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The Death of High Fidelity
January 5, 2008 1:17 PM   Subscribe


 
This is an internet classic: The Death Of Dynamic Range.
posted by plexi at 1:23 PM on January 5, 2008 [8 favorites]


This video demonstrates this pretty well.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 1:27 PM on January 5, 2008 [7 favorites]


I have fifty year-old budget-line records that are covered in scratches that sound better than most MP3s...

...and you can take them when you pry them out of my cold, dead hands.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:33 PM on January 5, 2008


It sounds like shit, but at least I can download it for free.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:39 PM on January 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Man, I remember back in the 1990s when all the bitching was over AAD vs. ADD CD's.
posted by crapmatic at 1:41 PM on January 5, 2008


I'm so glad Rolling Stone is on the forefront of the loudness war, and recognizing the problem with compressing the shit out of everything.


Ten years too late.
posted by stenseng at 1:44 PM on January 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Do indie producers play these games?
posted by smackfu at 1:46 PM on January 5, 2008


I'm also curious if this is just a staple of pop music, or something everyone gets up to. (My techno-head friend says his techno records and CDs are usually well put together because the artists are also usually heavily involved in the production.)
posted by chunking express at 1:51 PM on January 5, 2008


Consider this, perhaps, as the work of the Ironic Punishment Dept.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:52 PM on January 5, 2008


Producers have known this for years; Rolling Stones doesn't have an exposé on their hands. Hiphop has been compressed for years. Musicians who care about their sound have been bothered by it:

SB: Yeah, yeah, and you can't really define the events as well, you know?

AR: I guess that's important for what you guys do.

SB: Yeah, the details are kind of integral, really. It kind of matters. A lot of artists can make music that'll sound good on MP3s, 'cause everything's totally maximized and over-compressed and stuff, but we don't really... that's mostly people who're music for radio or for clubs. We don't really consider them when we do that...


(disclaimer: was involved in that interview)
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:57 PM on January 5, 2008


What they ought to do is include multiple audio tracks. Just like how DVDs will have a stereo mix and a Surround sound mix. That way, people with different equipment could play different mixes. The fact that you're playing music on a PC means you could in theory perform a lot of operations on the audio stream.

Another cool option would be to include separate instrument tracks, while hard-core fans would probably love.
posted by delmoi at 2:10 PM on January 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've said this before but : it's worth remembering that compressing the shit out of the sound is a valid production tool and can be used correctly. Witness The Stooges' Raw Power. (Yes, this is an exception that proves the rule.)
posted by suckerpunch at 2:13 PM on January 5, 2008


It sounds like shit, but ...

... they'll charge full price for it anyway
posted by pyramid termite at 2:16 PM on January 5, 2008


If you don't know what you're missing, it doesn't make much of a difference. The textbook definition of ignorance.

I recently got the vinyl of In Rainbows in the mail, and I was a little freaked out at how much dynamic range and space and nuance was missing from the mp3s that I'd been listening too for a couple of months in advance.
posted by Skygazer at 2:20 PM on January 5, 2008


Meh, it's like McDonald..the quality converges to average. As most people can't or don't care to differentiate, you get less for the buck. Similarly in air quality, if you don't know how clean air smells , you don't know your air smells like shit. Similarly in concerts, if you never attended a philarmonic orchestra concert you don't really know...and I am using that as a reference point (till it lasts) cause unless you are sitting in a decent jazz club, your hears will be pounded dumb !

I blame pointy haired bosses like(well not so much..) him ,thieving shouting asshole l!
posted by elpapacito at 2:20 PM on January 5, 2008


Coarse music for a coarse world.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:24 PM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh , I forgot : for the geeks here the answer is FLAC, APE.
posted by elpapacito at 2:27 PM on January 5, 2008


Assuming they stop messing with the source, of course.
posted by elpapacito at 2:34 PM on January 5, 2008


I've said this before but : it's worth remembering that compressing the shit out of the sound is a valid production tool and can be used correctly. Witness The Stooges' Raw Power. (Yes, this is an exception that proves the rule.)

Are you talking about the original, mostly Bowie mixed Raw Power? 'Cause that record has long been considered a sonic piece of shit, so much so that Iggy went back and remastered it completely in 1997.
posted by item at 2:35 PM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


In a different complete and total derail, but one that I have to type out to believe, John McCain just mentioned on CNN that his favorite group is ABBA.
posted by item at 2:37 PM on January 5, 2008


The best place to notice the effects of the "loudness war" is in remasters of albums you're already familiar with.

The most recent time I came across this was when I bought the 2007 two-disc edition of Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, since a friend of mine had been going on about that album for a while, insisting that I was uncultured for not owning it. When I put it on my headphones (which I try to do when listening to an album for the first time) it was unlistenable--I couldn't get three tracks in before I stopped. But when I borrowed my friend's un-"remastered" edition from several years ago it sounded gorgeous. I felt cheated out of thirty dollars.
posted by Prospero at 2:39 PM on January 5, 2008


This video demonstrates this pretty well.

Thanks, that was a nice explanation.
posted by languagehat at 2:40 PM on January 5, 2008


I knew partial deafness would come in handy later in life. I can't tell much difference betweeen the samples on the video that Midnight Rambler linked.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:56 PM on January 5, 2008


Yes, most remastered music sounds like shit, but since most people listen to crappy music anyway, it doesn't really matter all that much.

In a different complete and total derail, but one that I have to type out to believe, John McCain just mentioned on CNN that his favorite group is ABBA.

See what I mean?
posted by sour cream at 2:59 PM on January 5, 2008


Won't my $400 wooden volume knobs and $1500 suspended gold capped wires compensate for this?
posted by Justinian at 3:03 PM on January 5, 2008 [7 favorites]


for the geeks here the answer is FLAC, APE

...SHN... but sadly none of that makes any difference. You're just getting the unmolested version of the CD, but if the CD was already fucked with (as is most often the case these days), you're stills screwed.

I'm guessing that's what you meant when you followed this with, "Assuming they stop messing with the source, of course."

It's sad, really. Often times, remastered CDs are much better than the original releases, but these days there's no way of telling what you're going to get beforehand: a quality remastering, or a clipped monstrosity.

One of the many reasons why I download my shit.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:05 PM on January 5, 2008


John McCain just mentioned on CNN that his favorite group is ABBA.
No doubt Dancing Queen brings back many wonderful memories for Johnny...
posted by Thorzdad at 3:05 PM on January 5, 2008


I think that in this era of virtually-free duplication that versions of songs and even whole albums mastered in different ways is a Good Thing.

When I'm listening softly to an album as I'm going to sleep or just quietly in the background I want it to be compressed all in the last few dB before 0, so I can hear everything.

However, when I have an album in my big stereo and I've really got it cranked, I want MORE dynamic range. I want to hear the breath of a whispering singer like it is really a person across the room, just barely audible, and I want the big bombastic section to blow me out of my seat at 100dB.

As a musician on an indie label and mastering engineer, I have a lot of leeway with regards to this. As a matter of fact, my next album will be released on CD with a "pushed pretty hard but still dynamic" mastering that probably would fit better in the mid-90s than the mid-00s.

But I also intend to have people who get the album have access to downloadable FLAC or MP3 files with both balls-to-the-wall mastering and a very light-touch mastering, so that I can help shape the experiences of people who want to listen to my music quietly in their headphones or crazy loud in their car.

The only thing I don't like is when an album is compressed to hell and back with lots of digital clipping but a less-harshly-driven master is unavailable.
posted by chimaera at 3:16 PM on January 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


There was something in the air that night, the stars were bright, fernando.

Fuck Yeah.
posted by chunking express at 3:17 PM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


John McCain just mentioned on CNN that his favorite group is ABBA.
No doubt Dancing Queen brings back many wonderful memories for Johnny...


Before Iowa: "Take A Chance on Me"
Since Iowa, I'm thinking more "S.O.S"
After a couple of days in New Hampshire: "Waterloo"

And now, back to the thread...
posted by hal9k at 3:17 PM on January 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


on election day, however, the voice of the people will be heard -

"Knowing me, knowing you (ah-haa)
There is nothing we can do
Knowing me, knowing you (ah-haa)
We just have to face it, this time we're through"
posted by pyramid termite at 3:31 PM on January 5, 2008


Of course, it's still much better than listening to an FM radio station on a $20 alarm clock radio, which is how I was exposed to most of my music.

Honestly, I think the complaints here are like the old guard of film production that insisted digital film was going to kill the beauty of shooting on film, which then trickled down, in film snob schools, to people who thought 16mm was infinitely better than digital, even when most of us where still watching decayed videotapes on small-screen televisions. Sure, mahogany is better for furniture than plastic, and silk is better than rayon, but some of us take what we can get an love it anyway if it's worth a damn, even when our rich neighbors are insisting that we can't possibly, because it's not the best ever.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:47 PM on January 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


Civil_Disobedient writes "One of the many reasons why I download my shit."

Yup same reasoning.

Civil_Disobedient writes "f the CD was already fucked with (as is most often the case these days), you're stills screwed."

Exactly :( but my very wild guess is that some "master" copy is being held at some point in the production line. Possibily, they will resell what was today sold at $30 for $60, claiming "uncompressed dynamic hifi gold plated" shitola. Then we'll have to use the ...ways and means deparment, I spose :)
posted by elpapacito at 3:59 PM on January 5, 2008


Gimme gimme gimme a candidate I can fucking support?

Mp3 compression doesn't bother me so much, maybe growing up listening to thrice-copied cassette tapes on a little Radio Shack player has colored my judgment. Sure, if I sit down and A/B the mp3 versus an uncompressed file, I can easily tell the difference, but it's pretty rare that I listen to music in an ideal environment.

Dynamic compression, on the other hand, is an often useful tool that is being mercilessly abused in the loudness wars. I can't believe that anyone would release a professional recording that is pushed so hard that the peaks are constantly clipped. That is just bullshit, plain and simple.

It's unfortunate that the term "compression" is used for both of these, as they are completely separate concepts which are often confused for each other in these discussions. I wish the RS article had been more clear about the difference.
posted by malocchio at 4:08 PM on January 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


Keep in mind that the ultra-compressed sound of '00s pop is also "just a sound". It is not only a technical question, many albums today sound different (and more compressed) because of a new set of aesthetic values. Muse is waaay more compressed (with a cool sound) than Radiohead (with a cool sound too), for example.

RHCP's Californication is a poor example for this reason. I remember hearing that album for the first time. "Wow, this is loud." And it's intentional, not just something "for the young generation"... ...It is a different sound.

Aesthetics come and go. Already there are signs of more dynamic range in many styles. (Some country, classic rock etc.) But you can't actually take away the compression from current hiphop or pop. I'd compare it to forcing The Shadows to play their tunes without a tremolo, or the Ramones without distortion and overdrive. Can't be done. Someday somebody will make a hiphop album with less compression, less loops etc., but it won't be the same sound. It's going to be something new and different. The new cool of the 10's? Better or worse? A question of taste imho.

MP3 conversion has no direct link with this "devolution" of dynamics. 99,5% people can't hear the difference between 320bps mp3 and full uncompressed PCM audio. You can have music with dynamics also converted to mp3.

More compressed music might be easier for many people to consume on their iPods in differing listening conditions. (Noisy trains, buses, cars etc.) For them this new trend might be a good thing. If everything is "at the same level", then there is no need to fiddle with the volume knob all the time...

Hopefully some new format (dvd-audio perhaps) will offer listener with a choice of more compressed ("radio/iPod") master and a Hi-Fi one for home theater. It's just that those willing to pay premium for the dynamic version are most propably a minority. And it's also about the sound. I bet that artists like Muse want their music mastered to the max.

(As an aside, I was shocked a couple of years ago when one of the Mefiswap CDs I got had been "re-mastered" by a well-meaning mefite. Just ran through Waves L1 on heavy presets... Uggh. I couldn't listen to that one at all. You could hear the plug-in going 110% all the time.)
posted by hoskala at 4:10 PM on January 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


i played around with stereo systems, speakers, Monster cable, etc for years.

finally got to the conclusion that i am tone deaf.
posted by lemuel at 4:12 PM on January 5, 2008


It's unfortunate that the term "compression" is used for both of these, as they are completely separate concepts which are often confused for each other in these discussions. I wish the RS article had been more clear about the difference.

Yes, conversion would be a better word for PCM to mp3 "compression". It's "just" a different format.
posted by hoskala at 4:15 PM on January 5, 2008


> for the geeks here the answer is FLAC, APE
>
> ...SHN... but sadly none of that makes any difference. You're just getting the unmolested version of the CD,
> but if the CD was already fucked with (as is most often the case these days), you're stills screwed.

Relevant only if you're working from a CD. I'm working my way through 35 years of vinyl (mostly classical) and will not finish the project unless I live longer than I expect, like 110 years. For a while I was ripping and archiving to 320bps mp3 but now that Audacity supports FLAC, FLAC it is.

For walking around with the cheap little earbuds I don't generally listen to music at all--crappy earphones treat music just as badly as low bitrate and high compression do. Mostly the walking program will be audiobooks (off-topic: Christopher Tolkien does not read the Silmarillion nearly as well as Rob Inglis read LOTR) or language practice files; fidelity isn't much of an issue on material like that. Or sometimes I listen to a ripped cassette of Apple ][ Typing Tutor just to hear the alien voices in the bitstream. They say something different every time.
posted by jfuller at 4:15 PM on January 5, 2008


bring back the days of gold plated leads !
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:41 PM on January 5, 2008


P.S. Death Of High Fidelity my ass. Hi Fi has never been more than a niche interest, not in any era. Anybody who really cares about a sonic experience that's "just like live" can get up off their butts and go to live performances. For those who don't care quite enough to do that, an iPod playing a 128 bit file is at least as good as a tinny transistor radio, a boomy boombox, or a car stereo with 80db of road noise in the mix--probably a bit better. You won't hear any of Beethoven's pianississimo passages on any of 'em.
posted by jfuller at 4:56 PM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the endless compression is a lot of why I feel bored listening to too much radio pop in a row—and it's also something that keeps me buying CDs and vinyl, in that it really does sound better. I'm a much better listener on my regular stereo than I was on mp3s, even though genres like punk and lofi don't necessarily suffer all that much.

But Dr. John's Gris Gris? That's unlistenable on mp3.
posted by klangklangston at 4:56 PM on January 5, 2008


It sounds like shit, but at least I can download it for free.

You get what you pay for. And sometimes not even that.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:58 PM on January 5, 2008


jfuller writes "but now that Audacity supports FLAC, FLAC it is."

Yup FLAC seems to be the weapon of choice nowadays. I looked for SHN, as recommended by Civil, but it seems it's out of developement , but allegedly there's a lot of music encoded in SHN...maybe I never noticed it.

Regardless, the issue remains : how to make user feel the difference, so that they will start demaning quality. Problems: as you say, most earbuds are junk, but also unexpensive. Solution ? Demo, word of mouth , it must be noticeable to almost anybody that paying twice or more gives a lot better experience, as increasingly consumers are price sensitive, unsurprisingly.
posted by elpapacito at 4:58 PM on January 5, 2008


IndigoJones writes "You get what you pay for. And sometimes not even that."

I think sometime people don't know how lucky they are they are paying so little, as inexpensive doesn't imply cheap and low quality. Actually, the day inexpensive implies shit, 95% of us will be in deeeeeeep shit.
posted by elpapacito at 5:01 PM on January 5, 2008


Everybody whines about this, and yet it doesn't change. Artists don't like it. Every listener that has an opinion on the internet doesn't like it.

Who does it, and why? And if those reasons are the opinion of actual consumers (obviously not the vocal blogger crowd), then I'd have to side with the producers and say that you are all an unfortunate minority -- this processing actually makes the music sound better to most people, and they are doing the right thing by processing it that way.

(Aside: Don't the hi-res audio formats (SACD et al) kind of render this moot? With 96 bits, you could just uncompress the audio when playing it without incurring noticable artifacts.)
posted by CaseyB at 5:05 PM on January 5, 2008


Another cool option would be to include separate instrument tracks, while hard-core fans would probably love.

Yes, please.

Anybody who really cares about a sonic experience that's "just like live" can get up off their butts and go to live performances.


Even though live sound doesn't always equal good sound.
posted by ersatz at 5:18 PM on January 5, 2008


CaseyB writes "this processing actually makes the music sound better to most people, and they are doing the right thing by processing it that way"

Nope, they are ruining it for everybody else because they screwing up the original. For instance, imagine you like your meat fresh and unseasoned. Imagine industry figures out 90% of people do like meat seasoned, so they season it by default. Obviously, un-seasoning is quite time and resource expensive, assuming it is possible at all. In audio, it is _not possible_ as the "data" is lost once the processing is done.

Surely, the producer can now sell "uncompressed shit" at a premium price, as they expect the experts to pay more. Except that they were pay less, before the producer accidentally discovered they were screwing up with quality.

In economics that's called profiting from the consumer surplus, which is the "extra" the consumer gets at a price lower then the price he would pay for , and it's possibily the most convicing point showing that profit maximization is NOT ALWAYS good , but it can be BAD for the consumers, which are most of us.

And if you like to pay more for less, I have some shiz to sell !
posted by elpapacito at 5:18 PM on January 5, 2008


But compared to the days of yore, we also have much better equipment.

High quality speakers, receivers that automatically adjust for the speakers and the room, all this is now completely affordable.

Sure, compression sucks, but get over it. If the artists allow their work to be released that way, so be it.

And please, please don't blame mp3 for this nonsense. I know it's not perfect, but mp3s are still a huge step up from the cassette deck or the 8-track, and they let people love their music very conveniently, without being tied to large vinyl disks.

Now is a great time to be a music lover.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 5:30 PM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, I still maintain that I would rather hear a marginally talented guitar player on my back porch than anything produced in any studio anywhere. I guess I long for the days before I was born, when pianos were everywhere and people would gather around after dinner and make their own music. (An industrialized version of drumming and dancing around the fire, something our genetic selves still long for...maybe live concerts fulfill part of that desire...)
posted by kozad at 5:36 PM on January 5, 2008


Actually, cassettes have a much better fidelity than mp3s, and can support a bigger dynamic range than some vinyl. The advantage is all convenience. Which is what the compression is optimizing for—listening to music in noisy environments, which is far more convenient than going someplace quiet to listen.
posted by klangklangston at 5:38 PM on January 5, 2008


.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:56 PM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well this explains why What's The Story (Morning Glory) gives me a massive headache. I find I can only listen to a track or two at a stretch before my ears are toast.
posted by schoolgirl report at 6:18 PM on January 5, 2008


I listen to mp3s at the gym, walking the dogs, in the car & background music at work. I don't care about fidelity. True, the advantage is all convenience. I have a turntable, decent cd player/amp/speakers for when I listen to music.

I wouldn't dismiss mp3 because of fidelity. A great piece of music is a great piece of music.
posted by mattoxic at 6:21 PM on January 5, 2008


CaseyB writes "Who does it, and why? And if those reasons are the opinion of actual consumers (obviously not the vocal blogger crowd), then I'd have to side with the producers and say that you are all an unfortunate minority -- this processing actually makes the music sound better to most people, and they are doing the right thing by processing it that way."

A better solution might be to master the CD well and compress the mp3 version. People who still buy CDs do care, which is exactly why they still buy music in that format.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:32 PM on January 5, 2008


In a different complete and total derail, but one that I have to type out to believe, John McCain just mentioned on CNN that his favorite group is ABBA.

Ur fav band sux, amirite?
posted by JanetLand at 6:41 PM on January 5, 2008


mattoxic writes "I wouldn't dismiss mp3 because of fidelity. A great piece of music is a great piece of music."

The primary reason to dismiss mp3 is because of fidelity. That's not its strength, and it's not why it's popular. You're missing a lot of subtlety if you're listening to the compressed version and/or a compressed mastering job. Sure, the music's still great, except you can't hear all of it. It's like a book with a few words missing. There's nothing wrong with having that sort of format available for situations which make sense, like the ones you specifically mention, but if even the master itself becomes a wall of peaks, then listening becomes painful for many people who are not seeking out convenience over quality (and even many who are not). I mean, why bother remastering an album if you don't actually make it sound better? Why is it better to make listening to music painful? You can also watch DVDs on a 15" computer screen, but you can usually find the letterbox format so you won't get the pan-and-scan edit.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:42 PM on January 5, 2008


Last word on the McCain derail...

I thought I'd heard that ABBA was the music the North Vietnamese used to play 24/7 to torture POWs.
posted by wendell at 6:59 PM on January 5, 2008


Astro Zombie writes "Sure, mahogany is better for furniture than plastic, and silk is better than rayon, but some of us take what we can get an love it anyway if it's worth a damn, even when our rich neighbors are insisting that we can't possibly, because it's not the best ever."

That's really beside the point. It's not about snobbery. Let's say you don't make much money, but you've always wanted a real mahogany bedroom set. If you save and save and buy that mahogany bedroom set, and you discover it's mostly pressboard with mahogany overlays, then wouldn't you feel like you didn't get what you paid for? Sure, if you buy the cheap stuff, you expect it to be lesser quality. But what if I buy the CD, and they make it sound like crap for the people who don't care about CDs and who won't buy the CD version? Doesn't that seem sort of illogical?
posted by krinklyfig at 7:00 PM on January 5, 2008


It really all comes down to this:

Convenience over Quality.

Folks will almost ALWAYS choose the convenience of things over their actual quality - forget perception, as it can be easily manipulated - we're a species that seems to make choices based on the idea that we want what we want NOW, and are not willing to make compromises in order to get something better, later. Yes, their are exceptions, but in the end, you won't lose money betting on the veracity of this equation.

In a day when fidelity is no longer an issue - a couple hundred bucks buys you better speakers than a couple of thousand bucks could buy 15, 20 years ago - people are more interested in the convenience of instant gratification of downloading a piece of music on a whim, and don't even consider that they're getting ripped off. I personally own somewhere north of a few thousand CDs, but I've never even thought about buying a track from iTunes until the recent decision to up the bitrate and remove DRM (from the tracks that enjoy this status on that system). Given that it's really easy to buy a used CD with no DRM, no bitrate reduction and artwork/lyric booklets, why would anyone pay a buck for a track with serious quality issues? Convenience, it's the only answer that makes any real sense.

Anyone who listens to classical piano and piano-based jazz already knows all about the compression artifacts of decaying notes, as well as ambient reverberation and the "air" around acoustic instruments. Higher-rate sampling and deeper bit depths are deployed to record these types of music - and are the way to capture the largest amount of data, which can then be mixed and processed at hgh resolution - but the creative choices of how to compress, and what type of VBR downsampling to deploy, are best handled by an expert compressionist, of which there are very few in this world. I'm gonna guess that most mastering engineers would not call themselves compressionists.

In the case of the compression issue cited by the linked article, the driving of levels to silly extremes is mostly driven by the desire to sound louder on broadcast mediums such as radio, TV, etc. Then there's the compression issue with regards to DVDs and movies, where the explosions, crashes and special effects end up waaay louder than the vocal levels of the actors (which especially suffer due to being stuffed into the center channel), and this becomes a problem when trying to listen to reasonable levels in a home setting.

As far as vinyl goes, I'm never going to miss the wow, flutter, pops and scratches. I'd love to buy In Rainbows as a SACD, or other high-quality disc-based format (yes, my Pioneer DVD players does both SACDs and DVD Audio), but they're nor offering it. My wonderful honey bouht me the box set, but I'll have to go to a friend's house to hear the vinyl.

I'm gonna buy CDs until I drop. And I suspect I speak for anyone for whom music is not consumed, but instead, experienced.

Music both keeps me alive, and gives me a reason to live. Not much else fits into that box.
posted by dbiedny at 7:04 PM on January 5, 2008


OK, here's a good analogy for all you foodies. And I know you're out there.

What if the best food you could get would be franchise food? Like, you want authentic Italian, but you can only get Olive Garden, and there are no stores to buy fresh food to make it. It's adequate. It's not very good.

Life would suck if we had to settle for mediocrity all the time, just because it's what the market wants.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:04 PM on January 5, 2008


Sorry about the typos, I'm hurting a bit at the moment.
posted by dbiedny at 7:06 PM on January 5, 2008


If you listen to happy-meal pop, you deserve what you get. Tones subtracted from white noise.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:29 PM on January 5, 2008


APE seems to be pretty much dead nowadays. SHN certainly is, though it's traditionally been popular for many live bootlegs.

While FLAC remains my favourite (I bought more albums in FLAC last year than I did actual CD's), WavPack is also worth a look, especially if you're using Rockbox or a laptop; it supports a hybrid compression mode which gives you a standalone lossy file suitable for portables, plus a seperate corrections file to make it lossless.
posted by Freaky at 7:44 PM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


My MP3s and MP4s all sound great to me on my computer (through speakers or headphones), iPod, and in the car (via iPod). Those are the only places I'm likely to listen to music, so I'm set.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:46 PM on January 5, 2008


Most new music to me is unlistenable. The songs may be great, the musicians talented, the arragements fantastic, but you CAN'T FUCKING HEAR IT, even on CD, because the idiot mastering engineer sucked all of the dynamic range out of it and reduced it to little more than white noise.

Case in point: The Killers' "Sam's Town."

What a shame.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:03 PM on January 5, 2008


Also: The Death of High Fidelity
posted by ALongDecember at 9:23 PM on January 5, 2008


It all forces me back to small label jazz, recorded single mike with all the dynamic range, and high quality classical music. No, or few, pop or rock recordings are worth shit these days.

Kids used to save up to buy a stereo with fidelity. Now, they want an XBox and phone with benefits. So many distractions dilute the desire for quality sound.

The just recently ex-kids spend all their coin on fancy boob tubes, but the sound systems that go with them are for shit, with all bass, hyper-exaggerated treble, low quality speakers (Bose agggh) etc. People think Bose is upscale? Jesus!

Couple this with a desire for free music, damn the quality, I mean hey, most of the time it is played through $9 ear buds, who cares if it is 120 KB mp3?

Sell some folks some real fidelity systems and change the world. Blame Bose, they are the bastards of sound.
posted by caddis at 9:25 PM on January 5, 2008


High Fidelity isn't dead. The black cowboy guy at Super-Duper Stereo helped me modify my system with the TK421, which is a bass unit that basically kicks in another two, maybe three quads when you really crank it.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:17 PM on January 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


...a bass unit that basically kicks in another two, maybe three quads when you really crank it.

How low can you go!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:26 PM on January 5, 2008


Death row!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:26 PM on January 5, 2008


Wha-- what a brother know!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:29 PM on January 5, 2008


There is an upside to all this and it's that more people than ever are going to see live music and supporting bands on tour and that's almost as good as vinyl!!
posted by Skygazer at 10:34 PM on January 5, 2008


...more people than ever are going to see live music and supporting bands on tour...

Just curious, skygazer, can you point us to any cites that would back that up?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:03 PM on January 5, 2008


Dynamic range should not be Public Enemy Number One.
(turn it up, bring the noise)
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:08 PM on January 5, 2008


*cut to Bootsy saying "baaaaaassss!!!!"*
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:14 PM on January 5, 2008


I guess I'll have to orwellize it to make it better.

In the music farm there were many nice animals:

Nature: in all his harmony, nature always offered all of the music, in all of its glory. The buzzing of the bees, the barking of the dog, the meow of the cat...and all the natural orchestras, making for years worth of listening !

The Horse : he was all about his choice of music. He enjoyed listening mp3 on his walks, as the convenient ipod and little earbuds were not very expensive and didn't force him to wear big headphones. In the stable, he enojed his rather expensive set because it expressed a lot more details of the music he much loved. He bought CD because he could turn them into MP3 for his ipod, but still use it for its stereo set.

The Pigs: were all about making noises. Squeeeall, squeeeall ! They squeallled all the time, because they wanted their squealing to be noticed, and damn were they noticed. Yet as they were only used to squealing, as they lived in the pig pen and never left the place, they didn't know there was more than squealing to be heard. But as squealing was almost free and immediately avaiable, they didn't bother much checking out new sounds.

The fat pig: new exactly the tastes of the pigs. So he took all the well recorder music and squealed it to the max, for all his pigs liked the squales muzak , didn't pay much for it and were happy. His pigs didn't own more expensive stereo set, so he tought there was no point in giving them well recorded CDs , that didn't sound that much squealing after all.

One day the horse bought a new CD, transformed it into 128KB mp3s and listened on his mp3 player with his inexpensive buds, and it was all fine. Yet his 320Kb mp3 still didn't give him much joy, for they sounded squealed as well. So he tried the CD in the stereo, and it was squealing all the time. So he went back to the store and complained about the CD, he wanted the CDs the way there were, without the additional squealing.

The fat pig said : but well, who do we have here , Mr.Horse ! The CD is perfectly fine 48Khz PCM , what do you want ? All my pigs like them, buy them, you are among the few complaining !

The horse said: but your previous CD sounded a lot better, why don't you make it the way you made it before and then let your pigs squeal them as much as they like ?

The fat pig said: my pigs don't want to decide for themselves, because they are perfectly happy with what I give them. But maybe if you pay me a little more I will ask the monkey to get you the unsquealed version, in PCM of FLAC of MP3 320 VBR, you choose.

The horse said: but I already had my CD and I could decide what to do with it ! Why don't you just make it the way it was ?

The fat pig: it's the invisible hand of the market, my dear. Market forces dictate the squealed CD is the most sold, so it must be better than the CDs the way they were done before. Plus, the gray pigs tell me what you were doing with your CDs is illegal, you can't have more than one copy at a time , otherwise the market will fail and the poor piglets will not have their food ! Why do you hate the piglets ? You should be paying extra for all these copies of yours.

The horse: but, i was keeping all the copies for myself ! I paid the artist for their execution ! All I wanted is to keep my music good !

The fat pig dismissed his complains and went back to the pen, feeling secure that all the other fat pigs would have done exactly the same, as they knew all of them and they now were thinking about taking the instruments of audio manipulation away from the pigs and the horse , so they would have paid more and more often.

Everybody started to hate the fat pig, but he felt well surrounded by all his money, in his ivory pen.
posted by elpapacito at 4:40 AM on January 6, 2008


When do they turn the horse into glue?
posted by chunking express at 7:22 AM on January 6, 2008


Mr. Lucinda is all into vinyl again, because of the record player I got him for Christmas. (He wants to get an additional one that's "better" or something.)

I can only sort of tell the difference between a vinyl recording and a digital one. The vinyl sounds more "open", for lack of a better term, which I suppose is the whole point.

It doesn't mean I'm going to junk my music collection and replace it all with LPs, though (which it appears my husband is going to do, sigh.)
posted by Lucinda at 8:00 AM on January 6, 2008


Actually, cassettes have a much better fidelity than mp3s,

I don't believe it -- even for 128kps mp3s.

1. Your ear is extremely sensitive to even tiny fluctuations in pitch (wow and flutter) which cassettes have in spades and mp3s don't have at all.

2. A good commercially recorded cassette has a noise floor that's down about 70dB. CDs have a noise floor at 96dB. I couldn't find an authoritative result on mp3s but given the nature of the mp3 compression which doesn't strongly tend to add noise, I'd be really surprised if the noise floor were louder than 80dB below peak.

3. Similarly, a good commercially recorded cassette will have a harmonic range of about 50Hz to 15KHz at best, compared to mp3s which be able to represent 20Hz - 20KHz.

4. Cassettes wear out as you play them; and they lose signal strength over time whether or not you play them.

also:

5. The sort of harmonic distortion that cassettes (and LPs) put into music (odd-order harmonic distortion) is actually pleasant to the ear: digital distortion and artifacts are not. This means that an mp3 of a given track might have better "fidelity" than a cassette while not sounding "as good" -- particularly at low bitrates.

(Sure, you can theoretically do a lot better with cassette tapes, as this article claims, but that means making your own tapes on much better stock with a high-quality recorder -- and at that point I feel justified in pulling out comparisons with 512k mp3s....)

I initially hated mp3s, particularly what they did to cymbals (shudders) -- but somewhat better encoding software, much higher bitrates, and most important, the huge quantity of high quality content available, won me over and now I'm a fan, even though I do (or perhaps "did," I do see too much loud music) have golden ears (which can be a little annoying at times -- "excuse me, can I move this vase on your mantle? It vibrates whenever the bassist hits that A...")
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:01 AM on January 6, 2008


I looked for SHN, as recommended by Civil, but it seems it's out of developement

Oh, I wasn't recommending them! All my stuff is in FLAC when I can get it, MP3 until I find the FLAC. The Shorten files I had were bootlegs... for some reason SHN is popular among the taper community. I convert them to SHN these days because, well, one less codec to install.

If you save and save and buy that mahogany bedroom set, and you discover it's mostly pressboard with mahogany overlays, then wouldn't you feel like you didn't get what you paid for?

Spot-on.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:11 AM on January 6, 2008


I can't hear those subtleties anyway, when I'm singing along to "Atomic Dog" at the top of my lungs in my car.

(What're YOU looking at? Bow wow wow yippee yo yippie yay!)
posted by TochterAusElysium at 10:11 AM on January 6, 2008


You are missing the point that although the "new" overly loud, maximized sound totally destroys some music, some music wouldn't be the same without it. Rammstein for example is all about taking sound to the limit.

0db is the current black. It's not going to be like that forever. One of the best albums I bought last year was recorded with a single ribbon microphone and mastered with minimal compression.
posted by hoskala at 10:16 AM on January 6, 2008


Metafilter: Why do you hate the piglets?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:39 AM on January 6, 2008


Music has been a life long obsession for me, but fidelity has never been an important issue. Other than some instances where I can hear an example of great fidelity side by side with an example of poor fidelity, I just don't notice most recording as sounding bad. I didn't even think original Elvis Costello CDs sounded shitty until I heard them compared next to the remstered versions.

I think of at as a blessing and a curse. I know have some friends who have a hard time enjoying music becasue they obsess over the sound quality, where I tend to focus on the songs and the performances. But I feel like I might be missing something by not noticing the subtle nuances of sound. It occassionally bums me out until I take solace in the fact that I've been happy with the same speakers for 20 years and I can fit a lot more music on my MP3 player at 128k.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 10:48 AM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Kind of a tangent of a question, but does anyone know why sometimes the 'kbps' reader on my WinAmp will flip like crazy on some mp3s, reading from 160kbps-256kbps?

Anyway. All this makes me curious about the quality of the sound of the artists that I listen to, and if ever insist upon a particular preference on their sound....

Cool post, even if RS is uh ten years too late.
posted by one teak forest at 12:13 PM on January 6, 2008


Kind of a tangent of a question, but does anyone know why sometimes the 'kbps' reader on my WinAmp will flip like crazy on some mp3s, reading from 160kbps-256kbps?

Because they're variable-rate encoded, to (hopefully) only use the higher rate when it's necessary.
posted by kersplunk at 1:30 PM on January 6, 2008


The problem with compression is that it really should be applied at the broadcast, or even the amplification, stage -- not in postproduction while making the recording.

There are some times when a lot of compression can be helpful or desirable. I have a hard time listening to well-mastered classical recordings in my car, because the noise floor is so high that either you turn it up loud enough to hear the quiet parts and get blasted by the loud ones, or you get the loud ones at a comfortable level and then lose the quiet parts into background noise. I often wish that my car's stereo had a compressor/limiter for this reason.

But I wouldn't want the actual recording to have the compression applied to it; that's just stupid. When I'm listening in my house, in a quiet room, I want all 16 bits of dynamic range that the CD can deliver. (As an aside -- I'm 99% sure that NPR, when it broadcasts classical music, compresses it pretty heavily.)

The problem is that most consumer stereo equipment isn't smart enough to let you set the level of compression that you desire, and so the producers apply it directly to the CD. (And that's without even getting into the pop-music 'loudness war' / marketing-driven aspect of it.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:40 PM on January 6, 2008


I blame Metal Machine Music. Get off my lawn, Looouey.
posted by jfuller at 7:11 PM on January 6, 2008


The fat pig said : but well, who do we have here , Mr.Horse ! The CD is perfectly fine 48Khz PCM , what do you want ?

Well, that's your problem right there.

/snarky picky PITA
posted by pompomtom at 7:20 PM on January 6, 2008


reminds me of this blog post on RUSH's Vapor Trails...
posted by mrmarley at 3:48 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's not all bad news on the fidelity front.
posted by caddis at 8:19 AM on January 7, 2008


Probably too late to get a response, but is this the reason why when I listen to rappers like Biggie and Snoop Dogg I can't make out a word they say because the music is so loud and the lyrics are so low?
posted by Vindaloo at 10:00 AM on January 7, 2008


I apologize if this point has been made--haven't read the whole thread carefully--but I wanted to comment on the perspective this represents:

Who does it, and why? And if those reasons are the opinion of actual consumers (obviously not the vocal blogger crowd), then I'd have to side with the producers and say that you are all an unfortunate minority -- this processing actually makes the music sound better to most people, and they are doing the right thing by processing it that way.

This perspective is valid only if one considers music a commodity: a thing that is bought and sold for profit. Music is not a commodity, even if people are able to make a business and a living out of it. Music is a medium of artistic expression for those who create and perform it, and an experience for those who listen to it.

A perspective that says 'the market should decide' for any art form is, in my opinion, profoundly anti-art. I'm upset because some really good hip hop, pop, and rock music has been damaged by bad production decisions over the past decade--that's not the complaint of an audiophile consumer, that's the complaint of someone who loves the art form of music a great deal, in all of its near-infinite variety.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:14 AM on January 7, 2008


It is concerning that some here seem to be confusing digital audio compression with dynamic range compression. Digital compression (mp3, flac, aac, etc) can be lossy or lossless, and is a totally seperate issue from dynamic range compression, which affects music regardless of how it is stored (digital or analog). Digital compression is GOOD, dynamic range compression is BAD. The first post links to a, yes classic, internet post on the issue. I first read that article at least five years ago.
posted by lohmannn at 12:54 PM on January 7, 2008


is this the reason why when I listen to rappers like Biggie and Snoop Dogg I can't make out a word they say

Yeah, my 'hood is all dynamically compressed 'n shit I be axin' fo' subtitles.

It is concerning that some here seem to be confusing digital audio compression with dynamic range compression.

Don't worry yourself too much over it. Those who know the difference probably didn't need this post to begin with, and those that don't... well, they don't seem to care, anyway.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:46 PM on January 7, 2008


I THINK THIS IS THE MOST WONDERFUL DEVELOPMENT IN THE HISTORY OF MUSIC CAUSE MUSIC SOUNDS BETTER LOUD HAVE YOU HEARD BRITNEYS NEW ALBUM IT TOTALLY ROCKS THE AUTOTUNE MAKES IT BETTER TOO SO WHAT IF SHE LIP SINKS GET OVER IT HATERZ
posted by Tube at 12:05 AM on January 8, 2008


chunking express writes "I'm also curious if this is just a staple of pop music, or something everyone gets up to. (My techno-head friend says his techno records and CDs are usually well put together because the artists are also usually heavily involved in the production.)"

For techno, it's a bit of a crap-shot. First, remember that the vast majority of techno is not major-label, but minor-label, so there's more variation due to the lack of overarching top brass calling the shots about production. Your friend is right that a lot of artists are heavily involved in the production (and quite a few, I believe, are former producers who went on to write their own stuff). Some artists are very finicky about their sound, some like things loud 'n' dirty. A lot also depends on the genre, too: minimalist techno is basically all about good dynamics, so even though I find minimal techno incredibly boring and unlistenable, I have to admit that, on a good stereo, the actual sound is fucking amazing.

dbiedny writes "I'm gonna buy CDs until I drop. And I suspect I speak for anyone for whom music is not consumed, but instead, experienced. "

You may speak for many of those folks, maybe even most, but not everyone. I love music (in your terms, I "experience" music), but I honestly can't tell the difference between most mp3s and the original. Loving music doesn't automatically mean you have good ears (Beethoven loved music, even when he was going deaf). The compression we're talking about here (reduction of dynamic range) I can hear, and it annoys me, but that problem exists on both CDs and mp3s. The other compression being mentioned (converting a CD track to an mp3) is transparent to my bad ears, so, while I love to experience music, CDs and mp3s are equal for me.
posted by Bugbread at 5:59 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


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