The real-world quality test

An iPod by any other name – would it sound as sweet? And once you’ve switched to Blu-ray, can you ever go back? It’s easy to compare the technical features of media hardware and video formats, but it’s hard to know whether the sound of a given player or pair of headphones will satisfy your tastes.

In our reviews, we always note when we find the quality of a media device impressive or disappointing, but can people who aren’t exposed to every new device really tell the difference?

This month, we’ve assembled a panel of 20 independent judges, divided evenly between men and women, and studied their responses to four tests focusing on audio and video quality.

First, we tested whether they could hear the difference in sound quality between various portable media players. We then got them to compare different types of in-ear headphone.

We experimented to see whether they could hear a difference between standard music encoding and high-quality iTunes Plus files. And finally, we ran a simple video test to see whether they found Blu-ray video more enjoyable than DVD.

None of our panel was an “expert” in audiovisual technology, and during the tests they weren’t told which players and formats they were assessing.

So the results and comments represent the authentic experiences of typical listeners and viewers. In some areas we found a clear consensus, but there were surprises, too – including discoveries that could save you money.

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