Quality test

I have done a blog earlier in the year about this pair of headphones:


It is so precise that I thought I would have a great reference to clear up something I’ve been wondering about for a long time. I want to know which one is the best to listen to: the lossless file I’ve ripped my CDs into, the very popular mp3’s from Spotify or the masters from Tidal. Parentheses, if you don’t know Tidal, it is a streaming, just like Spotify but with much better quality audio.

Very well. We shall see.

To make sure I would do a valid testing, I listened to about 10 different albums with that service. The same albums each time. I would stick to one format for the time of the testing. If I were on CDs, I wouldn’t try the other two on the same songs.

I started with Spotify. It was holding its own. Clear and detailed enough, I could hear all the instruments. The sound stage was wide. Spotify did the job. MP3s are not dead. I understood why it was the giant of the music industry right now. At the highest quality of their streaming, I wasn’t disappointed.

Or so I thought.

I listened to my CD right after. I had taken the care to make sure I would judge everything with music I already owned. I put the headphones on, pressed the button on my player. Will I notice a difference? And, if so, would that difference be worth it? The answer is yes on both counts. I immediately noticed elements I wasn’t able to discern before. The scrape of a brush on  snare drum, the breath of a saxophone, the length of a reverb, the accents on a guitar strum. The sound stage was opening up quite a bit too, placing the musician further apart, not all shoved in a closet, not right in my face. The grain of the voice came with a respiration behind, there was a singer singing, a living human being in front of me. I was able to get so much more music and humanity than I did on Spotify. All of the sudden, Spotify seemed a bit plasticky. The difference between a steak wrapped up in cellophane and the actual cow. I didn’t think it could get any better than that.

With a doubtful mind, I proceeded to try Tidal. I had been listening twice to the same tunes. I knew, by now, what to expect. Or so I thought. Holy Mama! As soon as I got into Tidal, everything was clear. EVERYTHING! I am shouting because it reminded me of my days when I was doing a lot of studio and hearing the music playing through the speakers, all the details and care we had folded into the music. I understood better how Ben Webster breathed into his saxophone, how Jason Mraz phrased his melody, how the Beatles arranged their songs to make gorgeous cathedrals out of 3 minutes pop tunes. There, I’ll give you a Trivia: did you know that there are bubbles in the song “Octopus garden”? Yes! There are. And they’re coming from all over the place. With Tidal, the sound stage was also a marvel. I could tell where every musician was placed and how far apart from each other. Those effects that bounce from right to left were mesmerizing. I also heard the mistakes more clearly. Sometimes it comes from a musician, a drummer clicking his sticks in a fill, a guitar player choking a string. But I could also hear a reverb cut off too abruptly or an amp that buzzes in the background. It was like being in the beauty and sweat of the musicians manufacturing their sounds. In classical music, you hear people turning the pages of the music sheet, or an organ player pulling the levers of his instrument. These are not mistakes, mind you, but there are important details because, all of the sudden, you are not listening to music anymore, you are in a concert. This time I could hear what musicians wanted me to hear, the Beatles had reformed, Led Zeppelin was alive, Mozart was playing the piano.

Is that important? you might ask. I know it is. If you’re interested in music, you want to hear it. Music isn’t a bunch of notes separated from their makers. Music is made by humans who scream and grunt, who move and pant, who pour their whole being into it. Tori Amos, Liz Phair, Jakob Dylan, Robert Plant, Jim Morrison are great musicians, but they are first and foremost human being laboring their craft with love and passion, giving it all. And Bruce Springsteen is a giant, Bach a monument and Eddie Van Halen a magician.

You think I am going too far. Maybe. I admit that I get carried away sometimes. I love music. What’s wrong about that?