pretty bad. Even a cheap external usb dac improves this enormously.

Not all headphones work well with all DAC/headphone amps. This has to do with impedance matching. See here: http://nwavguy.blogspot.nl/2011/02/headphone-amp-impedance.html

So my suggestion is to investigate whether you are actually ripping lossless, to use the external DAC, and to check on headphone impedance. Once you make sure of these things, you should experience really good sound. I had exactly such a system connected to my QUAD electrostats only last week, and the sound was excellent.

The clicks are probably because you are not recording/playing gapless (not sure, I don't have this problem).

Willem

Lossless ?

The term lossless is a bit of a misnomer because though very well engineered, lossless files are still carefully compressed. I would suggest downloading a DXD file or high resolution WAV or AIFF file to see if the problem you're experiencing continues.

The disadvantage of storing higher resolution downloads of course is that they take up more storage space so most people either link in an external harddrive or replace their factory harddrive with a solid state harddrive.

I'm now faced with that storage space issue due to my recent hobby of acquiring DSD downloads, which eats up roughly 2.4 Gigabytes each of harddrive space. But I've personally come to find that the sonic advantages outweigh the disadvantages so I'll be purchasing a 2 tigabyte external harddrive sometime soon.

goofyfoot

lossless compression

Lossless compression is absolutely harmless, as the term implies. Nothing is changed once the file has been decompressed. If you have the software, you can see this, bit by bit,  That is not true for dsd, since it is theoretically impossible to convert the pcm format that is used in nearly all studio's (for lack of appropriate hardware) into dsd. Whether that imperfection is audible is a different matter (I don't think so). Fortunately wasting disc space on uncompressed files is very cheap these days.

Willem

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