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Why Can't I Hear the Difference between DSD and PCM?

Why Can't I Hear the Difference between DSD and PCM?


Do you ever visit audiophile forums or social media groups where anger fills a post about someone who can hear the difference between cables? The same thing happens when comparing DSD to WAV or FLAC and even MP3. If you can hear the difference, why can't they?

Critical listening doesn't come right away to new audiophiles. Often what happens is that you experience great sound played back on someone else's system then you crave to have it at your home. Not everyone feels that way. Not everyone cares. Listening to better quality sound is a life long adventure for some of us.

But, once you are bitten by the bug for better quality, it's really hard to go back and settle for less. A tweak here and there can be a slight move of inches with the speakers, the addtion of a new chair, moving from a portable DAC to a standalone DSD unit, etc. If you're readying this, you probably know what I'm talking about. The longer you listen, the more you crave better sound.

Many listeners are just now experiencing the move from streaming MP3 (lossy audio) to streaming HD (lossless audio) and don't hear the differences. How can that be? Those of us having access to great DSD files can't imagine anything less. But, truthfully, it takes time to build us a system of listening to where you can hear the differences and those differences matter.

Key to this is understanding the role of dynamics and frequency response. You can read about it, but what you really need to do is LISTEN, COMPARE and EXPERIENCE what role dynamics and frequency response can do to the music. Hearing the differences might not come right away. Having an experienced guide or teacher during a comparison test can be key to your learning.

I know how much faster my audio students learned and heard the differences when I was present to explain what they were experiencing, not just hearing. Most of them were not taught this kind of listening in their audio schools. Once they heard the differences, few went back to lower fidelity listening.

If you're going to try comparing audio files at home without guidance, the first thing you need to get is a reliable source of music that has full dynamic range. If you're listening to most music released today, it could be over compressed or recorded in low fidelity. The differences may not be there when listening to compare audio formats. If you have a less than adequate system, it might not be able to translate those differences. Also, when comparing DSD to FLAC or WAV, make sure your system is not converting the DSD files to WAV or FLAC. If you're using digital speakers, they may convert everything to 9624 WAV (for instance). It won't be an adequate way to compare.

For a guidance on how to do a listening test at home here's a previous article on comparison tests. You might want to bookmark it for future use.

Read how to do the test here...


Download 10 formats of one song recorded in DSD here.. and it's free!


Enjoy your listening!
Cookie Marenco