Tango Argentino > DJ Sound File Quality: Can you tell the difference?

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by TomTango, Jan 8, 2016.

  1. TomTango

    TomTango Active Member

    When you're at a milonga, especially a big festival milonga with good equipment, can you tell by ear if the DJ is playing a compressed sound format (ex:mp3) versus a lossless format (ex:flac)?
  2. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Is it live, or is it Memorex?
  3. Mladenac

    Mladenac Well-Known Member

    Well in tango there other things to consider.

    Some FLACs are hissy and some compressed file are clean, so it's more how clean the version it is.
    Or some songs so cleaned that the songs is damaged.

    What also helps is using a good DAC and sound system, some are forgiving and some will accentuate errors in recordings. It's a tricky thing about sound engineering. ;)
  4. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    Given the usual racket at most dance events, I seriously doubt that anyone would ever hear the effects of switching sound file format unless the bit rate was so low as to be laughable.

    I'm in middle age, and therefore my ability to hear high frequencies is not as acute as it once was, but I struggle to hear any difference in the same file rendered in a whole series of formats. I have conducted my own listening tests, not in the noisy environment of a dance event, but in the quiet of my own study, and listening through a very high quality sound system, including a very good external DAC. In my perception, the limitations inherent in the original recordings: frequency range, dynamic range and background noise from the carrier (usually shellac) are of hugely greatly significance than the digitisation process (excepting where it has been done fundamentally incompetently).

    I am frequently disappointed by the quality of the music played at dance events. This is often because a poor quality transfers have been used. Even quite well-known and popular DJs manage to get away with using poor quality internal sound cards in their budget laptops, and frequently, inadequate amplifiers and speakers. I suspect that these factors have a far higher effect on what we hear than the bit rate of the digitisation, or of any unwanted artefacts resulting from the digitisation and/or compression.
    Mladenac likes this.
  5. cornutt

    cornutt Well-Known Member

    When I'm transferring vinyl or CD, I usually compress to 192 kbit MP3. In casual listening, the difference between that and lossless is usually almost imperceptible in non-critical listening. People who crunch stuff down to 64 kbit, that sounds terrible.
  6. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    My everyday format is now iTunes Plus (M4a at 256kbps stereo), but I have lots of stuff transferred at the older 128kbps standard, except that I used custom settings to create mono files for my vintage recordings, and they are 64kbps files, and half the size. I sync my whole collection to my iPod in not much space. Those 64kbps files don't sound terrible - but I do agree that if I halved the bitrate, again, to 64kbps (stereo), the results would sound awful.

    TangoTunes currently offer AIFF files (in the same fidelity as the CD 'Red Book' standard). When I sync those to my iPod or phone, they are rendered as M4a at 128kbps (stereo), and I generally can't hear any material difference. Their recent AIFF releases sound better than their earlier M4a ones - but that is because they changed the way in which they made the digital transfers from the original 78s. I have their 'old' D'Arienzo transfers, along with the 'new' ones and the difference is dramatic, but I can convert the new back to the earlier format standard, and still hear the dramatic difference. I'd accept that there is greater fidelity in the higher bitrate AIFF files, but my old ears can't hear it clearly.

    If the digital master has the highest possible fidelity to the source material, then the format in which it is rendered only makes a difference at the margin. Companies like TangoTunes, that are producing new transfers from 78s, and not just reprocessing copies of copies of copies are breathing new life into tango. Their new release of Pugliese 1943-45 has made me completely reappraise the music, for example. I just wish that they would give us new versions of their Troilo & Di Sarli material - for the transfers are overcleaned and too much is missing.
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2016
  7. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    All MP3s are not created equal, so I can't directly answer your question. If the MP3 is of a high enough bit rate (for me that's 192 kbps or higher), then I can't tell the difference. I've talked to a few people who say the MP3 needs to be at 256 (or higher) for it to be indistinguishable.

    There are many other variables to sound quality, as already have been mentioned. The most important one being, how good of a transfer was done from the old records to CD. People keep coming up with new ways to do it. At some point, I may have to consider re-purchasing a lot of the songs I have.

    The DAC (formerly called sound card) is probably the next most important thing (to the quality of the music files themselves). The DAC that I use is the HRT Microstreamer. It goes these days for around $180. Some DACs go for thousands of dollars, so mine is rather modestly priced. Another advantage to using a DAC, is that then you can plug in headphones to the built in audio jack on your laptop, to listen to something say with iTunes (if building a tanda on the fly), while the music being played for the dancers using foobar2000, is going through the DAC to the sound system, independently. Years back, I would have a second laptop for pre-listening but now I can do it all on one laptop.

    Some DJs also use devices to "sculpt" the sound in various ways. A lot of DJs use some type of equalizer. I use a plugin (software) equalizer that works with foobar2000, the software I use for playing music. Years back, some DJs used to use tube preamps to "warm" the sound, but I don't see that so much now, as the newer DACs have reduced the need for that, IMO. Another device that some DJs use are called audio compressors. FMR makes a couple that seem to be popular, the RNLA and the RNC. I haven't experimented with those as of yet, so I can't say first hand if they're really worth spending a few hundred more for one. I can see why they might be, however.

    So basically, there's a lot more that goes into the sound quality, than just whether it's a FLAC or MP3 file.
  8. newbie

    newbie Well-Known Member

    There once was an online quiz where you were presented several versions of the same piece and you had to identify which was the lossless one. The guy who had written the quiz was a sound expert and his point was to prove that you can't really make the difference. I happened to find them all, maybe I got lucky.

    Yesterday the DJ at the milonga played a tanda of tangos probably transferred from vinyles forgotten for years in a basement full of rats. You could barely hear one note here and here between the scritch-scritch sounds. Maybe he was using a lossless format, but well, who cared.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2016
  9. Mladenac

    Mladenac Well-Known Member

    You have a plugin for foobar2000:

  10. TomTango

    TomTango Active Member

    This is good to hear. I keep seeing in various tango blogs that DJs are expected to have all of their songs in a lossless format, and the thought of finding replacements for all of my mp3s was...daunting. I agree that the cleanliness of the file is far more important to my ears. Also, hiss always seems worse when listening at home versus on a big sound system.

    I'll look into getting a good DAC for my laptop. Are there any budget ones anyone could recommend? How big is the difference in sound quality (all other things being equal)?

    Also, has anyone used an external EQ device? How does it compare to the EQ features that come with itunes or VLC (what I use)? I've been slowly teaching myself how to use different EQ tricks in various circumstances. The hardest thing I've found is shifting the EQ subtly enough that it's not jarring.

    Background: I've been focusing a lot on the music side of DJing - music knowledge, how songs/tandas/playlists are put together, reading a room, etc. Haven't delved much into the more technical side of things, and am trying to get up to speed. I'd like to get out more and DJ at more festivals, so I need the comprehensive set of skills that go with that.
  11. Mladenac

    Mladenac Well-Known Member

    One of more popular DAC is DragonFly.
    It's USB DAC and should be useful.

    The mixer can be very helpful to correct EQ,
    there is certain frequency to reduce hiss in the song without damaging the song.
    I need to check it out.

    BTW for me Foobar2000 works (almost) perfectly. I need to implement some features.
    But generally more than Foobar2000 you don't need.
    And if you use portable versions you can use one for playing and one for prelistening.
  12. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    If you go with the DragonFly, make sure you verify it's the newer 1.2 version. Both models are out there, but the newer version is definitely better.

    BTW, there is a bit newer device, the Meridian Explorer, that costs a hair more than the Microstreamer or the newer DragonFly, that some people seem to like better than either. I don't think you can go wrong with any of those 3.

    Although, the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 2 is really good, and it's a bargain, at $4995.

    Mladenac likes this.
  13. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    There seem to be two main mantras, constantly being uttered by elements of the DJ community:
    1. Use lossless files, or face derision.
    2. Don't even admit to having a copy of iTunes, let alone use it.
    3. If you want to be really cool, play LPs.
    I hear the music that many of them choose to play. The DJ is all too often the weakest link in the audio chain. For me, the music always comes first. Such mantras are more about the personal insecurities and ego of the DJ than ever they are about being at the service of discerning dancers. It's a shame that the USP of more DJs isn't that they play 1st rate transfers with nothing but gain.
    Mladenac likes this.
  14. rain_dog

    rain_dog Active Member

    I'm sure there's a joke to be made about tango dancers and counting... ;)
  15. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    I use iTunes for my cataloging of music, and I think a lot of others do as well. I use foobar2000 to play my music, (since Apple screwed up and took some functionality out of iTunes). JRiver Media Player is another popular one, though. I can say that I have no interest in fooling with records (LPs) at this time.

    If I get really ambitious, I may try (at some other time), to post about the issues around "nothing but gain", when DJing. It has to do with 3 variables, the varying quality of the transfers, the sound system at the hall/facility that you are plugging into, and the sound characteristics of the hall itself.

    Of course the number one thing a DJ can do is play good music. I define this as, music that inspires people to dance.
  16. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    Touche - but there were only two 'main' mantras, and a daft afterthought.
  17. ralf

    ralf Active Member

    Don't forget that you'll need a proper cable to go with it. Unfortunately, this Denon cable has gotten a lot more expensive since it was discontinued (used to be a mere $500). Worth reading the reviews, though ;).
  18. TomTango

    TomTango Active Member

    I'd like to see that post :)

    Has anyone done a sound test with a laptop's onboard sound card versus one with an external DAC? How big is the difference? Dchester, you mentioned a warmer sound at one point. Also, I didn't realize they were so small. The Dragonfly 1.2 is as big as a flash drive.

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