Monday, April 14, 2014

March of the Audiophile

I've been reading those news stories again ...

But first - I'm gonna rob someone's FB pic again ! It's about depression and surviving crises and I've got a few things I can talk around that. Not today though, I have it saved for later. Nah - today's is spotting more news, which I'll completely forget about if I don't post it now.

Here's the link ... it's about blu-ray discs being used for audio.

Whenever I let on that I have a blu-ray player, I always follow that with what I think of it :

Picture - is genuinely better but you have to be looking for the differences. Bit like HD vs non-HD where it all depends on the bandwidth as to how sharp it is. Some Standard Def transmissions can be sharper than HD transmissions. No. It's not worth getting a bluray player for the sharper image, most new-ish (like my Xbox360) dvd players will get as much detail out of a dvd as you'll perceive in a bluray.

Audio - this is where bluray scores. Without going into the technical details, blu ray sound is much better defined and with a surround sound amp, it's also placed in the scene far more exactly. Things like the house scene in Book Of Eli (the one where it's being taken apart by a gatling gun) has the sound of the bullets flying around, over, through you. The Dolby D on dvds has genuine surround but needs compression to get the message across. &Cmprsd txt s mch hrdr 2 flw. (And compressed text is much harder to follow)

Numbers ? Come on, you knew I couldn't leave these out ;-)
CDs see audio sampled (broken up) into 16 bits per channel with a sample coming at a rate of 44,100 per second. That makes 705kbits for one channel, 1410kbits for two channels.

Up that to movies - 4230kbits/s for 6 channels. However ... Dolby D only allows up to 504kbit/s on DVD or 640kbit/s on Bluray. That's a tiny fraction of the pure signal. You're losing a lot of information there and it manifests in blurry, indisctinct sound. Or does it ... Bluray allows up to 18Mbit/s which is plenty.

Enough of the numbers - I sense much relief.

There's a golden rule with hifi - if you spend more you get something better. Up to a point. I've had 4 hifi's over 25 years. The first two were simple separates systems (Rotel kit is very special) but the second two were surround sound specials. I replaced the Rotel kit with a Creative Labs DTT2500, which was meant for PCs but fit very nicely into a home movie set up. It sounded surprisingly good too for an £160 outlay. But it couldn't understand the signals coming out of my bluray player.

It got replaced with an Onkyo 508 amp and Tannoy surround speakers which do sound genuinely better, as it should for £500ish. It also accepts way more output (like my audio streamed over the network in the better format).

You could spend infinitely more ... like getting better sources. Which is where this bluray audio thing comes in.

The article does a decent effort at selling it but is it worth it ? There's a certain point where diminishing returns come in. Our hearing goes from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz (in theory, in actuality we'll be lucky to retain much above 13,000 Hz) so the 44.1kHz of cd audio is perfectly adequate. The 96kHz of bluray audio is genuinely better but we ain't gonna hear it. Same with the definition - 16 bits gives a signal to noise that's better than almost all amplifiers can give.

The diminishing returns strike.

It's the same with hifi kit. I could spend £1000 (way more) each on amplifiers, speakers, cables, more cables, stands and it would sound genuinely better. I could buy a massive house with a special uncluttered listening room (this place is too cluttered for music to sound amazing).

But would I notice it sounding better ? Unlikely. Sometimes the media people throw formats at us and expect us to replace our libraries with the Next Big Thing. Rebel ! You don't have to do that. I've replaced a small number of my dvds with the bluray version but I don't see the need to replace the lot. (Ok, I replaced the Star Wars dvds quite quick but ... it's Star Wars!)

Something similar applies with the other expensive paraphenalia they try and sell us with TV and Hifi. Do you need a £80 HDMI cable to connect telly to blu ray player ? Yes. But you can do exactly the same thing with one costing under a tenner.

Actually, there is a little more to it than that. But there's that diminishing returns thing coming in again.

The answer ? Research !

Make your own minds up as to what's actually worth getting. Ask people about what you're thinking of getting. Read the magazines (but beware their bias, What Hifi wasn't called What Sony for nothing), make sure you know what you're getting. Good hifi rarely happens by accident, there's usually a Big Plan behind how it's come together. Also look at the value, people say nice things about Sonos and Bose kit but I just see the price tag and think it ain't worth it.

If anyone has any questions about hifi or TV kit, there's an email in my profile. I'll be more than happy to answer and expand on stuff I've glossed over above. But remember, there's something more important than anything else :

It's about the entertainment. The fun, the experience. And I could do that just as well with my £160 piece of PC hardware as my £500 hifi and I wouldn't get any more out of a £3000 home movie set up.

Talking of fun :
(checks pepsi glass ...)

PS My opinion on MP3s ? It's compression that loses info but .... they still sound great. At least they do in the car !

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