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MP3 or Studio Master - can you tell the difference? With AUDIO!

Linn Records offers downloads in MP3 quality, CD quality and Studio Master quality. But can you really hear how different they sound?

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Linn Records is a label that specializes in high audio quality. They should... the company is founded on the success of the Linn Sondek turntable, which is still held as a 'gold standard' for analog audio.

Linn also provides a download store, in which you can download music in MP3 format, CD-quality or Studio Master. 'Studio Master' gives you quality equal to the original studio recordings. Of course, better quality downloads cost more than MP3.

To make sure that customers understand what they are buying, Linn offers sample downloads in a variety of resolutions.

The main Linn Records website is at www.linnrecords.com, and, in the spirit of a review, I would encourage you to visit it and buy something.

Now, the audio...

The links given here go directly to the downloads on the Linn Records website. (Please note that if the location of these files changes, they may no longer be available here. That's the nature of the Internet unfortunately.)

To make this a true test of your listening abilities, you need to enlist the help of two friends. Tell one of them (Friend A) everything about the test. Friend B, tell nothing.

Get Friend A to download all of the tracks and import them into a digital audio workstation capable of 24-bit/96 kHz performance. You might need additional conversion software to do this, so let's hope that Friend A is up to the task. Get Friend A to give the converted versions random filenames, and keep a note of which is which. You need to be well out of the way while this is done.

Now, send Friend A home with a six-pack of beer for his trouble. Now, call up Friend B, who so far should have been absent from proceedings. Get Friend B to operate the DAW and play you the three tracks. Listen to them as many times as you like, and then write down which file you think is the MP3, which is the CD-quality, and which is the Studio Master.

Give your list to Friend B and call Friend A back in. Friend A will now break the bad news to you about how terrible your hearing is ;-)

This method of testing is called a 'double blind' test. You don't know which file is which, and neither does the person who conducts the experiment. Only a third party, who is absent, knows which file is which.

Here are the files...

MP3 quality

CD quality

Studio Master

The CD-quality and Studio Master tracks are in FLAC lossless format, so you'll need a suitable converter.

Here are the CD-quality and Studio Master versions in lossless Windows Media Audio, in case you prefer that format...

CD Quality (WMA)

Studio Master (WMA)

Let us know how you get on!

By David Mellor Thursday November 30, 2006
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