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?


If you have a high quality dac ,and very good streamer
a key to help ensure noise is at its minimum

All this means "nothing" when the music you stream or download is compressed, as shown, in the last few pages, have you read them??
No amount of money spent can help that.

Cheers George
+1 on Qobuz. I listened to Tidal for about a year and I can absolutely tell a difference on both my systems. Actually I still have Tidal since I bought a year subscription. I have tried switching back and forth. Most Qobuz songs have more depth and body to the sound. A good DAC also makes a big difference. I’ve compared Qobuz with a good DAC to CDs on Oppo and Marantz players. CD is either just the slightest better or indistinguishable. 
4afsanakhan: I can completely understand why you heard the difference given the tests you ran. Airplay compresses and downmixes music to about 1/4 of what the original is - it is not a bit-perfect stream and it is not lossless. (It is very good - but with good ears - and a good system - and to know what to listen for - it's very easy to tell the difference and it is indeed inferior.) Test 2 - MQA is NOT a lossless format. Then test 3 - if Tidal is again using MQA between your setup - again - not lossless - and then Fourth test - I assume was the best (it's the only one of the four to not have something lossy in the signal path.) My guess between the transports that you reference might be the dac if you weren't using an external dac - and again - that would be totally logical to me where there is a distinctive difference in sound. So - what you go on to write later - it doesn't add up that those are the only two reasons why the music sounds different. There are technical, very discernable differences with the test you mention (which I am quite sure good listeners would be able to hear.) 

And cleeds - you're explanation to the aforementioned user - the ECC built into a CD is absolutely ZERO match for ECC built into any modern ISP's network or a decently modern home network. Have you ever performed an update on any computer system and were able to install a corrupted file? No - the storage you have, or your memory, or processor, might corrupt the file, but what is delivered to you is always, bit perfect - hash tag matched - each, and every, single, time, provided the equipment used to send and receive is working as expected. On the other hand, give me a microwave or a piece of wadded up aluminum foil, and we'll compare how your "perfect cd" sounds to my bit perfect digital stream. Errors cannot, do not, "creep in" - they are clearly identified and rectified within milliseconds again, on any decent working network. And anyone that says otherwise has absolutely no idea what they are talking about. 

Let me be absolutely clear about this too - some of you are NOT imagining sound differences here from streaming to cd's. George is ABSOLUTELY correct to cite how new albums found on streaming services are indeed, compressed from a dynamic range standpoint (Not a bit perfect or any change to the file compression, but rather compressed dynamic range.) There is an excellent youtube video here that's a minute or so long - but this perfectly explains what I believe many of you are hearing and why it does sound bad. 

George - to answer your question - it depends. If you're talking about downloading a song to your system from a lossless streaming company - Apple, Amazon, Quobz, and Tidal (provided it is NOT MQA), AND, it is the same mixed version of the song you have on CD, then yes, it will be absolutely identical. However, if you deliver that file to your DAC via Bluetooth, Airplay, or Chromecast, then no - what is being received by your DAC WILL be compressed from a file size and amount of data standpoint. (Whatever device you are using in that signal path to "stream to your dac wirelessly (And using those three aforementioned standards) will compress the actual file to minimize the data being transferred to your DAC.) But if you're using something like a bluesound, or some cambridge audio products, or aurelec, there are many of them, then no, what is downloaded and then presented to the dac, provided it is the same mix, will be absolutely identical (and perhaps even better depending on the quality of your cd.) TO be clear, I have not run tests on these to confirm, but it is super easy and if something nefarious was occurring, I believe it would be known by now. (For example - MQA from Tidal - it is NOT lossless and the files are different.) 

I believe all of you who say that your CD sounds better - and I believe those who say that your streamer sounds better. If you're sending the signal via a wireless protocol (that is NOT just wifi), then yes, the CD will sound better because you are not sending a compressed/ downsized file. For those of you streaming in high res correctly without lossless codecs in between - I can totally see why that sounds better especially when using hi-res mixed tracks. (That aren't dynamically compressed too much) But all things being equal, same dac, signal being sent correctly, there should be no change in sound. 

You are right. If you have an accurate CD player, the audio CD is the highest quality among all kinds of audio sources.
George is ABSOLUTELY correct to cite how new albums found on streaming services are indeed, compressed from a dynamic range standpoint.

And that’s where it ends for me, if it’s had the very life squashed out of it, I don’t want this "compressed stuff" anywhere near my hi-end system at home, where there’s no quiet spaces for it, me and the missus to breath to the music as it was made by the artist if he/they were playing it live to you.

In the car or through iphones/ipods taking a walk, ok this compressed junk is fine, that's what it was made for and should stay.

But as an audiophile it saddens me to see this kind of compressed music being pushed by those ignorantly on these forums (with hi-end systems) and they say it’s great, far from it, it’s mediocre at best being played back on todays hi-end systems.

Cheers George