Are High-resolution Music Downloads “Senseless”?

Ensconced in my office at Untangle this afternoon, I was doing my daily regimen of high-tech reading when….I see an article on “24/192 downloads”appear on my favorite techie news service – Hacker News (HN). I read the post - provocatively entitled “24/192 Music Downloads …and why they make no sense” - and made a comment or two in critique. My surprise was compounded when the post rose to the top of the HN chart…and stayed there.

Not only stayed there, but elicited hundreds of comments – from programmers! And the comments were permeated with subjectivism vs objectivism, room treatments, and of course pseudo-science. Just like the familiar audio forums! Could all of these geeks be closeted audiophiles? (If so, why aren’t they BAAS members?)

I don’t know the answer, but i will say that the article is well worth reading if you have an interest in how digital audio really works. Setting aside whether you buy its core premise, it is technically well-researched (includes links!), thorough, and lucid. With one or two exceptions, it’s also technically accurate. I think its major flaw is in vastly overstating the “high-resolution is actually bad” argument - unfortunate. The other glitches are quite minor, usually errors of omission rather than commission.

Enjoy it and, if you dare, comment on Hacker news!



1. The Xiph folks are champions of open-source media formats (e.g., Ogg Vorbis and FLAC). They generally know whereof they speak.

2. For the purpose of this article, I have assiduously avoided stating my opinions on the value of high sampling and/or bit-depth in reproduction. Rather, I have tried to focus on the technical merits of the Xiph article.


Monday, March 5th, 2012 Audiophile, Bob, Technical

2 Comments to Are High-resolution Music Downloads “Senseless”?

  1. From a BAAS member:


    In my field of expertise [economic analysis], I listen to rigorous, highly detailed, diametrically
    opposed arguments explaining reality and what to expect from it. This dilemma
    exits in most high fields of endeavor. Then both turn out to be wrong. When
    it comes to explaining the functioning of the world or how we perceive and
    function as biological entities, the Native Americans have it right. They call
    it the imperfection of life. That’s what keeps it evolving as new information
    is revealed.

    When it comes to listening to music, there are often comparative differences
    that are hard to observe. Then there are those that are clearly evident. I
    know from personal experience over the years that as sampling ratios increased,
    the music sounded more musical. There is obviously an event horizon. Maybe
    high sampling rates can negatively effect sound quality through distortion at
    the extremes of frequency, and if so, maybe this can be addressed. However,
    when more information is present, certainly in the mid-range, it sounds better.

    To me, the most impotent trend in the high end today continues to be the desire
    to have the best possible sound accessible and manageable in the most convenient
    manor. This means digital servers. I would think a poll of our members would
    confirm this and was clearly confirmed by the response of the AES folks on this

    Thanks a lot for continuing to help us all along our high end audio paths….

    Jim F

  2. Bob on March 7th, 2012
  3. Bob,

    I read the entire article you referred to, and then I attempted to find what is was you said in reply. I’m not sure what your handle is and didn’t want to read all of the posts in any case, so I’m not sure what your points of critique are. Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed reading the article and thank you for making it available for us to know about.

    I am not expert enough to confirm his technical arguments, but his conclusions are quite similar to mine. I have numerous songs from CDs that sonically are fantastic. I also have a collection of SACDs and DVD-Audio disks. I am not of the opinion that the later disk types with their higher resolution claims are sonically superior to the small percentage of super well recorded songs on CD.

    Given these observations, my conclusion is superior sonic performance originates in the recording studio/venue with all the various procedures that go on there and that bad recordings are a lot easier to do than good ones unless one gets lucky and happens to get everything right.

    IMO, I think Jim F.’s point about sample rates is valid below an “event horizon” of about 320K of MP3 encoding; for me anything above that rate is a waste of space.

    As to real high sampling possibly making the sound worse, that is a new idea to me.

    Vincent Sauve

  4. skepica on March 8th, 2012