High Fidelity? Where?

It sometimes takes a little longer, but it seems that even the Rolling Stones Magazin has finally realized that not all MP3 is good. Duh! But most unfortunately, the terrible habit of extreme volume compression to make songs sound ‘better’ (i.e. louder) has been creeping into the business for a long time (think of all the Red Hot Chilli Peppers albums that could have been really good, but were compressed to death).

MP3 and other lossy formats amplify this problem, since they are often consumed through extremely lo-fi speakers and headphones. To compensate for the inadequate reproduction equipment, producers are now not only waging a loudness war on our ears, but also are starting to produce pop music in a way that avoids the obvious shortcomings of compressed music, by de-emphasizing high frequencies etc.

Please do not get me wrong: a decently implemented lossy format (like the LAME MP3 encoder) can provide a lot of musicality with very significant space savings for small devices. But most properly recorded and produced music will simply sound a lot better on a decent audio system, with a CD/PCM audio at 44.1 kHz/16 bit (or better: DVD-Audio or SACD at even higher rates) as the source and a good DAC.

It can only be hoped that the current MP3 hype will eventually run out and compressed lossy format will find their appropriate niche for small mobile devices.

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2 thoughts

  1. Thinking of all the Red Hot Chilli Peppers albums that could have been really good, but were compressed to death makes me sad. I wonder what effect not compressing Britney Spears albums to death would have. Would it create some kind of cataclysmic quantum paradox?

    Maybe the MP3 hype could run out if consumers in sufficient numbers were savvy and sensitive about audio quality, and prioritized that over how many thousands of songs they can stuff into their iPods and music phones. Maybe Replay Gain can help restore balance to the force.

  2. Indeed.

    At the end of the day, it is not really MP3 to blame, but (to a large extend) the so-called ‘content mafia industry’ that is incapable of using new technology in a meaningful way. MP3 and other lossy formats do have a right to exist in the niche of highly portable power and size constrained music. An iPod with 8+GB of data storage is hardly size constrained thus there is absolutely no need for lossy (!) compression. This becomes even more true as more and more people are hooking up their portable music players to their home audio equipment.

    Obviously, the un(der)educated consumer shares responsibility for this situation. However, as technology progresses, it is my hope that people will better understand the benefits and drawbacks of their technology choices.

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