Personal computers have significantly improved their quality over the last few years. Together with central processors, which now are faster than gigahertz, other PC components have evolved. Today it is hard to imagine a modern PC without a high-quality audio subsystem. Tens of gigabytes allow storing the whole collection of a music lover conveniently and in due order on a modern HDD with almost CD-DA compression quality. Movies and concerts of musical groups sold on DVD media have soundtracks included in digital multichannel format (DD5.1/DTS). A modern multimedia computer equipped with a DVD drive and a 6-channel sound card is able to decode and reproduce such music with any speaker configuration. Modern games feature high-quality samples and musical themes often played by live symphony orchestras. 3D sound algorithms require decent multi-speaker sets, both to create ambient effect and distribute sources in virtual sound space of 2 or more speakers.
Today computer user faces an amazing variety of audio choices. It is very easy for a prospective user to get lost trying to choose from such a wide range of sound cards and active acoustic systems with digital and analog inputs.
"Professional-quality pure sound will amaze you with depth and volume!" Such advertising slogans can be often read on multimedia bundles. But in reality, 18/20-bit ADC/DAC units promoted by manufacturers as having incredible studio-quality features often turn to be simple budgeted 1-bit SD oversampling converters providing only 14-bit sound accuracy.
"Digital output is the right way to prevent noise!". Slogans like this keep on pouring from marketing departments of leading manufacturers. But resampling into 48 kHz and dithering at the level of -85 dB can decrease the expediency of investments into high-quality external converters.
Reviews in the Web and printed magazines do not always satisfy users completely. One expert may hear the sound to be high-quality and three-dimensional, while another, maybe more experienced, may think it's poor and flat. Subjective auditory sensation is very important, but it is also necessary to be secured against attitude of experts biased to certain brands or companies.
Sometimes, a manufacturer specifies certain technical data obtained by a certain method. Another manufacturer prefers giving completely different parameters obtained with completely different technique, often measured in completely different units. Yet another just provides the codec specifications regardless of influence of PCB layout, power supply filters and analog elements. All this makes quick comparison of different products impossible.
So, is there a right way to choose an appropriate solution as far as quality and price are concerned?
In order to give the reader more objective information on sound cards' pure audio quality some advanced writers and websites try to compare sound cards at least in the same conditions and systems with special measuring applications. Such applications are either completely commercial products, or shareware and freeware. But the access to source code of all tests is usually restricted. Without the source code we sometimes wonder whether a test provides better results on certain equipment or it's just incorrect. If test results or operation algorithms raise doubts, independent experts can't ascertain how this test works and why results are such.
But hardcore gamers and DVD fans are not the only interested in such tests results. Home musicians, budget audio studios, small radio stations and just advanced users are always looking for products with the best price/quality ratio.
So, it is necessary to create a test, the results of which can be easily checked or re-obtained by independent experts even without expensive specialized equipment. The test is also required by high-quality equipment manufacturers to, first of all, show comparative advantages of their products equipped with high-quality parts; and, second, to further stimulate greater-quality industry developments and to make competitors use only fair methods for illustrating their foothold of better quality in the market. Furthermore, test trustworthiness and accuracy are to be easy to verify.
So, a logical conclusion is that we need the right test. A test, which result and operation objectivity doesn't raise doubts. How do we get such a test? It is very simple: the source code must be open for everybody.
Any expert must be able to explain why a test works exactly like this and why results are such. Such a test is our aim, but we want to create it with your help. Our project is entirely independent and non-commercial, which ensures test system objectivity.
Our test suite is named RightMark Audio Analyzer. Why exactly this name?
First of all, this name reflects the idea of testing audio parameters objectively with frequency analysis algorithms. Second, the name is catchy. Third, it creates a feeling of a right, correct test.
We will highly appreciate any suggestions that will help us in the project development. That is why we suggest founding a community on the basis of audio.rightmark.org and forum.rightmark.org that will immediately participate in test suite creation.
Let's make a proper audio test together!