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?


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
For equally quality systems, in general, a red book CD is indistinguishable from the streamed version on my system. This was true for my previous system as well. Perhaps there are a few that have different files being used… but that is an exception not the rule. if I absolutely love some late 1950’s jazz I’ll pull out my vinyl copy, which gives me the last word in fidelity.

I use Qobuz, but used to use Tidal. This is not a question of one sounds terrible… they sound very similar… you would have to spend a lot of time to come up communicable differences, your equipment choices are going to make much bigger differences. But Qobuz has more high resolution titles. The high resolutions versions generally sound better than red book. But the most determinant factor of how good the sound is, is mastering. I frequently lift my head and go, “wow, what a spectacular recording”. About half the time it is a red book cd quality.

So, with good equipment, streaming just trounces a CD player. Not for every album sounding better, though many do, but for opening up the whole world of music and much of it higher Rez. Most importantly you can stop re-listening to the same stuff, because “you own it”. It opens up the whole world of music! I occasionally listen to something again… but nothing like I used to. The streaming interface lets you “collect”the stuff you want to re-listen to so it is easy to find. And, you have to… I probably listen to three new albums a day.

So, if you are going to put effort into digital, put it in streaming. It is what you are most likely to be listening to for the rest of your life… that and vinyl (if you are into that). Well done streaming is going to sound the same or better, but open up the world of music. I have 2,000 CDs working as a diffuser on a side wall… and dust collector.