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?


You guys are probably think I’m goofy but I’ve been experimenting with a bunch of different stuff. I went pretty deep down the DAC rabbit hole ending up with a $10,000 Meitner. Honestly it’s hard to tell the difference between that and a $2000 mytek. So I hooked up some older equipment I had that was made back in the early 90s by DBX. It’s called a 4BX expander and it really does expand the music. I don’t know how to explain it but it was designed to undo the compression I’m guessing they put into records back in the day. It does seem to have the same affect even after the music has been streamed to a DAC and then converted back to analog. 
Back to the conversation I find streaming much more enjoyable and much better sounding than the CDs that I have. I also thoroughly enjoy finding new music, there’s so much stuff I would’ve missed if I would’ve only stock with the CDs that I have.
Don’t worry about it. Just enjoy the music in the best format that is sensible.
If you're perfectionist, a Redbook copy printed onto a gold disk often sounds better than the original. If you like listening repeatedly that is probably the way to go. If you like sampling a big part of the  recorded music universe Qobuz is the best value.
Tidal meh!
A few points.

Your original post points out the reason there is such a vibrant market in streamers and other related hardware. From the very beginning the goal was to bring streaming up to the point of CD quality. There are a lot of factors that can affect the sound quality from streaming. People spend thousands of dollars on their streaming hardware to achieve better sound quality. CD player quality has plateaued at a very high level. Streaming is still catching up.

It is a fallacy that the files that the record companies give to the streaming services are more compressed than the original CDs. There are millions of songs on the major streaming services and it is physically and financially impossible for the record companies to remaster them for this purpose. They are too cheap and lazy to do this but the main question is why would they do it? They have nothing to gain from this exercise. The 30 year old 44.1/16 Santana file you hear on your CD is exactly the same as the 44.1/16 file on Tidal or Qobuz (MQA is a different story). This has been verified numerous times. If someone found that the original file had been corrupted by further compression it would be a major scandal that the streaming company couldn't live down.

The idea that Tidal or Qobuz would compress the files themselves is also ridiculous. Their whole business model is centered around offering CD quality through their premium streaming services.

I have burned several thousand CDs using dB Poweramp (FLAC, uncompressed) and I can tell you that in my system the ripped file sounds exactly like the CD played through the same DAC. I can also tell you that 320 bit files through Spotify sound exactly as you describe compared to the same CD title. They are two dimensional with less clarity and the difference is not subtle. I'm about to subscribe to Qobuz so I'll have an opportunity to compare its sound quality to the CD version.

My overall reaction to your experience at your son's place is that something is wrong. You shouldn't have heard such a dramatic difference. But pretty soon I'll see for myself.
Interestingly, the CDs I mentioned above, are all at least 15-20 years old and more.
Yes and the later the re-issues the more they get compressed as I’ve shown. And do you think the streaming/download companies are going to search for the used earlier harder to find releases?? (no I don’t think so)

28 years difference of the same thing and what happens to it the younger it is

Cheers George
Reading digits off a spinning disk has inherent errors up to 5 percent depending on the condition of the disk and the quality of the transport and laser.   Dacs essentially have to guess where the missing information is based on algorithms.   Once you had cheap enough buffers like the original ps audio rom systems the errors were gone.  Now with solid media the digits can be stored without error and served yo an asynchronous dac.  No matter how good your CD player is, the process is flawed and outdated.
now there are data issues when you rip your cds to memory that are probably not audible,
I have worked for 10 years as software developer on making CD test disc equipment, that is for example for CD pressing plants and CD drive manufacturers.

Not many has used the physical Red book or the different orange books, for implementing measurements parameters that verifies the wording in those from Sony and Philips.
So that drive manufacturers can make sure that they can play a disc that meets the standard. And that CD manufacturers can make sure that they make discs that fulfill the requirements/standard. In those books.

A CD drive and a CD disc use many techniques to ensure that the data is error free. Will not bore you with all of the technical details. One small example, there is in the red book standard that do not allowed there to be ANY  un-correctable errors at all.
That parameter is called in the industry for "E32". It must be 0 otherwise it is out of specification.

What happens when a drive can't correct a error (that is all happening BEFORE entering the DAC) on a scratched/bad CD disc and get E32.
It puts out a error and stops reading/playing the disc.

In other words there is not a single bit that is in error from the drive that is going to the DAC. All data is fine and correct. And if the data is not guaranteed to be OK then you don't get anything. (100% correct or nothing.)

So I don't know where the horrible and completely flawed, misinformation in the quote is coming from!