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Does Portable Music Have to be Compressed?

CmdrTaco posted more than 7 years ago | from the what-lossy-eyes-you-have dept.

Music 540

FunkeyMonk writes "The Christian Science monitor has an article discussing the gap between music fans and audiophiles when it comes to portable music. Would you pay a few cents more to have lossless downloads from iTunes and other online music retailers? As a classical musician myself, I choose not to download most of my music, but rather rip it myself in lossless format."

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Frosty (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089238)

Post

Lossless is compressed (5, Insightful)

nurhussein (864532) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089240)

...just with no quality loss. Perhaps the question is "Does portable music have to be lossy?"

MOD PARENT DOWN (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089382)

Carma-whore. "Lossless is without quality loss" - What an obvious carma whore! Burn this idiot, please!

You could at least have provided a link to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] or the HydrogenAudio wiki [hydrogenaudio.org] .

Please notice how THIS post is posted as AC, yet not anonymously.

Cheers,
KingOfGod [slashdot.org]

Re:MOD PARENT DOWN (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089408)

It's spelled "karma". Now give me some for pointing that out.

Oh wait, I'm an AC. Nevermind.

Re:Lossless is compressed (2, Insightful)

albertost (1019782) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089482)

not if he uses PCM

Re:Lossless is compressed (2, Informative)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089616)

Okay, show me non-lossy non-PCM digital audio. You can't? Well, too bad. Digital music is usually PCM and most of us refer to CD's as "lossless", being our only "source" to convert to other formats.

Re:Lossless is compressed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089490)

Insightful?? Please! Try Reading Comprehension 101.

RTFA. Nowhere does it suggest that lossless encoding is not compressed, or that downloads have to be lossy.

Even the headline, misconceived as it is, doesn't say lossless is not compressed.

Sheesh!

There are SEVENTY-NINE Star Trek Episodes! (-1, Offtopic)

CheeseburgerBrown (553703) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089634)

I think you may be being a touch literal here, pardner. Maybe your pocket-protector is cutting off circulation to your nipples.

Besides, there were seventy-nine episodes of the original Star Trek series and everybody knows it.

Re:Lossless is compressed (5, Informative)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089738)

Let's not perpetrate the myth that music can be recorded losslessly in the first place. All sampling is lossy. CDDA specifies a certain sample rate, beyond which you lose higher frequencies, and a fixed number of bits per sample, so you lose precision. For the same bitrate, you would get better results by starting with a high-resolution master and using lossy compression down to CDDA bitrate.

I'm not arguing that a lossy encoding of CDDA is as good as CDDA; it isn't. Just that there's no law of nature establishing CDDA as the gold standard in the first place.

more for non-DRM (5, Informative)

yagu (721525) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089242)

Actually I'd like to be able to get an "original" image a la the CDs you buy, but allow single CD tracks. Would I pay more for that? I don't know. I've never bought any of the DRM'ed crap because it's DRM'ed, so I don't know how badly (or well) compressed they are.

If there are audible compression artifacts anywhere in today's downloadable DRM'ed music I'd probably insist the compression be less or not at all, after all I'm paying for music, and a compression artifact (to me) is analogous to stuck pixels in a monitor or camera... my threshold of tolerance is zero for that.

(I had one of the very original SONY Mini-disk recorders, and remember a passage of a Doobie Brothers track where some high pitched bells instead of sounding like high pitched bells sounded like someone sneezing... unacceptable... completely altered my experience of MD (along with numerous other things about SONY).)

So, bottom line, DRM aside, I consider it the responsibility of the music industry to deliver what they claim they are delivering... music (usually). I'm willing to bet what they are delivering has artifacts... I wouldn't pay more to get rid of that, I'd demand they replace the defective product.

The nice thing about my CDs and my derivative mp3 collection (recorded at 320 VBR) is if I hear an artifact in my track, I have the unedited original, I rip it at higher quality until the artifact isn't there.

(As an aside, I think the article makes an exceptionally great point not directly related to the users:

That's important to sound engineers, too. "You spend a long time training your ears and striving to perfect your craft and put out a better product," says Jeff Willens, an audio-restoration specialist at Vidipax in Long Island City, N.Y. "When you finally discover that these things are being listened to on cellphones and through pea-size earphones, it's kind of disheartening."

So, in addition to short-shrifting consumers with less-than-perfect (to the ear) product, the movers of downloadable music thumb their noses at the collective profession of sound engineers and engineering... pretty rude.

Granted, a lot of the music out there is crap -- it's no justification for compromise on the medium.

Oh, and re the subject line of my post... I'd pay a little more for non-DRMed music, not uncompressed music.

Re:more for non-DRM (5, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089498)

So, in addition to short-shrifting consumers with less-than-perfect (to the ear) product, the movers of downloadable music thumb their noses at the collective profession of sound engineers and engineering... pretty rude.

Not all sound engineers are as dedicated to the art as you suggest. Okay, sure, if one wants to listen to something recorded in a state-of-the-art lab by consummate lovers of both the music itself and clean audio in general, then one should invest in the right conditions.

From my own collection, I'll take the world premiere recording of Boulez's Repons [amazon.com] as an example. It was recorded in the projection space at IRCAM, one of the world's foremost music and acoustics research laboratories, and I only listen to it from the CD on my home stereo system, which isn't the most whizbang, but the best I can afford.

Contrast this with Rush's 2002 album Vapor Trails [amazon.com] , a musically strong release which was recorded in poor circumstances and remastered in worse. The clipping that plagues every track in the album has long been criticized by fans (see the Amazon reviews for further info). So, since the guys who engineered the album didn't aim for clear audio, I feel no shame in putting this in 160 kbps Ogg Vorbis and listening to it with merely average headphones on my portable MP3 player.

As has already been said in many places in the discussion, lossless is probably going to be a draw mostly for classical (or, in my case, modern-classical) fans.

Re:more for non-DRM (1)

Gailin (138488) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089568)

"So, in addition to short-shrifting consumers with less-than-perfect (to the ear) product, the movers of downloadable music thumb their noses at the collective profession of sound engineers and engineering... pretty rude."

Probably because that is what the consumer want. Therefore, they are going to provide it. While some people are self-proclaimed audiophiles and spend ungodly amounts of money on gold-plated speakers, or some such crap, most people do not. Should they cater to the audiophiles taste? Or should they cater the greater majority of consumers who are not going to spend $10,000+ on a pair of speakers.

Just as you suggested, people who demand that level of encoding, should buy the original cd. Or use a service that caters to your style of listening (i.e. magnatune.com). But for most of us that are going to be listening to music on a portable device or our computer why waste money?

FFS shut up already (1, Insightful)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089250)

I've challenged my local audiophile friend to a blind test several times and he refuses to give it a go [especially since he listens to the audio really loudly which will mask most tones anyways].

192+ kbit mp3 with a decent codec (e.g. lame q=2) sounds just like the original for the music in my collection.

Yes [since I know someone will bring it up], if you plan to remix it ... use flac. But that's not what this article is about. It's about downloads for listening not remixing. And even then, uncompress the high bitrate mp3/mp4 to WAV, work with that [or store it as FLAC] and STFU.

Tom

Re:FFS shut up already (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089294)

Maybe your hearing is poor, but there are numerous samples and listening tests that demonstrate that 192kbps MP3 is discernible from a lossless encoding. You don't have to be an "audiophile" to know that.

Why don't you STFU? I mean 9/10ths of everything you write here is stupid.

Re:FFS shut up already (2, Interesting)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089330)

I disagree with what you say! Proof? NEVER!

I'm sure there is a contrived test out there that shows a difference. The trick is, to encode a track at 64, 96, 128, 160 and 192bkit/sec with the high quality setting in LAME. Then sit in front of your stereo, put a blindfold on and listen to the tracks [and the original] in a random order.

Chances are for 99% of your music you can easily tell 64 through 128 from the CD but can't tell the diff between 160 and 192 and the CD, and chances are most of the remaining 1% are indistinguishable from 192kbit.

Why shouldn't they offer lossless encodings at the same price as compressed encodings? Um, this thing called "bandwidth." You should have to pay a premium for your audiophile stupidity so the rest of us don't have to pay for your ignorance.

Tom

Re:FFS shut up already (3, Insightful)

dragon8x4x (632726) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089588)

I've tried it, altough only with the higher (128+) bitrate samples.
What I found is that it all depends on the system your playing it through.

On my computer speakers it all sopunded the same after about 128, on headphone it was more nociteable (around 198). But if hooked it up to my home stereo I could easily tell the difference even at 256 to 320.

So it all dipends on your equipment (and your listening environment of course).

Needless to say the CD's played on my home stereo also sounded better than CD's played on my computer.

Re:FFS shut up already (5, Funny)

markov_chain (202465) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089790)

I'm with you on this one. Even CDs are inferior to studio tape when I listen to them on my magnetically levitated speakers hooked up to the stereo with gold-plated cables. The tape heads are gold-plated too. The whole setup sits atop a few tons of sand bags and is located in an underground chamber enclosed in a steel Faraday cage.

Re:FFS shut up already (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089612)

The difference between 192kbps and the original is pretty clear if there is anything with significant high frequency content, particularly crash cymbals. Rip at 320kbps, though, and the files are bigger but you can get plenty on a player and the difference between it and the original is almost zero. If you are listening to your iPod on anything other than superior quality earbuds somewhere quiet then 192kpbs is probably good enough, though.

Re:FFS shut up already (2, Interesting)

KingOfGod (884633) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089336)

What you say is, indeed, true.

I categorize myself as an "audiophile", but not as one who believes in any of the audio-voodoo out there. I've done blind ABX testing to see how low my threshold is, and it really hurts to admit this - But when a track (Using music I normally listen to) is encoded with LAME, I cant hear the difference between 128kbps MP3 and a FLAC. That threshold is around the -V5 LAME preset with problem samples.

However, I firmly insist that music downloads should not only be provided free of DRM, but also losslessly to avoid codec-lock in. What if mp3 suddenly dies and SRGLC* is the new hot thing on portable players, such as iPod? What am I then to do with all my lossy files? Transcode them and lose quality? Yes, with decreasing storage prices, I hope that we will soon all have lossless audio files on our computers, portable media players and other multimedia storage hardware.

* Some Random Generic Lossy Codec.

Re:FFS shut up already (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089414)

Well without DRM you'd be free to decode the high bitrate MP3 and then re-encode it.

Personally I can't normally hear the diff between 128 and the CD but there are some tracks where I can, so I univerally use 192kbit with q=0 [q=0 because I have a fast CPU and I don't care if it gives me 0.000000001% better quality]. It also means that if I have to recompress to say OGG or something in the future I stand to have fewer encoding artifacts.

I don't think downloads should be at anything less than 192kbit/sec MP3 (similar rate for MP4/WMA). Mostly because if I'm going to pay for a track I want to guarantee that the PSNR is decent (and that any inherant crappyness is due to the poor lyrics or talentless musicians :-))

Tom

Re:FFS shut up already (1)

KingOfGod (884633) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089458)

Well without DRM you'd be free to decode the high bitrate MP3 and then re-encode it.
That's called "transcoding". Please lookup the relevant part of my post for my comment on that.

Re:FFS shut up already (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089504)

In general, if you transcode a high quality mp3 you won't "lose quality" in the sense that "you can hear it" so it's really "not something to worry about."

Think about it

1. Play the CD, hey that sounds great
2. Encode to MP3, hey that still sounds just as great
3. ???
4. Reencode to new codec, hey OMG IT SOUNDS HORRIBLE!!!!!

What the hell is step #3 (and it's not profit...)?

Yes, there will be a quality diff between #4 and #1, but it'll be the same miniscule PSNR loss as from #1 to #2. So unless you transcode a dozen times or something it won't really hurt you.

Tom

Re:FFS shut up already (1)

KingOfGod (884633) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089598)

Yes, however I prefer to do lossy encoding from a lossless source, in which case my audio quality will never be less than it is at step 2. I know I probably wouldn't be able to hear quality loss before maybe the fourth transcoding (Just a theoretical out-of-my-rear-cavity number), but I'd rather not experience it happen to my music.

I'm happy that I don't have ears trained to hear artifacts, because when/if I do hear them, it completely ruins my experience of the music.

Re:FFS shut up already (1)

Shawn is an Asshole (845769) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089736)

Well without DRM you'd be free to decode the high bitrate MP3 and then re-encode it.
Most codecs butcher the quality too much for re-encoding. If you have a high quality file you wont be able to tell the difference between that and the original when listening. If you re-encode it, though, the artifacts become more obvious. Even when re-encoding at a high bitrate. One thing that always stands out to me are the cymbals. On a re-encode they always sound like they're under water. Many other things sound distorted, or get the underwater sound to them. Also various ringing sounds appear.

Personally I can't normally hear the diff between 128 and the CD but there are some tracks where I can, so I univerally use 192kbit with q=0 [q=0 because I have a fast CPU and I don't care if it gives me 0.000000001% better quality]. It also means that if I have to recompress to say OGG or something in the future I stand to have fewer encoding artifacts.
LAME rocks. You should try one of it's presets, though. They're always updated to get the best possible quality and have tunings that aren't available on the command line. What I currently use to encode music is this:

lame -q 0 -p --replaygain-accurate --vbr-new --preset standard

The bitrate will vary by the song. When I was encoding some Johnny Cash last week some of the songs encoded ~128. When I was encoding some Bleeding Through most were around ~224. When I LAME encode an MP3 like that I can't tell the difference at all between the original and the the MP3, even on my Delta 1010LT sound card and my Sennheiser HD250II headphones.

I don't think downloads should be at anything less than 192kbit/sec MP3 (similar rate for MP4/WMA). Mostly because if I'm going to pay for a track I want to guarantee that the PSNR is decent (and that any inherant crappyness is due to the poor lyrics or talentless musicians :-))
eMusic uses LAME 3.92's --alt-preset-standard preset, though it would be better if they used a current LAME and --preset standard. Anyway, I'm still happier using eMusic than the alternatives. I'd prefer to download FLACs and encode it myself. I'd pay more for a FLAC, but it would still have to be cheaper than buying a CD and I don't see that happening any time soon.

Re:FFS shut up already (1)

Feanturi (99866) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089376)

I find that 192 is generally 'good enough'. Until I hear the same track at 260 through the same speakers and realize what I was missing. I'm not one of those guys that spends thousands of dollars on stereo equipment either, quite the opposite. In my iPod Shuffle it's definitely noticable. In the car, it's the Shuffle connected to a tape cassette converter. On my PC, it's $150 speakers. The difference in fullness of tone is immediate. Do I really care when an mp3 is 'only' at 192? No, not really, since I keep the music in my head anyway and the mp3 is just reminding me of the tempo and pitch, but 260kbps or higher is still a nicer experience. If I bothered to get a music player with enough room to do so I'd probably fill it with .wav files just because I could, rather than from any sort of obsession about the sound. But I know I'd be enjoying the sound a bit more at least.

iPod to Head (1)

shmlco (594907) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089664)

You should look at one of the systems (about $150) that let you connect the pod directly to your head unit. Mine connects to it in place of the factory cd changer. At any rate, you lose an incredible amount of range going through the cassette adaptor.

Re:FFS shut up already (1)

Shawn is an Asshole (845769) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089776)

You don't need to use wavs. You can use Apple Lossless on your iPod Shuffle and get about half the size. Space would still be an issue on a Shuffle, though.

Re:FFS shut up already (2, Insightful)

purple_cobra (848685) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089392)

Audiophiles, in my experience, are attributing differences in sound to the perceived quality of the components playing that sound. I'd like to see a bunch of them[1] involved in a blind test of audio gear to see how they'd rate different equipment without any visual indication as to its price (and therefore perceived quality). The amount of pseudo-science and meaningless jargon in the hi-fi world is amazing, showing the IT world to be rank amateurs. Flicking through 'What Hi-fi' always reminds me that there really is 'one born every minute'.

[1] No idea what the collective noun would be. A delusion of audiophiles, perhaps?

Re:FFS shut up already (2, Insightful)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089452)

It's elitism. It's the same folk who claim that anything less than 300FPS is "sore on their eyes" and that they can identify each pixel on a 1920x1600 screen at 85Hz, etc...

My friend who is the audiophile claims that "I have a lot of storage so who cares" except now his 2TiB RAID is getting more and more full. I imagine within a year he'll be hosed for space. He could cram ~5x more audio if he just compressed them but whatever, to each their own.

Oddly enough compressed videos (that he gets off P2P) is "just fine."

So maybe audiophiles are just kooky? hehehe...

Tom

Re:FFS shut up already (5, Interesting)

denoir (960304) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089536)

Audiophiles have consistently been failing double blind tests [wikipedia.org] when it comes to lossy vs lossless audio compression.

Now, if you wish to sell stuff to audiophiles, then players supporting lossless compression are excellent - they will buy it (along with anything you claim, on whatever grounds, will improve the playback quality).

If you however want to bring better music quality to the general population - make them get better headphones.

Ambient noise (1)

shmlco (594907) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089708)

Ditto. And as I've said before, most of us listen to compressed music on pod's while walking down the street, in a car, on the subway, at the gym, or at any number of other places where the ambient noise levels are going to drown out any perceived "superiority" in sound quality anyway.

IF you're recording for use on your home stero system and IF you have decent speakers and IF you've got the storage space to burn and IF the kind of music you listen to hasn't already been under the sound engineer's knife... THEN you might as well do loseless.

Note that there's a lot of "ifs" in that sentence...

Sounds like you damaged your hearing (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089594)

Overuse of headphones has probably damaged your hearing if you can't tell the difference between 192kb/sec MP3 and the original source. MP3 compression at that bit rate produces demonstrable artifacts, especially in the high frequency range (but that's the first part of your hearing to go bad, so maybe that's why you can't tell). Your "audiophile" firend is probably well on his way to The Land of Eternal Silence, too.

No, I'm not another consumer with an opinion. I have years of professional experience with audio and was the guy responsible for (among other things) evaluating and specifying compression codecs for one of the downloading jukebox companies (the kind of juke you find in taverns, etc.).

Compressed media is OK for casual listening. I have an iPod for our car and record vinyl to Minidisc; both formats are fine for their intended uses. Just don't kid yourself that there's no difference.

I suppose I should envy people like you since I wouldn't "need" such nice speakers if I was half deef. :-)

Re:FFS shut up already (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089756)

This depends on programme material and if he's familiar with the piece. I have an old minidisc and ATRAC left only the lower notes of a particular synthline audible. The line was in the upper register and I guess the fundamental of the root would have been 14-15k with overtones up to limits of a subjects hearing. Lossy compressed programme material with pronounced mid-range (your typical pop mix) may not suffer from obvious compression artifacts to the same extent as a classical violin solo. With overly agressive radio mixes, I may even prefer a lossy compressed version.

The reason I still buy my music on vinyl and CD is DRM, I don't care about lossy compression on a pop mix.

Re:FFS shut up already (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089766)

It's not that it sounds worse, it's that it's taken out some sounds that the compression has deemed likely inaudible.

It's not difficult to tell the difference between MP3 and PCM when you compare their reproductions of intricate, rich musical passage, even if you jack up the MP3 bitrate to 320K. Try this with orchestra music or elaborate electronic music.

Re:FFS shut up already (1)

jb.hl.com (782137) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089788)

I get you completely.

It feels like sacrilege, but I have all of my music at 128kbps AAC (saves storage space and battery power on the iPod). Doesn't sound too bad, and if I really want to hear my music losslessly I can just go to the CDs on my shelf. Done.

Gotta say though, if you really want high quality you can't go wrong with Musepack...nothing really plays it, but the quality is fantastic in a fairly small file size.

it depends (5, Insightful)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089256)

It depends on how you intend to listen to your music. If you're going to be listening to earbuds while you're outside or working out at the gym or whatever, then compressed files are fine. Enough ambient noise will be getting through that you'll barely notice any compression artifacts, if at all. However, if you intend to listen to music through a nice set of headphones or speakers in a quiet listening environment, then you'll want it to be as uncompressed as possible. The same generally applies for music with wide dynamic ranges, such as classical/orchestral music.

Re:it depends (3, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089630)

If you have the original you can still always compress it yourself if you want; in whatever format you want.

Would I pay more? No. Downloads are already overpriced.

KFG

depends on how you get and store music, too (1)

transporter_ii (986545) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089646)

If you are on dialup, you tend to want to get the smallest file possible. If you have a have a 6 meg DSL, the larger files aren't as much as an issue. Also, if you have a Creative Zen Nano with 512 Mb, you are going to want some good compression, however, if you have an player with a hard drive in it and 20 - 40 gig of space...this isn't so much of an issue.

I myself, have about 40 - 50 gig of mp3s, the biggest majority legal, since I have about 400 to 500 cds, and I usually rip to 128 kbps. I usually listen while riding my bike, and they sound just fine to me. If I need high quality, I could always dig out the CD it came from...but you know what, I rarely find myself wanting an audiophile experience pure enough for me to dig through my CDs.

Transporter_ii

What's the point? (3, Insightful)

Psionicist (561330) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089262)

What's the point? The bottle neck on MP3 players is not the audio files but the decoding/playback hardware and even more important the headphones. You simply can't hear the difference after a certain MP3 bitrate like you can on real audio systems with proper equipment.

Whenever I buy a new MP3 player I spend a few minutes to find the sweet spot where I simply can't hear any difference with a higher bit rate let alone lossless audio. This is almost always 128 kbps, even with quite good head phones.

Re:What's the point? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089366)

If you're referring to the iPod and the standard earbuds then you're absolutely correct. DAPs with higher quality hardware (like the X5 or the fabulous but discontinued iRiver H100 series) are not bottlenecks. With a quality headphone amp and headphones they become extraordinarily high quality listening devices that need either lossless or high bitrate lossy files.

I would pay a few cents less (4, Interesting)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089272)

I would personally pay a few cents less to get CD Quality music. Often when I buy CDs they are priced anywhere from 7.99 to 13.99. I think that if you average it out, the CD ends up being about the same price as iTunes, possibly a dollar or two more. But for that extra dollar, you get a physical copy, that's lossless, and doesn't contain any DRM. I try not to buy CDs with copy protection, and even for the few I do, I can still easily rip them, by disabling autorun. The only advantages of iTunes and other music services are, the ability to buy one track, and the ability to have it right away. I don't usually buy music from artists who can't fill up a whole CD with good music, and I'm not that impatient that I can't wait for the CD to arrive from Amazon, or wait until the next time I happen to be in the mall. Sometimes, if I know I won't be in the mall for a while, I'll download the cd in MP3 format and then buy it later. So, I could buy off iTunes, but i'd get music that was of inferior quality, and locked by Apple, which means that I couldn't play it on another MP3 player without degrading the quality even further.

GIGO -- Garbage In, Garbage Out (4, Insightful)

eutychus_awakes (607787) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089274)

Well, the poster of this article obviously doesn't consider CD quality to be "lossless." How far we've come from the OLD audiophiles who wouldn't touch anything that wasn't a meticulously cared for LP -- or better yet, reel-to-reel tape in your home rig.

How much longer before we consider 128-kpbs MP3's to be the "standard" for quality music, especially as we're moving to more and more of a "download on demand" compression crazed society?

Won't anyone think of the children!

Re:GIGO -- Garbage In, Garbage Out (2, Informative)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089296)

A properly mixed (re: not super compressed [range wise]) CD has 96dB of SNR in each channel. That's mighty fine given the sensitivity of human hearing isn't that super anyways. SA-CD and DVD-CD can offer a bit more range but honestly the difference is lost on most.

What you really should get all in a knot about is the continously low quality of shite music being promotoed. Payola's a bitch.

Tom

Re:GIGO -- Garbage In, Garbage Out (1)

Ninjaesque One (902204) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089502)

Weren't the old audiophiles the people who wouldn't accept anything but genuine musical instruments?

Re:GIGO -- Garbage In, Garbage Out (4, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089534)

If the sales numbers are right for XM radio and Sirius radio, 64Kbps will become acceptable.

Both the sattelite radio services have incredibly horrid sound. anythign with high frequencies has twinkle and other nasty artifacts that are so prevalent it renders it unlistenable to most people who like clear music. I have went back to FM at times because Sirius and XM suck so bad.

Now we have robot radio stations around here that are mp3 based and LOW bitrate mp3 based at that. My daughter was listening to one of them and I asked, "when did you get a XM raio in your room?" she let me know she was listening to the new Rock FM station.

Current state of music is swirling the toilet. I havent heard a decently mastered CD in decades, radio and supposed "CD QUALITY" Digital FM and Sattelite all sounds worse than 128kbps mp3's on a $6.00 mp3 player.

All around the music quality stinks. Even if I could buy a uncompressed high bitrate version, the mastering at the studios is so sub par it wouldn matter.

Re:GIGO -- Garbage In, Garbage Out (2, Informative)

mushadv (909107) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089550)

Who the hell uses 128 kbps MP3 anymore? If you use iTunes, like a sizeable group of mainstream consumers, then you're getting 128 kbps AAC, which is indistinguishable from the source when it comes to loud, over-compressed pop music. When it comes to something like classical, that's when you probably need to move up to 160 or 192 (which iTunes doesn't offer, unfortunately). I don't have a clear idea of wma's quality, which is the other mainstream consumer digital music format. My point is that you probably have nothing to worry about concerning MP3 becoming the standard format, at least through official means of distribution. After all, it's too hard to DRM it and lock your customers into one unshiftable format and player.

That said, I really like Bleep [bleep.com] , which distributes music in non-DRM, high-quality VBR MP3 and sometimes FLAC, both of which create sample-perfect representations of whatever's encoded with it.

Lossless audio file downloads? Hell no. (0)

Ant P. (974313) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089276)

I can't hear the difference between a q5 Ogg and a FLAC even with high-end headphones. And the Ogg takes 1/10th the time to download.

Re:Lossless audio file downloads? Hell no. (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089286)

Isn't OGG lossless too? Or am I just confused?

Re:Lossless audio file downloads? Hell no. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089328)

Ogg Vorbis is lossy, Ogg Flac isn't.

Re:Lossless audio file downloads? Hell no. (-1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089340)

Yes, you are extremely confused. OGG is lossless and always has been. Actually, OGG is just the container format, and Vorbis is the audio codec, but we aren't going to get into that.

Re:Lossless audio file downloads? Hell no. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089378)

You're confused, ogg vorbis (which is what almost everybody means when saying 'ogg') is lossy, very similar to mp3 but slightly better.

Re:Lossless audio file downloads? Hell no. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089320)

I can't hear the difference either. But I know that if I have the source in FLAC, then twenty years down the road, when I've converted the song to the format du jour half a dozen times, I still won't be able to hear the difference.

No, I wouldn't pay more (1)

Bertie (87778) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089290)

But it should be lossless nonetheless. Right now downloadable music isn't worth paying for at all, as far as I'm concerned.

And it should be DRM-free, naturally, but you can't have everything.

Getting there (1)

Jerf (17166) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089298)

We're getting there, but even relatively modest MP3 collections by modern standards still can consume entire laptop hard drives, let alone some of the dinky MP3 players.

Until everybody can put their entire collection onto at least a laptop hard drive, and still have room to put other things on there, we'll still want compressed music.

I say "laptop hard drive" because CPUs are pretty much at the point where we could read in FLAC and spew out a customized MP3 for a smaller portable player, so I don't think that's as important, but it is also a factor. (We don't do that because we still assume the hard-drive MP3 will already be compressed; as we move away from that we'll develop live-encoding infrastructure. If you can still hear the artifacts from a portable player from a 320Kbps mp3, you must be listening with $200 headphones in some sort of silence chamber.) It'd be even easier to deal with uncompressed music if I could dump my entire FLAC collection out to a flash-based player.

(We'll also eventually want multi-channel music, but even in the worst case scenario that only roughly doubles music size, and as I understand it that's not how multi-channel music is encoded anyhow, certainly not if you're going to FLAC or FLAC-alike it..)

Re:Getting there (2, Interesting)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089440)

And I think this is the main reason we won't see lossless audio downloads for a while. Where are people supposed to store all their music? If you have to burn it all to CD to prevent it from clogging up your hard drive, then you might as well have bought the CD in the first place. People wouldn't buy from iTunes if it meant that they'd have to buy a large hard drive. Between 8 MPixel digital Cameras, and lossless audio, as well as Apple now offering video downloads, most people don't have the room to store lossless audio on their computer. Let alone on their MP3 player.

Re:Getting there (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089514)

If you're talking real people with real collections, I think we're there. If you're talking about p2p regulars, we're probably not. I would expect most people's collections to fit on a 100GB drive (laptops got to about 160 now, iirc) as lossless. That's somewhere in the neighborhood of 450CDs worth of albums. That's real albums, bought with cash in nice plastic cases - not 450x700MB @2:1 compression. I have, among my "friends," both now and historic, a "large" collection. It's not that large (~300 CDs), but I'd venture to say it's well above the median in the US.

Multi-channel music has come and gone twice. For portables, multichannel music is really only a theoretcial novelty, as you'd probably have to go to five nines before you found people playing music off a portable into more than two discrete, full range speaker channels (headphones, automotive). I'll go out on a limb here and predict that multi-channel audio will not become dominant (= outselling 2 channel audio) in the next 2 decades - and by then we'll easily have the storage to accomodate it.

Notebook space (1)

shmlco (594907) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089760)

"I would expect most people's collections to fit on a 100GB drive (laptops got to about 160 now, iirc) as lossless."

Please note that a few people need the occassional Word file and Excel spreadsheet as well. Most can't waste all of the space on their notebook on music...

Doubt it will happen (4, Funny)

grimsweep (578372) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089302)

I doubt any representative of the RIAA could keep their blood pressure down with the words 'losslessly reproduceable content' and 'internet' in the same sentence. Given the disputes over uniform music cost and how much they resisted distributing even lossy DRM'd audio in the first place, what are the odds we'll see this?

Why stop at CD quality? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089314)

I demand songs downloaded in 24/192! I'm sure it'll be awesome when combined with my new $2500 iPod charge cable made of oxygen free copper.

Oh, and apparently two "experts" in the article say they prefer WAV. Maybe they have magic ears that can tell the difference between WAV and formats that are mathematically lossless.

Will I pay more for better quality? (1)

anss123 (985305) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089316)

To be perfectly honest, no. 128 KB MP3 is good enough (although I do hear a difference).

Re:Will I pay more for better quality? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089692)

You need better speakers, trust me. 128Kbps MP3 with LAME does not sound even close to 192KBps MP3 or even better, 320KBps MP3 with LAME. But it all depends on the music you listen to. At 128Kbps, a deep bass with a high pitched highhat ripping loose with a heavily distored guitarr will sound just crap (lots of swooshing). 128Kbps is good enough for simple things like pop music on an iPod with default plugs. But get a Cowon player (like iAudio 5 or 6) with Shure plugs for $150 and you will hear the difference =)

I listen to mostly Metal which is very challenging music for MP3 encoders, and you really need a high bitrate like 220+Kbps VBR or 320Kbps CBR with lame to properly enjoy it. Techno however can sound perfectly fine with 64Kbps because the soundscape is way simpler and often synthetic to begin with.

We need a new Hi-Def Audio format (1)

BroadbandBradley (237267) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089318)

For it to be really worth it, we'd need source files of higher quality. I rip at 192kbs and have a hard time telling the difference in most recordings. Then again, I don't have really high end equipment either. What happened to "Super-Audio" CD's I remember hearing about it but never see them on shelves?

Re:We need a new Hi-Def Audio format (4, Insightful)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089384)

I remember talking about MP3s with an audio engineer friend about a decade ago. As an engineer, he said that he would prefer MP3s to be mastered for the format, which means any limitations of the MP3 and other compressed file formats would be taken into account to minimize/delete any perceivable quality loss. For instance, the cassette version of a recording is mastered differently from the CD version, since tape has different audio qualities (the same also applies for vinyl versions). They don't just stick the CD master onto cassette tapes. On this point, I fully agree with him. However, it seems that all of the AAC/MP3/WMA files that you can buy are sourced from CDs, rather than being mixed especially for the format.

Re:We need a new Hi-Def Audio format (1)

mikeydb (880405) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089530)

Very recently I bought a CD that not only carried the standard CD audio but also carried the SACD version on another physical layer in the disc. That said, I don't know and store locally that sells a player, and don't know anyone that owns a player. The problem with telling the difference is, you won't know the difference until you hear it, if you've never owned any equipment that does a good job with the raw audio data, smoothing out quantization errors etc, you just won't know. To be fair, most home audio equipment on the shelves of my local electronics store is sold on looks and functionality, not quality.

Re:We need a new Hi-Def Audio format (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089602)

I don't care how good your source is. If you're listening to 192kb rips, you're likely not going to be able to tell the difference. It's hard for most consumer equipment to bring out the difference between regular CDs and SACDs/DVD-A. Intellectionally, I agree with you. I'd love to have all my music in the best lossless form I can, but for the gear I use - money spent on quality higher than about 256kb is wasted to me. FWIW - my ears and gear break somewhere between 224 and 256kb/s with LAME vbr. I store in FLAC so that I can recode at any point without having to rerip the original, or suffer decode-recode artifacts.

The sibling post has a good point about re-mastering in studio for the target form. I believe (right or wrong) that the final product of a compressed track will be more affected by the encoder than by tricks done on the master - or at least on the same order of magnitude. I guess I'd rather have the lossless mastered for lossless, and accept the hit for recoded stuff on my end than have the best possible (studio created) lossy version as my master.

Re:We need a new Hi-Def Audio format (2, Insightful)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089678)

Something else to keep in mind about lossiness and source files: If a recording is made and mastered in the studio at 96kHz/24-bit, the step to your 44.1kHz/16-bit CD is considered "lossy" since information is being discarded along the way. However, again, this is taken into account when mastering for the CD format. The DVD-A/SACD masters will be done differently. So in a sense, many CDs that people consider to be "perfect" source files have already been through a round or two of degradation. Is it something that they'll ever notice? Not likely, especially if they aren't aware of it.

Re:We need a new Hi-Def Audio format (1)

mrtexe (1032978) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089718)

Yes. The big limitation of CD-quality sound is that it is limited to stereo sound. You don't have native surround sound (such as 6.1), and you don't have the highest quality audio, either.

As the entertainment industry moves to high definition everything, the hi-def audio format battle has two main contenders, Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio. Hi-def audio will have better sound quality, and also will have surround sound elements. Major studio releases on this format are likely to have many layers of protection, such as DRM, against ripping, unfortunately

As for lossy compressed formats for hi-def audio, MP3 Surround [all4mp3.com] is released. You can get an MP3 Surround plug-in for XMPlay and other personal computer programs. Of course, you need surround sound support in your hardware to make it worthwhile. There is also a surround sound audio format used in ripping DVDs, but I forget the other details.

Hi def audio in PCs is available through Intel High Definition Audio, and perhaps other technologies I haven't heard of.

As for non-hi def sound, formats like MP3, AAC, and WMA all are stereo formats. You can rip to a lossless format like WAV. It takes up a lot of drive space to store WAV files. FLAC is terrific because it gives you lossless sound quality and pretty decent compression of the files. OTOH, AIFF is uncompressed.

FLAC is not supported on most DAPs or PMPs, except for those of Cowon. Many DAPs and PMPs support WAVs. I believe Ipods support AIFF.

I would hope that the FLAC develoeprs, having already done a kick-ass job, will turn their talents to FLAC-ifying hi-def sound formats. Maybe you won't get much benefit from surround sound with headphones, but you can still get better sampling rates and resolution with hi-def formats. In addition, ideally you have a DAP that supports "FLAC-surround" that you can hook up to your car speaker system. Unfortunately, you might need special cabling for such a connection. Maybe future car stereos will have an HDMI input on the dash..

For now, the best you can do is to rip your regular audio CD to FLAC. For portable playing, the best option is a Cowon. The Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio format wars should start to pick up.

Ultimately, however, consumers might be faced with a world where digital downloads of songs are demonstrably more useful than buying a copy on disc. If so, there will be a real demand for audio files that support lossless compressed hi-def sound.

The larger problem from the consumer perspective is not the lack of good formats. The technology is there. The main problem is RIAA, the lawsuits, and the legal barriers to using the music you paid for the way you want to.

My reasons for recommending lossless. (1)

KokorHekkus (986906) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089324)

For me music isn't to be just "consumed" where you replace last months listening with something new. When I look at what I listen to often there's both year old stuff as well as some that I bought some 20 years ago.

Today mp3 is the reigning format but what about 10 or 20 years? Will any new formats come and replace it or will there be significantly better equipment that will easily expose the quality difference between mp3 and lossless? And if new lossy formats come along you risk getting audible artifacts when converting from one lossy format to another which is no good for me. And who knows which of todays drm will work in 10 to 20 years.

So in those cases where I can pick it's going to be lossless and non-drm for me.

Why Wouldn't You Compress It? (4, Insightful)

VaticDart (889055) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089332)

A better question is why wouldn't you compress portable music? Audiophiles make up a very, very small portion of the population (Americans' idea of good sound seems to usually mean lots and lots of base), and the vast majority of the cans out there (earbud or bigger) don't yield any quality difference between an uncompressed or losslessly compressed CD track and a 192 kbps MP3 or AAC (I have no experience with WMA or Real Audio's format). I use Ety ER-6is with my Nano and AKG 240Ss at home, so one might say I'm a minor, minor audiophile, and I really have trouble hearing the difference with quality cans between a 192 kbps file and the original CD track. With any of the stock earbuds that come with various DMPs I have trouble hearing the difference between the original CD file and a 160 kbps file, and sometimes even lowly 128.

So yes, some people out there would pay extra for a digital file that is uncompressed or losslessly compressed, but as most people use crap cans or speakers, most of those people would be wasting their money. If you want maximum fidelity, stick with the physical CD or vinyl.

Re:Why Wouldn't You Compress It? (1)

cryptoluddite (658517) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089388)

Also somebody should point out that the original CD track is a kind of 'radix' compression into 44k/s samples of the original sound. So it's not like the question is "lossy or not?" it's "how much loss is okay?".

Re:Why Wouldn't You Compress It? (2, Interesting)

Moth7 (699815) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089624)

If you're going down that avenue, then all analogue audio is compressed by the bandwidth of every component it passes through and then by the bit rate of every A/D / D/A converter it subsequently hits. Add to that the fact that no speakers or ears are perfect, then you've got abstract "compression" in that the musician can only act on what she hears from her instrument/amp and the engineer can only mix in relation to what he hears from his monitors. And of course there are the numerous artefacts introduced by even the best digital signal processors.

Given all of the above, I think it's safe to assume that in most cases "lossless" begins after the CD is pressed (or, if you take the "Loudness War" into consideration, before it hits the mastering house).

Re:Why Wouldn't You Compress It? (1)

Threni (635302) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089484)

Classical fans tend to have better ears and better hifi equipment than fans of other genres. Believe it or not, but some people can tell the difference between 320kbps and lossless.

Most players support lossless formats (at least, they did last time I checked), and as classical music is not traded anything like as much as other genres* on the P2P networks then it follows that classical music fans are more likely to have the original source (CD, DVD, vinyl) to rip and store at a quality level to suit them.

*Some, of course, is:
http://www.avantgardeproject.org/index.htm [avantgardeproject.org]

Re:Why Wouldn't You Compress It? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089644)

Classical fans tend to have better ears and better hifi equipment than fans of other genres. Believe it or not, but some people can tell the difference between 320kbps and lossless.

The type of sound makes a huge difference. Audio CODECs work in two ways:

  1. They know what kind of sound humans can't here, and delete it.
  2. They know the rough 'shape' of common sound and use this as a first guess, which they then refine.
If a CODEC is heavily tested with one kind of music, it may well not achieve the same bit-rate/quality ratio with a different kind. Early versions of Vorbis, for example, choked horribly on harpsichord music; even at the highest quality VBR settings there were obvious artefacts. I tend to find classical music requires higher bit rates than other kinds.

Re:Why Wouldn't You Compress It? (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089488)

I can see the utility of lossy compression for portable audio, but I would never buy my music in such a format. Starting with CD's you can rip it to whatever lossy format you want, and if you have a good stereo setup the lossless form is still available.

Re:Why Wouldn't You Compress It? (1)

maeka (518272) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089582)

Considering the ER-6i are 16 ohm phones, I'd be surprised if you could tell the difference between a 64kb/s MP3/AAC and a lossless encode when using them and the iPod Nano.
The Nano can not drive such low impedance phones w/o significant bass rolloff and quite a bit of distortion.
http://prohost.org/~hackie/audio/DAPS_16ohm.htm [prohost.org]

The AKG 240S, on the other hand, are about perfect at 55 ohms, starting to get into the hard to drive category for iPods, but should respond very well and flat.

What is the quanta of sound? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089334)

I though all digital formats were lossy!?! ;-)

Re:What is the quanta of sound? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089418)

I though all digital formats were lossy!?! ;-)

Not for digitally created music.

Double blind test (5, Informative)

theLOUDroom (556455) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089342)

The right way to answer this question is with double blind testing.
"Audiophiles" like to make all sorts or ridiculous claims that lead to things like $2000 speaker cables, gold CDs and just a general proliferation of nonsensical technobabble.

Psychology simply has too strong of an effect on questions like this to get an actual answer from a forum like this.

What you'd really find is that as the bitrate of an mp3 goes up, the number of people who can tell the difference goes down. At some point the number of people who can tell the difference becomes a statistically insignificant sample. This would be a good project for some grad student.

why you should download (1)

dattaway (3088) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089354)

I choose not to download most of my music, but rather rip it myself in lossless format.

And risk getting another rootkit from Sony?

Re:why you should download (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089410)

I practice safe ripping.

Lossless only, thanks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089364)

Personally, I would only purchase music if it were lossless and DRM free. All other music is completely unacceptable to me. Otherwise just get the CD and rip my own lossless copy. I don't want ot be hindered down the line by degraded audio from recompression or worse, cock blocked by onerous DRM.

Oh yeah, and I use Linux so fuck Windows Media Player and Apple iTunes DRM. Even a Linux DRM would be unacceptable because I could pick up and move to Solaris, BSD (DragonFly some day), or, God willing, a completely new OS that doesn't suck.

Why should we pay more for it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089370)

We're already receiving an inferior product to what we get on audio discs. Are you really going to try to sell to me that it costs more to store and transfer FLAC files than it does to produce, transport, and store an arbitrary-number of CDs across the globe? No, you just want to obtain more money for a comparable service to what I get from going to the music store, which is one of the three ways that I obtain physical media and encode it in whatever format is convenient for my purposes. If you sold FLAC files for the same price that the iTMS sells AAC files, I would buy those. Otherwise until all audio discs are encumbered with proprietary DRM formats, I will continue to do my music shopping the archaic way. To be fair, though, I blame the recording industry for this state of affairs, and they would only make it worse if they could. I'm sure the next round of negotiations with Apple will entail conflict over an even more retarded set of conditions.

No such thing as a lossless recording (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089386)

First off, ANY digitization is going to introduce a finite, hopefully imperceptable loss. It's just the nature of the beast. If you sample at frequencies used by most manufactured CDs, and record and play back using only the best equipment, only the most discriminating human ear will be able to tell it's not a state-of-the-art analog recording.

Second, even state-of-the-art analog recordings are limited by the recording equipment and playback equipment. Recording equipment isn't an issue for professional studios, but your average person doesn't have super-hi-fi professional playback equipment and speakers.

Fortunately - or unfortunately - for most of us over 20, the human ear becomes the limiting factor. There's no point in spending big bucks on high-end equipment if our ears can't tell the difference between $50 headphones and $500 headphones.

The bottom line:
Buy the best speakers that will make the music sound better FOR YOU.
Buy the best recordings that will make the music sound better FOR YOU.
Don't spend more than that, you are just wasting your money.

why iTunes isn't lossless (1)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089396)

There's a fairly good reason why the audio files sold by iTunes isn't lossless. It isn't a matter of bandwidth; the amount of bandwidth required to upload larger files is a fraction of a cent apiece. The real reason is because these songs are meant to be uploaded to an iPod, and their memory space (even the 60 gig models) is limited. Putting lossless audio on them would cut the number of hours of audio they can hold by 75%, and users would revolt. Letting people downsample the files would be problematic because of the DRM, and letting people choose between lossy and lossless would complicate things. Therefore, they made a decision.

Still, don't fret people. CD prices can't maintain this price level, so audiophiles will be able to buy the tracks and rip them themselves without paying too much more for their tunes.

Re:why iTunes isn't lossless (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089682)

The real reason is because these songs are meant to be uploaded to an iPod, and their memory space (even the 60 gig models) is limited.
Close, but no banana. It's not about disk space; Apple would love for you to fill up your iPod's disk, because by the time you'd done that, they will have released a model with a bigger disk for you to buy. It's about battery life. If you have a 128Kb/s AAC file, and a 512Kb/s Apple Lossless file, you will need to spin up the disk four times as often to play the lossless file, causing a big battery drain. Lossless CODECs are often cheaper in CPU terms to decode, but this doesn't safe you much.

Of course, this doesn't apply with flash-based players, but Apple don't yet have a flash-based player aimed at the 'take all your music with you' demographic. Once they do, I suspect they will re-evaluate this decision.

Mr. Goddard need to get with the program (3, Informative)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089404)

WAV? He uses WAV? Why on god's green earth would you bother using WAV to listed to your music when there are a plethora of lossless codecs out there? You can get roughtly 2:1 compression with any of the codecs - heck he could even use wavpack if he was so stuck on having wav in the name. Heck, most audiophiles worth their $3000 interconnects are appalled at the harsheness and "cold, digital" feel of that 44.1khz/16 bit crap that was forced on the public when we got CDs.

Lossless is coming soon to most of us. With the 5.5g iPod at 80GB and the Zune hackable to 80GB as well, all but the top 3-4% of all consumers can fit their entire (legal) collection on a single portable device in lossless compression. I've got about 6500 tracks, most as FLAC rips, and I'm right about 81GB (plus about 40GB in books, but those are all low-bitrate). If I jettisoned the extra downloded stuff I have that I didn't like (but didn't get around to deleting), I'd probably drop to 75GB or so. I suspect that my entire family (three of us) buys less than 5GB worth of content each year. There's no reason to expect that the size of the players, in capacity, will not continue to decrease. As for those with bigger collections...well, just get more portables, or learn to live with a smaller subset on your player (or a higher compression).

As long as the high-qualtiy masters are available, portables can become a calculated compromise. Since my threshhold for accuracy happens to be at about 256kb/s LAME, that's where I transcode my FLAC library for my portable. If I had a car player, it would probably be more like 160kb. Heck, it's practically impossible to hear artifacts at 128kb in my Pilot at 70mph at a normal volume. My wife's 8GB flash player will be encoded in the 160-192 range, becuase I know she doesn't have the gear to hear much more, and she's just not that picky. With good music managers, you can automagically sync and transcode at the same time (I use mediamonkey). Transodeing is a bit slow right now, but as PCs get faster, the sync/transcode process will get better and better.

I do agree that it is a travesty that the online services will not offer home-archival-quality tracks, but I'm probably a top-10% listening geek. I buy all my music on CD, and rip to FLAC. Okay, okay - I've bought some at AllOfMp3.com, too, but I can get lossless there. The key is that the studios will continue to have qualtiy masters - but will they be willing to sell that quality to the public?

Not worth paying more... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089406)

Lossless compression is the way to go, especially as cheap mass storage becomes increasingly ubiquitous. But would I be willing to pay more for it?

No. The 'market rate' of one dollar per track, ten dollars per album, is already overpriced, even for current lossy compression. The entire point of digital distribution is to cut out the costs associated with physical production, distribution, storage, and marketing. More direct marketing should produce more money for artists, cost less money from consumers, right?

Presently most artists see maybe TEN PERCENT of the revenues from digital sales. Granted, that's a few percent better than major labels give for physical CD sales, but still the overwhelming majority of money goes to line the pockets of middlemen, the same middlemen fighting to lock down fair use rights so they can milk their chattel on one side into paying for the same thing over and over and over again, while at the same time they milk their chattel on the other side into producing 'shepherded' content for subsistence wages.

Right now digital music sales are a terrible value proposition. Inferior product, marginally-less-expensive, substandard usability, forced obsolescence, less features, and no backup data nor license should anything ever go wrong. Its only arguable standard of success is the convenience of instant gratification.

When someone offers lossless, DRM-free music at less than half the cost of a physical compact disc, digital music may be worthwhile. Until then, sorry, ripping one's own CDs is the way to go.

No... (1)

spoop (952477) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089444)

I wouldn't consider paying more for better quality music as I already don't buy any crappy quality download music, but I would at least consider it if the quality went up and the price remained the same.

Intervieww is an ***HAT? (5, Insightful)

BigBuckHunter (722855) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089446)

From TFA

The sheer number of variations in compression technology. The array of audio file formats includes Apple's AAC and Dolby's AC3, as well as WMA, OGG, FLAC, AVI, and others.

AAC is not "Apple's". WMA is a container, not a compression codec. OGG is a container (usually used for Vorbis and FLAC), not a compression codec. FLAC is both a container and lossless compression codec. AVI is a container and not a compression codec. The man complains about audio quality, yet 4 out of 5 things that he discusses have "nothing" to do with audio quality.

For his own use, Mr. Goddard, like Willens, favors WAV, a "lossless" compression format that renders sound accurately but has some drawbacks - notably the tremendous amount of storage space it requires: some 50 to 60 megabytes per song, versus about two for an MP3.

Wav is not a lossless format. It is limited by in it's dynamic range (bits per sample) and sample rate. Compared to analog or a raw sound source, raw wav/pcm data loses a lot of the sound. FLAC and other lossless codecs produce identical byte-to-byte output when compared to wav/pcm.

I believe that this guys priorities are a little messed up. We should be focusing on lowering the noise floor, increasing the dynamic range, increasing the sampling rate, and getting the music industry to stop producing albums that are ultra compressed and "loud". You're not going to get decent fidelity out of an iPod when it is limited to 16 bit output and a 44.1/48khz sampling rate with a -90db noise floor. We need 24/96 players with a -110db noise floor, and a decent set of ear buds. Not that it would matter for consumers that listen to the typical tizz and boom being produced today.

BBH

Re:Intervieww is an ***HAT? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089716)

WMA is a container, not a compression codec

CODEC is short for compressor/decompressor, so 'compression codec' has no meaning. WMA is Microsoft's audio CODEC. The standard container for WMA is ASF [wikipedia.org] .

Yes...and no. (1)

CptTripps (196901) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089454)

I think it depends on the music. If I'm listening to Mahlers 'Resurection' on my iPod, I'm going to want a lossless rip of the CD. If I'm listening to Kid Rock, I could care less.

I think this isn't so much of an issue as it was 5 years ago. When you have a 5gb iPod, that's only 8 CDs...when you have a 80GB one, that's over 100. Big difference. I STILL only load 5-6 at a time on my iPod, because I don't feel I need to carry my entire collection around with me everywhere I go. I don't listen to 1/8 of my collection in a year anyway...why would I want to have it all in my pocket?

But then again...that's just my opinion.

All about the benji's (1)

twebb72 (903169) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089470)

I've always ripped lossless. I don't care how much space it takes up. My friends give me crap cause they don't like sharing large files -- even now storage for thousands of lossless wma/flac files is very affordable. It really comes down to cost of storage and cost of transmission - which in 10 years will be nada. The only downside is that my mp3 player has little storage, I simply convert on the fly when loading it to 128kbps simply for storage (cost) reasons. My headphones are junk, 96kbps is also acceptable through walmart 16$ headphone special.

Just compress less... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089472)

This fails to take into account that, if I remember correctly, 256kbps MP3s (and we aren't even talking with VBR here), are indistinguishable from the original CDs to audio professionals in a blind test.

So, unless you're going to be re-encoding, I would say that anything indistinguishable from the original CD should be considered "good enough".

Just because many people choose to encode with more compression, doesn't mean the entire concept is flawed, it just means those people are choosing file size over quality (or, more likely, never took the time to understand the relationship in the first place.)

I work with a radio station... (2)

jnelson4765 (845296) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089478)

and I've got to say - 128k mp3's are the absolute minimum we can play on the air. You run into some wierd problems playing compressed audio over FM - due to the way stereo channels are transmitted, you can get some bizzare stereo artifacts.

Biggest problem with lossless compressed codecs is that there's shit for support for 'em. Most semi-pro or pro audio software won't recognize anything but WAV and MP3, and AAC and WMA if you're lucky. Most of 'em won't support OGG, either...

And please don't get me started on Audacity - it's great for quick editing, but the interfaces are probably 5 years behind pro software. I truly wish it was better - I'd love to not have to support Windows audio production machines, but until we have a piece of pro-quality OSS audio editing software that beats at least entry-level proprietary Windows stuff, we're stuck paying hundreds of dollars per seat for the basic stuff. For mastering live CDs and doing 5.1 mixdowns, software can easily run into the thousands of dollars.

To sum it up, I'd love to have lossless audio be better supported - we've got a several thousand disk collection that I'd rather have sitting on a fileserver for easy access, and be able to download a song and play it on the air without someone's shit encoder make the song go futzy, but it'll take a hell of a fight to get FLAC supported on players. OTOH, with the impressive size increases in flash memory these days, maybe it's time to start looking at it...

You should have the choice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17089480)

If you are listening in ideal circumstances, you benefit from having the best fidelity. On the other hand, listening to your mp3 player on the subway, the ambient noise makes high quality audio pointless. You might as well lose some audio quality and use file compression so you can fit more tunes on your portable player.

With the new players that can store many gigs, the benefit of file compression becomes less important. In a few years, compressing audio files will be pointless because the storage capacity keeps going up.

Bandwidth isn't going up as fast as storage so that reason for compressing files may still exist. There could be a point for charging a bit more for uncompressed files to pay for the extra bandwidth. I don't know how much it would be but it probably wouldn't be much.

The kind of compression that would be useful for portable audio is audio compression. The volume of the quiet passages is increased so you can hear them over the ambient noise.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss (1)

goldenratiophi (878655) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089562)

I favor good audio as much as the next guy, but if you're completely happy with what you have, don't upgrade. I can ABX to about 160 kbps LAME MP3, and so I encode at 224 VBR to be safe. I used to encode my music as FLACs until I realized that I was running out of space in my poor 80 GB hard drive. Now I could have went out and bought a 500 GB hard drive and kept going, but what's the point? I can't tell. I'm happy with my current setup of iMac + KSC75's. I may upgrade to some SR60's someday, but right now, I want to spend more money on buying CDs, not putting more money into the CDs I already have. I don't really see the point as lossless-as-backup either; if a CD of mine got lost, broken, or stolen, I would re-buy just to have it. Maybe that's just me, but I like owning CDs. Plus, most consumers tend to use the headphones that come with their players. It would cost a fortune for companies to include headphones that would make consumers hear the artifacts of 128kbps.

Just my two cents.

Dynamics (1)

DannyO152 (544940) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089566)

In the late 70s I was a college dj with a rock 'n' roll show. A handful of cassette recordings of my shows have survived and on the stuff I'm still listening to on cd, like Beatles records, one can hear (on nearly 30 year old cassettes) that vinyl was warmer or better sounding. I was working professionally at a classical music station when the first, imported, compact discs arrived and I found the high strings and high horns to be funny sounding (I think the phenomenon was called aliasing and arose from the choice to use 41.1K as the sample rate). So my point of view is that we compromised fidelity for convenience back in the 80s at the dawn of digital. Two areas where digital outperformed vinyl: the quiet of quiet passages, and the delivery of power for lower registers.

Now, if my hearing wasn't shot from age and the choices of youth (playing in rock and roll bands) and I could appreciate the full dynamic range of recorded acoustic instruments, and if I was listening to acoustic music that was truly recorded dynamically, I'd be putting lossless on my iPod as well. A lot of ifs. Yesterday I bought a compilation of Woody Herman tracks and I'm guessing that the masters for the original discs were mixed hot, decreasing dynamics by using equalization and compression. In addition, who knows what noise reduction, noise gating, limiting, equalization, compression, or aural excitement they added while mastering the compact disc. So, I think I'll be fine with trading off file size (at 192 kB rip) for the dynamics that may or may not be there and the fidelity I may or may not be able to appreciate.

This is a fairly ridiculous argument (2, Funny)

DbZeroOne (905671) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089626)

Working in the consumer electronics industry, I've met a few audiophiles over the years. The ones that are truly anal about sound quality can all be collected together in a single hotel. In fact, they are! Go to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January and hop on over to the Venetian hotel where the high end audio guys congregate. They get their own special show where they can show off their $200,000 pairs of speakers. (To be fair, I did see those speakers for $185,000 as a show special). You'll know you're in the right place because it'll be crowded with grey beards and tweed jackets. MP3 audio is NOT FOR these guys. Who cares if they refuse to buy it?! Download lossless audio, like WAV files, for a "few cents more"? Ya right! Those files are something like 20x the size! Just like Audio Note has no plans to make an $80,000 tube amp with iPod interface for a teenagers bedroom, Apple, emusic and whomever else need not make any plans to satisfy the 100 or so people in the world who are REALLY into hi fidelity.

Sampling (1)

YGingras (605709) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089632)

I choose not to download most of my music, but rather rip it myself in lossless format.
Rip it from what? A CD? Do you know that CDs have crap sample rate? A mp3 riped from a DAT tape will have more samples than a CD. I don't know if it's audible, I don't care. I don't need good sound as long as all I find is crap music...

pretentious snobbery (1)

idlake (850372) | more than 7 years ago | (#17089686)

In my experience, it's only pretentious audiophiles that really care about uncompressed music. For a serious classical musician, the primary problem with a recording is not any slight--or imagined--differences in quality, it's the fact that it isn't live. And any serious classical musician will prefer even a noisy 78rpm shellac recording by a great artist to a technically perfect recording by a second rate modern musician.

MP3's at 160kbps are more than good enough for anybody. And they are way overkill for any kind of portable player, given the kind of suboptimal listening environments portable players are used in.
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