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Let me state for the record that I'm a total noob when it comes to Hi-Fi sound systems, but I am rather picky about the sound quality. Normally I listen to CD recordings ripped to FLAC in 16/44, but I have several albums that are also ripped from vinyls to FLAC in 24/96. But it seems that I can't tell the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit versions (except for some vinyl noises, of course). That can be due to several reasons:

  • my equipment (onboard audio, monitor headphones) isn't good enough to make any difference,
  • my system is not playing audio in 24-bit 96 kHz,
  • I am physically unable to hear the difference.

So here is my question, how do I tell if my system can play 24-bit sound with 96 or 192 kHz resolution? And if it can, how do I tell that it plays it instead of downsampling to 16-bit / 44 kHz?

Also, what hardware (audio cards, amplifiers, etc.) would you recommend to play such recordings on Ubuntu?

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1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

To find out what your sound card supports, have a look at

/proc/asound/card0/codec#2

(you can just type cat /proc/asound/card0/codec#2 in a terminal to read it)

Now, the 0 and the #2 may vary for you, type cat /proc/asound into the terminal and hit tab to see what's there,

in this file (which isn't really a file, but never mind), you'll find something like this:

[...]
Node 0x10 [Audio Output] wcaps 0xc1d: Stereo Amp-Out R/L
[...]
  PCM:
[...]
    rates [0x560]: 44100 48000 96000 192000
[...]

Also, you may be on the safe side typing cat /proc/asound/card0/codec#2 | grep rates and looking at the lowest common denominator, so to speak.

But: The DAC (digital to analogue converter), which the sound system really has nothing to do with, may just interpolate the signal, the sound card may even do some false advertising, you have no way of knowing safe from looking at the manufacturers website.

The reason for you not hearing a difference (I assert that there is one to be heard, all though that's subject of great debate) is - probably - that the DAC just isn't good enough. It's by far the weakest link (inside your computer).

As for your second question: While this of course isn't the place to discuss it, have a look at stuff like the "ESI Juli@" or the "Dr. Dac Nano", they are reasonably priced and play 192kHz / 96kHz respectively - and they're widely acknowledged to be "okay" by the ever picky audiophile community. Also, the best sound chip will do no good if the headphones/speakers/amplifier can't keep up.

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Awesome answer, thank you for the insight! –  Igor Zinov'yev Dec 29 '10 at 15:25
    
Is there any way to know if the software layers (ALSA, PulseAudio and anything else sitting in front of that like gstreamer, OpenAL, etc) could interfere and deliver a less-than-optimum rate? –  Oli Dec 29 '10 at 17:01
    
I don't think so. Transposing would be a massive task, and I don't think any audio driver implements it (could be wrong), so the only thing that could happen would be the sound just playing at the wrong rate, which would make your John Coltrane sound like Severed Fifth, or vice versa. –  Stefano Palazzo Dec 30 '10 at 0:02
    
also cat /proc/asound/card0/codec#2 | grep bits will tell you the bits supported. Although more than the bits and sample rate, your internal noise is more of an issue. –  Eshwar Mar 9 '12 at 17:04
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