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Does Going Digital Mean Missing Music?

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the listen-real-close dept.

Music 751

arlanTLDR writes "The Seattle PI is running a story about how the MP3 format is the sign of a musical apocalypse. Apparently, many top music producers are 'howling' over the fact that files in a compressed format contain 'less than 10 percent of the original music on the CDs.' Is this just sensationalist FUD, or is there something to the assertion that listening to an MP3 is like hearing music 'through a screen door?'" The article mentions that the iPod and its cheap earbuds bear some of the responsibility for rendering this degradation in sound quality less objectionable.

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Darned whippersnappers (5, Funny)

smchris (464899) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218899)

I remember AM tube radios.

Now quit complaining and get off my lawn.

Re:Darned whippersnappers (5, Funny)

Bonobo_Unknown (925651) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218937)

Does it really matter that kids listen to crap quality recordings of crap music?

Re:Darned whippersnappers (5, Funny)

Xonstantine (947614) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219367)

Mod parent up. Increasing the recording quality or encoding quality won't improve a lot of what passes for music these days.

Sounds we can and cannot hear. (5, Insightful)

Tama00 (967104) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218907)

You will be surprised at just how much of that 90% of sounds produced our ear cannot understand.

Re:Sounds we can and cannot hear. (3, Informative)

dknj (441802) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219077)

most people don't care about the sound difference between mp3 and cd. hell i have friends who like the over compression of FM radio. i can tell you the difference between 320kbps mp3 and a cd, and anyone who has a quality sound system can hear the difference as well. solution: audio reconstruction. there are many algorithms out there that can simulate the missing highs and lows which is satisfying enough for most people (i have a friend who can't stand the way mp3's fuck up guitars and high hats).

ipods have a few million users as a base, i bet at least 25% (probably way more) use the $0.50 earbuds that came with them. they suck, yet the users are fine with it. apple keeps selling ipods with shitty earphones, users accept the way music sounds. hell even dell's $20 speakerset with subs get rave reviews from my friends who live in college dorms......until they hear my $1300 5.1 setup :-)

Re:Sounds we can and cannot hear. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20219231)

ipods have a few million users as a base, i bet at least 25% (probably way more) use the $0.50 earbuds that came with them.

Yeah, but those monster cable earbuds are a little heavy on the ears.

Re:Sounds we can and cannot hear. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20219287)

Trust me, you cannot tell the difference between a 320kbps mp3 and a CD.

Re:Sounds we can and cannot hear. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20219429)

Well, to be fair perhaps the parent was using Windows Vista.

Re:Sounds we can and cannot hear. (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219291)

(i have a friend who can't stand the way mp3's fuck up guitars and high hats)

And that is really the problem. Listen to a Rush cd compressed to MP3 format. The crashes become almost a white-noise-through-real-audio sound and hi-hats blend away into obscurity. Its like one of those composite pictures you see all of the time, where one big picture is made up of littler pictures. Sure you can tell what it is SUPPOSED to be, but you simply lose the fine details.

OH YEAH?! Well... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20219403) 5.3 system cost me 12,000 dollars, and it goes to 11!

So there!

Re:Sounds we can and cannot hear. (5, Informative)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219417)

I don't know about guitars (I've never heard one compressed that wasn't too buried in the mix to identify), but I can't stand the way AAC screws up cymbals. Anything that naturally has no tonality tends to be massacred by lossy compression. If you can't hear the difference, you probably can't hear high frequencies.... It is annoying to me even with cheap earbuds in a quiet room. In noisy environments, I can't hear the difference, of course, thanks to the masking effect of everything else. Whether you can hear the effect or not depends largely on whether you are actively or passively listening to the music.

Honestly, I don't mind the earbuds. The proximity to the ear makes up for most of the low frequency loss associated with a small diaphragm, so they sound acceptable. They aren't God's gift to man or anything, but they aren't nearly as awful as you make them out to be. Now computer speakers... those tend to be universally abhorrent. No bass response whatsoever, so they sound like tin can telephones.

As for the $20 speakers with subwoofers, they get rave reviews mainly because most people have never heard good speakers. Compared to a set of 6 inch drivers, yeah, they probably sound great. You actually have deep bass response. Compared to a pair of properly tuned 3-ways with 12 inch drivers, they sound like ass because you have probably a couple of octaves of upper bass to lower mids that are mostly missing because it's too high for the sub to generate it and too low for the tiny 4 inch (or smaller) main speakers to generate it. Compared with my studio monitors, they're laughable. The problem is that most people have never heard speakers with drivers over about six inches... maybe eight. Oh, yeah, and most people don't have any hearing above 14 kHz anyway, so those tinny little speakers sound good to them. :-D

Re:Sounds we can and cannot hear. (4, Informative)

BobPaul (710574) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219143)

Quite right. Maximum PC had an article about a year ago where they pitted 4 people (A teeny-bopper or two and at least 1 audiophile) in a "Guess the Source" contest. They had a selection of songs and played 4 versions of each ranging from 160kpbs mp3 up to flac and uncompress wave on various sound systems (iPod earbuds, expensive head phones, expensive stereo system, etc).

As I recall, nobody could really tell the more often than chance would predict. The audiophile did slightly better, but nothing to shake a stick at.

Re:Sounds we can and cannot hear. (1)

epee1221 (873140) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219431)

If the audiophile did slightly better, I'd be curious as to how he does with a larger sample size.

Re:Sounds we can and cannot hear. (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219459)

Some materials compress almost indistinguishably. Others don't. It depends just as much on the source material as it does the bitrate and the codec. Some pathological cases can sound really awful with certain codecs, and thus they will stand out very clearly. This is not the norm, of course.

Re:Sounds we can and cannot hear. (1)

tbonius (837427) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219169)

You might be surprised on how much of that 90% of sound loss is actually noticed and interpreted, even if only by one's subconscience. One might argue that the 10% of remaining audio is only comparable to that of the original sound produced by the acoustic audio qualities of the instrumentation and/or vocalist(s). Thus, the recording process itself will lead to audio and or signal loss, regardless of the medium.

Most audiophiles will agree that many of the older analog technologies retained a "warm" and sometimes even "saturated" presence in the processing of the audio. There are many digital solutions today that attempt and even come close to reproducing this effect during the recording process or even during the mixing or mastering process of producing audio.

This brings up an interesting scenario though, given that historically.. many artists have adapted their songwriting techniques, recording techniques, and even mixing/mastering techniques, using medium much like a "canvas" to express their musical tastes. (Much like the Beatles with multi track recording, or Pink Floyd with the Buchla and tape loops)

It would be interesting to see what the new century of artists brings to the table, and how they will use these technologies to create music

Re:Sounds we can and cannot hear. (1)

cswiger (63672) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219405)

Most audiophiles will agree that many of the older analog technologies retained a "warm" and sometimes even "saturated" presence in the processing of the audio. There are many digital solutions today that attempt and even come close to reproducing this effect during the recording process or even during the mixing or mastering process of producing audio.

The "warm" or "saturated" sound you mention tends to result from mild distortion consisting of even harmonics, and can indeed be created or reproduced by digital equipment with appropriate feedback circuits to add a little noise back into the signal during processing.

There's nothing wrong with preferring some sonic coloration from your playback equipment, but most engineers try to set up audio equipment which comes as close as possible to reproducing the original inputs with as little extra distortion as possible. That's easier to test for and achieve than to come up with the right level of noise and distortion which an individual might prefer, because the latter is a lot more subjective and variable.

If it contains only 10% of the original music ... (5, Funny) (1108067) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218909)

Shouldn't they only be charging a dime per download, instead of a buck?

... and shouldn't any copyright violations be for a lot less, since only 10% was copied?

Re:If it contains only 10% of the original music . (1)

Shabbs (11692) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218959)

I like the cut of your jib son. Fucking brilliant!

Re:If it contains only 10% of the original music . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20219073)

That's not the only revelation contained in the article.

Here's what I learned about FLAC: "It reduces storage space by 30 percent to 50 percent, but without compression."

This is a rather impressive breakthrough which most people might not know about. Of course, I still dream of the car that travels without motion, but so far technology has failed me.

Re:If it contains only 10% of the original music . (1)

pseudosero (1037784) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219261)

I think they're comparing the size of a hard drive, to the size of dyed flying discs.

Re:If it contains only 10% of the original music . (2, Insightful)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219245)

Ten percent of five minutes is thirty seconds, and most full songs are shorter than five minutes. I call fair use on that!

Re:If it contains only 10% of the original music . (4, Funny)

datapharmer (1099455) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219447)

shhh! Not so loud! if you wake them they'll make all the non-drm tracks flac and start charging $10 a song!

Damn (4, Insightful)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218911)

Clearly, all that hard work to polish the recorded sound isn't really very important to people.

Doesn't bode well for the planned obsolescence system and it's efforts to shift us to new hi-def hardware.

Re:Damn (5, Insightful)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219233)

Clearly, all that hard work to polish the recorded sound isn't really very important to people.

Have you heard any recent CD?!
I'd say that 90% of all new CDs have less than 6dB of dynamic range... and clip at every crescendo. I think they're mastered by people whose previous careers had them working with jackhammers without protection.
We can record in 24/192 all we want, but compression of the final product is rather moot when most of the damage was inflicted during mastering... where the "engineers" make the song as loud as humanly possible, so it could be used to silence thoughts while blasting 100dB through $5 earbuds.

Re:Damn (5, Insightful)

Saige (53303) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219327)

It's not the engineers that are doing the mastering that are causing recent albums to be run that loud. It's the record folks that don't want their music to sound "quieter" than the competition. The engineers are just as pissed about it, but if they don't do it, someone else will, and they need to work, so they do it.

Well... (1)

akkarin (1117245) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218913)

Just a sign of the times, I guess

veils (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20218925)

I prefer to think of it as having curtains or veils between me and the music. MP3s have enough information missing that they get sort of "crunchy." I don't know how else to explain it.

Re:veils (1, Troll)

Hitto (913085) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218961)

You can hear the missing details between WAV and MP3?
Congratulations, you're the first dog who's posted on /. !

Re:veils (1)

akkarin (1117245) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219035)

Damn! My covers been blown!! *Howls at moon*

If that's the case, then I am a dog, too! (1)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219331)

I did an mp3 compression experiment with Coldplay "clocks". When compressed via mp3 to 128kbps, it sounds awful. Very noisy, and the note beginnings aren't clear. They sound TOO SOFT. Instead, when compressed to 320kbps, it sounds MUCH, MUCH better, and the "ding" effect when each note is hit, is heard much more clearly. The explanation is that a piano note contains a lot of high freq. harmonics (even if it's not a high note), and these are lost in the mp3 compression. Now, most MP3 music found on the internet is 192kbps, and the last time i checked, a lot of it was encoded at 128.

And that's WITHOUT taking into account the dynamic range loss [] in modern music (eew).

In short: Yes, the quality loss can be recognized by a human - specially one with music training. Of course, if you're the type of person who plays his iPod too loud with his earbuds [] , then your ear is already damaged enough so you won't be able to tell any difference. Too bad for you.

P.S. (1)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219409)

After doing a second comparison, 320kbps still sounds WAY TOO LOW quality for piano music. ...guess nothing beats the real thing, eh?

That's Fine (4, Funny)

pedropolis (928836) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218943)

10% of Britney Spears or the Aguilera Monster is fine with me, although 5% would be better.

Re:That's Fine (4, Funny)

notasheep (220779) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219353)

I don't know...I can think of more than 10% of either of them that I'd like. Not speaking musically...

But (4, Funny)

fishthegeek (943099) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218949)

Seriously... 6% of any given Britney Spears song is still sufficient to cause internal hemorrhaging. The other 94%, if added back, would just be salt on the wound.

Backasswords (3, Interesting)

WiiVault (1039946) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218951)

Saying that MP3s sport less than 10% of the music of a CD is just plain stupid. Perhaps 10% of the data, but frankly that would only be a low bit rates. That is a little like saying that radio is destroying music because it is not CD-quality. Everybody has a different tolerance. For me 128 just won't do it but up that to 256 and I can't tell the difference. These people are just dinosaurs afraid of the future. I'd take a high bit rate 6-channel AAC file over a CD any day of the week,

The Last Gasp (2)

jeffreyMartin (1115859) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219019)

This is propoganda planted by the RIAA. The last gasp.

More of the Same, as is the End Game (0, Troll)

twitter (104583) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219423)

This is propoganda planted by the RIAA. The last gasp.

They have apposed "perfect" copy from the start because they knew non-physical distribution meant the end of their broadcast and recording empire. They will do everything in their power to keep their control of the market. That includes making digital music suck like FM radio and limiting internet distribution of music. Vista [] and SoundExchange [] give them most of what they want. People are not buying Vista [] but musicians will not be able to escape SoundExchange if we do not shut them down.

Re:Backasswords (1)

ResidntGeek (772730) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219045)

Exactly. Would they say that a FLAC file had only 70% of the music? I really don't think they would.

Whining. (5, Insightful)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218953)

It's just whining. There have been numerous double-blind ABX [] tests, many done by the folks over at, comparing MP3 files to AIFFs, and with the right codec and right bitrates (depending on the type of source material), it's possible to get an MP3 that only the most refined ears can discriminate from the original. [1]

Of course, it's quite possible to make an MP3 that sounds like a tin-can telephone with one end held underwater, and I'd argue that many of the consumer-ripped files floating around the P2P networks fall into this category, but these files only exist *because* there aren't legitimate, professionally-made, DRM-free MP3s. (And because some people like getting stuff for free and don't much care about the quality when they do. But I do think there is a market for and profit in digitally-delivered music, for the people who can do it right.)

As more music begins to be distributed as MP3s, sound engineers will doubtless (if they have not already) begin studying the codecs and encoding procedures in order to wring the most quality out of a particular bit rate. Many amateurs and enthusiasts have already done this, and there is a sizable body of work devoted to the topic -- including the LAME encoder itself.

Also, looking towards the future, while CDs have pegged the standard for digital music as 2 channel, 44.1kHz, 16-bit PCM, there is no reason why an appropriately-crafted MP3 file cannot *exceed* it in terms of quality. The Apple iPod already supports (slightly) higher sample rates, I believe, and if consumers desire it [2], there's no reason why modern digital formats cannot encapsulate very high-definition audio.

The only people who I hear whining about MP3 are those with either an ulterior motive and a desire to try and keep the industry from moving away from a distribution model that revolves around physical objects, or those who just don't understand the technology. (There are a very small core of audiophiles and techies who seem to dislike MP3 because they prefer some other format, usually either for ethical/political reasons or technical ones, and there certainly is an argument in favor of using lossless formats in lieu of MP3 for distribution, but overall MP3 strikes a good balance between quality and portability. [3])

[1] One 'competition' that pitted serious self-described audiophiles against modern codecs is described in detail here: ssical/mp3test.html [] . While well-trained ears could discriminate between 128kbit MP3s and PCM, they could not reliably tell the difference between 256kbit and PCM, on average. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

[2] Which is a big 'if.' The buying public, to date, has shown little interest in high-definition audio as such. The only exception to this is multichannel audio, but that only in movie soundtracks for surround sound.

[3] This does raise the question, though, of why the legitimate music-download sites don't take a cue from the late, great, and just allow the *customers* to choose their format of choice for their downloads. There's really no particular excuse not to at least offer a few different quality/size options, particularly for popular music that is going to be enjoyed in a variety of settings (automobiles, portables, home stereos -- each lends itself to a slightly different EQ and compression).

Re:Whining. (1)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219011)

That's all very interesting. Someone's probably going to follow up with a mention of some Fourier/Nyquist theorem about the sufficient conditions for reproduction of a sound.

But I'm just hoping someone does the same double blind test, but for wine, so we can get connoisseurs to shut the **** up about the soil quality of where the grapes for their wine were grown...

Re:Whining. (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219217)

John Cleese did this in Wine for the Confused. Although his test subjects weren't exactly sommaliers, there was a test between 6 different bottles ranging from $5 to $300...someone picked the $5 as their personal fav.

Re:Whining. (1)

cswiger (63672) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219337)

Nothing wrong with that! If you enjoy a cheap wine the best, why bother spending a lot more for something you don't like as much?

Exactly - I defy anyone on two legs (1)

unassimilatible (225662) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219179)

to tell the difference between an AIFF and an MP3 at 256kbs or beyond. Maybe dogs or bats could, but not the average human...

Re:Whining. (1)

ghyd (981064) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219213)

Great music was recorded in since the 20s, and there's plenty of great albums from the 30s. MP3 is what allows part of this music to survive actually. The real problem is: "Music industry", there one word too much in there.

Re:Whining. (1)

griffjon (14945) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219227)

If you're going to start ripping (pardon the pun) on MP3 sound quality, compare it to a clean vinyl record at least; comparing it to a CD, as the parent has shown, is a poor argument - it's possible to make an mp3 that exceeds the quality of a CD. Now, I myself am firmly in the mp3 (or ogg or flac) camp, but will at least accept criticism from the vinyl camp. But CDs? c'mon.

Through a screen door loudly... (1)

pontifier (601767) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218955)

What kind of screen doors do these people have and where can I buy one?

So sell us FLACs (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20218957)

I dunno that they have any right to complain when they are the ones making it so difficult to get even these 10% MP3/AAC files. They wcould be selling DRM free FLAC files to those of us who cared about such things. They could be selling much higher fidelity recordings online for that matter.

Re:So sell us FLACs (1)

pseudosero (1037784) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219133)

Sell us FLAC jackets.

Yes and no. (4, Interesting)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218963)

If music is only stored as an MP3 than yes we will be loosing some of the music. Flac would fix that. Now to the question, are MP3s and cheap earbuds ruining music? I would say the lost of dynamic range in modern CDs, the nightmare that is Clearchannel, and the general decline in the quality of music are much greater threats. Let's not forget the draconian tactics of the music industry also seem to come into play. It has gotten to the point that I hate the record companies and just don't want to pay their prices.

Perhaps CDs are just over-specced (2, Insightful)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219243)

Sure, you can tell the difference between MP3 and CD, but untimately what is important is what the customers want. CD is technically overspecced. There is little point in having CD quality recordings which are a significant number of dB better than the microphones, speakers, funtiture, carpets, road noise, your eardums and other distortions and noise that inject their way into the deliver path.

There's probably a sweet spot somewhere between MP3 and CD where you would not notice the difference.

Clearly MP3 is good enough for most people. To use the car analogy: sure, a Rolls Royce might be technically better than a Toyota, but where is Rolls Royce now? Does Rolls Royce actually deliver a vehicle that is useful to anybody?

Re:Yes and no. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20219259)

I reckon loss in quality is not really noticeable with MP3s a lot of the time because :

1) A lot of the music has low dynamic range or is poorly recorded, so it's low quality to begin with. Most popular music in the charts has a pretty limited dynamic and frequency range anyway so there's not too much to lose by compressing it...
2) People are generally listening whilst driving their cars, walking down a noisy street - ambient noise provides good cover for encoding quality. Damn SUV drivers make it hard to listen to stuff on earphones... who gives a shit about the quality when you can barely hear what's going?
3) People are used to the sound.

On the other hand, music with real instruments (classical music, jazz etc) and trip-hop/electronica with large frequency & dynamic ranges (e.g. Kruder & Dorfmeister) does not compress well to MP3 and sounds dead and lifeless, even with bitrates in excess of 250Kbps. Ogg encoding is a bit better, but I'll stick with flac and CD thankyou!

No. RIAA will make sure that MP3 suck. (0, Troll)

twitter (104583) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219269)

If music is only stored as an MP3 than yes we will be loosing some of the music. Flac would fix that.

Ogg too is better, but don't count on the MAFIAA to bring you quality music. They are still trying to figure out how to get their radio empire back. That includes intentionally distorted and low quality music shoveled to you by a select and advertising funded few and everything else bad you noticed. Vista gives them some of it [] , but no one is buying that [] . The other way is the new is a compulsory SoundExchange [] . If we don't stop them, SoundExchange will eventually buddy up with M$, Apple or some other sell out and lock everyone else out.

Re:Yes and no. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20219335)

If you listen 2 to many Fags, than you will be loosing your hearing.

Re:Yes and no. (1)

chdig (1050302) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219449)

Agreed. In fact, I'd say MP3s and cheap earbuds are a symptom more than a cause in the declining quality in music.

I'd be willing to bet that the labels invest about 10% what they used to put into production back in the 80's.

Engineers, quality producers, session musicians are all having a rough go at it these days. The money's in live music now, and most labels expect bands to fund their own albums instead of actually taking risks, which doesn't help with quality.

Then there's the hardware. Cheap earbuds are one thing, but the sound produced from 70's stereos was way better than the crap everyone buys from Best Buy, or whatever other outlet that sells junk that gives anything but quality sound (loudness is sooo cool!)

But then again, like the first poster mentioned, people have been listening to bad-sounding (AM radio, ghetto blasters, etc) music for years, so how is this suddenly breaking news?

The music industry can blame itself (4, Informative)

MagikSlinger (259969) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218967)

Bad mixing. I can't find the link right now, but many people have complained about how CDs are being produced by mixing things loud and the sound getting clipped. Add to that most consumer CD players completely process the CD signal to hell and gone then they play it through cheap-ass head phones so seriously, the consumer has already lost a lot of quality. Most listeners won't notice the difference because of their playback set-up.

Of course, some people are now going for the "super bitrate" MP3s ripped directly from CDs, but they are the rare ones.

Also, if the mass market really wanted higher audio quality, don't you think any of the CD successors would have taken off already?

Re:The music industry can blame itself (4, Informative)

asadodetira (664509) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219271)

There was a slashdot thread about it 1 [] The most interesting link was an explanation of "the loudness wars", by a sound engineer. It has audio examples to listen to. s-war-explained.html []

Background noise (4, Insightful)

hack slash (1064002) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218969)

Whilst it's true that lossy compressed audio can't sound exactly the same as the original, it's worth bearing in mind that people will listen to their portable mp3 player in places where the background noise is sufficient to drown out any imperfections the compression creates.

Survey Says.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20218975)

Ogg Vorbis (aka .ogg)

Perhaps it's a little bit simplistic, but it's a better format than MP3 and has better compression.

It's really not that hard to introduce an option to use ogg on ITunes or anywhere else.

The only thing MP3 has is its ubiquity. Kinda like DTS (Digital Theater Sound) to Dolby Surround Sound.

Well, nuf said

pff, sure, it's all about the music.. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20218979)

because cd's are always perfect: []

Crazy Claims (1)

dcdprofessor (1142249) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218991)

"The difference could be as fundamental as which brain hemisphere the music engages." -original article [] I was unaware that the ability for me to enjoy music was based on which part of my brain processed the noise. I don't know, I'm kind of liking how my left brain is processing music. I think I'll let him have his MP3 formats. I'll leave the walking and talking to my right brain.

Ear of the Beholder (2, Insightful)

LowSNR (1138511) | more than 7 years ago | (#20218999)

MP3 is not the problem. Given a sufficiently high bitrate, MP3's are going to be indistinguishable from the CD (read: digital) audio that the producer is so overly concerned about. Even that is hugely dependent on what you're using to reproduce the audio.

The article mentions that the iPod and its cheap earbuds bear some of the responsibility for rendering this degradation in sound quality less objectionable.
This is a good point... even if you're still stuck on 128kbps/44.1kHz audio, unless you're talking a real high-quality stereo with high-quality speakers with perfect linearity and a flat response, you're not going to hear the difference.

Figures (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20219007)

because CDs contain only about 10% of the sound from analog recordings.

Anonymous to ward off "grumpy old man and his vinyls" modding.

QOTA (quote of the article) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20219013)

"It turns you into an observer," Meyer says. "It forces the brain to work harder to solve it all the time. Any compression system is based on the idea you can throw data away, and that's proved tricky because we don't know how the brain works."

Did that make any sense to anyone in here?

Re:QOTA (quote of the article) (1)

pseudosero (1037784) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219207)

Is that a suggestion That in order to listen to lossy compressed sounds The mind must work harder? I wouldn't throw it completely away.

Re:QOTA (quote of the article) (1)

jigjigga (903943) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219399)

I should think that due to having a narrower range of frequencies and harmonics available to the listener, the brain would have to work harder to try to separate the instruments and all the stuff going on. The less information, the more mashed it all is, the harder it is to listen because it isn't just "music" anymore, its a workout. I can give an example of something like that making sense- Say someone has small speakers that only reproduce down to say 70hz, now if he or she upgrades to some that extend to 30, there is a ton more definition and information available- he or she will be able to easily hear the bass lines and all that going on down there, which makes it more enjoyable and easier, so yes that makes perfect sense.

Dump the earbuds (1)

Aardpig (622459) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219017)

1) The sound reproduction is appalling; even a $10 pair of in-ear headphones leads to a vast improvement in the sound.

2) Even if iPod is hidden from view, the white earbuds scream 'Please mug me, I have an iPod'

3) If you're worried about losing the conspicuous consumption 'status' of having white earbuds, then ignore rule 2), and go listen to Brian Eno on a street corner in Compton.

They should complain! (1)

Skippy_kangaroo (850507) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219025)

These are the same people who compress the recording [] so they only use 10% of the dynamic range of the CD (the top 10% if you were wondering) because they think it sells better.

If they are worried about the degradation in quality from MP3s - the apocalypse arrived well before that. It was when some budding sound engineer said I can make your CD sound louder [] and all the producers said - Yeah! Louder is better! Who cares if the quality goes to pot.

It's true, but... (5, Insightful)

TheCoders (955280) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219049)

While the 90% figure may be overblowing things a bit, there is a noticeable loss of sound fidelity when converting to a compressed format. In fact, it's actually quite impressive that the loss is not even more noticeable than it is, and that is a testament to the brilliance of the original MP3 algorithms, which have been tweaked and honed to make the quality even better.

The fact remains, however, that most listeners, in most situations, don't care. For one thing, popular music has, since the 50s, been designed for listening to on cheap equipment. The dynamic range is enormously compressed, the sounds are often fuzzy to begin with, the voices are straight front and center. This can explain the dwindling popularity of classical and jazz, and the rise of the louder, simpler, more beat-oriented music like rock, rap, or pop. Note that I'm not saying the music is of lower quality, but that it can be reproduced "faithfully enough" on lower quality equipment.

I don't have any statistics, but I would bet that most music listening happens while the listener is doing something else: driving, working out, coding python scripts, etc. In those circumstances, an average listener is not going to notice a little swishiness in the cymbals, or lack of crispness on the trumpet's timbre.

Those who care (like me) will shell out the extra bucks for higher fidelity. Those who don't care, which are in the majority, will use whatever technology is most convenient.

Earbuds? (1)

rbf (2305) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219053)

...the iPod and its cheap earbuds...
I agree that the one Apple puts in the box are not that great, but how many actually still have the original earbuds? I am careful with mine and still end up with a new pair every 1 - 1.5 years. My sister, who is quite careless with hers, goes through a set about every 3 - 4 months. I think the fact that the original earsbuds are so crappy is one of the reasons they break/wear out so quickly.

Real Music Worth Listening to is Out There (4, Insightful)

garcia (6573) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219063)

No worries! If you want high quality stuff, like sound board recordings of live shows of decent artists that aren't controlled by the RIAA, it's out there in SHN/FLAC (lossless codecs). It's just not what most of the consumer market wants for a variety of reasons including size constraints, the fact that the music has little depth as it is, and it takes too long to download.

Y'all are going to hate me for this, but... (2, Interesting)

gary gunrack (956165) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219075)

It was only in the last couple of years that I started to notice the difference in quality between different bitrates of MP3's. Then CD's started to sound bad. I swear my girlfriend's cheap turntable sounds better than my audiophile CD player.

Pot calling kettle black, 10% b.s. (4, Insightful)

Uksi (68751) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219079)

Is the concern overblown? Maybe not with 128kbps mp3s (as opposed to say 256kbs ABR kind).

However, these same producers compress the living bejeezus out of their music during the production, killing all the dynamics. So frankly, the effect of a lower-bitrate mp3 isn't quite the castration of full-on sonic fidelity that's portrayed in the TFA.

10% of original music is an overblown claim, because the music is not just filtered down, but is also compressed. In truth, the article should be comparing against equivalent lossless audio compression formats, which yield about 60-70% of the original size (so does that mean that a FLAC file contains 60-70% of the original music? No!)

The bit about the compressed music affecting the perception in a different manner is an interesting one, but I really struggle to see how the difference can come through the average consumer equipment. It just doesn't. For example, things such as SACDs or high-quality vinyl records allow the recording to retain a lot of the "air," ambience of the room, which gives a perception of larger-than-life sound, makes it sound more full, gives it an impression of better dimensionality, really puts you there. But shit, you can only hear that on high-end equipment with the entire signal chain made out of quality components, and you sure as hell won't hear the difference on a consumer system.

Most people also do not listen to the music in an environment that allows for such an engaging listening experience.

I too am sad to see the consumers ignore higher-quality audio (as I want that higher quality for myself, being an audio geek of sorts), but I completely understand where they are coming from.

Re:Pot calling kettle black, 10% b.s. (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219263)

However, these same producers compress the living bejeezus out of their music during the production, killing all the dynamics. So frankly, the effect of a lower-bitrate mp3 isn't quite the castration of full-on sonic fidelity that's portrayed in the TFA.

They are both the same phenomena - music fidelity compromised to fit crappy playback systems. iPod and MP3 are destroying music quality.

MP3s can be BETTER than CDs (1)

x00101010x (631764) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219083)

I have some stuff I ripped from vinyl at 64-256kB/s(vbr), sounds better to me than the CDs (which you only have to rip at 192 to get 100%).

It's about the music... the MUSIC! (5, Insightful)

wall0159 (881759) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219085)

This reminds me of the fuss that currently exists over HD-TV. People gasp at the quality of the picture, but don't notice the lack-of-quality of the content. It's the same with music - people focus too much on the equipment, and ignore the music.

I've got a beautiful violin recording from the 20s or 30s. It's very low-fi, scratchy as hell, but the playing is magnificent. Ask any jazz fan whether they'd prefer to listen to a well-used John Coltrane LP, or Kenny G in 192 kHz / 24-bit, DVD-A.

People, listen to the music -- not the equipment! Otherwise you're a hifi-collector, not a music fan.

Re:It's about the music... the MUSIC! (1, Redundant)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219181)

MP3 and iPod is actively damaging the quality of the music we get because recording engineers are forced to compress the dynamic range and make other sound quality compromises to enhance listenability on this crappy delivery chain.

There is plenty of good quality music out there well worthy of high quality sound reproduction from the studio to the listener. This MP3 trash is destroying people's ability to purchase well recorded music.

As soon as this iPod fad dies out we'll start getting a renaissance in music.

Re:It's about the music... the MUSIC! (1)

wall0159 (881759) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219385)

"MP3 and iPod is actively damaging the quality of the music we get because recording engineers are forced to compress the dynamic range"

It's a shame that studios have started this practise, but it is not the fault of MP3 or ipods - it began in the 90s ( If anything, it's the fault of the CD (compressing the dynamic range doesn't work well on LPs)

But, even if it was attributable to the ipod, I think it would be a worthwhile sacrifice - I have a music collection that my parents would have dreamed about, and my grandparents would find inconceivable. Our exposure to music from around the world is unprecedented, and I'm quite prepared to sacrifice a little bit of audio quality to get it.

But yes, it would be even better if studios didn't adjust dynamic range as they do.

No. (1)

SirJorgelOfBorgel (897488) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219099)

No, it does not.

MP3 reduces the file size a lot by lossy compression that eliminates sounds you cannot hear (it's not like the Fraunhofer institute is filled with fools, you know). Lower bitrates will take away more parts you can indeed hear, but a high bitrate VBR MP3, at least _I_ cannot distinguish from the original. I must admit here, ofcourse, that I don't listen to classical music, and it is said the difference is heard best with that. However, there are a lot of things to consider. Sure you can listen to MP3's on your cheap-ass player with cheap-ass earbuds and complain it sounds like crap. Compare that to a high-end soundcard and Sennheisers, that makes a very big difference. I wonder if these people complain about losing half their data when they ZIP files. They should remember, it's not the size the matters, it's how you use it :)

Too bad we don't work for the RIAA (2, Insightful)

WiiVault (1039946) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219101)

Sucks that we can't all be rich record execs who can afford the multi-thousand dollar equipment needed to get that other 90% of the music that we are *missing*. Most people are held back by their stereo set-up and not their 256 AAC files.

Cheap earbuds? (4, Informative)

Lord Satri (609291) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219107)

iPod and its cheap earbuds bear some of the responsibility for rendering this degradation in sound quality less objectionable []
I'm very satisfied with these earbuds and I'm probably not alone. I do feel these earbuds sound great. And no, I'm not your audiophile, just a regular guy who's satisfied and unhappy reading such a quote, fanboyism aside.

Distortion (1)

overshoot (39700) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219135)

Considering the gross "peak limiting" [] that those same producers insist on using for their CDs, I'm not sympathetic. When the recording gain is cranked up to where a large portion of it is clipping, you're not hearing the musicians either.

Not that it directly affects me -- the yahoos currently ruining the studios never had their hands on the stuff I listen to.

Ambient noise changes things (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20219145)

If you want to experience all that there is in music, you have to be in a very special listening environment. Among other things, there has to be just about zero ambient noise. As noise increases, you have to resort to compression or you will lose sounds that are weaker than the noise.

It is said that Phil Spector [] , one of the most successful music producers of all time, made a point of listening to his music on a crummy car radio. That was where most teens listened to music and that was where it had to sound good. The same logic applies to MP3 players. Most people spend much more time listening to their MP3 players than they do listening in the quiet of their living rooms. Music that sounds good on an MP3 player will get listened to. Concert quality music that sounds bad on an MP3 player might get listened to once before it gathers dust forever more.

So, for all you musical purists out there, suck it up dudes. Fighting against the MP3 format (and the players) is like King Canute trying to push back the tide.

That's why I got me a brand new (1)

wamerocity (1106155) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219149)

Meizu M6 8GB player, cause it supports FLAC, and it sounds AMAZING. I haven't touched my ipod since (at least after I figured out how to convert all my audible files to mp3..) and it's half the price of an 8GB nano, and it plays videos too. I didn't think there would be that much of a difference, but if you've got the right headphones it is clearly superior. Never going back to my ipod and itunes again.

Re:That's why I got me a brand new (1)

WiiVault (1039946) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219413)

Thats great to hear. But for those that are not picky about their lossless format, the one from Apple (compatible with your old iPod) is very similar. Sure its not open, but I'm not sure I would dump something as expensive as an iPod just to switch between lossless formats. Wish I could afford such convictions, but I'd just wait till my current DAP died.

Right. (1)

Tribbin (565963) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219153)

So lossless audio codecs are less value for your money than the original even if you can put twice the amount of information on a gigabyte?

Oh, and with compression you have something like 99,7% of the valuable information in 10% of the data.

Less is more, more or less.

hot signal (1)

ubeatha (531412) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219167)

Are these the same people that voluntarily threw away the full db range of the CD just to make it louder?

Irrelevant (1)

JanneM (7445) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219177)

Whatever the perceived quality loss of mp3 (and tests show it's minimal), it's completely irrelevant. Whether the format, the sound is run through a noisy amplifier in a music player, television or cheapo integrated stereo, gets the bass and highest tones overly boosted, then squeezed through tinny-sounding earphones or cheap integrated speakers.

And that is just fine. Yes, you can build a great sound (note: not music) experience by spending an enormous amount of time learning about audio technology and spending a very significant amount of money on great gear that work well together. And of course almost nobody bothers - it's too much work and wayyy too much money. And frankly, music generally doesn't need it. Your tunes will be as enjoyable to you almost no matter what equipment you use to listen to it. People used to find all-mechancal gramophones perfectly acceptable, and for a long time music was heard - and greatly enjoyed - when belted out by rank amateurs that couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.

NO! only crappy digital is crappy, but actually... (2, Insightful)

jigjigga (903943) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219189)

I own plenty of 24/192 albums that are as good as it will ever get- digital is not the problem at all, the problem is everything around it. #0- Nobody under 50 has heard music sound good, and those over it don't care anymore (so nobody has any idea what they are missing) #1- Sh!tty speakers #2- Sh!tty speakers #3- Sh!tty speakers #4- Horrible mastering that absolutely ruins music (eg: loudness war) #5- Horrible mastering that absolutely ruins music (eg: loudness war) #6- compressing to MP3 when disk space is free, there is 0 need for using an mp3 #7- EAX, Dolby prologic, all of that crap upmixing for surround It all boils down to young people having absolutely no experience with quality when it comes to music or playback equipment, the industry pushing for cheaper when infact it is clear that the cheapening of music in all instances is destroying the industry, and they don't want to do a thing about it. I bet that 95% of college students are listening to music on either ipod earbuds, or logitech/creative computer speakers. They are all HORRIBLE. And about those double blind tests- well no wonder its hard to tell, the music is maximized or compressed to static already, the listening equipment is awful, so ya no wonder.

In most cases, you can't really tell. (1)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219195)

    Like the subject says, in most cases, you can't even tell. It's not that an MP3 is as good as the original, it's that so many people have such crap speakers (and perhaps other gear) that the difference is negligible anyway.

    On a good setup, the difference is pretty clear (even w/ 256 kbit MP3s), but on things that most people listen to, you're just splitting hairs.

because given today's mastering techniques CDs... (1)

MarcoAtWork (28889) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219257)

...are that much better right? The mastering that makes everything sound flat and un-dynamic just so that things sound 'loud'? I could maybe agree with this if we compare some classical/jazz music records to their mp3s, where even if I encode with the 'extreme' setting in lame I can surely hear a big difference on my (nice) stereo (on my ipod they sound the same of course), but for today's top-40 etc. mp3s at over 192 are plenty.

Personally nowadays I think nobody ought to buy any top-40 anywhere but on itunes, since it will sound the same (aka, crappy) and it will be cheaper (since you can just get the one decent song and not buy the filler), but for classical/jazz there is no way I would buy anything but physical CDs (or, even better, DVDs).

Welcome to many years ago... (1)

Hao Wu (652581) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219285)

This is an issue from 1998. Producers are just waking up, apparently.

CD less than 1% (1)

nick_davison (217681) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219301)

'less than 10 percent of the original music on the CDs.'
10% is a remarkably convenient figure, ignoring entirely how perception works.

By the same rule, CD's are already missing just a hair under 100% of of the original music - any given bitrate never being a perfect reproduction of a true waveform.

If you're going to argue "perception is what counts, not raw percentages" for your format of choice (CD), then you have to use the same rule for the one you dislike (MP3). By that standard, if you ask an average listener to compare live to CD, they'll likely say it's greater than 99% quality... and they'll say the same between CDs and higher bitrate MP3s.

Re:CD less than 1% (1)

Hao Wu (652581) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219419)

What some call loss could probably be marketed as a special processing feature, to enhance quality and "reduce background noise" or some silliness. (Or not so silly- removing audio artifacts.)

Point being, it's conceivable that lossy formats "sound better".

It all depends... (2, Interesting)

chiraz90210 (961309) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219323)

If either the quality of the source or the quality of the output medium is bad, the other end can't compensate whatsoever. (put garbage in, get garbage out).

This thus means that if the output medium is not very good, the source only needs to be equally good. Improving the quality of the source won't give any substantial benefit in the output. Certainly not when the "speakers" are $0,50 headphones. This is why the sound of MP3's is "acceptable". (add some reverb effect and other DSP's and the sound, to many, quickly sounds "better", when it just has more effect.)

If you play an mp3 on B&W speakers with similar quality amp (say Musical Fidelity or Rotel), I can't imagine no one wouldn't be able to hear the difference. It probably also depends how much you've trained yourself to listen to detail in music.

When people mention "losless quality", but the amount of information is reduced by 90%, there are definitely areas in the sound where this loss is more significant than in others. Someone mentioned hi-hats and guitar solos. I suppose that higher harmonics are probably suffering a lot from the mp3 reduction, which usually don't come out very well in cheaper systems, but still add to the sound overall.

Bullshit (3, Insightful)

AttillaTheNun (618721) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219339)

True, any mp3 is technically inferior to their CD counterpart.

True, decently encoded mp3s are barely distinguishable from their CD counterparts to the vast majority of listeners.

Also true, even poorly encoded mp3s are capable of sounding vastly superior to the collection of cassettes and 4-tracks, which formed previous generations of portable music. Still, the record companies charged more for those formats than vinyl and the music producers didn't complain about their paychecks back then.

The real difference that is affecting the livelihood of music professionals these days has less to do with the quality of the format than the quality of music produced these days. That and the end of the music industry's archaic and monopolistic distribution model.

Ad hominem productem (4, Interesting)

Anonymous McCartneyf (1037584) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219383)

Couldn't the RIAA have found a better spokeperson for their argument than Phil Spector?
Phil Spector, as a producer, is best known for the Wall of Sound--creating an effect by cramming as many instruments into the studio and on the master tape as possible. I suppose his music would be an edge case in data removal--if you could actually hear every detail in his recordings, then the Wall of Sound would really be overwhelming.
But the Wall of Sound works best in mono; it doesn't fully work in stereo. Hearing more detail makes it less effective, and that kind of music tends to get called "overproduced" regardless of merit.
Spector is also responsible for producing the original Let It Be. Spector laid an orchestra on "Long and Winding Road" that, in remastered Redbook CD detail, drowns out every other non-vocal instrument on the track and nearly swamps Paul's vocals.
In short, the man often puts more detail in his tracks than the average ear can hear, on purpose.
There is also the problem that Spector is on trial for murder right now. This makes no difference to the validity of his theories, but it would have been nice if the RIAA had tapped a famous producer who was not at risk of going to San Quentin.

flac (1)

SolusSD (680489) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219387)

one of the tags on this story has it right-- FLAC, or something similar is a great alternative to raw CD audio. Flac renders 3 to 4 minute music tracks as about 15-20MB files. Sure you can get a 3.5MB file if you use mp3, but as mp3 is a lossy format you do lose sound quality, whether or not you notice. FLAC is a lossless compression format, it is open source, and at 15-20MB is is much more compact than a 100MB raw audio file. With 60GB iPods and hard drives measured in hundreds of GB I don't see FLACs file size as being an issue-- at least not for long.

Poorly written article (2, Interesting)

Arabani (1127547) | more than 7 years ago | (#20219421)

I think the point of this article is that compression is bad, because you lose data from the original audio. But it fails to distinguish between lossy (MP3, AAC, Vorbis, etc.) and lossless (FLAC) compression, as well as the whole point of audio compression. I don't know about you, but I'd be pretty upset if I could only fit ~30 (uncompressed) albums on my iPod, as opposed to 200+ compressed albums. The trick is to find the lowest possible bitrate that still provides (subjective) CD-quality. Newer codecs like AAC and Vorbis can do this better than MP3. All of this hand-waving about the lost data being "bad" for the brain and psychoacoustics not working is just bullshit. If psychoacoustics didn't work, MP3s and other lossless codecs wouldn't be able to achieve transparency.

For digital audio to substantially improve, several major technological hurdles will have to be cleared. The files will have to be stored at higher sampling rates and higher bit rates. Computing power will have to grow. New playback machines will have to be introduced.
Higher sampling rates and higher bit rates defeats the purpose of audio compression, since they cause audio files to increase in size. Instead, the current goal of codec research to create codecs that lower the bitrate at which transparency happens. Basically, I don't think the "problem" with digital audio that they see exists. And one final gem:

FLAC: This codec, favored by Grateful Dead tape traders, stands for Free Lossless Audio Code. It reduces storage space by 30 percent to 50 percent, but without compression.
Don't you love black magic that compres... erm, reduces file size by 30-50% without using compression? I sure do!
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