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Music Media

Does Portable Music Have to be Compressed? 540

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the what-lossy-eyes-you-have dept.
FunkeyMonk writes "The Christian Science monitor has an article discussing the gap between music fans and audiophiles when it comes to portable music. Would you pay a few cents more to have lossless downloads from iTunes and other online music retailers? As a classical musician myself, I choose not to download most of my music, but rather rip it myself in lossless format."
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Does Portable Music Have to be Compressed?

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  • by nurhussein (864532) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @11:23AM (#17089240) Homepage
    ...just with no quality loss. Perhaps the question is "Does portable music have to be lossy?"
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by albertost (1019782)
      not if he uses PCM
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Yvan256 (722131)
        Okay, show me non-lossy non-PCM digital audio. You can't? Well, too bad. Digital music is usually PCM and most of us refer to CD's as "lossless", being our only "source" to convert to other formats.
        • by h2g2bob (948006) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @12:53PM (#17090016) Homepage

          Ahem, http://flac.sf.net/ [sf.net]

          A used for Magnatune downloads (among others), and supported by decent media player software and a handful of MP3 players
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Yvan256 (722131)
            FLAC and Apple Lossless are both PCM-encoded, which to some people equals with "lossy" (and they're technically right).

            My original post did say "show me non-lossy, non-PCM".
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by h2g2bob (948006)
              How else could you encode audio other than PCM? I suppose you could use a Fourier series, but you'd end up with the same problems - even if you take the first grillion terms you'll still lose some sound data. Plus you'd need a computer to work it all out... and the computer (even the computer microphone) would probably use PCM.

              I suppose you could use magnetic tape and use analogue recording (but even then magnetism is quantised :-)

              I guess the moral is there's no such thing as a perfect recording.
              • by jd (1658) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Sunday December 03, 2006 @04:12PM (#17091922) Homepage Journal
                I'd start by massively oversampling the data at initial recording time. 100 MHz, 26 bits per sample, 8 channels, etc. Something totally outrageous and utterly unusable for anything resembling sane. The next step is to split the sound up NOT according to source or frequency, but according to what groups together the best. Here's where the oversampling comes in - you don't NEED the actual data points to get lossless encoding, you only need to be able to recreate them. Thus, once we have grouped the compressable information, anything that is left over that can be reconstructed is of no further interest and we can ignore it. The same goes for any complete grouping that we have formed - if the complete group can be synthesized directly from one or more other groups, we don't need it. You then compress the groups - in isolation or as a simultaneous set of systems - either losslessly or using a lossy method. When you downsample, you eliminate the guesses that are wrong first and then eliminate duplicate guesses that are right between the groups.


                What you will end up with is some set on N systems, which will be large amounts of noise with small amounts of useful sound in them, which when superimposed with each other AND a filter function produce the original sound and which when taken individually are highly compressable. (The noise is simply there to create fake patterns that we can compress. It won't be random noise, because that doesn't compress, but is noise in the sense that it has no meaning or purpose other than to produce nice mathematical functions. The filter is simply something that's used to extract this deliberately injected deluge, so that the output is valid.)


                Is this a valid technique? Well, yes - it's not that unusual to add noise to simplify compression, then subtract the noise afterwards. That's fairly standard. Splitting the data up to simplify the noise is merely a variant on the idea, and is used in plenty of compression methods. Compressing individually seems to be the customary method, but computing power is more than adequate these days to use fancier techniques IF justified. (Since you can encode the decoding method at the start of any track, it should be wholly irrelevant as to what method is used, provided the computing power is there to run it in real-time.)

      • by SQLGuru (980662) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:02PM (#17090748) Journal
        If the music is digital, it is by it's very nature lossy. To convert sound into a digital format, you must sample it. No matter how small your sample, there are gaps between them. The gaps are lost when you digitize the music.

        But yeah, from a digital perspective, things can be compressed such that the original is reproducible ("lossless") or an approximation is reproducible ("lossy").

        Layne
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by arose (644256)
          If the music is recorded, it is by it's very nature lossy.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Shelled (81123)
          Analogue recording is 'bit lossy' if you want to be 100% accurate about it. Tape is limited to the size of the magnetic domains on the backing, a function of particle size. If you really want to be finicky, sound travelling in air is 'digital' in that the carrier is discrete oxygen/nitrogen molecules and not a continuous 'ether' from source to ear. More finely grained than any conceivable recording media at this point mind you, but still 'digital'.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by elgatozorbas (783538)

          To convert sound into a digital format, you must sample it. No matter how small your sample, there are gaps between them. The gaps are lost when you digitize the music.

          This is not entirely true. The Shannon-Nyquist sampling theorem states that a band-limited signal can be reconstructed perfectly if you sample it at minimally twice the bandwidth. The intuitive understanding is that because of the limited frequency content, the signal cannot make very fast jumps in between the sampling points and is not jus

    • by timeOday (582209) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @12:22PM (#17089738)
      Let's not perpetrate the myth that music can be recorded losslessly in the first place. All sampling is lossy. CDDA specifies a certain sample rate, beyond which you lose higher frequencies, and a fixed number of bits per sample, so you lose precision. For the same bitrate, you would get better results by starting with a high-resolution master and using lossy compression down to CDDA bitrate.

      I'm not arguing that a lossy encoding of CDDA is as good as CDDA; it isn't. Just that there's no law of nature establishing CDDA as the gold standard in the first place.

      • by Yvan256 (722131) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @12:41PM (#17089904) Homepage Journal
        Just that there's no law of nature establishing CDDA as the gold standard in the first place.
        There is, however, a rule of market that establish the CD as the only source users can encode their music from.
      • Since it seems you fooled your mods with handwaving, I'm going to explain what you mean and why you're wrong.

        Taking an analog signal and representing it digitally is an application of Nyquist-Shannon sampling [wikipedia.org]. The important bit to understand (for those of you who've never heard of it), is that the Nyquist rate [wikipedia.org] is twice that of the sampling rate you want to record.

        A 44.1Khz sampling rate perfectly records a 22.05Khz signal, 48 Khz does 24Khz, etc. Human hearing peaks out at 20Khz for most people, and many
  • more for non-DRM (Score:5, Informative)

    by yagu (721525) * <yayagu.gmail@com> on Sunday December 03, 2006 @11:23AM (#17089242) Journal

    Actually I'd like to be able to get an "original" image a la the CDs you buy, but allow single CD tracks. Would I pay more for that? I don't know. I've never bought any of the DRM'ed crap because it's DRM'ed, so I don't know how badly (or well) compressed they are.

    If there are audible compression artifacts anywhere in today's downloadable DRM'ed music I'd probably insist the compression be less or not at all, after all I'm paying for music, and a compression artifact (to me) is analogous to stuck pixels in a monitor or camera... my threshold of tolerance is zero for that.

    (I had one of the very original SONY Mini-disk recorders, and remember a passage of a Doobie Brothers track where some high pitched bells instead of sounding like high pitched bells sounded like someone sneezing... unacceptable... completely altered my experience of MD (along with numerous other things about SONY).)

    So, bottom line, DRM aside, I consider it the responsibility of the music industry to deliver what they claim they are delivering... music (usually). I'm willing to bet what they are delivering has artifacts... I wouldn't pay more to get rid of that, I'd demand they replace the defective product.

    The nice thing about my CDs and my derivative mp3 collection (recorded at 320 VBR) is if I hear an artifact in my track, I have the unedited original, I rip it at higher quality until the artifact isn't there.

    (As an aside, I think the article makes an exceptionally great point not directly related to the users:

    That's important to sound engineers, too. "You spend a long time training your ears and striving to perfect your craft and put out a better product," says Jeff Willens, an audio-restoration specialist at Vidipax in Long Island City, N.Y. "When you finally discover that these things are being listened to on cellphones and through pea-size earphones, it's kind of disheartening."

    So, in addition to short-shrifting consumers with less-than-perfect (to the ear) product, the movers of downloadable music thumb their noses at the collective profession of sound engineers and engineering... pretty rude.

    Granted, a lot of the music out there is crap -- it's no justification for compromise on the medium.

    Oh, and re the subject line of my post... I'd pay a little more for non-DRMed music, not uncompressed music.

    • Re:more for non-DRM (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Sunday December 03, 2006 @11:53AM (#17089498) Homepage

      So, in addition to short-shrifting consumers with less-than-perfect (to the ear) product, the movers of downloadable music thumb their noses at the collective profession of sound engineers and engineering... pretty rude.

      Not all sound engineers are as dedicated to the art as you suggest. Okay, sure, if one wants to listen to something recorded in a state-of-the-art lab by consummate lovers of both the music itself and clean audio in general, then one should invest in the right conditions.

      From my own collection, I'll take the world premiere recording of Boulez's Repons [amazon.com] as an example. It was recorded in the projection space at IRCAM, one of the world's foremost music and acoustics research laboratories, and I only listen to it from the CD on my home stereo system, which isn't the most whizbang, but the best I can afford.

      Contrast this with Rush's 2002 album Vapor Trails [amazon.com] , a musically strong release which was recorded in poor circumstances and remastered in worse. The clipping that plagues every track in the album has long been criticized by fans (see the Amazon reviews for further info). So, since the guys who engineered the album didn't aim for clear audio, I feel no shame in putting this in 160 kbps Ogg Vorbis and listening to it with merely average headphones on my portable MP3 player.

      As has already been said in many places in the discussion, lossless is probably going to be a draw mostly for classical (or, in my case, modern-classical) fans.

    • by Gailin (138488)
      "So, in addition to short-shrifting consumers with less-than-perfect (to the ear) product, the movers of downloadable music thumb their noses at the collective profession of sound engineers and engineering... pretty rude."

      Probably because that is what the consumer want. Therefore, they are going to provide it. While some people are self-proclaimed audiophiles and spend ungodly amounts of money on gold-plated speakers, or some such crap, most people do not. Should they cater to the audiophiles taste? Or
      • by spineboy (22918) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:03PM (#17090762) Journal
        I'm a musician in my spare time, and pretty much have noticed that other musicians really don't care much as to the Quality of the recording that they listen to. Recording songs in a studio is an exception, but what I've noticed is that many of my friends just listen to their music on crappy boom boxes, etc. Is it a function of being poor - nope haven't seen that. But what I have noticed is that a majority of "audiophiles" are not musicians. Yes, of course we'll see the few exceptions, to prove a point, but generally musicians are interested in the chord progression, melody, rhythm, instrumentation, etc. The recording quality is the last thing we care about when listening to a song.
  • it depends (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @11:24AM (#17089256)
    It depends on how you intend to listen to your music. If you're going to be listening to earbuds while you're outside or working out at the gym or whatever, then compressed files are fine. Enough ambient noise will be getting through that you'll barely notice any compression artifacts, if at all. However, if you intend to listen to music through a nice set of headphones or speakers in a quiet listening environment, then you'll want it to be as uncompressed as possible. The same generally applies for music with wide dynamic ranges, such as classical/orchestral music.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kfg (145172)
      If you have the original you can still always compress it yourself if you want; in whatever format you want.

      Would I pay more? No. Downloads are already overpriced.

      KFG
    • If you are on dialup, you tend to want to get the smallest file possible. If you have a have a 6 meg DSL, the larger files aren't as much as an issue. Also, if you have a Creative Zen Nano with 512 Mb, you are going to want some good compression, however, if you have an player with a hard drive in it and 20 - 40 gig of space...this isn't so much of an issue.

      I myself, have about 40 - 50 gig of mp3s, the biggest majority legal, since I have about 400 to 500 cds, and I usually rip to 128 kbps. I usually listen
    • by mcrbids (148650)
      However, if you intend to listen to music through a nice set of headphones or speakers in a quiet listening environment, then you'll want it to be as uncompressed as possible. The same generally applies for music with wide dynamic ranges, such as classical/orchestral music.

      Amen, brother!

      I had a cheezeball, thrift-store stereo setup - big, cheap-ass speakers with "lotza wattz-a" that kicked pretty good and was quite loud but I knew it was out of whack. I have a great big collection of MP3 files gleaned from
  • What's the point? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Psionicist (561330) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @11:26AM (#17089262)
    What's the point? The bottle neck on MP3 players is not the audio files but the decoding/playback hardware and even more important the headphones. You simply can't hear the difference after a certain MP3 bitrate like you can on real audio systems with proper equipment.

    Whenever I buy a new MP3 player I spend a few minutes to find the sweet spot where I simply can't hear any difference with a higher bit rate let alone lossless audio. This is almost always 128 kbps, even with quite good head phones.
  • by CastrTroy (595695) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @11:27AM (#17089272) Homepage
    I would personally pay a few cents less to get CD Quality music. Often when I buy CDs they are priced anywhere from 7.99 to 13.99. I think that if you average it out, the CD ends up being about the same price as iTunes, possibly a dollar or two more. But for that extra dollar, you get a physical copy, that's lossless, and doesn't contain any DRM. I try not to buy CDs with copy protection, and even for the few I do, I can still easily rip them, by disabling autorun. The only advantages of iTunes and other music services are, the ability to buy one track, and the ability to have it right away. I don't usually buy music from artists who can't fill up a whole CD with good music, and I'm not that impatient that I can't wait for the CD to arrive from Amazon, or wait until the next time I happen to be in the mall. Sometimes, if I know I won't be in the mall for a while, I'll download the cd in MP3 format and then buy it later. So, I could buy off iTunes, but i'd get music that was of inferior quality, and locked by Apple, which means that I couldn't play it on another MP3 player without degrading the quality even further.
  • by eutychus_awakes (607787) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @11:27AM (#17089274)
    Well, the poster of this article obviously doesn't consider CD quality to be "lossless." How far we've come from the OLD audiophiles who wouldn't touch anything that wasn't a meticulously cared for LP -- or better yet, reel-to-reel tape in your home rig.

    How much longer before we consider 128-kpbs MP3's to be the "standard" for quality music, especially as we're moving to more and more of a "download on demand" compression crazed society?

    Won't anyone think of the children!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tomstdenis (446163)
      A properly mixed (re: not super compressed [range wise]) CD has 96dB of SNR in each channel. That's mighty fine given the sensitivity of human hearing isn't that super anyways. SA-CD and DVD-CD can offer a bit more range but honestly the difference is lost on most.

      What you really should get all in a knot about is the continously low quality of shite music being promotoed. Payola's a bitch.

      Tom
    • by Lumpy (12016) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @11:57AM (#17089534) Homepage
      If the sales numbers are right for XM radio and Sirius radio, 64Kbps will become acceptable.

      Both the sattelite radio services have incredibly horrid sound. anythign with high frequencies has twinkle and other nasty artifacts that are so prevalent it renders it unlistenable to most people who like clear music. I have went back to FM at times because Sirius and XM suck so bad.

      Now we have robot radio stations around here that are mp3 based and LOW bitrate mp3 based at that. My daughter was listening to one of them and I asked, "when did you get a XM raio in your room?" she let me know she was listening to the new Rock FM station.

      Current state of music is swirling the toilet. I havent heard a decently mastered CD in decades, radio and supposed "CD QUALITY" Digital FM and Sattelite all sounds worse than 128kbps mp3's on a $6.00 mp3 player.

      All around the music quality stinks. Even if I could buy a uncompressed high bitrate version, the mastering at the studios is so sub par it wouldn matter.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by mushadv (909107)

      Who the hell uses 128 kbps MP3 anymore? If you use iTunes, like a sizeable group of mainstream consumers, then you're getting 128 kbps AAC, which is indistinguishable from the source when it comes to loud, over-compressed pop music. When it comes to something like classical, that's when you probably need to move up to 160 or 192 (which iTunes doesn't offer, unfortunately). I don't have a clear idea of wma's quality, which is the other mainstream consumer digital music format. My point is that you probably h

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Yvan256 (722131)

        When it comes to something like classical, that's when you probably need to move up to 160 or 192 (which iTunes doesn't offer, unfortunately).

        I guess you don't dig too deep into menus and options, because iTunes offers, in the preferences-advanced-importing menu, a custom setting which allows you to set the bitrate from 16kbps to 320kbps for both MP3 and AAC, along with other options such as sampling rates (8K to 48KHz for MP3, 44.1KHz and 48KHz for AAC), stereo/mono options, VBR and even normal/joint stere

  • But it should be lossless nonetheless. Right now downloadable music isn't worth paying for at all, as far as I'm concerned.

    And it should be DRM-free, naturally, but you can't have everything.
  • We're getting there, but even relatively modest MP3 collections by modern standards still can consume entire laptop hard drives, let alone some of the dinky MP3 players.

    Until everybody can put their entire collection onto at least a laptop hard drive, and still have room to put other things on there, we'll still want compressed music.

    I say "laptop hard drive" because CPUs are pretty much at the point where we could read in FLAC and spew out a customized MP3 for a smaller portable player, so I don't think th
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CastrTroy (595695)
      And I think this is the main reason we won't see lossless audio downloads for a while. Where are people supposed to store all their music? If you have to burn it all to CD to prevent it from clogging up your hard drive, then you might as well have bought the CD in the first place. People wouldn't buy from iTunes if it meant that they'd have to buy a large hard drive. Between 8 MPixel digital Cameras, and lossless audio, as well as Apple now offering video downloads, most people don't have the room to sto
    • If you're talking real people with real collections, I think we're there. If you're talking about p2p regulars, we're probably not. I would expect most people's collections to fit on a 100GB drive (laptops got to about 160 now, iirc) as lossless. That's somewhere in the neighborhood of 450CDs worth of albums. That's real albums, bought with cash in nice plastic cases - not 450x700MB @2:1 compression. I have, among my "friends," both now and historic, a "large" collection. It's not that large (~300 CDs), bu
      • "I would expect most people's collections to fit on a 100GB drive (laptops got to about 160 now, iirc) as lossless."

        Please note that a few people need the occassional Word file and Excel spreadsheet as well. Most can't waste all of the space on their notebook on music...
        • Good grief, how many documents are your writing? I've got a 100GB laptop drive for work, and I mirror every document, file, CAD drawing, etc I've created in 4 years of business on it (~20GB). I also have 9 years of building codes, the entire manual of concrete practive (all 60lb of dead tree worth), and most of the vendor catalogs on it. And all of my email from the past 8 years (yes, locally - I use POP). Plus the full XPpro installion disc. Plus all the software for all the analyis programs (including the
  • by grimsweep (578372) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @11:32AM (#17089302)
    I doubt any representative of the RIAA could keep their blood pressure down with the words 'losslessly reproduceable content' and 'internet' in the same sentence. Given the disputes over uniform music cost and how much they resisted distributing even lossy DRM'd audio in the first place, what are the odds we'll see this?
  • For it to be really worth it, we'd need source files of higher quality. I rip at 192kbs and have a hard time telling the difference in most recordings. Then again, I don't have really high end equipment either. What happened to "Super-Audio" CD's I remember hearing about it but never see them on shelves?

    • by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @11:41AM (#17089384)
      I remember talking about MP3s with an audio engineer friend about a decade ago. As an engineer, he said that he would prefer MP3s to be mastered for the format, which means any limitations of the MP3 and other compressed file formats would be taken into account to minimize/delete any perceivable quality loss. For instance, the cassette version of a recording is mastered differently from the CD version, since tape has different audio qualities (the same also applies for vinyl versions). They don't just stick the CD master onto cassette tapes. On this point, I fully agree with him. However, it seems that all of the AAC/MP3/WMA files that you can buy are sourced from CDs, rather than being mixed especially for the format.
    • I don't care how good your source is. If you're listening to 192kb rips, you're likely not going to be able to tell the difference. It's hard for most consumer equipment to bring out the difference between regular CDs and SACDs/DVD-A. Intellectionally, I agree with you. I'd love to have all my music in the best lossless form I can, but for the gear I use - money spent on quality higher than about 256kb is wasted to me. FWIW - my ears and gear break somewhere between 224 and 256kb/s with LAME vbr. I store
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gEvil (beta) (945888)
        Something else to keep in mind about lossiness and source files: If a recording is made and mastered in the studio at 96kHz/24-bit, the step to your 44.1kHz/16-bit CD is considered "lossy" since information is being discarded along the way. However, again, this is taken into account when mastering for the CD format. The DVD-A/SACD masters will be done differently. So in a sense, many CDs that people consider to be "perfect" source files have already been through a round or two of degradation. Is it somethin
  • For me music isn't to be just "consumed" where you replace last months listening with something new. When I look at what I listen to often there's both year old stuff as well as some that I bought some 20 years ago.

    Today mp3 is the reigning format but what about 10 or 20 years? Will any new formats come and replace it or will there be significantly better equipment that will easily expose the quality difference between mp3 and lossless? And if new lossy formats come along you risk getting audible artifac
  • by VaticDart (889055) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @11:36AM (#17089332)
    A better question is why wouldn't you compress portable music? Audiophiles make up a very, very small portion of the population (Americans' idea of good sound seems to usually mean lots and lots of base), and the vast majority of the cans out there (earbud or bigger) don't yield any quality difference between an uncompressed or losslessly compressed CD track and a 192 kbps MP3 or AAC (I have no experience with WMA or Real Audio's format). I use Ety ER-6is with my Nano and AKG 240Ss at home, so one might say I'm a minor, minor audiophile, and I really have trouble hearing the difference with quality cans between a 192 kbps file and the original CD track. With any of the stock earbuds that come with various DMPs I have trouble hearing the difference between the original CD file and a 160 kbps file, and sometimes even lowly 128.

    So yes, some people out there would pay extra for a digital file that is uncompressed or losslessly compressed, but as most people use crap cans or speakers, most of those people would be wasting their money. If you want maximum fidelity, stick with the physical CD or vinyl.

    • Also somebody should point out that the original CD track is a kind of 'radix' compression into 44k/s samples of the original sound. So it's not like the question is "lossy or not?" it's "how much loss is okay?".
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Moth7 (699815)
        If you're going down that avenue, then all analogue audio is compressed by the bandwidth of every component it passes through and then by the bit rate of every A/D / D/A converter it subsequently hits. Add to that the fact that no speakers or ears are perfect, then you've got abstract "compression" in that the musician can only act on what she hears from her instrument/amp and the engineer can only mix in relation to what he hears from his monitors. And of course there are the numerous artefacts introduced
    • I can see the utility of lossy compression for portable audio, but I would never buy my music in such a format. Starting with CD's you can rip it to whatever lossy format you want, and if you have a good stereo setup the lossless form is still available.

    • by maeka (518272)
      Considering the ER-6i are 16 ohm phones, I'd be surprised if you could tell the difference between a 64kb/s MP3/AAC and a lossless encode when using them and the iPod Nano.
      The Nano can not drive such low impedance phones w/o significant bass rolloff and quite a bit of distortion.
      http://prohost.org/~hackie/audio/DAPS_16ohm.htm [prohost.org]

      The AKG 240S, on the other hand, are about perfect at 55 ohms, starting to get into the hard to drive category for iPods, but should respond very well and flat.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I though all digital formats were lossy!?! ;-)
  • Double blind test (Score:5, Informative)

    by theLOUDroom (556455) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @11:37AM (#17089342)
    The right way to answer this question is with double blind testing.
    "Audiophiles" like to make all sorts or ridiculous claims that lead to things like $2000 speaker cables, gold CDs and just a general proliferation of nonsensical technobabble.

    Psychology simply has too strong of an effect on questions like this to get an actual answer from a forum like this.

    What you'd really find is that as the bitrate of an mp3 goes up, the number of people who can tell the difference goes down. At some point the number of people who can tell the difference becomes a statistically insignificant sample. This would be a good project for some grad student.
    • Re:Double blind test (Score:4, Informative)

      by Alcari (1017246) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @12:45PM (#17089946)
      I recall a test at the university here. The local audiophile group set up their best of the best stuff, which measured up to about a Lexus worth of gear. Insert one CD holding original tracks, 128, 160, 192, 224, 256 kbit/s mp3s, all at 44.1khz. Most people could generally pick out 128kbit as 'not quite as good as the rest' but all the others sounded pretty similar. However, when the platina encrested CD player gest replaced by a generic mp3 player, it all sounds a lot worse.
    • Re:Double blind test (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 03, 2006 @01:08PM (#17090164)
      No need for grad students. Hydrogenaudio [hydrogenaudio.org] regularly does double-blind listening test (there's a new one [maresweb.de] currently [hydrogenaudio.org] underway) and the results are damming for "audiophiles" everywhere.


      Using up to date encoders, for the vast majority of people, for the vast majority of tracks, 128 kbps is indistinguishable from source.

      Link. [maresweb.de]

      Everyone should try to ABX at least once. You'll be shocked how much worse your ears are that you'd believe them to be... ABX Just Destroyed My Ego [hydrogenaudio.org] is a very informative read for any would be audiophiles:

      I think the reason is in large due to the common misconception that audio compression heavily alters the sound. Less dynamics, weaker bass and all those other descriptions "audiophiles" like to throw around, and that in fact are nothing more than just placebo. But in reality, the artifacts are much more subtle, and often require actual training for an inexperienced user to be able to hear them.
      • Hmmm (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tkrotchko (124118) *
        "Using up to date encoders, for the vast majority of people, for the vast majority of tracks, 128 kbps is indistinguishable from source."

        Particularly when listening on cheap speakers that are connected to a PC.

        I mean, I wish I could listen to 64kb/s encoded music and say "sounds just like source" because it would be cheaper all around and I would be happy.

        A perfect example (to me) is Sirius satellite. I like their programming. But their bit rates are so low that it sounds like shortwave radio. I have the
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by SonicSpike (242293)
      I am an audio engineer, and the college I graduated from has a MFA program and they do this sort of thing all the time. Check it out:
      http://mtsu.edu/~record/ [mtsu.edu]
  • I choose not to download most of my music, but rather rip it myself in lossless format.

    And risk getting another rootkit from Sony?
  • There's a fairly good reason why the audio files sold by iTunes isn't lossless. It isn't a matter of bandwidth; the amount of bandwidth required to upload larger files is a fraction of a cent apiece. The real reason is because these songs are meant to be uploaded to an iPod, and their memory space (even the 60 gig models) is limited. Putting lossless audio on them would cut the number of hours of audio they can hold by 75%, and users would revolt. Letting people downsample the files would be problematic
    • The real reason is because these songs are meant to be uploaded to an iPod, and their memory space (even the 60 gig models) is limited.

      Close, but no banana. It's not about disk space; Apple would love for you to fill up your iPod's disk, because by the time you'd done that, they will have released a model with a bigger disk for you to buy. It's about battery life. If you have a 128Kb/s AAC file, and a 512Kb/s Apple Lossless file, you will need to spin up the disk four times as often to play the lossless file, causing a big battery drain. Lossless CODECs are often cheaper in CPU terms to decode, but this doesn't safe you much.

      Of cours

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @11:43AM (#17089404) Journal
    WAV? He uses WAV? Why on god's green earth would you bother using WAV to listed to your music when there are a plethora of lossless codecs out there? You can get roughtly 2:1 compression with any of the codecs - heck he could even use wavpack if he was so stuck on having wav in the name. Heck, most audiophiles worth their $3000 interconnects are appalled at the harsheness and "cold, digital" feel of that 44.1khz/16 bit crap that was forced on the public when we got CDs.

    Lossless is coming soon to most of us. With the 5.5g iPod at 80GB and the Zune hackable to 80GB as well, all but the top 3-4% of all consumers can fit their entire (legal) collection on a single portable device in lossless compression. I've got about 6500 tracks, most as FLAC rips, and I'm right about 81GB (plus about 40GB in books, but those are all low-bitrate). If I jettisoned the extra downloded stuff I have that I didn't like (but didn't get around to deleting), I'd probably drop to 75GB or so. I suspect that my entire family (three of us) buys less than 5GB worth of content each year. There's no reason to expect that the size of the players, in capacity, will not continue to decrease. As for those with bigger collections...well, just get more portables, or learn to live with a smaller subset on your player (or a higher compression).

    As long as the high-qualtiy masters are available, portables can become a calculated compromise. Since my threshhold for accuracy happens to be at about 256kb/s LAME, that's where I transcode my FLAC library for my portable. If I had a car player, it would probably be more like 160kb. Heck, it's practically impossible to hear artifacts at 128kb in my Pilot at 70mph at a normal volume. My wife's 8GB flash player will be encoded in the 160-192 range, becuase I know she doesn't have the gear to hear much more, and she's just not that picky. With good music managers, you can automagically sync and transcode at the same time (I use mediamonkey). Transodeing is a bit slow right now, but as PCs get faster, the sync/transcode process will get better and better.

    I do agree that it is a travesty that the online services will not offer home-archival-quality tracks, but I'm probably a top-10% listening geek. I buy all my music on CD, and rip to FLAC. Okay, okay - I've bought some at AllOfMp3.com, too, but I can get lossless there. The key is that the studios will continue to have qualtiy masters - but will they be willing to sell that quality to the public?
  • by BigBuckHunter (722855) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @11:46AM (#17089446)
    From TFA

    The sheer number of variations in compression technology. The array of audio file formats includes Apple's AAC and Dolby's AC3, as well as WMA, OGG, FLAC, AVI, and others.

    AAC is not "Apple's". WMA is a container, not a compression codec. OGG is a container (usually used for Vorbis and FLAC), not a compression codec. FLAC is both a container and lossless compression codec. AVI is a container and not a compression codec. The man complains about audio quality, yet 4 out of 5 things that he discusses have "nothing" to do with audio quality.

    For his own use, Mr. Goddard, like Willens, favors WAV, a "lossless" compression format that renders sound accurately but has some drawbacks - notably the tremendous amount of storage space it requires: some 50 to 60 megabytes per song, versus about two for an MP3.

    Wav is not a lossless format. It is limited by in it's dynamic range (bits per sample) and sample rate. Compared to analog or a raw sound source, raw wav/pcm data loses a lot of the sound. FLAC and other lossless codecs produce identical byte-to-byte output when compared to wav/pcm.

    I believe that this guys priorities are a little messed up. We should be focusing on lowering the noise floor, increasing the dynamic range, increasing the sampling rate, and getting the music industry to stop producing albums that are ultra compressed and "loud". You're not going to get decent fidelity out of an iPod when it is limited to 16 bit output and a 44.1/48khz sampling rate with a -90db noise floor. We need 24/96 players with a -110db noise floor, and a decent set of ear buds. Not that it would matter for consumers that listen to the typical tizz and boom being produced today.

    BBH
    • WMA is a container, not a compression codec

      CODEC is short for compressor/decompressor, so 'compression codec' has no meaning. WMA is Microsoft's audio CODEC. The standard container for WMA is ASF [wikipedia.org].

    • by evilviper (135110) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @09:11PM (#17094302) Journal
      AAC is not "Apple's".

      No it isn't, but perhaps he is SPECIFICALLY talking about Apple's implimentation.

      WMA is a container, not a compression codec.

      Completely wrong. ASF is the container used by WMA and WMV files.

      WMA is indeed the name of the audio codec, and WMV is a video codec.

      AVI is a container and not a compression codec.

      He didn't say these were codecs. Included in your own quotation, he said: "audio file formats."

      Wav is not a lossless format. It is limited by in it's dynamic range (bits per sample) and sample rate. Compared to analog or a raw sound source, raw wav/pcm data loses a lot of the sound.

      Yes it is. You'll get exactly the bits out that you put in. Your complaints are about DIGITAL SAMPLING OF ANALOG AUDIO AND HAVE NO SPECIFIC RELEVANCE TO WAV.

      FLAC and other lossless codecs produce identical byte-to-byte output when compared to wav/pcm.

      FLAC is not a lossless format. It is limited by in it's dynamic range (bits per sample) and sample rate. Compared to analog or a raw sound source, FLAC loses a lot of the sound.

  • I think it depends on the music. If I'm listening to Mahlers 'Resurection' on my iPod, I'm going to want a lossless rip of the CD. If I'm listening to Kid Rock, I could care less.

    I think this isn't so much of an issue as it was 5 years ago. When you have a 5gb iPod, that's only 8 CDs...when you have a 80GB one, that's over 100. Big difference. I STILL only load 5-6 at a time on my iPod, because I don't feel I need to carry my entire collection around with me everywhere I go. I don't listen to 1/8 of my coll
  • and I've got to say - 128k mp3's are the absolute minimum we can play on the air. You run into some wierd problems playing compressed audio over FM - due to the way stereo channels are transmitted, you can get some bizzare stereo artifacts.

    Biggest problem with lossless compressed codecs is that there's shit for support for 'em. Most semi-pro or pro audio software won't recognize anything but WAV and MP3, and AAC and WMA if you're lucky. Most of 'em won't support OGG, either...

    And please don't get me st

  • In the late 70s I was a college dj with a rock 'n' roll show. A handful of cassette recordings of my shows have survived and on the stuff I'm still listening to on cd, like Beatles records, one can hear (on nearly 30 year old cassettes) that vinyl was warmer or better sounding. I was working professionally at a classical music station when the first, imported, compact discs arrived and I found the high strings and high horns to be funny sounding (I think the phenomenon was called aliasing and arose from the

    • by timeOday (582209)

      I found the high strings and high horns to be funny sounding (I think the phenomenon was called aliasing and arose from the choice to use 41.1K as the sample rate).

      In order to avoid aliasing, they're supposed to start out sampling at a much higher frequency and use a low-pass filter to retain only what the encoding scheme can represent. It's not hard to imagine an early CD having that problem, but it should have been reduced or eliminated in CDs mastered later on. (Just as digital camera makers continu

  • Working in the consumer electronics industry, I've met a few audiophiles over the years. The ones that are truly anal about sound quality can all be collected together in a single hotel. In fact, they are! Go to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January and hop on over to the Venetian hotel where the high end audio guys congregate. They get their own special show where they can show off their $200,000 pairs of speakers. (To be fair, I did see those speakers for $185,000 as a show special). You'l
  • I choose not to download most of my music, but rather rip it myself in lossless format.
    Rip it from what? A CD? Do you know that CDs have crap sample rate? A mp3 riped from a DAT tape will have more samples than a CD. I don't know if it's audible, I don't care. I don't need good sound as long as all I find is crap music...
    • You mean like 96kHz recordings [not possible with mp3...] ?

      Well given that the range of frequencies that are audible is between ~20Hz to around 18-20KHz, you don't really need 96KHz for anything but mixing.

      Nyquist theorem much?

      Tom
  • In my experience, it's only pretentious audiophiles that really care about uncompressed music. For a serious classical musician, the primary problem with a recording is not any slight--or imagined--differences in quality, it's the fact that it isn't live. And any serious classical musician will prefer even a noisy 78rpm shellac recording by a great artist to a technically perfect recording by a second rate modern musician.

    MP3's at 160kbps are more than good enough for anybody. And they are way overkill f
  • I buy the CD for anything I deem worth the best sound reproduction my system(s) can produce (I also buy Vinyl - with the MFSL Master of Madeleine Peyroux's Careless Love my most recent vinyl acquisition).

    As it happened, I had never heard Peyroux (she is fantastic and appears to channel Billie Holiday on a couple of cuts) until she was showcased on Bill Shapiro's Cypress Avenue show on NPR. I bought the iTunes copy the same day.

    After a week, I bought the CD.

    Within a month I bought the MFSL Master on Vinyl.

    I
  • by hedronist (233240) * on Sunday December 03, 2006 @12:39PM (#17089890)
    A while ago I ripped our entire CD collection (about 1200 discs) to FLAC, a lossless codec. Each minute of audio takes approximately 5.5MB, so it lives on a 750GB drive (x 2 because I mirrored that sucker -- don't want to have to go through *that* again). I then did a batch down-convert to OGG/Vorbis to go onto my iRiver player (no, not all of it). I ripped to FLAC so that if/when better lossy codecs come along, I can simply do batch down-convert without reripping. Note: you do *not* want to convert one lossy codec to another lossy codec; all you will get is the worst of both codecs in one file.

    I became curious about just how the various compressions stacked up against each other. I knew Vorbis was better than "normal" MP3 by a long shot, but newer MP3 variations have definitely gotten better. Here are the formats tested: WAV (straight from the CD), FLAC, Vorbis, and about 15 different MP3 variations (VBR, CBR/ABR, 32k to 320K). I tried both down-convert from FLAC and ripped-direct-from-CD (there should be no difference, and I certainly couldn't hear any). This was done on a variety of material, choosing particularly demanding/revealing passages from acoustic guitar, cafe jazz trios, brass ensembles, Beethoven's 6th, piano (jazz and classical), rock and vocalists (Streisand, Baez, Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody).

    I did a few tests and verified that I could not distinguish between WAV and FLAC -- no surprise there -- so for convenience the other formats were compared to FLAC as the baseline.

    I did extensive A-B, B-C, A-C, etc., etc. comparisons using my main system (Marantz A/V amp with Magneplanar MG-IIIa speakers) and also with Sennheiser HD595 headphones. Below 128k, MP3 is complete crap. Starting at 128-CBR, it got more difficult to hear the difference. At CBR/192 or VBR/medium, I could rarely distinguish MP3 from FLAC, although sometimes the high-hat cymbals sounded like they lost a little bit of brilliance.

    Although I'm a fairly discerning listener, I do have high-frequency hearing damage in my right ear. So I brought in a friend who is a serious audiophile. We did a lot of listening and comparing (many hours over several days because your ears get "tired"), both on my system and back at his house.

    The Verdict: Vorbis is good, really good. But MP3's produced by Lame at VBR/Medium to VBR/High are also really, really good, maybe even better. MP3/VBR/Medium is approximately the same size as Vorbis/Normal (-q 4.99) at about 1MB/minute -- 1/5 the size of the FLAC files. Although there are players out there that can handle Vorbis, there are many more that don't.

    Ps. We're not going to throw out the FLACs, because something better *will* come along. By that I mean 'smaller than' MP3/VBR/HIGH.
  • by DdJ (10790) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @12:53PM (#17090006) Homepage Journal
    I put lossless content on my iPod sometimes. The main problem is battery life.

    Yeah, lossless content can be compressed, but it's not compressed as well as it would be with lossy compression. So, on my iPod, the hard drive spends a lot more time working when I listen to lossless content. The result is a significantly lowered battery life. Go ahead and test this yourself if you have an iPod, or other drive-based MP3 player.

    It's not as bad as it is with completely uncompressed content, but it's a good deal worse than it is with AAC and MP3 content.

    IMO, lossless is the right choice for media centers and other applications that are able to draw power externally, and lossy is the right choice for battery-powered playback.
  • by sootman (158191) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @03:57PM (#17091812) Homepage Journal
    A typical MP3 is better than the next most common format--FM radio--but I don't remember hearing people bitching about FM radio for the last few decades.

    A better question: are audiophiles *ever* happy? I think the answer is "no." Gamers are never happy with how fast their rigs are, hot rodders want better cars, horny teens want more sex, hippies want more wood chips in their granola, etc etc etc. Basically, most people are never happy with what's most important to them.

    And this particular question is as dumb as they come. A 6-GB MP3 player held a certain number of 128k MP3s. A 60 GB player today holds the same number of WAVs or AIFFs. So the answer, OBVIOUSLY, is "Yes, you can carry around perfect CD-quality songs." The only question is how many. Not enough? Wait a couple years.

    Next?

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