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Listening tests reveal significant sound quality differences between various digital music storage technologies. Article By Andrew Harrison and Stephen N. Harris.
Press 'play' on the remote control, and the chosen music selection sounds out into the room, sweet and clear. However, instead of a revolving record or compact disc, that music is now preserved as a digital snapshot, stored around the home on computer hard disks, perhaps a specific music track among tens of thousands that are randomly accessible in an instant. A decade or two ago, it would have been science fiction — but now sofa-punishing levels of convenience allow us to hear any music in our collection, without so much as opening a jewel case.
However, computer network audio is about rather more than convenience. It has as much to do with consistency, arguably more so than the 'perfect sound forever' CD ever did. Once favorite CDs have been carefully ripped into a stateless digital form — hopefully using software respected for its fastidious bit-accurate transcriptions — we just need somewhere safe to store all that data. The same goes for higher resolution material we may have archived from recordings or downloaded from online 'HD music' sites. For playback, the initial sound quality will presumably be determined by high quality D-A conversion and subsequent analogue replay chain.
Problem is, the sound of 'bit-identical' computer audio may well be just as inexplicably inconsistent as analogue. High-end audio has long been affected by seemingly insignificant environmental factors; and as we move further towards hard-disk — and, ultimately, solid-state — storage, we're discovering that another variable can unhinge the final musical experience. Only this time, there are …..