Listening To Storage

This is why audiophiles get a bad name. Right out of the gates:

Anecdotal murmurings and some limited first-hand experience suggested that digital music files can sound different when played from different computer media sources. […] We readily confirmed that the final sound quality is influenced not only by the choice of network player, DAC, digital cables, or indeed many other long-recognized factors, but additionally — and quite markedly — by the manner in which we now store large quantities of our music at home.

It’s so hard to even know where to begin with this, but let’s just assume the author’s assertion that all of those other factors affect sound quality1. The entire design of the experiment, in addition to being poorly documented2, is just dumb.

This initial trial was not intended to be an exhaustive study into all the factors that can affect the sound quality of network and computer audio, only to confirm or deny the suspicion that digital bitstream coming from hard disks are not all equal. Which has to be somewhat surprising, to say the least.


  1. The author readily acknowledges they didn’t control for a number of factors…
  2. …but still concludes that the digital bitstream coming from the hard disks are not equal.

This assertion can be directly3 tested, for instance, with MD5. If you directly test the accuracy of the data coming from the drives, you can eliminate all of the factors that are uncontrolled, the most troublesome being the subjective comparison: the listening.

Either the disks are accurately reproducing the data or they’re not. And if they’re not, it seems much more likely that you’d wind up with completely corrupted files than a ‘more tuneful’ rendering of the music:

QNAP2 rendered the same song more tunefully. It was more organic and made more sense, the lines of melody and rhythm cooperating better. As well as showing better individual instrument distinction, the whole piece sounded tidier, tonally less messy without the roughened HF, and perhaps better integrated in musical intent.

Next, someone will probably claim vinyl sounds better.

  1. DACs, yes. Digital cables? If the PLL of the receiver can reconstruct the clock with low jitter, then the cable doesn’t matter. 

  2. How were the listening tests done? If the switching times between playback systems were at all substantial, it would swamp our echoic memory capacity. Was ABX testing employed? Can they reliably determine which NAS is which, with statistical significance? 

  3. Sorry for all the italics. This just makes me so angry.