Direct Stream Digital Audio

Math vs Ears -- How do you base your decision to purchase downloads ?

Math vs Ears -- How do you base your decision to purchase downloads ?

math vs ears

If I recall correctly, and @cookiemarenco can chime in herself of course and correct/confirm me, she believes she hears a difference between WAV and the same file encoded to FLAC.  @bachish, this belief I would argue would be an "audiophile" assertion, because those who know the math behind FLAC encoding will tell you that there is no difference (i.e. perfect, not just near perfect, null).  Someone then mentions the computational overhead necessary to decode a FLAC encoding vs. a WAV file and your off to the audiophile races about what can or can not be "'heard" in a digital file...

In a recent discussion at computeraudiophile.com I was asked to participate on a thread about a math experiment that led to this conclusion... "The math says there's no difference between the FLAC and the WAV file".   We do listening tests.. regardless of math.  If we hear a difference... even the slightest difference and it can be duplicated several times, then something is wrong and needs investigation.

Below is my response to the question posed above that I answered to.


Hello and thank you for the mention, 

First I'd like to mention that I applaud anyone buying music, especially in high resolution and disc format.  Streaming rate payouts will never support a robust ecosystem of varying music genres.  We want to support you all and the format of your choice.  What ever works best for you, in your listening situation and to fit your budget.  Your continuing enjoyment of music helps support us making new music.  Thank you.

Math vs listening tests.... Arguments that could arise from our differences are not often understood by the main stream music listener and even professional audio engineers.  I've been in the pro audio side of thing since opening a commercial facility in 1982.  I left active participation with pro audio to create an audiophile music label in 2007.  99% of the professional audio community is still recording in 44.1/24 or 16 bits.  99% of the music we receive for evaluation, mixing and mastering arrives as 44.1 files.  If you ask 99% of the record labels (and I include the major labels here) for the multitrack masters or even the final mixes pre mastering...  you'll get a look of horror.  They don't know where they are.  This is a tragedy. 

I suspect the thought of learning something new or managing large files or spending more money on gear during a time when audio engineering jobs and commercial studios are dying off and labels going out of business, is not really a pleasant consideration.

What and how we listen is a personal decision.  When I'm at home and in my office, I listen to youtube, CDs, SACDs, and DSD.. depends on my mood and what I'm doing.  I listen to the baseball games on a 20 year old transistor Sony radio, by the way.

What I record to is a different story.  I record to 2" tape and DSD256, no PCM.  If you have more questions, feel free to ask.

Do we hear the difference between FLAC and WAV?  yes.  We have repeated this test dozens of times, blindfolded and can teach people how to hear the difference.  Do we hear the difference between the conversion of various levels of FLAC?  Yes, and we optimize our conversions to create the best sounding FLAC.  Do we hear the difference between a FLAC made from a DSD256 and from WAV?  Yes.  Do we hear differences in USB and Ethernet cables?  Yes... for another discussion. :)

In the early 80's we were beta testers for the first digital audio workstations.  Part of my job was to do rigorous listening tests.  For more than 30 years I've been paid by dozens of audio manufacturers (both pro and consumer) to test their gear.  We got started in this because we complained about digital audio conversions.  When engineers discovered we were right, they hired us to test.  

But hey, if you want to believe the math, that's cool.  :)  I wanted to believe the math when I started distributing downloads in 2008.  We were told that FLAC sounded the same.  Sure, the files would be smaller, easier to download, cost less to host, etc.  But, before we hosted hundreds of FLAC files, I suggested we do comparative listening tests. As the owner of the business, FLAC was a more financially advantageous file to deliver.

My "oh s*&t" moment came when we heard the difference.  WAV sounded better.  We couldn't lie to our customers about what we heard.  It's not a big difference but we heard it... test after test after test. It was going to cost more money to deliver WAV but we promised our customers the best files we could deliver at the time... and we still do.

Bottomline... we sell the FLAC, DSD and WAV... we sell all formats available to us at Blue Coast Music.  Buy what makes you happy.  Math?  I love math.  But ......  ;)

This has been a great article.  I'm going to submit it to DSD-Guide.com where you can read more about the tests we do and why.


Enjoy your listening and support your favorite musicians, 

Cookie Marenco

Blue Coast Music


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