Well-Crafted Study Shows Listeners Cannot Distinguish Between CD-Quality and High-Resolution Music Files

Archimago has posted results of a detailed, well-crafted study and survey about high-resolution music. He provided 140 listeners with three pairs of files (read the procedure used for the test), and asked them to determine which one was the high-resolution, 24-bit file.

The results were as expected. For two of the three files, the results were 50/50, exactly what you would get if you guessed randomly. For one of the files – the one with the greatest dynamic range, which should have benefited most from the additional resolution, 47% of people picked the correct file as being the 24-bit version, and 53% got it wrong. Again, nearly the same as random.

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What’s most interesting about this test is the fact that it seems to have been very well constructed. The tester asked a number of questions to be able to analyze the listeners performing the test, including their musical experience, approximate value of their stereo equipment, and their confidence in their answers.

For example, those who claimed to be very confident or certain of their answers were still either 50/50 or more wrong than right:

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Musicians who were more confident than average got even worse results:

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And those with some experience of recording, mixing and editing, with high confidence, were only slightly better than random:

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Most interesting were the results of people who claim to be audio hardware reviewers. They were more often wrong than right:

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The article concludes:

In a naturalistic survey of 140 respondents using high quality musical samples sourced from high-resolution 24/96 digital audio collected over 2 months, there was no evidence that 24-bit audio could be appreciably differentiated from the same music dithered down to 16-bits using a basic algorithm (Adobe Audition 3, flat triangular dither, 0.5 bits).

And Archimago went on to say:

The results of this survey appear to support the notion that high bit-depth music (24-bits) does not provide audible benefits despite the fact that objectively measurable DACs capable of > 16-bit resolution are readily available at very reasonable cost these days.

This is a solid, well-crafted test that shows, yet again, that high-resolution files don’t sound better than CDs.