Why do my CD's still sound better than flac files?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by dat56, Jan 11, 2012.

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  1. dat56

    dat56 Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    SW Missouri
    I am in the process of ripping "the good stuff" in my CD collection to my pc. I'm using dbpoweramp, ripping to flac format. For playback, the chain goes something like this: Flac files on pc are streamed from pc to router via ethernet; Router to Squeezebox Classic via wi-fi connection; Squeezebox to NAD C565BEE CD player d/a converter via Toslink; CD player's analog out to NAD C165BEE preamp and then on to amp and speakers, etc, etc.

    The problem is I have this vague feeling that the streamed flac files do not sound as good as the CD player. Of course there's a lot of steps in getting the music from CD to PC to router to Squeezebox back to DAC and then back to pre. Wow, maybe that is the problem, eh? It's not that the flac files sound bad, though; they sound very good, just not as good. It's hard to define the difference, though. The CD's heard direct sound...more solid, quieter, cleaner, bassier. But it's all very vague. I'm not sure I could discern a difference in an A/B comparison. But maybe I could.:sigh:

    The conventional wisdom seems to be that computer music files (WAV?) sound better than CD. But what about flac? Is it all my imagination or is there something wrong with my set-up or procedures?
  2. konut

    konut Prodigious Member. Thank you.

    Whatcom County, WA
    Have you tried the analog out of the Squeezebox direct to the NAD pre, bypassing the DAC in the CD player?
  3. dat56

    dat56 Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    SW Missouri
    Yup. That was my signal path before I bought the CD player/DAC. I thought the better DAC in the NAD CD player might be the cure, but I really heard surprisingly little improvement. Some, but not enough.
  4. Coldacre

    Coldacre Well-Known Member

    the placebo effect is not to be under-estimated
  5. rainspainplain

    rainspainplain Forum Resident

    Here are some interesting articles from Audio Stream web site, a spin off of Stereophile

    "After a while, over time I began to hear differences. I'm not saying the FLAC version sounded bad or even hugely different but what I did notice was the FLAC version sounded less controlled. Less harmonically right like the microphone(s) were ever so slightly overloaded at times and lost, momentarily mind you, the music's snap, grip and flow."

    Why the difference?

    A new FLAC option
  6. apileocole

    apileocole Lush Life Gort

    What are you using for software (OS, player and any other factors) and what settings/configuration? You can't just play a flac file in Windows Media Player or whatever and get accurate output.

    Since I use Linux and you're probably using Windows so I can't offer much in specifics but others here can.
  7. GreenDrazi

    GreenDrazi Truth is beauty

    Atlanta, GA
    There is nothing in that article which answers the OP, nor makes any valid claim as to how lossless purportedly sounds different. There is some completely unfounded speculation.
  8. utenteanonimo64

    utenteanonimo64 Well-Known Member

    Option 1: different playback chain gives you slightly different results

    Option 2: Placebo

    Option 3: there is no option 3

    WAV vs FLAC: For the D/A converter the bits are the same as FLAC will decode back to WAV before the converter gets to see the data at all.
  9. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    If you want to try to compare the files yourself (FLAC vs. WAV) under more controlled conditions, use one of these two free programs:

    ABXer for Mac OSX

    Foobar2000 for Windows

    Each will let you compare one file with another, which is very helpful for determining real differences in an A/B test.
  10. Ulli

    Ulli Forum Resident

    The foobar ABX comparator creates temporary WAV files of each track first, so that's no use.

    Of course, FLAC always gets converted to PCM first during playback, so you're effectively listening to WAV and there's no difference whatsoever. Moreover, buffering prevents hiccups due to reading from disk and decompression. I can even play 96/24 FLAC files while simultaneously defragmenting the partition they're stored on without any problems and the CPU never exceeding 2% load.
  11. direwolf-pgh

    direwolf-pgh Well-Known Member

  12. bdiament

    bdiament Producer, Engineer, Soundkeeper

    New York
    Hi dat56,

    The thing about conventional wisdom is that it often tends to be more conventional than it is wise. I suggest trying to rip a few of the same CDs to .wav or .aif format and then comparing to the CD. Draw your own conclusions.

    It is clear that not everyone is sensitive to it but I do know a number of folks who have started saying what I've been saying for years: Theory notwithstanding, formats like flac don't sound the same and raw PCM (e.g. .aif or .wav).

    Some folks who don't want to believe this will say it is the playback gear that is at fault. Perhaps. If so, I'm just unfortunate in that none of the gear I've heard is "good" enough to obscure the differences, whether the comparisons are sighted or blind.

    But that's just me. What is important for you is what you hear. Hence, I suggest a test ripping to raw PCM. It will be interesting to read about your experience if you try this.

    Have fun!

    Best regards,
    Dyland and Freebird like this.
  13. SBurke

    SBurke Nostalgia Junkie

    Philadelphia, PA
    My guesses:

    1. Perhaps your CD player uses a different DAC for discs than it does for optical in.
    2. Perhaps as Chris mentioned above your computer software output is affecting the files in some way.
    3. Perhaps the wireless link in the chain is affecting things somehow.

    I would attempt to isolate the issue by changing elements of the above and trying to determine if you've found the problem.

    Of course, no. 4 is

    4. You're imagining the difference.

    I don't mean that as an intended slight to you personally. I think one always needs to consider the possibility, at least at the outset. When my right speaker started to malfunction in a subtle way last year, I asked myself, "Am I imagining this?" And it was a useful exercise because it helped me to figure out how I could determine whether something was or was not going on. (As it turned out, there was a problem with the tweeter.)

    I don't think there's an option 5

    5. FLAC files don't sound as good as the data on the CD.

    I think if you believe it to be no. 5, it actually is no. 2 or no. 4.
  14. donunus

    donunus Cheapskate Audiophile and Massive Music Lover

    The FLAC decoder codec might not be up to snuff. For example, I can hear the difference between Linux audio and Windows audio. I think the biggest differences are due to the codecs used to decode the files.

    CDs go through less of a process than FLAC I guess. I am not a programmer so I can't really explain it further but I feel the same way about FLAC vs CDs. In fact, my mind tells me that there is a bigger difference in sound between flac vs CD than there is in FLAC going down to a high bitrate ogg file. Very Weird indeeed. Then again, it could be placebo... :)
  15. BrewDrinkRepeat

    BrewDrinkRepeat Forum Resident

    Merchantville NJ
    I know a few folks who say they hear a difference, I do not. Which is not to say that either position is right or wrong, or that the difference is better or worse, but there are enough people who do to indicate that there may be some issues with certain playback setups.

    IMO it must be something with the playback method (which would include however the file is being decompressed on the fly), as the files themselves are proven beyond any doubt to be bit-perfect once decompressed offline (i.e. not while being played); if you decompress a FLAC or ALAC file to a WAV or AIFF it will be identical to the original WAV or AIFF. The data itself is not being changed by the compression, but the file does undergo an extra / different processing step compared to a CD, a WAV or AIFF.
  16. winopener

    winopener Forum Resident

    There may be some resampling in the path.

    If you have, or can borrow, an amplifier with a dts decoder inside, i will suggest to connect the Squeezebox toslink out to the toslink in of the dts-enabled amplifier, and start playing at the begin of the chain a dts-cd wav file.

    If you get out music, the chain is bitperfect.
    If you get noise, not. Something is affecting the digital path somewhere, so you won't hear anytime the same quality.
  17. chriss71

    chriss71 Active Member

    Dear Mr. Diament!

    As a computer specialist (CCNP, Programmer) this is just not true.
    The DAC gets the same zeros and ones regardless its a flac or a wav file!
  18. LeeS

    LeeS Music Fan

    Streaming the music is a problem. Not a robust way to listen in my experience.
  19. TVC15

    TVC15 Forum Resident

    New Jersey
    I used to use a Squeezebox and had similar results, even when running digital out to a DAC. CHECK YOUR TRANSCODE SETTINGS and also streaming quality.

    Squeezebox Server does not leave the digital path unaltered, and can have consequences.

    Try this: run your FLACs from USB straight to your DAC. Still disappointed? I wasn't.
  20. utenteanonimo64

    utenteanonimo64 Well-Known Member

    Barry says they sound different to him. We have already discussed that scientifically this thing doesn't make sense but he still hears a difference. I suppose this is similar to a debate between creationists and evolutionists. All scientific evidence is on the side of evolution, however not everyone is an evolutionist.
  21. Vocalpoint

    Vocalpoint Forum Resident

    Until you update us on what you are using for playback software on the PC - can't be sure what the issue is. But your long signal chain there can't be helping matters.

    I use my Dune HDi Smart D1 from FLAC playback in the main media room and J.River Media Center for software playback on the PC's (FLAC) and both completely bury all CD players (Tascam, OPPO etc) we have here.

    Every FLAC file I have - all from the original source discs - sound equal to and in most cases - much better than the original source CD.

  22. Larry Johnson

    Larry Johnson Senior Member

    Chicago area
    Thanks for the interesting links. It seems that lately there are more folks joining Barry Diament and his friends who hear a difference between the playback of compressed lossless files and playback of uncompressed files/discs. As one of the links mentioned, we may never know because there is no money riding on the question, so this may be a situation where, if we care, we will have to do our own test and decide for ourselves.

    I have not done my own test yet (and may never - my system is two floors away from my computer), but I have to admit that I am now considering whether I should convert my flac files to flac uncompressed.
  23. utenteanonimo64

    utenteanonimo64 Well-Known Member

    ??? flac vs flac uncompressed?
  24. autodidact

    autodidact Forum Resident

    I assume he means flac->WAV, or something similar.

    Using foobar2000 and an Edirol outboard USB DAC I am happy with the sound of FLAC files. However, I haven't directly compared them to the WAV they were taken from. Theoretically there should be no difference if the conversion algorithms are correct and the final amount of jitter is at similar levels. However, real programs, real circuits, and theory are different things.

    I'll stick with FLAC for the time being. I think the OP has too many things in the chain. Who knows which one could be the source of the degradation?
  25. kevintomb

    kevintomb Forum Resident

    Im a bit miffed at you thinking, that even implying that someone is imagining something would be offensive.

    That is actually the most plausible reason for someone "feeling or thinking" that something isnt quite right or the same, especially when the OP even says hes not "Sure" and doubts he could tell in an A/B test.

    That would be my very first possibility. Instead of inventing all kinda "possible" reasons of how his equipment may do this or that etc, why not eliminate the human mind variable from the get go:confused:
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