Worst article about digital music files ever.

I don’t even know where to start with this piece of trash. Maybe it’s the OMG KUMPRESHUN LOOZES QUALITY IZ EVIL tone the piece takes. Maybe it’s the tremendously condescending “Oh, but people are used to it because they don’t know better and can’t tell” bits that compare compressed audio vs. CD to McDonald’s vs. fine dining with this gem: ““You can get used to awful,” says record producer Phil Ramone. “You can appreciate nothing. We’ve done it with fast food.”” Maybe it’s the the way the author bent over and crapped out a bunch of “facts” designed to shock and appall you into buying real CDs over digital downloads (which I presume is where this article wants to take you). Maybe it’s the whole tangent about how the psychoacoustics of MP3 audio versus CDs might hit your brain differently, and therefore might affect your response to the music differently, or affect your mood differently, or turn you into a raging psycho killer or something.

I mean, look at this tripe:

(bolding mine)

This is what happens when you get techno-newbies to write technology pieces. MP3s are not “10 percent of the original music” you douche. Just because an MP3 encoded at 128kb/s reduces the file size to 10% does not mean it has removed 90% of the audio signal. It means it has altered the original audio stream, which in its original form is a series of two-byte (16-bit) words (techie term for what you call two bytes of information treated as one whole number) that represent, precisely, the sound it recorded, and transformed it into what amounts to a series of formulas that describe the sound mathematically. The lower the bitrate, the larger chunks of audio it turns into a formula and the less precise it gets in being able to reproduce them. The higher the bitrate, the smaller the chunks it describes and the more precise it gets in reproducing them.

If you’re going to slam a format, at least have some general idea of how it does what it does first.

But get a load of the bottom section:

Jebus. Let’s see.

  • Wait, now MP3s are only 6%? That’s a compression ratio of almost 17:1. In MP3 terms, that’s a bitrate of about 80kb/s. Show me one online music store that distributes MP3s at 80kb/s. The minimum standard is 128kb/s, and audiophiles turn their noses up at that. (Yes, I’m one of them, but I’ll take it if the store doesn’t have anything better and I can’t get the real CD anywhere else.)

  • AIFF = 10 megs per minute? What a coincidence, so is WAV, which you talked about in the previous point. Go pointless redundancy!

  • Grateful Dead tape traders? WTF does that have to do with anything? And a full audio CD can be burned from anything, you pompous dinky.

Some journalists … shouldn’t be.

The cranks are everywhere. Check out this site: http://www.anstendig.org/
This guy is a regular poster on another forum, and boy is he a wacko.

I thought

was interesting. So where, pray tell, does that 30 to 50 percent go?

Into algorithms. A huge solid black image file, for example, can be reduced to just a few bytes by describing it.

The article is bollocks, but I had my eyes (well, ears) opened a few years ago by a true audiophile. He had the most incredible analog sound system that he’d spent close to $100,000 on - the amp was a gigantic heatsink about 4’ square and 1’ high, and the gold cables were like an inch in diameter - and the sound, when I sat in the ‘sweet spot’ underneath the cork baffles he’d installed on his living room ceiling, was astonishing.

It was Keith Jarrett’s concert in Koln Cathedral, and I could hear every nuance, every detail, in a rich 3-D soundscape. I could hear his foot on the piano pedals, and the rustling of his clothing, and even, with my eyes closed, could visualise the angle of the keyboard in relation to where I was sitting. It reduced me to tears.

Personally, I’m quite happy with a laptop or an iPod hooked up to my speakers, but when audiophiles complain about lossy quality, I now understand what they’re on about.

Funny, but I didn’t even notice that, so incensed was I by the stupidity of the rest of the article. I know he meant “without lossy compression” but that’s just poor phrasing.

The thing is, when ripping your own material you can choose the bitrate. Audiophiles? 224kb/s, 320kb/s (though that’s pushing the envelope) and you’ll retain all the glorious overtones and nuances. Hell, use 320kb/s VBR and the compression will adapt to the signal, compressing segments that don’t need that much dynamic range more than segments that do.

I mostly dismissed the wacko aspects – as I tend to do for any crystal-wearing, spirit-praying, homeopathic-healing nutjob. That guy’s site is like the audio equivalent of crystal worshippers. There’s just so much wrong with it that there’s utterly no point in disseminating any of it.

CDs? Bah! Vinyl is where it’s at.

Seriously, I totally get what audiophiles are on about, and I can definitely hear the difference between a CD and a low-bitrate mp3 on anything more than crappy computer speakers. I just don’t care that much.

I totally don’t get the need for lossless compression when it comes to live shows. After Bonnaroo I went to download some sets that had been posted on ETree and elsewhere, and I was grabbing the FLAC versions. Then I realized that these are crappy audience recordings–what are they going to lose by being compressed to mp3? Little things used to mean a lot back when I was trading Phish shows on cassettes, and any defect in sound quality was going to get passed down and magnified as the generations went out. But now, when everybody downloads identical copies of the master? It doesn’t really make sense.

(I do collect vinyl, but that’s because it’s neat, not because I pine for analog sound.)

perhaps lesser neurons? what kind of mealy mouthed insinuation is that? Why not say perhaps greater neurons? why not say perhaps less neurons at least? It’s like they didn’t know whether or not more or less neurons fired, but still wanted to imply it was less.

It’s primarily because there are a lot of audiophiles in the live trading scene. And they’re too good to listen to ANYTHING that’s been compressed. True story - back when sharingthegroove was still thriving, I uploaded a DVD of a They Might Be Giants concert I filmed in Prospect Park, Brooklyn in 2004. When I made the DVD, I made a 5.1 DD mix, with the front channels primarily taken from the soundboard audio (TMBG sells soundboard mp3’s of some of their shows on their website) and the rear channels taken from my camcorder’s audience audio, which created a truly amazing mix, even for an amateur at home job. Anyway, within 24 hours of posting it, there were two pages of comments, 90% of them were complaints - NOT because I posted a DVD with extremely grey area audio legally (since it DID include a commercial source), or because I posted a show with post-production on the audio tracks, but because I included a mix where the source material was from 192K MP3 files!!! Yeah, MP3 files from the soundboard, which sound WAY better than the uncompressed DV audio from my camcorder, and from which a lossless source wasn’t available! A number of the comments were saying I had no business posting a DVD concert of this quality, and that I should repost it with my lossless audience audio only. Some posts were even calling for my torrent to get deleted, since I was breaking the unwritten rules of sharing live shows. Anyway, I was so pissed off by this attitude that I stopped seeding the torrent 24 hours later. It sucked for those who really wanted the show, but they could have at least posted something POSITIVE, at least thanking me for taking the time to share this show (or to tell the complainers that THEY actually wanted the show, despite the evil MP3-sourced audio), as I felt like I was sharing to a bunch of ingrates who were complaining about my lossy audio, but downloading it anyway.

Also, the actual legitimate reason for hardcore traders wanting FLAC sources is because once somebody starts trading MP3s, not only is it lossy, but if they later make an audio CDR of it to trade, then the receiver is unknowingly receiving a lossy copy, and they may go on to rip it to mp3, creating a twicely compressed file. It could repeat for multiple generations. I’m the guy who has 60GB of 96k aac files on my ipod, and I can’t tell the difference between those and the original audio cd they came from, so I frankly don’t care.

Damn right. I bought a CD of O Canada and only got “O in thee and God on for!” The “in thee” I figure is a sexual reference but “God on for!” makes no sense at all.

I grew up listening to music on AM radio, so I’ve been warped from the beginning. I wonder where that (and cassettes or satellite radio, for that matter) stand in relation to 128kb mp3s?

Honestly, I switch between turntable, CD player, radio, and iPod at home and I never really notice the difference. I’m not gonna let Phil Ramone make me feel bad – he made Billy Joel records, for crying out loud. The next time I hear Turnstiles, I want the mode of delivery to be so lossy that the whole thing sounds like the pounding surf.

The word “lossy” makes me chuckle, for some reason. Am I lossy because I never know where my keys are?

I don’t think he meant fewer, but rather inferior. Which makes it even worse.

Go down on four. Think about it. They shortened it.

I can hear the difference between a (very) low bitrate MP3 and, say, a higher bitrate MP3 or FLAC, but I can’t hear the difference between a 128kbps MP3 and lossless like FLAC. In fact, I can think of only one song I’ve ever been able to hear MP3 “artifacts” from the compression, a somewhat ‘watery’ kind of sound. There’s got to be some difference, but I can never hear it (although I’m sure some of the more seasoned audophiles can), and so I’ve no qualms about encoding in MP3. That and if there’s a format that’s supported by almost every media player on the planet, it’s MP3, which is a bonus.

As for the article itself:

How does that make any sense? I’m pretty sure when I listen to Marilyn Manson on a MP3, the screaming isn’t 90% subdued. And I don’t get only 10% of a headache. So, I stopped reading there.

There might be some technical reason that some sound technican could point out to me (that or the article’s just crap, which seems more likely given some comments here and the dodgy neuroscience) but the format reference given at the end states:

What I don’t understand, then, is why you would use AIFF. FLAC is lossless, so storing in that format would be just as good as AIFF, except save on a lot of space?

From the article:


It would be interesting to see blind tests in which audiophiles demonstrate their ability to hear MP3 artefacts (in well encoded MP3s - many MP3s out there are poorly encoded).

There’s this test, which I have posted before, in which people listened to 128k MP3, 256k MP3 and uncompressed versions of various pieces of music and tried to say which was which. With some interesting results. But it didn’t ask whether they could distinguish the MP3s from the original CD, or from each other. Sometimes, for example, they thought that the 128k version sounded better than the other two. That might be a fillip for MP3 fans, but I am more impressed when there’s no discernible difference. Preferring the 128k just means that they are hearing some artefact which they find appealing, a bit like people liking vinyl records for their “warmth”.

Oh, no, that part’s completely true. I haven’t stopped using my iPod since I got the buttplug adapter.

At this point, I’d like to share my observation that “seasoned audiophile” often seems to equate to “bitter old fart who’s losing his hearing and blaming new technology for the degradation in his listening enjoyment”.

The funny thing to me about the article is that it seems to represent a new generation of “seasoned audiophile”. Back when I first encountered the species, they were decrying CDs as the Ultimate Evil, because CDs didn’t have the cruddy artifacts they’d gotten used to with vinyl. Now we’ve got people who were young enough to accept CDs whining about compressed formats. What will the iPod generation complain about?

I have to wonder if, ultimately, they’re protesting a loss of status. Back in the vinyl days, music required considerable investment of both money and effort. The gain in sound quality with top-end equipment was significant, it took considerable fiddling to get things “just right”, and you had to take good care of vinyl. There was status in having a huge music collection and a great system. Now it’s trivial to have a vast collection of music literally at your fingertips at all times. All the effort and paraphernalia the audiophiles have invested in their hobby is fast becoming irrelevant, and some of them resent it.

A couple of days ago, KFOG (a rock station in San Francisco) did an interesting listener participation thing. They played a few bars of the same song in three formats - vinyl, CD and MP3 (IIRC, it was a 192k file). People that were paying attention and listening on something better than a $15 radio plugged into old computer speakers were able to identify the sources.

This wasn’t some well-crafted double-blind experiment in a controlled environment - it was plain old FM radio and three perfectly good formats, any one of which was of high enough quality to be played with no apologies.

It’s worth noting that this station has one of the cleanest audio and transmitter chains I’ve ever heard - any equalization, compression or gating (all of which are necessary for broadcast) are done with a very gentle touch. These guys are serious about audio quality - they even built their own performance space and recording studio. But still, people were able to distinguish LP/CD/MP3 even after it was washed through a radio.

I may have grinned a little when I read this. (I hope nobody saw).