I consider myself a free thinker, heck I am a molecular/cellular biologist; I have to be. I never trust anything I read 100% and everything will be tested even if the alternative hypothesis seems thin.
I’ve made some interesting observations and some initial conclusions from listening. My best DAC is my DFR run on my MacBook Air using Audirvana 3 with Integer mode and Extreme system optimization. I also run a jitterbug on a parallel USB port. Once my Stellar DAC/S300 arrives, all of the following observations and tests will be repeated.
To me the, “loudness wars,” is an interesting concept potentially compromising all genre’s of music in all of these re-releases and remasters. There are so many variables however to judge the effects of decreased dynamic range and I fear that this field suffers from a great deal of cognitive bias by many. Especially when proper PC/MAC software is fairly recent where we can get adequate sound quality using Exclusive/Integer/Direct modes and we now understand that USB straight with no modifiying device (LanRover, Regen, etc…) is pretty bad.
Let’s take a modern remaster from my generation that is trashed ALL the time, the Nirvana-Nevermind remaster. Hang on, there are some points to consider here! Consider that anyone judging the CD remaster as evidence of problems with loudness, this is immediately invalidated to me due to concerns over the 24-bit to 16 bit and 96 k to 44.1 k down conversion process. The CD remaster streamed over Tidal has some major issues in the cymbal territory, very blurry and wishy washy. The best comparison is to compare a 16 bit pre-remaster to the new 24 bit remaster. Not perfect but its better than throwing in 96 k to 44.1 down conversion into the mix.
The 24 bit remaster on my system sounds pretty damn good for a grunge track! I am actually liking it more than the original CD. When I invert the polarity of the remaster, it sounds a heck of a lot like the old version streamed over Tidal (2002 version pre-remaster). There is no absolute control in the industry for polarity normalization. The wrong polarity to me gives the recording a false sense of space, slightly smoother, but muddied and less present sound. Also, the image width is cut by about 25-50% over headphone. The transients are tighter on the remaster and the leading edges of everything are clearer, the old version is blurry and somewhat muddy. Its smooth but it doesn’t sound live or real. To me getting the polarity right may be better than a moderately improved dynamic range. I can’t say for sure if they inverted polarity on the re-release, but nontheless it raises another wrinkle in comparing older vs. new releases. Regardless, the 24 bit sounds more real to me. What is real, where is the reference? We don’t really have a good one for rock music. Concerts don’t count since they are too loud, highly variable due due to different environments and different level setting everywhere it seems. There is no good venue besides a good old garage band format that doesn’t amplify the sound into infinity and back well outside listenable limits of SQ.
Another tangent, I have another modern rock album by Chevell- La Gargola, amazing album and great sound! But the hi res version available tops out at 24/44.1. Comparing the 16 to the 24, I hear much more of a difference than I expected given all of the internet trash talk. Same thing on Matthew Good, 24/48 sounds much more realistic compared to 16 bit. Slightly different music, not as heavy and a little more moody, same effect on leading edges and general shape of sound.
I have a question to those more familiar with DAC operation. DACS fundamentally operate better with 24 bit compared to 16 bit? Or, is the down-conversion process fundamentally bad causing rounding errors when going down to 16 when the master was higher? Is it a bit of both combined with reduced quantization error rates or distribution? Is decreased dynamic range still a concern but slightly less so with 24 bit?
I love variables and complex systems, hence why audio synergy is so fun!