Last year, we published an Open Access article in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society (JAES) on “A meta-analysis of high resolution audio perceptual evaluation.”
I’m very pleased and proud to announce that this paper won the award for best JAES paper for the calendar year 2016.
We discussed the research a little bit while it was ongoing, and then in more detail soon after publication. The research addressed a contentious issue in the audio industry. For decades, professionals and enthusiasts have engaged in heated debate over whether high resolution audio (beyond CD quality) really makes a difference. So I undertook a meta-analysis to assess the ability to perceive a difference between high resolution and standard CD quality audio. Meta-analysis is a popular technique in medical research, but this may be the first time that its been formally applied to audio engineering and psychoacoustics. Results showed a highly significant ability to discriminate high resolution content in trained subjects that had not previously been revealed. With over 400 participants in over 12,500 trials, it represented the most thorough investigation of high resolution audio so far.
Since publication, this paper was covered broadly across social media, popular press and trade journals. Thousands of comments were made on forums, with hundreds of thousands of reads.
Here’s one popular independent youtube video discussing it.
and an interview with Scientific American about it,
and some discussion of it in this article for Forbes magazine (which is actually about the lack of a headphone jack in the iPhone 7).
In fact, the discussion on social media was full of misinformation, so I’ll try and clear up a few things here;
- The research was unfunded. No aspect of it, directly or indirectly, was in any way supported by industry.
- I did not write any press releases about the paper. Some quotes here and elsewhere may be someone’s interpretation of what I said. My exact words are those in the paper.
- Full data, analysis methods, source code etc are available online https://code.soundsoftware.ac.uk/projects/hi-res-meta-analysis . I encourage anyone who is interested to perform their own analysis. I’ll also try to answer any comments posted on the paper’s forum at https://secure.aes.org/forum/pubs/journal/?ID=591
- I consulted with statisticians and meta-analysis experts at various stages throughout the preparation of the paper. I would have liked a co-author with expertise in those areas, but the people I asked were unavailable.
When I first started looking into this subject , it became clear that potential issues in the studies was a problem. One option would have been to just give up, but then I’d be adding no rigour to a discussion because I felt it wasn’t rigourous enough. Its the same as not publishing because you don’t get a significant result, only now on a meta scale. And though I did not have a strong opinion either way as to whether differences could be perceived, I could easily be fooling myself. I wanted to avoid any of my own biases or judgement calls. So I set some ground rules.
- I committed to publishing all results, regardless of outcome.
- A strong motivation for doing the meta-analysis was to avoid cherry-picking studies. So I included all studies for which there was sufficient data for them to be used in meta-analysis. Even if I thought a study was poor, its conclusions seemed flawed or it disagreed with my own conceptions, if I could get the minimal data to do meta-analysis, I included it. I then discussed potential issues.
- Any choices regarding analysis or transformation of data was made a priori, regardless of the result of that choice, in an attempt to minimize any of my own biases influencing the outcome.
- I did further analysis to look at alternative methods of study selection and representation.
I found the whole process of doing a meta-analysis in this field to be fascinating. In audio engineering and psychoacoustics, there are a wealth of studies investigating big questions, and I hope others will use similar approaches to gain deeper insights and perhaps even resolve some issues.