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?


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.
I agree that a streaming setup will never have optimal SQ until RFI/EMI is lowered or eliminated. 
The coax cable coming into the house carries with it high levels of RFI, then plugs into a modem/router which generates RFI/EMI to the audio system.
A few members here have experienced improvement by using a LPS on their routers rather than the wall-wart which adds noise from the mains and from the SMPS device itself.

I chose a different way to go by using a power conditioner with RFI/EMI filtering with my router. The improvement in SQ was most audible, the lower noise-floor being the major upgrade.

So, if you are going to put effort into digital, put it in streaming.

Trouble is very good chance your not going to get the uncompressed original releases of your last 30 years of favorites. You get the re-released later compressed ones, as I’ve shown.
Unless your very young and don’t listen to anything over a couple of years old like us old farts, as it’s all compressed these days and you have no reference to hear it uncompressed.

What would be great is a streaming company that "says" it will only stream the uncompressed old 1st releases of the music, with no extra compressing on their part to save streaming space, this could then be called
                                 "The Audiophile Streaming/Downloading Site"

Cheers George
Post removed 
Thanks all for your excellent feedback.


- We tested the BDP-09FD’s internal Wolfson DACs, and feeding the digital signal using Coax digital cable to the Expert Pro 220’s own ‘magic’ DAC. I guess I just like the sound of my player’s DAC too much. Both were really excellent. Listening to CDs from Fourplay, Bob James, Stanley Jordon and more, in each instance the results were unambiguous. The CD yielded a superior sound to mine and my son’s ears. I hate to use superlatives, but the difference was dramatic. The sound from the player / disc was altogether clearer, more consise, fuller, bigger, more effortless / less strained even when the decibels were increased to loud levels, to say nothing of definition and detail especially in the upper mid / treble hf region. Low  level listening was more resolved too. 
Mastering92 brings up interesting points re; latency and EMI. George, I think your point on mastering is very intriguing also. I will investigate.

I do understand that a full non-compressed stream should sound no different in quality between different digital formats using like DACs / amps etc. Again my streaming setup is not complete, lacking a good streamer server, although in my son’s system both Tidal and qobuz run optimally on the Devialet Expert Pro 220.