CD Quality Versus Streaming Quality

I realize this will be a contentious subject, and far be it from me to challenge any of the many expert opinions on this forum, but if I may offer my feedback vis-a-vis what I am hearing, and gain some knowledge in the process.

i will begin saying that my digital front end setup is not state of the art, but i have had the good fortune to listen to a number of really high-end systems. I guess the number one deficit in my digital front end is a streamer server, and no question about it that will improve the sound.

My CD player is a universal player; Pioneer BDP-09fd. It uses Wolfson DACs. It has been modified to a degree. I have bought and sold other players, but kept this one, because it has a beautiful sound that serves the music well.

Recently, i ventured over to my son’s place and we hooked up my player (he doesn’t have one and rely’s on streaming only) We compared tracks / albums of CD quality and master quality streamed on Tidal with ‘redbook’ CDs I have. For example, some Lee Ritenaur CDs and some Indian classical and the wonderful Mozart and Chopin.
His system is highly resolving.

we were both very surprised to find the CDs played on the player to be the better sound. And not just by a little. The sound was clearly superior, with higher resolution and definition, spatial ques, much better and clearer imaging. Very surprising indeed. Shouldn’t there be no difference? This would suggest the streaming service is throttling the bandwidth or compressing the signal?

i am most interested to hear others’ observations, and suggestions as to why this might be? I do love the convenience aspect of streaming, but it IS expensive for a chap like me of fairly modest means. The Tidal HiFi topline service is $30 per month I believe, something the good lady is not too thrilled about. God forbid I should suggest Roon on top of that I may likely get my walking papers. I jest, but only partially LoL. My point is, if I pay this sort of money, isn’t it fair to expect sound to equal the digital stream from the CD player and silver disc?


A couple of issues to consider in your listening test with your son’s system.

1. From my experience, Tidal is the worst sounding of all of the major streaming services. My impressions of the sound quality of streaming services is:
1. Qobuz
2. Primephonic
3. Spotify Premium (320 kbps Ogg Vorbis which is not lossless)
5. Amazon HD
6 Tidal

2. Analog noise in the form of EMI and RFI has a major impact on the sound of digital. What source did he use for streaming? If it was a PC or Mac that could be a reason why streaming sounds much worse.

Now I will admit that I replay digital music from both local files and streamed through Qobuz (and some Spotify Premium). Local files DO still sound better to me presumably because local files attached to my streamer have a shorter signal path to my amplifier than files streamed via the Internet going through Comcast’s cables through my WiFi router, etc. BUT, I found that these changes that I’ve made to my streaming signal path all have made a noticeable improvement in sound quality to a degree that streaming music is quite enjoyable.
1. Switching from WiFi on my streamer to Ethernet via a TP-Link RE230 WiFi extender
2. Switching from an AmazonBasics Cat 6 cable to a Supra Cat 8 Ethernet cable (~$70)
3. Adding an Audioquest Jitterbug noise filter onto the USB output from my streamer
4. Using a Stordiau Lush USB cable (~$200)
5. Using a Shunyata Venom power cable ($135) on my DAC
6. Linear power supply instead of a switch mode power supply for a streamer. I haven’t tried this yet because my Pro-ject streamer is supposed to benefit less from this change.

The reason why all of these changes have improved the sound is because they help block EMI/RFI from getting into the signal path. As I heard, Darren Myers, analog engineer at PS Audio, say on his Hi Fi Podcast just this morning: Getting digital audio to sound good requires more than just plug-and-play. Every component in the digital signal path can matter and setting up digital audio for good sound is as complex as setting up a turntable and cartridge.

My perspective is that even if you can’t get streaming to sound quite as good as CDs, the ability to hear all sorts of new music is really fantastic.
CD vs streaming quality 

CDs use land and pit to read the impressions (grooves) made by a laser as 0s and 1s. 

Streaming with Wi-Fi is pretty good. New iterations of Bluetooth 5.0 that include other codecs above 320kbps may sound identical to CD quality for the average person.

A good CD player can match or best many DACs out there. CD players don't have the same latency problems/EMI that DACs have. If your CD player is really good, you should be able to seek (go forward or backwards) instantaneously; where the track dial is very fast.

With CDs, there is no additional software, cables, or programs to worry about. Anything within this chain could change sound quality for better or worse.

A good example - foobar vs Jriver. They don't sound alike when configured (options) at all.

I just don’t get it, those pro to streaming/downloading just don’t see this??.
Or are they that blinded by streaming/downloading now they just can’t bear to look at it to see what’s happening to the uncompressed/dynamic music they once loved.

I had many audiophiles friends that don’t come to our Audio Society club meetings anymore, that had mega systems and cd collections and have gone by the way side now after selling their music collection and stream now through far more mediocre systems.

Cheers George
That's sad. Why do so many praise streaming then? I guess it's for the convenience.
I think maybe it’s because they sold all their thousands of CD’s to go that way and now there’s no return.
But I’ve noted many never sit still on the streamers they always complain about something it or the streaming company not being right and want better with it.

Cheers George