Spinning wheel
AUDIOPHILE - Val A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - March 25, 2017 - 12:00am

An interesting development has been happening in the online local audio market.

While sales of compact discs (CDs) are seeing a dive in the world market, the opposite is happening here: well, at least, in the used audio market, mostly in audio group sites on Facebook (FB) which have mushroomed in recent years.

There is no doubt that vinyl records are still the standard by which ultimate sound quality is measured. But before the revival of vinyl and its mainstream re-entry, CDs were the “preferred” music format over the venerable long-playing record.

What has caused the sudden upsurge in used CD sales then? It appears that countless CD players, which are still in excellent working condition, continue to occupy a place in an audiophile’s listening room. While most of these music lovers have switched to playing vinyl, they do on occasion still listen to digital music for its sheer convenience.

And here’s the clincher: Most audiophiles may have sold their CD collections for the much-touted high-resolution audio. This modern-day digital music format claims to have found the solution in approximating vinyl’s excellence in music reproduction.

Downloadable, high-resolution or hi-res audio uses a higher sampling rate than that of CDs and MP3s for the encryption and playback of music. In theory, higher sampling rates translate to more samples per second taken during the conversion of the original analog sound into digital.

Hi-res audio files have a sampling frequency of 96 kHz/24 bit, expressively higher and more complex than the 44.1 KHz/16-bit sampling frequency of CDs.

I have listened to a few albums recorded in hi-res, and found the sound thinner, although a tad more detailed than that of similar albums recorded on CDs.

I was supposed, as advertised, to pick up on the subtle details and nuances that I would otherwise hear only in a live performance or in a recording studio. There were little details I heard on Eagles’ Hotel California, which I didn’t hear on its CD version. However, I found it wanting in the dynamics that the song is powerfully associated with.

The soul of Eva Cassidy suddenly disappears in her rendition of Fields of Gold. If you think CDs are clinical compared to vinyl; hi-res audio is much more. The richness of the tones, the glow and the warmth of music could have been lost in translation.

Maybe it’s just me. After all, music preference is subjective. What sounds good to me may sound unpleasant to you. What I’m driving at is that this could very well be why used CDs are now enjoying brisk sales in the online second-hand market. 

Analog soundtracks, such as vinyl and tape, have long been known to be the “gold standard” for sound quality among audiophiles. Hi-res audio is hypothetically at par with them. If you trust the flimflam, the additional aural bandwidth affords your ears classic Fitzgerald, Armstrong, Dylan, Sinatra, and even Adele, Beyoncé and Gaga, as though they were playing live in front of you, whilst on an excellently wired hi-fi system.

There may be problems with CDs, but does hi-res solve them? I believe not. When you hook your system into hi-res, you’ll have to cope with higher prescriptions of pseudoscience and a hard drive huge enough to store files much larger than what a CD can hold. And guys, let’s face it. Few of us are blessed with a ‘golden ear.’ Can we really hear the difference?

Playing hi-res does not involve any moving parts. They are files read or encoded for listening. Just like in vinyl, spinning the disc is very much part of our listening experience. This may be simplistic to some, but I take it as gospel truth: A wheel has to turn to get us somewhere.

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For comments or questions, please email me at audioglow@yahoo.com.

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