downloading music versus cd `s quality


Greetings
I have been reading a lot about quality of digital music, and the question is: can I transfer all my cd~ to my Mac, then upgrade the sound quality on the Mac , via a software program, or do I need to start from scratch and download music that is already in HD?
also, can someone explain the difference between regular cd and 24 Bit/192kHz ? What is the best way to get digital quality music, in other words? Much obliged.
I am a digital neophyte!
rockanroller
"I have been reading a lot about quality of digital music, and the question is: can I transfer all my cd~ to my Mac, then upgrade the sound quality on the Mac , via a software program"

Yes. If done right, the CD's you rip should sound just as good played through a pc as they do your CD player. As for the rest of it, I would pass on it for now. After you get your CD's ripped and sounding right, then look into high rez. Having the CD rips as a reference will be of great value when trying to set up high rez.
I've digitized my entire library, around 1100 CDs and 50ish dl's, mostly from HD Tracks. Used initially an Olive (two of them), finally waving the white flag on its finicky nature and craptastic customer service and am now happy as a loon with my Sony server. Anyhoo, I've been reading as much as I can on this topic. I'm no expert, just someone who dove into it. Some random learnings, and again I'm just a regular bloke:

1. If it's not recorded in HD, making it HD afterwards (i.e., for sale as a HD dl) I don't believe is worth it. Maybe with the exception of a remaster straight from the master tapes perhaps. However, what's leaking out now here & there is that it's rarely done. Buying a 'HD' of say, Carole King's Tapestry for example. Recorded in the 70s. Is the HD just more bits of the original recording? In which case it might sound worse not better (some argue). But, if they literally opened up the vaults, dusted off the reel, remastered in HD, then I would think (hope?) it's better.

2. When Beck won the Grammy, there was a brouhaha with HD Tracks marketing the dl as HD when in fact some of the tracks were not only not CD quality but actual MP3s. Those scamps. That news was a big eye opener for me. Stereophile wrote about this and printed the graphical analyses. HDT then added a disclaimer that 'some of the tracks are not...yadda yadda.'

3. I can say that if it truly is *recorded in HD* a la Sound Liaison, you are getting the primo supremo royale with cheese. I've got a couple dl's from them and holy guacamole that is some fine sound. Give them a try.

4. Some argue we can't distinguish HD music anyways. Pono seemed to unleash that controversy. There's a site where you can compare redbook and HD songs and take a test. I did it, it's kinda fun actually. Need good headphones for it.

5. To your question of what is the difference, I believe HD is more 1s & 0s jammed into the same space.

And lastly, a plug for the Sony server. It does some funky oversampling and digital correction and wizardry stuff automatically (which can be disabled). I think the years will show that Sony server to be a watershed product in our space, it's that good. I truly believe my CDs sound better on that Sony than via CD player. I'm all in on it.

I prolly have muddied the waters more than anything, and laid down a welcome mat for the engineering types here to flip out, but I don't mind. Food for thought anyhoo.
Rockandroller, it's going to be a very good day for you! I'm going to direct you to my latest article at Dagogo.com, on the Eastern Electric Minimax Tube DAC Supreme. While the article showcases the fabulous ability of DACs with socketed opamps to be upgraded by rolling in discrete Opamps (and there are three major players in that regard mentioned in the article), for your purposes the answer to your question lies in the article on the last page, which deals with my Mac Mini and software for upgrading CD sound.

PCM (ripped CD files)can now be sensationally upgraded to not only 192 or 384, but - get ready for it! - can be upgraded to double DSD sound (Note, I am not suggesting that they are the literal equivalent of the original DSD recordings)! Here's the best part, you can do so for under $200! I'm not yanking your chain; I have done this upgrade and now listen from my stock Mac Mini to a double DSD sound quality because I use a software by Signalyst called HQPlayer. I use an app called Splashtop to turn my iPad into a full remote desktop, which controls the HQPlayer software.

It is difficult to overstate the marvelous transformation you will experience by going this route. What will open peoples' eyes, perhaps, is the comment that this cheap change to my stock Mac Mini performed at the level of a twin tower dedicated PC setup running JPLAY on one PC and HQPlayer on the other feeding the same DAC.

You will adore the change; get ready to be freaking out with delight when you do this. Obviously, you will need a DAC capable of double DSD playback, and consider well the Eastern Electric, especially since the discrete opamp rolling pushes the results even further. :) If you wish to PM me to discuss more, feel free.

Obviously, opinions will vary on this topic file playback and upconversion, and I'm not interested in arguing about this.
As Zd stated, yes CDs can sound as good or better ripped and played through a computer based system than through a disc player. I do both.

On your Mac you would need playback software, CDs ripped as AIFF or WAV flies, and a USB DAC. I have found the learning curve for this not to be overly difficult.
There are many threads on AG that help. Also online articles.

CDs are 16bit, 44.1Khz. Often upsampled to 24/192 by a DAC or playback software.

I also like ZD’s suggestion that you start by ripping CDs prior to downloading.

Start by ripping your CDs into Itunes, purchase a budget used DAC that can be upgraded at a later date at little monetary loss, and enjoy. Once you get comfortable you can select better playback software.

Enjoy the quest!
Rockanroller, unfortunately you've been fed a load of hype from some folks who should know better. 1st of all, CDs store the digital information of 16 bits at a sample rate of 44.1KHz. Hi-res is generally considered to be 20+ bits (usually 24) at a sample rate of 48KHz or better, in many cases 96 KHz or 192KHz.

There is also a hi-res format called DSD that is 1 bit with *very* high sampling rates.

If the record companies go back to the master tapes and re-record to one of the hi-res formats this results in a truly hi-res recording. Yes, you can "upsample" CD quality, but you are basically trying to make a silk purse out of a sows ear by doing so. Don't fall for the hype.

And, honestly, it isn't so much the bits and sample rate that are most important, it's the mastering. A properly mastered CD can sound absolutely phenomenal. I have CDs that can smoke most hi-res files. But hi-res holds the *possibility* for better quality.

Unfortunately, re-mastering is an expensive proposition and is done properly by a handful in the industry - folks like Bob Ludwig, Michael Bishop, Bernie Grundman, etc.

It really comes down to listening for yourself and seeing if the hi-res is up to snuff for you. You will probably discover certain labels have consistently excellent quality and you can generally rely upon them to give you the real goods. Some of those are Analogue Productions, 2L, Telarc, and AIX. There are others, investigate for yourself...

-RW-
Also, a plug for a label I adore: MA Recordings. The recording engineer/owner travels the world with a magic DAT and 2 microphones. Unique music also, many genres. Regular CDs that sound out of this world. Chesky CDs sound great also.
Rockanroller,

It sounds like you are interested in setting up a computer audio system. I recently converted my system to a primarily computer audio setup and will try to clarify a few things for you. I haven't updated my system profile yet but plan to soon. I don't consider myself an expert yet; just someone who took the plunge into computer and high resolution audio after reading fairly extensively about it. I'm definitely pleased with my decision and the results. Here are a few things I learned along the way that may help you shorten your learning curve:

1. CD is 16bit/ 44.1 KHZ with the '16 bit' being the WORD LENGTH and the '44.1 KHZ' being the SAMPLE RATE. HD (high definition) and HR (high resolution) audio is generally reserved for audio files stored and played back of longer word lengths and higher sample rates (24bit/96khz, 24bit/192khz, etc.).

2. Computer audio is not necessarily the same as high definition or high resolution audio. Ripping all your CDs to a computer will enable the use of computer audio. This is tremendously convenient but the audio quality will be about the same as if played via a CD player, no better and no worse. High resolution audio files, preferably recorded in high resolution , will need to be downloaded to enable computer audio AND high resolution audio.

If you plan to play back through your main audio system, you will also need a good external DAC that is capable of converting high resolution digital files into analog signals. The internal DACs in laptops are not typically capable and, even if they are capable, they're not typically very good.

3. 'Provenance' is critical when choosing which files to download to achieve the best sound quality. Provenance refers to the history of the high resolution file; mainly the distinction between those recorded directly using high resolution equipment and those that are merely transfers from standard definition masters.

The major content providers (record labels) have been rushing to transfer their existing masters (previously used for vinyl record and CD production) to high resolution formats in order to capitalize on the increasing market for high resolution audio downloads. Unfortunately, the resulting files are high resolution in name only.

There are, however, several high resolution download companies that understand the importance of provenance and offer downloads recorded directly as high resolution digital files. Itrax in California and Liaison in Europe are 2 I know of. They don't offer the variety of artists that the major record labels do but the sound quality is excellent.

4. I recommend the use of JRiver Media Center software ($50 for either Apple or Windows versions) for ease of use, megadata and organizational purposes.

5. You may also want to consider a NAS (Network Area Server) and a backup hard drive. The NAS would store all of your CD and downloaded files. The external hard drive would serve as a backup and contain automatic copies of all your music in case of a system crash. I use a 2TB NAS and 2TB backup drive all controlled by my laptop running Jzriver and connected wirelessly via my wi-fi router. This also frees up your laptop storage for other purposes.

In my system, the hi-res files (24bit/92khz FLAC files)sound clearly superior to my ripped CDS; better detail, better dynamics and more of a "in the room" quality.

I hope this helped you a bit,
Tim
all
great info! Thanks.
So, after reading all those answers a few times, here are two questions:
one: audio software:does anyone recommends any audio software upgrade such as Amarra or any other, which would lead to the fact that can you really upsample, or is it a misnomer, and the only form of HD digital audio are only select companies?
two: budget DAC ! is the difference in price of DAC`s really indicative of quality, or can you get something good for about $ 700, made for computer versus cd players ?
three: connect: is it better to use HDMI, or digital coaxial?
Whoaah! thank you for the lessons.
"one: audio software:does anyone recommends any audio software upgrade such as Amarra or any other, which would lead to the fact that can you really upsample, or is it a misnomer, and the only form of HD digital audio are only select companies?"

Sometimes people have hang ups when it comes to up sampling. They say since a CD is locked at the 16/44 standard, there's no benefit up sampling because you can't get anything more off the CD than what's originally on it. Technically speaking, that's true. But up-sampling does change the way the music sounds. Its easier to visualize if you don't look at up-sampling as increased resolution. Think of it as signal processing. For me, personally, I usually prefer it. I hear a little more detail and an overall smoother presentation to the sound.

"two: budget DAC ! is the difference in price of DAC`s really indicative of quality, or can you get something good for about $ 700, made for computer versus cd players ?"

This is another issue that's easier to understand if you visualize. A CD player and a PC are exactly the same thing. If you properly rip a CD, there should be no loss. The information is still there, its just stored on a HD instead of an optical drive. Its the same basic thing, either way. If you take a picture with a digital camera, the image file may be stored on an SD card. You can move the picture to a HD, CD, DVD, Flash Drive, etc..., and as long as you don't do anything to change the data the pic is made from, you'll get the exact same image on your computer screen, regardless of how its stored. There's no loss. So once you rip a CD, still think of it as a CD. The PC is the transport, and the data gets sent from the transport to the DAC for processing. Exactly like a CD player does. And just like a CD player, there's many different ways to get you to an end result. So, for example, if you have an entry level PC audio setup, and a really high end CD player, you can expect the CD player to sound better. If you have a crappy CD player and a really high end PC source, you can expect the computer to sound better. So just think of your computer as a CD player, because that's exactly what you're doing.

If you remember my first post, I recommend that you set yourself up for CD playback first. (using a computer). The reason for that is you then have a reference that you can use to better judge hi rez playback. Once you feel confident that you know the sound of your PC like you would a CD player, you need the reference to make sure you are going in the right direction. Obviously, you're going to want to make sure your hi rez material is definitely sounding better than the same thing on CD. And for that, you need a good reference. Its too easy to waste money in audio.
Noble100, I encourage you to look into software such as HQPlayer, which up samples radically and a DAC which can handle it, i.e. double DSD, etc.

The difference in experience is not subtle, but rather profound. You will not be disappointed! The standard in terms of digital quality playback has moved far afield, from 24/384 to 32/5.6MHz or similar.

I was elated that last night I was able to eek out a bit more from the HQPlayer's settings. The computer wiz who set up the software got it to 5.6MHz, but I found out that the EE DAC Supreme also operates at 6.14MHz, and even this seemingly small jump was efficacious.

There are profound benefits to be had in seeking such software/DAC combos. No hi-res files necessary. That's not to say true hi-res files wouldn't sound even better, but this is fabulous bang for the buck sound.
Hi Douglas,

Thanks for the heads-up on HQPlayer. My DAC can handle DSD but I'm not sure it can handle double DSD. I'll check it out.

Thanks,
Tim
Noble100, even if your current DAC can handle only DSD it will be worth it. Any upgrade in the future to a DAC which does multiple DSD will be very enjoyed.

I hope that Eastern Electric will soon offer an upgraded version to handle quad and octa DSD capable DAC. I believe the ifi Micro DSD is capable of octa. Time to put that back in the rig and see what happens. Though one cannot roll discrete opamps, the capacity to do quad or octa DSD would be stunning, I imagine. Then, I'd have to work with cords to tune the sound...
Hi Douglas,

I was just reading about a PS Audio DAC that also up converts CDs to DSD and supposedly dramatically improves the sound of ripped CDs. This is very interesting and appealing to me. However, I don't know if it's worth thousands of dollars to me right now.

I currently use an Oppo 105 as a DAC and Digital audio player (in combination with a NAS and laptop running JRiver Media Center) and looking into whether HQ Player is compatible with my setup and equipment.

I'm always open to possible improvements.

Thanks,
Tim
I own the Sony HAPZ1ES and it's sublime. Check out the specs & reviews. Game changer, history will show imo.
Actually I'll let Absolute Sound state it:

https://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/sony-hap-z1es-hdd-audio-player/
Scot-w,

Yes, the Sony HAPZIES is a very good solution for those who want a one box solution and don't want to deal with a laptop, software, wi-fi/router, separate dac, NAS and a backup hard drive, although I think a backup drive may be needed for the Sony. Kind of like having a receiver or integrated instead of separates.

Tim


Looks like the HAPZ1ES has a lot of fans I'm sure. I'm still looking to explore the world of digital sans CD player and really like the all-in-one aspect of the Sony but am not willing to give up my rather pricey separate Dac so... Here's the $64 question: IF enough consumers say "Pretty please" will/would/might Sony consider putting a digital output [especially for and including for hi-rez] 'out the back' of it?
I'm sure they had their reasons for NOT doing it initially or they would have? ...but would they really be losing more biz IF they added it at this point? I for one, would definitely make the purchase! Are you listening Sony? Thanks in advance?!?!
Idea: buy the Sony, see if you dig it, then sell the dac to fund it.
Lisar,

I doubt it, sorry. But, given the high level of your system, you may want to go with separates for a computer audio/ high-rez source, anyways. It'll make upgrades easier and allows for your own sized storage drive. You'll likely want one with tera-byte levels so you won't need to deal with replacing it when full. First decide on which file types you'll use, WAV or FLAC, just multiply the average song size for the file type you decide on by the number of songs you think you'll eventually have. Add a 25% buffer in the number just for safety sake and you should be fine.

Tim
After owning an Olive 03HD,  an Olive One,  a ReQuest Audio F4.8000,  and a Bluesound Vault 2 with a Node 2,  I had given up on the whole Media Server/Streamer category.  Almost. The appeal of the category is not lost on any of us,  but that was soon enough lost for me as configuring and operating those models aforementioned seemed to bring me closer to computing than it did to adding a peripheral piece of hifi equipment that would complement my system.

While I am not a novice to computing in general,  I was not technically nor emotionally equipped to contend with all the peripheral wares associated with bringing musicality to my system.  I should state that with the exception of the ReQuest unit all of the equipment performed as advertised,  as expected,  with the Bluesound being the best of the lot.  However,  for reasons that fall into the IMHO category,  it too fell short of my needs.

My needs were and are to add a simple piece of hifi equipment to my system that provides good sonics,  ease of use,  and reasonable cost.  The Sony did that for me.  It took a pretty good while to transfer my entire iTunes library onto it,  but I did so with a time window ample enough to avoid the frustrations I experienced with the other brands.  Overnight.  (None of the other brands can be considered fast in ripping,  either.  The Bluesound took around 10 minutes at minimum to rip a CD containing 40 minutes of data or more at minimum.)  The Sony is also a more "familiar" piece of equipment while the others are more of the type associated with tablets or smartphones,  meaning that they were touch-screen oriented as opposed to buttons and whatnot.

I also think that the sonics of the Sony are on par with the Bluesound Vault2,  which I found to be excellent.  For me 1TB of storage space on the hard drive is sufficient.  For now.  For some inexplicable reason that I am addressing with both Sony and Apple,  my iMac will not permit me to download the Sony Music transfer app onto my desktop.  This isn't a huge problem as I simply drag and drop my music files into the server connection when I attach the Sony to my network via an ethernet connection.  Simple.

The Sony also has the ability to play local radio stations,  which I found to be a nice plus,  as well as internet radio.

This is the first Sony product that I've ever integrated into my two channel setup.