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back to article Universal's High Fidelity Pure Audio trickles onto Blighty’s Blu-Ray hi-fis

Universal Music Group’s bid to get us all buying discs again kicks off this month with the release of the first batch of High Fidelity Pure Audio albums – 27 in all. Well, that’s what UMG says, and its website shows all the upcoming titles will be out in Blighty on 21 October, four months after the format was announced – it went …

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You'll need to upgrade your cables

To get the benefit of these you'll need to upgrade all of your cables to oxygen free snake oil pure copper cables hand spun by virgins. Yours for just £200 per metre squire.

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Try Qobuz

The French download store Qobuz has had these on sale for a while. I've tried a couple - on promo for the same price as CD quality - and they sound very nice when fed into the main amp via an Audiolab M-DAC.

How much of that is down to the higher bit-rate and sampling frequency and how much is down to sympathetic remastering of the original recordings I wouldn't like to say.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Try Qobuz

Hmm...

I'm certain my NAD cd player will have a better DAC in it than my bottom of the range Sony Bluray player.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You'll need to upgrade your cables

Presumably they sound just the same when downloaded from TPB.....

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Re: Try Qobuz

Well, er, yes,

However I was referring to downloads from Qobuz,

And I'd like to think the Audiolab M-DAC is a slightly better performer than the DACs in most CD or Blu Ray players.

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Re: Try Qobuz

What a totlally f*cked up industry, stuck in the dark ages of territorial segmentation. Tried that Qobuz s(h)ite: not available to purchase/download in your territory (UK). HDtracks.com encumbered by the same crap from the big labels - small ones don't care, they'll take the revenue wherever you live.

Now, I do appreciate that such practices will no doubt be premised/excused by the myriad paths to reimburse artists for unit product sales and publishing rights but I suspect it's more to do with some ego bollox & job protection being exercised at the top echelons of the big labels.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Try Qobuz

I don't know why you got negative votes, your comment was completely valuable. I am a Qobuz users since two years and this seems to me the way forward for the music industry : FLAC HD audio files, no DRM, competitive prices. And YES, the FLAC HD does make a difference in blind tests (not very interesting for pop, definitely impressive on classical music).

From my point of view the audio BR is a darwinian cul-de-sac.

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Re: Try Qobuz

A VPN and a PayPal account overcomes the problem.

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Nevermind

Ugh! Nirvana on audiophile format? I'm old enough to remember Nirvana when I was young - guess that makes me the new generation Rolling Stones / Eric Claptout type.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Nevermind

Quite. Rock music hardly benefits from extreme quality seeing as it's largely based on distortion anyway....

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MJI
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Re: Rock music

I find it the other way. Rock music needs the clarity, compared to modern pop, rock music benefits from good recording and reproduction, luckily a lot of it was well recorded.

Even CD is sometimes not good enough, when you get rasping which is missing from analogue sources.

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While I think these probably will have better audio than CDs, I suspect that the difference will only really be noticeable if you compare the two via an oscilloscope or have far better hearing than most humans.

The problem these really high definition audio formats have is that 99% of the music buying public actually don't seem to care what quality their music is. If they did, the likes of Apple and any other random on-line music store would be selling more music compressed using a lossless compression system than they do. People don't (in my experience) generally think "Ohh, I have a 64 Gig portable music player. I can get 100 CD quality albums on it.". They tend to think "Ohh, I have a 64 Gig portable music player. I can get 25,000 songs and a couple of movies on it."

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Stuart Castle wrote:

"99% of the music buying public actually don't seem to care what quality their music is"
Thats exactly what I was thinking. There's an entire generation of kids, and some young adults, that think listening to MTV through their crappy TV speakers is acceptable; that use YouTube as a jukebox on their laptops; convert YouTube videos to MP3's and listen to them on their phones or, in the case of young adults, in cars (with fairly decent sounds systems!); that listen to their MP3 players/phones with the crappy earphones that came with the devices and when they break replace them with just as crappy earphones.

Most people, in my experience, just don't care about the quality of the music, they just want to listen to it.

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Depends on your setup

If you have a 5.1 / 7.1 surround sound setup then you should get a very definite benefit over playing some stereo CD. I doubt the actual sound per channel from the higher bitrate would be very noticeable though.

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MP3

People haven't lost a desire for sound quality. An mp3, if encoded at sufficient bit rate is as good as 16 bit CD. By "as good as", I mean that any differences are inaudible to any human and acceptably low according to measurement. In the same way, 16 bit CD is as good as 24 bit CD imo.

The audible/inaudible boundary is not exactly certain. Anybody can hear the shortcoming of music encoded at 128 kb/s. I am not sure if I can hear artifacts or not at 192 kb/s. My own research indicates 256 mb/s is well into the "inaudible" area, and my music collection, while archived in FLAC, is encoded at 256 kb/s VBR for mp3 use.

It remains to be seen if compressed formats will survive once storage ceases to be a question. Probably they will survive, for several years at least, if only because some much mp3 kit is out there.

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Re: MP3

Just to add - I listen to MP3 music on a very large hi-fi, not just on tinny earbuds.

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Headmaster

Re: MP3

My own research indicates 256 mb/s is well into the "inaudible" area, and my music collection, while archived in FLAC, is encoded at 256 kb/s VBR for mp3 use.

Yep, 256mb/s MP3 is very high quality. Probably not get many hours of audio on your MP3 player though.

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Re: MP3

Since when has just a bit more than 1/4 of a bit per second been very high quality?

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Headmaster

Re: MP3

Yep, 256mb/s MP3 is very high quality. Probably not get many hours of audio on your MP3 player though.

Au contrare, with one bit trickling though every 4 seconds, or about 4 bytes a minute … using an 8" floppy disk for storage yields hours of recording time.

I'm a bit dubious about how "good" it'd sound though.

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Re: MP3

Mate.. It is probably your sound system.

I compose/play/produce music for loud PAs and I can tell you without any shadow of a doubt that MP3 is rubbish, 24bit is better than 16bit and the higher the bitrate(48k vs 44.1k) the denser the sound reproduction.

MP3 is by its nature a horrible bastard child. But it is small. If i write a 5 min track. It will be about a 10 mb (320kbps) file. If I do not compress teh format and leave it as a 32bit/48khz WAV/Aiff (which is dvd quality sound) then the file is over 100mb and runs at about 3300 kbps. What this means is that when you download that 320kbps mp3 and think you have impressive quality what you actually have is 1/10th of the original quality.

That is clearly NOT good. Just think for every 1 bit of information 9 bits were tossed in the bin. This would mean less if it wasn't in Digitial. When you convert from analogue to digital there is a loss in quality just by the action. This is because you are moving from a continuous recording to a discrete recording. This creates natural errors. This is why 22khz is worse than 44.1khz which is worse than 88.2khz (double 44.1khz) and so on.

Anyhow, back to my original statement. Your speakers are shit. Just like uncompressed format vs MP3; Good speakers will have a certain DEPTH that cheap speakers will not.

lastly, My dad loves the old tunes while I am into the newer stuff. He would tell me... But it doesn't have to be high quality for my older tunes because the recording quality back in those days was worse. I have since proven him wrong by playing back samples of his music, in higher quality WAV with better speakers and he has since converted.

Look, I get it. Mp3 is a lot smaller format. Uncompressed takes for ages. sure. Try a format like flac where you lose only 4/10ths rather than 9/10ths. But know that your ease of download is distorting the music you love and making it a less enjoyable experience.

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Re: MP3

"Try a format like flac where you lose only 4/10ths rather than 9/10ths." - you don't lose anything with FLAC, as it's lossless compression. The reconstructed output file is an exact 1:1 replica of the input file.

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Anonymous Coward

That's nice.

Where's the widespread availability of high quality lossless audio files, like FLAC or ALAC? I bet there's a larger market for those than there are for ultra-refined audiophile products.

A big chunk of my music these days is from second hand CDs. I'd like to buy all that stuff in FLAC but, y'know, no-one sells it.

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Angel

VFM

Hmm.

Amazon are charging (at the time of this post) £10 for The Rolling Stones: GRRR! [Blu-Ray Audio] and £12.49 for the MP3.

I'd go for the Blu-Ray.

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Music industry digging a hole

So few people want this.

Just using the analogue outs on a standard blu-ray player or ps3 will sort of kill any benefits of the high res, so you'll need some sort of dac to get any benefit, if there is indeed any at all.

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B-D

It's all just a little bit of history repeating... again.

XRCD

HDCD

DTSCD

Audio only DVDV

DAD

HDAD

DVDA

SACD

And now Audio only Bluray.

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This and LPs both.

In a world where the majority are content to download MP3 despite it's shortcomings. This is going to be a minority sport. It certainly won't attract the strange group of people who are faddishly buying LPs...

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Megaphone

Re: This and LPs both.

It might if it can beat the dynamic range (so that a pin dropping is not the same volume as all the instruments being bashed with bricks simultaneously). Not that my ears are capable of hearing the full dynamic range (or total frequency range) any more after years of listening to music being played far too loud without the use of earplugs!

Shouty, shouty - as you'll have to shout for me to be able to hear you these days!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: This and LPs both.

That's the thing about hifi though isn't it? By the time you can afford the decent stuff, your ears are too fucked to appreciate it.

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Woah

"UM is bundling free MP3 downloads with each disc."

Amazing. How many people does UM think are wavering on whether to purchase or not, but think that the bundling of an mp3 is going to swing it?

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Re: Woah

Given the 25Gb capacity how come no lossless (FLAC) ?

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Re: Woah

Because people might pirate it - the music business cartel.

Because most people can't tell the difference - the rest of the world.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Woah

"Given the 25Gb capacity how come no lossless (FLAC) ?"

Because BluRay players don't support it?

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Frequency, not resolution

I've seen elsewhere an examination of (bit) resolution, which appears to show that 16-bit is more than sufficient for encompassing the dynamic range in any recording.

What is important is increasing the frequency. There is an absolute upper limit of half the recording frequency in terms of the the highest frequency that can be represented, and as you approach that limit, you lose subtlety in terms of representing the waveform.

So higher frequency recording can be useful in representing higher frequency sounds more accurately. but resolution doesn't matter so much. What's more important is the audio being mastered correctly in the first place to retain the dynamic range of the recording.

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Re: Frequency, not resolution

"So higher frequency recording can be useful in representing higher frequency sounds more accurately. but resolution doesn't matter so much. What's more important is the audio being mastered correctly in the first place to retain the dynamic range of the recording."

This, this, a thousand times this.

You don't need audiophile hifi to tell the difference between a well mastered record and one that has been dynamically compressed for 'loudness' and 'pop'.

Steven R

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Re: Frequency, not resolution

It's not dynamic range, it's low level detail. Ambience sounds noticeably grainy at 16 bits because it's down to 8-bits or so of useful resolution. Good 24-bit audio is smoother and clearer.

More bandwidth certainly helps, but mostly because it's really, really hard to design smooth artefact-free digital filtering for 44.1k, it's slightly easier at 48k, and it's easier still at 88.2k and 96k. 192k is mostly just hype. (Unless you're putting the sound into a sampler and using a full-range mic, in which case you'll get a bit more of a useful transposition range.)

High resolution audio only makes sense if it's transcoded and mastered by someone who really knows what they're doing. But considering the industry used to do things like make a CD master by recording vinyl off a turntable instead of using the master tapes, it's impossible to say how good these recordings are.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Frequency, not resolution

I've been working on these releases. Its not a case of the old needle-drops when CD was new. They are coming from various sources, many have been recently remastered at 24/96 or above, in which case we are using that. If high-res does not exist we are going back to original tapes.

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MJI
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Re: Frequency, not resolution

High frequency oddities.

I have heard these on occasions on CD, I assumed it was due to the 44.1 sampling frquency, as missing from analogue play back formats

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MJI
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Quality gets overlooked these days

As I have both DVD-A and SACD, yes they are better than CD, and yes they both bombed.

I feel for the manufacturers as the move to better sound did not follow like the move to better picture. Leaving som equite respectable companies wondering what went wrong, the market went wrong.

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Re: Quality gets overlooked these days

SACD bombed because they used it to bump up "nice price" back catalogue prices by 50%. If they had continued to sell one album at £9.99 or £10.99 instead of two with one at £15.99 then more customers would have bothered to change their player when buying a new one.

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There have been some sites selling legit 24 bit 96 - 192kHz Flags for a while. In addition, LG's New flagship phone can play them natively- and LG have released APIs in the hope that 3rd party audio app developers make use of them. With luck, Google will incorporate it into Android properly.

With storage, bandwidth and silicon ever cheaper, why not?

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"With storage, bandwidth and silicon ever cheaper, why not?"

As noted by earlier contributors, beacause nobody cares.

Storage, bandwidth and silicon have got ever cheaper over the years, and still you will struggle to find any decent lossless catalogue available for download. And that will continue until you can offer the masses hi-fidelity music without in anyway impinging on (for example) the speed of the download/stream, without compromising the amount they can store, and without them paying any more. The sad record of digital failure that passes for the music industry would seem likely to torpedo any prospect of hifi downloads even if the technology were able to offer it without any compromises.

And then there's the demand side: Those who claim to care about sound quality are split by more schisms than the church, with true believers still at war over analogue versus digitial, semiconductor versus valve amplification, every form of equipment and interconnect, the true range of frequency response needed for fidelity, sampling rates, codecs, error correction, etc etc etc. Arguably the people who don't care about the quality, but just want to listen to the music are in a stronger position both for enjoyment and their pilosophical integrity than the hi-fidelity mob.

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Anonymous Coward

Solution looking for problem

24 bits gives you a theoretical dynamic range of 144dB, ampifiers capable of providing such a range tend to come in very large trucks with three phase power supplies. For headphones the proximity to the ear means that you need significantly less power, but even using 1cm from the ear, the power required to represent that dynamic range is tens of watts.

Since Feb 2013 there are EU limits on how much volume portable music players can supply to headphones of 85dB, well within the 16bit range. Once you start going beyond that, damage to the ears can occur and eventually lead to a permanent shift in the ear's frequency response.

Recording at 24bits gives you a significant safety net to avoid digital clipping, especially when dealing with erratic musicians (used to work in a studio), but for playback makes much less sense, especially for portable devices.

The loudness wars of recent years have also severely limited the active dynamic range of recorded music, thankfully classical music has escaped, but it is a well known frustration of many a recording engineer to have recorded "as the artists wanted it" only to have it utterly mangled at the mastering stage.

As for higher sampling rates, whilst some time ago it might have made DAC design cheaper, average human hearing frequency range, especially as we age, renders this pointless. Microphones and instruments have a limited response and sampling at higher rates doesn't improve that.

If Hawkwind ever decide to re-record some of their earlier work for an audience of giant sized bats, then the new formats might be of interest, but as the utter defeat of SACD to MP3 showed, most people just aren't interested.

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FAIL

HQ audio: the demand is there - but the format is all wrong here

We sell 320kbps MP3, 16-bit FLAC and 24-bit FLAC downloads. The music is generally classical (there's a little jazz and blues too) and the recordings are all over 50 years old. FLAC has for a long time been the favoured format for our download customers, with very few opting for MP3 when they have the choice. (If I had a pound for every Mac user struggling to play FLACs in iTunes and e-mailing me about it... but that's another story.)

24-bit downloads have definitely seen strong growth - people are either getting high quality DACs on their computers or burning them to DVD-R for their Oppo "plays-everything-you-can-throw-at-it" decks. But they don't need another new disc-based format, and CD sales continue to fall.

IMO the major record companies need to wake up and smell the coffee: lossless downloads at higher resolutions (even if just about none of their customers can hear a difference) could be the 80s CD boom all over again and make them a fortune. But sticking the likes of the first Velvets album - one of the worst-recorded classic albums of the 1960s - on yet another new high-resolution format just shows how disconnected from the real world the suits at Universal are.

Massive fail, heading to a closed-down record store near you...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Solution looking for problem

If you are going to go to these lengths discussing why 24 bit is useless you might want to do a bit more research. The main selling point for having masters at 24 bit is the lack of dither noise added to the files when its reduced to 16 bit.

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Re: Solution looking for problem

That'll be the psychoacoutsically-shaped dither noise that lowers the effective noise floor (to human ears) of 16-bit recordings to something closer to 19-20 bits then? It's put there for a reason, and you almost certainly can't hear it, any more than you can tell a well-prepared 16-bit recording from the 24-bit master it originated from in just about any studio listening test you care to try.

There's a huge amount of bollocks talked around sample rates and bit depths and it's increasingly a meaningless numbers game. You can read some of that in this thread, alas.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Solution looking for problem

I agree, there is a lot of bollocks said, but that doesn't mean it is all bollocks.

Working at a mastering house we go to great lengths to get things like dither right. We have about a dozen different dithers which all sound different. Not adding it does make a difference, you are not adding noise. And if you want to talk about bollocks, this "18-20 bit range" of dither is a good example. If the file is 16 bit, its range can not exceed that.

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FAIL

96kHz? Is that it?

Gigabytes of space going begging on a BD disk and we get a doubling of sample rate from the 30 year old CD standard.

Needs to have ultra high resolution, 2.0 and multichannel versions of the music, plus lyrics, high resolution album art, promotional videos, photos, making of... and anything else they can think of putting on there. Try harder. Or don't have my money.

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"Needs to have ultra high resolution"

For who's benefit? You have an owl listening to your music for you?

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Stuck down a hole, in the fog, at night, WITH AN OWL!

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Anonymous Coward

Its not that simple...

There are few A/D converters which sound good at sample rates above 96k. The analogue electronics in a converter are as important as any other stage, if not more than some, so having a converter with the best analogue side is going to give you a better digital signal.

The converters which top out at 96k sound a lot better than ones which go higher. As a result a lot of masters are done at 96k and not higher. I've not met anyone (and we are talking about some of the best ears in the industry here) who argues that 192k is worth it. The benefits you get from going to 44 to 96 are huge, you are moving the filters well away from human hearing range. Going further to 192 is a case of diminishing returns, and 384 is just pointless (Sorry Neil Young)

If you really want to capture something genuinely better than 96k, try DSD, but given Sony stopped developing that 6 years ago, its not easy.

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