Hearing a difference

Hi, I just got a Tidal subscription for 4€/ 4 months and I’m struggling to hear a difference between tidal and spotify.

I’m mainly using DT1990 with a Fiio K5 pro and KEF R100 with Onkyo 9110.
My hearing is also good, I’m 19 y/o and not that often exposed to loud volumes which could affect my hearing.

When I’m really focussing, I can hear a slight difference with piano music for example, which sounds more precise and has ‘more space between the notes’ on tidal, but with modern pop music I doubt that I can tell a difference and if I can, this might just be placebo.

I also got a FX Audio Tube pre amp, which I installed between my fiio DAC and Speaker amp and compared it to my raspberry pi streamer with a quite good DAC board.
But again I can barely tell a difference at all. Shouldn’t a tube pre make a noticable difference? I even tried this setup with my headphones plugged into the onkyo amp but even then I can’t really tell a difference.

What am I doing wrong? Do I have to get even more resolving equipment or do I have to evolve some kind of audiophile hearing over the years?
Please share your experience about lossy vs lossless and hearing difference in gear.


One thing I suggest to check are your settings.

First of all, use the Desktop app over the web browser.
Then click on the small speaker icon on the bottom right and make sure you select your DAC, otherwise, it’ll use your default or on board sound
Afterwards, click More Settings and click Exclusive Mode on, Force Volume on, MQA on if you have a DAC for it, or off if you don’t.


Your equipment is good. That’s all quality stuff. It does take time to pick out the differences in sound between the sound formats. Even with great hearing acuity, human brains aren’t nearly as proficient at recognizing sound patterns as they are with visual patterns. In time, your brain will pick up on them, though. Once it does, its ability to discern even minute differences will remain despite some hearing loss (up to a point, of course).

As for the tube buffer, it might be more on the equipment. Not all speakers/headphones react well to tubes. For some the difference is huge (Senn HD600 series being an archetypal example) and for others it’s barely noticeable. I don’t know what the KEF tube reputation is, truthfully.

Hard question to answer without being there. One advantage of tubes is typically they improve the spatial presentation. Making sure your speakers are properly positioned may help. Otherwise, yeah, just keep listening and eventually your brain will start picking out the differences

Or get out now and save yourself a lot of money :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


This can be the best and honest advice that someone can give you here, lol.


I tried to stay away from that stuff, but I always feel dumb when other audiophiles can pass a blind test on cables 10 out of 10 times when I can’t even hear a differnce between lossy and lossless

Dont beat yourself up… it’s something that develops and takes time to do so… you obviously care about quality and thus you are ‘one of us’ lol… just keep listening and comparing and I trust your ears will more easily pick out differences

Are you a/b testing or listening for an extended period to get a feel for it?

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I mean this hobby is really just about enjoying music (and the gear too) more than anything, so you don’t even really need to hear a difference technically, as long as you are getting more enjoyment compared to before you were in this hobby lol


Don’t forget you are using a tube buffer, that in itself inherently will add what we would consider pleasing distortion. I think folks forget that in order to “hear” an impactful difference you really would have to be using the cleanest most sterile sources, wires, mains, speakers etc. and you would be looking to discern the last 20% of details once you have established a base reference for it.
If you are really dead set in hearing a difference find a CD of a favorite song and run it on your system, then take the same song and run it through a good FLAC file. Then take the same song and play it via, mp3 compressed file. Then listen to it via Pandora, Amazon, Tidal, Quboz, Spotify and take NOTES during EVERY session. Once you have spent a few days doing this look at your notes and see what the differences are. Have fun and happy listening.

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I’m AB testing. I’m playing about 10 seconds on one source and then listen to the same 10 seconds on the other source.

That’s the wrong way to do it.
You need to spend time with each source, almost no one can a/b 10s clips, your brain just doesn’t have a chance to adjust.
Listen to the entire track, or at least some musically complete portion of it, make notes as to what you liked/disliked, then swap and compare those things in your notes.
The differences are really subtle in some cases, but they stand out more and more when you know what you are listening for.


Depends on the difference you’re looking for. For differences in timbre and fidelity, I agree with you. Those take more time to absorb and hear. For differences in spatial presentation though, I think quick changes are better. It’s much easier to hear a Soundstage collapse or expand with quick switching. There are some differences that are heard by not allowing the brain to adjust so that the delta can be perceived.

Edit: And then there is a balance to that too. The more tricks one has to do to hear differences probably means those differences aren’t as important(?). And then each end user has to decide how much time and money and energy they should out into chasing their preferences on those differences.


Typically when I audition gear, especially if I am trying to A/B, I spend days at a time before passing judgement.
A good compromise would be to listen to one setup for a full session, then switch for the next session.
You may jot down notes if you want to be extra nerdy about it. Your brain getting used to the sound is definitely a thing.


so I was doing that for awhile as well and it can be helpful when you want to zone in on things you feel sound off or strange… what works best for me now is listening for extended periods of time and really getting a feel for the source or the gear or whatever… as stated above too it doesn’t always matter if you can’t tell as long as for whatever reason you are enjoying it more… if Spotify works for you you’re no less of an audiophile than anyone else

Have you tried hearing audio quality or audio difference test’s? There are few decent ones online with: uncompressed wav vs. 320 mp3 vs. 128 mp3 etc and so on.

You kinda need to know “what to look for” so you know where the “extra” or richness is in the audio or music and what to look for in different tracks. If you don’t know it might be damm hard notice since it’s not easy anyway.
When you manage to figure out “what tiny things” to look for in hearing differences between two same audio tracks in different quality, it comes little bit easier imo.

10sec might be too fast, unless you know for sure.
It should at least be 30sec for “quick” testing or bit longer and even then it can be hard.
When knowing what to look for, it helps but still ain’t easy.

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Pop has not been recorded well as a whole since the beetles. thats why mp3’s gained traction. if stuff was recorded as well in modern times as the 70’s and older era(70’s they started cheaping out to make more money), mp3’s wouldnt of got traction. I have never listened to mp3’s because they sound like dog crap to me and the music i like and grew up on. that being said, modern mp3’s are A LOT closer to cd quality then when they came out 20 years ago.

Point is most music you wont notice a difference. If i was 20, i doubt i would pay for a streaming service at all, i would use free. But my personal music that i listen to, benefits from the higher resolution.

God thinking back to the first mp3’s and how truly bad they were. Im talking id rather listen on a radio with bad reception, then those mp3’s.

So as others have said, if you like it its more then good enough. and the modern mp3 does a lot more these days to preserve the original recording. the algorithms they use now are much better and come much closer to replicating the original.

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On top of MP3 improvements is the big gains in better DACs to decode them. I also recall how poorly MP3 compared to CDs 20 years ago but these days, even using a standard 128kb/s encoding and playing through a decent DAC, MP3 sounds perfectly fine for all but critical listening.

Also, everyone is different. For me, music is 60% what I like, 40% quality of the recording. So even if the quality of the recording is amazing, if I’m not into the music I won’t listen for very long. But if I really like the music, I’ll put up with less than great recording or playback quality. It’s a personal thing.