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Watermarking of Streaming Services

Purité Audio

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#1
There was a claim recently ( I will try and find the link) that Universal Music Group were watermarking files they sent to streaming services, Quboz claimed that they did not watermark files but the allegation was that an audible watermark was already imprinted

I have been struggling with Windows 10 and Audio dif maker to compare some ripped CDS ( Deutche Gramophone ) to the same 'streamed ' album, I use Tidal here .
I know there are far more technically accomplished practioners than me, I thought it might make an interesting project.
I expect lossless streaming to become more and more popular specialy with younger listeners.
Keith.
 

amirm

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#2
It is on my Todo list to compare Tidal to ripped CDs. It requires special software to record the output of the system before it gets to the sound card driver.

On watermarks, they are frequently inserted. When iTunes started there was the same requirement and it existed there. And UMG as the largest label out there (?) tends to push these requirements harder and get their way.
 

amirm

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#3
Speaking of audiodiffmaker, I find it extremely fragile. In almost every case I have tried to use it, it crashes catastrophically. It is old software that has not been maintained. Wish there was a more reliable tool to use as without it analysis can be next to impossible.
 

Purité Audio

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#4
I suppose if it crashes for you too, that makes me feel slightly better, is there nothing else I could try Audacity?
Are the ITunes watermarks audible, do they have to be audible what is their purpose?
Keith.
 

amirm

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#5
I/Microsoft participated in the watermark call for proposal from the labels back in year 1999. They supplied a handful of 24-bit files and asked the mark to be inserted. Problem was, they wanted very low complexity (i.e. CPU usage) to detect. And that is the technology that won.

I listened to the one we were going to propose blind from Microsoft Research and found an artifact in it. They fixed it and submitted. I did not listen to it again. It was very hard to detect and no one else was able to hear it until I tested :).

The issue here is that you have to optimize for multiple things at once:

1. How resilient the mark is against attack. Lossy compression, filtering, slowing down or speeding up, etc. must not impact it. To make it more robust, it takes more bits to insert. More bits means more opportunity for audible impact.
2. How much CPU it takes. More complicated algorithms slow down detection/surveying they do on the Internet/Youtube trying to find the mark.
3. Fidelity. The technology works on "data hiding" principles which is very similar to how lossy audio compression works. You want to insert the bits in the shadow of loud segments so that they are masked by them.
4. Time to insert/extract. This is how many seconds of music it takes minimum to insert. The shorter this is, the more chance the insertion will happen in a more audible section.

Each watermark algorithm tries to optimize for these factors differently. Some want to be bulletproof but will be more audible. Some will be less audible but easier to hack.
 
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Blumlein 88

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#6
Yes Diffmaker will sometimes do a comparison which amazes me it could do. Then it will crash badly or give some results that are laughably wrong for reasons I can't determine. It is generally not worth the bother.

In this case with Tidal vs ripped CDs it should be doable with Audacity or similar software. Which could be done with software as mentioned, or by sending out the digital stream which can be digitally recorded. USB/SPDIF converters will send that stream out. Some pro sound interfaces can take that SPDIF and record the stream for you. I also kept around an old Maudio Audiophile 24/96 card which can accept and record the digital stream just for purposes like this. So it is doable. I don't use Tidal myself or I would do it for you.

So when you tried Diffmaker Keith, did you have digital streams or were you trying to compare the results of two signals sent to a DAC? If you have two digital streams doing this in Audacity would be easy.
 

Purité Audio

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#7
I am going to try again with audacity, comparing my CD with the streamed version, I selected a few titles trying to ensure there was only one available version of the CD.
I just thought it might be interesting but with my level of technical competentcy ( extremely low) I wouldn't publish widely any results.
Keith.
 

amirm

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#9
The goal is to find out when you use Tidal at "CD quality" it really is CD quality. Things like watermark insertion can compromise the fidelity if not done well. The first step in there would be to compare the files and see what we find different.
 

Purité Audio

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#11
Vincent Hi, yes that's the one, nice to see you here btw.
There is also a comparison between ripped CDs and watermarked files I will try and find the link.
Keith.
 

typericey

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#13
Thread from the dead.

Did a search here and on Google because I use Spotify a lot for casual listening and I really get disgusted whenever I hear that warbly midrange. It is most audible on tracks with piano and it sounds like a bad cassette tape. It's so obvious that one doesn't need "trained ears" to hear the artifacts. Only today I found out that it's watermarking.

There is some good news, if we are to believe this July 11, 2019 update:
https://www.mattmontag.com/music/an-update-on-umg-watermarks

Coincidence the article mentioned Elton John, as I was listening to Rocketman on Spotify when the watermarking reared its ugly head.
 
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