Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
Dear Music Industry,
Remember the CD? It was an amazing achievement in technology and the ability to bring the highest quality music to the masses. CDs allowed us to hear things in music that we never thought we’d hear before. Music never sounded richer and deeper than on CDs with a great stereo system, a solid pair of headphones, or in your car. Along came the advent of digital music. The MP3. As music became more and more accessible, audio quality became less important. MP3 was great because it compressed music files to a size that allowed us to fit thousands of songs on a little iPod Nano.
Remember when digital music players advertised how many songs you could fit on a single device? We all know about the battles of piracy and whatnot. This letter is not about that. We know the “digital team” won. Unfortunately, it was at the expense of high-quality audio files. Audiophiles have known since the beginning that compressing audio files sacrifices quality. MP3, even at 320Kbps, doesn’t hold a candle to the quality of CD audio. iTunes sells music at 256kps AAC, which is also a huge step down from the uncompressed audio found on CDs.
Expensive Headphones & Bad Music
Why am I thinking about all of this? Because I can’t help but laugh when I see people walking around with these obnoxiously sized studio monitor style headphones, that they’re spending upwards of $300 on, yet they’re listening to crappy audio that doesn’t even come close to recognizing the potential of their headphones.
Why would anyone buy $300+ headphones and then listen to crap-ass MP3s or streaming audio? I laugh when I see people walking down the street or on the subway with their ridiculous Beats Headphones, because I know 9 out of 10 of them are listening to crap quality music & don’t even know it. We now have cheaper data storage than we’ve ever had before, as well as faster data streaming (LTE anyone?) Can we please move back to high-quality audio as we had on CDs? An average lossless album is about 350MB as opposed to MP3/AAC at 75-125MB. The difference in audio quality is astonishing.
Digital Audio Doesn’t Have To Be Bad
Here’s what I’m thinking: If you are listening to uncompressed music, KUDOS to you. You’re in the minority and you are truly doing it right. You deserve a pair of $300 Beats headphones! I have been slowly converting my music collection to FLAC/ALAC over the past year. A few years back, when storage was much more expensive, I ripped over 1,000 CDs I owned to my computer at MP3 320 kbps. I then threw out all of those CDs. Why would anyone keep all of that plastic now that we’re in the digital age, and no longer truly need physical media, unless we’re romantically nostalgic? Plus, living in NYC, the room saved by getting rid of all of that physical media was much needed.
Now that storage is cheaper and more common, we’ve got the ability to store lossless & uncompressed music in our pockets. A 2TB hard drive can be found for around $100. Apple now makes 64GB portable music players like the new iPod Nano and the iPhone 5. SD cards come in all storage sizes. We need a better quality of music! Unfortunately, the only way to get this is to either go back to the store and buy the THOUSAND PLUS CDs I once had, or steal high bitrate versions of albums I have previously purchased at low bitrate or converted from CD to MP3. It is depressing that the only way to get lossless music these days is to buy a CD and rip it at lossless bitrate. Who the hell buys physical media anymore?! The only bands I know that are selling uncompressed digital music are the Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead.
Please Give Us Lossless Audio
My ask is simple. Can we please start offering lossless music to everyone? I would 100% ABSOLUTELY buy lossless audio files on iTunes. I have purchased the new Smashing Pumpkins album in lossless quality and it sounds INCREDIBLE. Radiohead released The King Of Limbs as lossless WMA files and it sounds AMAZING! There are many of us out there that want to take full advantage of our ridiculously expensive headphones. Those two bands are proof that if you don’t get on the bandwagon, more and more artists are going to cut you out of the equation. Please help us help you.
What Do You Think?
This rant on lossless audio came from a thread on my Facebook wall. Here are some of the more interesting comments from others who participated. Do you agree or disagree with these views on uncompressed and lossless audio? Please leave a comment below.
Photos via unpajarito, @stwo & Huda
$300 headphones for anything but studio-work or critical listening IS pointless.
Perhaps a better reference for deciding the value to larger, high resolution audio files vs compressed ones should be the Producers, Musicians & Engineers making the music you buy & rip.
You are incorrect in stating that for critical listening, 320kps or 256kbps AACs are the same as 16 bit/ 44.1k audio files. They’re not. There are entire panels of music industry people who discuss changing this paradigm to get away from compressed formats.
The fact is that any compressed format (especially mp3’s but AACs as
well) contains less information than their full-quality and (shudder!)
LARGER file counter-parts. It has been scientifically proven that
compressed audio files have perceivable diminished quality affecting not
only frequency range but also stereo imaging and overall depth perception.
Also, most people don’t make 320kps files, they go for the bottom of the barrel 128kps crap-tastic format.
You are a Connoisseur of Crap then, that you find that expensive headphones being “reasonable” to hear the nuances of a compressed format.
Also, there are now specific pieces of music mastering software available (for Mastering Engineers) that aid them in mastering specifically for the awful compressed formats due to the fact that mastering a song or an album once in WAV or AIFF and then compressing it after the fact to mp3, sounds like (wait for it,) crap.
Individual mixes are now made specifically for the compressed market.
The industry sees this as a temporary solution and not as a fix.
If you said that the 320kps mp3’s were fine for being out & about on the noisy streets of the city with earbuds or even for the car, I would have totally agreed with you.
That’s not critical listening. And for most people who listen to music off their laptops, crappy computer speakers, iPod docks and tiny-stereo systems, it probably doesn’t make much of a difference.
But there IS a difference and the Recording Industry is working to affect change from the inside out.
How long that may take is anyone’s guess but it will happen.
MP3 RIP = my dream
When it’s already been sent through 9 compressors on the way out the door, why not put it through another and make it MP3?
Ugh. 320kbps MP3 and 256 kbps AAC are transparent. I highly doubt that you would be able to tell them apart from your lossless tracks.
“An average lossless album is about 350MB as opposed to MP3/AAC at 75-125MB. The difference in audio quality is astonishing.”
The difference in filesize speaks more to the efficacy of those codecs than to how simply awful they are(n’t).
It’s also a fact that even earcancer, utter crap like 128kbps MP3 (good heavens!) will benefit from buying something that isn’t iPod earbuds. Also, given that people are willing to spend a lot more money on things that are a lot less functional (jewelery, anyone?), $300 Beats headphones are not a completely unreasonable choice.
As a closing point, the fact that your ‘interesting facebook discussion” includes brilliant friends who choose uncompressed WAVs or even AIFF from beatport does not encourage the thought that your friends, or you, are experts in deciding on quality vs. disk space.
there is no audible difference between the two, just file size. just use flac.
i’m at a client’s office once a week and there’s this guy who downloads videos from YouTube and listens to them on Beats headphones while he drives to work. not only is it dangerous, but the sound quality sucks. im gonna fwd him this article. maybe he’ll see the light.
ive been using FLAC audio. how does that compare to WAV? sometimes ill download torrents and they’ll include WAV files. is that technically the same quality?