Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Apple in Talks to Improve Sound Quality of Music Downloads

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the sounding-better-every-day dept.

Music 450

Barence writes "Apple and music labels are reportedly in discussions to raise the audio quality of of the songs they sell to 24-bit. The move could see digital downloads that surpass CD quality, which is recorded at 16 bits at a sample rate of 44.1kHz. It would also provide Apple and the music labels with an opportunity to 'upgrade' people's music collections, raising extra revenue in the process. The big question is whether anyone would even notice the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit files on a portable player, especially with the low-quality earbuds supplied by Apple and other manufacturers. Labels such as Linn Records already sell 'studio master' versions of albums in 24-bit FLAC format, but these are targeted at high-end audio buffs with equipment of a high enough caliber to accentuate the improvement in quality."

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

In other words (2, Insightful)

OverlordQ (264228) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294346)

Labels such as Linn Records already sell 'studio master' versions of albums in 24-bit FLAC format, but these are targeted at high-end audio buffs with equipment of a high enough caliber to accentuate the improvement in quality

In other words, they're making money off the placebo effect.

Re:In other words (4, Funny)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294358)

How can I appreciate the awesome response of my Monster Cable speaker wires if I'm not playing 24-bit FLAC audio files over them?

Re:In other words (2)

froggymana (1896008) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294402)

We all know that coat hangers are where its at...

well, if you really wanna go pro u need 36 bit (3, Funny)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294418)

with an alpha channel

Re:In other words (1)

home-electro.com (1284676) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294734)

I'm pretty sure it will work the same as cable companies did with the HDTV. After they pushed Digital TV on consumers, grossly overcompressed and far worse quality than the old analog video, switching to HDTV became a no-brainer to an average Joe. (I could not watch the TV at such a crappy quality, so I just canceled my subscription.) They'll do the same -- intentionally worsening the quality of the 16-bit files, so that difference between 16 and 24 is obvious.

Re:In other words (0)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294780)

I felt obliged to link you to this. [xkcd.com]
Note esp. the alt. text.

Re:In other words (2, Insightful)

Given M. Sur (870067) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294412)

Not really, although possibly, depending on the recordings. The difference between 24-bit and 16-bit audio is the dynamic range, with 24-bit having a much wider range between the quietest possible sound and the loudest possible sound. This is something that can definitely be heard, even on lower end equipment.

Today's music, however, is so compressed (as in audio-compression, not data-compression) in the quest to "make it louder" that it doesn't even get close to reaching the possible dynamic range of 16-bit, which effectively makes an upgrade to 24-bit completely worthless.

Google "Loudness Wars" if you want more information on that.

Re:In other words (5, Insightful)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294452)

Not really, although possibly, depending on the recordings. The difference between 24-bit and 16-bit audio is the dynamic range, with 24-bit having a much wider range between the quietest possible sound and the loudest possible sound. This is something that can definitely be heard, even on lower end equipment.

16-bit audio has a 100dB dynamic range and if properly dithered from 24-bit to 16-bit almost no one will notice the difference. To claim otherwise is to fly in the face of ABX tests which back this up.

Re:In other words (2)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294496)

To further add, the dynamic range of the average human ear is only 120dB. You really aren't losing THAT much by sticking to 16-bit. 24-bit will provide nothing but larger file sizes with little benefit. This is about as asinine as the people who claim that they need 192kHz audio as well when their ears can't 75% of the frequencies being retained by such a sampling rate. The only benefit 24-bit and 192kHz has is for mastering when you want to lose as little quality and introduce as little aliasing as possible.

Re:In other words (1)

thogard (43403) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294626)

But when some record exec wants the thing compressed so bad that you only need about 20 dB dynamic range, it won't matter. I suspect that rap is one of the few growing forms of music is that it screws up the auto compressors and so it has a wider dynamic range and dynamic range seems to be what conveys emotion in music.

Re:In other words (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294672)

Exactly. Most of the music being put out doesn't even use the full range that 16-bit provides. 24-bit would just be nothing but space wasting for no benefit.

Re:In other words (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294796)

I think we all know that ABX tests are frowned upon in the 'high-end' audio market. Knowing how much the equipment used to play the music costs is a significant aid to people with 'golden ears'.

Re:In other words (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294754)

The use of more dynamic range is it's increase in the signal to noise ratio....or reduction in quantization noise: the stair step of digital audio. In 16bit audio, the minimum step between levels is 1/65535 of full loudness. For the same listening level, with 24bit, that goes to a ridiculously small 1/16777215, or 256 times less. This pretty much making quantization noise negligible for the whole recording to delivery workflow if you're pumping the signal up to any reasonable power level.

Re:In other words (4, Insightful)

commodore6502 (1981532) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294756)

>>>Today's music, however, is so compressed (as in audio-compression, not data-compression) in the quest to "make it louder" that it doesn't even get close to reaching the possible dynamic range of 16-bit, which effectively makes an upgrade to 24-bit completely worthless.
>>>

Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding. We have a winner!

As for quality I used to care, but not anymore. As long as the MP3s I download.... er, I mean purchase sound as good as the FM Radio where I originally heard them, that's good enough. ----- If an artist releases a Greatest Hits CD I'll buy that, but mainly to "support" the singer with his commission, not because of quality.

BTW Super Audio CD and DVD-audio failed because nobody cared about quality. I expect these 24 bit things to fail too. If Apple really cares about quality, they should start selling Lossless versions of their songs.

Re:In other words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294536)

Said the man who can't appreciate music in Dolby 5.1 or 7.1.*

*-requires hardware capable of such output

And FYI, from an audio engineering and musician standpoint (why, yes I am one, err both), the creative freedom when producing for those environments become infinitely more interesting than L/R stereo! But keep plugging the placebo effect line. We'll pull your ass into the 21st century whether you want us to or not!

Re:In other words (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294566)

And FYI, from an audio engineering and musician standpoint (why, yes I am one, err both), the creative freedom when producing for those environments become infinitely more interesting than L/R stereo! But keep plugging the placebo effect line. We'll pull your ass into the 21st century whether you want us to or not!

Until you can post some evidence from ABX testing showing that it isn't anything BUT placebo effect you might have a point. Until then, reality shows that only in the imaginations of audiophiles is there really that much difference.

Re:In other words (1)

dunezone (899268) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294622)

In other words, they're making money off the placebo effect.

Nope

It would also provide Apple and the music labels with an opportunity to 'upgrade' people's music collections, raising extra revenue in the process.

They're making money off selling the same product again to you.

Re:In other words (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294724)

But... but... It's not the same product again! it's 8 bits better! OMG! I can heeeeear the sonic purity!* And it makes the Apple logo on my iPacifier to glow even more brilliantly!

*on the crap earbuds, with traffic noise leaking through. Trust me. The RDF is strong with this one.

Re:In other words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294676)

No. What they're saying is that a shitty set of ear buds makes the quality of your source material less important. It all just sounds mediocre.

You need a decent set of etymotics, shures or the like to be able to hear the difference between lower quality vbr mp3's, aac's, ogg's, etc. and 24-bit FLAC's. The $2 ear buds that come with your ipod just aren't good at reproduction, isolation, etc.

That, and there's real value in buying the higher quality content to begin with... even if you make lower quality transcodes later.

Re:In other words (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294694)

Not at all. There are corner cases in which a low number of bits per sample is noticeable. See for example the banding effects in 8 bits-per-channel images. In audio streams loudness is logarithmic but the data points are spaced equally. If you have a song with both quiet and loud portions, you might be surprised to hear the difference. If you limit the loudness to a particular interval, within the interval the effective resolution is decreased.

Re:In other words (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294746)

It's only a placebo if there was no way to hear the tracks except with hardware unable to properly output 24 bit. I remember back in the VHS/Laserdisk days. There was a massive difference between VHS and Laserdisk eventhough the TVs were the same and unable to display higher than broadcast. I've saved off tracks I've recorded at 24 bit at 16 bit and even on consumer level players I've noticed a huge difference. If you are happy with 16 bit recordings you probably also feel Blu-ray is a waste of money as well. I've heard plenty of people say they don't see the point and they are perfectly happy with DVDs. The point is Blu-ray and 24 bit get you close to the "live" experience. With Blu-ray my Sony Bravia big screen looks similar to watching a movie in the theater just without the sticky floors and scratched prints. With 24 bit audio recordings it's not unlike a live performance or more to the point hearing the music in a studio. I'll pay extra for the quality and you have the option of buying the lesser quality tracks. Blu-ray didn't kill DVDs and 24 bit won't kill 16 bit.

Well, maybe (5, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294788)

If you don't think there is real high end equipment it just means you've never looked/listened. I'm not taking $1000 speaker cables or other such snake oil, I'm talking high end speakers and so on.

Speakers in particular have a wide range because they are almost always the worst component of a system. An amp that has THD in the fractions of a percent may be hooked in to a speaker that has THD in the 5-10% range when played at a high volume.

There can be a pretty big difference between normal and good equipment. There's also a pretty big monetary difference so it isn't worth it for everyone, but if you like good sound, maybe it is. It also isn't something magical that you have to have faith exists, it is stuff you can measure. Flatter frequency response, lower THD, lower noise, better dispersion, etc, etc.

Now, does that mean 24-bit is useful? Eh, I dunno. In theory possibly. You get 96dB of dynamic range out of 16-bit audio. You can extend that through dithering, but at the cost of raising the noise floor. Human hearing is more in the 120dB range. 0dB SPL (20 micropascals) is chosen as 0 becuse it is roughly the threshold of human hearing. Some people can hear a little below that, many cannot hear that low because of hearing damage/loss. 120dB SPL is about the level where you start to feel immediate pain and thus going past it is not recommended.

So to fully cover the human range of hearing you'd need 20-bits, but then more can be useful because of course if you are trying to represent low level sounds with just 1 or 2 bits, they are going to have rather bad quantization artifacts. Again dither can deal with this, in trade for higher noise levels, but just going 24-bit solves it.

As a practical matter though, it is of questionable usefulness. For recording it is quite useful because it allows for headroom. You want to be able to have plenty of digital headroom (to prevent clipping), but still capture all the detail. However when you mix everything and normalize it down, that's not so important. It also takes some fairly high quality equipment to start getting 100dB or more of actual effective SNR and dynamic range out of a system, not to mention a rather quiet room. You can hear sounds below the room's noise level, but only maybe 10-15dB below.

I've played with it quite a bit since audio production is a hobby and I really can't form an opinion. I can set up tests where I can hear the difference, but I can set up tests where I can't.

Over all I think it would be nice to move to 24-bit since space is rapidly becoming a total non-issue and it just avoids it ever being a problem. Kinda like moving past 8-bits per channel for video. However I don't think it is a big issue and it isn't something I'll tell people they gotta have. "CD quality" has endured precisely because it is "good enough" for most things. Maybe not perfect, but you don't really notice any problems in normal use and that's what matters.

Nope, they really do make a difference (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294812)

You know when you turn on a stereo and you hear a slight hiss and hum? Linn stuff doesn't.

Linn kit does a pretty good job of sounding like it isn't there...

At a ridiculous price of course.

A while back, I saw a comparison between various brands of stereo equipment, including some very high end stuff, and a live performance, and price does matter, you can tell even with the most outrageously expensive, but it's more difficult the more you spend. Seems to be logarithmic, you spend 10x more for a linear improvement.

For the average person like yourself, I'm sure Apple and Sony would do.

Damn (4, Funny)

ShavedOrangutan (1930630) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294354)

Looks like I'll have to bootleg my music collection all over again.

Re:Damn (0)

pandrijeczko (588093) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294456)

Let me know what day you plan on starting that task.

I'll make sure I go out and buy a few extra music CDs that day so I can can continue to subsidise your music habits.

Re:Damn (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294648)

I think you meant to be funny, but seriously, why do you choose to subsidize his music habits? Opt out already.

Re:Damn (2)

pandrijeczko (588093) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294760)

I take the attitude that a good album I end up enjoying over the space of several decades is worth a "tenner" in anyone's currency.

And if nobody bought it then it wouldn't be made in the first place.

Plus I like sleeve notes to read on the toilet and discs in cases to indulge my anally retentive tendencies towards alphabetical filing.

Re:Damn (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294818)

discs in cases to indulge my anally retentive tendencies towards alphabetical filing.

Funny, I feel very much the same way with my meticulously organized directory structure of pirated ^w downloaded ^w legally obtained music files.

BTW, for future reference, please don't make a habit of mentioning "anally retentive" and "read on the toilet" in the same sentence. We here at Slashdot don't really need those visuals, and what has been mentally seen can never be unseen. Thank you.

Re:Damn (4, Funny)

ShavedOrangutan (1930630) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294658)

Thanks! Don't forget to buy some DVDs and a few copies of Windows XP.

Never Underestimate the Placebo Effect... (1)

nweaver (113078) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294376)

NEVER underestimate the placebo effect when dealing with audiophiles.

Even if they can never hear the difference, because they THINK 24 bit lossy encoding is better than 16 bit lossy encoding, they will believe it sounds better and therefore you have a chance to charge them more for it.

After all, the audio/video realm is the home of massively overpriced digital cables with gold plated contacts and vastly inflated pricetags, because some suckers think they are better.

Re:Never Underestimate the Placebo Effect... (1)

michael_cain (66650) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294488)

Interesting to contrast audiophiles and musicians. The audiophiles want you to listen to the difference in some piece as reproduced by two pieces of equipment; the musicians want you to listen to the difference in interpretation in some piece as played by two different people. In my experience, musicians typically have fairly crappy equipment, but enormous amounts of content.

As they say, people listen to the music and audiophiles listen to the noise.

Could result in an improvement. (2)

pavon (30274) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294580)

Yeah, I agree that the increased fidelity of the recording isn't going to make any difference in sound quality. However, as we have seen with DVD-A, the existence of an "Audiophile Format" means that studios that release them usually create a mix that doesn't compress and clip the audio to all hell, because they are catering to that market, not the FM radio market.

I'd pay a little more for a correctly mixed recording. I don't care whether it is 24-bit or 16-bit; I'll be re-encoding it to a 192kbps MP3, and it will still sound better than the CD release.

Re:Never Underestimate the Placebo Effect... (4, Insightful)

Falconhell (1289630) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294586)

From an audiphile forum:

20% of the money will buy you 90% of the sound...another 30% of the money will buy you another 5% of the sound...you can't buy the remaining 5% of the sound because nobody can agree about what it is.

Re:Never Underestimate the Placebo Effect... (1)

enoz (1181117) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294710)

Dare I ask what happens to the other 50% of the money?

Re:Never Underestimate the Placebo Effect... (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294778)

You'll spend it anyway, in a futile attempt to get that last 5% (or, more honestly, in a risible attempt to pose to your fellow audiophools that you have attained sonic Nirvana with your oxygen-free native-thorium 23-to-1-braid speaker cabling at $45,000 per meter).

Re:Never Underestimate the Placebo Effect... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294786)

Rebuying your music collection at 24-bit, I presume.

audiophiles, phooey (3, Insightful)

bugi (8479) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294638)

Not just audiophiles. I can't hear worth crap. Never could. I could hardly care less for the difference between a scratchy record and a CD, much less what color my cable is, gold or green or fuscia. What I do care about though, is being able to format shift my music. My archive is in FLAC, which I transcode to a lossy format for general use. When something more palatable comes along, I'll be able to transcode to that instead of having to repurchase everything -- that assuming I could even find half of it, which is very unlikely. And unlike if my collection were solely in a lossy format, I won't have to endure the progressive distortions of transcoding from one lossy format to another, the cumulative effect of which would eventually drive even me nuts.

Re:Never Underestimate the Placebo Effect... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294770)

It's true: There's a lot of snake oil in the music world.

But, there's also a vast spectrum of stereo quality. If you've never heard a $2000 stereo (well-spent on the fundamentals, setup in an acoustic-friendly room, etc), it's easy to think that high-end audio is a joke. Most stereos really don't even come close to accurately reproducing 16bit, 44khz audio.

Until recently, I had assumed that high-end stereos were purely a status symbol, and offered little (if any) improvement beyond the typical stereo found in a modern home. Once you hear a good system that's properly setup, with a good recording, it opens your ears to what you've been missing.

I'm not saying $50,000 systems are $48,000 better than a "modest" $2000 system, but I am saying that with some knowledge of audio reproduction's pitfalls, and some money and time to address them, you can actually reveal many recording faults - and benefit from higher quality source material.

Sound quality is 50% equipment, and 50% acoustics. Most people have mediocre equipment (or improperly paired equipment), and horrendous acoustics. Focusing on improving the listening position, proper speaker placement, and eliminating weak links (poor source material, underpowered/damaged amp, blown or improperly paired speaker drivers, faulty speaker connections, etc) will do absolute wonders.

Don't bother buying fancy cable, or special fluid to de-oxidize your copper speaker wire, or over-priced show piece equipment. A well-researched and executed stereo reveals poor quality source material, without spending a huge amount of money. The sad part is most people never put in the effort to do these basic, important things. If anything, people buy expensive gear, set it up improperly and then assume that it's "supposed to sound like that".

My point is simply this: If everyone who listened to music critically setup their stereos properly, the push to higher quality source material would have happened a long time ago. This current move by Apple & co is entirely for more $$$, and won't be noticed by the vast majority of customers, but it is a number, and the number is bigger, so it must sound better - right?

I heard (4, Funny)

Konster (252488) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294382)

Audiophiles listen to stereos. The rest of us listen to music. :)

Re:I heard (4, Funny)

shawb (16347) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294434)

Q: How many audiophiles does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A: Only a PHILISTINE would appreciate the punchline with the ATROCIOUS acoustics in here.

Re:I heard (2)

blackpig (1112913) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294610)

Q: How many audiophiles does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A: One, but the lightbulb costs $350--and the old one cost $295 and still works perfectly well.

Re:I heard (1)

pandrijeczko (588093) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294664)

Q: How many audiophiles does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A: It's actually a trick question because they only use Victorian gas lamps.

Not in theory (3, Insightful)

pipatron (966506) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294384)

A correctly mastered 16-bit file wouldn't have any audible difference compared to the 24-bit file anyway, unless we're talking measurable differences instead of differences you can actually hear. I'd rather see an increase in the samplerate, but preferably both.

Re:Not in theory (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294420)

Exactly and ABX tests back this up. But of course the audiophiles will claim that they need 24-bit, 192khz sound so that their 50,000 dollar hifi with 5000 dollar interconnects can reach it's full potential.

Re:Not in theory (1)

Falconhell (1289630) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294620)

People who believe they can tell the difference between a cheap and an expensive fibre optic link cable are not worth listening to.

Re:Not in theory (3, Funny)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294674)

There is an easily distinguishable heft and comfort difference when you whip someone with expensive fiber optic, and don't let anyone tell you differently.

Re:Not in theory (2)

Parafilmus (107866) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294538)

In theory, sure. But in practice, today's audio CDs tend to be very poorly mastered.

It is common to see 16-bit clipping artifacts on major label CDs, as audio engineers strive to make their disc sound "louder" than others on the shelf. I know it sounds like a joke from spinal tap, but it's true.

For an illustration of the problem, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Gmex_4hreQ [youtube.com]

For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war [wikipedia.org]

The move to 24-bit samples could solve this problem by making CD mastering more "idiot proof."

Re:Not in theory (1)

TrancePhreak (576593) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294554)

It'd only be idiot proof until they make them even louder, thus maxing the 24bits. :/

Re:Not in theory (3)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294578)

The move to 24-bit samples could solve this problem by making CD mastering more "idiot proof."

No it wouldn't. Nothing about moving to 24-bit stops them from overly compressing the dynamic range as they are now. The only "benefit" is going be from the fact that the sound files will need at least an additional 30% or more in space.

Re:Not in theory (2)

pipatron (966506) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294590)

Absolutely not. A 24-bit fixpoint/integer format will still have a ceiling, thus everything will still be mastered as loud as before. The only way this would not be true is if all audio players would play 24-bit files louder so that, say, 24-bit files would have a 4 bit headroom compared to the 16-bit file, but this is just not true. Perhaps it would be wiser to implement an 8+16 bit floating point format which could have a chance of surviving the loudness war, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Rebranding of FLAC (3, Funny)

aardwolf64 (160070) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294396)

Apple will of course rebrand FLAC as Apple-FLAC, or AFLAC for short.

Re:Rebranding of FLAC (1)

Draaglom (1556491) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294464)

They already have ALAC, which they'd probably prefer to FLAC.

Re:Rebranding of FLAC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294540)

Apple already has ALAC, and has had since 2004. But since FLAC is older you're somewhat right.

Re:Rebranding of FLAC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294602)

For non-US audiences:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIXvfdr7Dj4 (parody)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1xzhGkSUnQ (real)

Re:Rebranding of FLAC (1)

pandrijeczko (588093) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294718)

"Apple Remastered Sound Environment" or "ARSE" anyone?

Meaningless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294406)

This is so meaningless, it's hard not to make a crack about apple fans claiming to love various completely intangible benefits. I'll try to refrain, however.

The only reason to store audio at greater than cd-quality is if you need masters... such as you're doing multiple processing passes over it. Other than that, the benefit to the consumer is as completely illusionary as Monster audio cables.

Re:Meaningless (1)

pandrijeczko (588093) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294432)

I disagree. Once that 24-bit upgrade to the human ear comes out, there will definitely be a reason to go and buy that stuff.

red herring (4, Insightful)

fred fleenblat (463628) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294416)

the bit depth is interesting, but the largest improvement would come from simply not using lossy compression. one hopes that TFA glossed over this and that nobody is seriously considering 24-bit MP3's.

Re:red herring (5, Insightful)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294484)

Apple already sells Apple Lossless files so that's a non-issue. If Apple *actually* wanted to improve the quality of music they would demand remastered tracks with actual audio engineers doing the work instead of rap "producers" using the compression widget in Protools to make it sound "better".

Re:red herring (2)

metamatic (202216) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294570)

Apple already sells Apple Lossless files so that's a non-issue.

They do? Must be for a pretty small subset of the available catalog, as I've never seen them offered.

Re:red herring (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294668)

Oops, guess I was misinformed by yet another AAPL rumor. Don't use the itunes store myself and assumed since I had heard it was coming and the player supports it that they would actually offer the files, silly me =)

Re:red herring (1)

hondo77 (324058) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294628)

Really? Where?

Re:red herring (1)

aitan (948581) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294690)

But you can bet that by selling 24-bit MP3's they'll be able to push out a lot of new iPods because the older ones aren't designed to support this "extra-high" quality files.

Re:red herring (1)

pandrijeczko (588093) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294810)

...not to mention making the iPod "Shuffle" feature more than a bit redundant when you've only got enough space for 2 extra high quality songs on it.

Squandered technology (5, Insightful)

Applekid (993327) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294422)

Perhaps is music wasn't overly compressed (talking about dynamic range, here) they wouldn't need so many more bits of resolution for the -3 dB they're mastering audio at these days.

Been tested time and again (3, Insightful)

RapmasterT (787426) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294448)

Over the decades I've read several studies testing peoples opinions of different bitrates and compression schemes. The typical response is people can just barely tell that there is a difference between bitrates, but they are unable to accurately pick the HIGHER bitrate one. In other words, even when they can tell there is a difference, they're still not sure what one is the original...just that they sound "different".

I don't even want to get started on "audiophiles". They're institutionalized hatred of the sound of live music sickens me...they claim to want the best quality possible, but won't suffer through anything that hasn't been run through an unintentional distortion or dynamic range limiting filter.

Re:Been tested time and again (1)

godrik (1287354) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294728)

For having done the blind test myself (lossless flac and lossy flac from ripped cd of classical music). I can not tell the difference, my earing is pretty bad. Most of my "audiophile" friends can not tell the difference as well (about 20 tried). Some people (3 people) I know can tell the difference.

There is definitly way less people that claim they make the difference than people that actually do.

Headphones usually provide the flattest response (1)

MyFirstNameIsPaul (1552283) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294470)

Years ago I worked at a very large music mail-order company and had a field day going through and testing all the stuff. Among the biggest lessons I learned was that CD is not the end-all be-all of music formats that I thought it was. My friend and I would run blind tests using an album we were both very familiar with (Yes 90125) and we could actually tell the difference and preferred reel-to-reel over CD. However, the only way to really tell was to wear headphones. Granted, we were wearing the industry standard Sony MDR-7506 headphones, but still, we could hear a difference. When we tested using studio monitors we slightly leaned towards the reel-to-reel, but it was not as clear cut.

Depending on what you're getting, many headphones and mobile players actually offer very good fidelity. I was amazed at how good the headphones that came with my BlackBerry Bold 9000 are, as well as the quality of the output of the phone. I don't own a dedicated portable music player, but it's hard for me to imagine that companies like Apple would use poor quality amps.

On a side note, I was really disappointed that the higher fidelity optical discs didn't take off. Sometimes I wonder if the music industry had gone out and brainwashed everyone that the higher fidelity was way better, then maybe people would have been less enthused about pirated 128 kbps mp3s. I know I never much cared for VHS recordings of DVDs.

Re:Headphones usually provide the flattest respons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294564)

You chose an album that's infamous for the poor quality of its CD remaster. Try it again with the new remasters of Let It Be and get back to us.

Re:Headphones usually provide the flattest respons (1)

MyFirstNameIsPaul (1552283) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294678)

The last CD I considered purchasing was Coldplay's Viva La Vida. It was $29.98 at my local Target. I did not purchase that album. You may well be correct, as I could definitely hear a difference in the remastered Pink Floyd CDs, and I'm quite certain it wasn't the gold reflective material.

Re:Headphones usually provide the flattest respons (2)

metamatic (202216) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294630)

I don't own a dedicated portable music player, but it's hard for me to imagine that companies like Apple would use poor quality amps.

Depends what you mean by quality. The amp in an iPod may or may not have good linearity, frequency response and so on, but I know for sure that it's barely capable of driving a pair of headphones. Even with earbuds, you get a major improvement by using a headphone amp.

Apple also uses pretty wretched amps in their computers; you can get a major improvement from using an external USB audio interface.

Basically, anything beyond current iTMS quality is a waste of time if you're using raw iPod amplification or the built-in sound on a Mac.

Re:Headphones usually provide the flattest respons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294682)

99.9% of music sold is compressed into the top half of the spectrum, where it doesn't make a damn bit of difference which fidelity you're using, or what sort of crappy amp you have.

128kbps MP3s actually vary a great deal based on the compression codec used. Some of the old "cheap" codecs from the 1990s absolutely destroyed music at 128kbps, but using a higher quality one made a much better recording, which was challenging to tell apart from the higher quality settings.

When I encoded music, I always used the "LAME" encoder with VBR settings, which resulted in about 135kbps, but was virtually indistinguishable from lossless audio and far better than 160kbps and even some 256kbps using "worse" encoders.

Hoopla (4, Informative)

JBMcB (73720) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294490)

A quick note about dynamic range, which is what the bit depth affects.

Maximum dynamic range that human hearing can discern: 140dB average
Maximum practical dynamic range of CD: 90dB
Maximum practical dynamic range of 24-bit audio: around 140dB
Dynamic range required for full range live music playback, according to Ampex: 118dB average
Maximum practical dynamic range of high quality studio analog tape: 80dB
Maximum practical dynamic range of studio analog tape in the '60s: ~70dB

So, if you have a piece of music recorded, mixed, mastered and released in pure 24-bit depth, you *may* hear a difference under ideal conditions (excellent production, good equipment, *quiet* listening room, etc...) Note that there have been double-blind listening tests of SACD, and listeners were unable to hear a difference between the CD version.

All those old Beatles and Rolling Stones albums? Keep the best CD version you have, more bits aren't going to make a difference.

Re:Hoopla (5, Insightful)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294772)

Right.

I've been in the auditorium at Dolby Labs in San Francisco, which is set up for high quality audio. (The entire room is vibration-isolated from the rest of the building and soundproofed to the point that external noise is essentially zero. The audio gear is, of course, good.) In there, 24 bit audio with full dynamic range can be clearly distinguished from 16-bit audio on orchestral music. The soft passages don't get that awful 4 to 6-bit sound quality when the high bits are all zero.

Through earbuds, on the street, or in a car, no way can you detect that difference in quality. For rock, it doesn't make sense. Hip-hop could probably be clipped at 8KHz without much loss. As long as you had enough speaker power for the bass nobody would notice.

Re:Hoopla (4, Funny)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294802)

Maximum practical dynamic range of CD: 90dB
Maximum practical dynamic range of 24-bit audio: around 140dB
Dynamic range required for full range live music playback, according to Ampex: 118dB average
Maximum practical dynamic range of high quality studio analog tape: 80dB
Maximum practical dynamic range of studio analog tape in the '60s: ~70dB

Maximum dynamic range of post loudness war recordings: 3 dB

A Good Step (1)

albinobluerhino (935977) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294492)

I would love to see, er, hear, this happen. 24 bit depth would allow for more dynamic range, and the lower amount of distortion would also be great. I know most people don't have the equipment or ear training to hear the difference, but why not encode music at a higher quality level?

Re:A Good Step (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294526)

Because properly dithered 16-bit audio retains all the goodness of 24-bit sound but with much smaller file sizes.

Re:A Good Step (1)

pipatron (966506) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294646)

Where "much smaller" is 100MB instead of 150MB.

Re:A Good Step (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294712)

No, it's actually usually much better than that when it comes to lossless compression. With 24-bit compression with FLAC I've seen differences of nearly 50% or more between feeding it a dithered 16-bit wav vs 24-bit wav. Either way, that 50MB is doing nothing but wasting space when ABX tests show that almost no one hears the difference. And you extrapolate that out to the amount of traffic on Apple's music store even 50MB less per album would amount to a HUGE amount of traffic difference.

new market (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294502)

I think this is a great idea. Granted, the majority of us won't be able to HEAR the difference, playing the music on our ipods or even our computers' built-in speakers, (laptops in particular, such as mine) but it's good to hear they're trying to offer better quality.

Imagine they offer the option to pay a buck for the song, or a buck thirty for a higher quality version. I bet they could get the extra 30c a lot of the time. It's a good business move. And we KNOW how the **aa love to sell you the same thing more than once.

I wonder though what exact format it will be in? Maybe they will just be offering higher bitrate MP3s? (m3a) It's not necessary to go to FLAC format if you are increasing the source's resolution. Besides, these will be better than traditional FLACs that are limited to the quality of the CD media.

Loudness Wars (3, Insightful)

Microlith (54737) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294504)

Sure they'll be 24-bit, but they'll also have the dynamic range compressed to shit.

Unless that's the actual selling point, getting copies of the songs before they've passed through the hands of the mastering engineer whose job it is to destroy the difference between the quietest and loudest parts of songs, or worse yet causing horrible clipping.

Strange priorities (1)

Jugalator (259273) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294522)

Huh? I haven't any problems with the quality. Has anyone in actually asked for "better than CD quality"? Can users typically hear a difference? Are users ready to spend more time and bandwidth on downloading "better than CD quality" music?

Let's spend the effort on streaming music support instead. A Spotify alternative with the iTunes catalog would be nice. And actually useful.

Recharging... (1)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294524)

Well, if you have people who pay for gold plated cables, you'll have people who pay for 'higher quality' music which makes no difference.

Would be funny if they say its 24 bit, change nothing and see how many people gab on about how they can hear much better.

Dynamic Range (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294532)

Dynamic range (represented by the "24 bit" parameter) makes a lot of sense for classical music and certain other genres. No matter how much dynamic headroom is provided, most pop music will be compressed into the top four bits anyway. It won't be louder, since in the digital domain, dynamics are a matter of "attenuation from zero", and there is no envelope to push, like there was in the old days.

In a production mode, it's quite nice to have higher dynamic range, not so much for the range between extremes, but more because of the higher resolution.

Similar arguments exist for frequency, even in the face of compression of consumer audio. Want to convince yourself of how well you can hear the difference between a lossy compression codec and the original wav? There's a simple test. Take the original wav, copy it and turn it 180 degrees in phase. Mix this track agains the compressed file. Notice that when you play this result you can hear a *lot*. What you hear is the aberration of compression. If your music doesn't have a lot of stuff like clean cymbals or a solo oboe or whatever, maybe you'll find this result perfectly acceptable.

An even better, much more revealing test is to convert the track to Mid/Side stereo. (Much easier to do if you're in a studio environment, but simple and routine in any case), take the sides and compare them in a listening test and a nulling test. It will be painfully obvious what MP3 compression does to the side and to the stereo image in general.

I'm not waiting for more bits (3, Interesting)

StripedCow (776465) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294560)

What I'd like to see (or rather hear), is that we can have access to the individual tracks of each song, so that we can remix stuff. Kind of like the open-source of audio.

Digital Audio 101 (1, Interesting)

Niobe (941496) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294624)

A slightly misleading article. Apple may well be talking about 24-bit audio, but 24-bits is hardly necessary for a large improvement in the perceived quality of audio. This real issue is with lossy codecs (like mp3) versus lossless codecs (like flac). Flac is far superior, and even the average person should be able to tell the difference with some practice - to the average musician its chalk and cheese let alone to an audiophile. I would be surprised if many people could differentiate 16-bit from 24-bit except via the increased dynamic range (number of discrete volume levels). And frankly this dynamic range is inappropriate for listening to most music, with the possible exception of classical and jazz that could use the extra headroom. The reason why you have to constantly adjust the volume of your DVD when watching at home? Too much dynamic range. Do you want that for you music as well? (not aware of any musical genres requiring explosions, gunshots etc at this time)
So, no, no-one will be able to tell the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit, but almost everyone should be able to appreciate the diifference between a lossy and a lossless codec. Flac, 24-bit or not will be a good thing.
For the record, most audio that is digitally recorded in 24-bit/96KHz or higher anyway. It is only 'dithered' down to 16-bit/44.1KHzas a last step in preparation for CD. For various technical reasons this results in a higher quality 16-bit recording than if it was tracked in 16-bit.

Re:Digital Audio 101 (5, Informative)

arose (644256) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294720)

CD have more then enough dynamic range, it's just that it is hardly ever used.

Bad mastering defies any usefulness of 24bit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294640)

First of all, it has not been shown that 24 bits depth (~144dB dynamic range) will give any audible benefit over 16 bit depth (~96dB) sampling depth. I don't know of any successful ABX test regarding that.

Second, lossy formats don't have something like bit depth, they are sourced from lossless data having a bitdepth, but the resulting files don't have any, and to my knowledge at least common MP3 has a noise floor much worse than 96dB.

Third, current mastering tendencies especially on pop and rock music make any plans of improving dynamic range for consumers pointless. You can try yourself, for example using the excellent SoX, to regain your files to the different bitdepths and test whether you can positively ABX the resulting files. For example I was unable to ABX Metallica's latest "masterpiece" after dithering it down to 10bits of depth, which is just 60dB of dyanmic range. So as long as the mastering itself is in such a sad state for popular music (which is the main market of iTunes?) there is absolutely no need to have 144dB dynamic range. I for one would be happy if current engineers managed to make use of the 96dB they had for some decades.

Re:Bad mastering defies any usefulness of 24bit (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294730)

First of all, it has not been shown that 24 bits depth (~144dB dynamic range) will give any audible benefit over 16 bit depth (~96dB) sampling depth. I don't know of any successful ABX test regarding that.

There aren't any but audiophiles will continue to claim there is. 24-bit is useful at the mastering stage just as 192kHz is really only useful at the mastering and mixing stage. 24-bit sound is completely wasteful on the typical loudness wars audio track.

Sweet! (5, Funny)

KiwiCanuck (1075767) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294644)

128kbit/s at 24-bit! Now excuse me while I crank it to 11.

Why? (1)

Per Wigren (5315) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294680)

The main reason for going higher than 16 bit, 44.1 khz is when you want to manipulate the audio, for example mixing, pitching and applying various effects.
Imagine that you have a 1600x1200 pixel screen. You have one 1600x1200 pixel image and one 4000x3000 pixel original. On your screen both images look identical. Now apply a spherize filter effect. The 1600x1200 pixel image will become pixelated on the parts where it's stretched out but the 4000x3000 pixel image will still look good.
The same theory applies to audio also.
There's no real reason to go higher than CD quality for the final mix that you're only going to listen to. Not even the best hearing audiophiles with a $10000000 stereo will be able to tell the difference in a double blind test.

Because *YOU* demanded it... (1)

pandrijeczko (588093) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294696)

...Slashdot is proud to present, for your delectation....

AUDIOPHILES vs. FANBOIS - THE REMATCH!!!

Right, popcorn's ready, in your own time...

Quasi-audiophile here (4, Interesting)

swordgeek (112599) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294702)

My stereo(yes, two channel!) is worth several thousands of carefully-planned dollars. I think it could be put alongside systems worth $20k, and hold its own. (The speakers at present are the weakest link, and they still sound much better than yours. :-)

That said, it's a practical system. I've got enough background in electronics and acoustics (and psychology!) to know better than to buy a huge amount of the insane junk that's out there. Amplifiers that go into oscillation with the wrong cables? No thanks! Vacuum tubes? The guitar amp is downstairs, thanks very much. Cable elevators? Um...no. Just no.

So here's my defense of 24-bit 48kHz recordings: Breathing space.

Nothing to do (specifically) with dynamic headroom or the like, but when producing, mixing, and mastering data recorded as 16-bit 44kHz, there is very little you can do without inadvertently affecting the audio signal. In other words, it's harder to get it right when you're operating right at the threshold of hearing.

If studios did everything in 24-bit/96kHz and actually avoided clipping through the whole chain, then a final mixdown to 16b/44Khz (i.e. a CD) would sound gorgeous - perfect sound to the extent of human hearing. However, mixing is often done poorly, and as hot as possible for better sales, and the result is that the poor CD suffers the abuse caused by the engineers.

The way of the world (2)

ddd0004 (1984672) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294740)

This is the way that the world works. There is going to be a day when we will all be listening to 256 bit recordings, eating pizzas incorporating 15 different cheeses, watching 600inch screens with a resolution 16000x9000 from a distance of 8 feet, watering plants with brawndo (it's got what plants crave) and playing guitars with 5 necks hooked to amps that go to 11. Remember, that's the beauty of the number system, there's always a bigger number.

How about we start with the actual player (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294748)

Perhaps apple should first make a ipod that has decent sound quality. Any vintage discman from the early 90's will blow away an ipod.

Thinking geek/ (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294784)

The big question is whether anyone would even notice the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit files on a portable player

The bigger question is why the geek thinks Apple wouldn't like to cut itself a slice of the high end audio market?

Denon sells a dock for the iPhone.

Why not an iTunes app on the Denon home theater receiver? The Panasonic or Samsung HDTV or theater sound bar? Pandora is there. Rhapsody is there. Why not iTunes?

Its not that 24 bits of data makes the sound better. It actually does not. What is does is give your audio more room to breathe in the numeric realm of digital audio. Remember, we are talking about numbers, calculations, not analog waveforms. With 24 bits of data demarcing your recording medium, its is possible to record extremely dynamic music, with very quiet soft passages and extraordinary loud passages. Quiet passages will be less likely struggling to stay above the noise floor on your system. One can record with no compression. You can record at lower levels, with more headroom. This ensures that the occasional peak is not truncated at the top and it will give converters some room the breathe. Because you are not pushing the limits of your bandwidth, your instruments will sound clearer, and the vocals may sound "cleaner", the song will mix better and there will be less noise. So its not that 24 bit recordings sound better. In fact they may sound just as bad or worse than 16 bit. But 24 bits gives the recordist a noise floor and headroom to create an excellent recording. Its a tool, and in the right hand, it can blow you away, audio wise.

16 Bit vs. 24 Bit Audio [tweakheadz.com]

I've actually had (1)

rsilvergun (571051) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294794)

people complain about sound quality of podcasts downloaded with my plugin [mozilla.org] , so I guess could see the use of it. I can't hear the difference, but I guess if you start with sources meant for 24-bit...

What an awesome bit of marketing (2)

subreality (157447) | more than 3 years ago | (#35294808)

Going 24-bit will make no practical difference on 99% of popular music. It lowers the theoretical noise floor, but that's only relevant if the master tapes are good enough (rare), and more importantly, the music actually has that much dynamic range... Which the vast majority of music does not. How much music in the iTunes store has passages so soft you can barely hear them? It happens occasionally in classical, but virtually never in rock.

I think the point of this is to get over the stigma of compressed audio. Now instead of people saying that CDs are better because they're uncompressed, Apple has an answer: "Yeah, but ours are 24 bit!". It's meaningless, but now it's "debatable" which format is better, instead of the previous situation where CDs were objectively better and the only contention was if the difference was audible.

Here Here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35294826)

About time.

I never understood why on earth "CD Quality" became the gold standard for compressed music, especially in the light of the fact that broadband connections are fast enough and music devices have enough storage for better quality audio.

I am not going to get into the whole "audiophile" arguments, but its almost laughable that there are people here thinking the current compressed music is good enough. For the most part, your system is doing more to add back the dynamic range missing from compressed music, most audio systems are designed to process digital music and add back the life that has been missing from overly compressed music.

I was listening to a 70's Santana record that was recorded with "quadraphonic" sound. Basically 4 discrete channels. Sure, the record was a little scratchy, and the old tube receiver took a long while before it hit its sweet spot, but man the sound was really good. I plugged in my iPod to the exact same system and it immediately sounded like it was coming from a tin can, what a difference.

Look, I don't want to go back to records, playing around with an old record player was nostalgic, but it brought back all the inconvenience of large 12" platters, static, dust, having to change sides or records every 20 minutes, no random play, etc, but I have been wanting "compressed" audio to grow up and mature and start sounding better, its about time Apple thought so too.

Bottom line is, I think consumers should have a choice. If you feel CD quality is good enough, then fine, but I would prefer downloading studio masters myself.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?