Driving to the gym this morning when a Billy Joel song comes on and I’m reminded of a few things I read this week.
Music Quality Sucks
When I say that, I don’t mean the content of the song, I mean the _sonic_ quality.
Used to be a time, many years ago, I fancied myself an amatuer audiophile. I had the best needles I could afford for my turn table. I used to only buy vinyl records. When I switched to CD, I *always* looked for the DDD on the label. My rig was tuned perfect for the room and, when I moved, I would spend hours tuning it again.
Even with my current setup, I bought the best I could for the money I had. Almost pro level receiver. Speakers that cost more than the receiver did (each satellite speaker weighs about 7lbs, and the subwoofer is 12″). It took me an entire day to set it up using only the best wires I could find. I even replaced my old DVD player for one that would play HD Audio. And, it sounds awesome.
Sometime during all of this I discovered the ease and convenience of the MP3. Napster, riffage.com, mp3.com and the like were havens for free music. But the quality was poor. I thought it was the downloads. I mean, they were ok to listen to in the car on the computer, but not so much on the big system.
I started ripping my music collection so I could burn CD’s for the car and, later, transfer them to an MP3 player. I ripped at 192k to have a happy balance between file size and quality. I mean, they were for the car, so it was good enough. And I never listened to those on the ‘big’ stereo.
And now, here I sit in year 2008 with a hard drive full of MP3s. I succumbed, much like the rest of you, to the maven of modern musical convenience, the iTunes music store. I’ve all but stopped listening to music on the big stereo. And do you know why?
I’m not sure if you have heard Billy Joel’s River of Dreams. It’s a feat of audio engineering brilliance. Recorded entirely in an abandoned church somewhere in New England, the CD has a sound and _feeling_ that is indescribable. Oingo Boing’s 2-disc set, Boingo Alive was recorded entirely on a sound stage at Universal, giving both discs a true “live” sound. You can listen to this CD with your eyes closed and you would swear you were sitting in on the session, right in the middle of the theater.
Until you rip them to MP3.
Most people wouldn’t even notice the difference in sound, but I can. I can tell on my computer, I can tell in the car. I can tell on the iPod. Highs sound pixelated, lows are a little bit muddier. And the ambiance of the room is completely gone. And that’s too bad.
There is more to music than just the sound. There is a feeling. Modern digital recording captures it perfectly, but it’s wasted when a song is turned into MP3 and that feeling is stripped away during compression.
CD’s aren’t that much better these days. They skimp on the engineering because they know the disc is going to get ripped and copied to an MP3 player. Why bother with quality when it’s going to get compressed away, right? This also is too bad.
MP3s are convenient sure. And the quality is ok (for most people, they can’t tell the difference). But I think it’s time to put quality music back into my life.
Time to slide a disc into the stereo, sit back and listen to everything the artist intended me to hear and feel. Not some compressed version of it.