I’ve just started to play with the Xbox One game – Elite: Dangerous. So far, my impressions are pretty favorable! The game is complicated, but the dog-fighting with star fighters is pretty fun stuff. The game’s combat mechanics remind me a lot of X-Wing from back in the 1990s. When learning the controls, I couldn’t find a clear schematic for the default control layout in English. There is a similar one online to this, but the controls are mislabeled. This .jpg was created by playing the game using the game streaming feature in Windows 10 and then taking a screen shot. Enjoy!
As a result of my frustrations with figuring out how to make a lossless/ HD Audio setup work, I began to wonder:
Is all this extra expense and trouble worth it?
I have been researching the data on lossless and HD audio blind tests and the evidence is pretty clear that no it is not. (I found this article pretty compelling.) However, I did notice one common thread amongst the experiments. They all do their blind tests using headphones.
I can see why. Generally headphones provide a top-rate listening environment. However, advocates of HD Audio argue that the music “feels” better. Speakers move air to create sound. I wonder if the “feel” that many audio enthusiasts appreciate from HD Audio comes from the movement of air in the room? I can’t seem to find where anyone has done a blind comparison using top-notch speakers in a good listening environment instead of headphones. When I do my “blind” tests using my home theater speakers my friends can spot the better audio file 75% of the time. (I use a quality MP3 and an HD Audio 24-bit FLAC file to compare.)
If anyone finds a fairly credible study using speakers instead of headphones, please be sure to let me know using the comments section.
UPDATE 8/9/18: I did some side -by-side comparisons of an mp3 vs. a 24-bit FLAC file on some seriously high-end gear. (Golden Ear Triton One Towers and McIntosh amp…nice stuff!) and none of us could tell the difference. Sample size was only 3 people…and no-one was an audiophile listener (despite owning nice gear).
This is going to be an article that is only of interest to a very obscure subset of music listeners…and you should only read on if you meet the following criteria:
- Your music collection is in some form of Lossless Codec – FLAC, WMA-Lossless, ALAC.
- You want to stream lossless audio from your OneDrive account to your phone – and you don’t care about data consumption – OR you want lossless at home and want to stream the same collection of music to a mobile device using the same set of playlists.
- You might own some 24-bit music – such as albums bought at HDTracks.
- You actually think there is a difference between a high-quality mp3 and lossless or HD Audio. (Dear Commenters – I don’t want to wade into this debate, even if it is for the placebo effect – just let us audio snobs be happy playing with our toys.)
- If pushed, you are willing to batch convert your FLAC files to WMA-Lossless or whatever format necessary to achieve your audio happiness dreams.
With the launch of Windows 10 and Groove Music I had some hope that there might finally be a music streaming option that allowed me to do the following:
- Stream my own lossless music collection from the cloud to any player I want (i.e. through OneDrive).
- Use my XBOX One to do home music playback in 24-bit audio.
- Have the same playlists on my home PC, iPhone (or any mobile device), and the XBOX One.
Since Windows Media Center has been depreciated (and has become buggy as heck), I have switched our home music setup to use iTunes and the Apple TV 3. I discuss that here in an earlier article where I test if OneDrive would work with Apple Lossless Audio.
Before converting my entire FLAC collection to WMA-Lossless I decided to do some testing first. I uploaded the following Albums to OneDrive (via Windows 10). None of the albums have any kind of DRM or Copy Protection in their files that would interfere with playback.
All of these albums play fine in the Groove Desktop application. I do want to note here that the upload times for OneDrive do seem to have improved (albeit anecdotally) since my last test. And it is important to mention that – as one reader commented in a previous article – Windows 10 natively supports FLAC. YEA! Microsoft has also claimed that Groove would stream WMA Lossless and that it would play back the file just like it is in your cloud drive. (Click Here for the page that I clipped the following caption from. Note: on my PC the link would not work with Chrome, but would on the new Windows 10 Edge browser.)
To ensure that the files had plenty of time to be recognized and found on whatever systems they needed – I waited until the albums showed up in both the Groove web app and the iPhone app. That is where the first disappointment happened. Sorry Shakira, neither the web app nor the iPhone app can even SEE a FLAC file album. Again, MSFT never explicitly claimed that the Groove Web App nor the iPhone app would support FLAC. However, I was hoping that the inclusion of FLAC in Windows 10 would signal the desire to allow that file format to permeate the rest of the Windows ecosystem. The fact that the web application does not include FLAC support is a sign that ecosystem wide FLAC support may have been wishful thinking on my part.
I then used the web app to play songs from the three WMA-Lossless albums.
Bad news there, the 24-bit albums would not play –at all – either of them – and the web app generates the following error:
The 16-bit lossless (Def Leppard’s Hysteria) played just fine in the Groove Web app. I cannot vouch for the quality (especially given my desktop’s speakers) – but it played.
Next I tried the iPhone app. My original plan for this article was to test to see if the music was truly being streamed in lossless audio. I was planning to use this method (CLICK LINK HERE) to determine if the file was being down-sampled. However my experiment ended up testing something much more basic. Does the Groove mobile app play lossless music AT ALL?
Again, like the web application the Groove iPhone app would not open a 24bit 88mhz song (WMA Lossless) and did not recognize FLAC files.
It did open and begin to play standard 16bit 44mhz files in WMA Lossless. My first test was with the song “Hysteria” from the Def Leppard album. The song is 40.8MB on the disc. It played half of the song and then mysteriously restarted. It would not play the entire song – even a second listen. Since I had already reset my cellular data counter, I checked it and the phone had downloaded over cellular a total of 9.6MB.
To make sure that it wasn’t a corrupted file, I tried another song: “Don’t Shoot Shotgun” – 31.8MB on Disc. Again it hiccupped and repeated before the song was over. Twice.
I’d say the Groove app only poured only one-third of a cup of sugar on me…get it? C’mon! I love puns!!
I then turned on Wifi to see if it would work better with a faster data connection. The problem of not playing an entire song persisted.
At this point discovering if Groove is providing lossless streaming was moot. It wouldn’t stream an entire song to my mobile device.
That being said there is a potential confounding variable here. Maybe it’s my iPhone. If anyone else has experimented with Lossless WMA on the iPhone or Android apps – PLEASE leave a helpful comment below.
To be thorough, I tried one more thing. I went to my basement movie room, where my XBOX One lives and tried the Groove Music app. It did not see the FLAC Shakira album – but I am hoping that will change with the November Update, when the XBONE gets Windows 10. It did however, play all of the WMA Lossless files in their entirety and it sounded good! I do not have the technical wherewithal to test whether I was getting the full 24-bit HD Audio experience, nor did I do any side by side comparisons with other sources (such as an HTPC or Apple TV in the same room)– but it sounded good.
At this point, I feel that the Groove music system is improving, but still has some hurdles to overcome. Honestly, I don’t care much whether a music locker service streams to my mobile device in lossless audio. Cars and my gym headphones are not ideal listening environments and so the quality improvement would be unnoticeable (it may be anyway) – not to mention that 24bit albums are a HUGE amount of data to stream to a phone. At home however, it would be nice to know that I am getting the best audio experience that my equipment can deliver, and in good faith I do believe that the Xbox One is now capable of streaming 24bit HD audio to a home sound system. Ideally, I would like to have one set of playlists on a single service that would sync between my home lossless audio and my mobile experience.
Apple’s iCloud/iTunes Match does this fairly well with some limits. Through iTunes match it delivers to my mobile device lossy audio versions from my music collection. However, at home (where the audio quality arguably matters more), it can stream lossless from the PC to the Apple TV3. That lossless audio, however, is limited to and down sampled to 16bit playback.
A few more random thoughts and responses:
Why not use TIDAL?
Simple – no Apple TV or XBOX app and I don’t want to Airplay to my Apple TV – it seems to introduce too many connections and variables for me to believe I’m getting top quality sound. Plus, what about the 24-bit audio in my collection? An Apple TV or XBOX app would probably have me look to Tidal as the simplest solution.
Dude, you put a lot of thought into this – and you probably can’t hear the difference over using Spotify or any other music service.
Yup, but like I said – even if it is the placebo effect, it makes me happy to think that I am getting the best music experience I can. When I do side by side testing with my friends using an MP3 and a 24bit – 88khz versions of the same song on my best stereo equipment most of them can guess correctly which is which. That being said, here is a well-researched article that savagely and completely dismantles arguments for HD Audio (LINK). My argument for lossless and HD Audio is not really that it sounds better, but that it – maybe through marketing or placebo effect – it makes me happier to have cool toys and cool audio files.
I’m going to wait for two developments that I hope will move one of the two ecosystems (Apple or Groove) closer to my dream goal of one-streaming-setup-to-rule them all.
Development One – in November the new Xbox One update will occur and may add FLAC support since it is based in Windows 10. (Its getting a DVR – which I am eager to test!). Maybe in that time the Groove mobile app will get fixes to allow more reliable playback for lossless audio (WMA or FLAC). Windows 10 would also allow for Tidal to easily build an app for the Xbox One.
Development Two – Apple TV 4 will be announced in September. Maybe it will support 24bit audio? Reportedly they are working on a TV solution for cord cutters and the development language is supposedly going to allow for more open app development (so Tidal could develop an app for the ATV too.)
As I learn more on this topic I will update this post.
After reading that Xbox Music had added a cloud based music locker service using OneDrive I decided to give it a quick test.
Due to my frustrations with the Xbox One, the loss (or at least the continued depreciation of…) Windows Media Center, I have switched over my music collection to work with Apple TV (and subsequently iOS on our new iPhones).
I have to say that our music experience at home has been pretty good after this shift. (The Remote App works great and if I am willing to listen to non-cd quality I can stream music directly from iCloud. The sound quality is noticeably better when streaming in loss-less directly from a PC running iTunes.)
Two years ago I ripped all of our CDs to loss-less FLAC files using DB Poweramp. From there I convert the FLAC files to either WMA Loss-less (when using XBOX/WMP) – or more recently AAC Loss-less. Some of our music is 24-bit purchased from HDTracks. The Apple TV downgrades HD (24-bit) music to 16-bit (CD Quality) automatically. My great hope for the XBOX One had been that it is capable of 24-bit playback via HDMI.
So here is what you actually read the article for. I test uploaded a 24-bit AAC Loss-less file (Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories – not that it matters…) and attempted to play it back with both the Windows 8.1 Xbox Music App and the Xbox Music browser player. Both gave me an error message stating that the music was not in a format that could be played back. The few specs from Microsoft that are on the Xbox Music / OneDrive website do state that AAC is supported AND that WMA Loss-less is supported. It does not make the claim that AAC Loss-less is supported. My small test seems to confirm that AAC Loss-less is not supported.
In my case this means converting my FLAC files to WMA Loss-less and then uploading them via OneDrive, if I want to use this service. If I knew that 24-bit audio was supported, it might be worth it.
That is, except for OneDrive’s major defect.
A while back I decided to backup all of our pictures and music to the cloud. Since I have an Office365 Subscription which comes with unlimited OneDrive storage – I decided to use OneDrive. It took a WEEK to upload our photo collection. (When uploading documents in a complex folder schema it went totally berserk – creating unreadable duplicates and nearly destroying my documents archive.)
Out of frustration I decided to try DropBox for cloud storage. It uploaded the same photo collection in 12 hours. My test upload of a single album to OneDrive today was also VERY slow. If Microsoft truly wants us to move our digital lives to OneDrive, they are going to have to fix their upload problem.
FLAC support would be super nice too. *AHEM*
This is going to be a really short review:
Stop reading my blog and go buy this album.
Seriously, it’s that amazing.
If you don’t love this album by the time you hit the fourth track, then go to your doctor and have your ears checked.
I thought Within Temptation had peaked with The Heart of Everything and the live Black Symphony Albums. Turns out I was completely wrong.
I liked The Unforgiving, but felt that the story overtook the music. Later on, I even went through the trouble to have a copy of the Q-Music sessions sent to the USA. On that album they did a number of cover tunes, and you can hear how some of the music they covered has influenced their progression as a band in Hydra.
In this album there are a mix of different styles from metal, to rap-mix, to ballad and they all seem to work! I suppose that is the reason for naming the album ‘Hydra’ – a mythical creature with many heads. Four of the ten tracks are collaborations and each one brings a new twist to the Within Temptation sound. I never thought I’d appreciate rap mixed in with my Symphonic Metal – but they pulled it off and it works great!
If you haven’t managed to obtain a copy of the Q-Music Sessions, then be sure to buy the deluxe version of Hydra (Link Above). It contains four of the cover tunes from the Q-Music Sessions.
Hopefully, they will announce a tour of the United States sometime soon.
Now, if you will excuse me I’m going to post this hastily-written blog post and get back to rocking out to this frakin’ amazing album!
Last week I attended the Queensryche concert in Denver at the Gothic Theater. It was the Queensryche version with Geoff Tate but none of the other members of the band. I went with an old buddy from High School who has actually played the same venue when he was the lead guitarist of a local Denver band. We both thought that the show was pretty good (they played Operation Mindcrime end-to-end along with a few songs from Empire). Operation: Mindcrime is my all-time favorite alum and hearing Tate sing it was pleasantly nostalgic. My musician-buddy felt that the new lineup executed the album faithfully and we both agreed that we got our money’s worth from the show.
You may or may not know this, but there are now two Queensryche’s. One has Geoff Tate but not the rest of the band (Queensryche 1.x), and the other (Queensryche 2.0) is fronted by a very Tate-sounding lead singer. Queensryche 1.x released “Frequency Unknown” – one of the worst albums I’ve heard from any band, much less Queensryche. Conversely, Queensryche 2.0 released “Queensryche” which is the best Queensryche Album since 1994’s Promised Land. (I’ve reviewed this album and expressed my disgust with Frequency Unknown here.)
As I stood listening to Operation: Mindcrime live I had a thought occur to me. “This is good enough.” As a matter of fact even if no original members of Queensryche were there I’d have been happy enough.
This next question might seem out-of-nowhere…but I will come back to Queensryche in a second.
Have you ever seen Trans-Siberian Orchestra live?
A few years ago my wife bought me tickets to TSO for my birthday – which is near the holidays. We saw them in a massive arena venue and for the first half of the show (which is dominated by Religiosity) I was wondering “Why the hell am I here?” (After all, I’m an Atheist.) Then the second half of the show was all instrumental and was one of the most fun-filled metal-eque performances I have ever seen! Flames spewing out of the floor, lights, hair flying, electric guitar solos…It was awesome! I went in barely knowing who TSO was, and I left a fan.
I did a little reading on TSO and discovered that there is not ONE Trans-Siberian Orchestra, there are MANY. That is how they are able to play so many cities so near the holidays. They have essentially cloned themselves.
Here it comes…
Queensryche should do the same. The status quo of two Queensryche’s is not only sustainable, but might even be desirable for the fans.
What if being “Queensryche” didn’t refer to 5 individuals, but a set of artistic and musical guidelines. Maybe it could be defined as: Guitar-driven, progressive metal, that makes you think. Maybe there doesn’t need to be restrictions on future studio projects, but just a sharing of the past catalog of music. When I was at the concert and looked around the Gothic Theater it appeared that everyone knew the words to every song. None of them were there to hear something new…and a majority had T-shirts from tours gone by. It was interesting to note that not a single song was played from Geoff Tate’s despicably bad album “Frequency Unknown”.
What if a state of two competing Queensryches was the new norm and they both competed to produce better product?
I’m perfectly content to see different people on stage than the people who produced a studio album, provided both are quality.
With the death of my beloved Windows Media center I have been considering alternatives such as Plex and XBMC. XBMC is by far the most versatile and full featured media center software made today. For a while I had been seriously considering swapping over to XBMC (hell, and if they could get Civilization V to run on Linux…I’d ditch Microsoft all together and go open source).
However Windows Media Center has one distinct advantage over XBMC, and it is this – it can record TV shows that contain Copy Control DRM. TV/Cable broadcasts are tagged as Copy Freely or Copy Once. It is largely up to the cable provider how their content is tagged, and if they wanted to sow havoc with an XBMC/cablecard setup then they could simply tag all of their content as Copy Once.
Microsoft has paid the fees to CableLabs which allow it to use the CopyOnce content. Premium channels like HBO are exclusively CopyOnce content.
This is really unfortunate (again, a first world problem) as XBMC has 24-bit FLAC support, remote apps for tablets and phones, and runs on anything more powerful than a toaster.
Who knows? Maybe these guys will be successful with their petition drive to get Microsoft to release a WMC app for the XBOX ONE.