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The Sizzling Sound of Music

Are iPods changing our perception of music? Are the sounds of MP3s the music we like to hear most?

Jonathan Berger, professor of music at Stanford, was on a panel with me at a meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Mountain View, CA on Saturday. Berger’s presentation had a slide titled: “Live, Memorex or MP3.” He mentioned that Thomas Edison promoted his phonograph by demonstrating that a person could not tell whether behind a curtain was an opera singer or one of Edison’s cylinders playing a recording of the singer. More recently, the famous Memorex ad challenged us to determine whether it was a live performance of Ella Fitzgerald or a recorded one.

Berger then said that he tests his incoming students each year in a similar way. He has them listen to a variety of recordings which use different formats from MP3 to ones of much higher quality. He described the results with some disappointment and frustration, as a music lover might, that each year the preference for music in MP3 format rises. In other words, students prefer the quality of that kind of sound over the sound of music of much higher quality. He said that they seemed to prefer “sizzle sounds” that MP3s bring to music. It is a sound they are familiar with.

I remember wondering what audiophiles were up to, buying extremely expensive home audio systems to play old vinyl records. They put turntables in sand-filled enclosures with elaborate cabling schemes. I wondered what they heard in that music that I didn’t. Someone explained to me that audiophiles liked the sound artifacts of vinyl records — the crackles of that format. It was familiar and comfortable to them, and maybe those affects became a fetish. Is it now becoming the same with iPod lovers?

Our perception changes and we become attuned to what we like — some like the sizzle and others like the crackle. I wonder if this isn’t also something akin to thinking that hot dogs taste better at the ball park. The hot dog is identical to what you’d buy at a grocery store and there aren’t many restaurants that serve hot dogs. A hot dog is not that special, except in the right setting. The context changes our perception, particularly when it’s so obviously and immediately shared by others. Listening to music on your iPod is not about the sound quality of the music, and it’s more than the convenience of listening to music on the move. It’s that so many people are doing it, and you are in the middle of all this, and all of that colors your perception. All that sizzle is a cultural artifact and a tie that binds us. It’s mostly invisible to us but it is something future generations looking back might find curious because these preferences won’t be obvious to them.

On a related note, a friend commented recently that she doesn’t understand why people put up with such poor sound quality for phone calls on cell phones, and particularly iPhones. “I can hardly hear the person talking to me,” she said. “I don’t think smart phones are making any improvement to the quality of the phone call,” she added. “Is it not important anymore?” She wondered why people accepted such poor quality, and so did Jonathan Berger, but a lot of people just don’t hear it the same way.

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  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    I think there are “innate” differences in sound perception both qualitative and quantitative such that no amount of “training” can cover them over. Probably nobody would disagree. People’s sight has innate differences, too.

    Still, among most people, those innate differences are not huge. What a lot of people are missing is education. Listening takes training and practice.

    A good music appreciation class, for example: one that includes some music theory and samples the cannon of widely regarded works across a long time-line. A lot of the most popular music is very flashy in just a few dimensions (usually beat and tambre) but vapid in large-scale structure, for example. I’m certain this is because it just never occurred to most of its audience to listen for larger, richer structures and so they can’t hear them even when they’re there.

    Similarly, the equipment of reproduction. Most people can’t hear much difference automatically but if they exposed to concepts like dynamic range, linear response, etc. and hear examples of tweaking such parameters side-by-side – well, then they do hear them. Things never quite sound the same again. They become more discriminating.

    And, of course, pandering to the market has influence here: If you are a sound engineer mixing for a mass market, these days, you’ll tend to assume crappy reproduction environment for your target audience and you’ll mix accordingly, with lots of brutal compression and tricks to give the vague illusion of real bass. The resulting recordings *do* sound better in the crappy formats on crappy equipment – not that they sound especially good anywhere.

    So, I believe that MP3 etc. tests better, year over year, but it’s more going on there than just familiarity breeding comfort: it’s a failure of our culture’s self-reproduction. It’s a pedagogical break. Things fall apart.

    -t

    p.s.: That reminds me: what’s left of the vacuum tube manufacturing sector these days? Last I checked a few years back it was contracting like mad.

  • http://www.voidstar.com Julian Bond

    So let’s get this straight.
    - Apple (and Microsoft) chose poor quality encoders with low quality defaults
    - Apple sold 128Kb tracks with DRM
    - Apple encouraged people to burn the tracks to CD and re-encode them to remove the DRM thus reducing quality
    - The industry has effectively encouraged P2P networks where the quality or encoding is often unknown.
    And now an entire generation think that this low quality encoding is how music ought to sound.

    Well, thanks, guys.

    Go and look at the Uber Standard for encoding. LAME -alt-presetstandard 192Kb VBR MP3s is effectively as good as the original CD according to double blind tests with people who know what they’re listening for. It didn’t have to be like this.

  • Digital

    Why? Because the MP3′s quality is better than the Compact Cassette’s quality. Actually, the Apple’s iPod is the new Sony’s Walkman.

  • http://twitter.com/daveevans David Evans

    I was having a similar conversation recently about the differences in quality between Vimeo and Youtube. Vimeo’s codec is more appealing to me, I can’t describe it, maybe more color density or something?

  • http://twitter.com/mark_rosedale Mark Rosedale

    I have to say that a lot depends on the type of music. If there is something with a lot of highs and lows than an mp3 just won’t do, but a lot of mainstream pop music sounds just as good mp3 as it does in higher end formats. Listen to something like Sigur Ros and you’ll hate the mp3. I think the same could be said about a lot of classical music.

  • Miky

    You may also try to check http://rapid4me.com/ – one of rapidshare search engines for downloading more music you like. The datebase is rather rich.

  • metropolitan

    Think about food culture for a moment. The comparison of fast food, such as McDonalds, to the wide availability of low-bitrate music is valid, I think. A McDonalds hamburger has very little in common with a home-cooked meal of steak or anything else, but is arguably more common among some demographic groups. Do they expect the quality of that hamburger instead of the home-cooked meal? Which is more comfortable to them?

    I have made cheesecakes for relatives before, only to have them say they preferred a Jell-O brand cheesecake, since it’s what they were used to eating. They’ve been trained by exposure to expect a certain set of flavors and textures in their food, and dislike anything that is of higher fidelity (made from scratch, etc).

    Until most people have the exposure to higher-quality music, and the environment to enjoy it appropriately, MP3s will do to get the basic flavor of the song across.

  • http://www.ewanspence.com/blog Ewan Spence

    I’ve just written about a similar experience on my blog (Why I’m Making Status Quo Sound Crap), which deals with music perceptions.

    The playlist replicates one of my old C90 audio tapes which had two albums by Status Quo on it. One side had ‘Perfect Remedy’ and the other ‘Ain’t Complaining.’ The problem was that there was something missing from the music. It took me a while to figure out what it was- At some point in time, the tape had been very slightly melted – perhaps by being next to a radiator or something. And then I remembered that because of the melt, the tape on one side stopped early because it couldn’t fit on the other spool, and the auto-reverse kicked in. I never heard the end of one album (it cut off slap bang in the middle of a song) and never heard the opening track on the other side.

    I woudl still love to have an QU option on my MP3 players marked ‘[psuedo random] record scratches’ or ‘audio tape rubbish’

  • W H Alief

    @ metropolitan:

    In response to your food analogy: My mother, for example, says that she prefers margarine to real butter, Miracle Whip ™ to real mayonnaise. It is what I was used to and yet, when I tasted the real articles, I found that I preferred them.

    I think it is a matter of discernment. Admittedly, I am a foodie and demand more than just the basics of salt, sweet and fat that fast food provide. But, this is my point. I think some people lack this capacity for discernment. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It is easier to please someone who is less discerning.

  • SE Triode

    “Why? Because the MP3′s quality is better than the Compact Cassette’s quality. Actually, the Apple’s iPod is the new Sony’s Walkman.” by Digital

    Ignorance, plain and simple. Sadly you’ve won. Enjoy mediocrity.

    The fools.

  • Anonymous

    You’re forgetting that mp3 tech is getting better. Today, 128 Kb is transparent for most people, specially on an ipod when ridding a bus to school.
    Don’t forget the loudness war, either.

  • http://twitter.com/Televiper AndrewK

    The TV show Corner Gas covered this phenomenon quite well when one of the characters brought a higher priced bottle of wine to dinner. She unknowingly “upgraded” their taste in wine, and they no longer appreciated the bottom shelf wine they were always buying. High quality recordings have a sense of space, and bring in a multitude of nuances to feed the ears. If you’ve never experienced it, you’re not going to miss it.

  • http://www.gigbloggy.com Robin

    well over 128kb/s, it starts getting subtle. But put on good headphones and the difference is clearly apparent.

    But only sound engineers have good headphones, so all in all, we get our ears used to the digital imperfections.

  • http://www.productionadvice.co.uk Ian Shepherd

    I’m interested in the testing method. MP3 encoders typically don;t have enough headroom to handle the very high peak level of modern CDs, so introduce extra clipping distortion as well as all the encoding artefacts – this is the so-called “sizzle”.

    In a short-term A/B test, I can believe people would respond positively to the extra high-frequency distortion, just as they do to small level increases and quantisation distortion.

    But I want to hear long-term testing.

    Play those same students the same music for 2 hours straight – in CD and in mp3. Then, don;t ask them if they can hear a difference or which they prefer – ask them how they FEEL.

    My prediction is that there will be more irritable, edgy people with headaches in the mp3 pool.

    Just like over-compressed high-level music, typical mp3 encodes are fatiguing to listen too, less involving and sound less “real”.

    iPods on the other hand use AAC by default, which sounds much better, but that’s a whole different rant !

    Ian

  • http://www.franklyanything.com Nick

    I’m not an audiophile but I used to hang with them. They’d contest the notion that what they were after was the “crackles” of vinyl. What they were after was the most faithful reproduction of a live musical experience. Of course that objective only applies to acoustic performances. The distinction becomes quite blurred now that music production revolves around electronics (mostly). This is why most audiophile recordings are classical and jazz genres.

    I agree w/ Ian. Would like to see the method and results, especially as they relate to genre, production style and duration of exposure.

  • beni

    Music consumption (as consumption of everything else for that matter) is a function of three things : quality, practicality and cost.

    People make decisions based on these three assumptions. I sometimes eat fast-food , not because I like it,or because i’ts cheaper, but because is more practical.

    Quality music reproduction has hit the lowest point in practicality in it’s short history. An amateur buying a music reproduction system today will be in great pains to establish what is the state of the art in music reproduction… Standards have simply disapeared in the digital age. Even for a pro it’s a nightmare to be able to make a simple A/B objective comparisson between two components.

    That´s why the good for nothing RIAA should be headed not by a lawyer , but by a humble sound engineer , that would work to restore standards to this mess that is digital sound reproduction.

    Only when audio standards are reintroduced in the picture , we can convince the cash-strapped consumer ,to part with his hard-earned bucks for quality.

  • Gio

    I actually just pulled out a few cassette tapes the other day to hear some old stuff that I had recorded and I swear, it sounded better than mp3. Even with the hiss, the range of sound present was far superior to mp3, which constantly loses the airy highs and all bass warmth.

    The mp3 “revolution” is the first time in the history of recorded music that a new format is a step backwards in every way. (Yes, there was the digital vs. analogue argument, but at least digital had its merits, clarity being one.) The sad thing is that most listeners aren’t even aware how shitty the mp3 format is: most people I talk to seem to just assume it’s the same as cd quality. The only merit of mp3 from the beginning has been its portability and its rippability. Though people who think ripping is a benefit are obviously people who don’t give two shits about musicians, and don’t deserve to be listening to good-sounding music in the first place.

  • http://www.batmosphere.com David Battino

    Ian wrote: Play those same students the same music for 2 hours straight – in CD and in mp3. Then, don’t ask them if they can hear a difference or which they prefer – ask them how they FEEL.

    I had that exact experience several years ago: I left the MP3 player running all afternoon with some 128kbps classical music on it, and felt uncomfortable and cranky. My theory is that the brain is working so hard to resolve the sound that it gets tired. It would be like walking around with 3D glasses. These days I mostly use my MP3 players for spoken-word recordings.

    Gio wrote: I actually just pulled out a few cassette tapes the other day to hear some old stuff that I had recorded and I swear, it sounded better than mp3.

    True again. I forgot the hiss after a while and just enjoyed the warmth — until the part where the tape jammed or warbled.

    Dale’s comment about sonic styles is perceptive as well. Recording engineers can easily pick out the decade a pop song was recorded by the sound of the snare drum.

    And ever since Roger Linn invented rhythmic quantization (and Antares introduced Auto-Tune), we’ve become accustomed to hearing metronomic time and perfect pitch. So much so that human variation often sounds wrong now. Still, savvy producers play with that tension. Art is often about contrast, after all. I explored some examples in my podcast, Digital Media Insider 20: Precision vs. Feel

  • Mark

    I noticed several comments deriding the mp3 format and wanted to comment. I’m old enough to have made the transition from vinyl to CD and now mp3 (I mostly skipped cassettes because of the sound quality issues). I think that most of the blame for the poor sound quality of mp3 comes from the horrid encoding done early in it’s rise. I can easily hear the artifacts in a 128k mp3 recording. It is grating to me and I find that it detracts from my ability to enjoy the music. However, if music is encoded to mp3 at a minimum quality of 192k (VBR) (256k is better) I am unable to tell the difference between that and the original CD from which it was ripped. I’ve done a fair amount of this testing using a pair of mid-range, over the ear, Sennheiser headphones. Sure, they’re not the best but they are “reasonable” quality and certainly clear enough to detect the differences. I don’t believe that a lack of quality is inherent in the format itself.

    I try not to be a snob about it. I can’t relate to how most people accept the low quality of most modern “pop” music with it’s horridly compressed the dynamic range.

  • Dale

    Mark is right on the money. It completely depends on the quality of the mp3. Most file sharring networks now share 320k files. I have an audiophile quality system and the difference between a lossless file and a 320k file seems to escape many of my friends but nobody can ignore the difference between 128k and lossless.

    The music type also plays a roll but overall I would argue that a 320k file is really not bad quality. Either way I’m not going to quit buying cd’s anytime soon, it’s simply unmatched by any other current format.

  • http://www.orbit.me.uk/ Bob H

    Fatigue is a big factor when listening to digital artefacts as opposed to analogue artefacts which are essentially more natural. The aim is always to reduce artefacts as much as as possible in all systems. Vinyl records should not be lauded for their noise but neither should 192kbps MP3 audio.

    One of my favourite demos in college was simulating the output of the rear speakers in a Prologic surround system (using a O3D mixer programmed to match the maths of Prologic) and then playing the output of various audio codecs through it. The resulting phase combining highlighted the stereo difference artefacts between each codec.

    One thing I am frustrated by, being a former broadcaster and now working for a large consumer electronics manufacturer, is the number of people who claim the impossible. There are people who see artefacts where there can physically be none and they see enhancements when they don’t exist. We sent out a 1-bit upgrade to a product (it flipped one bit in the memory) and people claimed we had fixed such a dramatic range of problems!

    Sample at the best quality, use the codec with the best mathematics and remember, you probably can’t hear ‘it’ properly anyway because your lounge isn’t an anechoic chamber.

    Bob H

  • http://www.chuckomeara.com Charles O'Meara

    let’s remember two facts that alter this debate:

    1. whatever medium you prefer or think is ‘best’, it will not ever, ever sound the same as being in the room with the music when it is being performed.

    2. all human hearing degenerates over time. no matter how good your ears are, or how good you THINK they are, your hearing will be worse in 15 or 20 years time. and if you don’t take care of your ears when you’re young – like going to loud clubs – your hearing will degenerate sooner

  • Ralphy

    1. whatever medium you prefer or think is ‘best’, it will not ever, ever sound the same as being in the room with the music when it is being performed.

    Except not all music can be performed in a room (think of anything electronic in nature or production). In those cases, the medium is the only reference.

    The idea that a human performance is always the ‘purest’ form of music is a tired old conceit and never had any worth.

  • http://herejam.com Jay Fienberg

    As was said earlier in the comment thread, it’s a big assumption to argue that audiophiles like the crackle of vinyl, etc. Most of the people who get into having good stereos and listening to vinyl do so because the recordings sound more *musical* and more *true*–e.g., digital / CD often sounds clinical in general, cheap stereos sound brittle and dramatically alter the color of the sound, etc.

    So, anyway, some people try to hear the recordings via a format / medium that is as true to the original recording as possible–and, if it’s a great, musical sounding recording done in an analog format, then listening on vinyl or reel-to-reel tape ends up being part of the ideal scenario.

    All that said, the popular recordings that people like create a common / shared taste of what sounds “good.” And, so if a lot of people are listening to recordings they like via mp3s and/or on iPods, the artifacts of the format and player do become part of what’s familiar and likable about the sound.

    And, the popularity of those artifacts effect how people record music–and even what people write and how they perform.

    There are three really dramatic examples of this kind of thing: the use (and overuse) of audio compression (i.e., making the recording sound loud), the use of drum machines (i.e., truly accurate tempos), and the use of auto-tune (i.e., truly accurate pitch) on vocals. Those are all part of a shared taste in popular music today, whereas they all were absent as you go back 20-50 years.

  • Biclops

    1. whatever medium you prefer or think is ‘best’, it will not ever, ever sound the same as being in the room with the music when it is being performed.

    You could not be more off-base with this. The Beatles, for example, would have been an incredible live performance, I am sure, but no live performance they could do could replicate all the subtleties and nuances of an album like Sgt. Pepper’s. Live can be a wonderful experience, to be sure, but studio work tends to capture artistic vision better when that vision includes things outside of playing instruments.

  • Mark Kawakami

    I’m really curious as to the test itself. Was it played to students using headphones or speakers? Did they say which format was played prior to each sample or was the test “blind”? The latter question is especially important. On a good encoding without knowing what to listen for, MP3′s can be largely indistinguishable from the uncompressed source they’re encoded from. If the students know which format is which when they’re listening, their own biases for MP3 that are unrelated to quality (portability, cost, etc.) may cause them to prefer it over CD or vinyl, even if they’re asked to make their decision based only on audio quality.

    The truth is, unless this test is a “blind taste test” (ala the Pepsi Challenge), there’s really nothing whatsoever that can be reliably inferred.

  • Kevin Connor

    There’s a recent paper on the same thing in a recent AES (Audio Engineering Society) Journal, or was it IEEE Trans. on ASSP? Someone add link, if they remember the article, pls. It was a researcher with the BBC, I think, who was finding that people would report a preference for the kind of compressed audio used for digital radio broadcast in Europe. The same counter-intuitive finding, that is presumably explained by acclimatization/adaptation/familiarity.

    Some people /do/ like the taste of Soylent Green, I suppose.

  • http://kenotic.net/ Hunter

    You may find the results of these listening tests of various MP3 encoders at 128kbps interesting:

    http://www.listening-tests.info/mp3-128-1/results.htm

    The mp3 codec has come a long way (especially LAME). With that being said, I prefer higher bitrate mp3 / lossless encoding when I rip my own music. :)

  • Pete Gontier

    People need to get over the sense that one recording is “better” than another. As someone above pointed out, some recordings have more of a sense of space; this is how you ought to be talking about differences, as opposed to saying one method or technology is “better” than another.

    Anybody who has actually worked with computer-based audio engineering understands this. You can have a high-sample-rate uncompressed collection of drum sounds recorded in a perfectly anechoic chamber with the world’s best microphones, and you still have to simulate some analog tape compression to give them that “professionally mastered” feel everyone expects.

    Perfection doesn’t exist. Start accepting it now and you’ll be happier sooner.

  • Lachlan

    I find the comments on FEEL to be the most interesting in this thread … the switching noise in the conversion process for digital recordings occurs high up in the frequency spectrum, though it is possible that it is this noise that detracts from the audible frequencies. (Think harmonics interfering with each other.)

    We may not be able to hear the sound directly, but we may hear the colouration it provides to the other frequencies.

    Digital recordings fatigue me in a way that analogue recordings never did.

    Though give it a generation and no-one will be any the wiser.

  • http://blog.vinylrecordarchitect.com VinylRecordArchitect

    As a recent convert BACK to vinyl, I appreciate the warmth and humanism that I hear in the pops and scratches. My new old 1970s era stereo components that I found on Craig’s list and at the local recycler play my used vinyl records – no new vinyl for me – in ways that seem to fit the music I enjoy especially, the garage and psychedelic rock from about 1965-1970. I don’t think it sounds better, it just sounds good to me. Everything I write about on my Blog – blog.vinylrecordarchitect.com – is heard on old vinyl, the records played and enjoyed by others before me. I like the sense of continuity and the acknolwedgement of the passage of time, the equivilent of patina in old wood floors.

  • http://www.commandertrombone.com Wiley

    “And ever since Roger Linn invented rhythmic quantization (and Antares introduced Auto-Tune), we’ve become accustomed to hearing metronomic time and perfect pitch. So much so that human variation often sounds wrong now.”

    It’s not really “perfect” pitch. Remember, we use tempered tuning in The West, which is an acoustical compromise to begin with. Despite that, and contrary to what one diluted recording engineer said on NPR, their were *plenty* of people walking around with very good pitch–”perfect,” in the sense of knowing where the pitch is and being able to reproduce it in a musical way–before Auto-Tune.

    Human variation sounds wrong? No. Music is supposed to be human. But, to the human, if it sounds good it is good. A human may favor the sound of a guitar amp with a ripped speaker cone that has fallen off the back of a truck. In Africa, bottle caps are placed on thumb pianos to make a pleasing extra buzz. All of these sounds can be great.

    So, how do we get students to realize when they are hearing great music? Well, it may take some time.

  • http://www.ichwerdeeinberliner.com Wash Echte

    I think in western societies, Music as a whole has had a bigger significance than it ever deserved, anyway. Let’s be honest – the main reason people get into a certain genre of music is because they use it as a hierarchical system to set themselves apart from their peers, i.e. being into certain composers or bands before a mass audience discovers them, having rare pressings of vinyl, imports from Japan, or a 5-digits hifi system in their living room.

    Enjoying music and the quality of sound reproduction has never been what drives music, so I doubt there has been a time when people were more aware of how well it is reproduced on media.

  • http://web.mac.com/colorscape gary

    Interesting article and comments.
    After completing a song I am familiar with each and every sound, effect and placement.
    Do others recognize the difference in my music when played in mp3, aac or full quality?
    I hope the hand-fulls of people who have the higher quality would say yes. The thousands who have downloaded mp3′s could probably care less.
    My neighbors may be the only ones who ever here my music loud and via quality speakers but somehow I get the feeling they are not to happy about it.
    Good luck!

  • Greg

    Although poor quality MP3′s are really annoying, it is easy to forget how much better the sound quality of average consumer sound equipment is now than in the past. This makes it easy enough for the average person to not need to be an “audiophile” to get an acceptable sound quality. There are examples to the contrary but cheap sound systems sound much better than they did not that long ago. MP3′s are not perfect but other than a few arguable aspects MP3 sound better than any cassettes I remember. Oddly enough, I think that in many ways the horrid sound of low bit rate mp3′s/or satellite radio is very similar to that of a warped cassette tape.

  • Starky

    As a very amateur musician I’ve felt for some time that digital recordings have that “sizzle”. Nothing unique there. But what I’ve also noticed is that the way sound recordists mix sound has, over the years, begun to lean towards that digital sizzle even more. Even the pros seem to be susceptible to the idea that you like what you are used to hearing. I suppose there is no absolute definition of audio quality, but to this 62 year old who’s played in symphony orchetras, rock bands and jazz combos, what I hear in present day recordings is not pleasing to my ear.

  • http://www.eude.nl Edo Paulus

    I remember listening in front of a audiophile friend’s sound system and saying I prefered my own cheap speakers that I was familiar with.

    I remember buying a high-quality set of stereo near field monitoring speakers and being astound by its quality and listing to all my old music as if it was new again.

    I remember listening to officialy released songs by Prince on CD and prefering the worn out sound of those same recordings that I’d heard before on bootleg tape cassettes: Joy In Repetition – in a stormy rain.

  • Dying Sun

    Having recently acquired the Dead Can Dance MFSL remasters in Audiophile SACD editions, I can honestly say that there’s nothing quite like the experience of listening to these masterpieces in a decent stereo system – I mean decent, not absurdly expensive (mine consists of a simple Technics amplifier and a pair of Jamo speakers, both 20 years old and a €250 Cambridge Audio DVD/SACD player). The sound is just immense, crystal clear and envolving in a way that no compressed digital format comes ever even close! But at the same time, I enjoy listening to my home-made 256k/AAC tracks in my iPhone every day. Amidst all the noise of a working place, as background music, they’re perfectly fine. And perfectly convenient!

    All this to say that each thing has its own place. One is not meant to replace the other, as the experience is clearly different (and whoever thinks it isn’t, simply hasn’t listened to music on a decent stereo system).

  • Jeremy

    I think the author is missing the point. I prefer mp3s to uncompressed audio. Why? Because CDs sound too sterile. I prefer vinyl over anything, but I’d rather listen to my music as an mp3 than an uncompressed wav. The compression, the slight fuzzying of the sound adds a warmth that the uncompressed version lacks.

    Nothing beats vinyl though, nothing. Why is vinyl better? Well a typical CD quality recording samples the sound at 44.1 kHz or 44,100 samples per second. A needle moving in the groove on an album vibrates continuously to the music. It has an infinite number of samples per second. That’s why it sounds better.

  • Dr. Mohanraj Dhanagopal

    My 2 cents!

    Music recording and reproduction is a complicated science. Though it appears deceptively simple, it involves sound->electric and electric->sound conversion. No mic is even half as efficient as the human ear! So naturally we would only expect that sound reproduction should result in crappy music.

    Let us assume music performed 30 years ago had the same richness as music performed these days by decent bands (arguable, if you factor in that many bands use synthesizers).

    Music recorded 30 years ago went through lots of those crappy transistors, op-amps (741s for e.g.) and tubes and were reproduced by equipment designed to have a wider dynamic range but had similar crappy components. This adds heavy coloring but may sound better!! because it hides some of the drawbacks of crappy conversion.

    Music recorded today is processed by some of the best op-amps ever designed and reproduced using technology that is way better than what was available 30 years ago. This actually exposes the inherent crappiness of the process. We can overcome it by coloring artificially, which is again difficult and we don’t want to.

    Will an audiophile ever appreciate that the sound created by really transparent recording/reproduction of well-mastered CDs are better than 30-year-old viny+tube recording/reproduction? They won’t because the Vinyl/Tube combo overcame crappy sound by coloring it favorably.

    MP3 conversion is another convolution in the process.

  • http://myspace.com/doughayman Doug

    I find it interesting to have gone full circle, somewhat. In my early days of listening to pop music it was on a small transistor radio…with one speaker. A good mix had to keep each track in its own frequency range to hold up in mono.

    When I’d first heard stereo, first on an old record player and then through headphones…I was excited to really make out the separate players and their perceived locations, Jimi’s voice bouncing back and forth on Foxy Lady, etc…

    I still find that recorded music, analog or digital creates an imaginary realm. Listening to Bonham’s drums on When The Levee breaks is not the same as if I was sitting near his kit. It is like I’m hearing it from down the hallway…thanks in part to some type of compression be it analog gear’s saturation or some digital trickery.

    Now, as an iPod user I think my mind is still playing along with the illusions created by the mix, and fills in where the bits don’t fully capture reality.

  • Luke Bennett

    Hi,

    This is an interesting article. I think it is worth considering the progression of recording technology from cylinder to vinyl to CD to MD to mp3 to FM to digital radio. All of the above have had some kind of compression within the recording.

    I think the point that is interesting is will the lack of presence that comes from a high fidelity recording be lost? This may not change our tastes but may change our enjoyment. I am sure the next digital format will soon be on the horizon offering a new listening experience…keep your ear to the ground :)

    Luke

  • Td Landry

    Keep in mind, 128Kb tracks were never a “conspiracy”, it was a simple limitation of the technology of the time.

    Memory & Bandwidth were illegitimate bottlenecks in 2001, not some evil plot by Apple or others to steal fidelity from your years.

    Sure, in 50 years, sound on an iPod will equal a “live” concert :) but we aren’t there yet… so quit you’re bitch’n.

  • Gary

    I wonder if this really is a test of dynamic range rather than codecs and bit rates. Are kids coming into college just more attuned to limited dynamic range? I also would really be interested in a ‘pepsi challenge’ test. If you’re just picking up that kids today like lots of compression that’s not the same thing as they like MP3.

  • Jeff

    Is there a link anywhere to the actual study results and the methodology Berger uses? His results seem to fly in the face of many mp3 ABX tests which demonstrate that to the majority of people, a well-encoded mp3 at a decent bit rate (in the range the post mentions) are transparent. Without the actual data, a lot of what I’m reading above doesn’t sound much different than a lot of the (mis)information and jargon that fills a lot of high-end audio magazines…

  • lydgate

    Let me preface this by saying that I’m 24 and own a thousand-pound record player that I use on a daily basis. Pride and joy :)

    Dale Dougherty wrote:
    > Someone explained to me that audiophiles liked the sound artifacts of vinyl records — the crackles of that format. It was familiar and comfortable to them, and maybe those affects became a fetish.

    I definitely agree that there’s fetishism among audiophiles, but I disagree that it’s the crackles they’re after. I recently compared the sound of a pristine copy of Springsteen’s _Born to Run_, switching between vinyl and FLAC. Both my analogue and digital signal paths are decent — that is to say, in laymen’s terms, quite expensive (a few grand worth of gear). In audiophile’s terms, very much “entry level” :)

    Anyway, the two definitely sound different. I wasn’t trying to blind-test them as it’s almost impossible to get the levels matched, but they sound surprisingly similar. Vinyl (almost cliche to say) is very warm in the mids. My Denon cartridge made it a bit bass-light. It’s possible to name differences like that, but it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what the difference in character is. One isn’t better. They’re just different. I happen to prefer vinyl.

    There were no crackles on the vinyl. Of course it’s a familiar sound, but those crackles come from worn records, damaged styluses, improperly mounted cartridges, or any of the other (admittedly numerous) problems that can arise from analogue systems. Audiophiles aren’t after the crackle — they spend big bucks on getting every component as “quiet” as possible. An vinylhead’s dream is an ultra low output moving coil cartridge (measured in microvolts, it sometimes needs to be amplified twice before it gets anywhere near a regular CD player’s ~2 volts). They’re battling to get the noise floor as low as possible. Believe me, they’re not spending thousands of pounds on a needle for the love of crackles. Of course some of it is competition with their likewise audiophilic friends, but vinyl is certainly capable of being astoundingly smooth and beautiful.

    What I personally love about vinyl is the hunt for used records. They’re cheap, and you can find some amazing stuff out there. It also really puts you in touch with the times, the album art, lyric sheets, posters, letters to fans, sometimes even crazier inserts you get in a record. I have a Teardrop Explodes record with a letter from their producer to someone else in the music business explaining how they were going to be the next big thing :)

    Thomas Lord wrote:
    > If you are a sound engineer mixing for a mass market, these days, you’ll tend to assume crappy reproduction environment for your target audience and you’ll mix accordingly, with lots of brutal compression and tricks to give the vague illusion of real bass.

    That’s true, and the reason for the popularity of Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” which sounded substantially better on transistor radios than music from other producers.

    The interesting thing about good music, though, is that it sounds good pretty much whatever you play it on. Sure, I think it sounds better with good gear and a good source — otherwise I wouldn’t be listening to Dr. John on vinyl as I type this. But I got into a lot of the music which I now own on vinyl through MP3s. Is it “better” on my hifi? Yes. But it’s the same music, and has the same *nature* of appeal however the actual experience is degraded or enhanced by the playback method.

    > p.s.: That reminds me: what’s left of the vacuum tube manufacturing sector these days? Last I checked a few years back it was contracting like mad.

    Not sure about the manufacturing sector but they’re quite popular among hifi types still. Massively expensive when produced in the first world, but China is cashing in on the audiophile demand for these old things. Just last night I was tempted to get one of these on ebay:

    http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f5/review-little-dot-mkiii-tube-headphone-amp-pre-amp-309855/

    Julian Bond wrote:
    > LAME -alt-presetstandard 192Kb VBR MP3s is effectively as good as the original CD according to double blind tests with people who know what they’re listening for. It didn’t have to be like this.

    I agree that LAME is good and I’m quite happy with alt-preset standard mostly, but I’ve ABXed up to extreme before. You just need a good pair of headphones and an amp that can drive them. I did it with Sennheiser HD-595s. With HD-800s and a good amp, I’m sure some younger people could ABX 320 CBR MP3. But you have to listen hard enough that it’s basically irrelevant.

    Great article, interesting discussion!

  • http://www.fakewrx.com Bob

    MP3 file are still better than many people speakers or headphones. Whats the point of glistening clear audio when alot of people have a pair of 3″ 5w speakers or some 3.99 earphones.

    CDs are not even full quality, most studio recordings start as 48k 24 bit or 96k 24 bit, then after mixing and processing are downgraded to 44k 16bit. An mp3 or aac file could actually be higher quality than a cd if converted directly from to 48k at the studio or mastering facility.

  • andy

    Professor Berger,
    Could you please describe “sizzle” in more useful terms? Is it the high-frequency artifact common in low bit rate files? What, precisely, does “sizzle” mean?

  • http://www.grunin.com Eric Grunin

    I suspect what Berger is actually detecting is an increased incidence of damaged hearing. Those with high-frequency hearing loss may well prefer the harshness of low-quality compression.

  • Chuck Dube

    One things I haven’t seen anyone address is the stereo image. A fairly decent CD or vinyl playback system is going to yield much better results, perhaps nearing a three dimensionality, than any compressed format. Granted, most causal listeners haven’t experienced this; most rock and pop recordings are rather “flat” in this regard, whereas a high quality jazz or orchestral recording is going to afford the listener a sense of the room and space in which the performance occurred – something that becomes more and more apparent as you go up the chain into higher quality playback systems and listening room treatment. I’m not referring to just left and right channel here, nor 5.1 which I’m not well versed in, but about a depth where, for instance one can envision the positioning of an certain instrument not only in an arc, but with regards to the other players. You just don’t get this kind of experience in compressed formats.
    Convenience and portability are winning out here, although as one comment stated, there are better digital formats that can be equally convenient- they just are losing out in the way betamax lost out over vhs decades ago. But there’s also no reason why different formats cannot serve different purposes, as long as music is mastered so that we can have a high quality version to choose from. If music becomes mastered only for compressed formats, it will be a tragedy for those in the future wanting to remaster and recapture the performances of today. Think for all of the wonderful music that we have access today; carefully recorded decades ago and preserved so that we can extract the sweet essence of it with today’s mastering technology. But if all that exists of contemporary recordings is a reduced bit archive, all that will exist tomorrow is a pale, flattened (if not brash and brittle) reflection.

  • radtek2001

    What’s the difference between MP3 and MP4? One is considered “lossless” and the other isn’t, To hear the difference, compare an ordinary MP3 player and an MP4(AAC)ipod. It’s obvious how the samples of 44khz encoding of a 10 khz signal less fully recreate samples of a higher frequency sample rate. That sizzle is loss of data, the D/A converter is trying to recreate a 10khz signal but comes out with garbage instead, an oversimplification I know. The bass on the other hand has a very good approximation, it’s still been sampled at 44khz, but that’s 100 times more information than the 10khz signal got. You like mp3′s vs. anything else? That’s because mixdown artists are capitolizing on this phenomena, the hip hop and rap genres are actually adding 3db boost to allow the automobile sector to ground pound the freeway. Ask any young person, boom boom. It’s there. Flat frequency response and audiophile recordings ARE NOT THE MONY MAKERS THEY USED TO BE. You’re using rose colored glasses if you don’t see this. I myself collect vinyl (>1000 albums,turntables, thriftstore components…ADS speaks and nakamichi cass. deck) but I recognize the dynamic range of CD is vastly superior. The quality of the music can be indistinguishable between vinyl, cassette, CD and more often than not ACC (MP4). So it depends, given equal quality of playback and signal source how I feel at the time. Music on headphones at the airport will be just as satisfying as a critical listen at home in the quiet.

  • Mike Armstrong

    Has Jonathan Berger published this research? Not as far as I can see. That means we have no insight as to how these tests were conducted. This kind of opinion score can be easily swayed by other factors, particularly if it was conducted with all the participants in the room together.

    This doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously until the results are published, until then it is just a tabloid story.

  • http://www.WinkSound.com Mateo

    I think this is a matter of portability, maybe not entirely but it definitely is one of the deciding factors in why people choose MP3′s over .WAV’S, .AIFF’S or any other uncompressed type of audio file. I mean, would you rather carry around 7 songs at 50something MB’s each or 70 songs at 2 or 3 MBs each? Practicality.

    Today we’re more about the music itself than anything else. How it makes us feel, etc., has priority over how it sounds. At the end of the day it’s about getting the message across as practical and less intrusive as possible.

  • Moodie-1

    I remember, many years before the introduction of CDs, listening to the Moody Blues’ ‘Beyond’ from their ‘To Our Children’s Children’s Children’ LP. This is an instrumental that has two alternating musical themes – one complex and treble-rich, the other very slow and bassy. Listening to the song through headphones I could easily hear the two themes actually revolve around my head, with each one staying 180° away from the other. Sadly, this effect seems to be lost when listening to the CD version of the song. Instead, the two themes seem to just get louder and softer as they pan from side to side. Just one more clue that we’ve lost something in the move to digital music.

  • Nelson Hawkins

    Hot dogs taste better at the ballpark because they cost $8.00, so you’d better find a way to enjoy them along with your $6.00 cheese-whiz nachos and $7.00 Miller Lite. Same with vinyl vs. mp3. A local store now charges on average $25 for 180-gram vinyl reissues of classic rock albums. After spending that much, it’s a natural progression to want to invest in a better turntable, then speakers, cables, a new receiver, amplifier, etc.

  • http://www.productionadvice.co.uk Ian Shepherd

    For those who are interested, I’ve posted a blog response to this, going into a little more detail than there’s room for here:

    Do the kids prefer “mp3 sizzle” ? Bullshizzle !

    To address a couple of misconceptions in the replies here:

    - AAC isn’t lossless. Apple offer a lossless codec (called “Apple Lossless”, imaginatively enough) but AAC is simply a more advanced codec than mp3.

    - The argument that vinyl (and analogue in general) is better than digital because it has an “infinite sampling frequency” or because digital has “steps” in the sound is incorrect. Again there isn’t enough space here, but in a nutshell the frequency response and “smoothness” of digital waveforms is actually superior to that of analogue – up to the Nyquist frequency, ie. half the sampling frequency, or 22 kHz in the case of CD.

    The analogue/digital argument is a complete red herring as far as audio quality goes – the two are different, both can sound fantastic and both can sound dreadful.

    Fwiw, I find the distortion introduced by vinyl, especially at the end of a side, just as irritating as mp3 encoding artefacts, but I’m quite satisfied with AAC for on-the-go listening.

    (Yes, I know, I need a better turntable, but excuse me – I don’t have thousands of pounds to spare – a good CD and player sound far better !)

    Ian

  • Christina Blom

    I’m not what I would call an audiophile, and I am just now coming late to music stored in a library on hard disk rather than a zillion CDs. I am excited by the concept.

    BUT I have been running some quality tests comparing the AAC version of the music, played fairly loudly on an excellent stereo, to the original CD of the music. There is simply no comparison! I am using as my test “gold standard”, the Eugene Ormandy version of the Berlioz Requiem. From CD, the music is all there. All the highs, all the lows, even the echos in the concert hall. From AAC, it’s dead! Half of the music is gone.

    I conclude the technology is just not there yet. Digital compressed files are fine for listening to music at soft volumes, as background to normal life. When the music is the Big Event though, and you have the volume turned up to where you can hear all the music, compressed files just do NOT deliver.

    Is anybody keeping their music library in an uncompressed format? What does that do to your file sizes? I wonder what 11GB of AAC files would be like if they were lossless. And I wonder whether uncompressed files could be successfully streamed over a wireless network from the computer to the stereo.

    Anybody know?

  • http://www.unc.edu/~adamsonj Joel Adamson

    Just a comment on the original article, which I know many have already stated: vinyl-lovers don’t listen to vinyl for the crackles. If I did I’d be disappointed since my records don’t crackle. They sound clear as a bell, even with cheap equipment. I doubt better equipment would bring out any crackles.

  • http://twitter.com/kulokoo Al Weyslokal

    The author said:

    “Our perception changes and we become attuned to what we like…”

    Isn’t the whole point that, but reversed:

    “We like what we’ve become attuned to”

    One has good memories tied to digitally framed songs in MP3 … and that becomes the preference, the preferred sound. You may think that’s artificial, but it is only a choice among arbitrary choices. Consider:

    The music you listen to is played on a certain arbitrary tonal scale – a convention for splitting up the natural octaves – but there are infinitely many ways to do this, you probably only like the sound of Western tonal scale, or another.

    “Subdivision of the octave – The mind perceives pitch to be continuously variable – there are no “quanta” of pitch – but in music, out of the infinite possible pitches that could be chosen from the pitch continuum, only a limited number are used.”
    http://www.tonalcentre.org/Scales.html

    We don’t adjust our taste to that which is best, we like what we have already grown to like.

    No one is going to have a slogan that says “Listen different” but maybe someone should.

    That said, I really do prefer the sound of MP3s, even though maybe I shouldn’t.

  • zcat

    Christina, here’s the math; ‘CD audio’ is 2 tracks, 16 bits per track (2*16 bits per sample) at 44100 samples per second, thus 1411200 bits or 1378kbps (1kb = 1024bits). One hour of uncompressed music is 3600 times that, divided by 8 to get bytes, divided by 1024*1024 to get Megs, approximately 605MB. Lossless compression shrinks the files down to about half, so an hour of FLAC or Apple Lossless at the same quality will be about 300MB.

    For comparison, an hour of mp3 music at 192kbps (which most people can’t tell from the original in a properly designed listening test) will be 84M. The lossless files are 3.5 times larger.

  • DCE

    I was quite convinced that those touting the superiority of vinyl and compact discs were manufacturing a quality difference where there simply wasn’t one. Their preferred formats sounded better because they willed them to sound better.

    Then I listened to an uncompressed recording in a well apportioned listening space. For the first time, terms like “depth” and “soundstage” made sense to me. It was a revelation.

    I believe my inability to discern appreciate the distinction between formats was rooted in how I was listening to music. As I grew up with bookshelf systems and orange foam headphones, I never learned about speaker placement or reflected sound. I never learned how to listen. I suspect Dale’s students are similarly uneducated.

  • Christopher Ball

    There is no question that MP3 compressed audio is poorer “quality”, in that certain elements of the original recording are distorted or have vanished altogether (high and low frequencies especially). However true it may be that people are “used” to that sound, and even like it because they don’t know the difference, anyone in my experience, who is exposed to a “high quality” listening experience (which doesn’t have to be expensive – I built all of my own speakers at a fraction of the cost for equivalent quality) will very quickly appreciate just how bad MP3 recordings are. We live in a time when convenience trumps all and the look-at-me-I-own-the-latest-ipod is very important, so MP3′s threaten to swamp audio distribution, and may even threaten superior quality CD production. Yes, there will always be a few who can find or hang on to old CD equipment (like vinyl) but it won’t be available to a larger audience…unfortunately….unless forums like this encourage us to continue buying CDs.

  • Andy

    The thing about low quality, compressed audio that might be missed is that it is just that: compressed. Many (perhaps most) music listeners don’t like to hear the details in separation. The clearest example of this is with multiple audio tracks. Many artists will record them singer the same melody but with different voices (softer or more nasally, etc.). This results in a ‘resultant’ single voice in low quality mp3 (say, 128k), or two distinct voices in higher mp3 (say 320 or true V0). Many people prefer the single resultant sound over the two sounds. I’m not sure if this is altogether wrong, but I think it’s true. The same idea follows for the instruments: People might prefer the song to have, say, the bass and the guitar sound ‘as one’, rather than as two distinct instruments. It allows them to just be hit with the music more.

    I also think there is something to be said for the current generation’s (my generation’s) obsession with beats. The clearer the complexities are, the more this detracts from the ‘thump-thump’ of the beat, for which many people listen to their music. Perhaps the same reason people like overpowering subwoofers, people like low quality mp3s and ipod headphones: their condense the complexities and leave you with the beat and the basic back-and-forths.

  • Chris

    Here’s a fun little article: http://theaudiocritic.com/back_issues/The_Audio_Critic_26_r.pdf

    Okay, the article is in that URL, and it’s called The Ten Biggest Lies in Audio. I think that the lies that are particularly germane to this discussion are Lies 3 and 10, and maybe 2. You have to read the article to find out what they are.

    I agree with the person who posted earlier that vinyl-philic audiophiles don’t want to hear the crackle and pop or any other trace of surface noise. They’re after what they believe is the purest reproduction of sound available.

    That said, however, I like hi-rez audio formats like DVD-Audio and SACD. It’s rare to find a well-recorded standard CD (though B&W has produced some awesome demo CDs featuring music recorded at Abbey Road studio – that just happens to use B&W speakers exclusively).

    CD is much better than MP3 (and uses roughly 10 times the storage space of a 128 kbps mp3).

    We’ve seen a number of good metaphors to try and describe what happens with digital compression (not to say anything about dynamic compression), and I’ll try this one. To me, an mp3 recording is the sonic equivalent of a 1.3 megapixel digital photo taken by my cell phone. To get better (CD quality), I might jump to my 7.1 megapixel point-and-click digi-cam. If I want to approximate SACD or DVD-Audio, then I have to move up to a professional grade digital camera with a great set of chips for capturing the light.

    The vinyl-philic audiophiles are the guys who have a medium, or even a large, format Hasselblad.

  • Old Indie

    We are debating the quality of sound storage and subsequent reproduction. What is also important is the reproduction equipment.

    The new digital amps are turning the audio world on it’s ear. You do not need thousand dollar speaker cables, 100 lb amps, hand tweaked DACs. Suddenly, a US$50 (via eBay) Tripath -based digital amp the size of a VHS tape is the standard. Add a speaker system that you find pleasing, and you can now go off and find the source of music you enjoy. I rarely listen to my tube or class A FET amps now. They are that good.

    Expect the consumer electronics industry publications to fight back. Ad budgets and all.

  • Saint

    Physics lesson: ‘MP Free’s’ are about 1/10th the quality of a 16/44.1 CD. A good CRO2 cassette is BETTER quality than a CD. A good vinyl record is WAY better than all 3 formats! This is NOT because of disc noise crackle, rather it is in SPITE of that ‘artifact’ of the vinyl medium. There ARE digital formats that can sound ALMOST as good as well recorded and mixed music to the 1 inch – 2 track analog tape, but they are not available to the public. That todays generation prefers the ‘convenience ‘ of stealing music (rather than paying for it simply because they CAN), and listening through ‘earbuds’ on an ipod or a telephone and Mac Deee’s over actual food is purely generational peer pressure and convenience. What truly sucks is that the music consumer, unlike any other product (cars, clothes, shoes, jewelery, food…WHATEVER) you HAVE a choice. You can buy a Benz, BMW, Rolls, Masseratti, or you can opt out for the VW Beetle. Ipods & earbuds are VW beetles. You step on the gas and go nowhere slow. FIne for jogging around the park, but when you are ready to hear the same music in actual HIGH DEF it is almost IMPOSSIBLE to do so. It’s all about the “I” mentality!

  • MrChilipi

    I completely agree with Beni that “Music consumption is a function of three things: quality, practicality and cost”.
    I don’t know much about vinyl but mp3 easily beats CDs in practicality and cost. Mp3 gives me an option to carry 1000+ songs with me in my mobile any where which CDs can’t provide. If quality of mp3 is poorer, why don’t we work on to find a way to improve its quality and give better music to the world, instead of expecting people to go back to CDs/Others? Please treat this as a sincere request from a music lover.

  • GuitarBizarre

    Saint – What level of MP3? What sample rate? Bitrate? Encoding format?

    Also, 1/10th? On what scale? You’re talking bullshit with nothing to quantify it here I think. Also, a Cassette is not better quality than a CD, and never has been.

    As for this article – its bullcrap. Audiophiles aren’t listening to crackle or pop, they want the highest possible resolution recording of their music, played as well as possible.

    For reference, My home audio setup is extensive. I run a NAD C326 through Mordaunt Short Mezzo 2 speakers using a Cambridge Audio DacMagic fed via USB from PC as the source using a variety of both FLAC compressed and MP3 style sources, those MP3 sources range in bitrate from sub 100k through to full 320kb. My headphone listening is done through ipod or via the amps phones out, using either Grado SR80s or Denon AHC551s. I work for a hi-fi chain and my father is an avid audiophile.

    Can I tell the difference? Night and Day. Does it detract noticably from the listening? Not until below 192Kbps MP3. Its a surprisingly robust format and to this day even OGG has little advantage over it at high bitrates.

    My musical taste ranges from Puccini, Bjork, Meshuggah, and everything in between and to the sides. I’m a working musician, guitarist of 11 years, studying popular musics at university.

    Simply put. this article is total trash and whoever wrote it has no clue what audiophilia is or is for. Most of the comments are no better.

  • craig plater

    There have been double blind tests to asses whether the difference in quality between various types of mp3 and other formats can be disserned and most of them have found that there were no more corrects than you’d expect by chance at or above 320kbps.

    The type of test was an ABX test (double blinded). It had 55% success but with a 5% error making the observable quality statistically no different.

    There are more double blind tests avaiblable here all suggesting a similar thing, and more recent test (with more stringent conditions) suggest that the actual bitrate at which it becomes undifferentiable could be lower.

  • Robert

    I cane to this comments section expecting the dialog to be much less tech-oriented and I have to say, I’m truly impressed. Thanks for restoring my hope in mankind, such as it is.

    That said, Mike Armstrong said it best — where’s the research? What are the conditions of this testing? And most importantly, what equipment was he using and what kinds of music did he try?

    I guarantee you, put a system together with 32-bit 192KHz digital and an analog rig that costs at least $1000 for the phono preamp, $1000 for the cartridge, and $2500 for the turntable, with proper setup and clean, new vinyl, and no one on the planet is going to like any form of mp3 better in a double blind test.

    Unless it’s Fallout Boy or similar ilk, engineered to be played back on worthless equipment (from the standpoint of someone who knows the difference), i.e., iPod and earbuds. Acoustic jazz, classical, pop music that was recorded before the volume wars, whatever — it’s going to sound better to even the least initiated morons out there than mp3s.

    And of course, it’s utterly useless to test a group of subjects simultaneously in the same room. Group dynamic sets in and destroys any chance of individual honesty and objectivity.

  • http://rsfile.net rsfile

    Im using rapidshare most of time to search for movies.I have sites I like.

  • Freddie A

    I would like to point something out, if i am correct mp3′s were created to compress audio files. This was due to a lack of space for the original to fill. So now why do we have ipods with space of 120GB that can store 30,000 low quality mp3′s. First of all who has 30,000 songs and why haven’t the manufactures decided now that we have the space and technology to provide uncompressed high fidelity songs to porvide breath taking music for those who care, and of course can afford the proper head gear – lets be honest apples standard white ear whistles don’t quite do it for me!

  • Z

    I agree with Freddie A completely. beni (2009-03-05) said quality, practicality, and cost are all factors. We now have the technology and memory size to accomodate high quality recordings on our Ipods – okay, not 30,000, but lets say 3000 songs. So once we invest in a decent set of headphones to replace the apple standard issue one, we can now have quality, practicality and cost. I suppose that some might view being able to store ONLY 3000 songs as a step back from 30000 – perhaps that is the problem – marketing needs to do its thing there to make quality vs quantity an issue – if the user wants to make the trade.

  • Mandy

    Great rapidshare sites, i downloaded a couple of files though and found that they were password protected. I searched google and luckily found http://filepasswords.com which i was able to unlock and extract the files.

  • Richard

    thank you all for providing such useful downloading sites. Just wanted to contribute to Oreilly Radar and share my link to Rapidshare searcher http://rapidok.com

  • Brunner

    You can get more info about the sizzling sound of music here – http://dbuf.org. Try and get what you need.

  • Steven Sullivan

    Spammers ‘Mandy’, ‘Jenny’ , ‘Richard’,’Jophn’, ‘remik’, ‘Brunner’, and ‘julia’ please FOAD.

    As for the rest of you: you’d be almost certainly unable to tell the difference between ‘hi rez’ and 192 kbps VBR LAME mp3 in a fair (double blind, level matched) comparison. Nor between LP and a CD-quality recording (or LAME 192 kbps VBR encoding) of LP playback.

  • Steven Sullivan

    As for Dr. Berger’s vague ‘experiment’, it’s not good evidence for anything until he describes methods.

  • Bonny Yardert

    I don’t prefer to buy a very expensive home audio systems due to the low quality of music I find in the net. It’s really very difficult to get great quality. And I can hear the difference between hi rez and 192 kbps I get using a certain file searcher, especially if I listen using hi-end audio system. And I can assure you all that practically everyone can find these differences. Thefact is that noone takes care of these minor things.

  • Bonny Yardert

    Moreover it seems that the majority of community practically doesn’t need the hi-end quality. When you drive track you won’t need 192 kbps – it’s absolutely useless, 128 kbps are absolutely enough. Did you say that FM radio is bad? No. But the quality is very poor there. That’s why I load new mp3 from http://filesearcher.ws and smile all these bullshit off.

  • UnknownVT

    This was very interesting -
    perhaps there may be something more than just social or cultural commentary.

    There is something about (lossy) compression which although ought to be a “bad thing” – somehow presents the “essentials” – the most obvious parts of the music –

    I see a kind of analogy in photos – JPGs are lossy compression but with the right degree of compression there seems to be a very subtle increase in the punchiness of the photo over the lossless original. I think JPG drops colors – not wholesale colors but the in between shades – so that the photos becomes more “primary” hence the punch. Perhaps it may be the same way with compression music – with the right degree some music may actually have more presence?

    But too high a compression obviously can render the music or photos pretty horribly.

    That reminds me of a very good cover band – they can do play almost any requested song – and always seem to sound great – I eventually figured out – it’s not that they can play any song note-for-note as the record – but they basically play the song as we (and they) remember them – ie: just the essentials.

    Perhaps in some cases that’s what compression accidentally does – hence the preference – in blind testing by even people who were supposed to know what they were listening for.

  • Peter J.

    I find it really depends on what I’m listening to.

    I have a 128bit mp3 encoding of Interstellar Overdrive and it sounds great! I use it as my alarm clock every morning.

    But… I swear every lossy encoding I’ve ever heard of Abby Road esp. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window messes up the tambourine. Even if I’m not wearing headphones… maybe my imagination, but it drives me a little crazy.

    An extreme example, where silence might be encoded, I guess it wouldn’t matter what compression method was used. But how often does that happen :)

  • Tom

    Thanks for good information. By the way Ipod lovers can find a lot of stuff here:http://searchizz.com/ Just check it out

  • http://tipsteri.info/ tipsteri

    Found your communication dynamics very valuable. I’m currently teaching two introductory college classes. Each one has half the students using blogs, the other half using wiki’s. So far, I think the wiki’s are more helpful for the students. But I didn’t know about the aggregator application. That would certainly help me to monitor what the students are writing, and I think that it would make the experience more lattice-like for students because it would make it easier for them to monitor each other’s postings

  • Guest

    This is so dumb. Vinyl lovers don’t listen to vinyl because they love the crackle. In fact, a lot of audiophiles put their records through a lot of cleaning and vacuuming for the best sound. I’ve heard vinyl without a single crack or extra hiss, sounding just like the master tape.

    Vinyl is natural, analogue sound. Digital is technically a bunch of numbers that are used to reproduce sound.

    They should have included vinyl in those tests. Like brand new 180-gram vinyl. Those kids minds would have been blown. Hell, I’m still a kid. I just recently turned 18. I saw kids younger than me in a record shop really digging the vinyl a couple of days ago.

  • Breeches

    Gripping, I passed this on to a friend of mine, and he actually bought me lunch because I found this for him, so let me rephrase: Thanks for lunch.

  • http://ibcbet-online.com ibcbet

    Fine blog. I got a lot of great information.
    I’ve been keeping an eye on this technology for awhile.
    It’s fascinating how it keeps changing,
    yet some of the core elements stay the same.
    Have you seen much change since Google made their most recent acquisition in the field?

  • olee22

    I found this blog very interesting, and makes so much sense.
    Repeated exposure is such a strong phenomenon – the more I use something, the higher the likelyhood I like it.
    I see this for food, holiday locations, movies, books, children stories, people, routes, and so on.

    Phone call quality is still to to me, and this is one of the reasons I still go with Nokia, despite the many software features available on other makes. Music quality is also excellent, vs. other phones / mp3 players I have tried.

    Otherwise, it’s 2012 now (vs. 2009, the date of this blog), and still, the mostly available quality for me is mp3, though I listen only to 320 kbps, or maybe 192 kbps. I have a few albums ripped to FLAC from CD, but those are more of an exception. I very rarely listen to CDs anymore, I was actually thinking to rip all that I have into mp3.

    The rare times I listen to CD, is when I rent a car, and there’s only audio CD on the stereo, audio-in as aux still seems to be an extra feature.

    At home, I listen to things either on my Tivoli Audio iPal, or Tivoli Audio Networks Radio, both giving excellent audio quality, passing the work to the audio source to determine the quality of my listening.