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The Absolute Sound FLAC article
SoAnIs
post Jan 7 2012, 04:19
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My father subscribes to "The Absolute Sound," and in the latest issue they have an article about FLAC. Of course they have no (or very minimal) double-blind testing (something both my father and I believe is necessary for any review to be valid) and a history of endorsing bullshit, so we take their results with a truckload of salt.
They score their comparisons on a scale from 0-200 points, with CD audio as 100 points. The scores are generated by A/B comparison (not A/B/X) to a variety of reference qualities. The first issue crops up with this. 0 = Kazoo. 50 = 320kbps MP3. 100 = Red Book CD, 44.1khz/16 bit. 110 = 48khz/24 bit upconverted CD. 120 = 88/24 upconverted. 130 = 96/24 upconverted. 150 = 176/24 upconverted. 160 = 192/24 upconverted. 170 = 192/32 upconverted. 180 = SACD/HRx/High-res downloads. 200 = "Master Tape?". There are no references between 50 and 100. Furthermore, a "very large" difference of 50 points would "require only one A/B comparison and is so large that a 24-hour hiatus between listening sessions would still elicit the typical audiophile expression of 'Holy Cow! This is a night and day difference!'"
Both their reference systems used on-board sound cards capable of 192khz S/PDIF output into a PS Audio PWD DAC. Motherboard brand and model is not disclosed. Actual sound-card model is not disclosed.
This seems quite suspicious to me. I have been unable to successfully detect differences between 320kbps CBR MP3, wave ripped from CD using Exact Audio Copy, and CD Audio using Foobar2000's ABX comparator plugin. I used Epica's "Design Your Universe" tracks "White Waters" and "Burn to a Cinder" as my references this time. I used the onboard audio of my motherboard (an ASUS P6X58D Premium, Realtek ALC889 audio, with 24-bit/192khz default output set in Windows 7) and a set of Grado SR-60 stereo headphones. My CD drive is a Lite-On iHAS424. I don't have a fancy $4000 DAC. My ABX test results were no better than guessing, nowhere near a "night and day" difference audible with a 24-hour gap. I sincerely doubt that the lower quality of my headphones and DAC would be enough to mask such a difference. Thus, I doubt their measurement scale's accuracy.
They did their playback comparisons using JRMC (proprietary) with 192/32 realtime upsampling. They never once mention using the reference FLAC encoder/decoder, or even FLAC frontend.
The top 3 programs in sound quality were:
JRMC: 150 score for HRx 176.1khz/24-bit to FLAC
dBPowerAmp: 145
Foobar2000: 140
Original HRx wave file: 180
So they're claiming a large drop in sound quality.
Later they claim that converting from FLAC to WAV with Foobar can increase sound quality (where would the extra data be coming from?) and that other programs decrease sound quality. In all cases they claim a decrease in sound quality when compared to the original CD.
They also (via listening tests, no md5 hashing or such) claim that Wav->FLAC->Wav conversions create cumulative degradation. This is, of course, a very big claim.
So I took a wav file (a rip of "White Waters", mentioned above) and used the FLAC reference encoder to compress it. Then to decompress. I compared the MD5 hashes of the two .wav files, and they were the same. Just in case some strange miracle had occurred and I'd found an MD5 collision I compared the SHA-512 sums, and those were also the same. The two files were bit-for-bit identical. Just for fun, I repeated the wav->FLAC->wav process 10 times, and the files still had identical hashes. I then ABX tested the original and final files, and was unable to do better than guessing.

TL;DR: Bullshit detected.
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testyou
post Jan 7 2012, 04:41
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FLAC is Lossless.

What are you asking about?
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A_Man_Eating_Duc...
post Jan 7 2012, 05:03
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I struggle to read what you have posted any chance you can fix it?

Looks like someone needs to explain what lossless means to them.

This post has been edited by A_Man_Eating_Duck: Jan 7 2012, 05:07


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SoAnIs
post Jan 7 2012, 06:22
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I'm not asking anything. I'm describing the article, and why I think it's wrong. I advise everyone to avoid this magazine due to the ridiculous claims they are making with insufficient evidence.

FLAC is lossless, with a properly implemented decoder. "The Absolute Sound" claims it isn't, and don't test the reference implementation. They don't test the file I/O, and use very subjective listening tests.
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Charlie Freak
post Jan 7 2012, 07:12
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I couldn't find that article on their website, admittedly I didn't look very hard either. I'm guessing it's only in the physical magazine?

I did find this discussion in their forums, which contains many comments from one of the article's authors:
http://www.avguide.com/forums/computer-music-audio-quality

This post has been edited by Charlie Freak: Jan 7 2012, 07:14
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MichaelW
post Jan 7 2012, 07:14
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The simple answer is that your father should no longer subscribe to The Absolute Sound. There's another thread current which has reference to something they're saying which is egregious bullshit, even by the standards of audiophile comics (which set the bar very high indeed).

Do not adjust your ears, or your perception of reality; placebo is powerful, and there is such a thing as being self-deceiving, but that looks like they're just making it up.
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mjb2006
post Jan 7 2012, 07:31
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QUOTE (Charlie Freak @ Jan 6 2012, 23:12) *


Thanks for that link. I enjoyed this quote the most:
For example, compare identical music files played back from an optical drive, a defragmented hard drive, and a memory stick: they will all sound different.

blink.gif
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SoAnIs
post Jan 7 2012, 07:31
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Yep. The funniest bit is that none of the audiophile reviewers ever post the results of a hearing test. Most are over 40, and almost certainly have degraded hearing.
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db1989
post Jan 7 2012, 13:12
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I’d compare this to shooting fish in a barrel—but fish wouldn’t be asking for it. This kind of thing is just too easy to have any potential of being satisfying.

Example: the fact that they rank upconverted streams higher on their wholly uncalibrated and obviously completely imaginary scale of quality. If they had even an inkling of the actual (basic) science, they wouldn’t say something so patently untrue.

I could go on, but, again, there isn’t much point. I doubt we could ever convince the writers of how wrong they are. The best we can do is keep places like this around as a rational alternative, and maybe (those with more energy) post a summary debunking on TAS for the potential rescue of its not-yet-brainwashed readers.
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Nessuno
post Jan 7 2012, 13:47
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QUOTE (db1989 @ Jan 7 2012, 13:12) *
I could go on, but, again, there isn’t much point. I doubt we could ever convince the writers of how wrong they are.


I've been casually reading audiophile magazines since 1990 and I'm more and more convinced that some of them (they writers) are stinkly in bad will and they do it on purpose, for marketing reasons. And there are also people with no technical background or worse, just a little of it, who like to be fooled in being smarter! Like it or not, that's the real world... wink.gif

<<non ragioniam di lor, ma guarda e passa>> (Dante, Inf. III - 51)


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Speedskater
post Jan 7 2012, 15:43
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This is the third article in a four part series. The Absolute Sound magazine has little interest in putting it's editorial content on the web. The first two parts are being discussed in this thread:

http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/index....showtopic=92656


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Apesbrain
post Jan 7 2012, 16:02
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"0 = Kazoo." Bummer. I play the kazoo and I assure you it is definitely not a zero. At least a 25.
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SoAnIs
post Jan 9 2012, 21:40
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QUOTE (Apesbrain @ Jan 7 2012, 07:02) *
"0 = Kazoo." Bummer. I play the kazoo and I assure you it is definitely not a zero. At least a 25.


Actually, since a kazoo being played live is one of the sounds you might try to reproduce, and pretty much anyone can agree that recordings almost never sound just like live music, a kazoo should be ranked above the master tape: it's the original source, with no degradation by recording/playback equipment.
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ramicio
post Jan 9 2012, 21:58
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Is this the same article which claims that the speed at which a CD is ripped changes the sound, even if they are a bit-perfect match? I bought the electronic download of that issue of the magazine just to read the BS. I was curious.
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db1989
post Jan 9 2012, 22:01
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Yeah, from the same series. Sorry, I meant epic saga.
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Porcus
post Jan 9 2012, 22:27
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QUOTE (ramicio @ Jan 9 2012, 21:58) *
Is this the same article which claims that the speed at which a CD is ripped changes the sound, even if they are a bit-perfect match? I bought the electronic download of that issue of the magazine just to read the BS. I was curious.


Of course you downloaded it on an ultra-slow modem line for added high end readability?


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oldguy55
post Jan 11 2012, 03:59
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The article happens to be part 2 of a 4-part series. The first installment went to great length to describe the test equipment and methods used, and explained all the questions they were going to try to answer. I think this is what I'm looking for, a comprehensive examination of digital audio, as it sits today, so I can know which tools to use, and the difference in the various formats that can be used to store and play back my audio collection. I haven't seen this installment, yet, but I'm sure that if the person who started this thread had been paying attention, they would have seen that it was part 2 of a series. They need to go back an issue, and come up to speed, because it's way too early in the series to be calling them out on their findings, as they're only halfway through the article. Anything less is what I call B.S.. By the way, I'm not a big fan of those guys, because I'm sick of in depth reviews of $5K dacs and $25K speaker systems, since the great majority of people anywhere can't even dream of owning that gear, and I find it to be elitist, IMHO, but sometimes they do teach me about audio, and we should let them finish this lesson, before we start running them down, I think.
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greynol
post Jan 11 2012, 05:02
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That reminds me about the time someone suggested that a particular unnamed magazine editor is factually correct simply because he has a kind demeanor.

I can bedazzle you for years and then claim two plus two equals five. Would you withhold judgement until I was finished?

I suppose you might if I were to make some type of pronouncement on April 1st.

wink.gif

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krabapple
post Jan 11 2012, 06:03
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QUOTE (oldguy55 @ Jan 10 2012, 21:59) *
The article happens to be part 2 of a 4-part series. The first installment went to great length to describe the test equipment and methods used, and explained all the questions they were going to try to answer. I think this is what I'm looking for, a comprehensive examination of digital audio, as it sits today, so I can know which tools to use, and the difference in the various formats that can be used to store and play back my audio collection. I haven't seen this installment, yet, but I'm sure that if the person who started this thread had been paying attention, they would have seen that it was part 2 of a series. They need to go back an issue, and come up to speed, because it's way too early in the series to be calling them out on their findings, as they're only halfway through the article. Anything less is what I call B.S.. By the way, I'm not a big fan of those guys, because I'm sick of in depth reviews of $5K dacs and $25K speaker systems, since the great majority of people anywhere can't even dream of owning that gear, and I find it to be elitist, IMHO, but sometimes they do teach me about audio, and we should let them finish this lesson, before we start running them down, I think.



I'm getting to be an 'oldguy' too and 'high end' journalism's pseudoscientific B.S. is quite familiar to me at this point. It's been going on for decades.

You need to realize that some of us have been following this particular instance of it for a week or two now, and even when we haven't been able to access the articles, we HAVE been able to read what *one of its authors* has been saying about it online. Please refer to the other HA thread linked on this one.

And if you care to read a bunch of otherwise intelligent guys go way, way down the rabbit hole trying to 'explain' this 'mystery', check out the whatsbestforum thread.

This post has been edited by krabapple: Jan 11 2012, 06:23
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krabapple
post Jan 11 2012, 06:11
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QUOTE (SoAnIs @ Jan 6 2012, 22:19) *
0 = Kazoo. 50 = 320kbps MP3.
100 = Red Book CD, 44.1khz/16 bit
.
.
150 = 176/24 upconverted
.
.

Furthermore, a "very large" difference of 50 points would "require only one A/B comparison and is so large that a 24-hour hiatus between listening sessions would still elicit the typical audiophile expression of 'Holy Cow! This is a night and day difference!'"


Anyone who can consistently elicit a 'holy cow night and day difference' from multiple users in a 320 kbps mp3 vs Redbook comparison, much less redbook vs upconverted, is doing something very wrong.

The rest of what they report (as relayed by you) appears to be even more incredible on its face.
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2Bdecided
post Jan 11 2012, 11:24
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apparently part 3 is even better...

QUOTE
The article claims a persistent degradation of sound quality after each conversion from WAV to FLAC to WAV again.

http://www.avguide.com/forums/computer-music-audio-quality

Just laugh. It's the only way to stay sane!

But feel sorry for any poor souls looking for better quality music that get sucked in.

Of course people "over there" will be saying exactly the same thing about HA. wink.gif

Cheers,
David.
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polemon
post Jan 11 2012, 11:28
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The fact that FLAC is lossless, and should always produce the exact same result the uncompressed counterpart, I don't get the rating system.

Shouldn't 0 be nothing? I.e. white noise or silence?

I don't know that magazine, and therefore I don't know how well respected that magazine is. But those kind of magazines or webzines tend to make errors here and there. I remember an article on Tom's Hardware, which is a very well respected source of hardware reviews and examination. But they reviewed a device once and were talking about the custom controller in there and were speculating about production value, procedures and all that. Later in the article it was revealed, that it is a chip made by Xillings and next to it a picture of it...

...it was clearly an FPGA.

The whole article about the chip made no sense, of those three full pages of text about 40% were bullshit/simply wrong. I believe it is the same with this article you described. The article doesn't make sense, it's like comparing text files: Copy a plain text file, compress one with LZMA and then uncompress it, then check if they're still identical. So maybe it's not the magazine at fault, maybe just the author of the article. Was probably an intern or something, writing it.

This post has been edited by polemon: Jan 11 2012, 11:33


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ramicio
post Jan 11 2012, 14:20
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QUOTE (Porcus @ Jan 9 2012, 17:27) *
Of course you downloaded it on an ultra-slow modem line for added high end readability?


No, I used FIOS, so it looks like crap! laugh.gif
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krabapple
post Jan 13 2012, 00:06
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QUOTE (polemon @ Jan 11 2012, 05:28) *
The article doesn't make sense, it's like comparing text files: Copy a plain text file, compress one with LZMA and then uncompress it, then check if they're still identical. So maybe it's not the magazine at fault, maybe just the author of the article. Was probably an intern or something, writing it.


um, no, it wasn't.
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krabapple
post Jan 13 2012, 00:32
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QUOTE (krabapple @ Jan 11 2012, 00:03) *
And if you care to read a bunch of otherwise intelligent guys go way, way down the rabbit hole trying to 'explain' this 'mystery', check out the whatsbestforum thread.



make that whatsbestforum

This post has been edited by krabapple: Jan 13 2012, 00:32
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