• Analyzed: John Hiatt's Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns at 24 bit / 96 kHz

    Two weeks ago Computer Audiophile forum contributor Mister Wednesday notified CA readerslink about John Hiatt releasing his new album Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns as a CD/DVD combination package. The DVD was to contain a 24 bit / 96 kHz version of the album. As a big John Hiatt fan I ordered the CD/DVD package immediately. Without the promise of a 24 bit / 96 kHz version I would have simply downloaded the FLAC version from John's website on release day. Kudos John Hiatt for offering the album as a lossless download. I hope more artists and record labels take note. Unfortunately not all is well with the 24/96 version of Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns.




     


    Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns at 24 bit / 96 kHz

    Ordering Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns through John Hiatt's websitelink had one unexpected benefit. I received the CD/DVD package one day early and about 30 minutes prior to leaving for the airport to visit Listen Uplink in Denver. Needless to say I carried the CD/DVD onboard the plane and spent a couple hours ripping the CD and audio off the DVD-Video disc, and listening to the 16/44.1 and 24/96 versions of the album. The DVD disc of Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns is a DVD-Video disc that does not contain visible audio files such as AIFF or WAVE. It's possible to play the 24/96 version of the album on a disc spinner, like the one built into all computers, but a major benefit of computer playback is then negated. Like most audiophiles I ripped the 24/96 audio form the DVD-Video disc. I used the new Mac OS X version (10.7 Lion ready) of DVD Audio Extractorlink to rip the files in FLAC format. Readers interested in learning this process can view my in-depth DVD ripping article herelink. Needless to say the environment at 35,000 feet is often not conducive to critical listening so I spent much of the time listening casually and analyzing the ripped files with Audacity.

     

    Analysis

    I'll be the first person to admit I do not have the skills of an Audio Engineer who works with high resolution audio on a daily basis. In addition I am using the consumer grade free application called Audacitylink as my analysis tool. Over the last few years I've analyzed my fair share of audacity spectrograms and asked my fair share of questions to professionals much more learned than myself. Questions sent to 'Dirty Jeans' Mastering Engineer George Marino of Sterling Sound were not immediately returned. Based on my own analysis of all eleven tracks on Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns it appears the 24/96 version was sourced from 48 kHz files. Evidence of 48k to 96k upsampling can be seen by looking at the spectrograms for each track. For example the track Adios To California has a very unnatural cutoff at about 24 kHz. It's easy to see the horizontal straight line cutting off all frequencies above 24k. Real instruments do not have filters that stop all sonics at specific frequencies. If John Hiatt's Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns 24/96 version was sourced from 44.1 files the horizontal cutoff would be seen at 21 kHz (44.1 / 2) instead of 24 kHz (48 / 2).
    Click to enlarge




    An example of what a native 24/96 recording should look like can seen by looking at the following spectrogram of Guitar Noir released by Mark Waldrep's AIX label and downloadable from iTrax.comlink. The higher frequencies clearly fade away naturally.
    Click to enlarge




    On a positive note some of the waveforms on Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns are not nearly as compressed as much of today's popular music. One example is the waveform of the track When New York Had Her Heart Broke. Compared to many albums this waveform is music to my ears. Take a look at the following waveform from Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown album. Just looking at this causes headaches.
    Click to enlarge

     


     


    Sound Quality

    I returned from my trip to Denver Tuesday evening and quickly began listening to Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns at 16/44.1 and 24/96 on my main audio system. I figured the sonics would be nearly indistinguishable based on the subpar spectrograms. I certainly had an expectation bias but it was impossible for me to throw away the spectrogram facts. Over the course of a couple days I listened to the CD version and the 24/96 version back to back as complete albums. Shortly before writing this article I conducted some quick A/B tests that served to confuse my brain much more than the prolonged listening experiences. During one of the first prolonged listening sessions I could have sworn the difference between the 44.1 and 96 versions was huge and readily apparent. I heard air around the cymbals, great texture in John's voice, and a cohesive three dimensional sound stage in the higher resolution version of this album. To my dismay I was unable to duplicate this experience in any subsequent listening session. I setup the Aurender S10link music server to shuffle between 44.1 and 96k tracks while I tried to identify them as 44.1 or 96k. This testing was a disaster as I selected the incorrect version half the time and really confused myself the longer and harder I tried to listen for differences. That type of listening was an absolute mess.

    The results of my listening tests should not be taken as an indication of how this album or any other 24/96 album will sound to someone else in a different system in a different room, on a different day, etc. My experience is a single datapoint among many. Overall the new John Hiatt album is pretty good. I highly recommend Hiatt fans go to his sitelink and download the FLAC version of the Redbook CD. At least CA readers can support lossless downloads from great artists.

     

    Click to enlarge

           

           

           

           


     

     


    Associated Equipment:



     

     

     
    Comments 53 Comments
    1. eggers's Avatar
      eggers -
      <cite>I setup the Aurender S10 music server to shuffle between 44.1 and 96k tracks while I tried to identify them as 44.1 or 96k. This testing was a disaster as I selected the incorrect version half the time and really confused myself the longer and harder I tried to listen for differences.</cite><br />
      <br />
      If you cannot hear the difference, then there <em>is</em> no difference. The <em>only</em> way to overcome expectation bias is by blind randomization – the ABX.
    1. elcorso's Avatar
      elcorso -
      Chris, as per the spectrograms I can see (not listen to) your Lion is not full Burn-in, the music tracks, or both... (forgive me, as always joking).<br />
      <br />
      For me also is hard to get an conclusion from similar SQ music tracks, but I prefer to take an spectrogram after the listen session, in order do not get a prejudge that can influence the session, even if I'm not an Audacity fan, is free and handy when you find an obvious problem on some recording.<br />
      <br />
      Thanks for the links and review!<br />
      <br />
      Barry, What do you mean with <i>"...even if upsampled because the playback filter is different..."</i>? The recording was made on PCM at a low sample rate, DSD, or analogue?<br />
      <br />
      Or, simply upsampled from 16/44 Redbook, and the is playback filter in the DAC that gave you more extension in highs?<br />
      <br />
      Kind regards,<br />
      <br />
      Roch
    1. hiro100's Avatar
      hiro100 -
      Hi Chris<br />
      <br />
      Did I just see that you are using the TAD CR1! Did that replace your Verity speakers and your new reference speakers or is it an item in for review? Exciting stuff. Any pictures?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Hiro - I purchased a pair of TAD CR1s :~) They are a tremendous loudspeaker for pleasurable listening and as a reference tool. <br />
      <br />
    1. Priaptor's Avatar
      Priaptor -
      the Meitner
    1. bottlerocket's Avatar
      bottlerocket -
      I am a big John Hiatt fan too. I'd love to see them get this right, but this looks not so good. I was looking forward to buying the DVD and am still waiting for someone to give me an excuse to do so.<br />
      <br />
      A question I have is does the spectrum show you anything about the bit depth?<br />
      I have no problem with 24/48 music if characterized that way.<br />
      <br />
      I don't understand why, if you had a plan to market 24/96, the spectrum would not look perfect. Obviously they don't follow this website. <br />
      <br />
      Personally I think the Hiatt engineers need to answer to this. Its great that CA can reveal this and demand better. And the musicians themselves need to hold their engineers accountable. Come on, it's your music John, get it right. Neil Young will laugh at you at a party. I am pretty sure of that.<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
    1. bottlerocket's Avatar
      bottlerocket -
      This is from the Bring the Family DVDa rip.<br />
      <br />
      <IMG SRC="http://www.computeraudiophile.com/files/hiatt.jpg"><br />
      <br />
    1. bdiament's Avatar
      bdiament -
      Hi Roch,<br />
      <br />
      <i>"...Barry, What do you mean with "...even if upsampled because the playback filter is different..."? The recording was made on PCM at a low sample rate, DSD, or analogue?..."</i><br />
      <br />
      If I start with say, a 16/44.1 recording and play that back on my DAC, I'm using the DAC's filter for 44.1 recordings (at 22.05 kHz with a slope of x).<br />
      <br />
      If I take that same recording and convert its sample rate to say, 96 k and play <i>that</i> thought my DAC, I'm using the DAC's filter for 96 k recordings (at 48 kHz with a slope less steep than x and with a "knee" -- where the roll off begins -- that is more than an octave higher in frequency and so if further away from the top of the audible spectrum.<br />
      <br />
      If all else is equal (a big "if"), I can see how the gentler filtering, much further up the spectrum, will do less damage to the audio than a steep filter just above the audible spectrum.<br />
      <br />
      This is why I said that even if the recording is upsampled and not genuine 96k, I can see there being an audible <i>difference</i> (even if not necessarily an improvement but certainly a <i>difference</i>) between the 96k result and the lower sample rate original.<br />
      <br />
      To be clear, I am not advocating this and I am not suggesting this is what I would expect when a product is sold as 24/96. I'm just saying I'm not surprised if an audible <i>difference</i> is heard.<br />
      <br />
      Best regards,<br />
      Barry<br />
      www.soundkeeperrecordings.com<br />
      www.barrydiamentaudio.com<br />
    1. Priaptor's Avatar
      Priaptor -
      what if you take the native 16/44.1 use the DAC to upsample the native 16/44.1 rather upsampling the data to 96.<br />
      <br />
      I have heard people claiming that they like ripping to higher sample rates than native. I have tried listening to native at native DAC sampling, same music ripped or reformatted to higher sampling rates and using native sampling and upsampling via the DAC's upsampling.<br />
      <br />
      My own personal preference has and continues to be to listen at native. I understand the theory as to why it might sound better or could sound better, but to my ears, resampling, either the file or via the DAC has always added an less than natural listening experience. <br />
      <br />
      In fact, after many fatiguing hours of listening, I choose to re-rip my disc collection to native.
    1. bdiament's Avatar
      bdiament -
      Hi Priaptor,<br />
      <br />
      <i>"...what if you take the native 16/44.1 use the DAC to upsample the native 16/44.1 rather upsampling the data to 96..."</i><br />
      <br />
      If I was going to upsample, I would do it using the best <i>off-line</i> algorithm I could find (which in my experience, is currently -and easily- iZotope's 64-bit SRC). I've never heard on-the-fly sample rate conversion that does not (to my ears) do sonic damage.<br />
      <br />
      Even most of the better off-line algorithms will (to my ears) brighten and harden the sound. In my experience, iZotope's is an exception that creates results that sound more like the unconverted original than any of the few dozen other SRC algorithms I've tested.<br />
      <br />
      To be clear, I'm not talking about a DAC with an oversampling filter, I'm talking about converting the rate of the data to a higher rate (which I believe is what you're talking about too).<br />
      <br />
      I with you with regard to native. As much as I like iZotope's SRC (and use it in my daily work), I never apply it for just listening. I always listen to files on my music server at the sample rate at which they were recorded. (And I load them into the server at the native rate at which they were recorded.)<br />
      <br />
      As to some folks <i>liking</i> to use SRC when they rip, that is a personal call and I'd be the last to call them "wrong". If it is a sound that pleases them, that is all their system needs to do. However, if one is seeking the sound of the <i>source</i> (not everyone is), in my view, native is the way to go. (Keeping in mind that I wouldn't do it with what I consider far and away the very best SRC algorithm extant. And most folks are using other algorithms.)<br />
      <br />
      All my rips are native, to raw PCM (in my case, my preferred format: .aif).<br />
      <br />
      Just my perspective of course.<br />
      <br />
      Best regards,<br />
      Barry<br />
      www.soundkeeperrecordings.com<br />
      www.barrydiamentaudio.com<br />
    1. Priaptor's Avatar
      Priaptor -
      I can to the same conclusion, after many painful hours of ripping one way.<br />
      <br />
      My server is all native, both in AIFF and in FLAC, the latter for storage and backup. I too prefer AIFF.
    1. elcorso's Avatar
      elcorso -
      Hi Barry,<br />
      <br />
      Thanks for your detailed explanation, since I'm 'learning Audacity', there are things I can't still understand.<br />
      <br />
      What I found, since some computer music player app's allows you upsample, and, when I do this (from a 16/44 rip), the recording has to be very, very good, to allow the DAC achieve this 'high ceiling' that could benefit (a little) the SQ, but, if it is a 'normal' (bad) recording, it sound (to my ears) similar to high jitter.<br />
      <br />
      Kind regards,<br />
      <br />
      Roch
    1. agentsmith's Avatar
      agentsmith -
      ChrIs did I read right that you just changed every component in your system? what do you do with all your other expensive toys LoL
    1. esldude's Avatar
      esldude -
      So Chris, if you ABX yourself and it becomes a mess, meaning you get it wrong 50% of the time, what do you think of this? There is in fact a difference in the 44khz vs 48khz versions. Yet you apparently cannot discern it. So do you conclude.....well what do you conclude? What would you gain by actual 96 khz files? I agree if marketed as such they should in fact be 96 khz, but what if that also wasn't discernible blind?<br />
      <br />
      I posted an alternative variation on blind testing, which is subjectively benign compared to ABX testing in a recent post. Apparently it wasn't of interest to anyone as not one person has made a comment on it after a few days. <br />
      <br />
      I just wonder if this pursuit of higher and higher sample rates isn't chasing a ghost if the lower rates of say 48 khz are well done. <br />
      <br />
      What would it take to convince you that well done 48khz/24 bit is truly enough? (I am not declaring I think it is enough).
    1. JR_Audio's Avatar
      JR_Audio -
      Why do we only (mostly) looking just at the frequency spectrum, when talking about HiRes Audio. Sure, real HiRes Recordings offer better open space and easy flow of the music, but my experience does also indicate, that we should not forget to look at the dynamic of the music, well known as loudness war. My feeling is that I have more recordings that are suffering from the loudness war, then suffering from the “limitation” of the recorded bandwidth.<br />
      <br />
      Beside being an audio hardware engineer for nearly 30 years, and making music for over 35 years, I have also a small record studio and doing mainly tutti (the complete orchestra at a time, no overdubs) classical and jazz recordings and be an active member of “pleasurize music foundation” to do at least a little bit against the loudness war and do only a very limited compression on percussion instruments, but the rest leave it as it is.<br />
      <br />
      Attached are two examples of a good dynamic range recording “Yuri Honing Trio” with 16 dB loudness dynamic and a compressed recording “Donald Fagen – Morph The Cat” with only 10 dB loudness dynamic. For those who are inexperienced with that figures, should read a little bit at the pleasurize music foundation, but I can tell “only 2 dB” difference in numbers, gives you a huge difference in listening.<br />
      <br />
      Best Regards<br />
      <br />
      Juergen<br />
      <br />
      Chris: Congratulation on your new speakers.
    1. bdiament's Avatar
      bdiament -
      Hi esldude,<br />
      <br />
      <i>"...What would it take to convince you that well done 48khz/24 bit is truly enough? (I am not declaring I think it is enough)...."</i><br />
      <br />
      I'm not Chris but I have an answer for that one: <br />
      <br />
      It would be hearing the same signal encoded at 24/48 and at higher rates. It would be in comparing those recordings with the input signal. And lastly, it would be in not hearing the higher rate recordings (particularly 24/192) get <i>significantly</i> closer to the sound of the original.<br />
      <br />
      The rate just below the one that ceases to get closer to the sound of the input signal is "enough".<br />
      <br />
      Just my perspective of course.<br />
      <br />
      Best regards,<br />
      Barry<br />
      www.soundkeeperrecordings.com<br />
      www.barrydiamentaudio.com<br />
    1. eatapc's Avatar
      eatapc -
      Great write up. Thank you. And I loved that you mentioned what has become my pet peeve:<br />
      <br />
      <i> "... I could have sworn the difference between the 44.1 and 96 versions was huge and readily apparent.... To my dismay I was unable to duplicate this experience in any subsequent listening session."<i> <br />
      <br />
      This has been my uncomfortable experience for 30 years -- both in my personal listening for pleasure, my reviewing, and on a couple of occasions when I ran single-blind tests for audiophile friends. It's also why, like a broken record, I keep saying: Use your ears, but never trust them completely. Our ears are connected to our brains, and our brains will always process "the facts" in ways we can't be aware of.<br />
      <br />
      That said, there are many reasons why our audio systems sound different from one day (or one hour) to the next -- reasons that don't involve our "ear/brain systems" fooling us. I also think Barry's explanation of DACs sounding different at different sampling rates is very reasonable. But if you couldn't hear a difference between the 48k and 96k files when listening critically in a blind, randomized session, then I'd say your DAC is doing it's job. <br />
      <br />
      I just ordered the Apple Lossless files from Hiatt's website. Downloading now.<br />
      <br />
      Thanks again - Mark B
    1. esldude's Avatar
      esldude -
      I agree with you Juergen.<br />
      <br />
      I guess it is because almost no recordings come close to using even 16 bits that you hear little about it. <br />
      <br />
      Once a few years ago I heard a very popular CD and commented I needed to use a dynamic range expander on it. I happened to have an older pro DBX expander. It would do up to 50% expansion, and I declared I could take this recording and have 4.5 dB dynamic range rather than just 3 dB. I was only joking, but later analyzing it with some software, it only had 5.5 dB on most of the tracks without any expansion. I was shaking my head and figuring the band must have wanted it that way though I don't know for sure who made that decision.
    1. esldude's Avatar
      esldude -
      "It would be hearing the same signal encoded at 24/48 and at higher rates. It would be in comparing those recordings with the input signal. And lastly, it would be in not hearing the higher rate recordings (particularly 24/192) get significantly closer to the sound of the original."<br />
      <br />
      "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool. by Richard P. Feynman."<br />
      <br />
      Well, that is the obvious answer Barry, and I have no problem with it. The real question of course is how do you decide when you do or don't hear a difference. The following quote is well known and very much something to keep in mind. <br />
      <br />
      "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool. by Richard P. Feynman."<br />
      <br />
      I have yet to find a convincing argument that makes blind testing null and void. In some fashion it has to work. Either you can reliably hear something or you don't. It is even possible to develop the edges of thresholds. I have the same problems as others who don't like it. Some things sound so obvious, yet under scrutiny they turn out to be maybe not obvious maybe not real. But your gut level experience makes it hard to accept. I see an explosion in money, time and effort spent by people who refuse to accept blind testing at all chasing what I think isn't even there. I think it has it own problems, but in principle it will work. I think if one nails down what really works in finding the limits of perception then all this effort can yield much better results with everyone better off. <br />
      <br />
      I also think plenty of reasonable differences are overlooked that could be solved because of all this ghost chasing going on. <br />
    1. bdiament's Avatar
      bdiament -
      Hi esldude,<br />
      <br />
      <i>"...The real question of course is how do you decide when you do or don't hear a difference..."</i><br />
      <br />
      For me, it is direct comparison against the input, sometimes with the aid of my assistant who will do the switching while I listen, not knowing which is which.<br />
      <br />
      So far, blind or sighted, the results have been identical, every time: 24/192 (on the system I'm using) is hard to tell from the mic input. At lesser rates, the differences are not subtle.<br />
      <br />
      Best regards,<br />
      Barry<br />
      www.soundkeeperrecordings.com<br />
      www.barrydiamentaudio.com<br />