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Thread: How many people can hear the difference between...

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    How many people can hear the difference between...

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    ...any two supposedly equivalent audio related things, really?

    No, I am serious. This came up again the other day, as a friend thought one of my recordings could've done with a bit more "presence" etc. etc. I know this is an age-old topic in itself, but I did spend time and could not find anything close to a simple answer, and a simple answer to THIS should actually exist and I'd even expect it to be easily found but that's not the case.

    The things being compared could be something different, but let's say "A" is a piece of music at CD quality and "B" is the same piece of music compressed to an MP3 at "maximum" quality. It could also be things at different sample rates or whatever, that's not the point.

    How many people, in pure numbers, x people out of y people, can reliably tell the difference between "A" and "B"? What is the proportion of people who are actually capable of telling them apart?

    There's a ton of very heated debate on this stuff, but this is something I haven't found anywhere. I've seen various studies comparing musicians, engineers, "audiophiles" etc. to each other but the groups of people themselves are "floating" and unspecified. Where did they get those people? What are they supposed to represent? None of them answer the most relevant question (to me). This type of question is interesting in the general population, not at all that much otherwise if you ask me (it turns into a contest instead...)

    So, anyone here know of a good study or two?

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    One of those "generates more heat than light" topics. Thanks for bringing it up .

    I can't point to a study, but I am certain that the number of people that can objectively and reliably identify original vs. lossy (not just saying they hear a difference) is very small, and it depends, of course, on a hearing ability well above the median, very good sound equipment and the kind of source material that makes the compression algorithm [decisions] more apparent.

    The other question I don't see asked is whether any study can show that there's a significant population that can say their life is diminished because of the use of lossy compression. Jeez, talk about first-world problems.
    "... I know in the mornin' that it's gonna be good
    when I stick out my elbows and they don't bump wood." - Bill Kirchen

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    Spitzer, I think its possible that your friend might have a point, especially if his hearing acuity is significantly different from yours.

    I've seen some smaller tests where people had trouble distinguishing between 320K mp3s vs the original CD file. One in particular used musicians who, you would think, would be attuned to such things as timbre and clarity.

    I have, however, heard a few instances where a particular passage gave MP3 encoding trouble, but they were very minor, and it was years ago. I doubt that I could do the same today, as my hearing had degraded over the past 10-15 years.

    One the other hand, Keith makes a point about how much it really matters. I worked in printing for over 40 years, and part of the job involved color accuracy. While I could throw 20 identical pages and tell variations in the tone, contrast and shading, I often thought "but does it make a difference if the jeans are slightly greenish blue vs the original reddish blue? As long as the price is right the customer is going to buy it!" Of course I NEVER said that to the customer. They expected it to be a match, and that's what we tried to achieve.
    I find sound to be much more difficult to correlate than with vision, as it tends to be more transient in nature. You can study an image and focus on impurities or inaccuracies, but with sound recording, it is constantly changing. Its meaningless to "freeze" a single note and study it.

    With art (and creating music IS art) there are no absolutes. Its about perception which is a personal issue. What you might find perfectly acceptable, someone else might find dull and lifeless because they listen for something different. The cymbals might not have the sparkle they expect, or they might be overbearing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by keith.rogers View Post
    One of those "generates more heat than light" topics. Thanks for bringing it up .
    Yes. I should stress that I'm not, I'm really not, wanting to start the typical debate. The specific point here, like I said, is: why is the actually relevant phenomenon (whether or not people in general, not "audiophiles" or professional audio engineers can tell) NOT being studied but almost everything beside it is? I mean, for example it's very common knowledge that older people start losing perception of higher frequencies, happens to EVERYONE regardless of general health. So after age 50, what's the point of sampling frequencies that even you yourself at half your age could not possibly hear? (just an example! please. No ill will meant.)

    (and yes I did see that smiley face. Just honestly looking for actual "real life" data which I can't seem to find.)

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    In a strictly controlled A/B blind comparison most people would detect a difference. However, my experience is that some people prefer the sound of the mp3. I don't know if it's the compression or the other artefacts but mp3s can be nicer to listen to and perhaps even less tiring. When it comes to playing one after the others = in maybe an iTunes stream with different formats and quality levels, very often I have noticed people just don't notice, if the Robbie Williams .wav is followed by the low bandwidth mp3 at 160, or the more bits/higher sampling rate wav that follows if they like the material. It's always subjective and rarely objective because it's music, and your liking or disliking of the song colours your judgement. objectively we can measure and analyse but listening isn't like that. Noise and distortion get spotted, but I firmly believe once above that, format is just a matter of taste - like years ago when people would record on cassette with Dolby B, the replay with it off because they liked the extra HF and could ignoramus's the hiss!

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    Quote Originally Posted by TalismanRich View Post
    Spitzer, I think its possible that your friend might have a point, especially if his hearing acuity is significantly different from yours.
    In this particular case the big, the huuuuge if is that... well not technically an 'if' I guess. Anyway, not sure about hearing acuity, his (available, even if not actual) listening equipment is much better though... but he had not heard the original tracks! Never even once, let alone solo'ed, compared or anything like that. Just off-hand, he suggested a different mic placement to get "more of the cymbals (high end) in there", which to me was odd for at least two reasons: 1. I thought there were too MUCH of the cymbals (mid-high), they were bulldozing the guitars 2. I did nothing deliberate whatsoever to alter the freq response, no EQ at all (quick mix). So, what I might very well have missed would still all be in there. 3. What I heard with my cheap "gear", speakers and phones both, very closely matched the cymbals natural sound. They just happen to be fairly dark and don't have that much of the very high-end harmonics.

    This was all just what got me thinking about the broader topic a bit more, almost like he heard something missing that was never there. Or didn't hear something he would have liked to hear. Certainly a testament to people hearing the same stuff differently.

    You've all made some very good points here. How much does it matter, there are no absolutes. Still looking for an actual study or even any kind of test though. The one point where I would definitely and strongly, without proof, personally disagree is

    Quote Originally Posted by rob aylestone
    ... most people would detect a difference. ...
    That is assuming you're still referring to CD vs. best possible mp3. You might consider this nitpicking, but still. "Most people" means at the very least more than half of ALL people.

    And still, the most interesting thing would be to see any study of this kind in the general population. Let's say the sample population would be people ages 15-84, not legally deaf. Which way would it go?

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    Here is one test I found.

    Blind Test Results | Lossless vs. Lossy

    This is just about lossy vs lossless and doesn’t address wider topics about what might be considered purely subjective things (like “presence”) and solo listeners on their own equipment!

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    Tricky subject for sure, and very few people have been doing valid research on it these days. Fletcher-Munson kind of stuff is hard to call subjective.

    There's this guy:

    PowerPoint Presentations from recent (or not so recent) meetings.


    Not sure if that's what you're looking for, but JJ's career has been largely about studying how our ears and hearing work.

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    I find it depends on what you are listening to the music on, and how you are listening to the music.

    If you playback system is very high end you will notice some difference. If you are listening to bud type earphones, computer speakers, etc. no difference.
    If you have the music playing at home or in the car and you are not really listening its just music for company, no difference. If you are absolutely listening to the song, every note every expression (for example classical music, Jazz Etc) then maybe you will notice.

    Alan.

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    My concert pianist friend can detect micro tuning defects on hearing somebody play the piano, he has perfect pitch and comes out with crazy things. Dampers need looking at on the F sharp above middle C, or Ab 7 is a tiny bit high. He listens to all our tracks and then comes back to me with editing fixes. He listens very, very carefully. Usually I send wavs, but occasionally I mistakenly send him the crunched MP3 files I edit for the samples on the website. He has never, ever noticed. So his very good hearing misses completely what we are talking about, but picks up totally different things, but clearly these tiny levels of detail are in the music. What exactly are we hearing when we listen for quality differences?

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