Truth, Lies and Fraud in the Audiophile World
Jim Ambras

You know, your comment about old classic recordings (e.g. classic rock) not being “high-res” may not be quite correct. Those recordings were analog recordings on 15 IPS or 30 IPS spool tape. The issue of “resolution” must be understood differently when you’re dealing with such analog equipment. The only way in which “resolution makes sense there is to measure the frequency response, THD, and SNR of that equipment. I don’t know about THD and SNR of old professional spool tape recorders, but I do know from friends who own them that they are often flat till 27 KHz and beyond. In that one parameter, they are “much higher resolution” than CD.

The second issue about “high resolution” which puzzles me is the source. Even with modern ultra-purist super-high-resolution recordings, what are the microphones like? What SNR do the mics have? And if the mic itself has an 80 dB SNR, what’s the point of recording the sound in 24-bit resolution? When we’re talking hi-res, say, 24-bit, we’re talking of dynamic range of 140dB. So, even if a mic is quiet enough to have a self-noise of, say, 10dB (some mics do have such levels), it must be able to capture sounds 10+140 = 150dB, and even the loudest sound captured must be at distortion levels lower than the noise floor, 140dB down. The super-quiet famous Rode NT1-A apparently has an SNR of just 88dB, though it has a self-noise floor at an extremely low 4dB. Do we know of any recordings done with equipment which can capture 140dB noise-free, distortion-free? If not, then we’re hearing music at the usual 60–80dB louder than noise and distortion floor, no matter how many digital bits we use to record it.

The third issue about “high resolution” recordings is the studio. If you’re synthesising digital music, then this comment does not apply. But if you’re recording acoustic music or voice, then which studio do you use for your recording? What is the ambient noise level in the recording room? Is there any studio available with ambient noise 130dB or more below the recorded peak? And if the studio is not that quiet, what’s the point of going beyond 16-bit resolution?

For a long time, camera makers, specially DSLR makers, played the numbers game and raced each other to get higher megapixel numbers in their sensors. I’m glad they seem to have eased up on that one, and have begun focusing on other, more meaningful metrics. I guess the high-res audio race is similar, and someday, (most) music lovers will wake up.

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