XBOX 360 is not an audiophile music source

Do you play music from your XBOX 360? Have you noticed that it doesn’t sound as good as it should? Does it sound muddy, compressed and just plain dull and lifeless? Do you notice that much of the bass and lower midrange is missing? I saw someone report that it sounds like someone threw a wet towel over the speakers – its a perfect description.

I have been struggling with this for years and now I finally know why.

The XBOX 360 is a  wonderful device for playing games and as a Media Center Extender for watching Movies and live TV but when it comes to listening to music, all is not well.

For a long time I thought it was my source media files, so I re-encoded my CD collection in FLAC and used Asset to stream them to the XBOX. While the XBOX 360 cannot play FLAC files natively, Asset can transcode them back to the original PCM – a format the XBOX can play.

But even when playing perfect PCM quality files, the XBOX 360 fails to reproduce the quality of the original recording. Further, it does not matter if you use the digital or analogue connections – both outputs suffer the same problem.

You would think that when playing a digital PCM source out to digital PCM, the XBOX would just pass the signal through (as there is literally nothing to be done). But no, for reasons only understood by Microsoft, the XBOX firmware resamples the signal and in so doing “breaks” it. So, not only is the XBOX doing something totally unnecessary, it is doing a very bad job at it.

The reason seems to be  tied to the XBOX’s tendency to only produce audio at 48KHz sample rate. It does not matter what the source is or what settings you use – its always 48KHz. Thats the sample rate used for DVDs and digital TV but music uses a different rate – 44.1KHz . So the XBOX stupidly resamples 44.1KHz signals to 48KHz. Somewhere in this resampling process the quality of the audio signal is broken and parts are just mangled or lost completely.

If you have a reasonably good AMP, you can confirm this by displaying the signal details being fed to it by the XBOX. My Yamaha home theatre amp can display the signal details when in “Straight through” mode simply by pressing the up button on the remote.

The reason I know all this is because last week I purchased a WDTV Live Player; not for playing videos but for streaming music. Unlike the XBOX 360, the WDTV live player does not interfere with the audio signal and produces a clean 44.1KHz PCM digital signal for the AMP to do its stuff.

The difference is amazing. Dymanic range is back, bass is back and the clarity and stereo imaging is the way the sound engineer intended. I am finally hearing the real quality of my Krix APEX main front speakers.

If you are thinking about building a Home Theatre around an XBOX 360 make sure you find a different source for playing music. An old $40 CD player would do a better job.

4 comments to XBOX 360 is not an audiophile music source

  • Brian

    What about re-encoding my music files at 48KHz sample rate with something like dbpoweramp converter. Will that alleviate this issue? I’m in the midst or re-encoding them anyway as my Xbox 360 seems to have trouble with certain wma files (the Xbox extender Media Center just stops playing the song and sits there displaying the song, but playing nothing), and I beleive it has something to do with variable bit rate or something. So I’m trying to find the best format to encode them for the best sound on the 360.

    • Ben

      Brian

      I don’t think re-sampling to 48 will work. I think its the dac or the mixing software in the 360. Like kmixer in Windows its just not very good. Suggest you try 320k mp3 and see how it sounds on your system.

      I gave up soon after writing that post and now play all my flac encoded collection streamed to my wdtv live. Sounds perfect – cause it is!

  • So true. We masteted our new recent techno cd album,
    and tried it on variety of devices: it was good to hear,
    So, we expected that – in XBOX360 as well (it’s Microsoft, right ?)
    And, we put the CD there, and we straight thought there may be something
    wrong with it, from the first moment it started playing on XBOX360.
    It wasn’t – it’s due to poor X360 audio defaults (and /or engine),
    probably intended to save our hearing, when playing all those noisy games.
    It’s just not for music, you’re SO right. Go back to CD player, or stereo …
    That’s our experience about that, i guess this topic will be always current …
    MichaelV.

  • Andrew

    Hi Brian, your suggestion to resample your files to 48 kHz is not a good solution because that is the problem in the first place. The XBOX resamples your CD automatically. It would be better if it didn’t do this, because every time you alter digital audio, you are likely negatively affecting the sound. So if you resample your CD, you’re doing the same thing as the XBOX, and it’s not likely to be much better. The absolute best way to hear audio is to hear it played back “flat” without additional processing. We call this “bit-perfect” playback.

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