The Dumbing Down of Audio (article)

Discussion in 'Mac Accessories' started by Greenjeens, Aug 11, 2006.

  1. Greenjeens macrumors regular

    Aug 25, 2005
    The Dumbing Down of Audio

    Once I got over the Audiophile nut thing, there was value from reading this group of articles.

    These guys are pretty harsh, on certain musical formats and kinds of playback equipment, but offer an interesting argument for the causes of a downward spiral in recorded music sound quality, when it's technically possible to have the best sound ever.

    From the consumer, using excessive compression to save hard drive space, or increased iPod capacity. And broadcasters fitting in more satellite channels into less space (32-64kbps). Or record producers exceeding the CD specs, attempting to make the loudest recording possible, creating "digital clipping".

    Then, finally to the poor quality of home and most "computer" playback equipment, especially speakers. Bose and other similar "Cubed Speakers" get an especially harsh review.

    I found the explanation of "digital clipping" to be explained very well. Even without test equipment, I always wondered why the occaisional CD recorded song, sounds so much louder than just about everything else.

    Judging what others listen to, or knocking someone's equipment is not going to win any converts, but there seems a huge untapped potential for using todays technology to deliver higher sound quality and MOST importantly, greater enjoyment, in the music of one's choice.
    I don't see why the hugely succesfull iPod/iTunes should provide not only Quantity, but state of the art Quality as well.

    After reading these articles, it seems like a few standard acoustic instrument and voice recordings which could also be heard live, would go a long way to provide a benchmark for making comparisons.

    Now back to my Rock'n Roll:)
  2. sigamy macrumors 65816

    Mar 7, 2003
    NJ USA
    I haven't clicked through to read the articles yet.

    I'm no audiophile, but I do care about good quality sound at a reasonable price. By reasonable I mean about $700 for a small 5.1 speaker setup. I got into home theater a few years back and learned of the quality speaker manufacturers and how you can find speakers much better than Bose for much less money.

    I understand the role that these audiophiles play--they want to preserve good/excellent sound quality and they want to educate consumers. But often they just seem to talk down and point there noses (like some Mac users).

    I'm now 33, have two kids and not much spare time for just listening to music. 80% of my listening is in my car during my commute. So, I'm listen on small, cheap car spearkers. So why does it matter if I'm listening to 160k or 128k AAC files? It is near CD quality and as much as I hate to say it--it is "good enough".

    My CDs have been in storage bins in my garage for years. I don't need to have two walls of storage units in the house. I have every tune at my finger tips in iTunes, some at 192k, some at 160k and some at 128k. Yes, I use compression to save disk space.

    I have nearly every tune I own on my iPod. I have instant classification and unlimited "mix tape" potential thru playlists and smart playlists. I have my music shared to a G4 Cube, which is connected to my 5.1 setup thru a Sonica box. The benefits far outweight the fact that I'm listening to compressed music. My ears can't hear the difference. There, I said it.
  3. Greenjeens thread starter macrumors regular

    Aug 25, 2005
    Portability is great and the filing system of the ipod and itunes just amazes me everyday.
    I do suspect some of the music gets thrown out when tossing the 80-90% of the bits upon compression. There's a reason that music studios use 24 bit/96 kHz audio and then 16 bit/44khz for CDs.

    Since I was going to have to sit down and make the time investment to rip 7000+ songs to a hard drive, it just seemed to make sense to spend $200 (the equivalent of 15-20 CD's) for an 200GB external hard drive, so I could hold all my music as Lossless files.

    Then I made mp3 160 versions for portable use. Archiving old pre Hi-Fi music as Lossless files is a waste of space, but extra multiple formats gets complicated.

    Besides, with the possiblity of better sound quality, archiving everything losslessly, when I burn a CD, it's bit perfect, or close. Any further conversions of a compressed file will degrade the sound quality big time!

    It seems like only a matter of buying more hard drive space, to keep a bit pefect, CD quality music server/archive, along WITH copies of the compressed files for portable players.

    It's not too much trouble to have it all, just in case the audiophiles are on to something:) At least the source music won't be the weak link.
    And with that investment in time to rip 100's of CDs, you can bet I backed it all up! This time I got a 400GB hard drive for ~$230. It's just amazing how cheap storage has become!

    Enjoy the music,
  4. sushi Moderator emeritus


    Jul 19, 2002
    Interesting articles.

    Grew up on audiophile quality.

    But over time came to value portability and ease of use. The iTunes/iPod combination is so convenient and simple to use.

    I don't miss the days of databasing and mixing my own tapes then CDs.

    I'll take convenience with a little sound degradation any day.
  5. apfhex macrumors 68030


    Aug 8, 2006
    Northern California
    I read that article some time ago and I see what they're saying, though I pretty much agree with the sentiments here. I'm all for audio sounding as good as it can, but it's not like I'll really ever own the equipment necessary to play back at that high level of quality. 98% of my listening is on sub $200 "PC speakers" (I'm not rich enough to be as picky as I might be otherwise), the rest in the stock stereo in my car or the earbuds that came with my iPod or Sony Ericsson walkman phone.

    So yeah, I'd take "maximum fidelity" if I could afford (not just the equipment, but a quiet room in a quiet house to use it in!!), but portability and convenience win hands down for now.
  6. Sesshi macrumors G3


    Jun 3, 2006
    One Nation Under Gordon
    That article just reads like a well-written repeat of every misguided audiophile's prejudices. They don't bother to research new technologies and it's capabilities properly, 'try' stuff with a closed mind and get all huffy about the perceived limitations. When they finally get familiar with new technology it's grudgingly accepted and a couple of decades later they're complaining about whatever is then new.

    You've always had boom-fizzle speakers which 'untrained ears' have bought. It's just that they've made it wife-friendly these days. Yes, CD compression is bad but then it's mainly used in throwaway music. In the 60's or whatever, throwaway music was mastered badly. Same thing in the end. Who remembers / buys the Amandas of the 60's? (let alone the '00's) Crappy iPods? Horses for courses, and listening tests have shown that the vast majority of people can't tell a difference between 192K MP3 and CD (and to many, less)... and if you're suitably obsessive, you can stick Lossless Audio on it. XM radio I can't comment on but as for digital audio, yes the bitrate is comparatively crap but I don't necessarily find it any worse than a hissy, blippy FM signal. And lack of unamplified reference? Is the author out of his snobby mind? If you're passionate about music you've got more opportunities than ever to enjoy live music. If you want genuine Fado for example, it no longer costs a month's wages (or more) to travel to Portugal. Artists are now far more about touring these days as well, as record sales go into decline.

    Consumer stuff today isn't necessarily worse than when we had CD's, vinyl, etc. It is true to say that many things haven't moved on, but there have also been a lot of improvements. It's only worse if you approach it with the prejudices these people have. Let them carry around 80's/90's Discmen (and believe me, many 'audiophiles' do) in the misguided notion that they're getting superior sound. Let them obsess over vinyl. Let them invest thousands of dollars in cables and believe there to be an improvement. (I've done all this by the way in the name of curiousity, and not in a minor way.)

    I like getting the most out of recorded music and I also have a genuinely decent (tested) ear. I also have a sense of practicality, a penchant for quantifiable improvement and an open mind. And where I can hear genuine improvements, I will pay for it. That's why my main audio rig starts with a Mac Mini storing Lossless files, and my iPod which now plays MP3's (Lossless was too big a hit on performance) is my sole portable.

    Sometimes, audiophilia is just a state of mind. And not a good one at that.

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