Sorry, I disagree, musical content near and below *objectional* noise in the digital domain has no comparision. That's exactly why dither was introduced, it sounded like crap until we actually introduce noise..... We are talking strictly 16bit depth 44.1khz - CD encoding, right? If you're talking 24 or even 32 bit sampling depth, at 192Khz (which I now suspect Peter Jackson was *really* referring to) that's a different story....
I am not following you here. Digital audio should always be dithered when reducing the number of bits.
Music is uniquely emotional, tough to pass through a peer review, how do you do that with a fine wine,
Serious tasters of fine wine do their testing of wine blind. If you want to publish any academic papers about audibility, you have to use scientific measures like blind-testing. The nut-cases in audiophile magazines are just that - nut-cases.
To give you a specific example; I have a well worn pressing of Miles Davis Kind of Blue (1957) on vinyl as well as a "remastered" version on CD (interestingly a couple of cuts on the vinyl pressing was made from a master from a machine running about a quarter tone slow). I've asked more than one musician to actually reproduce the bass line from memory on "So What": using the CD required multiple playbacks - the bass line is simply "vague", from vinyl, people could reproduce the bass line immediately. Scientific? - nope! , but to a musical ear - compelling.
There are several sources of confusion in your comparision. A CD made from one master and a vinyl made from another master may well sound differently, but there is no way knowing if this difference is due to differences in the master or differences in the medium.
People knowing that they listen to a rare, expensive vinyl pressing may think that they prefer it to a plain iTunes mp3, even if they are in fact listening to the same audio. The mind is a powerful thing.
I have to disagree with your assessment of Stan Ricker and Bob Ludwig as well, isn't the purpose of engineering to apply a given technology to achieve the above described result?
Sound engineers are usually not engineers. They are not basing their career on rational, scientific explanations of how and why their equipment do what it does. It is probably possible to be an amazing photographer with out knowing the first thing about photons or CCDs or MTFs. It is primarily about delivering the end-result that appeals to people.
It might well be that some or most acclaimed audio engineers also have a solid grasp of the technical side of the equipment, but that is not a prerequisit to be an audio engineer. Therefore, I am sceptical about claims like "Ah, Bob Ludwig says that this $9000 power cable makes the CD sound better, so it must be true", just like I am sceptical about claims ala "this or that top violin player claims that their violin sounds more realistic when played back on a SACD system, and sinvce neither of us plays violin better than her, you should not argue with those claims"