Lossless??? An Introduction

Welcome to my new blog, dedicated to getting the most out of recorded music. I used the word “Lossless” in it’s widest sense, as I want to hear music with the least loss possible, from the original master tape. So I am focusing on hi-resolution audio to differentiate from “lossy” formats such as MP3, AAC and even CD’s which contain only around a third of the data of the master tape. I am going to cover all aspects of Hi-Fi that make a really BIG difference to the quality of sound, Room acoustics, High Resolution Sources, Equipment to play the music on. I have been listening and experimenting with Hi-Fi for 30 years, I hope you enjoy my articles! Please give me feedback.

1. Room setup including layout, treatments and the interaction between equipment and room, including lots of DIY tips.

I have spent, many years setting up hi-fi systems in different rooms, and have recently made over my house and included a dedicated listening room with a “live end / dead end” studio like setup. It sounds amazing, and will be sharing some of the things I have learned along the way, including layout, which speaker types work well with different rooms, DIY room treatments that make a staggering difference to sound for not much money, getting your equipment properly supported and how to avoid wasting £1000’s on useless accessories and expensive leads!

2. Obtaining and making the most of a high resolution source.

Hi resolution audio is hard to obtain on the hi street! But if you are not listening to a high resolution source, the rest of the system, no matter how expensive can never make up for this. Garbage in – garbage out! Seeking out hi-res sources is the first step to audio nirvana.

There are four sources of hi-res digital audio, SACD, DVD-A, Hi-Res downloads and Blu-Ray. I use all of them as not all content is available on all sources and they each have their strengths and weaknesses.
SACD – the best sound and often provides surround playback, low cost discs (cheaper than downloads), usually play on standard CD players too (e.g. in car) largest catalogue of content by an order of magnitude, lots of new discs coming out this year. Lots of SACD compatible devices eg. Oppo, Blu-ray players and many specialist devices from Marantz, Sony etc.Hard to copy the hi res files onto computer, it can be done with specialist equipment, but not for the feint hearted!
DVD-A – now a dead format, it competed with SACD and lost, the big advantage if you can get the discs (eg. on ebay) is that these discs can be easily ripped to get a 24bit /96Khz file to playback on your computer.
Hi_Res downloads are starting to appear up to 24bit 192Khz. These are expensive, possibly because they are so easy to copy, mostly stereo only, convenient, but no physical media. (This is the future though)
Blu-Ray could be the perfect hi-res audio carrier, 8 channels of 24bit 192Khz audio, and there are loads of players in the market. But there is almost no content. A handful of audio only discs, a good source though of live concert footage, operas and ballets. I don’t believe that this will become an audio only carrier to take over from CD.

3. Equipment to play back Hi-res audio and setup.

These fall into two categories, disc spinners, and computers.
There are now a number of universal disc players that will play ALL the above formats e.g. Oppo BD95
Computers cant play SACD’s but can play some or all of the other formats.

I use a dedicated SACD player – no universal can match it for sound, a computer for hi-res downloads and a Universal player for Blu-Ray and DVD-A. I’ll be explaining my rationale in a subsequent article.

Computer based audio is new, and thus we have much to learn. I have discovered recently for example that the USB cable type can make a clear sound quality difference, (as a computer guy I simply couldn’t believe this) but I’ll explain why. I’ve also found that .wavs, sound better than flacs! (they shouldn’t).

I hope you enjoy this musical and technology journey.