Please Educate Me

If I can’t find the answer here, I won’t find it anywhere. 

Something I’ve wondered about for a long time: The whole world is digital. Some huge percentage of our lives consists of ones and zeros. 

And with the exception of hi-fi, I don’t know of a single instance in which all of this digitalia isn’t yes/no, black/white, it works or it doesn’t. No one says, “Man, Microsoft Word works great on this machine,” or “The reds in that copy of Grand Theft Auto are a tad bright.” The very nature of digital information precludes such questions. 

Not so when it comes to hi-fi. I’m extremely skeptical about much that goes on in high end audio but I’ve obviously heard the difference among digital sources. Just because something is on CD or 92/156 FLAC doesn’t mean that it’s going to sound the same on different players or streamers. 

Conceptually, logically, I don’t know why it doesn’t. I know about audiophile-type concerns like timing and flutter. But those don’t get to the underlying science of my question. 

I feel like I’m asking about ABCs but I was held back in kindergarten and the computerized world isn’t doing me any favors. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some work to do. I’ll be using Photoshop and I’ve got it dialed in just right. 
Man are you ever messed up. Put down the Kool-aide! Pass the pipe, you’ve had enough. Records pre-date digital by oh like about a hundred years. When (if) the buzz wears off and the headache goes away it may dawn on your poor addled brain that analog is not digital. I know. Shocking.

Nor the universe. Is light a particle? Or a wave? This one will really blow your mind!

If it’s a particle then it is digital. But if a wave then analog. Some really clever guys figured out a couple experiments to settle this once and for all. What they came up with, shine a light through a slit. Waves behave one way, particles another, and we will see.

So what they find is, if they do the experiment to see if light is a particle then sure enough it behaves like a particle. Light is digital! But wait- remember I said this will blow your mind? Check it out- the wave experiment proves light is a wave!

Seriously. It’s a thing. You could look it up! Learned about it in high school. 1974 or 5. You really didn’t know? Seriously?

Oh and btw, NTSC stands for Never Twice the Same Color. And guess what? It is analog!!!!

What’s the word for unnecessarily nasty remarks? Flaming? I’m not a regular on this forum but isn’t that considered bad form?

Who said anything about analog?

Physicists became happy treating light as both a particle and a wave long before the word “digital” came into being. (In the computer sense, anyway.) But why on earth are you talking about light?
Glad you got your scratch disks optimized.
BFDUnless you got a digi socket in your big brain digital has to be converted to to analog for your ears. That’s where most of the difference lies.
There’s plenty of chatter between chips, ladders and fpga but the analog magic are often difference makers.
If you really want to be schooled see Marge Green.
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" But those don’t get to the underlying science of my question."
- So, what is the question?
The question essentially is this: Why is digital audio information treated differently than digital information in any other form. Microsoft Word is a bunch of ones and zeros just like the ones on my new Vampire Weekend CD. But VW sound different when played on a NAD CD player than they do when played on a Parasound CD player. Why? Aren’t both players reading the same ones and zeros? 

We don’t expect Microsoft Word to perform differently on a Dell computer than it does on a H-P. What’s the difference between those ones and zeros and the audio ones? Somebody hinted that it’s the manner in which they the information is converted from digital to analog. That could be the answer although I wish someone would expound on it. And doesn’t Microsoft make a similar conversion when it converts digital information to something akin to analog in the form of letters that we can read?

You know, my PhD is in political science, not electrical engineering. But I know enough to be confident that this is a legitimate question, perhaps even a deep one. Some people seem to be willfully misreading it.

A few months back, I asked whether I would do any damage if I left my amp on all the time. I got several helpful answers. Maybe my question is a bit too esoteric for this crowd. I’ll hew closer to equipment related questions going forward.
When someone says, 'educate me', it reads like passive-aggression designed to test the steel of their preconceptions against someone else's claims.

It is the season of senatorial grilling of cabinet nominees, so maybe it is just in the air. But the fact that your post contains no questions leads me to believe that you are looking for neither an education or a conversation.

In that respect I think MC was too generous, because you will not pick up the trail where he left off. 

The best education is the one you work for. And I know you've done no work yet, because audiogon forums are the last place you should look for this info, not the first. 

I suggest you start this education by informing yourself what those 1s and 0s actually are, both at rest and in transit.
Passive-aggressive? Why on earth read that into my question? Although like I said, I’m not a regular here. Maybe I accidentally posted code for something very different. 

I haven’t done enough homework to satisfy you? Well, I guess that I’m going to have to live with that disapproval. We all have our crosses to bear. 

Apparently, I’m not going to learn anything here. If the game wasn’t a blow out I probably wouldn’t have asked. I just got a new pair of speakers and audio is very much on my mind. But clearly I’m on the wrong place. I’ll darken your doorstep no more.
One reason could be they don't sound different on the 2 CD players you just think they do. You would need to conduct a proper listening test. Other reason could be the type of DACs  and reconstruction filters in the units are different. The CD is the same, the 1 and 0 are the same no matter what equipment you use but the equipment is different. It's the same with MS Word or whatever they can run different on different machines, Photoshop is a better example it can run fine on some machines and crash others. 
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@paul6001 For the record, your post made sense to me, even without a specific question, due to the subject line. Not sure why folks were somewhat rowdy tonight. I think the answer lies in the conversion from the electronic to the physical/biological transducer that is the ear and brain/mind. This is absent in the Word example as the digital stays within its electronic domain. 

Suppose you send the same digital picture file to two printers. One printer kicks up ink residue and drips on the paper, the other doesn’t. The resulting output will be better on one printer than the other— even though they were both fed the exact same ones and zeros.

In the audio world, the ink residue  is analogous to noise that results in distortion on the final product, the output signal. The degree of dIstortion is what sets apart digital audio components.

Does Microsoft still own HDCD standard (or whatever that is called)? They would know the difference between Word and CD.
The amount of money in bank accounts is really only binary codes stored in arrays of interconnected hard drives. When these binary codes are accessed or transferred they remain unchanged. In this sense "bit perfect" applies! Not so in the audio world as many listeners claim! Hence the proliferation of ever-increasingly expensive DACs, transports, streamers, digital cables. Each claiming to be somehow sonically "better" than the predecessors. I am and remain a skeptic!
Hi Paul,
Welcome to the forum. I’ve been educating myself pretty intensively in audio questions such as yours for about a year. What I’ve found helpful is to watch videos on Youtube, especially by Paul McGowan, Tarun, Darko, Audioholics, Hans Beekhyzen, and watching older seminars at the RMAF. I picked up a book by Robert Harley, too. Those are all good ways to get the basics. These forums are helpful for checking in on people’s experiences with various combinations of gear, with trouble shooting, and with other questions. Often, a more comprehensive explanation emerges in a discussion, and I’ve learned a lot from those. But because these questions have been addressed many times (buried in various past discussion), it's hard to get a thread going with a general (i.e., "encyclopedic") style question. For that, check the kinds of sources I mention.
Because we don't listen to digital information. We are analog. Can you spend all day listening to a fax tone? We understand what it is doing but we can not listen to it. 
"We understand what it is doing but we can not listen to it."

Whose posts are you talking about?
OP, I hope you are still around but I wanted to make two points. First is that everything has a sonic signature, components, wires, resistors, whatever, they all contribute to the sound. Second, the music starts and stops as analog, it's what happens in between that are the things we talk about. 
"What are you taking about?I guess english is your third language maybe."
These two do not look that fluent, either.
Be careful in this forum, it’s full of rough and tumble stereo hobbyists. A much tougher crowd than the model train folks, but not quite as hard as the heck raisers over in the woodworkers forum. (That group is banned in two states, you don’t want to know why)

You crossed the line when you asked a question. Well, it’s really not the question, but the way you asked it, your grammar, and possibly the moon phase. Your zodiac sign may have played a part. 

Apologizing and humbling yourself as you ask
will sometimes make you a lesser target than some other innocent soul simply posing a question. It rarely works, but worth a shot.

May the force be with you....
Paul6001, I Totally get what you’re saying. For example why doesn’t the introduction of some special silver wire make a computer compute differently, or make Microsoft Excel more Excely? No clue why digital in and of itself for audio can have a sonic effect but I can totally see it when those 0 and 1’s are turned into an analog wave form. That seems to be where much of the magic or harm can occur.

My apologies to what you are experiencing just a few posts into this website. It just wasn’t like this back when I signed up 22 years ago. It was much better when we had class on here like stanwall and almarg. Class and useful information is a bit harder to come by these days, but with a little persistence hopefully class and useful information will eventually respond to you. Hang in there and keep the questions coming.
Oh, Paul6001....You walked into what looked like a garden and hit a land mine with the first footfall....:(  The welcome wagon that looked like a Volvo turned out to be a full-boat survivalist Humvee full of hungry survivalists....with clubs of spikes.

Bunch of junkyard dogs with analog gear that simply are well-honed flint spears spinning plastic grooved discs more fragile than porcelain, feeding 'fire bottle' tech from the grand-dad dimension...

Speakers?  I won't 'go there'. No....

(*L* Now that I've ticked off most of the gathered mob...."You guys are So Superstitious....It's just this little chromium switch here....*click*...)

I grew up with analog.  Slogged through upgrading to some degree, until the pricing for even 'low' high end went over the $ for a decent car....

...which is about when the Era of Digital Domains began.
It didn't require a degree in EE to read the spray paint on the B&M wall, y'all.

Analog is (and has been for awhile now....get 'woke') reaching it's apogee.  The 'tech' has gotten to the point that you NEED $10K IC's and cables to tweak the last .001% out of that stack.

I admire the tech involved.  Do I want that involvement? 
Oh, hell, no.

The majority of what y'all are listening to is so steeped in digital that you'd literally have to bird dog that LP from the day it's mastered in the studio, and be on a first name basis with the artists And the engineer (ignore his mix board....and the 'puter sopping it up) as well.  And it gets worse, unless you DIY it from there, kidding yourself.

We're Way Beyond playing a Stroh violin into a Edison megaphone scraping a wax disc.

That, and reading a gaggle of aging boomers trying to ignore the fact that their ears are Failing.

NO.  You can not hear what you used to.  It's simple science (remember Science?  It's what The Chump ignored, and has dragged us all into a hell of a virus that is already mutating faster than can be kept up with.)

I'm wearing aids.  I can outhear you.  I now know what I've been missing.

They're digital.  My gear is mostly digital.  Most of the source is, too.

Speakers?  Analog.  We're exciting air.  The last link has to be, until we get a USB plug in your skull...and that's being worked on NOW.

Like the young lady said...

"Right Here, Right Now."

Yes, MC....You've a Nice System....for a modern Antique.
I don't have to turn the lights off to enjoy my pile of garbage.

Have a nice day, J
No wonder the 'newbies' turn and run away.....get attacked for semantics and 'is that a question?'

Quit shoveling the grave of audiophilia while moaning about it dying.
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Hey! I got an idea. Let's have a red forum and a blue forum. The reds can be as nasty and condescending as they wanna be and the blues can give it all away with love and understanding (read enablement and coddling). Can't we all just get along?? 
This used to be a more respectful forum. The majority of people on here are polite and very willing to help, my concern is that they will go elsewhere to avoid the criticism and puffery. 

Sadly, this forum is some people’s connection to the outside world. Those are the people I feel for. 

In my opinion, bullies on here are bullies on the street. I’m guessing they badmouth the waitstaff, belittle those they feel are beneath them socioeconomically, and otherwise create senseless friction.

Maybe this behavior is a response to being bullied and/or feeling helpless? I’m not trying to hurt anyone here, but if this post describes you, work on sorting yourself out. Dump the friends that think it’s cute to belittle others, and pick a new crowd. Invest time and energy building your confidence and self esteem. You’ll be glad you did, and those around you will, too.

You can do it, I’m pulling for you.
But VW sound different when played on a NAD CD player than they do when played on a Parasound CD player. Why? Aren’t both players reading the same ones and zeros?
An audio system is at the same times a transfered and translated and transformed information flows from different levels and through different " dimensions"(analog/digital mechanical,electrical and acoustical) to the listening EARS....

How in the world could 2 pieces of gear give the same audible results with so many different factors playing together or one against the others on different levels?

Your question dont adress the problem but turn his back on reality; a cd reader dont ONLY read bits, but work in a chain of multiple gear elements with multiple interacting dimensions... The ears dont listen to "pure" bits, nor to "pure" sine waves, the ears listen to a complex acoustical resulting phenomenon in a specific room called  voice or musical "timbre"....

Think again and your question will dissolve itself in front of the complex reality....All questions have a meaning for sure, but sometimes the question lost his accute meaning when simply confronted with reality.... Your question is there to put ourself face to reality indeed....

My best to you....

«Never ask a question against the wind»-Anonymus Smith

«Always face your wife if asking a question»-Groucho Marx
Indeed, digital music is represented by 1's and 0's.. yet the resulting output is analog and is supposed to be music. Music is produced using devices that turns these bits to sound (DAC's).  Analog output sounds very different with different circuitry. Think of the myriad of amplifiers available in the marketplace...  Hope this makes sense. 
«Always face your wife if asking a question»-Groucho Marx

@mahgister....I've done's almost as dangerous as not...*L*
I'm not even sure if there was a question here.

One of the biggest sources of variance over time have been:

- Clock quality
- Type of DAC
- Upsampling or oversampling and algorithms
- DAC output stage
- Noise sources, like power supply and digital ground loops

The quality of the clocks and jitter elimination circuits has vastly improved since about 2010.  For the most part it's almost a moot point.

DAC's and how they are configured matters quite a bit.  For instance, some DAC's use multiple parallel DAC's simultaneously per channel to achieve the lowest noise, distortion and highest output current capabilities.

Next, how about those output filters?  Up or oversampling can affect the response through the top octave.  Upsampling or asynchronous sample rate conversion rely on lots of math to interpolate between the original samples.  They don't come out with the same results. Older upsampling could clip the signal in the interpolated samples. Hopefully everyone is now aware of this.

Lastly is the output buffer. A preamp stage, even if it has no volume control, which ensures uniform output regardless of the downstream device.

And... none of this matters if you can't hear it.  Buy the cheapest device which looks good and you can't hear better from.
«Always face your wife if asking a question»-Groucho Marx

@mahgister....I’ve done’s almost as dangerous as not...*L
Facing your wife was not recommended in this aphorism to give a better lie, it was recommend because she will spot you with a bad lie on the spot and it will be easier for her to forgive you..... 😉
I never lied to my wife more than 5 seconds....

All wives are also mothers and they will forget about your " bad" lies like they forgive children...

But if you think you are a "good" liar, and dont even need to face her, you are already dead before the first lie... 😁

«Any lie must contain truth»- the serpent after the closing of  Eden 

Could be that some of us are put off by you requesting us to educate you (do the work for you) rather than you investigating for yourself like most of us have done.

High level: sound/music is an analog continuous waveform while digital is 1 and zeros. The analog is converted into digital (1 and zeros) then back to analog before playback. The amount of digital file resolution can be hi (like SACD) which contains more information than a lower resolution file (MP3) and sounds significantly better on a good resolving audio system. Also, the digital stream may be affected by outside influences which can be heard audibly. Jitter is the time distortions of recording/playback of a digital audio signal - try Googling. Also, there are several technologies for DACs (Digital to Analog Converter). Finally, our audio acuity is much more complex than the current science can define.

Bottom line: it’s not just ones and zeros aka yes/no, it’s how well executed the analog to digital back to analog is accomplished.

search within his videos for several seminal discussions of analog vs digital music production and fidelity, and how to make digital sound right
I left another forum because people were just as rude. Always online never in person. 
Music is analog consisting of sound waves.

Amplifiers and speakers also operate in the analog domain using electric signals that vary in intensity over time....not just two values strung together to create other values which is what happens in digital domain.

Sources can be digital and reside on computers but the digital information has to be converted to analog to make music.

To do that the digital electric signal must accurately represent the digital information at the source and then be converted to analog. Time is a key component of music so the D to A process has to get the time dimension of the analog signal created from the digital one right or in other words produce the right information at the right time.

You can see that is a complex and sensitive task and results can vary widely. Music waveforms are analog, complex and hard to represent accurately especially at higher frequencies.

Any program that resides on a digital computer must convert to analog at some point in order for a human to interact with it.

What is displayed on your computer monitor is also a result of Digital to analog conversion but a different kind. Here the digital signal is converted to light intensities and color using pixels on a computer monitor and what you see (which can also vary) is the result of that digital to analog conversion process. 

Same thing happens with a HDTV. 

So the bits on the computer in digital domain are always carefully preserved Else the programs would not work But it’s the conversion from digital to analog where results can vary widely.

Hope that helps.
I thank the well-wishers above. But my sense is that the fire I’ve drawn is more the norm than the exception. After all, my post concerned an abstract point of physics. Imagine if I’d said something about cables.

A smarter man wouldn’t bother, but-

I’ve been a professional writer and editor for almost 20 years now, working at one time or another for pretty much every business magazine you’ve ever heard of. Writing on a few other topics as well, mostly food and travel. Over the years I’ve collected the usual ephemera of the successful journalist: Awards, cover stories, etc. I’m pretty confident of my writing abilities.

A point that seems to have eluded many: When I use Word to write, I enter ABCs, not digital content. Likewise, the computer shows me the English language, not digital code. I don’t know if that is the same as digital to analog conversion but conversion of some sort is taking place.

It seems that many people lurk on this site, reading posts in which they have no real interest, in the hope of gaining a small, small, infinitesimally small sense superiority over the ignorant bumblers who naively wander into your world. I’m glad that I was able to provide you with a moment of pleasure but I dearly hope that you lead bigger lives. Still, the speed with which you attacked me—speed that says you had nothing better to do than wait for some schmuck to turn up—makes me worry that you don’t have much on your plates.
mahgister, well said...and 40+ yrs. into our relationship, I don’t lie.

That said, misinterpretation and/or assumption by either can still intrude.
I suspect that couples can see the same issue, but describe/conceive of it in their own fashion. But I don’t, nor necessarily want, my spouse to see the world as I may Exactly anyway...
I really don’t want to live with a clone I don’t think another of Me would see things the same fashion anyhow.

Extending that observation, I think that applying that ’here’ can also be at the root of many of the fracas we read.
If I was to amass identical equipment, from source to speaker, with all between, playing any sort of source material in as duplicated an environment as practical...
...I would wager that I still would not respond to what I hear and perceive with the same observations as the owner of the duplications' original.

I don’t think it’s possible...unless one or the other makes a reference and/or comment about a given detail. And even that may or may not be noticed by the ’other’. And, even then, that detail may not be considered a flaw, or even an improvement.

Science and technology aside for a moment, this is where taste and preference elbow the former pair aside.

We read where ’this (preamp, amp, DAC, CdP, IC, cable,etc.) made/didn’t an improvement, leading to a ’swap’ to Something Else.

This ’SE’ did/didn’t, and may have began (or not) another hunt for perceived ’Nirvana’, whatever one sees ’it’ as being.

...and that’s OK, either way.

Anyone is more than welcome to listen to what I have and do with it.
If they have any commentary, pro or no, I’m happy to hear it.
I welcome commentary and critique’, really.
But you have to come here and listen to it.
I expect the same from y’all.
Obviously, not terribly practical.

Spouse says I live in a ’conditional world’; this=that, IF.

I’ve yet to hear an argument that overcomes that.

(But that’s just MHO, and I’m happy with it.)
Strange question.
Why ones and zeroes is the same in computer world compared to audio world.

You take two things and mix them up.
First if you take MS word it will have the same functions on a dell or hp. It is like Adele will sing Hallo on every CD player in the world. And it will never sound like Adele is singing another track than that. It is the same information.

Regarding color in a game that there is a greener green in the same software (game).
That is like audio the data info in the game for a color is a constant number. But then the reproduction device the monitor has different color depth, brightness, calibration and so on.
So it WILL give you different color of green on different monitors.

It is like gasoline that is gasoline like one and zeroes. If you put it in a car it goes to the combustion in the engine and expand. Then you ask why that gasoline is performing differently in a Porsche than in a Mercedes.
There is a difference response between helping someone who has tried and failed vs someone who didn't try at all.
Check out the "why so many angry audiophiles" thread.

Anger is a pandemic in of itself these days especially with the internet serving as an easy tool for people to use to stoke and/or release it.

Good music that sounds good can be a wonderful treatment for that.
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It’s an imperfect world. People should not feel constrained in how they conduct a legitimate quest to learn.  Nobody is obligated to reply.

Good manners always apply.
@paul6001 to quote the late great Harry NilssonJump into the Fire”

You will see who snipers are and the helpers.

Just don’t be what we call in my world (ME) an Ask-Hole : Someone who keeps asking advise but keeps doing the same thing.