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Why We Can't Compare Different Audio Formats

Audio Basis - articles about audio

Audio format comparison is inspired by an aspiration to find the best way to bring recorded music. Compared recordings are made from single analog source at best. In the worst case, compared sound files are converted from one format to another. Here the author wants to discuss why the comparison is the permanent "war".

In most cases, the comparison is performed via audition. Alternatively, and it's more correctly, in the author's opinion, it's recordings comparing via instrumental measurements. The difference between these ways is out of the article.

So, what do we compare actually?

May 4, 2023 updated | since March 4, 2016

Author: Yuri Korzunov,
Audiophile Inventory's developer with 25+ year experience in digital signal processing,
author of the articles that make audio easy for beginners
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Comparison of audio formats


Can we compare two audio files?

We can compare two audio files:

  1. as digital audio content;
  2. as binary audio content;
  3. by listening.

In the first case, we content is compared via spectral analizys and other instrumental ways.

In the second, case we can check identity of binary content only.


Watch and share: Example: FLAC vs. WAV binary comparison
video FLAC vs WAV

In the third case, we should provide the same listening conditions.




What's really compared when we consider DSD versus PCM?

DSD vs. PCM comparision


Actually, the formats here are only the middle parts of a full sound system. They are "a file in DSD" and "a file in PCM".

For this case, we try to compare only the middle parts. But the rest system parts define the result too: ADCs (analog-to-digital converter) and DACs (digital-to-analog converter), processing methods.

We compare two absolutely different systems. And result depends on the implementation of each set. We may get a better result for DSD system. And we may get better results for PCM one in another test.


High resolution vs. CD

Here we'll consider what really compared in CD vs. High Resolution comparison.

How to compare audio files?
CD vs. High Resolution Audio. How to compare audio files


First, we don't know the actual format of ADC and music production project. Even a single ADC can sound differently in various modes. The mode here means combination of sample rate and bit depth combination.

Second, we don't know how the music production project was converted to 44/16. Or non-converted.

Third, our DAC can work in a different mode for high resolution and 44/16 input audio streams.

Here we again compare two various systems.



Fully correct, from a techical point of view, comparison between different audio formats is impossible for cases considered above.

The format of audio file is only part of a system.

For these cases, we can compare only full systems that are placed between analog source and analog signal restored from digital data.

And we can compare the quality of the full systems, but not the audio formats as formats.


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