The Distortion of Sound
October 2, 2014 6:40 AM   Subscribe

The Distortion of Sound is a documentary about the decline of sound quality and how technology has changed the way we listen to music. It will open your ears and inspire you to reach for richer, more soul-stirring musical experiences.
posted by chillmost (110 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is a long form commercial for Harman.
posted by Poldo at 6:59 AM on October 2, 2014 [15 favorites]


Thomas Edison ruined music forever.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:00 AM on October 2, 2014


"Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit - all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them."

—Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices
posted by igowen at 7:03 AM on October 2, 2014 [109 favorites]


"Compression removes up to 90% of the original song"

Well that's the most egregious misunderstanding/misstatement that I've heard today, but it's still early, and I'm only two minutes into the video. Is it going to be more of the same for 20 minutes?
posted by echo target at 7:05 AM on October 2, 2014 [30 favorites]


This is very, very Pepsi Blue.

In case this is still news to some people - in blind listening tests, 320kbps mp3s are indistinguishable from the original audio, except for a couple of artifacts (pre-echo on hard attacks) that you will only hear if you know to listen out for them. Switch to a more modern codec (Ogg, MP4 etc etc) and you won't even hear those.

The purpose of the video is to prime you with the idea that with compressed audio, you're "missing out" somehow, so that when you follow the links to Harman's supposed solution you'll be more inclined to buy into the idea that what they're selling is necessary. But what they're selling isn't possible - you can't "put back" information which has been lost to compression. The Harman Clarifi website is incredibly coy about what it's actually doing, which leads me to strongly suspect that the whole thing is snake oil. I'm sure it's doing something, but what that something is they aren't telling & it certainly can't recreate audio detail that isn't in the source material.
posted by pharm at 7:07 AM on October 2, 2014 [36 favorites]


Thing is, a sufficiently high-bitrate MP3 encoded with a good encoder sounds "good enough" in most listening environments, for the vast majority of listeners. If that's all anybody listened to--320kbps MP3s, say--we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Of course, most people aren't listening to high-quality files anymore: it's mostly streaming services. Pandora, Spotify ... it's awful, really awful. Even the high-quality wi-fi streams are barely tolerable as background noise. Mushy transients, distorted stereo field, screwy frequency response.

That said, the upcoming "high-quality" playback devices featuring 96kHz playback and whatnot are mostly snake oil. You (meaning you, not some golden-eared wonk in a perfect listening environment) can't tell the difference between that and a well-recorded CD.

(Also the loudnesswars tag isn't really appropriate here; lossy data compression has nothing to do with dynamic range compression.)

(Also also, Goodhertz have a lossy compression emulator AU in beta which is all kinds of wonderful and awful and speaks perfectly to the Eno quote above.)
posted by uncleozzy at 7:08 AM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


This video is a machine intended to create audio douches.

You watch this and you don't really have a clear understanding of what's good and bad about this and that audio thing, but you know you want the GOOD STUFF and don't want to be one of the fools who falls for the CRAPPY STUFF.

"Quick, who can sell me the GOOD STUFF??? I CAN'T LIVE WITH SHITTY AUDIO ANYMORE! It's only 320K mp3, it sounds like ASS!! These earphones only cost $75, they sound like ASS!"
posted by edheil at 7:11 AM on October 2, 2014 [15 favorites]


Also does it seem ironic to anybody else that they're delivering this message about unstoppably awesome music which sounds way better than crappy Youtube music... on Youtube?
posted by edheil at 7:12 AM on October 2, 2014 [8 favorites]


Well that's the most egregious misunderstanding/misstatement that I've heard today, but it's still early, and I'm only two minutes into the video. Is it going to be more of the same for 20 minutes?

Go ahead and fast forward.
posted by hal9k at 7:12 AM on October 2, 2014


"Compression removes up to 90% of the original song"

Just write 3 minute songs with 27 minutes of silence at the end. Then, when the compression removes 90%, you're left with just a pristine 3 minute song!
posted by Bugbread at 7:12 AM on October 2, 2014 [19 favorites]


The Distortion of Sound is a documentary 22 minute advertisement.

What's most interesting is that not a single interviewee actually states the premise of this video, it's just a bunch of sound bites strung together to give the impression of an overall narrative. I wonder if half of these artists or engineers would even endorse the viewpoint that this video has been edited together to present. Or maybe they have been specifically paid to endorse it.
posted by grog at 7:12 AM on October 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


That said, the upcoming "high-quality" playback devices featuring 96kHz playback and whatnot are mostly snake oil.

Whoa there, buddy. Are you claiming that this audio equipment company is marketing expensive pieces of nearly-useless technology to audiophiles?

I'm going to need to see at least three decades of catalogs featuring sound-dampening floors, all-gold headphone drivers and unicorn horn tone arms before I believe that wild claim.
posted by griphus at 7:13 AM on October 2, 2014 [21 favorites]


Pono won't be out this fall as planned, next year maybe.
posted by Brian B. at 7:16 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it.

Actually listeners love the sound of distorted guitars playing 'power chords' (open fifths) because the harmonic series supplies a very 'sweet' major third overtone. The distortion brings out harmonics far more strongly and in fact makes a more 'perfectly tempered' sweet sound.
posted by colie at 7:17 AM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Neil Young has to be deaf as a post, no? I really don't understand him as the face of an "audiophile" device.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:19 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


While this might be a blue-ish post, there's still a kernal of truth in it. I avoid, whenever possible, making calls on my cellphone, preferring my landline simply because the sound quality is far, far better and one can have a more natural conversation on the landline. It's really ridiculous that in 2014, cellular still can't handle natural, overlapping conversation without dropping-out one side or the other.

Overall, digital audio's battle-cry seems to be "Close enough!"
posted by Thorzdad at 7:19 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hahahaha the comparison of 'uncompressed' and 'compressed' waveforms. This is like late 90s Usenet with all the same arguments. 'It throws away 90% of the music' has nothing on what the basilar membrane does.

The speakers in my living room are worth as much as a decent used car and (respectfully encoded) lossy compressed audio files sound just fine to me.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 7:21 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad:
Overall, digital audio's battle-cry seems to be "Close enough!"
Literally. It's called "sampling" for a reason.
posted by charred husk at 7:21 AM on October 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


Brian B., there is a lengthy rebuttal by pono in the comments to that article - and it does seems as though they are shipping the kickstarter preorders on time.

Thorzdad, cell phone call quality is a very different thing and way more compressed than digital audio formats.

Not to get into it too much, but every kind of data transmission has compromises - and in real world terms, the speakers you use to listen to music will have much larger effects on sound quality that the data compression (although that depends on the kind of compression).
posted by ianhattwick at 7:28 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]



Overall, digital audio's battle-cry seems to be "Close enough!"

Literally. It's called "sampling" for a reason.


What was analogue's battle-cry? 'It sort of works if you ignore the hideous flaws'?
posted by the duck by the oboe at 7:31 AM on October 2, 2014 [8 favorites]


Overall, digital audio's battle-cry seems to be "Close enough!"

Literally. It's called "sampling" for a reason.


posted by charred husk at 4:21 AM

Well, the Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem shows that we are able to recreate the original sampled waveform perfectly. Data compression is a different thing but good quality schemes are based on psycho-acoustic models that are very robust. There really is no such thing as perfect reproduction even in the analog realm so it becomes a moot point quickly.
posted by ianhattwick at 7:34 AM on October 2, 2014 [11 favorites]


the duck by the oboe: "you'll be nostalgic for its noise"
posted by idiopath at 7:36 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


the decline of sound quality

Age and a youth spent moshing 10ft from the amp stack have done far more to destroy sound quality than any MP3 compression algorithm ever did.

Those were some fucking great mosh pits, though.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:38 AM on October 2, 2014 [20 favorites]


The more people become snoit audiodouches, the more not-quite-high-end-enough-for-golden-ears gear goes for cheap on the used market, which benefits me greatly.
posted by sonascope at 7:41 AM on October 2, 2014 [9 favorites]


The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it.

That might have been true in the early to mid 60s when you had old school Brit engineers telling Cream they couldn't record that much bass on an album. The Young brothers of AC/DC have said to get the best sound in the studio you do not turn the amp all the way up.
posted by Ber at 7:42 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Most people are gonna be just fine with how MP3s sound, some people will seek out something better. Some are gonna listen to nothing but vinyl, some are gonna say cassettes are where it's at, some will listen to nothing but their 78s, and, yeah, anything and everything in between.

Whatever. Anyway, I think the fact that a lot of musicians and listeners are at least thinking and talking about how recorded music is being experienced is a very positive development. As a musician I certainly welcome this sort of interest, especially as it's coming at a time in which recorded music is so shockingly devalued compared to past decades.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:44 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah ugh so hard to listen to my Guitar Wolf 7" on this cheap record player let me get a $3000 Hi-fi. Ahhh much better I can hear all the ice-picks.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:46 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


recorded music is so shockingly devalued

Audiophilism isn't a solution though. It's like watches. The presence in the market of a $15,000 watch doesn't change the overall value of watches, which, because of phones, is averaging about 0-5 bucks right now. People who fetishize audio quality and who buy only the finest vinyl aren't going to swing the pendulum back to making a recording a valuable item. That's just what's up with music right now. Which is why some of the most interesting music being made is using the technological devolution of sound to its advantage: trap, dubstep, post-ringtone pop, the return of low-fi psychedelic and New Romantic/PBR&B bands--all reveling in the shitty headphones and cheap uploads of our current steaming audio world.

The musicians in this video gushing about pure rock sound maaaaan: whatever to that whatever.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:54 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


It seems to me that people are confusing compression with compression, which are two different things, and one of which surely does destroy the quality of a track if done poorly.
posted by empath at 8:09 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


My favorite take-away from this was the head-bob test* for determining recording fidelity.

*NOT a certified scientific study


Wouldn't wooden knobs for your mp3 player help compensate for this?
posted by TedW at 8:12 AM on October 2, 2014


Why is the FP allowed to call this a "documentary" when it is reall an "advertisement"? Is that level of dishonesty going to become a new MeFi standard?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:14 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it.
The key word that commenters are passing over so far is "supposed". It is in the context of the Eno quote about "the sound of failure". It is not that the recording medium, such as the master tape, was distorting when the sound out of the guitar amp was recorded. Rather, the guitar amp was putting out a sound that was formerly associated with a failure, but is now prized in part for it's non-ideal nature.
Now, many guitar amps come with circuitry that replicates that sound without actually stressing any components.
posted by King Sky Prawn at 8:15 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


five fresh fish: " Is that level of dishonesty going to become a new MeFi standard?"

Given the sound rousting the video's getting, and the fact that it's a single post, not a pattern...I don't think you have to worry about it becoming the new standard.
posted by Bugbread at 8:16 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I grew up in a time when people bought pre-recorded cassette tapes AND THEY LIKED THEM. The worst of them never had treble above 10Khz. So it's no surprise to me that people like mp3s, even the lossly ones.
posted by King Sky Prawn at 8:18 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


I had a car AM radio in the late 60s and enjoyed the music I heard.
Then it broke.

I now have a pretty good sound system in a much quieter car. Better than anything I could have dreamed of back then.

The difference between no music and any music is so much greater than the difference between crappy audio and great audio that it makes audio quality questions seem pointless to me.
posted by cccorlew at 8:24 AM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


I stopped watching after the outrageous "90% of music is lost because of compression" statement. This clearly is a plain ad-campaign.
posted by colossus of rollos at 8:29 AM on October 2, 2014


Yeah, this is BS. And isn't the 'Compression is killing music?' thing done already? Even if you ignore all the dodgy... no, sorry, plain-dead-wrong analogies in this longform marketing piece.

Not worth going through all the nonsense in this thing, because there is a lot of it. I imagine what engineers are left at Harman are not going to be looking their friends in the eye when this thing gets out. And oh my, doesn't the Clari-fi stuff smell like primo snake-oil! Putting back the goodness!

(Oh god, just got onto the head-bob test. What? ACOUSTIC MODELLING! YOU STOLE THE SOUL! FRAUNHOFFER! YOU KILLED THE PASSION!)
posted by Devonian at 8:48 AM on October 2, 2014


Of course, most people aren't listening to high-quality files anymore: it's mostly streaming services. Pandora, Spotify ... it's awful, really awful. Even the high-quality wi-fi streams are barely tolerable as background noise. Mushy transients, distorted stereo field, screwy frequency response.
Spotify uses 3 quality ratings for streaming, all in the Ogg Vorbis format.

~96 kbps
Normal quality on mobile.
~160 kbps
Desktop and web player standard quality.
High quality on mobile.
~320 kbps (only available to Premium subscribers)
Desktop high quality.
Extreme quality on mobile
If you can hear any problems with 320kbps Ogg Vorbis you have far better ears than I.
posted by Talez at 8:53 AM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


The purpose of the video is to prime you with the idea that with compressed audio, you're "missing out" somehow, so that when you follow the links to Harman's supposed solution you'll be more inclined to buy into the idea that what they're selling is necessary.

Which is a shame because you can get far better results by simply renaming your mp3s so that the filename is the exact same shade of green as the marker you used on your CDs before you ripped them. (You did use the green magic marker, didn't you?)

I can hook you up with the exact CYMK value you need to match the marker for the very low price of $79.99 (plus a small handling fee). (Don't be tricked by the blogs claiming they can give you the color value for free. They all have the wrong shade of green. Some of them even try to give it to you as an RGB value, as if that would work.)
posted by straight at 8:57 AM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm going to spend a thousand dollars on s sound system...and then listen to it on $20.00 pair of headphones. In my car.
posted by happyroach at 8:57 AM on October 2, 2014


I have a great time reading to my infant son longform, adulatory reviews of $5,000+ preamplifiers. Seriously, audiophiles are 'pataphysical poets.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:01 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Also does it seem ironic to anybody else that they're delivering this message about unstoppably awesome music which sounds way better than crappy Youtube music... on Youtube?
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posted by benito.strauss at 9:02 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you can hear any problems with 320kbps Ogg Vorbis you have far better ears than I.

Oh yeah, no, I promise you that I could not. Probably even the 160kbps in most circumstances. I don't have a Spotify premium account, and the few times I've used it lately it's been over 4G in the car, which I suspect has been serving me the 96kbps stream, which isn't pretty.

The Pandora stream over mobile is awful, though, and the stream I hear through the Roku isn't so hot, either. I think it's supposed to be 128kbps AAC, which ought to be okay, but is still mushy enough to notice.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:02 AM on October 2, 2014


I'm glad I checked the comments here before clicking play. The thread took less time to read than the video would have taken to watch, and I'm less annoyed than I probably would have been before I clicked the little x on the tab.
posted by immlass at 9:19 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


I wonder if Neil Young would agree to a live ABX test of lossless vs. compressed audio? Not, of course, that it would matter. The audiophiles have already built their defenses against ABX testing; somehow differences which are "night and day," "fingernails on a blackboard" etc. when you play them in your living room mysteriously vanish under the dreadful pressure of ABX testing.

The whole audiophile thing is actually really interesting for what it tells us about how little we actually understand our own sensory experience (and how astonishingly susceptible to psychological pressures and cues of one kind or another it is). Sadly, it's also an amazingly ripe field for discovering the myriad and remarkably robust mechanisms people develop for rationalizing away inconvenient evidence that is contrary to their vested beliefs.
posted by yoink at 9:19 AM on October 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


Anybody coming in with an opinion on what they think are the limitations of digital sampling needs to watch this amazing video in its entirety and possibly read the accompanying wiki article.
posted by whittaker at 9:29 AM on October 2, 2014 [25 favorites]


Yeah if you've ever been around chip designers when they're looking at signaling it's all curves not squares.
posted by Talez at 9:35 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


For a look at how high end you can go, surf over to headfi.org and read around a while.

I have always heard that from the 192k rate and up, the majority of people can't tell the difference between that and CD quality.

My take has always been: everyone is different. Some are happy with $15 skullcandy earbuds. Others need $1k headphones.

Whatever floats your boat....
posted by CrowGoat at 9:38 AM on October 2, 2014


What's amazing is that even audio experts get suckered by poor understanding of audio.

Most professional audio interfaces support 96k or 192k rate audio. But here's the thing: you can't hear it. There's this thing called the Nyquist theorem that states that a digital signal perfectly records all frequencies up to one half of the sampling rate. That is, a CD at 44.1 kHz rate perfectly records all sound up to 22 kHz. Very few humans in the whole world can hear above 22 kHz. Thus, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by going to 96k, except to double the file sizes of everything you're working on.

I studied digital signal math stuff in university, and I still bought a 96k-capable audio interface for recording my music. Only later I talked to a few digital signal experts and confirmed that I was being fleeced by industry jargon.

Neil Young, bless his country soul, is also being fleeced, trying to get us to buy 96k audio recordings of his music and bloat the iTunes store with that file size. I hope the reason we haven't heard anything about that feature from Apple lately is that someone finally realized it's bullshit.

(Note: sample bit-depth is different and kinda important for good recording, but most recorders use 24-bit, which provides huge overhead. A few advertise 32-bit, but as far as I can tell that's also inaudible silliness).
posted by sixohsix at 9:45 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


The whole audiophile thing is actually really interesting for what it tells us about how little we actually understand our own sensory experience (and how astonishingly susceptible to psychological pressures and cues of one kind or another it is). Sadly, it's also an amazingly ripe field for discovering the myriad and remarkably robust mechanisms people develop for rationalizing away inconvenient evidence that is contrary to their vested beliefs.

Yep. This is further complicated by the fact that there really are such things as better and worse audio setups. It's just that, after a while, differences can become minor, negligible, or literally nonexistent. Or, worse, two things might indeed sound different, but you could never reliably say which you prefer.

I would submit to a double-blind test to see if I could tell the difference between 192k rate mp3s and 320k rate mp3s. Through headphones, I think I could. No promises, though. Over speakers, though? Especially in any sort of real world setting, other than a wholly dedicated listening room? I doubt it.

Currently listening to music using Sennheiser HD-25 IIs, using WASAPI, through Foobar2000 with a convolver plugin. That's the extent of my audiophilia.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:46 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also does it seem ironic to anybody else that they're delivering this message about unstoppably awesome music which sounds way better than crappy Youtube music... on Youtube?

Reminds me of those commercials for flatscreen TVs, where they're claiming to show you how good their picture is through the TV you already own.
posted by Hoopo at 9:50 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


The frequency response of my ears went from 24 kHz to 12 kHz in fifteen years. Too bad I couldn't afford a snake oil sound system back when I could hear.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:55 AM on October 2, 2014


Anybody coming in with an opinion on what they think are the limitations of digital sampling needs to watch this amazing video in its entirety

That was, indeed, excellent. As is the written article he mentions at the beginning: http://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html.
posted by yoink at 10:06 AM on October 2, 2014


Anybody coming in with an opinion on what they think are the limitations of digital sampling needs to watch this amazing video in its entirety and possibly read the accompanying wiki article.

Anybody who already knows this stuff should also watch this video because it's just fantastic.

As for 96kHz sampling rates, it's not complete BS (as opposed to 192kHz which pretty much is). Generally you can't hear a difference in the recording at the higher sample rate, but (historically at least) it could compensate for bad plugins and converters. Here's a pretty good article that explains the pros and cons of higher sampling rates.
posted by TwoWordReview at 10:22 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Of all the audio experiments I've ever read about (and there was a period when I delved really deep into this stuff), the one which I think is in some ways the richest in its implications for how little we should trust what our brains are telling us about what we're hearing is the bogus-AB test. That is, hook a little "AB" switch box up to a stereo which has some part of the system doubled (two amps, two CD players, whatever). Give the box to someone and tell them that when they flick the switch to "A" they're hearing one component and when they flick it to "B" they're hearing the other. In fact, the switch does nothing at all but make an audible "click." Reliably, however, people will report marked differences between A and B, and will develop a marked preference for one over the other. This is true even if they do not know which is A and which is B (i.e., they need have no set preconceptions that the Harmon Kardon amp is better than the Technics amp or what have you--the two amps could be black boxes and the effect will hold).

We are difference-seeking machines, and we're happy to create them when they're not actually there. ABX really is the only way to tell if the differences we think we are hearing are real or purely psychoacoustic.
posted by yoink at 10:22 AM on October 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


Anybody coming in with an opinion on what they think are the limitations of digital sampling needs to watch this amazing video in its entirety and possibly read the accompanying wiki article.

Seconded. I kept meaning to FPP those but never got around to it.
posted by neckro23 at 10:23 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


This video was dead wrong and I'll tell you why.

The problem is not compression, the problem comes before compression.

In the outrun/dreamwave scene, where nearly all music is created digitally and available in FLAC or other high-bitrate formats, and yet still sounds incredibly garbled.

Case in point, the first synthwave album I purchased: Lazerhawk's Visitors

Go have a listen. You will return and tell me "Rebent that's clearly garbled because it streams in MP3-128." That's what I thought, too, which is why I purchased the album and downloaded the FLAC version.

and guess what. ZERO improvement in audio quality.

This happens again and again. The music producers release albums that, even on CD, sound like UTTER SHIT.
posted by rebent at 10:28 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


A few years ago someone was boggling over the fact that I had 128kHz or whatever mp3s and didn't know how I could stand to listen to such garbage. "They sound fine to me," I said, since they sounded just like I remember them sounding on my old Radio Shack record player or back ont he tape player in my car.

"That's because you also have shitty headphones," he said. "You need to buy some decent ones."

"So what you're suggesting is that I spend a lot of money on headphones so that I'll be able to hear how crappy the music that currently suits me just fine is, and then need to re-rip all of it?"

He didn't understand why I was reluctant to follow this plan of action. My music is still at whatever bitrate it comes at when I buy it, or whatever iTunes rips it as. My headphones are still shitty. I still happily listen to my music.
posted by Legomancer at 10:28 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


The only thing that will accurately demonstrate differences in quality of audio components is proper double blind testing, where listeners do not know what they're listening to and have no control over it, and there are control tests where nothing actually changes. This protocol is extremely well known and simple to institute and, if you bother to do it right and exclude other variables as far as possible, gives you results that'll stand up in court. They'll certainly stand up in advertising.

In audio testing, with the exception of things that the listener can't help but identify (headphones, for example) it is well within the resources of even a modest outfit. (Certainly, Harman could have done substantial amounts for the budget of that video, even if the various stars didn't get paid. I suspect they got paid, and good.)

You will look long and hard for any such testing being done on Planet Audiophile. Which is a shame, because it could close down cynical old hacks like me in a trice.
posted by Devonian at 10:43 AM on October 2, 2014


Legomancer's comment reveals the secret: most listeners don't care about this stuff.
posted by thelonius at 10:44 AM on October 2, 2014


Legomancer: And that's absolutely fine. Music, at the end of it all, is about personal enjoyment. This is why I completely and totally understand why people love vinyl; love the tactility of it; the 'tea ceremony' of preparing the disc, giving it a clean, dropping the tone arm; etc.

I only get irritated when people use bad science to argue that vinyl as a technical medium has superior reproduction capabilities to digital. This is demonstrably untrue and, furthermore, unnecessary. Why engage in 'my dad can beat up your dad' posturing when simply consuming art in the style you like is justification enough?
posted by whittaker at 10:45 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


I love this kind of debate! It's so esotericly hilarious.

I always remind myself that my favorite rock record is Chrome's 'Half Machine Lip Moves.' Which I'm pretty sure was recorded on a broken dictaphone. Possibly underwater. Maybe through a kazoo.

Then I go back to work, pull out my case of matched Schoeps mics, plug one into a transformerless SD preamp and record 96k/24bit wav files of someone hawking car insurance for a tv commercial that people will hear through 2" speakers twenty feet away.

A land of contrasts, indeed.
posted by rock swoon has no past at 10:53 AM on October 2, 2014 [9 favorites]


Legomancer's comment reveals the secret: most listeners don't care about this stuff.

100% this. Even those of us who work in the industry and should 'know better' tend to choose convenience over quality when it comes down to it. We try and make things sound great wherever we can, but I still do most of my music listening through streaming apps, on my phone, with crappy earbuds on a loud train.
posted by TwoWordReview at 10:53 AM on October 2, 2014


In the outrun/dreamwave scene, where nearly all music is created digitally and available in FLAC or other high-bitrate formats, and yet still sounds incredibly garbled.

All the mastering is done at 24-bit/96KHz. When they downsample it to 16-bit/44.1KHz they probably have clipping all over the place as the VU sits pegged at 0db since they've just squeezed 144db of dynamic range into 96db.

Most of your improvement will always come in the mastering process. Doing the compression with master files instead of dithered, compressed CD tracks would be a massive increase in quality. It's not like this shit is hard, AAC doesn't even care about bit-depths. Convert your file to 32-bit float/44.1KHz, specify a bit-rate and it'll try to keep as much of the original as possible depending on the device where it's played back.
posted by Talez at 11:00 AM on October 2, 2014


Welcome to today's installment of First World Issues.
posted by Billiken at 11:01 AM on October 2, 2014


most listeners don't care about this stuff

Because most listeners have awful ear training.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:02 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


You will look long and hard for any such testing being done on Planet Audiophile. Which is a shame, because it could close down cynical old hacks like me in a trice.

Oh, they've done the testing, and it wouldn't. Which is why they'd never publish it.
posted by CaseyB at 11:03 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


(Note: sample bit-depth is different and kinda important for good recording, but most recorders use 24-bit, which provides huge overhead. A few advertise 32-bit, but as far as I can tell that's also inaudible silliness).

I'd agree that higher bit depth is important in the recording studio, when you're doing multiple mix-downs and what not, but for the end product medium, be it CD or FLAC or whatever, 16 bits is plenty. It gives you 96 dB of dynamic range, which is about what you'd hear sitting in the best seat of an otherwise empty concert hall listening to the musicians live on stage.

On preview:
they've just squeezed 144db of dynamic range into 96db

There's no squeezing involved, just a slight raising of the noise floor from extremely quiet to very, very quiet. Changing bit depth only involves adding or removing the least significant bits of the digital word. There's pretty much nothing audible in those bits.
posted by rocket88 at 11:08 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


This happens again and again. The music producers release albums that, even on CD, sound like UTTER SHIT.

Well I don't have a playback device with me at the moment but if "dreamwave" is what I think it is that's pretty much a stylistic convention of the genre no? Which goes back to what my good friend Mr. Eno says.

When they downsample it to 16-bit/44.1KHz they probably have clipping all over the place as the VU sits pegged at 0db since they've just squeezed 144db of dynamic range into 96db.

Clipping? They're not cutting off the top they're just scaling it down. Which does introduce rounding errors, which is why they use dither. And there's going to be dither *somewhere* if there was any conversion from analog or change in bit rate anywhere because that's more or less the best-sounding known way to do it.
posted by atoxyl at 11:12 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


So what happens if you cross an audiophile with an oenophile and then a Republican. Do you get an X-man mutant with awesome reality distortion field powers?
posted by JackFlash at 11:22 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


> I only get irritated when people use bad science to argue that vinyl as a technical medium has superior reproduction capabilities to digital.

Vinyl has a duration limit of about 22 minutes. Digital is flawed because it doesn't give you a break to come up for air when making out.
posted by morganw at 11:27 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just add a few instances of 4'33" in your playlists and viola.
posted by TwoWordReview at 11:32 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


So what happens if you cross an audiophile with an oenophile and then a Republican.

you get a drunk who thinks his piss sounds better trickling down than anyone else's
posted by pyramid termite at 11:43 AM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Changing bit depth only involves adding or removing the least significant bits of the digital word. There's pretty much nothing audible in those bits.

Yeah actually my use of the word "scaling" was misleading - you are affecting only the *least audible* part of the signal and to the extent that this introduces anything "weird" to the least significant bit dither is used to hide it. Getting upset about dither (because it's technically "distortion?") is pretty silly because it's been used so many more times than you know before a track is mixed down to make barely audible artifacts more "natural."
posted by atoxyl at 11:46 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


All the mastering is done at 24-bit/96KHz. When they downsample it to 16-bit/44.1KHz they probably have clipping all over the place as the VU sits pegged at 0db since they've just squeezed 144db of dynamic range into 96db.

You can use dynamic range compression to squeeze the loudest bits down below 0 db, but it should be applied very minimally. Ideally you'd handle it by properly mixing down and eqing the track to begin with. A lot of bad producers just slap all their stems together, then slam a compressor on the master channel which makes everything sound like shit.

Basically all dropping from 24 to 16 does is limit the dynamic range so that quiet parts can be heard without blowing your ears out with the loudest parts of the tracks. 24-bit will include sub-audible sounds and sounds that are way too loud. It's the job of the engineer/producer to do it in such a way that you don't lose anything.

I've mentioned that I have music producer friends before, and the last part can be absurdly time consuming. A friend of mine has a techno track coming out next week that took him 3 days to write and arrange from scratch and then 3 weeks of going back and forth with an engineer to get the final mix down right -- just tweaking eq knobs and volume sliders -- not a single note was changed during that time. At one point they almost gave up and started the song from scratch because they couldn't make the parts fit -- the bass line was overwhelming everything else, but if they made it fit, the track lost most of it's oomph.

It takes a lot of art and care to produce a record properly and that's not the fault of technology -- a lot of indie bands don't know or care to make the effort.

Compare the self-produced demo of MGMT's Kids to the final version. That's the difference between someone who knows what they're doing and someone who doesn't. Almost the same pieces, the difference in sound quality is vast.
posted by empath at 12:18 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


atoxyl: Well I don't have a playback device with me at the moment but if "dreamwave" is what I think it is that's pretty much a stylistic convention of the genre no?

Well, this may be the answer in theory, but my gut says no. A lot of artists, like Disasterpeace, use incredible effects to hit the classic distortions of old media, but it still sounds crystal clear. What I am really aggrevated by sounds more like an aspect of the Loudness War
posted by rebent at 12:21 PM on October 2, 2014


re: vinyl -- it's extremely common for producers to add fake vinyl crackling or cassette hiss to digitally produced records. People find music without some noise a little bit off putting, especially during quiet parts -- its kind of the equivalent of 'comfort noise'
posted by empath at 12:30 PM on October 2, 2014


As the thread dwindles down to duelling audiophiles I present for the layman the relevant XKCD.
posted by Badgermann at 1:05 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't think there's any duelling going on, though. This albatross has been deep-fried.
posted by Devonian at 1:33 PM on October 2, 2014


Just add a few instances of 4'33" in your playlists and viola.

Now you're just being sadistic.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 1:42 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


You can use dynamic range compression to squeeze the loudest bits down below 0 db, but it should be applied very minimally. Ideally you'd handle it by properly mixing down and eqing the track to begin with. A lot of bad producers just slap all their stems together, then slam a compressor on the master channel which makes everything sound like shit.

Changing data representations shouldn't push any bits above 0db. Knowing what 0db (full scale) *means* in digital audio should tell you that - it's the highest instantaneous amplitude a signal can have and the biggest or smallest value (pretty much) that fits into your data type. Half of the max value (or something else if its a non-linear representation) is going to be -6dbFS no matter how many bits you have. Linear or not you're going to be able to *approximate* that amplitude in any format - you're just losing fine distinctions as you lose precision. In a modern DAW you've got 32-bit float internally, which represents *huge* dynamic range but the software will take care of converting that to 16-bit integer just fine.

Which doesn't contradict anything about mixing and mastering being high-skill enterprises. Though as a (pretty amateur) electronic musician I think the (sub)bass does lie mostly in writing/arrangement - make sure there's only one thing at a time going on down there! Unless we're talking about trying to make some upper harmonics from the bass synth shine through, which is definitely tricky.

Also a lot of professional electronic music is *extremely* compressed - and in my opinion can still sound remarkably good. But you have to mix it right to make that happen.
posted by atoxyl at 1:44 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Audiophiles will always exist because egos will always exist.
posted by destructive cactus at 2:02 PM on October 2, 2014


Man, there's a lot of axe grinding in this thread. There's a huge reasonable range of taste and preference in playback between shitty earbuds playing back loudness war dynamically squashed then relatively low bitrate streamed spotify or youtube content, out of a relatively crappy dac and amp, and the thousand dollar a foot oxygen free copper/unobtanium alloy lamp cord with heat shrink tubing applied "interconnects" and green cd pen crowd.
posted by stenseng at 2:09 PM on October 2, 2014


oxygen free copper/unobtanium alloy lamp cord with heat shrink tubing applied "interconnects"

>sullying unobtainium with copper
>ever

holy shit do you even have ears
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:14 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Man, there's a lot of axe grinding in this thread. There's a huge reasonable range of taste and preference in playback between shitty earbuds playing back loudness war dynamically squashed then relatively low bitrate streamed spotify or youtube content, out of a relatively crappy dac and amp, and the thousand dollar a foot oxygen free copper/unobtanium alloy lamp cord with heat shrink tubing applied "interconnects" and green cd pen crowd.

More than not I see people correcting or making fun of naked technical misconceptions and misrepresentations. Or the idea that there's been a real decline, as if there wasn't always a low end, as if people haven't understood from the beginning of recorded music that fidelity tradeoffs are often made to realize the properties - like portability - that make recorded music a worthwhile thing in the first place.

I'd never tell a music enthusiast it's not worth buying some nice speakers and placing them carefully in a well-prepared space. Just chill a little about the sampling rates, and bit depth, and even (beyond the higher end of what's common today) lossy-compressed data rates!
posted by atoxyl at 3:16 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Compare the self-produced demo of MGMT's Kids to the final version . That's the difference between someone who knows what they're doing and someone who doesn't. Almost the same pieces, the difference in sound quality is vast.

i think it's mostly getting the low frequencies sorted so the kick could have its own place in the mix - they certainly rolled off the bottom on the synth bass a lot and they may have replaced the kick with something more like a resonant 808 kick

it's probably one of the trickiest things about that kind of music, getting the low stuff just right
posted by pyramid termite at 3:23 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'd argue that there very definitely has been a decline in the quality of recorded music in the last decade or two, but it's largely in the production, mixing, and mastering side of the equation.
posted by stenseng at 3:29 PM on October 2, 2014


it's probably one of the trickiest things about that kind of music, getting the low stuff just right

It's a big deal in lots of kinds of music, which is why in *writing* tracks I really try to avoid having the kick and bass play less than about a third apart at the same time (not that I'm a brilliant producer but Steve Brule tip for electronic people - if simultaneous drum hits are peaking your track too hard offset them a few milliseconds ya dummy!). This stuff can be a little tricky to explain to certain people in bands though. "Notes?" "But I play the drums!?"

I'd argue that there very definitely has been a decline in the quality of recorded music in the last decade or two, but it's largely in the production, mixing, and mastering side of the equation.

Sure, because DIY is so accessible. But the actual quality of DIY is way better than it used to be too it's just more widespread.
posted by atoxyl at 3:39 PM on October 2, 2014


I'm not talking about DIY specifically - I'm talking about compressing the everloving shit out of every recording, then doubling down on that in the mastering process, resulting in an unlistenable auditory assault by pros who have the technical background to know better. DIY on the other hand, as you say, has gotten pretty technologically comparable, and in fact, often has much more musical dynamic range.
posted by stenseng at 3:46 PM on October 2, 2014


There's a huge reasonable range of taste and preference in playback between shitty earbuds playing back loudness war dynamically squashed then relatively low bitrate streamed spotify or youtube content, out of a relatively crappy dac and amp, and the thousand dollar a foot oxygen free copper/unobtanium alloy lamp cord with heat shrink tubing applied "interconnects" and green cd pen crowd.

To be clear, are you putting Harman (the subject of the FPP) in that reasonable middle? Because they sure look to me like they're selling green magic markers for your mp3s.
posted by straight at 3:51 PM on October 2, 2014


I was just gonna say actually "unless that was a loudness war potshot," in which case I'll say sure, sorta. But I would compare that more to the overuse of reverb in the 80s - it's ultimately a stylistic choice which certain producers genuinely liked which became a trend that everybody tried to fit into, and which will certainly sound very dated in another 20 years. Well okay, it's probably worse, because it's been applied so indiscriminately across genres and especially on remasters of stuff that just wasn't meant to sound like that.

At the same time I do have a little bit of an axe to grind about the "loudness war" because I think too many people hear the term and repeat the argument - somebody needs to do something about all this compression! - to feel like "in the know" connoisseurs without really thinking about it. I certainly consider the brickwall aesthetic to be a legitimate choice. You don't have to like it but these guys (loud, obviously) are some of the most technically accomplished music producers in the world and they know exactly what they're doing. A track like that feels very "dynamic" - punchy and dramatic - while remaining pegged to the top of the RMS meter in order to permeate every square inch of the biggest dance floor and rip your head off. In general I find you can *really* squash certain electronic music - I guess because producers have so much control of every sound - and don't think it's inappropriate to keep levels pretty high up there for heavy rock/metal/punk, though guitars in particular can present ear fatigue problems. But I mean, so does a metal *show*. To me it's only a problem when producers automatically push into the limiter when it's not appropriate and I suspect with awareness seemingly high and more normalization built in to players and streaming services that they will come to realize that it's starting to pay to ease up on that particular knob.
posted by atoxyl at 4:31 PM on October 2, 2014


I don't like the woo that Harman is trying to push, but I have to say that their Soundsticks are the best sounding computer speakers I've heard. (Not the most "accurate" perhaps but subjectively good) Maybe something to do with the 8 drivers they have, I have no idea how these things work, but singing voices seem to have so much presence.
posted by xdvesper at 5:00 PM on October 2, 2014


It is funny. When I was growing up, when you went to someone's place, you'd have to first ritually admire their McIntosh receiver or whatever they were proudest of in their stereo system. People eating beans and rice all had expensive speakers in their apartments, even if that's almost all they had. Then people 25 years later were happy as they could be with low bitrate mp3s and crappy earbuds, or with Youtube through computer speakers.
posted by thelonius at 5:03 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


It seems that Harman is suggesting that they are trying to undo the effects of dynamic range compression. It is possible to construct expanders that are the opposite of the process of compression, so while it would seem that you could perform the inverse operation of expansion on compressed music, you really can't.

When you compress the dynamic range, information is lost. You can't recreate that information from nothing -- you can only approximate it by guessing. You have no way of knowing what compression algorithms were using in mastering which include multi-band, various gain ratios, attack and release delays, hard and soft knees.

It is like you sculpted a figure out of clay, compressed it somewhat, and then someone else attempted to recover the original figure by stretching it out. The expanded figure is going to be a distortion of the original. You can't magically recover information that was lost in the compression process.

If Harmon is employing an expander, they will certainly get an increase in dynamic range and it will certainly sound different, but it won't sound like the original, uncompressed signal.

Compression can be a useful effect that can have desired dramatic results. It is particularly useful for cheap earbuds. But studios should reduce the amount of compression and leave it up to the user. It relatively simple to implement compression as desired in the playback unit. But the inverse isn't true. A player can't take out compression put in at the studio.
posted by JackFlash at 5:51 PM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


There's a huge reasonable range of taste and preference in playback between shitty earbuds playing back loudness war dynamically squashed then relatively low bitrate streamed spotify or youtube content, out of a relatively crappy dac and amp, and the thousand dollar a foot oxygen free copper/unobtanium alloy lamp cord with heat shrink tubing applied "interconnects" and green cd pen crowd.

Indeed. Who in this thread is saying otherwise?
posted by yoink at 6:02 PM on October 2, 2014


edheil: You watch this and you don't really have a clear understanding of what's good and bad about this and that audio thing, but you know you want the GOOD STUFF and don't want to be one of the fools who falls for the CRAPPY STUFF.

"Quick, who can sell me the GOOD STUFF??? I CAN'T LIVE WITH SHITTY AUDIO ANYMORE! It's only 320K mp3, it sounds like ASS!! These earphones only cost $75, they sound like ASS!"


eurghhhhhhh. it totally is.

These are the same people who didn't realize that my $75 set of original advents, $60 amp, and $5 used but quality CD player(or $50 great turntable with a heavy platter and nice cart) i had at my old house was like... 75% of the way to a "great" system.

stenseng: Man, there's a lot of axe grinding in this thread. There's a huge reasonable range of taste and preference in playback between shitty earbuds playing back loudness war dynamically squashed then relatively low bitrate streamed spotify or youtube content, out of a relatively crappy dac and amp, and the thousand dollar a foot oxygen free copper/unobtanium alloy lamp cord with heat shrink tubing applied "interconnects" and green cd pen crowd.

Haven't carefully anaylzed what brand and model of hobbyhorse everyone has ridden out here, but mine specifically is people who absorb videos like this, and similar attitudes, and then become sort of a third category. Not so much the "MUST BE 96KHZ AND OXYGEN FREE COPPER", but uneducated crapping on 320k mp3 or decent bitrate AAC/ogg/etc, and a general belief that $300 h/k or b&o or beats or whatever headphones are high quality.

It's basically a combination of not understanding what makes a good quality digital audio experience, and equating spending lots of money on brand name stuff with solving the problem of a good source/amp/speakers/headphones.

A sansa clip and some halfway decent IEMs, or a cheap fiio amp and some $75-100 sennheisers/ATs/grados/etc would impress 99% of these people... but they wouldn't believe you if you told them.

It's more about in-group performance and public demonstration of "getting it" than it is about having a good experience. The same thing seems to happen with people buying guitars and guitar paraphernalia, or a million other things.


I had this weird hope that when it became a "hip" thing to collect records and stuff, that young people would start thinking it was cool to care about having a nice mid-fi setup and buying old gear and fixing it up and stuff... but alas. The appearance of being "in" the group matters more than whatever you're actually doing. Reminds me of what happened with bikes over the past decade-ish
posted by emptythought at 10:11 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


the outrun/dreamwave scene

I have been down an Outrun rabbit hole for the last 16 hours, so thanks for that. Look for my synthpop EP featuring shameless 707 samples sometime in the next four years.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:32 AM on October 3, 2014


Anyone who wants an accessible primer on the history of sound recording and audio engineering, and its effect on music, check out Perfecting Sound Forever by Greg Milner. I'm in the middle of it right now and it's helping me understand stuff I never understood before about fidelity, dynamic range, what changed in analog vs. digital, and so on, without assuming an audiophile's or a pop music fan's level of knowledge. And it's funny.
posted by brainwane at 5:42 AM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


emptythought, does this HOWTO (and the implied hunger for it) reassure you?
posted by brainwane at 5:44 AM on October 3, 2014


emptythought, does this HOWTO (and the implied hunger for it) reassure you?

There are some odd errors in that piece. As, e.g., the claim that belt drive turntables are better than direct drive ones. Also the claim that LPs mastered from CD's won't have the "warmth" of original tape-mastered pressings. The "warmth"--if it exists at all--is an artifact of the limitations of the medium. If vinyl could simply transparently reproduce the qualities of the digital original there'd be no "vinyl sound."

Of course, there are nutters out there who think vinyl is, in fact, more "transparent" than digital, but A) that's not the position taken by the writers of this piece earlier and B) those nutters never seem to quite be able to explain why they prefer the sound of the vinyl version even when the recording itself was made digitally.
posted by yoink at 9:29 AM on October 3, 2014


To be clear, are you putting Harman (the subject of the FPP) in that reasonable middle? Because they sure look to me like they're selling green magic markers for your mp3s.


No, I'm not even clear on what Harman's product is after watching the video, but if it's some post processing bullshit, I'm sure it's woo. I also was bugged at their *seeming* conflation of dynamic range compression and perceptual encoding.

My whole thing is - there are good sounding setups and bad sounding setups for playback - I don't think anyone needs to spend some ridiculous amount on their listening setup - I'd guess I'm *maybe * a thousand dollars deep into mine, total - but I also don't think shit earbuds streaming on your phone is just as good and any defense of higher quality anything is audiophile woo, which seems to be the kneejerk counter position a lot of folks take.

For reference - my listening setup consists of: used Tannoy system 800 reference monitors (which I also use in my recording studio,) a $250 Qinpu A-6000 Mk2 tube hybrid amp with some NOS GE 6N3 tubes, a $99 Pro-Ject phono preamp, and a used 1980s JVC A-55 turntable.

Cheap, clean, nice sounding gear.
posted by stenseng at 2:21 PM on October 3, 2014


Or, if I'm just feeling sassy, I fire up my 1972 Wurlitzer Super Star jukebox and spin some 45s. :)
posted by stenseng at 2:34 PM on October 3, 2014


yoink: There are some odd errors in that piece. As, e.g., the claim that belt drive turntables are better than direct drive ones. Also the claim that LPs mastered from CD's won't have the "warmth" of original tape-mastered pressings. The "warmth"--if it exists at all--is an artifact of the limitations of the medium. If vinyl could simply transparently reproduce the qualities of the digital original there'd be no "vinyl sound."

There is some truth to these statements.

A cheap DD turntable is probably crap at isolating motor hum and all kinds of things. Whereas, there's a lot of decent stuff in the <>inherently better, but it's like... OLED screens or something. A cheap one, especially not state of the art cheap one is going to suck more than the alternative even if a midrange and up one could be quite good. It's not a stupid recommendation to make if someones just starting out and doesn't know what to look for.

Similarly, LPs made from CD masters do sometimes suck. This isn't some made up pretentious phenomenon. Sometimes they get the EQ and mastering really crappily wrong and just sound kind of muddy without much dynamic range. This is primarily a complaint that can be leveled at tons of shittily pressed modern "remasted on 180 gram vinyl!" releases of talking heads albums and stuff. They often come with weird scuffs and shit right out of the box, and the mastering was a total hackjob. I don't have a specific list, nor can i find the one i'm thinking of, but there was a blog post where the guy went and compared the original, or several period releases of an album vs the reissue and then threw it into a spectrum analyzer. It wasn't just loudness war stuff, they just... generally did a shit job and took a CD master and dropped it into some software converter tool or something.

Back when studios used to produce albums straight for vinyl on a major scale, there was often stuff that came out on tape/cd/vinyl at the same time that was totally fine, that some people accuse of being a "cd master". This is the pretentious dumb part. Stuff like MFSL releases is not the kind of thing everyone can hear the difference on. Shitty reissues is if you're listening for it.

They might have overstated the problem a bit, but it's not something that doesn't exist, or that only those zany audiophiles with the $10,000 cables can hear or whatever. Me and my old roommate noticed it with a piece of shit gemini turntable, plugged in to a piece of shit numark/something else crappy DJ mixer, plugged into thrift store 2.1 PC speakers. It just sounded... overcompressed. I think that was a shitty jefferson airplane - flight log reissue we were doing that with, and we were comparing it to a scuffed up dollar bin copy of the old press i had picked up at a record shop.

If you have a playback system good enough to tell the difference between say, a 192k MP3 or AAC and a CD/flac/etc, you will notice it. And as i mentioned above, that is potentially a $200-300 system if you're a savvy shopper.
posted by emptythought at 4:57 PM on October 3, 2014


This seems like a good place to drop in this Adam Gopnik piece from the New Yorker: Music To Your Ears.

The quote that particularly struck me when I first read it:
The notion of a pure musical experience is, for Sterne and his cohorts, the last sad effort of a nineteenth-century cult of attention that placed the solitary alienated (and almost always male) listener in a temple of silence, the concert hall. Everyone faces forward, no one moves, applause is tightly regimented, and no one ever does the things that human beings normally do when they hear music: dance, move, act, eat, flirt.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 3:45 PM on October 4, 2014


One big changing going from vinyl to CDs is that vinyl can only handle so much acoustic energy before you make a signal that literally throws the tone arm out of the groove. With a CD you can max everything out, and as long as you aren't clipping you just get a louder recording.

Many people find the less aggressive mastering used for vinyl more pleasant.
posted by idiopath at 7:47 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


The one-upmanship and nitpicking in this thread makes me, a person interested in learning to listen more carefully to music and understand it better, less interested. Where should I go if I want to find friendly, enthusiastic people who talk about music and audio while avoiding well-actuallys, feigned surprise, and similar dominance displays?
posted by brainwane at 9:36 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you want to listen to music more closely and understand it better, you can take your pick of music theory, signal processing, psychoacoustics, music history, ethnomusicology, audio engineering ... there are a multitude of approaches that complement and on occasion even contradict one another, but each has its insight to offer. But you can learn these in a university or from a good book, you don't need a social forum.

As a social activity, what I think happens in many of these discussions is a palimpsest of the fundamental role that music has played in human society - as a social ritual that distinguishes the in-group (who know our music) from an out group, and as a display that demonstrates one's fitness. But with the stratification of the virtuoso musician as their own profession, followed quickly by recording as a pervasive technology, and the loss of universal musical participation that came with it, we have moved from the display of musical performance to the display of musical appreciation. It's a very primal activity, and one-upping and displays of dominance aren't a derailing of the activity, they are the primary social purpose of the activity.

That said, I think that repeating a false but pervasive misconception actually deserves a "well, actually..." response. I'd rather be corrected than go on to make a fool of myself a second time and not even know it.
posted by idiopath at 10:58 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


The nitpicking is important. It's easy to be a fool wrt audio.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:14 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Although, to be crystal clear, I dislike the idea of anybody policing how people best enjoy their music. I only get concerned when erroneous or deceptive information circulates on the physics of acoustic reproduction.
posted by whittaker at 7:51 AM on October 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, when someone is describing what they like listening to, that's just a report from the only possible reliable source about that person likes. I can totally chill out and listen to the sound of rubbing a cotton ball in my ear, what about it?
posted by idiopath at 5:20 PM on October 7, 2014


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