There are so many audio codecs these days and we don’t even use most of them. Are there any differences between these audio codecs or are they just there for the sake of being there? Well, we are going to pick two of them for this article which is Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio. Not only we are going to find out more details about these 2 audio codecs but also pit them against each other.
Dolby TrueHD vs DTS HD Master Audio, will there be any difference in sound quality? I for one will pick Dolby TrueHD because I am just too used to it, maybe after I’ve finished writing this research, I may switch over to DTS HD Master Audio, who knows. Before we start the comparison, we should learn more about them.
What is Dolby TrueHD?
As the name suggests, it is developed by Dolby Laboratories, a lossless, multi-channel audio codec mainly used in Blu-ray discs as well as compatible hardware. Dolby TrueHD can go up to 16 discrete audio channels, a sampling rate of up to 192kHz, and a sample depth of up to 24 bits for each channel. The compression mechanism used by Dolby TrueHD is Meridian Lossless Packing which is a lossless compression technique, used for compressing PCM audio data but with higher bit rates and more (when compared to DVD-Audio).
Dolby TrueHD tracks usually or may carry up to 8 discrete audio channels which are 7.1 surround sound of 24-bit audio at 96 kHz or up to 6 audio channels which are 5.1 surround sound at 192 kHz. AVRs that can decode Dolby TrueHD can downmix a track from 7.1 to a 5.1 output, or a 5.1 to a stereo output. Just to add in that Blu-ray players are able to do so as well but this is usually done at the receiver level.
What is DTS-HD Master Audio?
It is also known as DTS-HD MA or DTS++ but the latter has not been used for years. Developed by DTS as a multi-channel and lossless audio codec. Due to the way DTS HD Master Audio is encoded, there is a lossy “core” for devices that cannot decode the more complex lossless audio, and playback the track in DTS, making this audio codec more flexible. The main application of DTS HD Master Audio is audio storage and playback for Blu-ray disc media.
It can store up to 8 discrete channels of audio, for instance, a 7.1 surround sound, at up to 24-bit sample depth and 192 kHz sampling frequency but only up to 96 kHz sample frequency for 6.1 or 7.1 surround sound. It is a direct competition to Dolby TrueHD and has gained a greater share of the market over the years.
Which is Better?
As you can see, as a consumer, both lossless audio codec looks almost the same to us, and so the ultimate question is which is better? The one obvious difference is that DTS HD Master Audio has a bitrate of 24.5 Mbps which is higher than Dolby TrueHD bitrate of 18 Mbps. But this difference in bitrate doesn’t really tell us much about the sound quality. Since both are lossless formats, there should not be any difference but there are. DTS HD Master Audio sounds warmer and more dynamic that gives a better feel for the listener. For Dolby TrueHD, it sounds more realistic and with higher clarity, which I find is more closer to what a film director has intended.
The advantage of Dolby TrueHD is that it could downmix into a smaller amount of channels for final playback, for example, 7.1 to a 5.1 output, or a 5.1 to a stereo output. This is absolutely amazing for owners who do not have enough speakers for their home theater setup.
The advantage DTS-HD MA has over Dolby TrueHD will be the backward compatibility which is absolutely friendly for older AV receivers that are not able to decode lossless audio.
If based on the advantages and the summarized description of the sound quality for each audio codec is not enough for you to determine which is better. Then the only way to find out will be using your own set of ears. You can playback the same movie in 2 different audio codecs. During the playback, you can either be more analytical about the sound quality or leave your judgment on how entertaining each codec it is to you.
The truth is, you will never get the same movie experience at home when compared to watching in a theater. If we go too technical then it will give you even more questions and no answers, for example, how the movie is mastered for theaters and home release are often different, and we will never know. How they QC the codecs in a Blu-ray we wouldn’t know as well.
What I am trying to say is to just enjoy watching the movie based on whatever audio codec available or you can decode with your AVRs. Don’t be like me where I have spent almost 1-2 years of my time just being overly clinical and analytical whenever I watch a movie or listen to music. What a waste of time as I should have just enjoyed the content.