Tin ear?

Discuss Decibel, a high quality audio player.
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Tin ear?

Post by otaku » Thu Jun 16, 2011 12:43 am

I cannot hear the difference between iTunes and Decibel, and I'm not sure whether it is my hearing, my system, or my Decibel (or iTunes or Midi) settings.

Hardware: Brand-new MBP 17, Audioengine 2's, cheapo male-male cable.

Me: 60-y-o male, reasonable careful to protect my hearing from loud sounds.

Settings: Decibel settings are all clicked to maximum (Exclusive Access, Adjust Sample Rate). Audio Midi set to 24/96.

Music: Band on The Run (latest), Apple Lossless. Paul Simon, Rewrite (So Beautiful or So What, 236K MP3 from eMusic)

Any suggestions why I don't hear a difference?


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Re: Tin ear?

Post by callisto » Fri Jun 17, 2011 12:33 am

You shouldn't, both do bit-perfect playback. At least as long as you don't have any EQ or DSP active... everything else is placebo, like some people claim to hear a difference between WAV and FLAC.

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Re: Tin ear?

Post by CG » Fri Jun 17, 2011 1:10 am


On what do you base this opinion? Measurements? Technical theory? Your own observations?

No wrong answer here, I don't believe; just wondering...

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Re: Tin ear?

Post by Crisnee » Fri Jun 17, 2011 4:27 am

otaku wrote:I cannot hear the difference between iTunes and Decibel, and I'm not sure whether it is my hearing, my system, or my Decibel (or iTunes or Midi) settings.

How are you testing whether you hear a difference, i.e. what's your setup? If your listening to tracks sequentially with some time (minutes or so) between it can be difficult to detect small differences. Differences like the length of a cymbal's fade to black (so to speak) say 3 vs 3.5 seconds. It's likely that differences (if any) would be small if you have both players setup well. And if there are differences they could be just in the realm of one making you feel like the music is more involving or "real," whatever that means. And it might be difficult to believe that that kind of difference is in the reproduction as opposed to your mood or differences in your environmental situation.

Just some thoughts. I've tried to compare stuff too and find it very difficult to set up the test properly enough where very small differences can be detected.


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Re: Tin ear?

Post by Charles Hansen » Fri Jun 17, 2011 6:22 am

Hello Otaku,

I have found that there are two things that are very important when trying to compare two different audio components. The first is to be very familiar with the system that you are listening to. The second is to be very familiar with the songs that you are listening to.

My procedure would be to listen to just one software program for a week or two. Just play any music you enjoy for an hour or so a day. After this, you will be reasonably familiar with the sound of your system.

Then when you want to compare, pick out four of your favorite songs that you have heard dozens or even hundreds of times. Each should be from two to six minutes long. Then listen to all four songs with one player. Switch to the other player and play all four songs. Sometimes I play them in the same order and sometimes I play them in the reverse order.

Do NOT try to listen for specific sounds in the songs, such as "when the cymbals come in on the third verse there is a sort of brightness to the sound". Instead, just listen to the song, the same as you would any other time -- because you enjoy it. Usually what will happen is that with one component you will find yourself engaged in the music and enjoying it very much. With the other component your mind may wander and you may find yourself thinking about other things. ("Did I pay the electric bill?" or "I'm kind of hungry, I think I'll get a snack after this.") It's often easier to notice these differences after you have finished listening.

If you don't hear any difference, you might repeat the test a month or two later.

Have fun!

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Re: Tin ear?

Post by otaku » Fri Jun 17, 2011 10:51 am


I suppose you are right. I've had the speakers for a year or so, but the computer and the songs I've been listening to were all just released. (Yes, Band on the Run is old, but this is a new mastering).
Let me spend some time with some familiar tracks and I'll let you know.

Thanks for the advice.


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Re: Tin ear?

Post by Packgrog » Fri Jun 17, 2011 1:20 pm

I'd also say that it may simply be the speakers you are using. They seem to be well regarded, but we're talking about trying to distinguish some of the "last 1%" kind of differences, here.

When I switched to the MacBook Pro from an HP DV9000 barely 2 weeks ago, I noticed the sound quality difference immediately, but this was comparing the digital audio output from different laptops running different OSes and audio applications. Foobar2000 on Windows XP with ASIO4ALL was nice, but much to my shock, iTunes on the MBP was immediately, noticeably better. Again, this is purely by optical digital audio (TOSLINK SPDIF) to an external DAC/headphone amp and headphones. Whether I would notice that kind of difference with desktop speakers, even good ones like the Audioengine 2, is somewhat questionable.

Now, I have not yet done a sound quality comparison between iTunes and Decibel. There isn't much point for me. The sound from both is excellent, and both app serve very different purposes. Most of my collection is FLAC, including some hi-res files, and iTunes simply won't play these. Decibel plays them more effectively than Foobar2000 did, which is an impressive feat, and I can easily tell the sound quality differences between my hi-res files and the carefully transcoded redbook versions. I don't really need much more evidence that Decibel's sound quality is excellent, as is the MacBook Pro's digital audio output.

But back to the original point, I think that to hear the quality difference with speakers, you're probably going to have to go much higher end. One of the advantages of headphones is that "higher end" is significantly more attainable. My listening rig is in the $500-$600 range altogether, and that's with careful component selection. I run an iBasso D1 with upgraded opamps (outdated, but still quite good) to power a set of Denon AH-D2000 with upgraded earpads. This is a nice, clean sounding rig, and I suspect I'd have some difficulty telling the difference between iTunes and Decibel playing the same ALAC file. So don't worry. The differences in sound quality playing the same limited audio file are going to be minimal. The advantage of Decibel is where it has excellent support for files that iTunes will never allow. Grab yourself a hi-res FLAC version of something in your iTunes collection and THEN start marveling at the improvements. :)

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Re: Tin ear?

Post by otaku » Fri Jun 17, 2011 1:36 pm

I've got a good set of headphones (AKG-K701's) but I usually don't use them in front of the computer, so I don't think it makes sense to do comparison tests using them.

I'll try some higher bit rate materials (24/96 rips of the Alan Parsons DVD-A's) and see what happens.

It's really funny that everything I mention here is "classic rock". I really listen to more metal and classical than classic rock, but it seems like the rock stuff is more familiar and easier to test with.

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