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?


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George - I agree with you on some things you mention here, but you're confusing file compression with music compression and they are two very different things. (Both have their place with music - but they're very different.) 

File compression allows you to zip a file to reduce it's size, or in music terms, it allows you to convert a raw 44/16 (or other - default CD quality)  file to a smaller file by eliminating "unneeded" portions of a song. A standard CD will play at something like 1024 - vs. an MP3 file at 128kb/s. The Bruce Springsteen album you reference from Qobuz is their hi-res 192/24 format - or roughly 4x the bandwidth the original would have used. (They're actually taking up far more bandwidth/ sending far more data for - what I agree with you - is a far poorer sounding mix.) 

Music compression on the other hand deals with the difference between the very loudest part of a song - to the most quiet in terms of DB level. That's the dynamic range - and what the website you cite, is talking about. It's a complaint about how modern music / sound engineers mix music that far less dynamic range - in terms of loud to soft - today than in the past. 

And, there are arguments for both. Is it what the artist originally intended? For older music, absolutely not! They meant for you to "lean in" and listen closer to the soft part of the music or vocals. But with kids 40 and younger today, with earbuds, and headphones, and car stereo systems, and Alexa speakers being used, it makes sense to form a better - more compressed, volume level so that you're not blowing out the ears of people or having to crank the volume up to hear the soft parts of a song, only to then have your ears blown out with the next song. 

I also can't speak to "clocks" in music - I have no idea - but with respect to data - bit perfect, data - I am a senior systems engineer and trust me when I say this, with even a poor network system today, bit perfect data can be delivered with ease. No matter the cables being used, or whatever linier power supply you think might be the weak part of the chain, it's absurd to suggest that digital anything will deliver "noise" to your system short of some kind of ground loop or malfunctioning equipment. CD transports costing 2k, or 5k, or 20k - I'm sorry to say this - but without an internal dac being used, will have zero affect on the sound. A $20, cheap sony CD player, is more than capable of delivering bit perfect data to your external DAC. (Now, if you're dac is internal to your transport - that certainly can make a difference.... but if you're using a strict transport, I can prove over and over and over again - it is absolute bit perfect data that is being exported to your dac no matter what device is used and will make zero difference to the music.) 

So to the original OP - my guess is that it was a difference in configuration or a setting that might have been off - certainly the dac WILL have an impact on the sound, so I'd recommend connecting a digital out on your transport, checking your settings to ensure you're streaming the same thing, and then re-doing the test. Because coming through the same DAC should be identical sound (WITH the caveat that George points out too - provided they're the exact same mix/ release of the album.) 

And again - to be totally clear with you George, I see and understand, and even agree with your point. Compressed Dynamic Range of music - yeah - it does suck when I'm trying to get that "audiophile" experience at home on my system. But in the car, or waiting for an uber, or jogging, it's nice to have that volume compression so my ears don't blow out between songs or between parts of songs. 

Wrapping all of this up - as a 40 year old, I have had the honor to live through the most dynamic changes ever witnessed for music (Short of when people had to attend live venues to ever hear music and instead, could listen at their home.) I had tapes in the car, and vinyl/ radio at home, and then CD's for both, and lived through sharing music on Napster, to what has flourished into bit perfect, steaming, uncompressed audio. And, we are at, what I think might be the last stage of music, but absolute, perfect surround music with Apple and Tidal introducing Atmos music. (it's game changing with the right setup and a well mastered mix.) So many audiophiles experienced that transition when music went from mono to stereo - and my generation is now experiencing that same change with surround. And, mixers today, despite having compressed volume, are getting there - we have settled on a great digital form, a standard, that hasn't existed for decades. 

Compressed Dynamic Range of music - yeah - it does suck when I’m trying to get that "audiophile" experience at home on my system. But in the car, or waiting for an uber, or jogging, it’s nice to have that volume compression so my ears don’t blow out between songs or between parts of songs.
Totally agree, "music compression" it has no place in hi-end audio. Neither do these later re-issue compressed albums that they stream/download, it’s done to drown out background noise in the car or walking/ipod and to be able to hear the quite passages with a jack hammer going a few feet away.

George - I agree with you on some things you mention here, but you’re confusing file compression with music compression and they are two very different things.
Yes I know they are two different things (worded it wrong).
I would "if" I downloaded to a HD would want whatever I purchased to be original size, not zipped up into a smaller package.
If I streamed and played it live I would also want it original which I think it has to be? or does it de-compress while playing?.
But "the biggie", I would very much want the "least compressed issue" of what I bought by knowing it’s provenance, so I can check to see if it’s had it’s "life squashed out of it" on the DRDB site, before buying it.

BTW Just got a used Rickie Lee Jones Pop Pop cd for $5, amazing, extremely dynamic album, shame about the album cover though.
Looks like she doesn’t allow compression of any sort even with re-issues, then it was late 90’s and later it started to happen.

Cheers George
I am a huge RLJ fan.  Yes that release sounds great streaming like many of the female vocalists I listen to on Qobuz. 
This is a very interesting topic and many of the points discussed thus far are valid. Its hard to deny that streaming won’t be going away and will (is) be the standard delivery model going forward.

Being this hobby comprises the smallest fraction of the overall streaming user base / listing base, influencing this model would appear to be difficult.

I think in its current form with the likes of Qobuz and other high-quality services (audiophile centric) it’s hard if not impossible to state streaming is worse than one’s local version. Meaning, it’s always about provenance / mastering version.

Of my 4k local albums that I have curated (1k are SACD’s) some of them are not the best version and Qobuz may have a better version, which I have on numerous redbook’s discovered. So how does one digest that? I’m certainly not going back through my entire library and comparing each one of them to the Qobuz version for example.  However, on my favorites / must have’s, I will hunt down the best version.

I have not been a streaming fan and sort of refused to use it in my big rig. One of the reasons is to purchase and support the musicians since they get squat on the streaming model. However, after much optimizing of my network (vlans, dedicated audio network and devices etc..) I have slowly begun to use it (Qobuz) off and on. My chain is dedicated Linux roon core (that is all it does), dedicated HQP wkst to upsample to DSD which then outputs via fiber Ethernet to optical rendu > DAC.

It’s getting harder to tell the difference on some tunes, I still prefer my local library most of the time, but I can’t in any sane way, listen to only my older music? Much of the new music/genre I listen to is mixed/mastered in high quality and many times I purchase their (artists) digital download

I will point out though my context is digital (e.g. ripped redbook/SACD’s/high quality purchased downloads) and I don’t have a high end CDP for reference. Maybe I am missing out in that respect? I am curious how that would sound, but much of this comes down to priorities. Spending 2-4k on a CDP isn’t gonna happen.

Getting the most out of ones rig is so massively dependent on room and spkr setup. Once you get that sorta dialed in, you’re in a much better place then not having put the time into that.