Can you hear the difference between lossy and lossless audio?

rodrigaj said

@seegs108 I am curious how a person that is using a NAS connected to a switch can add galvanic isolation if the only method allowed is a Cat 6 cable from BridgeII to the same switch. Do you need a special switch that allows for fiber optic cable connection? And how would that connect to the BridgeII with just the available ethernet jack?

You would need two of these:

There are other brands offering similar devices, though most work very similarly. It would be set up like this: cat6 ethernet cable from the switch to the first box, then you’re going to run an SC fiber optic cable to the second box, then from there you would connect a high quality cat6 cable from the second box to the Bridge II input. I would also recommend using a low noise linear power supply to power the second box connected to the Bridge II.

@seegs108 Thanks for the information and the link. That was exactly the level of detail I was hoping for.

I bet that if I had a decent turntable, put on a record, but played the DS - It would be the best sounding vinyl I never heard!! Haha.

Re formats and lossy vs lossless. Yah I can hear a difference. I can pick sacd from pcm. It just has a certain sonic signature I pick up on. A lossy format to me essentially sounds like a lousy cd - still decent but missing smoothness on the top end and just a bit more edgy overall.

Would I hear it on my phone? Nothing that makes a difference. I can enjoy MP3 on my crappy systems like car or iPhone.

I had an experience that impacted my thoughts on this issue deeply. If you value the “blind” factor of experiment design, I think my experience might even appeal to an objectivist.

Back around 2013, I got into the habit of using the download codes that came with new vinyl. It seemed wasteful not to (my own OCD). Almost always, they were 320 kbps mp3s. I would store the files in the same folders where my FLACs were stored, and I never tried any A/B comparisons with the lossless versions. Each time I played an LP, I looked for a code in the sleeve and downloaded while I listened to the vinyl. I didn’t think twice about those files.

A few months into that habit, I upgraded from Aerial Acoustics 7b speakers to DeVore Fidelity O/93s. I usually listen by shuffling my whole library. That’s just the way I listen 98% of the time. After a few months with the new speakers, I noticed I was doing something that surprised me: I was skipping tracks that I knew I loved, tracks that never fail to connect with me emotionally. It was usually because the sound was harsh, grating, as if I was going to get a headache if I listened too long to the music.

Compared to the Aerials, the DeVores can sound very bright. They often sounded harsh with badly recorded/mastered music. When my wife and I auditioned them at the dealer (Command Performance, in Falls Church, VA), they switched from all-copper WireWorld Eclipse 7 speaker cables to the same cable but with silver plating. The result was so harsh that my wife and I both immediately cringed and asked for the copper cables to be put back in. As such, I already had that prejudice against the DeVores: that they could be a bit too bright under some circumstances.

After a few months of noticing that I was skipping my beloved tracks, the light bulb lit up above my head. Could it be the mp3s I was dumping into my music folders? Sure enough, every time I got that feeling, that I wanted to skip a known favorite because it sounded grating, I checked the file and it was one of those downloaded mp3s.

Perhaps I would have noticed those differences in an A/B comparison. I don’t know. My reaction to what I’ve called harsh and grating was not because of any particular, identifiable quality of the sound. I wasn’t reacting to the high frequencies - I was reacting to the whole sound of the track.

That experience helped me embrace skepticism about the usefulness of A/B comparisons. I think there are qualities of the sound of our systems that we can’t discern in A/B comparisons. I think some of those valuable qualities can only be appreciated after long-term living with the sound.

Perhaps I would have been able to tell the difference between the mp3s and the FLACs if I had done A/B comparisons. But, to those of you who have very resolving systems: isn’t that difference kind of an obvious difference? What about those tinier differences? The ones that affect listening fatigue in more subtle ways? The ones that might take us from nodding our heads to the music to shedding a tear or two? I think many of those factors don’t reveal themselves to A/B comparisons very readily. It sucks, because it’s already very difficult to audition gear at home - it is impossible to audition for months before making a purchase commitment. That’s the audiophile life, I guess…

So, maybe it makes no sense for audiophiles to argue with non-audiophiles about whether there is an audible difference between mp3s and FLACs. I’ve been listening to both (mp3s at 192) in my truck, via an iPod, for years, and I have yet to notice any difference. At some point, we’re going to have to identify the budget at which they will tell a difference about which they will care. Will they care about the difference as it is discerned in a $50,000 system? I think there’s a good chance. Will they care about the difference as it is discerned in a $500 system (excluding headphones, folks)? I doubt it (if they or we can even hear it). Where’s that sweet spot where they will care? My guess is that it is somewhere where they will not want to go with their own money. “$500 for a stereo system? You’re insane!”


I normally don’t play mp3’s But a few days ago I wanted to send a friend an acoustic version that Prefab Sprout created of one of their classic albums.

I wanted a smaller file size to send and made 320 mp3’s.

So in jriver, 3 versions of the cd rip was available. Flac, the WAV i uncompressed and mp3.

I was pretty shocked how much the mp3 left out from the flac and how much better the WAV was from the flac.

I think compression artifacts (like one’s in video) are something you have to learn how to see and hear. A trained eye most likely will never see compression artifacts on an iPhone screen, maybe will see them on a 55” monitor and definitely will see them on a large projection screen.

The same with audio. Having a high end audio system is akin to blowing up an image to a 12 or 15 foot diagonal projection screen. Every skin pore becomes visible, and in my video work I feel I need a certain size screen (from a certain distance) to be able to what I call “see into the picture.”

The normal world is consuming audio on the equivalent of an iPhone or iPad screen or maybe small monitor at best. They don’t have the visual or auditory training or experience to even evaluate an image or sound even if they had momentary access to a high end display or audio device.

So it’s not surprising that tests of even discerning or “trained” listeners fails to distinguish format differences, just as I could never walk into a winery and make any credible assessment of a wines production process. Sure I have taste buds and an opinion , but it’s nowhere nearly as refined as someone who has testing wine their entire life.

Even with new additions to my system or tweeks like the EtherRegen I recently got and still playing with, I sometimes feel like the refinement is beyond what I can presently fully appreciate . But after living with the upgrade for a short time , my brain is now able to hear the enhancement.

I don’t need an abx or test to prove to myself or anyone else what I’m hearing when I did the short test of mp3 to flac to WAV. And maybe others wouldn’t be able to hear much if any difference if I played the 3 files for them. Just as bees and other insects see patterns and color in plants that we don’t , doesn’t mean those differences don’t exist.

Yes, lossless vs lossy is pretty easy to differentiate. I have a USB stick that I test out on friends regularly in their homes and especially in their cars now that cars play FLAC. The USB is loaded with The Doors LA Woman as:

  • Lossy MP3-320 converted from an “original” red label CD that I bought in the 1980s, when there were only two factories in the world making CDs, and ripped in the early 2000s to WAV, before the plastic degraded as a buddy in Germany later demonstrated to me as we could not create the same file again from the old CD.
  • Lossless FLAC5 versions of the same “original” [16-44] WAV files, compressed losslessly about ten years ago
  • [24-88] stereo and [24-96] surround FLAC rips from DVD-A from a few years ago
  • [24-96] conversions of SACD DSD in stereo and surround sound
  • The associated source DSD rips from SACD from back when I had an old Playstation
  • [24-96] conversions from vinyl The Complete Doors Studio Albums 1967-1972 (2012)

Bottom line… everyone loves the DVD-A 24-bit FLAC files… sometimes in stereo… sometimes in surround… depending on their equipment. Maybe it is a remix. And I must confess few friends have systems capable enough for DSD.

A neighbour with a stereo costing about half a mil… his speaker ribbons… I cannot call them cables… cost 30 grand alone… asked me to help clean up his music files… which were a complete organizational tag-editing mess. He later chewed me out left right and etc for compressing his FLAC0 files to FLAC8… no matter that I could prove to him that the FLAC8 files were restored to the same PCM bits as under WAV before being passed to his expensive equipment. So I subjected him to blind AB tests. He failed completely. Could not tell the difference between a given file in WAV, FLAC0 or FLAC8.

Myself, I like the DSD LA Woman in stereo.


I can tell between 128kbps, 256kbps and, lossless. But not consistently.

I tested this by importing the same track at those compressions into iTunes. I then appended the compression to the names of the tracks. Next, I started a screen recorder and clicked on random play. I then turned my back to the computer and used the wireless keyboard to click “next” to switch to a different (or the same) version of the track.

I recorded my “guesses” as to which version I’m hearing every time I switched the track. Then I watched a replay of the screen capture so I could see which track versions were playing. I then scored my results. On one occasion I got 11 consecutive track versions correct. On other occasions…well, not so much. However, this was done with a relatively average DAC. On a better DAC I’m sure I’d be more consistent.

More basic information here: Audiostream article from a while back w/ good overview of the concept and one approach.

[Edit: Just realized that I replied to a very old post. Oh, well.]

I’m kinda new to these forums (fora?), and I’ve already replied to a few ancient posts. I’ve decided not to worry about it. :upside_down_face:

Ugh. I don’t want to be able to tell the difference between FLAC and WAV. That would make for a lot of work for me, and a ton of storage to purchase. Ugh. I know: I’ll resolve to avoid the comparison until I’ve upgraded my amp, added all the acoustic treatment I’m gonna add to my room, upgraded every cable, and added isolation to each component. That’ll take forever!

Such can be joy and pain. In a friend‘s setup it”s audible if you have ripped/play from a fast turning hard disk, an SSD or a slow turning server hard disk (from worse to better). There’s too much to worry about at the end…but it damn sounds better if you care for all of it (in case everything”s revealing enough)

Just so you know…

As your room, equipment and overall sonic capability (read “resolving prowess”) of your system improves, you will start to notice the quality of individual recordings (Sometimes the format matters) and are likely to discover some “favorite” tracks to be no longer acceptable (relatively speaking) for what I call focused or critical enjoyment. They will still be great in the car on relatively cheap ear buds – or for background listening – but, you will likely find yourself leaving them out of your frequent rotation in the “big rig”. I think its all worth it because great recordings can really result in a tremendously enjoyable experience.


I find the debate somewhat amusing. Think about it for a second. Those inclined to bash audiophiles for concerns about lossy compression would likely freak out in any other context about the bit error rates of their digital systems. The only acceptable BER, the ulimate goal, being zero. Yet in the context of high performance audio the use of lossy compression, literally throwing away information, can’t possibly have any SQ impact. That’s why I simply refuse to have this debate with audiophile bashers. I can pick up the difference in MP3, I argue being an experienced careful listener with excellent gear is a factor. I’ve got the gear to not be concerned about bandwidth. I simply don’t care because I don’t need to mess with MP3.

So then my question.

Should I buy the DSD version of Boston’s first record or not?

Maybe I need to build a poll.

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I’ve gotten much better about not fretting. I used to be constantly in the grip of audiophilia nervosa. One thing that helped ground me was hearing the degree to which room acoustic treatments would improve/change the sound. After that hit home, it felt foolish to worry about most sound quality issues, because room treatment was so effective, that, if I wasn’t willing to invest the money or the effort to improve the room acoustics, then it made no sense to do the same for isolation, cables, tweaks, etc.

HOWEVER, I recently upgraded from a Musical Fidelity V-90 DAC to the DirectStream Sr., and I added absorption at the first ceiling reflection points, and I can see myself going back to those obsessions. Hopefully, my age will bring wisdom and patience when I re-enter that race. Thankfully, I’m not done taming room sound.


“It’s system and hearing and training dependent.” = I would say it’s music dependent also since I’ve noticed that on some music you hear it VERY easy and on some other music you have to listen a bit more carefully.

I would say that the few $ it takes to find out would worth the chance.

That’s the way things go…the better the setup gets, the more difference those small things we wanted to ignore, make.

I have performed, over the years, blind AB tests (literally - I carry them out with my eyes closed!) and can reliably distinguish between high bitrate lossy and CD quality, and CD and 24/96. That said, I can listen to mp3 until the bitrate drops below 190kbps without conscious discomfort. The AAC and OGG codecs are noticeably better for low bitrates, 128 AAC sounds better than 128 mp3, but as the bitrate rises the differences between the codecs become very small.


Truth. I guess we will need to find out.

For science.

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Some years back I was in audio engineering school and during a test myself and a few others could hear the difference between 320kbs MP3 and WAV. 256kbs and below was easy. Nowadays 256kbs AAC sounds pretty good, but a difference is still audible. 16/44.1 to 24/96 or DSD is far easier.