Are 96/24 Downloads Better Than CDs?

March 24, 2012

Shown below are the waveform and frequency response graphs for the CD version of Hotel California by the Eagles.  Note that the peak level is -2.84dB.

For comparison sake, I have “normalized” the gain of the CD version, increasing the overall gain by 2.84dB so that the peak level is 0.00dB, just like that of the 96/24 download.   This is the equivalent of reaching over and turning up the volume control.

Now let’s take a look at the waveform and frequency response graphs for the 96/24 version of the same song downloaded from HDtracks.  Note that the peak level here is 0.00dB too, just like the normalized CD version shown above.

So, which do you prefer – wide dynamic range with high frequency response limited to 22,050Hz (CD), or crushed dynamic range and severe peak limiting with high frequency response which extends beyond 22,050Hz (96/24)?

I can’t hear above 22,050Hz, so I’ll take the CD version any day.  I’ve compared the two, and the CD really does sound better.

Note that by crushing the dynamic range in the 96/24 version, the advantage of 24-bit sampling – wider dynamic range – is completely eliminated.

Of course this is just one example. Many 96/24 recordings will be superior to the CD version technically and/or by virtue of better re-mastering. Problem is you won’t know until you have bought and paid for them. Life is so uncertain.

- Frank Berryman