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Author Topic: How well do we hear?  (Read 995 times)
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timothy42b
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« on: Jan 05, 2017, 08:05PM »

I listened to this quiz on decent speakers from a stereo amp and still didn't do very well.

http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can-you-hear-audio-quality


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« Reply #1 on: Jan 05, 2017, 08:20PM »

I just tried the first one and I got it wrong.
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« Reply #2 on: Jan 05, 2017, 10:38PM »

Got 4 out of 6 right, but I think that was a flue.  I used headphones.
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« Reply #3 on: Jan 05, 2017, 10:59PM »

I got 4 out of 6, and guessed the other two completely wrong.

Basically, if you have good enough equipment, you can hear sibilance in high compression MP3s. Cymbals, strings, Ss in vocals, whatever. If there's only midrange to listen to (like a female voice solo, cello, etc) then there's few clues to get the bitrate from.

You can also hear congestion in heavily orchestrated tracks, like the Coldplay. That was cake.
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« Reply #4 on: Jan 06, 2017, 04:55AM »

My daughter came in and listened to the last one, and she got it wrong too. 

She suggested I get out the good headphones and try that way.  Good idea, I'll do that tonight, but!  I think the point is made.

If I'm not hearing the difference on decent speakers, then the difference is going to vanish completely in most listening environments.  mp3 is good enough. 
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« Reply #5 on: Jan 06, 2017, 05:12AM »

I used good-quality headphones and I got a perfect score! I got them ALL wrong. lol Not only did I get them ALL wrong, every choice I made was THE file with the least fidelity, or lowest rate of compression.

What does that tell me? It tells me that I am used to listening to crap so much that I have gotten to like it <sigh>. OR maybe it explains why I like used vinyl albums over crisp, clean CD's! I like the noise and clutter. It's a lot more organic than cold, sterile perfection. Perhaps that is why - of all the albums I have - I like the live performance recordings the best.

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« Reply #6 on: Jan 06, 2017, 05:28AM »

I used good-quality headphones and I got a perfect score! I got them ALL wrong. lol Not only did I get them ALL wrong, every choice I made was THE file with the least fidelity, or lowest rate of compression.

What does that tell me? It tells me that I am used to listening to crap so much that I have gotten to like it <sigh>.
...Geezer

That's one possible conclusion, but it wasn't mine. 

My conclusion was that they are so close to each other I wasn't capable of reliably telling them apart. 

Did you really prefer those?  and could hear a clear difference?  if so, you hear much better than I.  I was guessing.  I guessed mostly wrong. 
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« Reply #7 on: Jan 06, 2017, 05:33AM »

That's one possible conclusion, but it wasn't mine. 

My conclusion was that they are so close to each other I wasn't capable of reliably telling them apart. 

Did you really prefer those?  and could hear a clear difference?  if so, you hear much better than I.  I was guessing.  I guessed mostly wrong. 

You ignored the more important conclusion I made and made it seem like the first conclusion was the important one. That's how things get spun in the media.

...Geezer
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« Reply #8 on: Jan 06, 2017, 06:57AM »

That was fun, only got one right, but pretty slick....Thanks for posting.

I remember hearing an interview many years ago with Neil Young where he said the Digital technology never developed the quality it promised...I happy to see vinyl is big with the youth today...
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« Reply #9 on: Jan 06, 2017, 07:34AM »

That was fun, only got one right, but pretty slick....Thanks for posting.

I remember hearing an interview many years ago with Neil Young where he said the Digital technology never developed the quality it promised...I happy to see vinyl is big with the youth today...

I don't know that there actually IS a "right" or "wrong" answer. It's not a hearing test. It's a perception test to demonstrate - apparently - what we prefer - one over the other(s).

I have no remorse over choosing mostly the low-compression answers. If it's what I like, who is to say that I am "wrong"? There's no accounting for taste. lol

...Geezer
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« Reply #10 on: Jan 06, 2017, 07:46AM »

I don't know that there actually IS a "right" or "wrong" answer. It's not a hearing test. It's a perception test to demonstrate - apparently - what we prefer - one over the other(s).

I have no remorse over choosing mostly the low-compression answers. If it's what I like, who is to say that I am "wrong"? There's no accounting for taste. lol

...Geezer

I may have explained myself badly.

If you prefer one format over another, I'm fine with that.  (I can even accept that some people like the clicks, hiss, distortion, poor noise floor and lack of dynamic contrast of vinyl.)

That assumes you can tell the difference between the three formats in this test. 

I am skeptical that most people can.  I could not, at least under the conditions I tested them in - a normal living room with the output of a laptop through a decent but not audiophile level stereo. 

If you listened to this on laptop speakers and claim to tell the difference, and prefer one over the other, well, I hate to offend but I'm going to call you a liar. 

If I repeat the test with good headphones and I can tell the difference, I'm going to conclude that for all practical purposes there is no difference.  In fact, I am pleasantly surprised at how good mp3 is, even the low sampling rate version. 
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« Reply #11 on: Jan 06, 2017, 07:57AM »

I may have explained myself badly.

If you prefer one format over another, I'm fine with that.  (I can even accept that some people like the clicks, hiss, distortion, poor noise floor and lack of dynamic contrast of vinyl.)

That assumes you can tell the difference between the three formats in this test. 

I am skeptical that most people can.  I could not, at least under the conditions I tested them in - a normal living room with the output of a laptop through a decent but not audiophile level stereo. 

If you listened to this on laptop speakers and claim to tell the difference, and prefer one over the other, well, I hate to offend but I'm going to call you a liar. 

If I repeat the test with good headphones and I can tell the difference, I'm going to conclude that for all practical purposes there is no difference.  In fact, I am pleasantly surprised at how good mp3 is, even the low sampling rate version. 

I believe that is a fair analysis. And I believe this test serves some proof that the vast majority of people can not tell the difference. That said, my wife consistently chose the wave file. OBTW: she always tells me what a nice sound I have when I play and can hear a big difference in mouthpieces when I do a test. Lol So it's reassuring to me that she has agreed with my mouthpiece/horn combo choice.  :D

...Geezer
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« Reply #12 on: Jan 06, 2017, 08:20AM »

And we can't see straight either.

I recall a study where, at typical viewing distances, most people couldn't tell the difference between HD and SD television.
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« Reply #13 on: Jan 06, 2017, 09:24AM »

My daughter came in and listened to the last one, and she got it wrong too. 

She suggested I get out the good headphones and try that way.  Good idea, I'll do that tonight, but!  I think the point is made.

If I'm not hearing the difference on decent speakers, then the difference is going to vanish completely in most listening environments.  mp3 is good enough. 

Only one of those was classical music.  I found that one easy to pick.  The more electronic bits there are in the signal, the less my ear has to go on.  I do not listen to much of the kinds of music this had most samples of.  I listen to whatever big band I can find that is NOT over mic'd (very little of that out there), classical music, with a good deal of that chamber music.

For 75% of the time I'm listening to these, I would be hard-put to finger an mp3 version from wav.  The remaining 25%, though, is all the high-contrast stuff I REALLY care about.  Subtle pianissimo, sudden fierce piano chords, orchesral tutti's surrounded by quiet soli's... THESE are the places I can almost ALWAYS tell an mp3 from the rest.  Recently I've been surprised by how much difference is clearly audible in SACD higher-bitrate vs "redbook" CDs on my modest speaker setup.  I have Rachael Podger leading her group on Vivaldi's "La Stravaganza" in both formats.  The SACD keeps the excitement but is less tiring to listen to. 

Sorry.  MP3 is NOT good enough.  Not for what I care most about. 

BTW: most Windows laptops do not have very good digital to analog converters.  That can filter out a lot of aural clues before you even get to the stereo system.
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« Reply #14 on: Jan 06, 2017, 09:57AM »

...
If you listened to this on laptop speakers and claim to tell the difference, and prefer one over the other, well, I hate to offend but I'm going to call you a liar. 
...
I'm going to pick a nit here...  I've been playing with this quite a bit on several different setups and the track selection does matter a bit.  I can repeatably nail the vocal only track on every device I have.  It is hard, but I can repeatably identify that one without error.  Next best for me are the classical track and the coldplay.  The Jay-Z and Katy Perry?  I have yet to find a readily available setup that I can correctly identify all three versions of each on.  In fairness, I don't have my recording headphones with me nor a good set of monitors.  I find myself easy to trick on the Neil Young.  Not sure why, but I keep mis ordering that one, but not because I don't think there is a difference.

That said, I long ago determined that MP3 was good enough for 99% plus of the music I take in.  I have a near constant soundtrack to my life, and unless I'm sitting down to study something, MP3 works for that purpose.

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« Reply #15 on: Jan 06, 2017, 10:54AM »

I know the high frequencies of my hearing are shot, probably from years of sitting in front of Trumpets.  I was really unable to tell a difference between the 3 formats. In many cases I picked the lowest bit rate (but I was really guessing).  I did use a good set of headphones, but I'm guessing that even with Studio monitor quality speakers I wouldn't be able to tell reliably. 
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« Reply #16 on: Jan 06, 2017, 11:40AM »

there seems to be debate about whether hearing range loss is normal as you get older or merely very common due to our noisy environment.

But here's a scary chart




Too many jazz band rehearsals with trumpets in your ears.



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Robert Holmén

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« Reply #17 on: Jan 06, 2017, 11:41AM »

BTW: most Windows laptops do not have very good digital to analog converters.  That can filter out a lot of aural clues before you even get to the stereo system.

Bingo.

An online test is probably the worst way to compare this.

The way to compare this properly:

Get Vinyl, CD, SACD AIFF, AAC, MP4, AAC, and MP3 versions of the song or songs you want to compare.  Different bit rate versions of files (like for MP3 for example) can be compared if you want. I recommend an album like "Kind Of Blue" because of it's easy availability in all formats. It needs to be something you're extremely familiar with. You'll also want the same version/remaster of each one.

Listen to each one through the same set of high quality speakers - some studio quality flat response speakers will be best, but as long as you're playing everything through the same good quality set it'll be okay. You may want to run each through an amplifier or mixing board to make sure you're playing all the tracks at the same level.
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« Reply #18 on: Jan 06, 2017, 07:23PM »

Got 3 out of 6 on crappy computer speakers.  The classical one was easiest.  On the 3 I got wrong, I only picked the MP3 once.
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« Reply #19 on: Jan 06, 2017, 08:07PM »

I used some basic plug in headphones, not earphones. I got 2 out of 6, but I could always pick out the lower quality mp3, but the higher quality and the uncompressed were so similar that I could barely hear a difference. My conclusion? If it sounds good then I will add it to my playlist, and if I was looking for any of these 6 songs, I would be happy finding any of the 3 versions, mainly because even the low-quality one isn't poorly made. It's not covered in static or taken on a cell phone in the audience at the back. So I suppose I learned that my tastes lean more towards production quality than actual audio quality.
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« Reply #20 on: Jan 06, 2017, 08:56PM »

3 out of 6 on crappy $10 external computer speakers

I agree with Geezer to some extent, I kind of like the grainy sound on some older recordings, and sometimes the "purity" of modern recordings sounds out of place and something usually seems off about them. I take it you also can't tell teh difference between HD and 4K? I can barely notice a difference between the 480p TV I grew up watching 10 years ago and our HD TVs we have today. 4K I can tell, but like the wav file, something looks off about them. Everything seems surreal, which is why watching a 4K screen for more than about 20 minutes makes my eyes hurt.
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« Reply #21 on: Jan 07, 2017, 05:36AM »

While this comment may seem off-topic, it really is similar. Have you seen the latest & greatest HDTV's - the ones with the curved screens? I have - and not to sound old-fashioned, but I don't like them. The picture is TOO sharp. It looks exactly like what it is - actors in a studio somewhere. And it is my understanding that those new TVs come with user-controlled settings to re-adjust the pic back to where "regular" HDTV sets are tuned.

I think the above makes the point that sometimes a recording can be TOO perfect. Fine for classical music, maybe but not so much for other genres where a more organic sound is preferred. What do I mean by "organic"? Messy. Alive. Imperfect. Just like the real world. And it's why I like vinyl, although at last count, I have well over 10,000 MP3 music files.

...Geezer
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« Reply #22 on: Jan 07, 2017, 05:49AM »

I dug out my old pair of Koss Pro4As.

I was able to get 2/6 right.  I got the classical one, and the Neil Young one that had orchestral backing.  The other 4 I guessed and guessed wrong.

It might be that I know much better what orchestral instruments should sound like.  With rock guitar I don't know if there is deliberate distortion being faithfully reproduced, versus distortion introduced later.  Or, I might be giving myself too much credit for lucky guesses. 

I did learn that these three formats are much closer than I would have predicted.  For acoustical environments like a car and for popular music there seems no advantage to the higher quality. 
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« Reply #23 on: Jan 07, 2017, 06:00AM »

I dug out my old pair of Koss Pro4As.

I was able to get 2/6 right.  I got the classical one, and the Neil Young one that had orchestral backing.  The other 4 I guessed and guessed wrong.

It might be that I know much better what orchestral instruments should sound like.  With rock guitar I don't know if there is deliberate distortion being faithfully reproduced, versus distortion introduced later.  Or, I might be giving myself too much credit for lucky guesses. 

I did learn that these three formats are much closer than I would have predicted.  For acoustical environments like a car and for popular music there seems no advantage to the higher quality. 

Notice that although I highlighted what I want to comment on in red, I re-quoted the whole post, so others may see the context of the highlighted part.

Anyway, the advantage I see in storing music files as original waves is that once a wave is ripped down to MP3 file format, information is forever lost. If the MP3 is then blown back up to a wave, it's not the same wave. My analogy is a ball of yarn. Cut a piece of yarn off and it can never be made a part of the original ball of string again. Do that enough times to the ball of yarn and you are left with useless little pieces. Similarly, pass an MP3 file around where each user blows it up to a wave before compressing it again to MP3 format to pass it along. What is very quickly the result? Same as 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc generation photocopies of a document.

...Geezer
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« Reply #24 on: Jan 07, 2017, 07:52AM »

I dug out my old pair of Koss Pro4As.

I was able to get 2/6 right.  I got the classical one, and the Neil Young one that had orchestral backing.  The other 4 I guessed and guessed wrong.

It might be that I know much better what orchestral instruments should sound like.  With rock guitar I don't know if there is deliberate distortion being faithfully reproduced, versus distortion introduced later.  Or, I might be giving myself too much credit for lucky guesses. 

I did learn that these three formats are much closer than I would have predicted.  For acoustical environments like a car and for popular music there seems no advantage to the higher quality. 

Starting at the bottom:I agree about how important the environment is.  Heck, in a car with normal road noise (i.e. not a top line Mercedes, for example) even a cassette is usually good enough.  But then we get into even more psychoacoustics than the old Bell Labs studies that showed how non-linear hearing is.  I hate to state the obvious, but the more you listen, the more you hear.  And that's not a fixed point in development.  If you practice listening very hard to music and KNOW where the artifacts of lossy compression are most likely, you'll hear them more easily.  It's like birdwatching... the little gray dot you just saw flitter out of sight showed markings I know to look for that tell ME it's a male ruby crowned kinglet.  A non-bicyclist sees a bicycle flash past and it's just a bicycle; a bike-nut sees, in that flash, vintage Campagnolo derailleurs mismatched with Stronglight 107 Campy look-alikes and first generation Universal side-pull brakes.  We don't just see what we are looking for: we see what we learn to look for as well.  That's actually just basic survival: the corollary is that we do NOT see what we do NOT look for, and with so much in our environment, being able to filter out things is as important as filtering in.

Your second point, and Geezer's notes about video, bring up another point: what we are comparing against.  If everything we see on the screen is shot from something we see every day, we will have one way at assessing how good the picture is.  Those of us who are more familiar with a live, unreinforced music ensemble will have different auditory expectations than those who spend all their time with synthesized, processed, amplified sound.  If you go to a recording forum you'll see plenty of discussion about the exact microphone to use to capture the "right" sound from an electric guitar speaker cabinet with all the "correct" distortion(s) reproduced with complete fidelity.  That gets really interesting when the electric guitarist has spent too many years in front of loud speaker cabinets without hearing protection: the balance that sounds right to their damaged and now frequency challenged hearing will be shrill to less damaged ears, so what IS the sound we're listening for?

Your first point, the good o'l Koss Pro 4A headphones, brings back such fond memories!  I remember sitting next to a Roberts cross-field head 15 ips reel-to-reel with a pair of those on.  They were mighty good for their time, but that Roberts (Craig in USA) had a pretty hefty headphone amp circuit.  For point of interest, maybe try the test with those hitched right to your computer, then to your stereo amp.  The heirarchy in my systems are, lowest sound quality to highest: Android tablet stereo jack; MacBook Pro stereo jack; Onkyo receiver/HDMI switch; external headphone amp with unbalanced headphone connection; same external amp with balanced headphone connection.  I'm pretty sure that if you ran the Koss right off your computer you'd get pretty poor high and low frequency response.  Although my MacBook stereo out has a pretty decent DAC, the amp is pretty weak and has a very poor impedence match with my headphones, hence the low position in the hierarchy. 

Regarding Geezer's post: his expansion/recompression example brought me back to the old reel-to-reel again :)  I can almost feel the grimace on my face as each new "generation" of tape edits added more junk on top of the original signal.  With tape the answer is to NOT create a new generation unless there is no other option.  Noise from added generations is more noticeable than well made splices.

With mp3 the answer is to not go there until you are done editing.  So, even though it's tons of disk space, save all the play-alongs in lossless formats.  Once they are mixed with playing and the overdubs are done, save the whole mess in mp3. 

That being said, though, using HIGH sample mp3 instead of WAV for the first background play-along input, and recording all build layers in lossless, then mixing back down to mp3, is unlikely to sound much different from starting with WAV formats.  That's much more like the tape approach of using splices and whatever to avoid getting yet another tape generation.  Keep track of how many you've done and you never get to the 5th photocopy of a photocopy.
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« Reply #25 on: Jan 07, 2017, 09:59AM »

I think that I could learn to beat the test.

That is, I could identify a sound at some frequency that would be a marker, distinctively enough different from the others that I would not be guessing any more. 

I'm not sure how relevant that would be for the actual listening experience in totality.

Out of curiosity, I took a couple of those online hearing tests this morning.  My midrange hearing is okay.  12 kHz and above are completely gone.  8k is down 30 dB, and 4k down about half that. 

Last time I did this in 2010 4k was okay and 8k down about half, so I seem to be having some progressive age related hearing attenuation in the upper frequencies.  The first time I tried I could hear 16k, but that's long ago.  I'm mid 60s now, some of this is to be expected. 
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