Streaming

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Streaming

I note that streaming is on the increase as a means of listening to Hi Res music. 

Though there seem to be a number of sites streaming music, there do not seem to be  many that stream Hi Res classical music, with a comprehensive library.

Is any one using a good such service, is it still something for the future, or are we classical lovers exiled to get our music only by buying CDs?

hi res streaming

Of course, streaming in hi res demands even more bandwidth and in many cases a wired internet connection. The question is whether it is worth the trouble, and that happens to be contentious. In my view it does not need to be, for the simple reason that no scientific research has ever shown that there is an audible difference between cd red book and higher resolutions. Perfect is perfect. Do not forget that cd was developed by large multidisciplinary teams, and in the case of Philips supported by their own physics lab, one of the world's leading research labs at the time.

This is not to deny that you sometimes hear superior sound when you compare the cd issue of a recording with e.g. the Bluray version of the same recording. That does not, however, mean that the higher resolution format is superior, but that the mastering was probably different and superior, aimed at buyers with better stereo systems, so mastered with less dynamic compression for a wider dynamic range. Just downsample the high resolution recording, and you will see that compared to the regular cd mastering the sonic superiority remains, even if the format is now 16/44. So let us not choke the internet with hires audio streams.

In fact, research at the BBC has shown that slightly data-compressed lossy 320 kbps MP3 is indistiguishable from lossless full cd FLAC files of just over twice the file size (the same is certainly not true for lower bitrates). Hence, Spotify's bitrate is limited to 320kbps.

Willem

Thanks for the prompt and (as

Thanks for the prompt and (as usual ) comprehensive reply, Willem.I must say that as one who has such high end , quad etc , loudspeaker hi fi, as you have, I am a little surprised that you settle for 320 bit, in effect saying that it cannot be distinguished from lossless (thus cd ) quality. I am not experienced enough in the different formats to disagree. Indeed, if that is the case it would suit my case, especially if Spotify has a good classical library. (Has it?)
But I'm sure I've read that others can spot a superiority in cd level reproduction?
Though I used the term Hi Res, I would be more than happy with flac or WAV level music to stream- But , as I say, from where?

streaming sources

The easiest options if you are concerned with streaming quality are Qobuz or Tidal, who both offer cd quality. My decision to opt for Spotify for now is because the children prefer Spotify, and I don't want to spend money on too many subscriptions.

My biggest gripe against Spotify is a user interface that is not tuned to the classical repertoire, and I am in fact considering switching over to Qobuz, or taking out a second subscription after all. I have no issues with the sound quality of Spotify Premium.

I think it is important to distinguish between on the one hand resolution like 16 vs 24 bit and 44khz vs 48 or 96 khz, and on the other hand lossy compression. 24 bit increases the potential dynamic range beyond 96dB. In practice this is not very relevant, since no recording captures this much, and no domestic listening room is capable of reproducing this above the minimum background noise of at least some 35 dB (35+96 dB=131 dB, which is pretty loud). If you want greater dynamic range, the best you can do is reduce background noise.

The 44khz implies a maximum top frequency of half this, i.e. in theory 22 khz but in practice a bit less, because of imperfect filtering. In practice, cd players manage something like 20 khz with a slight 1 dB drop at the top. Only young girls can hear this drop. Few middle aged males can hear much beyond 15 khz.

Mp3 losssy compression is a different story. Here, the full resolution of cd is used, but a smart algorithm is employed to leave out those parts that are least audible. Compared to lossless FLAC compression, this is an extra 50-60% saving on file size. These algorithms have become so smart, that 320kbs proves to incur only an inaudible loss in quality.

All in all, this is clearly operating at the very edge of what is audible or not. CD quality was defined the way it was because it was deemed exactly good enough for perfection, and because at the same time it represented the best that could be achieved at the time (it would not have been possible a few years earlier). These days that technical limitation no longer applies, so there may be an argument for a bit more safety margin (i.e. e.g. 24/48). Too much of that is not a good thing, however, because ultrasonic hash creates its own problems. And larger files are a bigger burden on the network, both inside your house and on the web. However, I don't think all this additional information will be audible, not even on good gear in a quiet room.

Willem

Streaming

There is a third way to get CD quality without buying a physical disc, and that is to buy downloads from (e.g.) Linn, eClassical, Presto Classical, Hyperion.  I buy FLAC and convert to AAC using dbPowerAmp, which also rips CDs if that's the only format that's available for what I want. Want to play the music in your car? recent models have a USB socket and you can fit a very great deal of music on a 16Gb USB stick if you use a compressed format.

I might add that current models of inexpensive Sony BluRay players will play FLAC, MP3 or AAC audio files from an external hard drive, and unlike many other inexpensive brands, they have a coax socket for Audio Out.

Qobuz classical streaming

I stream from Qobuz and find it excellent. They offer a CD quality service at £20 per month, but I opted for the 320 Kbs service at £10 per month. When I find an album I really like I can purchase it as a download  from Qobuz and stream it in CD quality and also download it to computer. This makes it possible to explore a lot of albums (and I find the Qobuz classical selection to be very good indeed) and still build up a music library that I own. A look at the finances of music streaming companies makes me think that some won't be around for all that long, so spending more money on CD or hi-res streaming could leave me with nothing to show for a lot of expenditure in the longer term. It is relatively easy to search for music by composer or soloist and then filter by record label etc. Searching in the downloads section on the website and adding albums to the favourites list gives more search options than searching from the iPad Qobuz app directly.

Hi Res streaming

Reading your original post again I realised that it is actually about Hi Res not CD quality. Quobuz offers a sublime service for £220 per year that streams CD quality but allows you to stream Hi Res albums that you have purchased (at discounted rates) from them in Hi Res format. I have not tried it - my hearing is nowhere near that good, but the sublime service got a good review on What Hi Fi.

I ussually buy CD's. It's

I ussually buy CD's. It's very rare when I listen on youtube. But from time to time I'm listetning to online classical music radio.

And Cd's are ussually on sale

And Cd's are ussually on sale :)

Wlllem stated that In fact,

Wlllem stated that In fact, research at the BBC has shown that slightly data-compressed lossy 320 kbps MP3 is indistiguishable from lossless full cd FLAC files of just over twice the file size (the same is certainly not true for lower bitrates). Hence, Spotify's bitrate is limited to 320kbps.

I agree with him that we can extract a great deal information from the classic red-book CD with the right hifi gear. But, my own listening experience suggests that I can clearly distinquish between flac-files and MP3.

This is a major problem with classical radio broadcasters who mostly broacast below 320 kbps, sometimes well below. My listening is currently focused on Radio Venice Classic, Audiophil and Organ Live which transmit at 320. Can recommend them but miss the CD quality.

Any other suggesttions for classicial broadcasters at 320 or above? 

mp3

We must appreciate that not all mp3 is the same. As far as I am concerned, anything below 320 bps is audibly inferior, and more so the lower the bitrate, of course. At the same time, higher bitrates are expensive to offer, and burden the internet infrastructure. So internet radio stations tend to offer streams at lower bitrates, and accept a lower audio quality. Fortunately, over time bit rates have crepped up, and there are now some 320 bps stations, like BBC radio 3 within the UK. And Spotify Premium also offers 320 bps. Whether that 320 bps is indistinguishable from full lossless compression FLAC (some 700 bps) or CD remains a contentious issue, but I maintain that most research seems to suggest that it cannot be distinguished. And even lower bit rate internet radio is clearly superior to FM. So even if it is not perfect, it is better than the alternative.

Willem

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