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A battle of perceived qualities
March 16, 2009 12:42 PM   Subscribe

Sennheiser, a family-run company with an interesting history of searching for audiophile quality, has created what it boasts as "the new standard for audiophile headphones." But will it matter in the long run, when the next generation of listeners enjoys the "sizzle sound" associated with lower bitrate MP3s? (via)

CNET's Crave has a look at part of the process of assembling the $1,400 (£1,000) headphones by hand. (via)

And while debating perceived qualities, do coat hangers sound as good as monster cables?
posted by filthy light thief (118 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm so tired of hearing about how "inferior" compressed music is and how it's "like listening to JPEG artifacts!". An MP3 or AAC file encoded at a sufficiently high bitrate with a sufficiently good encoder (such as LAME) is indistinguishable from a CD to human ears. Unless you're talking about 128kbps joint-stereo MP3s encoded in 1998, it's all a bunch of audiophile-snob coat-the-CDs-with-green-marker snake oil bullshit. If you need an auto-balancing turntable made out of yttrium and can only use cables made from copper obtained from a single village in Sri Lanka in order to enjoy music, fine, but keep that disease to yourself.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:49 PM on March 16, 2009 [16 favorites]


LOLDIOPHILES
posted by boo_radley at 12:53 PM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


indistinguishable from a CD to human ears

...to say nothing of human ears properly "seasoned" by decades of Walkmen and live shows.
posted by everichon at 12:54 PM on March 16, 2009


It's ytterbium for the turntable, and yttrium for the cables, you cloth-eared prole.
posted by lalochezia at 12:54 PM on March 16, 2009 [11 favorites]


DecemberBoy: "I'm so tired of hearing about how "inferior" compressed music is and how it's "like listening to JPEG artifacts!". An MP3 or AAC file encoded at a sufficiently high bitrate with a sufficiently good encoder (such as LAME) is indistinguishable from a CD to human ears. Unless you're talking about 128kbps joint-stereo MP3s encoded in 1998, it's all a bunch of audiophile-snob coat-the-CDs-with-green-marker snake oil bullshit. If you need an auto-balancing turntable made out of yttrium and can only use cables made from copper obtained from a single village in Sri Lanka in order to enjoy music, fine, but keep that disease to yourself."

See, I bought myself a semi-expensive ($150) pair of Sennheisers seven years ago, and they genuinely do sound better than any other audio outputs I own. Also, their components are replaceable, so when my earpads started falling apart I was able to order new ones from Sennheiser.

Now, are these magic headphones worth a thousand dollars more than my current headphones? No, probably not, but I bet they're pretty damn good.

There's a world of difference between the marker and magic metal cable crowd and what Sennheiser is putting out.
posted by bshort at 12:55 PM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


DecemberBoy: " An MP3 or AAC file encoded at a sufficiently high bitrate with a sufficiently good encoder (such as LAME) is indistinguishable from a CD to human ears"

The catch is "sufficiently high". You're not getting that from iTunes.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:56 PM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have most of my music library encoded at 320 kbps MP3s, and recently switched to encoding in FLAC. While I wouldn't say the difference is like night and day, it is noticeable, mostly in the cymbals and high hats.
posted by Dr-Baa at 12:57 PM on March 16, 2009


I have never even gotten "kind of high" from iTunes. It's not even listed in Erowid.
posted by everichon at 12:59 PM on March 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


I don't think these low-bitrate MP3s are going to be around for much longer, as device storage grows and default bitrates get higher.

Maybe I'm not a member of this new generation, but I can't stand the mushy sizzle from low-bitrate audio. Yet again, when I check out my peers' music collections on the local iTunes shared network, it's generally just under 2 gigs of the same badly tagged low-bitrate Avril Lavigne, Rihanna and other top-40 MP3s. It's all engineered to be as loud as possible and to sound good over bad speakers anyway, so maybe the bitrate doesn't matter.

I can't say I've invested in anything remotely approaching audiophile stuff (I've got an old amp and some half-blown speakers from the '70s) but I only download over 320kbps at this point, I just invested in a terabyte hard drive for my collection, and I make sure all my music is properly organized and tagged.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:59 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much of that "sizzle" isn't MP3, it's the hypercompressed mastering that's done to most CD releases. The effect is to make everything just loud.
posted by eriko at 12:59 PM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


God, who can afford those in this current economy! I'm sticking with my old (HD600) cans.
posted by cazoo at 1:00 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dr-Baa: "I have most of my music library encoded at 320 kbps MP3s, and recently switched to encoding in FLAC. While I wouldn't say the difference is like night and day, it is noticeable, mostly in the cymbals and high hats."

FLAC has always sounded better than 320 to me as well - though without proper A-B testing, I've been willing to attribute that to confirmation bias. In any case, unless I think the music Important in some way, I'll happily settle for the latter - as it means far fewer trips to Rapidshare.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:03 PM on March 16, 2009


I get most of my music off Soulseek, which is to Limewire as AskMe is to Yahoo Answers. In general, Soulseekers are very serious about music- you can get some ridiculously obscure stuff on there.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:08 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


An MP3 or AAC file encoded at a sufficiently high bitrate with a sufficiently good encoder (such as LAME) is indistinguishable from a CD to human ears.

This is bullshit. If I know the source file I can actually hear the difference between an analog source, a raw digital encoding of that source, a compressed digital encoding and I can even usually guess the bitrate and whether or not it's a VBR or CBR, whether low-pass is in use and so on.

Granted, I've worked/played with audio off and on for 15+ years, I know my way around the LAME encoder, and it probably helps a lot that I am still able to hear extremely high frequencies bordering on ultrasonics. Yes, I've had an hearing test recently. I hear up to as much as 22-24 kHz. Yes, I can hear the whining sound of CRTs and mosquito and pest repelling ultrasonic devices. No, I don't use any exotic audiophile equipment. I mainly use an inexpensive but well known model of large-diaphragm Phillips consumer-grade headphones.

Oh, right. I'm not exactly human. Carry on you foolish mortals.
posted by loquacious at 1:09 PM on March 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


There's a world of difference between the marker and magic metal cable crowd and what Sennheiser is putting out.

I was reacting more to the music professor complaining about the "sizzle sound". Of course quality headphones are going to sound better than $15 earbuds, and of course quality speakers and a quality amp are going to sound better than computer speakers from CostCo. However, there's a point where it gets ridiculous, and complaining that you couldn't possibly taint your golden ears with the awful sound of compression is past that point. It's not too far away from raving about the difference after replacing all the capacitors in your amplifier (with ones that cost $20 a piece) and that only an idiot couldn't tell the huge difference.
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:12 PM on March 16, 2009


I have Ultrasone 2500s, they're listed at 399 but could be found for around $230; these were my first expensive phones so I was not sure if I was wasting my money or not. I have to say.. the difference is just insane.. even if you compare to $180 sennheisers, it's not a subtle difference you have to have golden years for, or spend much time doing A-B testing, it's really almost like listening a grammophone and then turning on a set of decent speakers. The sound is expanded, each instrument is in its own space, while with the Sennhs they're cramped closer together and step on each others toes. But the difference is even bigger when you listen to each sound by itself.. it has more weight and lusciousness, pleasing complexity within a single "simple" sound of a guitar string or a cymbal struck. And that's compared to a half-decent Sennh; with $50 phones there's no sound separation at all. That's not to knock Sennheisers, though, because Ultrasone 2500s are positioned against Sennheiser HD600 and HD650, while Ultrasone has a more expensive model that sells for around $1300 in the US that's now positioned against the new HD800. By the way there's no consensus (in headphone circles) whether Sennheisers are the best, they have a lot of fans and so do a few other top-grade phone makers.

I really can't say if this model or other phones at this price point can be worth the money. Based on the difference between "normal" headphones, $180 Sennheiser and $230 Ultrasones, I can easily imagine that these sound much better than $500 or $800 phones (actually headphones range up to around $14000 for some out of production limited runs). I sure won't be buying these anytime soon but I don't have any problem looking at this in the same was as you might look at spending $2k on a good TV - the same exact reasoning applies, the picture is sharper, bigger, with higher resolution and more vibrant colours; with a good headphone or a speaker system, the soundstage is wider and higher, instrument separation is better and resolution is higher (not the hz-khz resolution but apparent resolution resulting from flatter response).

Anyway, sometimes great sound can be very cheap, the sony playstation 1 model scph-1001 is notoriously good as a cd player, many audiophiles compare favourably to 2k-3k cd players; I had an $250 nad cd player and the playstation just plain killed it. I can't listen to it anymore. I have to pick up another playstation for the second room..
posted by rainy at 1:16 PM on March 16, 2009


Im interested that that Jonathan Berger finds his students capable of reliably picking the difference between Mp3 and CD. I wonder if he chose particularly crappy examples or if he doesn't conduct the test blind? Where I've read about properly conducted ABX tests of variable bitrate 128kb mp3s vs CD, the normal pattern seems to be that people are extremely confident that they can tell the "night and day" difference between the two formats, but that under testing they find themselves strangely incapable of doing so. Here's one example.

I wonder: have the people in this thread condemning iTunes done a proper blind ABX test of the iTunes tracks vs. the CD tracks?
posted by yoink at 1:16 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the worst pair of headphones I've owned was a nasty Made-in-China pair, model number 53NNH3U53R.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:18 PM on March 16, 2009


I wonder how much of that "sizzle" isn't MP3, it's the hypercompressed mastering that's done to most CD releases. The effect is to make everything just loud.

That could very well be. The professor was talking about his students' music, which more likely than not is assembly-line loudness-wars Top 40 crap, poorly encoded at low bitrates off a skipping CD (and randomly named and tagged).
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:19 PM on March 16, 2009


I have never even gotten "kind of high" from iTunes. It's not even listed in Erowid.

Install Electric Sheep. Allow it to update and download the current set of scripts.

Next build a playlist including tracks from Massive Attack, Primal Scream, Spiritualized and more random trippy-dubby noises. Or whatever spacy brainfuck music you prefer.

Turn down the lights. Lock the door. Get comfy. Put on a decent pair of headphones. Hit play and stare at the screen for about 4 hours. Repeat as needed.
posted by loquacious at 1:21 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder: have the people in this thread condemning iTunes done a proper blind ABX test of the iTunes tracks vs. the CD tracks?

I have. I don't allow iTunes near any of my computers any more, but the first thing I usually did was crank up the settings for ripping from CDs. Usually 320k VBR Mp3s, because I have no use for AAC files.

However, using EAC (exact audio copy) plus LAME is really the way to go.
posted by loquacious at 1:25 PM on March 16, 2009


I posted this because I lust after headphones, and I also believe there's a good bit of confirmation bias in listening. That said, I read through reviews from people who have owned dozens of headphones when I was looking for something to replace the iPod earbuds that gouged into my head (I have a large head but small ear openings, whoda thunk?) and I ended up getting Koss KSC75 open-backed headphones. They're inexpensive, but I'm still surprised about the sound quality I get from them at times. They can be overwhelmed by the world at large, but they work for me.

My major gripe with The Sizzling Sound of Music link is that there is no discussion of bitrate, or encoder. The days of XING encoder are past, which is nice. If you're a windows user and you get MP3s but are concerned about encoders, I can suggest Audio Identifier - freeware app that displays bitrate, encoder and some ID3 information for all files in a given folder.

For those who are interested in their own perception of things, you can try blind ABX tests with friends (simpler than trying to rig up a randomizer and recording system). Knowing the music means a LOT, from what I've tried. I listened to a series of nice headphones at an audiophile shop locally, but had no idea what I was supposed to hear or not hear, because I didn't bring my own music.

eriko - I agree, the Loudness War is terrible. I listened to one of the recent Depeche Mode albums as ripped from vinyl and encoded to FLAC, and there was so much more depth to the sound, even on my crappy computer speakers. It was depressing.

rainy, I've heard about original Playstations as high-end CD players, too. Weird and kind of fantastic.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:30 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is bullshit. If I know the source file I can actually hear the difference between an analog source, a raw digital encoding of that source, a compressed digital encoding and I can even usually guess the bitrate and whether or not it's a VBR or CBR, whether low-pass is in use and so on.

If you've trained yourself to hear the almost imperceptible differences, yeah, I'm sure you can. I can still hear high frequencies as well, and I don't hear a difference. I think the "difference" most people hear is selection bias from "knowing" uncompressed or lossless-compressed audio is "better", reinforced by "expert" opinions such as The Sizzler's here. As noted above, in actual A-B tests, people can't tell which is which. And it's not because of crappy equipment either - I have an Alesis pro amp and Tannoy monitors on my computer, and Ultimate Ears in-ear buds on my iPod.
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:31 PM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


There'll always be a pretty substantial market for audiophile thingys among the electronic dance music folks. Certainly, not every fan and clubgoer is going to spring for super-fancy headphones, but for DJs these small differences of recording quality make a huge difference when being pushed out of massive, high-powered sound-systems. For example, Beatport gives you the option of downloading in uncompressed WAV format, as well as high-resolution MP3 and M4A (and OGG, I think).

Mind you, that doesn't mean that there aren't some DJs out there mixing sets with crappy, compressed MP3s.
posted by LMGM at 1:31 PM on March 16, 2009


Install Electric Sheep....

What I like to do is hijack power from a lightpole in a disused parking structure, firing up some 3-way 15" what-have-yous with a head. Then I sit between them listening to 320kbs-encoded Burial while taking bag hits of whatever Krylon I have on hand, until I black out or am picked up by the rentacops.

For this, Foobar2000 does the job with less overhead.
posted by everichon at 1:43 PM on March 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


I ended up getting Koss KSC75 open-backed headphones.

For bang for the buck, it's really hard to be another family owned headphone company that does things in a different way -- Grado Labs.

I have a pair of SR-125 headphones. These aren't horribly expensive -- you can find them for around $150.00 US.

These are the cans I'll plug into an iPod to show that, while yes, audiophiles can be stupid, there's a huge difference between a $10 set of earbuds and a $150 set of headphones, and you should really consider spending a little more money for a *lot* more musicality. This applies to earbuds as well, but you get funny looks when you pull the Shure SE530 or the Etymotic ER•4 earbuds out of your ears and say "You have to try these!"

But, seriously, folks. Take your favorite portable source. Find a local shop that has a decent array of headphones. Try out a set of Senn HD 465 and Grado SR-225 headphones. Any decent shop will be happy to let you do so.

You will find they sound very different, and feel very different on your head. You will also find that you can hear vastly more detail in the music you are listening to. In some cases, this will be a problem -- there are MP3s and the like that I *cannot* listen to with the Grado's -- they sound like crap.

You don't need to drop $1500 dollars on this. $300 is more than enough, and if you enjoy music, I think you'll find it to be the best $300 you ever spent. High quality audio with speakers is much harder -- and much more expensive.
posted by eriko at 1:45 PM on March 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


None of this will matter once they have implanted the chips under our skin; everything will sound real. Just sayin'.
posted by not_on_display at 1:46 PM on March 16, 2009


I have a set of $50 AKG headphones, the most I am willing to pay. Before I had them, I had no idea what I was missing with my cheap ass headphones. Someone in the office has a set of AKG K-701, at about $300, they make my headphones sound like a tin can on a string. The alpha-engineer here uses a pair of Sennheiser HD650, which sell for about $600. In my non audiophile opinion, the extra $300 don't make much of a difference.

The point I am trying to get at is that even to an amateur, with a shitty music library acquired from all kinds of sources, in all kinds of random encodings, good headphones do make a difference. I encourage the doubters to find an audiophile somewhere and ask to test drive their headphones. Most are willing to let you, more will try to convert you, ignore their rants like you ignore Jehovah's Witnesses.

I am looking forward to someone in the office getting this new model, so I can get a taste myself.
posted by dirty lies at 1:47 PM on March 16, 2009


For me it is partly a matter of how much do I want to know. An asshole I worked with gave me a present of a cd of beatles music he had downloaded over his phone line (and he wasn't an asshole for giving me music, it was a more ongoing conditon of his). It was an education. I had no expectations of poor quality but found myself itching to hear parts of the music that were missing. I have no idea what bitrate he downloaded this in .
When it came time to rip music for my iPod I started low and edged up till it sounded ok. That was 192. I have tried not to educate my ear past this but I do get that itchy feeling every now and then. Someday I will be re-ripping cds I am sure.
posted by pointilist at 1:49 PM on March 16, 2009


I'm so tired of hearing about how "inferior" compressed music is

The funny thing about this POV is that it so often comes from aging hippies and bitter, technophobic old musicians- people who grew up listening to their favorite music on 3-inch transistor radios, car stereos with two speakers, and horrible little portable record players.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:09 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't know anybody who's made a record that sounds decent in the past 20 years, really. You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, they have sound all over them. There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like … static… Even these songs probably sounded ten times better in the studio when we recorded 'em. CDs are small. There's no stature to it. - Bob Dylan
posted by Joe Beese at 2:12 PM on March 16, 2009


I've still met people who believe 128 kbps is indistinguishable from higher bitrates. So I created this test between 128 and 320. Even on poor speakers/headphones, and with limited audio background, the difference is night and day.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 2:14 PM on March 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


what's the >$100 equivalent I should buy?
posted by krautland at 2:19 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


krautland - there is no equivalent (at least, not yet). The HD 800 design is unique, and each headphone is individually tested.

As noted above, everyone has their favorite. You could browse audiophile forums, or find forums for the kind(s) of music you like and see what folks there like. Sometimes an emphasis on bass is a bonus, sometimes it's terrible.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:38 PM on March 16, 2009


Knowing that gear was made in factories where the average employee has been there for 15+ years always sounds better. B&W, Triangle, JM Labs/Focal, BC Acoustique, Martin-Logan, Rega, Opera, Grado, Vornado, Chario, Magnepan, Green Mountain Audio, Boulder, Sonus Faber, Bellari, Sota, VanDenHul, on and on.

Good gear has class. Some things can never be explained to non-believers. They never seem to listen well enough.
posted by buzzman at 2:40 PM on March 16, 2009


@dirty lies: actually, HD650s are about $330 or so, for example at J&R.

@krautland: how far over $100 do you want to go? I can tell you that Sennh HD595 (~$180) are much better than Grado SR-60 for most music (the big issue with lower-end grados is that they are f. uncomfortable, they make your ears hurt like hell in 30 minutes, their sound quality is very nice, especially for rock). As I mentioned above, Ultrasone 2500 (~$230) are far, far better than HD595, but on some music, for example, on some older classical recordings, they don't work well, they clip until you have to lower the volume well down. For 90% of music they're great. They're especially good for music like Diana Krall, Massive Attack, Buddha Bar, Jai Uttal i.e. recently, ultra high quality recorded new agey or similar music, but they're very versatile for most styles, classical to rock to electronica. Keep in mind that source is very imortant, too. Sony playstation scph-1001 is $25 but even if it were $1200 it would still be an amazing bargain, it would probably still be a very good deal at $2500 (100 x current price!). Try to find a store that will let you audition phones from Sennheiser, Grado, AT, AKG, Ultrasone.

Another general note on why high quality headphones are a good deal: to get a similar sound quality with a speaker system, you need to spend 5-10 times more on equipment AND you need a separate room that needs to be acoustically treated (additional $).
posted by rainy at 2:53 PM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


@krautland: yes, I'd like to second head-fi, I was going to mention them but forgot.

@buzzman: generally speaking this is true but there are some good newcomers, like the Ultrasone.. they started out, I believe, about 7 or 8 years ago.
posted by rainy at 2:55 PM on March 16, 2009


I was just browsing eBay to see what the going rate for original Playstations were, and found SONY PLAYSTATION HIGH END AUDIOPHILE SCPH-1001 COMPLETE. Amusing to find someone pitching the item as an audiophile system component. (And in case the sound system aspect bores you, it comes with Xtreme NFL).
posted by filthy light thief at 3:13 PM on March 16, 2009


"I'm so tired of hearing about how 'inferior' compressed music is and how it's 'like listening to JPEG artifacts!'. An MP3 or AAC file encoded at a sufficiently high bitrate with a sufficiently good encoder (such as LAME) is indistinguishable from a CD to human ears"

Yeah, and we've heard it a thousand times. Tust because you declare something to be so is not the final word on the subject. Your rants are not as convincing as my own ears.

There is foolishness in the realm of audiophile sound reproduction, but it's not phrenology or phony science. And even if it's foolishness, what difference does it make to you what sort of headphones people buy for themselves?
posted by krinklyfig at 3:19 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh no, not this again.
posted by archagon at 3:33 PM on March 16, 2009


what's the >$100 equivalent I should buy?

Well, you can get the open Sennheiser PX100s for less than $40, which is a ridiculously good deal for the sound you get from them. Comfy to wear and bsolutely fine for MP3 players.
posted by carter at 3:34 PM on March 16, 2009


krautland asks.

i answer

it's about Grado Labs SR60 or upwards, the review is from 19964, but it is still very accurate.
posted by Substrata at 3:38 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


1994, that is.
posted by Substrata at 3:39 PM on March 16, 2009


There has been no MP3 "sizzle" since maybe a decade ago. It's just not one of the MP3 compression artifacts anymore.

It's been shown through repeated ABX testing (see linked thread) that most compressed music - down to 128kbps for MP3, even! - is indistinguishable from lossless for most people. I'm surprised so many MeFites are unwilling to trust Science! in this case.

With that said, Sennheisers are widely considered excellent headphones in both audiophile and skeptical (empirical?) circles.
posted by archagon at 3:43 PM on March 16, 2009


The Grado SR60s are commonly recommended for this price range, but I somewhat regret not getting the Sennheiser HD-280 Pros instead.
posted by archagon at 3:45 PM on March 16, 2009


Yes the Grados are very good too (I also have a pair). They're quite a bit bulkier than the PX100s though.
posted by carter at 3:46 PM on March 16, 2009


Christ, what an asshole, thanks for that site. What does it mean that I can barely if maybe at all tell the difference? I tried on both a pair of Grado SR60s and my Sure in-ears (which don't have a number on them but they were the second tier [from the bottom!] when I bought 'em a year ago)? Are my ears busted?

I know the sound of bad compression pretty well and I wasn't hearing it on either clip. What should I be listening for?
posted by wemayfreeze at 3:47 PM on March 16, 2009


There is foolishness in the realm of audiophile sound reproduction, but it's not phrenology or phony science.

Well...it's foolishness and phony science once you reach the "high end" power cables and "directional" speaker wire and "magic pebbles" and so forth.
posted by yoink at 3:48 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Christ, what an asshole: "I've still met people who believe 128 kbps is indistinguishable from higher bitrates. So I created this test between 128 and 320. Even on poor speakers/headphones, and with limited audio background, the difference is night and day."

I notice you used MP3 CBR, which nobody recommends anymore. I could be wrong, but I believe most listening tests are conducted using VBR. What encoder did you use?

I guess I should amend my previous statement: not down to 128kbps, but down to 128kbps VBR, although both might be true.
posted by archagon at 3:51 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've gone through a set of HD202s and a set of PX100s. They're still too fragile on the low end and I'm not really in the league of paying >$100 for headphones.

I've since moved onto a set of Sony MDR-EX51 earbuds for my daily commute. Hardy, good sound, passive noise reduction without being in-ear. Probably the best $50 I ever spent.
posted by Talez at 4:09 PM on March 16, 2009


Talez - I think all earbuds are considered in-ear phones. Some are designed to go deeper (and as long as you have good-fitting earphones, they should be safe for long-term use).
posted by filthy light thief at 4:28 PM on March 16, 2009


The catch is "sufficiently high".

Exactly! That's the only time I can really tell the difference.
posted by snofoam at 4:39 PM on March 16, 2009


Somewhat on topic: The plastic parts of many headphones are the first thing that breaks. I scavenge those headphones and fix them with crazy glue and sodium bicarbonate. If the plastic parts of you high end headphones break, send them my way.
posted by dirty lies at 5:41 PM on March 16, 2009


And we can't hear anymore, anyway. Still, I love my Sennheiser HD 580s better than speakers. And the replaceable cable is hep.
posted by carping demon at 5:49 PM on March 16, 2009


High-end analog > anything digital. Digital is shrill and there is no mid-range bass. Everything gets pushed into the very low-end and gets mushed. Most people cannot hear the difference between mid- and low-range bass.

The majority of the "science uber alles" crowd make fun of audiophiles for using vinyl and tube amps. They simply cannot hear the difference so they don't know any better. Just like wine experts can taste all kinds of flavors in one sip while most of us think it all tastes the same.

Sound is not digital. Sticking to (high-end) analog as much as possible is the way to go for the most accurate reproduction of music.

There's nothing "technophobic" about not liking digital. If you have an ear you know that high-end analog equipment gives you a clearer, truer, warmer sound because high-end analog equipment reproduces sound waves more accurately than digital.
posted by Zambrano at 6:00 PM on March 16, 2009


An MP3 or AAC file encoded at a sufficiently high bitrate with a sufficiently good encoder (such as LAME) is indistinguishable from a CD to human ears.

DecemberBoy, next time you're in NYC, I'm inviting you over for a little demo. Given the right sound system, and material that actually has all the good stuff to begin with, the distinction is quite palpable.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:21 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


most compressed music - down to 128kbps for MP3, even! - is indistinguishable from lossless for most people.

You too, archagon and the rest of you. Indistinguishable with what playback? Your computer sound card, and those nifty plastic computer speakers?

The place where the mp3s fall down most obviously is with the room filling airy-ness that some music has. That's phase dependent, and mp3s discard phase information. And it's not a property that requires effete musical training, it's something quite enjoyable, and you'll know it when you hear it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:29 PM on March 16, 2009


"Well...it's foolishness and phony science once you reach the 'high end' power cables and 'directional' speaker wire and 'magic pebbles' and so forth."

Yes, of course, but I'm talking about the difference between uncompressed and compressed sound, tube vs. transistor, ribbon vs. voice coil, etc. I mean, some of the differences aren't worth worrying about for most people, but I find it interesting. Amplification is an area too often misunderstood. But buying into complete magic is a bit silly, and some companies have managed to take a lot of money from gullible people who don't really understand what's going on but who have a lot of disposable income and who want "the best sound." But on the other end, an iPod-like device is cheap and easy to load with tons of mp3s, which may or may not have been purchased, but the sound quality is lacking. It's convenience over quality, which is fine but not for everyone. I spent my own money on a recording system first rather than a big expensive stereo system, and there's no magic or BS stupid tricks, but just quality components which will last for many years.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:43 PM on March 16, 2009


crazy glue and sodium bicarbonate

Eh? Why the baking powder?

I need to order me some Grados. Bought my wife a pair, been wanting to steal them from her ever since.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:48 PM on March 16, 2009


You too, archagon and the rest of you. Indistinguishable with what playback? Your computer sound card, and those nifty plastic computer speakers?

As stated before, my setup is a PowerMac G5 with a RME Hammerfall audio interface, an Alesis amp and Tannoy monitors. Not the most awesome setup in the world, but a far cry from some crappy SoundBlaster and $10 computer speakers. Then again, a CD or a FLAC file isn't going to sound too great on those either, are they?

My music collection consists mostly of 256kbps and above MP3s and AACs, encoded with quality encoders. I'm not disputing that one can hear a perceptible difference with low-bitrate joint stereo MP3s encoded with a 90s-era encoder. What I'm disputing is that all compressed audio sounds inferior, that anyone can tell it's inferior, and that people who claim otherwise simply don't know any better. Numerous blind tests have confirmed this is false, in addition to my own perception. Yet the "encoded audio is like listening to JPEG artifacts" meme persists.
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:49 PM on March 16, 2009


s/encoded audio/compressed audio/g
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:49 PM on March 16, 2009


Also, if you're listening to an iPod, you're listening to shit. Apple's D/A conversion is notoriously crappy, and especially so on the iPod Touch.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:50 PM on March 16, 2009


mp3 destroys phase information? I thought that was only if you used joint stereo.
posted by reishus at 6:55 PM on March 16, 2009


Also, there's a pretty great example of audiophile craziness in the "Playstation 1 as CD player" link above: follow the first link to the howto guide, and you'll find that the guy that wrote it heard some "muddiness" in the audio on his PlayStation. To counteract this, he built a special wooden table, and placed the PlayStation on top of a wooden block, on top of a partially inflated tire from a child's bicycle, on top of the table. He claimed to hear a significant improvement from this. That is madness. Plus, there's plenty of more standard audiophile goofiness, such as replacing all the capacitors in the PlayStation's audio output stage with huge polyester capacitors that he probably paid upwards of $10 apiece for.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:00 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


At the hundred-bucks-or-so price point, for closed-ear headphones, I really like the Sennhiser HD-280s and Sony's MDR-V6/V7506 twins. The Sonys are (a little) comfier, the Senns isolate (a little) better, but both sound pretty good from portable devices, even without a headphone amp. The low-end Shure and Etymotic and Ultimate Ears IEMs are around this price range as well, but I don't like cramming things in my ears.
posted by box at 7:00 PM on March 16, 2009


Also, if you're listening to an iPod, you're listening to shit. Apple's D/A conversion is notoriously crappy, and especially so on the iPod Touch.

It's not great, but it's not awful either. It's no worse than the converters in most consumer CD players.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:02 PM on March 16, 2009


From the Wired blog entry: "Like most audiophile headphones, these ones are open, meaning that sound escapes from each side." (emphasis mine).

Does anyone know of some kind of processor I can run this crap through to get high-fidelity english?
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:16 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


The audiophile vs skeptic arguments are some of the most hilarious/time-wasting reading experiences on the internets... until they devolve into the same basic points:

No one has been able to prove that they can hear a difference between raw audio and reasonable bitrates of mp3...ever

and

I can tell the difference and to hell with science.

It's just like people who claim magical powers or think they've seen ghosts. Funny.
posted by Huck500 at 7:16 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


"That is madness."

Well, it's pretty OCD. Not sure if that qualifies as madness.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:19 PM on March 16, 2009


A good set of speakers and proper amplification to reproduce accurate sound in your living room can cost serious money, but a decent pair of headphones and headphone amplifier can be had for a about a fifth to a tenth the price of equivalent speakers and amps. With good headphones and a good headphone amp you will hear things on your recordings you never could hear before. As for the whole compressed music thing, modern encoding is getting much better, but it still removes information. With sufficiently good equipment that becomes noticeable. Too many people think that doesn't matter as encoding is getting better just as most people have given up on good equipment (although they do have really nice televisions). Sure, there are plenty of audiophile crazies chasing insignificant gains for quite significant sums, and worse, bamboozled by PT Barnumesque gimmicks, but with some care better sounding music is available to most of us.
posted by caddis at 7:29 PM on March 16, 2009


Well, it's pretty OCD. Not sure if that qualifies as madness.

I forgot to mention, he said that better results might be obtained by filling the bicycle tire with water instead of air. Madness.

Sure, there are plenty of audiophile crazies chasing insignificant gains for quite significant sums, and worse, bamboozled by PT Barnumesque gimmicks, but with some care better sounding music is available to most of us.

I don't disagree with that. Random badly encoded MP3s through crappy desktop computer speakers is no way to listen to music. Lossy encoding does remove information. However, there is a line there, and "all compressed audio sounds completely awful no matter what" is on the same side of that line as the guy balancing his PlayStation on a bicycle tire.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:42 PM on March 16, 2009


I've purchased a few high(ish)-end earbuds over the years (in the $100-$300 range), and the thing is...they all sounded good-to-great, but all of them wore out in a year, tops, just like the cheap ones do. The sound started crackling and cutting in and out, I suppose because the internal wiring got bent and damaged. Which drives me fucking nuts because it always happens, going back to my very first mid-'80s Walkman. I spend a lot of time listening to my iPod, and as a result I've mulled over splurging on a top-tier pair of earbuds, but I'm afraid I'll get burned with those ones, too. Can anyone recommend a brand which can last through more than a couple of years of heavy use?

As for all this audiophile stuff...I like vinyl, and feel like it sounds better, but I don't get too hung up on it. If you focus too much on the quality of the sound you risk missing the forest for the trees. When I was in university I had a VHS copy of The Kids Are Alright, which I watched over and over again on a cheap VCR and a cheap TV with tinny built-in speakers. Years later I obtained a DVD copy of the film and fired it up, excited at the prospect of finally - finally! - hearing the soundtrack blasting through an actual quality stereo system. And...I was disappointed. By any logical measure the sound was much better, of course, but it just didn't sound right to my ears. Sometimes I wish I still had the VHS copy and my old TV...
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:05 PM on March 16, 2009


Stereophile magazine's subscriber base is 1% female. To put that ridiculous number in perspective, Playboy has a 6% female subscriber base.

most compressed music - down to 128kbps for MP3, even! - is indistinguishable from lossless for most people

Why even make a point that is ineffective on the face of it? I have no idea what the bitrate cutoff is for not hearing audio artifacts in all cases. However, if I'm going to want to waste time and money buying or ripping digital audio, I'm going to want some kind of a margin so that I can cover my bets without ABX testing each and every file, especially as I'm not a LAME encoder expert. Also, I can't do ABX testing on equipment that I do not yet own, but may purchase in the future. Given the miniscule price of storage for the amount of music I want in my permanent library, it's not worth my time to rip or get music at a low bitrate unless it's the only stuff available.

When web video encoding was a fairly new thing I watched a video on my company website with audio that sounded like the speaker was recorded through a metal pipe with an electrical fan blowing in their face. The audio artifacts were so bad that I found it uncomfortable to listen to. Four other guys in the room couldn't hear anything wrong.

I know there's a war between snake oil and science, subjectivity and objectivity, but I'd like to hedge my bets where it is economical to do so. Right now that's recording at a reasonably high bit rate. If the value of my time went up substantially, it might be buying ludicrously expensive equipment rather than taking the time to dig through the analysis of why that equipment is snake oil.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:07 PM on March 16, 2009


That said...I agree with Bob Dylan.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:10 PM on March 16, 2009


Can anyone recommend a brand which can last through more than a couple of years of heavy use?

I have a pair of Ultimate Ears Super.FI 3 in-ear buds. They sound great, but what's really cool about them is that the cable can detach completely from the buds themselves and can be replaced with a new one for $20. It's usually a broken wire in the cable that causes earbuds/phones to cut out and eventually fail, which happened to 2 pairs of Shure SE210s that I had before. I haven't had them for years, but I suspect they'll last a lot longer than most others, due to the replaceable cable. All the UE in-ear buds have a replaceable cable.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:11 PM on March 16, 2009


As I mentioned in the previous thread, most of my music is lossless. My point is that there is certainly no "sizzle" sound with modern MP3s.

Zambrano: "Sound is not digital. Sticking to (high-end) analog as much as possible is the way to go for the most accurate reproduction of music."

Unless you have access to the master tapes, this is almost always going to be false. There was a thread on Hydrogenaudio a while ago that pretty definitively disproved the notion that vinyl is more accurate than digital. I think the main point was that manufacturing and playback equipment are simply not accurate enough to reproduce sound on vinyl with the same level of detail as, say, Red Book audio, and all that delightful "warmth" is nothing more than the resulting distortion. In other words, you're not actually hearing the music as it was meant to be played, even though it may sound "better" to your ears.
posted by archagon at 8:23 PM on March 16, 2009


Also, I just found this on the Hydrogenaudio Wiki. Way better arguments than I could possibly provide.
posted by archagon at 8:33 PM on March 16, 2009


Oh, one more thing: many modern vinyl records have better mastering than their digital counterparts.
posted by archagon at 8:35 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Stereophile magazine's subscriber base is 1% female.

Females don't build many muscle cars, but a substantial number like to peel around in them. It's true that more would probably be impressed with the house I could have bought instead, but I do have the dream of commercializing my system someday. It's approaching stadium dimensions.

You can get good sound relatively cheap, if you are will to make a few sacrifices, like on fit and finish, which can count for five or six figures in a standard high end system. Mine looks like crap, weighs over 1,000 pounds, and has all the charm of a 1950's science experiment. But it does come in handy for convincing people that they can hear more than they thought they could.

I'm not a snob, I just like beautiful sensations. I've also got these little Harmon/Kardon plastic speakers I found in the trash, the ones with the bulbous body, and I'm not ashamed to say these things are impressive for what they are.

High end audio is one of your better bargains for hedonists, unlike most vices the pleasure doesn't wear off, it keeps getting better, as your brain grows new circuits in response.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:35 PM on March 16, 2009


Uh, sorry for the quadruple post, but this is the thread I was talking about. The original poster's hypothesis ends up disproved (I think), but there's still a lot if interesting stuff in there.
posted by archagon at 8:37 PM on March 16, 2009


I like as much sound quality as the next person, but sometimes I just get a hankerin for a cassette of a live Grateful Dead set, on a car stereo, bumping down the road.
posted by captainsohler at 8:48 PM on March 16, 2009


From the Wired blog entry: "Like most audiophile headphones, these ones are open, meaning that sound escapes from each side." (emphasis mine).

Does anyone know of some kind of processor I can run this crap through to get high-fidelity english?


O.K., I'll bite--what's the problem with this sentence? "These headphones" is quite correct, so "these ones" seems to be right. What am I missing?
posted by yoink at 8:52 PM on March 16, 2009


The big problem with recorded audio today is that we've set the par pretty low: "CD quality."

44.1kHz / 16-bit PCM really isn't all that great. It wasn't that great when it was brought out in the 80s (some early recordings were pretty dismal, mostly due to the poor low-pass filters), and it's certainly not cutting-edge now. It was a compromise from the beginning, but it's become so entrenched that it's all that anyone seems to shoot for.

MP3 and all the more recent codecs can deliver quality that's much better than a CD, if you want it to. It's unfortunate to see new technologies get tarred with the low-fi brush, because competently used they could deliver pretty spectacular sound without requiring any new types of storage media.

Sure, most people listening on $5 earbuds or in a moving vehicle will never care about any quality beyond what's offered by 44.1kHz/16b PCM. But that's like saying that since most people are satisfied with the quality they get from a CVS disposable camera — it's true, but it doesn't mean there isn't a market segment interested in something better.

The goal recording engineers and developers of new formats should be shooting for is not "CD quality." The ultimate goal ought to be a sound reproduction system that, if placed behind an opaque screen, is indistinguishable from having live musicians playing on real instruments in the same space. A CD isn't even close — no recording that I've ever heard is, to be honest, although some come closer than others — but that doesn't mean we should just stop trying.

This, however, does not mean I'm in favor of $2000 speaker cables or other "audiophile" garbage. That stuff is ridiculous and worth every ounce of scorn that's heaped upon it, mostly because it distracts from the real progress that's slowly being made in the art of recorded sound.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:57 PM on March 16, 2009


Are you sure that has to do with the limitations of CD quality? For instance, check out these "holophonic" MP3 recordings.
posted by archagon at 9:02 PM on March 16, 2009


...if placed behind an opaque screen, is indistinguishable from having live musicians playing on real instruments in the same space.

Or indistinguishable from a having a Harley Davidson revving behind the screen.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:04 PM on March 16, 2009


Er, what's wrong with 44.1 kHz, 16 bit PCM? And what's that about mp3s and phase?

If you want progress, you want better transducers. We're getting there.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:20 PM on March 16, 2009


Fuck all y'all 'audiophile' poseurs! I only listen to live music, and only acoustic live music (Many mixing boards are digital, and I will not allow unpure sound to touch my golden ears). If you are listening to recorded music you are just wasting your time and you make me sick. People who enjoy music on their own terms should be forcibly deafened.
posted by fuq at 9:54 PM on March 16, 2009


yoink, try dropping the word "ones" from the sentence and see which version seems best to you. Also, you can google "these ones" for more information.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:58 PM on March 16, 2009


DecemberBoy: if I understand right, that's done to reduce vibration. It's pretty common to use very heavy stands for amps, cd players, speakers, with sharp pointy steel feet - all for the same reason. The playstation has a very good DAC and an inexplicably decent transport, but the enclosure is of course light plastic. Naturally, you want to avoid any and all vibration in the laser pickup!
posted by rainy at 12:28 AM on March 17, 2009


I'm so tired of hearing about how "inferior" compressed music is

I use a Roku Soundbridge, which processes mp3s recorded at 192kbps. The sound is way, way worse than that from a CD using the same amplifier and speakers. I'm not a fidelity snob: for convenience, most music I listen to is compressed, but there clearly is a quality difference.

Anyway, high end headphones and high fidelity digital music will be obsolescent in the future. So many people listen to music through earphones too loudly there will be a massive spike in prematurely deaf people in 10 years who can't tell the difference between a dog barking and a jumbo jet taking off, most likely.

If you want to make some serious wedge in the future with only the prospect a burgeoning patient base, my advice is to train as an audiologist.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:46 AM on March 17, 2009


The big problem with recorded audio today is that we've set the par pretty low: "CD quality."

True. And there's a lot of suck here, because we've got everything we need to do so much better -- and we killed it with a format war. SACD and DVD-Audio can easily do better reproduction, but because of the pissing war, and the face that CDs are good enough for the typical home situation, they cut a barely useful sales base to nothing.

Which is a shame. Both of them work very well, and we actually now have everything in place to do proper quadrophonic+ audio, and even a user base in place! We can thank the movie buffs for that, because unlike the great disaster that was Quadrophonic, the movie guys have settled on a few specs, so you can buy a system that can do 4.0 and 5.1 audio from Target. Audio fans won't take Dobly Digital/DTS artifacts in the back speakers, but SACD and DVD-A can do uncompressed/unmatrixed channels easily.

So: Take SACD/DVD-A master using multichannel, and bingo -- killer soundstage. Some have done it -- Pink Floyd has release Dark Side Of The Moon as a 5.1 SACD, and it's amazing to hear.

Finally, all the pieces are there, and nobody wants it, because they don't know what it sounds like, and thus, they don't know if they want it our not. Yes, it'll sound thinner on low end 5.1 systems -- just like DSotM sounds thin on a car stereo.

But if they hear more, and buy the format, more produce in that format. Do not argue with the power of the Car CD or the iPod.

Sigh.
posted by eriko at 6:01 AM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's usually a broken wire in the cable that causes earbuds/phones to cut out and eventually fail, which happened to 2 pairs of Shure SE210s that I had before.

WTF Shure? Fix your goddamn cables! It's been a very well known flaw with all of their consumer earphones for years. Why haven't they addressed this? I'll need to replace mine soon, and I love their product but I'll be damned if I'm going to sign up for more cracked cables.
posted by CaseyB at 6:58 AM on March 17, 2009


WTF Shure? Fix your goddamn cables!

Etymotic have the same problems, in my experience.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:05 AM on March 17, 2009


One of those things I'm very happy about in life is that I can take my relatively cheap mp3 player with some $20 earbuds and still be able to enjoy music.

I pity the audiophiles who feel they can't enjoy the simple pleasure of listening to a tune unless it's piped through a $20,000 amp connected to $10,000 speakers with $15,000 cables, and even then only if the whole contraption is hung from the ceiling (so that there will be no enjoyment-ruining vibrations coming from the floor to their audio rig). I can just pop the headphones in my ears and go work out with music without that dread feeling that I'm missing out, or disgust and revulsion at using such a pedestrian setup. When the headphones degrade because of sweat getting into them I throw them away and buy a new set.

But, hey, it's their money. Far be it from me to stop them parting from it.
posted by clevershark at 7:46 AM on March 17, 2009


The whole vinyl vs. CD argument will never be settled as long as one of them needs to win. To say that one is better is to ignore their relative strengths and weaknesses. CD has better dynamic range which when used properly gives an eerie sense of reality. It also requires you to crank up the volume to hear the softer passages and thus causes the louder ones to really roar, just like live music. Almost no recordings produced today come close to this level of dynamic range but are rather compressed for easier listening and more importantly for an overall sense of the recording being louder even when the volume is turned down. Archagon's comment about some modern vinyl having better mastering sometimes speaks to this. CD reproduces bass notes more clearly than vinyl, especially notes with a sharp attack. Vinyl more naturally reproduces high frequency notes. The sampling limitations of the CD are most apparent in the upper frequency range where each wave is divided into only a few samples whereas the lower notes due to their longer duration get many more samples. The smoothing, filtering and artifacts are most noticeable in the high frequency range. Vinyl, skipping all these processes, more easily reproduces these notes accurately. Listen to cymbals in acoustic music on a high resolution system, both from vinyl and CD and you can hear the difference. CD certainly has a few extra tricks up its sleeve, convenience and resistance to scratching for instance, and these are huge. It's too bad that SACD and DVDA never really took off as they nearly evened the playing field versus vinyl in the upper registers yet retained all the other inherent advantages of the silver discs. I am sure that as storage becomes ever cheaper that high resolution digital will become cheap and commonly available and also be unbounded by the limitations of silver discs. It's expensive and sort of esoteric right now, but give the storage and transfer technologies some time to mature a bit more and a 250 mb song file won't seem so strange.
posted by caddis at 7:55 AM on March 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Digital is shrill and there is no mid-range bass. Everything gets pushed into the very low-end and gets mushed. Most people cannot hear the difference between mid- and low-range bass.

This is a ridiculous assertion. If digital sounds shriller than your analog source, it's most definitely because the original recorded sound was shrill, and the analog effects filtered it away. The digitization process faithfully captures all frequencies up to the Nyquist limit (typically 22kHz). Nothing in the process pushes anything into the low end. Perhaps you're confusing digitization with bitrate compression?

Sound is not digital. Sticking to (high-end) analog as much as possible is the way to go for the most accurate reproduction of music.

You're correct that sound is not digital. The value in digital is as a lossless and robust storage and distribution medium. By the time it gets to your ears it's all analog again. I strongly suspect that accuracy is not what you are looking for, in fact you probably like the inaccuracies your analog media bring to the sound. That's fair enough.
posted by rocket88 at 8:06 AM on March 17, 2009


can't tell the difference between a dog barking and a jumbo jet taking off

I can totally tell the difference!
posted by everichon at 8:13 AM on March 17, 2009


No need to shout, old chap!
posted by MuffinMan at 8:34 AM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I use mains electrical cable to wire up my speakers (not coat hangers). I recommend this as an alternative to the costly cable options.

A lot of the new music I hear is very loud across the spectrum (MGMT, Videoband, Crookers, XXX Change) and doesn't suffer much from low bitrate encoding as a result. It is fun up to a point, thereon it just grates. Reminds me of:

'..information overload, all the electronics around you poisoning the airwaves. Technological fucking civilisation! But we still need all this shit because we can't live without it. Let me do my work..'

And so this comment comes full circle, and I actually do have to get back to work.
posted by asok at 8:58 AM on March 17, 2009


yoink, try dropping the word "ones" from the sentence and see which version seems best to you. Also, you can google "these ones" for more information.

Ah, I see after Googling that this is one of those things that Americans are taught is non-standard but which are regarded as standard English elsewhere. Interesting, these subtle differences between US and non-US English.

I went to Google Books and had a look at uses in the C19th--several of the hits that came up were grammar and/or language books offering it as standard English usage. I wonder when it came to be regarded with suspicion on the US? Maybe it's one of Strunk and White's betes noirs?
posted by yoink at 9:19 AM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I pity da 'phile!
posted by owtytrof at 9:26 AM on March 17, 2009


I can't answer your question, yoink. I don't recall being taught that it was bad. To me, it has always sounded like something a small child (or an illiterate) might say. Its redundancy should be reason enough to consider it poor usage (in writing, at least).
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:55 AM on March 17, 2009


Its redundancy should be reason enough to consider it poor usage (in writing, at least).

That's the kind of claim that people appeal to only when it suits their case. Languages are massively redundant. I'm sure there are dozens of phrases that you use every day whose redundancy doesn't bother you simply because it's habitual and idiomatic ("end result," "past history," "free gift," "potential hazard" and such like). I suspect you don't object to "this one" in the same way that you object to "these ones" although the "redundancy" argument is identical.
posted by yoink at 11:07 AM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Redundancy is an essential feature of language, and redundancy may be required for language to function.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:51 PM on March 17, 2009


Get real. Languages may be massively redundant, but there's such a thing as obvious redundancy, and even jokes about it (just ask the Department of Redundancy Department). The example in question is one of obvious, indeed grating, redundancy, in written (not spoken) prose.

And one could make a case for "end result" (as opposed to "intermediate results"), "past history" (as opposed to "future history"), and maybe even a "potential hazard" (of notional activities). "Free gift" is just marketing cant. It's mostly a matter of context.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 5:55 PM on March 17, 2009


In spoken language, redundancy allows communication in noisy environments. The listener can piece together from context any information that was lost due to noise or inattention. Similarly with written communication, if you speed read something, either because you have a lot of material to get through, or because it just whizzed by on the side of a bus, having redundancy may be more useful to your understanding than having a more condensed sentence which although it requires less time to read, will require absolute focus to not lose information.

Certainly, although I've poked fun at ATM Machine, NT Technology, and PIN Number in the past, I've experience enough acronym overlap in cross disciplinary fields to appreciate a clue. AT Machine could be IBM AT or Automated Teller. PI Number, could be personal identification or 3.141...
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:30 AM on March 18, 2009


The example in question is one of obvious, indeed grating, redundancy, in written (not spoken) prose.

So...do you maintain the same opposition to "this one"? Or does that get a pass because it happens to be part of your idiom?
posted by yoink at 9:39 AM on March 18, 2009


About phase - mp3 is fine, but ogg vorbis strips out the vast majority.
posted by Pronoiac at 11:31 AM on March 18, 2009


So...do you maintain the same opposition to "this one"? Or does that get a pass because it happens to be part of your idiom?

Heh. It "gets a pass" because it happens to be part of everyone's idiom.

You know, at first I thought you were honestly interested in learning something. Now I regret extending my original derail by responding to your disingenuous questions. My apologies to those who were discussing MP3s and such.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 2:10 PM on March 18, 2009


Heh. It "gets a pass" because it happens to be part of everyone's idiom.

You know, at first I thought you were honestly interested in learning something. Now I regret extending my original derail by responding to your disingenuous questions.


I was honestly interested in learning something, and I remain interested in the fact that I have learned that there are large numbers of Americans who regard "those ones" as nonstandard. It is, alas, not a new thing at all to learn that there are people who insist that their idioms are somehow "rational" while other people's idioms are "irrational."

You say that "those ones" is "clearly" unacceptable on its face because of its redundancy. And yet you have no problem at all with the exactly parallel "that one" because you are used to it. The fact that you accept "that one" is irrefutable proof that your objection to "those ones" is not its "redundancy" but merely its unfamiliarity.

It's only you who are refusing to learn something here, oh-aptly-named Crabby. You are refusing to learn that sometimes the differences between one person's idiomatic usage and your own are just "different" not "right" vs "wrong."
posted by yoink at 3:57 PM on March 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's only you who are refusing to learn something here, oh-aptly-named Crabby. You are refusing to learn that sometimes the differences between one person's idiomatic usage and your own are just "different" not "right" vs "wrong."

I think in this case, it's both "different" and "wrong".

Seriously, was this all about giving me shit because I don't buy into the descriptivist crap? I hope you don't imagine that I've never heard that stuff, especially on MetaFilter. I generally do refuse to learn things that I consider wrong.

You say that "those ones" is "clearly" unacceptable on its face because of its redundancy.

No, I don't say that. Do a search on this page for "clearly". You put that in quotation marks, which means that you're asserting that it's an exact quotation of what I wrote, and yet I never wrote it. You don't give a shit about precision and accuracy in language, so it's no wonder you're here defending crappy usage. And because that's the case, I don't think its worth the trouble to explain to you what I actually did say.

And yet you have no problem at all with the exactly parallel "that one" because you are used to it.

No, it's not "exactly parallel". Hint: there's something very odd about taking the word "one" and forming its plural. (Think about what "one" means.)

And, by the way, notice that in this comment and my previous one, I took the trouble to preserve the italics in my quotations from your comments. In your previous comment, you didn't bother to do that when you quoted me. Accuracy? Not such a big thing for you, I'm guessing.

Here endeth the lesson.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 4:50 PM on March 18, 2009


You don't give a shit about precision and accuracy in language, so it's no wonder you're here defending crappy usage. And because that's the case, I don't think its worth the trouble to explain to you what I actually did say.

What you actually did say was "The example in question is one of obvious, indeed grating, redundancy..." I'd be fascinated to hear your detailed (and, I'm sure, wonderfully precise) explanation of the yawning abyss that separates "clearly redundant" from "obvious redundancy." I guess when you've run out of all other arguments, there's nowhere to go but this kind of crap.

No, it's not "exactly parallel". Hint: there's something very odd about taking the word "one" and forming its plural. (Think about what "one" means.)

If what you are objecting to is the redundancy, then "this one" is exactly as redundant as "those ones." In both cases you can drop the "one/ones" and retain the identical meaning.

Or perhaps you've switched your terrain and are saying that it is no longer the "redundancy" that is the "obvious" problem. Now it's "ones" that is a problem, eh? So you don't ever use the expressions "loved ones" or "little ones" I suppose? Or is that, again, acceptable because you do say it?

I've rarely seen such a crystal clear case of "it's wrong because that's not the way I speak" so I thank you for the "lesson." I'm always interested in people's inability to recognize the absurdity of their post-hoc rationalizations when it comes to matters of usage. Here you are faced with a phrase that just happens to not be idiomatic for you, but which is perfectly grammatical and plainly analogous in structure to other phrases that you recognize as idiomatic, and it just reduces you to impotent, profane fury that you can't find an actual reason to rule it out of court.
posted by yoink at 5:07 PM on March 18, 2009


I think you should go off and invent your own language, and then you can spout it at me, and when I'm confused you can tell me that I "knew what you meant".

Bored now.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 5:47 PM on March 18, 2009


I think you should go off and invent your own language, and then you can spout it at me, and when I'm confused you can tell me that I "knew what you meant".

Bored now.


I just can't resist noticing those quotation marks around "knew what you meant." That's just hysterical given your little heel-drumming tantrum above about using quotation marks for something you DIDN'T ACTUALLY WRITE!!!

I'm also confused. Was there some point in all of this where you didn't in fact know what I or the writer of the article meant? You just thought you had a chance to mark yourself as "educated" and the writer as "uneducated" and to demonstrate your superiority, didn't you? You just happened to seize on something that isn't universally regarded as nonstandard English, turning a display of superiority into an inadvertent display of parochialism. Don't worry--it happens to the best of us.
posted by yoink at 5:59 PM on March 18, 2009


I'm sorry my ironic use of quotation marks went over your head.

What's really been puzzling me is that you don't seem to understand that the usage "these ones" (or "those ones") is wrong by convention. You know, convention, which is most of what language is. There's a little underlying structure, but most of language is convention, often fairly arbitrary convention. Are you really maintaining that every convention of English requires an air-tight rational argument to justify it, or else it can be violated with impunity?

Of course, it's all about the populist posturing for you, isn't it? Don't worry—it was obvious even before your last couple of comments.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:39 PM on March 18, 2009


Hey. You guys, go get a room, OK?
posted by caddis at 6:48 PM on March 18, 2009


No need to fight, gentlemen. You both have big penises.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:48 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Biggest one in four counties!
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:03 PM on March 18, 2009


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