Which of these two sources would you prefer if you had no ears?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by izgoblin, Jun 19, 2017.

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  1. izgoblin

    izgoblin Forum Resident Thread Starter

    This is now my 4th project that I've posted about, and if anyone followed all of them, you'd think I was cursed. For this project, I have only two sources I can choose from - CD quality lossless files or 192 kbps MP3s of a totally different, and in my opinion better, mastering. No, I can't get an entirely new transfer done or request high-resolution files. These sources are all that we have access to. Unfortunately I can't share sound samples here due to confidentiality, but my ears tell me that the MP3 source on two systems is CLEARLY far and above better than the lossless files, surely due to something "right" that was done in the mastering process which the 192 kbps MP3s are sourced from as opposed to something "wrong" done when the CD quality files were mastered. I'm no expert, but I'm not certain that re-EQ'ing the CD quality files could get the level of detail heard in the MP3s. There is just THAT much of a difference in detail, and no, the MP3s are not just EQ'd "brighter".

    Here's the thing -- this is classical music, and from everything I've read, releasing a commercial CD sourced from 192 kbps MP3s, especially of classical music is, at worst, disgraceful. But my ears tell me otherwise here. Admittedly, I don't have hi-res files of the same "good" mastering to compare to, and I'm sure they'd be awesome.

    But with only these two to work with, I actually think the MP3s sound nice on my home system which is nothing to sneeze at. Looking at the waveforms, I do see that the peaks are shaved on the MP3s, but it sure looks worse to me than it sounds.

    I am not really a technical expert though - I just know what sounds good, so I come here for help with those of you who understand spectrograms and read waveforms. I welcome any and all feedback, but what I most wanna know is:

    1) Based on the spectrogram and frequency analysis of the CD quality mastering, was digital noise reduction likely applied here, resulting in its lack of detail? Is that visible? That's my best guess, but maybe I'm just not enough of a mastering expert to know what can be pulled out of the CD-quality source.

    2) If you were going only by the visuals provided, which would you rather listen to? :)

    I'm sorry that I can't post audio samples (this wouldn't be an issue if we didn't have other projects stolen from us), but there is such a difference between these two sources that I believe that everyone here who would compare both would prefer the detail in the MP3s over the CD-quality files.

    I guess it really is all in the mastering. :)

    CD version spectrogram:

    Dropbox - cd-spectrogram.JPG

    MP3 version spectrogram:

    Dropbox - mp3-spectrogram.JPG

    CD version frequency analysis:

    Dropbox - cd-freqanalysis.JPG

    MP3 version frequency analysis:

    Dropbox - mp3-freqanalysis.JPG

    CD version waveform:

    Dropbox - cd-waveform.JPG

    MP3 version waveform:

    Dropbox - mp3-waveform.JPG
  2. stephenlee

    stephenlee Forum Resident

    East Coast
    Here's my take, for whatever it's worth (you asked) ...

    Spectrograms, frequency analyses and waveforms are all well and good if your goal is to discuss the finer technical points of the recordings for the rest of your life, but if you're actually going to listen to the recordings, dump those stats in the closest trash can and go with whatever sounds best to your ears! And don't worry what anybody else might say! They have their ears, you have yours, and they are not the same! Everybody hears things differently. All that matters is what makes you happy!
  3. Dr. Mudd

    Dr. Mudd Audient

  4. izgoblin

    izgoblin Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I'm not sure I ever really understood this popcorn thingy. What is it you're trying to say in this case here? I'm not trying to start a debate about how useful waveforms and spectrograms are -- I am offering a specific example that I could use some real feedback on from knowledgeable people.

    You see, my producer is really paranoid about using MP3s as sources. He thinks his customers are going to give him a bunch of crap. But my take is that we should use what sounds best.

    If there are no other opinions based on what I can provide here, then I'll just give him my best recommendation based on what I hear.
  5. rockclassics

    rockclassics Forum Resident

    Arkansas, USA
    Is it an option to release both sources? Maybe a CD using the lossless source with a download card for the MP3 as an additional bonus.
    stevemoss and izgoblin like this.
  6. Trashman

    Trashman Forum Resident

    ...which is exactly what you should do.

    What's the point of spectrograms and waveforms if one clearly sounds better than the other? I'd rather listen to a well-mastered MP3 than listen to an inferior mastering on CD.
    kevin5brown and izgoblin like this.
  7. Off:
    "Popcorn Emoji" round SHMF is typically used alone in a post to signify the poster is going to simply 'sit on the sidelines' & watch the show/fireworks/bloodbath they feel/think will inevitably ensue.

    You'll also see the "Hiding Under Chair Emoyi" at SHMF when some one believes some thing they stated or commented on is going to start a "Hail Storm" [to put it nicely].

    The anti-MP3 thingy for "Classical" certainly hold true; when lossless & lossy sources are equal. If MP3 is obviously superior, all bets are off..
    cept for the more ardent pro-lossless/non-MP3 folks that are out there & they are "Out There"!!
    izgoblin likes this.
  8. izgoblin

    izgoblin Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thanks for the responses! You folks are making me feel better about my recommendation. Despite my lack of faith, we're going to try to take the CD quality files and remaster them to see if we can improve them enough. The producer is currently adamant about avoiding the heat he may take from using MP3s. A remaster is going to cost time and money and I don't think it will be a success as I still suspect digital NR was used unnecessarily on those files. But at least we will have tried. And if I'm a betting man, we'll end up using the source that sounds "better" after all.

    We always do. ;-)
  9. Got a valve DAC?
  10. izgoblin

    izgoblin Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Not me. But now I kinda wish I had.
  11. The producer maybe; or the studio it will be done at may have a digital though valves to analog conversion chain.

    Good luck!
  12. kevin5brown

    kevin5brown Forum Resident

    I downloaded a program a while back that tells me what the original source of a wav file was. I.e., it can spot upsampled MP3 files.

    With that said, I haven't used it that much, because, what something sounds like is most important. Not what the source is. You have to trust your ears. Well, let me take that back somewhat, it's the content that counts the most for me. Then what it sounds like.

    Too bad you can't even post samples though? I'd be curious to hear the differences.
    izgoblin likes this.
  13. Vaughan

    Vaughan Forum Resident

    I say choose whatever sounds good to your ears, and let go of all the science. Just enjoy the music.
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