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What commercial digital format do you prefer for analyzing music?

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What commercial digital format do you prefer for analyzing music?

Postby Uncle Freddie » Sat Nov 24, 2018 1:34 pm

Hi,

As an engineer, NOT a consumer: what commercial digital format do you prefer for analyzing music?

I buy music to study the sonics and mastering, and in particular to analyze the Peak, True Peak, RMS, LUFS, PLR, DC offset, Loudness Range, and other statistics for the audio.

As a rule before this year, I would always buy the CD and copy the original 44.1kHz/16-bit files into my computer.

I mention the timeframe because most engineers steadfastly believed that CDs were canonically better than any lossy compressed format. Purely numerically speaking, CDs were superior, no matter what your ears told you. When your senses can't decide, turn to the math.

The landscape has changed. Buyable downloads are of higher resolution (but still lossily compressed) and streaming has exploded. When I am in consumer mode, I have been buying fewer and fewer CDs every year, opting for downloads. (Still not interested in streaming.)

At the moment, in my shopping cart, there are 5 albums I intend to analyze. As I sit here with my mouse hovering over the Buy Now button, I have to ask: should I stop this foolishness? Is it time now to switch over to buying downloads?

Can you think of any drawbacks? Should I stick to CDs because lossy compression algorithms skew the numbers in ways I am not taking into account?

FWIW: I buy all of my downloaded music from iTunes. I am able to analyze the files in my audio editor as long as they are not DRM-protected.


Thank you,

Fred
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Re: What commercial digital format do you prefer for analyzing music?

Postby The Elf » Sat Nov 24, 2018 2:00 pm

You don't have to have a physical CD to use a lossless format. It just happens to be that an audio CD uses a lossless format. WAV is a lossless format, as is FLAC - no need for a physical CD.

So which do *I* prefer? I prefer to buy a physical CD, then rip to a lossless format - FLAC is my choice. I've never paid for a download, and I don't intend to while I have the choice
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Re: What commercial digital format do you prefer for analyzing music?

Postby wireman » Sat Nov 24, 2018 2:20 pm

Buying the CD gives you a nice backup of the data :smirk:

Why don't you compress some of your tracks and see for yourself if this affects your analysis?

By the way I have noticed that if I read computer-generated audo CDs on my computer then the files do not always compare bit for bit. Sometimes they differ each time so there must be some strong error correction involved. I have not tried this on commercial CDs.
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Re: What commercial digital format do you prefer for analyzing music?

Postby Sam Spoons » Sat Nov 24, 2018 2:34 pm

CD's have more error checking than .wavs, I don't know how this is implemented, in the hardware or as some sort of checksum in the bit stream?
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Re: What commercial digital format do you prefer for analyzing music?

Postby James Perrett » Sat Nov 24, 2018 2:45 pm

Sam Spoons wrote:CD's have more error checking than .wavs,

It is actually the other way round - computer files have to be 100% reliable otherwise your computer would be crashing all the time as your programs would contain errors. The operating system ensures that hard disks and data CD's are sending out the correct data and it will be obvious if there is a problem. There are actually three levels of error checking and correction on a data CD.

On the other hand an audio CD includes error checking and correction on only two levels but, if an error slips through, most CD drives and ripping software won't flag it up so you end up with a glitch in the audio. That's why programs like Exact Audio Copy exist - if your drive can't flag up errors in audio CD's it will read the same part of the CD multiple times and try to decide which version is the correct version.

Whenever I produce a master CD (which is fairly rare now in these days of DDP's) I will always compare the audio on the CD against the source files to make sure that there are no errors.
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Re: What commercial digital format do you prefer for analyzing music?

Postby James Perrett » Sat Nov 24, 2018 2:54 pm

To answer the original question - I'd go for anything lossless. I don't think iTunes offers lossless files at the moment although Apple have their own format for it (ALAC) but there are plenty of others offering either FLAC or ALAC format files if you search for them.

Having recently done some comparison tests, it is amazing how much is thrown away by even the best lossy encoders.
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Re: What commercial digital format do you prefer for analyzing music?

Postby blinddrew » Sat Nov 24, 2018 2:56 pm

Might be worth looking at Bandcamp as a purchasing option, if the artist is on there. You can choose your download format, including flac and wav.
Also, they pay more than itunes. ;)
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Re: What commercial digital format do you prefer for analyzing music?

Postby wireman » Sat Nov 24, 2018 3:04 pm

James Perrett wrote:
Sam Spoons wrote:CD's have more error checking than .wavs,

It is actually the other way round - computer files have to be 100% reliable ...

I think he was comparing a wav file (which presumably has no built in checksum) with the process of obtaining the data from an audio CD track.

But I just checked because I could not remember and yes, the audio CD uses interleaved storage of data with error correction on top. The drive can interpolate between samples for serious loss of data and that would not be acceptable for the CDROM format.

Even today it is still not easy to be sure that data is correct and was not corrupted at source or even corrupted by your internet provider in transit. Some formats have built in checksums and of course you can store checksums (MD5, SHA512 etc.) if you wish along with data to enable verification.
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Re: What commercial digital format do you prefer for analyzing music?

Postby James Perrett » Sat Nov 24, 2018 3:20 pm

wireman wrote:I think he was comparing a wav file (which presumably has no built in checksum) with the process of obtaining the data from an audio CD track.

The hard disk will have built-in error checking and correction at a level that is hidden to the normal user. If the wav file isn't 100% correct then there's something seriously wrong with your computer. On the other hand, you can expect a CD rip to contain errors unless you are very careful with your hardware and software choices.

As far as the Internet is concerned, most protocols have error checking/correction built-in so, unless you are using a really low level protocol, you can expect the data to be correct - though an extra checksum file always gives better peace of mind.
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Re: What commercial digital format do you prefer for analyzing music?

Postby wireman » Sat Nov 24, 2018 4:00 pm

I know, with modern drives pushing the boundaries of recording density the error correction has to be even better.

James Perrett wrote:As far as the Internet is concerned, most protocols have error checking/correction built-in so, unless you are using a really low level protocol, you can expect the data to be correct - though an extra checksum file always gives better peace of mind.

I have learned the hard way, the TCP checksums cannot deal with some hardware failures. In Sept 2015 a faulty BT switch caused data corruption for 'fibre' broadband customers in East Lothian (3 exchanges) and it took over a week for the problem to be fixed. I can't even begin to explain how hard it is to convince BT that their network is broken.
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Re: What commercial digital format do you prefer for analyzing music?

Postby Sam Spoons » Sat Nov 24, 2018 5:23 pm

wireman wrote:
James Perrett wrote:
Sam Spoons wrote:CD's have more error checking than .wavs,

It is actually the other way round - computer files have to be 100% reliable ...

I think he was comparing a wav file (which presumably has no built in checksum) with the process of obtaining the data from an audio CD track.

I was indeed, though I did realise that I had it 'ar5e uppards' as we say here in the (currently bloody cold, if not frozen) North. I blame a senior moment :roll: I was questioning if the differences in the raw files may be due to differences in the error checking mechanisms and any extra data built into the files to facilitate such.
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Re: What commercial digital format do you prefer for analyzing music?

Postby Martin Walker » Sat Nov 24, 2018 6:33 pm

blinddrew wrote:Might be worth looking at Bandcamp as a purchasing option, if the artist is on there. You can choose your download format, including flac and wav.
Also, they pay more than itunes. ;)

My take on Bandcamp:

https://www.soundonsound.com/people/why-love-bandcamp


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