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The Death of High Fidelity

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the but-it's-still-rock-and-roll-to-me dept.

Music 377

Ponca City, We Love You writes "Rolling Stone has an interesting story on how record producers alter the way they mix albums to compensate for the limitations of MP3 sound. Much of the information left out during MP3 compression is at the very high and low ends, which is why some MP3s sound flat. Without enough low end, 'you don't get the punch anymore. It decreases the punch of the kick drum and how the speaker gets pushed when the guitarist plays a power chord.' The inner ear automatically compresses blasts of high volume to protect itself, so we associate compression with loudness. After a few minutes, constant loudness grows fatiguing to the brain. Though few listeners realize this consciously, many feel an urge to skip to another song."

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377 comments

NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (1, Insightful)

mikelieman (35628) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847000)

It seems that FLAC does the job quite nicely.

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (1)

siyavash (677724) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847026)

Absolutely! I refuse to put my money on a lossy format. We should move forward, not backwards... I mean from CD to mp3s? It should be from CD to "Put lossless format here". :(

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (1)

hsdpa (1049926) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847100)

Yeah.. CD is 2 * 44100@16bit, right? With FLAC you might use it with 7.1(8) * 192000@24bit.

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21847092)

People who think MP3 encoded with Lame -preset standard (about 192kbps) suck and are not trolling should register at Hydrogenaudio and submit audio samples and ABX tests tests. Some Lame developers hang out there, and I'm sure they would like some help in improving their acoustic model.

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (0, Flamebait)

Antiocheian (859870) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847498)

I would suggest against participating in elitist forums like Hydrogenaudio. The regulars there have a history of posting "charade" ABX tests in order to ridicule participants. One of them, Roberto Amorim, has gone as far as suggesting that the site of a Hydrogenaudio bullied target should be defaced. People like the guy who posted the opinion (look below) ``It amazes me how many of the LP's I own still sound better than the CD versions,, would be considered trolls and they would have been kicked out of the forum.

Don't waste time with people who wasted their youth in posting thousands of messages on audio opinion -- you are not responsible of their (obvious and critical) personal issues.

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (4, Interesting)

cyclocommuter (762131) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847762)

I do encode my mp3s using LAME at 192 kbps and even though I would not characterize the sound as sucky, I could detect a difference between the mp3s and the original (CD played on a 13 year old relatively higher end Sony CD Player). The article is on the mark, the bass and the punch of drums at the bottom end is not as strong. I do not detect differences on the high end, perhaps because of my aging ears.

It could be that the mp3s encoded in the latest version of LAME could have closed the gap but it is also likely that the difference is exacerbated by the fact that I am playing the mp3s via the laptop's headphone jack hooked up to the stereo amp. I wish someone would manufacture an mp3 player with better analog output circuitry designed not for headphone / earphone listening but for hooking up to hifi components.

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (4, Insightful)

MrHanky (141717) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847878)

If you're going to compare CD with mp3, compare the original wav files to the mp3 instead of comparing your mp3 player to your CD player. As it is, you have too many variables. I wouldn't be surprised if there was an audible difference between a headphone jack and a line out, simply because they have to drive very different loads.

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (1)

atarione (601740) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847124)

that is all fine and good but my car's CD/MP3 deck doesn't play FLAC soooo MP3 it is...oh and my portable player doesn't play FLAC either

and of course the file size.. but who CARES IF YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU IN THE CAR ..etc..AND YOU NEED A 2TB NAS DEVICE TO KEEP YOUR FLAC COLLECTION ON...

personally being (LITERALLY) 1/2 deaf I can't tell the god damn difference between mp3 or ogg files vs CD or FLAC..etc higher fidelity formats anyway.

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (1)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847440)

Dont worry, there is no difference.

Losers 'think' there is a difference.
Double blind tests show otherwise.

And yes I have excellent hearing. :)

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (3, Interesting)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847512)

OK I'm not even an audiophile and I can tell the difference between my 128 and 192kbit MP3 rips.. the hihat definitely sounds better in the 192kbps version, which makes sense as say MP3 gets a lot of its compression by cutting out bass/treble first (hihat being very treble-y :P ). Maybe that's more because I'm a drummer than an audiophile, but I definitely prefer the 192kbps rips. The 128kbps really do sound 'flatter' for a lot of songs (some simpler rocky or poppy songs sound fine at 128kbps imo, I guess because most of them dont involve any subtlety, they're all about making a big first impression). If there was no difference then we'd have no need for different file formats. There's a difference between being able to hear low volume and having pitch perfection and that kind of thing. You can have the most expensive instrument in the world and not know how to play it ;) And yeah I still dont consider myself an audiophile, but I dont agree with you (you haven't even linked to the results of your tests).

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (1)

wanderingknight (1103573) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847738)

There are differences. If you can't hear them, I'm really sorry for you. The most obvious difference in most cases is the drums--I suggest you grab any rock band CD and compare it with an mp3 version while paying really good attention to the drums, preferably with a nice set of big, tank-like headphones if you can't notice it otherwise.

I don't think I am what you would call an audiophile but I'm really really picky with what I listen to ;)

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (5, Funny)

Bloke down the pub (861787) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847676)

I can't tell the god damn difference between mp3 or ogg files vs CD or FLAC..etc higher fidelity formats anyway.
That's a well known phenomenon. Certain frequencies are masked by transverse standing waves which form as a result of meta-resonances when the current/voltage phases drift.

You need to get some of those speaker baffles made from oxygen-free copper.

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (1)

Adult film producer (866485) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847150)

this isn't about why mp3 compression sucks, it's about how producers are cannibalizing their own tracks to make up for weaknesses in compressed formats like mp3.

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (1)

KlaymenDK (713149) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847382)

For once, a first post that's RIGHT to the point. I salute you.

(For the record, I rip exclusively to FLAC (with Grip) and transcode what I need into Ogg Vorbis.)

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (1)

j75a (808267) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847466)

RTFA! The article is about how modern records dynamic range is severely compressed to make it sound good on shitty equipment such as with typical iPod ear phones or car radios. In other words: Modern records sound good in the car but crap on $1000 and up equipment (real Hi-Fi). The subtitle has "MP3" in it but it ain't about that bro!

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (1)

kestasjk (933987) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847724)

You realize something truly analog can't be expressed digitally, right? No codec is completely lossless, so calling one "lossless" is completely arbitrary. Audio that's "lossless" is only lossless with respect to the CD, so lossless means CD quality.

What matters is "how well does this codec which takes up less space compare to this codec which takes up more space?" If you can't tell the difference then the codec which takes up less space might as well be lossless.

Most people who rattle on about lossless codecs, high quality this and that, inductance and fidelity, usually couldn't tell a well encoded 192kbit MP3 from CD quality audio. It's like any other connoisseur who wants to distinguish their own appreciation even above the level they actually experience.

I'd be very interested in a verifiable, peer reviewed, double-blind test demonstrating someone consistently distinguishing between well encoded "lossy" codecs and "lossless" codecs.

Re:NEWSFLASH! MP3's suck. Use a lossless CODEC. (1)

caramelcarrot (778148) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847810)

Well, within the frequency range of human hearing, Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem says that it is possible.

Loudness War (5, Insightful)

Deewun (1059450) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847006)

I call shenanigans. Double blind testing shows no perceptible difference between a good MP3 and the source material for most listeners most of the time. The real death of hi-fi is the fault of the record companies themselves, and the Loudness War [wikipedia.org]. Who cares if an MP3 encoder drops a tiny amount of imperceptible data when the CD itself has been compressed and clipped to the point that you don't want to listen to it?

Re:Loudness War (4, Informative)

Incoherent07 (695470) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847130)

From Ring TFA (blasphemy!), it spends more time talking about the Loudness War than it does about MP3s, or at the very least the two seem to have a common theme of just making the whole damn album louder. The Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Californication" is still overcompressed if you rip it to FLAC.

Re:Loudness War (5, Informative)

Ceriel Nosforit (682174) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847306)

That's correct, the article is more about the loudness war than it is about MP3 sound quality. In fact, right after the damning portion that the summary quotes, says the article:

But not all digital-music files are created equal. Levitin says that most people find MP3s ripped at a rate above 224 kbps virtually indistinguishable from CDs.
The summary is highly misleading, almost to the point of outright lying.

Re:Loudness War (5, Informative)

DigitAl56K (805623) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847134)

Agree 100%.

You don't compress differently when exporting to MP3 than you do when exporting to CD. Let's not look upon an MP3 as a majestical format where audio mysteriously takes on a life of its own and sounds strikingly different. It doesn't. An MP3 is simply the same signal that you find on a CD transformed into the frequency domain, frequencies with lesser engery quantized greater, or dropped if below the absolute threshold of hearing, some spatial information discarded (depending on the encoding mode), and written out as a bitstream. An MP3 is certainly a degraded version of the original signal, but the degradation can't really be compensated for via compression. If anything, EQ would be a better solution.

I really think this article is completely off-base. Compression is completely unrelated to MP3, it's a technique used independently of the format.

MOD DOWN the whole story, Flamebait (4, Informative)

mangu (126918) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847164)

The real death of hi-fi is the fault of the record companies themselves, and the Loudness War. Who cares if an MP3 encoder drops a tiny amount of imperceptible data when the CD itself has been compressed and clipped to the point that you don't want to listen to it?

I think you resumed in two sentences the whole "audiophile" dilemma. Let's face it, modern recordings suck and no processing will change that. Meanwhile, well intentioned but ill informed people will debate endlessly if vacuum tubes are better than transistors, if analog is better than digital, if lossless compression is better than lossy.


Raising these subjects is flamebait, the people who defend vacuum tubes or analog recordings are comparing their own favorite recordings with modern recordings, not the absolute value of the audio equipment itself.


One of my own favorite musics is a recording of the nine Beethoven symphonies, done by the Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted by Herbert von Karajan in 1962-1963. I have several versions of these in both analog medium, tape and LPs, and also in CDs, which I have ripped to mp3 to carry in my portable player. To rip the mp3 I used the CDs, not any of the analog versions, because the sound is cleaner in the CDs.


OTOH, I have also some other CDs of those same pieces, same orchestra, same conductor, same recording company, done entirely in digital formats. I think they aren't as good as the old ones. The reason? Not because they are digital, but because of the difference between a Karajan in his 30s compared to the same man 20+ years later. Or it could also show the difference between the criteria used by Deutsche Gramophon in the 1960s and the 1980s.


However, one thing I'm sure of is that if a CD copy of an analog recording is better than an analog copy of the same recording you cannot say digital sound is inferior. And if an mp3 copy of a CD containing music originally recorded in analog format sounds better than an LP of exactly the same recording, you cannot say mp3 has intrinsic fidelity problems.

Re:MOD DOWN the whole story, Flamebait (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847230)

ill informed people

Not stating what type of equipment one uses for comparisons/ratings of audio experiences does not help to cure the condition.

However, one thing I'm sure of is that if a CD copy of an analog recording is better than an analog copy of the same recording you cannot say digital sound is inferior. And if an mp3 copy of a CD containing music originally recorded in analog format sounds better than an LP of exactly the same recording, you cannot say mp3 has intrinsic fidelity problems.

Yes, the wonderful world of digital processing adds information to the source (and be it only DRM) and this way enhances fidelity.

CC.

Re:MOD DOWN the whole story, Flamebait (1)

teslar (706653) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847310)

ill informed people will debate endlessly if vacuum tubes are better than transistors, if analog is better than digital, if lossless compression is better than lossy.

You make it sound so bad.
  • Vacuum v transistors is a legitimate debate since it is essentially perceived sound quality v actual sound quality.
  • Analog v digital is indeed ill informed. It confuses the type of information (analog v digital) and the medium (degradable (vinyl, tape) v almost non-degradable (CD) ) - you make the same mistake in your remaining argument. Find a way to stick analog information on a medium that doesn't get worn out by use and you have a winner.
  • I completely fail to see how anyone can even make an argument for lossy compression in lossless v lossy. Unless it's about disk space, but that's not really an issue anymore these days, is it?

one thing I'm sure of is that if a CD copy of an analog recording is better than an analog copy of the same recording you cannot say digital sound is inferior
Logical fallacy: you can make no such statement until you (1) know exactly how the copy to CD (and the copy to an analog medium) was made and (2) can guarantee that the players for the different media are of exactly the same quality. Even though the source material is the same, both copies may differ in quality, either intrinsically, or simply because your CD Player is better than your turntable.

Re:MOD DOWN the whole story, Flamebait (2, Interesting)

jx100 (453615) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847454)

Find a way to stick analog information on a medium that doesn't get worn out by use and you have a winner.
How about vinyl read by laser?

Re:MOD DOWN the whole story, Flamebait (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847742)

How about vinyl read by laser?

You for sure refer to the ELP Laser Turntable [elpj.com].

Then replace vinyl by a durable medium, presumably involving some nanocomposite coating (and of course you could physically reformat the thing).

CC.

Re:MOD DOWN the whole story, Flamebait (1)

darien (180561) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847496)

I completely fail to see how anyone can even make an argument for lossy compression in lossless v lossy. Unless it's about disk space, but that's not really an issue anymore these days, is it?

I fear we're not there just yet. Tell people the iPod Touch will hold either 500 FLACs or 3,000 MP3s and see which they pick...

Re:MOD DOWN the whole story, Flamebait (4, Insightful)

GodGell (897123) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847790)

Let's face it, modern recordings suck and no processing will change that.
That is not universally true. I find it is very much related to genre. Take Drum and Bass, for instance - in that genre, the sound engineer who determines what the final mix should sound like and deals with compression and EQing is almost always the same person (or group of people) who made the music itself, since they are all sound engineers (either professionally or as a hobby). As a result, these recordings always sound exactly like the artist(s) intended, regardless of whether it's released on vinyl (which is the most common), on CD (in which case the music is never converted to an analog format), or through the internet as mp3s. In fact, most of the mp3s I have of D'n'B music were recorded from vinyl and they all sound great.

The same is the case with newer metal releases. I found that, almost universally, albums released in the last couple of years have great quality and sound much cleaner than those released in the 90s or earlier (excepting artists like King Crimson, who probably were all sound engineers).

Re:Loudness War (5, Insightful)

bm_luethke (253362) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847214)

Isn't this pretty much the point of the article? That due to customers mostly listening with bad equipment or compressed formats (mp3's) that the source has been degraded until one can not tell the difference? They are saying the same thing you are - users can't tell the difference, however their point is that the *should*. They are saying that you can not tell the effective difference because they *no longer sale the items where you can* (and they actually more blame the loudness war, of which they claim MP3's are the final end of that). Obviously under that situation one would expect to, well, not tell the difference.

Personally it wasn't until you got into equipment that was so expensive that mostly I couldn't hope to afford it that I told the difference even with recording that *were* good. I have a few pieces of equipment that are good (my headphones are) but that mostly just lets me hear all the imperfections.

Maybe once I can afford the price of my house in audio equipment I may care (and believe me, I would *love* too and am not complaining about anyone who has), but until then I don't so much. I do, however, agree with the idea that the "loudness war" (along with other problems) mostly destroyed most new music out there. Not because I can tell much difference in the quality of recordings but because the music in general is also created to take advantage of it instead of sounding good.

Re:Loudness War (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847250)

Double blind testing shows no perceptible difference between a good MP3 and the source material for most listeners most of the time

Which, as far as my understanding goes, gives evidence of a difference. Besides, good practice to enhance fidelity is to quote a source.

CC.

Re:Loudness War (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21847332)

No, it provides a QUALIFIER so that they aren't misinterpreted as claiming something they didn't mean to. Yes, there is a difference between an MP3 and a CD (the MP3 tries to cut out noises that humans can't hear) - but the test is saying that as far as an ordinary human is concerned, decent MP3s are good enough that you can't tell the difference. It's like saying, "Which is more likely to fit through the eye of a needle; a camel or a bungee cord?" - technically neither will ever fit through, so to answer "the bungee cord" is simply semantics, given that it will never fit through anyway. The "most of the time" qualifier is put in there because "good" (as in "good MP3") isn't a set standard - some songs will compress more easily than others, and the "most of the listeners" qualifier is simply there may be a tiny amount of crossover between someone with superhuman hearing and an overly-aggressive compression (unlikely though it may be, given that it's supposed to be a "good" MP3).

blind tests are not everything (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21847376)

MP3 and similar compressed audio standards are to a large part based on the insights of psychoacoustic research, which is in turn based mainly on surveys taken among a large set of listeners.
So when you don't have an average ear, you're positioned out of the target group for MP3, AAC, Vorbis, etc.
In most blind tests, I can tell that there is a difference between 192Kbps-Lame compressed and uncompressed audio,
but I can't tell which is which, or which is better.
What I have experienced over years is that, compared to lossless, listening to MP3 over long periods fatigues me more and is not as much fun. It's a long term effect that no short term blind test like the ones that are run on sites like Hydrogenaudio can reveal.
That said, I think there are other aspects that have a much larger influence on the perception of music.
These are, among others:

- the look and feel of your audio equipment (including the felt value of the equipment and the music media)
- your social surroundings while listening to music
- you physical surroundings
- your overall psychological disposition (self esteem, self consciousness, attitude towards life). this changes when you're getting older.
- nostalgic feelings bound to special music

And people wonder why I still own LP's (1, Insightful)

stox (131684) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847018)

Now they know. It amazes me how many of the LP's I own still sound better than the CD versions.

Re:And people wonder why I still own LP's (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21847052)

If that is the case, it's probably because you enjoy the flat sound that a record produces.

Records have extremely low dynamic range. In other words, they are flat.

Re:And people wonder why I still own LP's (1)

Aqua OS X (458522) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847070)

And I'm not amazed when worn out LPs I own sound worse then their CD versions.

Re:And people wonder why I still own LP's (2, Insightful)

ErichTheWebGuy (745925) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847080)

You're absolutely right. I have an extensive LP collection, and am disturbed how hard it is to find some stuff on LP. Not only is the sound "warmer" but if you have the right equipment, it truly sounds live. As if the band were playing right in front of you. By right equipment, I mean decent turntable with a high quality needle, a decent amp, and decent speakers (or even headphones). All of the above can be had for fairly cheap, but the quality of sound is priceless.

Yet people still talk shit because I listen to vinyl.

Invest the time and a small amount of cash. Rediscover your music. You just might be surprised.

Re:And people wonder why I still own LP's (1)

Esteban (54212) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847340)

Yet people still talk shit because I listen to vinyl.
Holy hipster persecution complex.

See also: Yet people still talk shit because I...

- shop at thrift stores.
- watch anime you've never heard of.
- prefer Sidecars and Manhattans to your quotidian *tinis.
- use Linux.
- didn't like the three newest Star Wars "films".
- enjoy wearing cardigans.
- like books.
.
.
.

Re:And people wonder why I still own LP's (2, Funny)

ultranova (717540) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847586)

Maybe you could rip a sample from those LP's to MP3 and put it online somewhere, so we could decide for ourselves if it sounds better ?-)

Re:And people wonder why I still own LP's (3, Interesting)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847112)

They are correct to wonder.

In fact, you should LOVE MP3 if you like the random crappy distortions LPs have.

Just take a look at what frequency domain corrections used to correct the horrible bias of LPs.
Vs them, MP3 is HiFi^2.

Who sells MP3? (2, Insightful)

PolarBearFire (1176791) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847022)

Who sells music in a loosy compression such as MP3? CDs aren't mp3; itune music doesn't come in mp3. I think the author of the article is making the mistake of calling all digital music mp3. That's like calling all smart phones iPhones and all digital music players iPods.

Re:Who sells MP3? (1)

slyn (1111419) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847050)

Who sells music in a loosy compression such as MP3?

Who doesn't sell music in a lossy compression format? Apple does AAC, everyone else pretty much does MP3.

Re:Who sells MP3? (1)

slyn (1111419) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847084)

Woops, forgot to throw a little / before that second blockquote>. Shouldve used preview.

Re:Who sells MP3? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21847166)

Amazon [amazon.com]

Re:Who sells MP3? (1)

Jonner (189691) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847660)

No, you're making the mistake of not reading the article. The author explains the difference between different bitrates of MP3. The author also explains the overuse of dynamic range compression (the loudness war) as a separate issue, but points out that some producers think the CD should be mastered with a lot of DRC because people will encode the CD as MP3s. IMHO, those producers are mistaken, but the article doesn't support one side or the other.

Judgment day (3, Funny)

Broken Toys (1198853) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847030)

"The age of the audiophile is over."

How true. I tried to warn people that their hair would fall out and blindless would ensue but would anyone believe me then? MP3's are the devil's work.

Repent and bow at the altar of vinyl before it's too late.

Title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21847036)

should be "The Deaf of High Fidelity," especially with kids blasting the music into their ears.

lolbull (2, Informative)

ud plasmo (842308) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847038)

mp3 sounds fine to me
i think what matters what is where the sound is coming out from
speaker/headphone quality etc

This article seems dubious (3, Informative)

DigitAl56K (805623) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847082)

It may be true that MP3 encoders do tend to (but don't necessarily always) make some trade-offs at the high or low frequencies. For example, very low frequency sound may lose stereo positioning, and most encoders employ a low-pass filter to reduce the data rate (or artifacts at a given data rate) by taking out some of the high-end frequencies. However, this has (almost) nothing to do with compression, which is more about adjusting dynamics to make quiet sounds sound louder while trying to minimize distortion in the louder parts.

Compression is a horrible thing, of course, because essentially what is happening today is that even those of us who buy CDs hoping to avoid the artifacts of lossy formats are subject to some random guy deciding during mastering that "hey, this will stand out more against the competition if the whole thing is really loud and unsubtle". But to tie this against MP3 is a very far stretch of the imagination, IMO.

Re:This article seems dubious (1)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847136)

"Compression" can also mean dynamic compression (i.e. Exactly what you explained).

As i have no interest in reading another audiophile oppinion piece, i dont know what the article means in that case.

Re:This article seems dubious (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21847176)

You know what else seems dubious? Your face!

Oh, burn!

Re:This article seems dubious (1)

elteck (874753) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847254)

Yes indeed, compression is the worst part, it eliminates a big part of the emotion from music. However, compression was already standard for FM broadcasting, but back then that didn't cause distortion. The biggest problem today is that they crank up the levels towards clipping. If you listen to a CD from the British band "Muse" (not even MP3), you wonder if either your amplifier or your CD player is broken. Even the "soft" parts are highly distorted. Open a track in a wave editor, and you'll see that it's constantly clipping. That's really annoying. Probably the MP3 version sounds better, as MP3 smooths the sharp square waves.

I don't agree with the article that the differences between the compression formats are small. I have no experience with AAC, but the OGG and WMA formats sound a lot more transparent then the older MP3 at equal bit rates. Certainly for classical music, with trumpets, horns or vocals, MP3 "colors" the sound a lot more.

Does this explain my change in taste? (3, Interesting)

ndogg (158021) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847110)

I usually like harder/grungier stuff, but I've noticed that over the past few years, I've been gradually moving to softer stuff like Norah Jones or A Fine Frenzy or Bob Dylan. I can't help, but wonder if the loudness wars have had something to do with that.

I can't help, but think that softer stuff like that has a much lower chance of being compressed into distortion.

Geeez... another dead horse story on Crapdot... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21847114)

So shitty music sounds like very shitty music thanks to mp3, now?

Wow... that convinced me... I'll buy only CD's now...

oh wait...

destroying my eardrums with a needle is much cheaper than listening to music that is just shitty... nevermind then...

not just mp3's (2, Informative)

n3tcat (664243) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847120)

The article doesn't just discuss the compression rates, but actually talks about everything in the entire industry that flattens sound. It's an interesting concept that I am sure has been discussed for decades, however I've never personally connected these dots before so it was nice to read.

The first thing I think of though is not how can we improve the delivery medium, but rather why are equalizers not considered at all? Especially in digital media where the EQ can be activated from the song's information itself! Use the EQ to bring out the artificial loudness, but leave the details there for the people who want to disable the EQ and just listen to the original piece.

But of course this does not fix the problem they discussed with the band they mentioned had fewer pauses in their songs. That's just an unfortunate choice on the part of the producers, and has actually opened my eyes a bit as to the lack of control an artist has on their own music.

Re:not just mp3's (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847268)

Use the EQ to bring out the artificial loudness, but leave the details there for the people who want to disable the EQ and just listen to the original piece.

Actually equalisers have little to do with the loudness in questions, besides for the fact that they like to master sounds into having every octave sound as loud, or so I heard. But the core of the problem is compression, which is a simple time-domain effect on the values of samples (in a way similar to gamma in an image).

The true question is, why do we find equalisers in everything, everywhere, and nothing to adjust the dynamic range, as it would be so simple to implement and to let people control it? I find it particularly dumb to compress songs just for iPods when it could be the iPods and such that would do the compression job using a simple setting. Somehow I have the feeling that when iPods/iTunes implement that it will be a popular feature, both for people who hate compression and people who love it.

Re:not just mp3's (1)

tyrione (134248) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847648)

You can raise the amplitude on an EQ to raise the loudness to the point it becomes garbage and nothing but a mess of distorted feedback.

Re:not just mp3's (1)

Jonner (189691) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847702)

I don't think the kind of dynamic range compression the professionals use can be easily implemented in real time on consumer equipment. However, putting metadata about compression in the audio stream, which can be selectively enabled by the player can work. In fact, Dolby Digital [wikipedia.org] already has such a feature. I can select from no compression, light compression, or heavy compression in my receiver.

Re:not just mp3's (2, Informative)

tyrione (134248) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847626)

It's amazing that half of these threads are a rehashed circle-jerk on analog/digital/mp3 compression concerns. The point of the article is that the music was intentionally made loud and thus the amplitudes of the dynamic range are consistently being chopped in modern recordings, thus nullifying the point of using an independent Amplifier to modify the sound to how you want it.

Take Heavy Metal music of the 1970s to today. Take Judas Priest for an example. The album British Steel showed an incredibly crisp, dynamic sound with distinct separation of all music tracks. If you thought the bass wasn't full enough, you adjusted the eq on your own. Today's latest release of 2004 Angel of Retribution has an album were effectively all songs are AT ELEVEN. It sucks. It produces a muttled sound across the disc.

If you want another example, take a look at RUSH. Take a Wave sampler and compare the same tracks on their original recordings back in 1982 to the re-masters of today. I'll take the absence of sound (greater peak differentials in the Sine Curve) of Signals 1982 than today's remasters. Take a listen to the latest RUSH disc. When Neil Peart's drums sound muffled, you know something is truly screwed up in the recording industry.

Priest~ (1)

soupforare (542403) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847906)

While I wish they'd get back to the almost-progy sound and feel of the first three[two] albums, I thought Angel was a great showing. Easily the best "comeback" album I've heard.

Meh (3, Interesting)

Udo Schmitz (738216) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847140)

I call BS.
1.: Record producers did try to fit the sound for low-fi at least as far back as the seventies. This was done to make sure the songs were still recognizable on your transistor radio at the beach or on the tape deck in your car.
2.: *My* MP3s sound just fine, thank you.

Re:Meh (2, Interesting)

hsdpa (1049926) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847174)

About your #1: Yeah, and that's very important. If the music doesn't sound good in lo-fi then the general public won't like it which leads to less profit. One would almost wish for a "audiophile"-release of that special album that one loves - in this case get it as FLAC?

Re:Meh (2, Insightful)

Udo Schmitz (738216) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847228)

True, and it makes sense. I just wanted to point out that the MP3 format or its use can't be blamed for how albums are mixed ...

Re:Meh (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847680)

Record producers did try to fit the sound for low-fi at least as far back as the seventies
As far as I'm aware, Phil Spector's early-1960s records were recorded to sound good on AM radio. Also, if you think about it, the "Wall of Sound" could be considered as aiming at the same target as compression did later. It aimed to give the listener an... erm, wall of sound that filled the whole audio spectrum. Some might argue that it did this in a more artistically interesting way, but it still seemed to be aiming for the same thing.

Dynamic Range! (5, Informative)

Bootle (816136) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847146)

The problem is that the waveforms of modern songs are increasingly rendered at a uniform loudness, causing listener fatigue (it sure makes me tired). This is well addressed in the article.

MP3 compression is yet another issue.

Re:Dynamic Range! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21847354)

Digg parent up, comment is aw3s0m3!

OMG wrong website!!!!!!

Radio in general (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21847170)

The loudness wars have been going on with commercial radio for quite some time. See the infamous Optimod [orban.com] or Omnia [omniaaudio.com]. One of the tenants of processing is to make younger audience music squashed to death (heavy overdrive and heavy clipping) because they apparently don't care about fatigue.....but to a middle-aged soccer mom--the typical targeted demo of the greater majority of stations--the processing gets very fatiguing so they just clip it to death without the massive overdrive, still causing horrible distortion.

Next time you have the radio on, listen closely...those little crackles in the background is not noise from a bummy signal, it's distortion from over-processing the already over-processed song.

Music that's older (recorded when the technology wasn't so hot) comes pre-clipped because they didn't have amazing compression devices to keep everything in check so the varying levels max out. It's not as bad since it were tubes causing the clipping (and they have a softer sound), but it sounds awful.

Anonymous because this is my profession.

MP3 compression does not... (4, Informative)

Skuto (171945) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847180)

...remove anything at the bottom end of the spectrum. There is simply no point as the entire low frequency range can be represented by just a few coefficients.

The authors have no idea what they are talking about and are probably a combination of prejudiced and stone deaf.

Re:MP3 compression does not... (5, Interesting)

gazbo (517111) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847226)

Also, their example of bass driver movement due to a "guitarist strumming a power chord"? I think they should record a power chord and check out its spectrum; there's not much low end at all. They probably mean "on the songs I like, power chords are often played at the same time as loud bass and bass drums".

If they can't tell the difference then they probably have little business talking about the subtleties of music production and recording formats.

Even better is the idea of producers (gasp) altering the mix to suit MP3s better. Maybe they should look up the original purpose of mastering compressors, especially those with a lat/vert mode. Yup - they're there to compensate for the limitations of your precious, precious vinyl.

Rithm vs Melody (1)

12357bd (686909) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847182)

There was a time where there was a war between rithm vs melody lovers. Now it seems the war is over (by now) rythm has won, let's go back to jungle, and forget those gentle sounds.

Just remember, the music you hear when kid will stay with you for all your life.

Re:Rithm vs Melody (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21847352)

There was also a time when people could spell and use proper grammar.

Re:Rithm vs Melody (0, Troll)

heinousjay (683506) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847480)

Just remember, the music you hear when kid will stay with you for all your life.

Only if you're not willing to listen to anything new. It's more a reflection of the fact that people suck than anything else.

Not about lossiness... (4, Informative)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847196)

It's about compression (audio) not compression (data) ; it's the loudness war again. It's something important though.

You can still hear most of the dynamic range on a well encoded MP3 or Vorbis file, IMHO. If it's present in the first place, that is.

Never mind discussing whether FLAC or MP3 or OGG are the best ; what does it matter if the master has already been sabotaged by marketing, compressed to sound "loud" so that it gets instant attention on the radio? Yeah, sure, it gets attention ; the same way a fire alarm or a fog horn does, by inflicting an ear-cringing reflex.

"Compression is a necessary evil. The artists I know want to sound competitive. You don't want your track to sound quieter or wimpier by comparison. We've raised the bar and you can't really step back."
-- Butch Vig, producer and Garbage mastermind
Yes, this man truly is a mastermind .... of garbage.

Re:Not about lossiness... (2, Insightful)

coldcell (714061) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847252)

Go listen to "Something in the Way" off of Nevermind. Though he's being pulled into a loudness war, along with every other big rock/metal producer, it doesn't make him a total failure. The man has done insane things in some areas of production, granted, but he's a genius in many others IMO.

Lower frequencies (4, Informative)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847208)

Much of the information left out during MP3 compression is at the very high and low ends, which is why some MP3s sound flat.

Wait, I thought that the MP3 compression was basically achieved by cutting the sound into overlapping chunks, performing a DCT on each chunk, discarding the less important bins according to a psychoacoustic model and compression the thing like in a ZIP file? If so that means that the frequency scale stays linear, and so there would be little interest in getting rid of frequencies under say 30-35 Hz since they represent about 0.15% of the data in a plain old track sampled at 44,100 Hz.

So the MP3 compression doesn't actually discard the "low end" as they call it, does it? Wouldn't the "flatness" they're talking about be due to how frame sizes affect transient (short) sounds and makes them softer?

record industry bullshit again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21847302)

The definitive statement on this issue was made by George Palmer of EMI and still rings true today [dwarfurl.com][emi.com]

The Problem Is (4, Funny)

Symbolis (1157151) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847322)

that your equipment doesn't have wooden knobs.

Also, you'll find your aural experience greatly improved if the wires are of high quality and raised slightly above floor level. I've also noticed marked improvements if you chill the wires(and generally keep the room cool). Cool equipment = warm sound. Who knew?

It's called the auralgasm setup for a reason!

I call BS (1)

rudy_wayne (414635) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847350)

"record producers alter the way they mix albums to compensate for the limitations of MP3 sound."

Bullshit. The record companies are too lazy/cheap to spend extra time doing ANYTHING that requires any extra time or effort. That's why many CDs in the early days sounded lousy. They just took the original analog tapes and put them onto CD with no remixing or remastering. Recording engineers spent decades learning all sorts of tricks to make music sound good when transferred to a vinyl LP and didn't bother to unlearn them when working with an entirely different medium.

Yes, if you listen to songs that are in the Billboard top 20, they most likely have been severely compressed as part of the "loudness war". But,
(a) a substantial percentage of the population doesn't listen to that crap
(b) applying massive compression to everything is not "mixing",
(3) if they actually did remix music to add more highs and lows to compensate for the alleged losses suffered by mp3, the music would sound horrible when played in any other format because the actual frequency loss is imperceptable to 99.9% of all people, and
(d) there are still plenty of musicians who still care about musical quality and who don't do that sort of thing.

I have a very nice, expensive "audiophile" stereo system. 2 years ago I moved into a new house and the stereo system is still sitting in boxes. Now I only listen to music on my computer and mp3 player. A couple of years ago I would have considered this the ultimate blasphemy. But technology has changed. The sound card and speakers on my computer are now quite good. So is my mp3 player with some good (ie rather expensive) earbuds. My CDs (many of them from the late 80s/early 90s) sound just fine when ripped to mp3.

.

Sore Bottom (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21847378)

Hi my bottom seems to always be sore. I am using carrots to stimulate my anus while I masturbate. I have tried switching to parsnips but the botty is still tender. I have tried both butter and margarine as lubricant but nothing seems to help. Can anyone advise what the problem is?

Re:Sore Bottom (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21847594)

You should try a highly compressed pile of Top-20 CDs. I'm sure that it will work better for you. They really are quite smooth around the edges.

Not a major difference (2, Insightful)

glas_gow (961896) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847380)

I don't see how MP3s radically alters post production values. Record producers have always sought to compensate for low-fi playback systems, such as radio, by listening to the mix on small, mono speakers, as well as using bespoke studio monitors. All that has happened is MP3 has replaced small transistor radios, as the medium which dictates record sales.

Re:Not a major difference (1)

jovius (974690) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847752)

True. It would be stupid to sacrifice sound to a medium. Well mixed and produced music sounds great everywhere. It would be more useful to check the arrangements and clean up the spectrum a little bit... Lot of the songs today sound more like white noise than music, because the dynamics are evenly levelled at all the frequencies in the whole sound field. It's no wonder that this kind of music sounds noticeably crappier as an mp3. You lose the distinction in the higher frequencies, and it becomes fuzzier than if the arrangement was cleaner. The stereo field generally becomes a bit more confused. Could the even loudness make it difficult for the algorithm to differentiate frequencies that are audible? I guess the ultimate musical realization of our time is the white noise - all of the milliseconds of the spectrum are to be filled just because it's possible. Compensating for an inadequate medium just underlines the lack of delicacy and dedication.

Polished and shinny shit (1)

CRX588 (1002741) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847386)

I've noticed with quite a few bands that with there early work there great. Then they sign up with some big label and there songs get produced and mastered to shit, polished and shinny shit.

Take the band Hole for example, there first album "Pretty on the inside" is very nice. It's loud and noisy and rough, produced by Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) and Don Fleming, had one engineer and was released by Caroline Records.

There last album, "Celebrity Skin", would be the polished and shinny shit I was talking about. This album has been released by Geffen Records and produced by well quite some more people then "Pretty on the inside"... I'm quite sure this huge list of producers, engineers, mixers an masters are responsible for the horrible end result.

You can check Wikipedia on this. Next time you find a band you like has started to sound very crappy once they became more popular, you know what happened.

Re:Polished and shinny shit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21847452)

You don't know the difference between there and their and can't spell shiny but you want people to listen to your opinion? Fuck off you retarded cunt.

Re:Polished and shinny shit (1)

CRX588 (1002741) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847592)

Lol, I knew I would get some nasty grammar/spelling nazi comment, FYI I am a native Dutch speaker and am quite happy with my level of understanding of the english language. Also I am happy to be able to speak and understand german and understand and speak some french.

So dear AC, shut up and stick it where the sun don't shine.

As a hobbyist electronic music composer... (2, Informative)

waztub (1166611) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847620)

As a hobbyist electronic music composer, I would just like to point out that sometimes, compression/limiting is actually a very important tool.
Basically, people often don't realize that compression/limiting started as a handy tool for the mixing engineer.
Sometimes you need a good way of making something sound louder while increasing its harmonic content, and a limiter can do just that.
Also, when done in proper amounts, compression of the entire track can cause the recording to sound more unified.

The fact that these tools are used for destroying recordings these days is rather disturbing though. I recently got Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Stadium Arcadium" album, and I simply cannot stand listening to it because of the clipping and lack of dynamic range. It's rather sad, because the songs themselves are composed nicely, but are harmed by the doings of a producer. It all sounds lifeless and dull, simply lacking the finesse of a proper instrument recording.

Sounds like... (2, Funny)

denzacar (181829) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847622)

...nothing couple of $400 wooden knobs couldn't fix.
But just for good measure - add some super-clean gold-plated copper cables at $1500 per foot.

That will fix it.

This phenomenon was known before... (1)

GL1zdA (1209682) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847678)

It started when radio stations began compressing the sound (not the MP3 way but compressing the dynamic range). People started to feel the difference between their CD's and radio stations so sound engineers began to compress the sound on CD's. If you want to hear the difference try: http://www.polskieradio.pl/sluchaj/ [polskieradio.pl] and choose "Dwójka" (it's the only major radio station that I know that does not use dynamic range compression - it's clearly shown when you record it and look at the waveform) and compare it to your favorite commercial radio station.

Why (1)

yerktoader (413167) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847684)

are we arguing the finer details of an article posted by Rolling Stone? Do we really need to remind everyone how completely behind the times and part of the corporate music structure Rolling Stone has been for the last 20 years? If you really need to discover how incompetent and worthless their "journalism" is, then just read the articles.

The article was mostly about audio compression (5, Insightful)

zuki (845560) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847748)

Well, to be fair the article is specifically talking about the phenomenon known as 'finalizing', which is a way to clearly boost the
apparent levels by up to 10 dB or more during the mastering stages without any digital clipping artifacts. (a.k.a. brick-wall limiting)

There is no question that a lot of great points were raised in the article, however when it comes to MP3 (the 'other' form of compression)
as a person who has participated in recording, mixing and mastering sessions for over 30 years, and constantly listens to master recordings,
can only say that it is pathetic how bad they sound on large audio playback systems, which some of us have and listen to.
(For example pick a very large loft, or someone's home theater for 20 people, not to say anything of a proper auditorium)

You might not hear it at home, on computer speakers or certainly not your earbuds, but the bigger the stereo, the more it is obvious.
And actually what is the most disturbing is that what is very, very wrong about lossy encoding formats is that it doesn't necessarily affect so
much the frequency response, as it does the 'punch', transients and other intangibles which when played on those large-format systems become
quickly apparent. The same way a graphic designer will not try and magnify this site's jpg logo (415 x 55 pixels, I did check) to a more
adequate 16,000 x 2122 for billboard and poster printing, as there will be obvious and nasty pixelization artifacts, there are similar phenomenons
happening with audio, and they are - at best - poorly understood, and at worst dismissed as being the brainchild of crackpots with too
much time on their hands, the New-Age idealists like those who read John Diamond's "Life Energy In Music" and keep a stack of copies
of 'Absolute Sound' by the bathroom stall.

Suffice to say that the combination of both forms of compression (finalizing, plus lossy encoding) do make for a pretty formidable opponent that
already has greatly affected the public's perception of what 'sounds good' and doesn't. And it's not likely to get better.

Fear not, for those who care about listening to music in more proper manners, there are plenty of options available, from an arguably limited selection
of
SACDs of some great Jazz, Classical and Pop, to fantastic vinyl playback systems, or ways to re-process those CDs that are too loud and give them
back some form of dynamic range, which will involve spending time re-mastering them with specific analog//tube//tape-machine type equipment, and is
obviously not a recommended activity for what seems to make the most of today's impatient 'click-click' listeners, the Attention-Deficit-Disorder-addled set.

As for the Hydrogen Audio bunch that keeps doing those double-blind tests and play with oscilloscope and frequency analyzers, I think they should
once try them again, but in a place that holds a couple of thousand listeners, and they may come back around to the fact that even CD-resolution
is quite atrocious to listen to, when compared to something like formats that can actually reproduce the original master recordings in a way they should,
such as DSD or 24-bit / 96 kHz encoded music. (not to say anything of a proper 1/2" open-reel master copy)

So in essence, while some of these people quoted in the article all agree that something's wrong, most of them cannot put their finger on it, as it is
something that is far more in the domain of the perceptual and psychoacoustics than an exact science.

It is mind-boggling that 25 years after the CD was introduced, most people consider progress to be size-reduction and loudness, and all attempt
at making a case for higher-fidelity have commercially failed, but again there are far larger problems looming over our heads today.

As someone who has made a living with playing recorded sounds in very large venues, I can however vouch for the fact that even if people do not exactly
know why, they seem to appreciate the efforts we make to entertain them with the best available sound reproduction, and while they may not understand
the exact reason, or how this pleasantly affected them in the way it did, they certainly keep coming back for more!!

However much they moan about having to pay $0.001 to download a song, they seem to happily fork out those tens and twenties to experience them in a
setting that somehow might just make them feel closer to the real thing.

That's good enough for me today.

Z.

Re:The article was mostly about audio compression (1, Interesting)

Gandalf_the_Beardy (894476) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847816)

Where's my mod points when I need them - some mod the parent up please. For myself, I still listen to vinyl? Why - well it's got the actual shape of the sound on the surface - no digitisation, no mucking around with dynamic range - it's there and about as unadulterated as you can get. I suspect that is why it does sound better than the same recording that was dumped onto a CD.

The difference is huge (1)

realdodgeman (1113225) | more than 6 years ago | (#21847830)

I just ripped my newest CD in different formats using Sound Juicer. First I used the standard setting, 160kbps OGG Vorbis. It sounded good, but I decided to re-rip in FLAC. After all it takes only 5 minutes to rip it, and I have lots of free HD space.

The difference was huge. Even with my poor $150 speakers I could hear the difference. The biggest difference was the bass. My subwoofer was a lot more active, and the music sounded richer.
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