I have bought quite a few HD albums from HD Tracks, some of which sound superb, some pretty dreadful. The very idea that 24/96 should sound much better than 16/44.1 has puzzled me though. Because our ears can't hear anything over 20k (probably not much over 12k for anyone in their 50's if the truth be known). And all the word length affects is the S/N ratio, nothing more. 16 bit is good enough to achieve around 100dB of S/N with proper noise shaping. i.e. more than good enough already.
So by rights, 24/96 files should sound no better in reality than 16/44.1 But all that logic goes out of the window when you listen to Elton John's Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy in 24/96 and it sounds so much better than the 16/44.1 version. Maybe the improvement was the 24/96 format? Or maybe the mix? Or just better mastering. Who knows, but it is surely better.
But recently something changed all this.
My office PC broke, so my trusty music server - a Mac Mini - was returned to office duties. That meant it was back to AppleTV1 for music serving. The problem is, AppleTV1 will not play 24/96 tracks without downsampling. So what to do with my HD Tracks?
Being an owner of Pure Music, I decided to use its EXCELLENT sample rate conversion facilities to downsample all my 24/96 material to 24/48. At 24/48 the AppleTV doesn't resample and is bit perfect.
To my enormous pleasure the 24/48 HD Tracks resamples sound IDENTICAL to the original 24/96 versions. I mean IDENTICAL. I reinstalled my Mac Mini to do some A-B comparisons and I am unable to tell the difference between them. I have a pretty decent (if not outstanding) hifi with Benchmark DAC2 feeding Wyred4Sound SX1000 monoblocks and Wilson Benech Arc speakers. So not a Bose Sounddock.
I don't know whether other people could tell the difference. Maybe some people could. But I would strongly wager the VAST majority could not. Maybe even nobody could, in double blind testing.
My next test is to try downsampling to 16/44.1 and comparing again. I would not be surprised if these versions sound identical (to their 24/96 counterparts) as well. We will see.
This is from their FAQ section: "Many digital music stores only offer heavily compressed MP3 files. When you purchase an HDtracks file, it is the same quality as a store-purchased CD."
What! So they are saying HDtracks is only CD quality?
I'd only buy HD music if it was from the master tapes. I listened to a few tracks and it sounded no better than the CD I have of it.
CD's are a lot cheaper too so the purchase would be pointless then besides you can always rip a cd.
I've found if you want really good sounding music that you also like, you have to look for it. Just because it says "24bit" doesn't mean "audiophile quality". I have plenty of 16bit recordings that blow away 24bit recordings. It all comes down to what the artist and producer want. This can suck, if they, the artist, have no idea how good their recordings could sound if they listened to them on an actual high quality hifi system. But some do. Check out the small blog I have, http://newindieaudiophile.tumblr.com/ You'll discover some really good music there. Most of which is really well recorded. Some even in 24bit downloads from Bandcamp.com. Read through some of the side links and help me demand better quality sound. Hope you enjoy.