Tuesday, January 1, 2008

THE RISE OF LOW FIDELITY

For my fellow music snobs and audiophiles there is a great feature in the online version of Rolling Stone about the deteriorating fidelity of modern music as a result of the increasing dominance and influence of digital music formats. Here is a succinct explanation from the article;

"To create an MP3, a computer samples the music on a CD and compresses it into a smaller file by excluding the musical information that the human ear is less likely to notice. Much of the information left out is at the very high and low ends, which is why some MP3s sound flat."

"Some sound flat"... I would say most do. This is why there is less variation in range in most modern recordings, and why the quiet parts are also recorded really loud now so you will still hear them when they get compressed into a tiny little MP3 file. Who knows, you could be missing the sweet sounds of that lightly tapped cow bell you never even knew was part of your favourite song!

Its a bit of a dilemma for music fans I suppose. Having access to a gazillion songs in your IPod is uber cool. It is like having one of those sci-fi futurist fantasies of yore finally come true (note: I am still waiting for those flying cars circa Blade Runner!). Like every technological advance though there is always the inevitable unintended consequence to follow. As is often the case, when the convenience factor rises quality tends to crash through the basement (just think of fast food).

This is why I still by CDs (though less frequently now) and I am prone to buy the really good Super Audio CDs (a dying format I fear) or deluxe remastered editions so I always have a good quality "hard copy" in my library of my all time favourite albums. Also, I am still a sucker for great artwork or packaging and I like to have something tangible to faun over.
Amazing really, those old analog albums played on the right system are far superior in sound to anything digital you can blast at a million decibels in your IPod while buying your groceries. Ok, I am sounding like the crotchety former record store snob that I am, so I better quite while I am ahead...

2 comments:

jmgb said...

i here you! my husband is an audio engineer and this issue is one of his latest complaints. i broke down and asked for an i-pod shuffle for christmas knowing full well i would be short-circuiting the full effect...

ps love the word uber. i need to use it more often:)

Jeremy Barker said...

I have given up the full sound for the convenience. Never having been an audiophile made this easier, but it was hard to drop having the physical product.

But when we moved and have a one-year-old running about, it was easier to toss the jewel cases and go digital only. And having all my music in one device is one of my teen sci-fi fantasies, but I had no idea it would be so small!