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The Death of High Fidelity 377

Posted by Zonk
from the but-it's-still-rock-and-roll-to-me dept.
Ponca City, We Love You writes "Rolling Stone has an interesting story on how record producers alter the way they mix albums to compensate for the limitations of MP3 sound. Much of the information left out during MP3 compression is at the very high and low ends, which is why some MP3s sound flat. Without enough low end, 'you don't get the punch anymore. It decreases the punch of the kick drum and how the speaker gets pushed when the guitarist plays a power chord.' The inner ear automatically compresses blasts of high volume to protect itself, so we associate compression with loudness. After a few minutes, constant loudness grows fatiguing to the brain. Though few listeners realize this consciously, many feel an urge to skip to another song."
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The Death of High Fidelity

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  • Loudness War (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Deewun (1059450) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @05:26AM (#21847006)
    I call shenanigans. Double blind testing shows no perceptible difference between a good MP3 and the source material for most listeners most of the time. The real death of hi-fi is the fault of the record companies themselves, and the Loudness War [wikipedia.org]. Who cares if an MP3 encoder drops a tiny amount of imperceptible data when the CD itself has been compressed and clipped to the point that you don't want to listen to it?
    • Re:Loudness War (Score:5, Informative)

      by Incoherent07 (695470) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @05:58AM (#21847130)
      From Ring TFA (blasphemy!), it spends more time talking about the Loudness War than it does about MP3s, or at the very least the two seem to have a common theme of just making the whole damn album louder. The Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Californication" is still overcompressed if you rip it to FLAC.
      • Re:Loudness War (Score:5, Informative)

        by Ceriel Nosforit (682174) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @06:53AM (#21847306)
        That's correct, the article is more about the loudness war than it is about MP3 sound quality. In fact, right after the damning portion that the summary quotes, says the article:

        But not all digital-music files are created equal. Levitin says that most people find MP3s ripped at a rate above 224 kbps virtually indistinguishable from CDs.
        The summary is highly misleading, almost to the point of outright lying.
    • Re:Loudness War (Score:5, Informative)

      by DigitAl56K (805623) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @05:58AM (#21847134)
      Agree 100%.

      You don't compress differently when exporting to MP3 than you do when exporting to CD. Let's not look upon an MP3 as a majestical format where audio mysteriously takes on a life of its own and sounds strikingly different. It doesn't. An MP3 is simply the same signal that you find on a CD transformed into the frequency domain, frequencies with lesser engery quantized greater, or dropped if below the absolute threshold of hearing, some spatial information discarded (depending on the encoding mode), and written out as a bitstream. An MP3 is certainly a degraded version of the original signal, but the degradation can't really be compensated for via compression. If anything, EQ would be a better solution.

      I really think this article is completely off-base. Compression is completely unrelated to MP3, it's a technique used independently of the format.
    • by mangu (126918) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @06:07AM (#21847164)

      The real death of hi-fi is the fault of the record companies themselves, and the Loudness War. Who cares if an MP3 encoder drops a tiny amount of imperceptible data when the CD itself has been compressed and clipped to the point that you don't want to listen to it?

      I think you resumed in two sentences the whole "audiophile" dilemma. Let's face it, modern recordings suck and no processing will change that. Meanwhile, well intentioned but ill informed people will debate endlessly if vacuum tubes are better than transistors, if analog is better than digital, if lossless compression is better than lossy.


      Raising these subjects is flamebait, the people who defend vacuum tubes or analog recordings are comparing their own favorite recordings with modern recordings, not the absolute value of the audio equipment itself.


      One of my own favorite musics is a recording of the nine Beethoven symphonies, done by the Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted by Herbert von Karajan in 1962-1963. I have several versions of these in both analog medium, tape and LPs, and also in CDs, which I have ripped to mp3 to carry in my portable player. To rip the mp3 I used the CDs, not any of the analog versions, because the sound is cleaner in the CDs.


      OTOH, I have also some other CDs of those same pieces, same orchestra, same conductor, same recording company, done entirely in digital formats. I think they aren't as good as the old ones. The reason? Not because they are digital, but because of the difference between a Karajan in his 30s compared to the same man 20+ years later. Or it could also show the difference between the criteria used by Deutsche Gramophon in the 1960s and the 1980s.


      However, one thing I'm sure of is that if a CD copy of an analog recording is better than an analog copy of the same recording you cannot say digital sound is inferior. And if an mp3 copy of a CD containing music originally recorded in analog format sounds better than an LP of exactly the same recording, you cannot say mp3 has intrinsic fidelity problems.

      • by foobsr (693224) *
        ill informed people

        Not stating what type of equipment one uses for comparisons/ratings of audio experiences does not help to cure the condition.

        However, one thing I'm sure of is that if a CD copy of an analog recording is better than an analog copy of the same recording you cannot say digital sound is inferior. And if an mp3 copy of a CD containing music originally recorded in analog format sounds better than an LP of exactly the same recording, you cannot say mp3 has intrinsic fidelity problems.

        Ye
      • by teslar (706653)

        ill informed people will debate endlessly if vacuum tubes are better than transistors, if analog is better than digital, if lossless compression is better than lossy.

        You make it sound so bad.

        • Vacuum v transistors is a legitimate debate since it is essentially perceived sound quality v actual sound quality.
        • Analog v digital is indeed ill informed. It confuses the type of information (analog v digital) and the medium (degradable (vinyl, tape) v almost non-degradable (CD) ) - you make the same mistake in your re
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by jx100 (453615)

          Find a way to stick analog information on a medium that doesn't get worn out by use and you have a winner.
          How about vinyl read by laser?
          • by davecrist (711182) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @12:15PM (#21849066) Homepage
            It's an interesting idea but I think you (and folks in general) would be really surprised by the amount preprocessing required to etch an audio signal onto vinyl.

            I used to work with a mastering engineer that had specialized in vinyl and he talked about some of the things he would have to contend with when working with records. He mentioned that those problems became really evident after digital had really taken off and become established only to introduce the 'resurgence' of releasing 7inch 'remix' records and having to explain to his clients why the records sounded so much different from the existing digital masters.

            Besides the obvious problem of space (signal with a lot of low-freq content can significantly reduce the amount of recording time on one side of a record, for instance, so a lot of modern music, rap, r&b, and rock) would have to be heavily sonically modified to be pressed onto vinyl) in general the low-end and high-end of the source is *very* heavily EQed on the front end (before etching) and then given the 'reverse' of the same EQ on the back-end (after detected by the needle).

            Such heavy handed EQ is necessary to 'deal' with the limitations of the format and because there is no such thing as perfect EQ there is always a change in the tone of the original source.

            I suspect, but admittedly have no proof, that much of what is 'appealing' to vinyl is the learned tonality of all of this processing. I am not even saying that the process is 'good' or 'bad' I merely mean to suggest that it is there and a large part of that 'vinyl sound.'

            A similar process is done with cassette tape recording to address the limitations of the high-end of audible signal and noise.

            As a personal anecdote, when I first started working with digital I admit that I, too, first considered digital to be 'cold' and 'sterile'. But after working with digital more I discovered that the REAL problem with digital was its veracity. Working in analog is often a lot of 'pushing' the waveform to 'extract' a certain sound out of the tape (with FANTASTIC effect -- NOTHING sounds like drums and guitars, recorded VERY hot, to virgin 24-track 2" tape. NOTHING. but you achieve that sound not because analog is better but because of what happens when you do analog 'wrong'.). With digital you get EXACTLY what you put down so in order to achieve a 'sound' you have to generate that sound before you press record on the digital deck. When we first learned this, we would sometimes track drums on 2" analog first (citing my previous comment about 2"), and then dump it to digital to do the rest of the record (that is done a lot less now -- almost never -- we were being lazy).

            Most of getting 'good sound' out of digital was more a matter of relearning how to record to the newer medium

            • by rsidd (6328) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @01:50PM (#21849690)

              All lovers of "the vinyl sound" should read your post.

              It's actually worse than that: there were several standards for vinyl equalization. Since 1954, the RIAA equalization [wikipedia.org] has been the de-facto standard, but there were literally dozens earlier, which means if you play it back on the wrong equipment you get the wrong sound. And, as you say, even with the right equipment the equalization was hardly a perfect process.

        • by grumling (94709)
          Analog on a non-destructable medium: Laserdisks uased a 12" optical disk to store FM video years before CD auudio. The only reason they failed (technically) was because the 2 sided disks were glued together, for some reason. This problem was later solved.

          FM to store audio was also used on videotape, although the tapes do degrade over time, and the mechanism for playback is overly complex, in comparison to disk based systems.

          A laserdisk based FM audio system could theoretically store hours and hours of hq au
      • by GodGell (897123) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @08:57AM (#21847790) Homepage

        Let's face it, modern recordings suck and no processing will change that.
        That is not universally true. I find it is very much related to genre. Take Drum and Bass, for instance - in that genre, the sound engineer who determines what the final mix should sound like and deals with compression and EQing is almost always the same person (or group of people) who made the music itself, since they are all sound engineers (either professionally or as a hobby). As a result, these recordings always sound exactly like the artist(s) intended, regardless of whether it's released on vinyl (which is the most common), on CD (in which case the music is never converted to an analog format), or through the internet as mp3s. In fact, most of the mp3s I have of D'n'B music were recorded from vinyl and they all sound great.

        The same is the case with newer metal releases. I found that, almost universally, albums released in the last couple of years have great quality and sound much cleaner than those released in the 90s or earlier (excepting artists like King Crimson, who probably were all sound engineers).
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GWBasic (900357)

        OTOH, I have also some other CDs of those same pieces, same orchestra, same conductor, same recording company, done entirely in digital formats. I think they aren't as good as the old ones. The reason? Not because they are digital, but because of the difference between a Karajan in his 30s compared to the same man 20+ years later. Or it could also show the difference between the criteria used by Deutsche Gramophon in the 1960s and the 1980s. However, one thing I'm sure of is that if a CD copy of an analog recording is better than an analog copy of the same recording you cannot say digital sound is inferior. And if an mp3 copy of a CD containing music originally recorded in analog format sounds better than an LP of exactly the same recording, you cannot say mp3 has intrinsic fidelity problems.

        I remember reading somewhere that some of the primitive digital equipment in the 70s and 80s had limitations that often left analog versions sounding better. It wasn't until we perfected the digital process that digital recordings really sounded good. Part of the problem was that digital audio was seen as a way to eliminate hiss, when we didn't understand that our ears work best when quiet sounds fade gracefully into hiss.

    • Re:Loudness War (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bm_luethke (253362) <luethkeb@comcEEE ... inus threevowels> on Saturday December 29, 2007 @06:28AM (#21847214)
      Isn't this pretty much the point of the article? That due to customers mostly listening with bad equipment or compressed formats (mp3's) that the source has been degraded until one can not tell the difference? They are saying the same thing you are - users can't tell the difference, however their point is that the *should*. They are saying that you can not tell the effective difference because they *no longer sale the items where you can* (and they actually more blame the loudness war, of which they claim MP3's are the final end of that). Obviously under that situation one would expect to, well, not tell the difference.

      Personally it wasn't until you got into equipment that was so expensive that mostly I couldn't hope to afford it that I told the difference even with recording that *were* good. I have a few pieces of equipment that are good (my headphones are) but that mostly just lets me hear all the imperfections.

      Maybe once I can afford the price of my house in audio equipment I may care (and believe me, I would *love* too and am not complaining about anyone who has), but until then I don't so much. I do, however, agree with the idea that the "loudness war" (along with other problems) mostly destroyed most new music out there. Not because I can tell much difference in the quality of recordings but because the music in general is also created to take advantage of it instead of sounding good.
    • by foobsr (693224) *
      Double blind testing shows no perceptible difference between a good MP3 and the source material for most listeners most of the time

      Which, as far as my understanding goes, gives evidence of a difference. Besides, good practice to enhance fidelity is to quote a source.

      CC.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by stewbacca (1033764)
        Well, to be fair, I've seen at LEAST three articles just on slashdot showing the same findings. Does he really need to cite the obvious?
    • by syukton (256348)
      You missed the point. If a CD itself is being recorded to compensate for being compressed as an MP3, of course there wouldn't be a perceptible difference!

      If a raw, live performance in a studio is imperceptibly different from a recording of that performance, that's another matter all together, and it doesn't seem to be something that is being tested in the sorts of comparison studies you mention.

    • Of course it doesn't show any difference. That's because most people do not listen to music any more; it's just noise in the background that they are used to having. No matter how loud the producers make the music, nobody will notice their songs. Face it, music has become a part of the ambient environment, and actually listening to it is the very process that is dying. Hence the death of the HiFi.
    • by Simonetta (207550) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @03:25PM (#21850452)
      After reading the article in Rolling Stone (several weeks ago) I came to realize that the quoted music producers didn't know the difference between the two audio definitions of word 'compression'. They were using the two different meanings interchangeably to make arguments that reflected their financial positions in the music industry rather than make sense to the music consuming public.

          Audio compression means to reduce the amount of difference between the loudest and softest sounds of an audio recording or signal. This is what a guitar stompbox pedal like the MXR Dyna-comp does or what the NE571 Compandor IC does.

          File compression is to transform the time-domain voltage samples of a digital audio recording, convert them in frequency domain, and discard data below a certain threshold.

          Compression means to make smaller. Audio compression reduces volume range and file compression reduces file data size. But they are completely different concepts.

          Both types of compression are done on audio recordings by the music industry. Both affect the resultant product.

          But they are completely different processes that affect the music in completely different ways. And many of the music professionals quoted in the article couldn't tell or honestly didn't know the difference.

          ...And they are supposed to be professionals!
  • Who sells MP3? (Score:2, Insightful)

    Who sells music in a loosy compression such as MP3? CDs aren't mp3; itune music doesn't come in mp3. I think the author of the article is making the mistake of calling all digital music mp3. That's like calling all smart phones iPhones and all digital music players iPods.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Amazon [amazon.com]
    • by Jonner (189691)
      No, you're making the mistake of not reading the article. The author explains the difference between different bitrates of MP3. The author also explains the overuse of dynamic range compression (the loudness war) as a separate issue, but points out that some producers think the CD should be mastered with a lot of DRC because people will encode the CD as MP3s. IMHO, those producers are mistaken, but the article doesn't support one side or the other.
  • by Broken Toys (1198853) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @05:36AM (#21847030)
    "The age of the audiophile is over."

    How true. I tried to warn people that their hair would fall out and blindless would ensue but would anyone believe me then? MP3's are the devil's work.

    Repent and bow at the altar of vinyl before it's too late.

  • lolbull (Score:2, Informative)

    by ud plasmo (842308)
    mp3 sounds fine to me
    i think what matters what is where the sound is coming out from
    speaker/headphone quality etc
  • by DigitAl56K (805623) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @05:45AM (#21847082)
    It may be true that MP3 encoders do tend to (but don't necessarily always) make some trade-offs at the high or low frequencies. For example, very low frequency sound may lose stereo positioning, and most encoders employ a low-pass filter to reduce the data rate (or artifacts at a given data rate) by taking out some of the high-end frequencies. However, this has (almost) nothing to do with compression, which is more about adjusting dynamics to make quiet sounds sound louder while trying to minimize distortion in the louder parts.

    Compression is a horrible thing, of course, because essentially what is happening today is that even those of us who buy CDs hoping to avoid the artifacts of lossy formats are subject to some random guy deciding during mastering that "hey, this will stand out more against the competition if the whole thing is really loud and unsubtle". But to tie this against MP3 is a very far stretch of the imagination, IMO.
    • by imsabbel (611519)
      "Compression" can also mean dynamic compression (i.e. Exactly what you explained).

      As i have no interest in reading another audiophile oppinion piece, i dont know what the article means in that case.
  • by ndogg (158021) <`the.rhorn' `at' `gmail.com'> on Saturday December 29, 2007 @05:54AM (#21847110) Homepage Journal
    I usually like harder/grungier stuff, but I've noticed that over the past few years, I've been gradually moving to softer stuff like Norah Jones or A Fine Frenzy or Bob Dylan. I can't help, but wonder if the loudness wars have had something to do with that.

    I can't help, but think that softer stuff like that has a much lower chance of being compressed into distortion.
  • not just mp3's (Score:2, Informative)

    by n3tcat (664243)
    The article doesn't just discuss the compression rates, but actually talks about everything in the entire industry that flattens sound. It's an interesting concept that I am sure has been discussed for decades, however I've never personally connected these dots before so it was nice to read.

    The first thing I think of though is not how can we improve the delivery medium, but rather why are equalizers not considered at all? Especially in digital media where the EQ can be activated from the song's information
    • by 4D6963 (933028)

      Use the EQ to bring out the artificial loudness, but leave the details there for the people who want to disable the EQ and just listen to the original piece.

      Actually equalisers have little to do with the loudness in questions, besides for the fact that they like to master sounds into having every octave sound as loud, or so I heard. But the core of the problem is compression, which is a simple time-domain effect on the values of samples (in a way similar to gamma in an image).

      The true question is, why do

      • by tyrione (134248)
        You can raise the amplitude on an EQ to raise the loudness to the point it becomes garbage and nothing but a mess of distorted feedback.
      • by Jonner (189691)
        I don't think the kind of dynamic range compression the professionals use can be easily implemented in real time on consumer equipment. However, putting metadata about compression in the audio stream, which can be selectively enabled by the player can work. In fact, Dolby Digital [wikipedia.org] already has such a feature. I can select from no compression, light compression, or heavy compression in my receiver.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tyrione (134248)

      It's amazing that half of these threads are a rehashed circle-jerk on analog/digital/mp3 compression concerns. The point of the article is that the music was intentionally made loud and thus the amplitudes of the dynamic range are consistently being chopped in modern recordings, thus nullifying the point of using an independent Amplifier to modify the sound to how you want it.

      Take Heavy Metal music of the 1970s to today. Take Judas Priest for an example. The album British Steel showed an incredibly crisp,

      • While I wish they'd get back to the almost-progy sound and feel of the first three[two] albums, I thought Angel was a great showing. Easily the best "comeback" album I've heard.
  • Meh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Udo Schmitz (738216) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @06:00AM (#21847140) Journal
    I call BS.
    1.: Record producers did try to fit the sound for low-fi at least as far back as the seventies. This was done to make sure the songs were still recognizable on your transistor radio at the beach or on the tape deck in your car.
    2.: *My* MP3s sound just fine, thank you.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by hsdpa (1049926) *
      About your #1: Yeah, and that's very important. If the music doesn't sound good in lo-fi then the general public won't like it which leads to less profit. One would almost wish for a "audiophile"-release of that special album that one loves - in this case get it as FLAC?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Udo Schmitz (738216)
        True, and it makes sense. I just wanted to point out that the MP3 format or its use can't be blamed for how albums are mixed ...
    • by Dogtanian (588974)

      Record producers did try to fit the sound for low-fi at least as far back as the seventies

      As far as I'm aware, Phil Spector's early-1960s records were recorded to sound good on AM radio. Also, if you think about it, the "Wall of Sound" could be considered as aiming at the same target as compression did later. It aimed to give the listener an... erm, wall of sound that filled the whole audio spectrum. Some might argue that it did this in a more artistically interesting way, but it still seemed to be aiming for the same thing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by greg1104 (461138)
      Motown records from the 60's were engineered for the limitations of AM and compressed onto 45-rpm records using the same techniques people complain about now. Take a look at http://www.helium.com/tm/293860/movie-spinal-guitarist-titular [helium.com] and you can see Barry Gordon was decades ahead of the current "loudness wars".
  • Dynamic Range! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bootle (816136) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @06:01AM (#21847146)
    The problem is that the waveforms of modern songs are increasingly rendered at a uniform loudness, causing listener fatigue (it sure makes me tired). This is well addressed in the article.

    MP3 compression is yet another issue.
  • Radio in general (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 29, 2007 @06:08AM (#21847170)
    The loudness wars have been going on with commercial radio for quite some time. See the infamous Optimod [orban.com] or Omnia [omniaaudio.com]. One of the tenants of processing is to make younger audience music squashed to death (heavy overdrive and heavy clipping) because they apparently don't care about fatigue.....but to a middle-aged soccer mom--the typical targeted demo of the greater majority of stations--the processing gets very fatiguing so they just clip it to death without the massive overdrive, still causing horrible distortion.

    Next time you have the radio on, listen closely...those little crackles in the background is not noise from a bummy signal, it's distortion from over-processing the already over-processed song.

    Music that's older (recorded when the technology wasn't so hot) comes pre-clipped because they didn't have amazing compression devices to keep everything in check so the varying levels max out. It's not as bad since it were tubes causing the clipping (and they have a softer sound), but it sounds awful.

    Anonymous because this is my profession.
  • by Skuto (171945) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @06:13AM (#21847180) Homepage
    ...remove anything at the bottom end of the spectrum. There is simply no point as the entire low frequency range can be represented by just a few coefficients.

    The authors have no idea what they are talking about and are probably a combination of prejudiced and stone deaf.
    • by gazbo (517111) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @06:30AM (#21847226)
      Also, their example of bass driver movement due to a "guitarist strumming a power chord"? I think they should record a power chord and check out its spectrum; there's not much low end at all. They probably mean "on the songs I like, power chords are often played at the same time as loud bass and bass drums".

      If they can't tell the difference then they probably have little business talking about the subtleties of music production and recording formats.

      Even better is the idea of producers (gasp) altering the mix to suit MP3s better. Maybe they should look up the original purpose of mastering compressors, especially those with a lat/vert mode. Yup - they're there to compensate for the limitations of your precious, precious vinyl.

  • There was a time where there was a war between rithm vs melody lovers. Now it seems the war is over (by now) rythm has won, let's go back to jungle, and forget those gentle sounds.

    Just remember, the music you hear when kid will stay with you for all your life.

  • by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @06:20AM (#21847196)
    It's about compression (audio) not compression (data) ; it's the loudness war again. It's something important though.

    You can still hear most of the dynamic range on a well encoded MP3 or Vorbis file, IMHO. If it's present in the first place, that is.

    Never mind discussing whether FLAC or MP3 or OGG are the best ; what does it matter if the master has already been sabotaged by marketing, compressed to sound "loud" so that it gets instant attention on the radio? Yeah, sure, it gets attention ; the same way a fire alarm or a fog horn does, by inflicting an ear-cringing reflex.

    "Compression is a necessary evil. The artists I know want to sound competitive. You don't want your track to sound quieter or wimpier by comparison. We've raised the bar and you can't really step back."
    -- Butch Vig, producer and Garbage mastermind
    Yes, this man truly is a mastermind .... of garbage.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by coldcell (714061)
      Go listen to "Something in the Way" off of Nevermind. Though he's being pulled into a loudness war, along with every other big rock/metal producer, it doesn't make him a total failure. The man has done insane things in some areas of production, granted, but he's a genius in many others IMO.
    • We've raised the bar and you can't really step back.

      If he'd said "we've lowered the bar" would you have agreed with him?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Govannon (944336)
      I am a home-recorder who does mixes and (amateur) masters of the songs in my studio. At first I was all for the dynamics in a song, with some subtle compression. But every time a song of mine was played in a play list, it just isn't as punchy as all the "professionally" mastered stuff. Everybody was asking me why my songs sounded quieter.

      The truth is only a very small portion of the people care for real audio quality and the rest are easy to be convinced by apparent loudness. I did some tests with the mu
  • Lower frequencies (Score:5, Informative)

    by 4D6963 (933028) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @06:26AM (#21847208)

    Much of the information left out during MP3 compression is at the very high and low ends, which is why some MP3s sound flat.

    Wait, I thought that the MP3 compression was basically achieved by cutting the sound into overlapping chunks, performing a DCT on each chunk, discarding the less important bins according to a psychoacoustic model and compression the thing like in a ZIP file? If so that means that the frequency scale stays linear, and so there would be little interest in getting rid of frequencies under say 30-35 Hz since they represent about 0.15% of the data in a plain old track sampled at 44,100 Hz.

    So the MP3 compression doesn't actually discard the "low end" as they call it, does it? Wouldn't the "flatness" they're talking about be due to how frame sizes affect transient (short) sounds and makes them softer?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by grumling (94709)
      Hey, this guy actually knows something about compression. Sorry sir, but you'll have to leave. There's no place for engineering in the audiophile debates.
  • by Pooua (265915) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @06:36AM (#21847248) Homepage
  • by Symbolis (1157151) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {silobmys}> on Saturday December 29, 2007 @06:58AM (#21847322)
    that your equipment doesn't have wooden knobs.

    Also, you'll find your aural experience greatly improved if the wires are of high quality and raised slightly above floor level. I've also noticed marked improvements if you chill the wires(and generally keep the room cool). Cool equipment = warm sound. Who knew?

    It's called the auralgasm setup for a reason!
  • "record producers alter the way they mix albums to compensate for the limitations of MP3 sound."

    Bullshit. The record companies are too lazy/cheap to spend extra time doing ANYTHING that requires any extra time or effort. That's why many CDs in the early days sounded lousy. They just took the original analog tapes and put them onto CD with no remixing or remastering. Recording engineers spent decades learning all sorts of tricks to make music sound good when transferred to a vinyl LP and didn't bother to
  • by glas_gow (961896)
    I don't see how MP3s radically alters post production values. Record producers have always sought to compensate for low-fi playback systems, such as radio, by listening to the mix on small, mono speakers, as well as using bespoke studio monitors. All that has happened is MP3 has replaced small transistor radios, as the medium which dictates record sales.
  • As a hobbyist electronic music composer, I would just like to point out that sometimes, compression/limiting is actually a very important tool.
    Basically, people often don't realize that compression/limiting started as a handy tool for the mixing engineer.
    Sometimes you need a good way of making something sound louder while increasing its harmonic content, and a limiter can do just that.
    Also, when done in proper amounts, compression of the entire track can cause the recording to sound more unified.

    The fact th
  • by denzacar (181829)
    ...nothing couple of $400 wooden knobs couldn't fix.
    But just for good measure - add some super-clean gold-plated copper cables at $1500 per foot.

    That will fix it.
  • by zuki (845560) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @08:44AM (#21847748) Journal
    Well, to be fair the article is specifically talking about the phenomenon known as 'finalizing', which is a way to clearly boost the
    apparent levels by up to 10 dB or more during the mastering stages without any digital clipping artifacts. (a.k.a. brick-wall limiting)

    There is no question that a lot of great points were raised in the article, however when it comes to MP3 (the 'other' form of compression)
    as a person who has participated in recording, mixing and mastering sessions for over 30 years, and constantly listens to master recordings,
    can only say that it is pathetic how bad they sound on large audio playback systems, which some of us have and listen to.
    (For example pick a very large loft, or someone's home theater for 20 people, not to say anything of a proper auditorium)

    You might not hear it at home, on computer speakers or certainly not your earbuds, but the bigger the stereo, the more it is obvious.
    And actually what is the most disturbing is that what is very, very wrong about lossy encoding formats is that it doesn't necessarily affect so
    much the frequency response, as it does the 'punch', transients and other intangibles which when played on those large-format systems become
    quickly apparent. The same way a graphic designer will not try and magnify this site's jpg logo (415 x 55 pixels, I did check) to a more
    adequate 16,000 x 2122 for billboard and poster printing, as there will be obvious and nasty pixelization artifacts, there are similar phenomenons
    happening with audio, and they are - at best - poorly understood, and at worst dismissed as being the brainchild of crackpots with too
    much time on their hands, the New-Age idealists like those who read John Diamond's "Life Energy In Music" and keep a stack of copies
    of 'Absolute Sound' by the bathroom stall.

    Suffice to say that the combination of both forms of compression (finalizing, plus lossy encoding) do make for a pretty formidable opponent that
    already has greatly affected the public's perception of what 'sounds good' and doesn't. And it's not likely to get better.

    Fear not, for those who care about listening to music in more proper manners, there are plenty of options available, from an arguably limited selection
    of
    SACDs of some great Jazz, Classical and Pop, to fantastic vinyl playback systems, or ways to re-process those CDs that are too loud and give them
    back some form of dynamic range, which will involve spending time re-mastering them with specific analog//tube//tape-machine type equipment, and is
    obviously not a recommended activity for what seems to make the most of today's impatient 'click-click' listeners, the Attention-Deficit-Disorder-addled set.

    As for the Hydrogen Audio bunch that keeps doing those double-blind tests and play with oscilloscope and frequency analyzers, I think they should
    once try them again, but in a place that holds a couple of thousand listeners, and they may come back around to the fact that even CD-resolution
    is quite atrocious to listen to, when compared to something like formats that can actually reproduce the original master recordings in a way they should,
    such as DSD or 24-bit / 96 kHz encoded music. (not to say anything of a proper 1/2" open-reel master copy)

    So in essence, while some of these people quoted in the article all agree that something's wrong, most of them cannot put their finger on it, as it is
    something that is far more in the domain of the perceptual and psychoacoustics than an exact science.

    It is mind-boggling that 25 years after the CD was introduced, most people consider progress to be size-reduction and loudness, and all attempt
    at making a case for higher-fidelity have commercially failed, but again there are far larger problems looming over our heads today.

    As someone who has made a living with playing recorded sounds in very large venues, I can however vouch for the fact that even if people do not exa
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Where's my mod points when I need them - some mod the parent up please. For myself, I still listen to vinyl? Why - well it's got the actual shape of the sound on the surface - no digitisation, no mucking around with dynamic range - it's there and about as unadulterated as you can get. I suspect that is why it does sound better than the same recording that was dumped onto a CD.
      • by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes AT xmsnet DOT nl> on Saturday December 29, 2007 @10:38AM (#21848352)
        Why - well it's got the actual shape of the sound on the surface - no digitisation, no mucking around with dynamic range - it's there and about as unadulterated as you can get.


        Not quite. There may be no digitisation (but only if the entire mastering process has been analogue as well), but there is a lower limit to the detail that can be reproduced: none of the process steps (the cutting process on the master, and the various pressing steps) can reproduce the input signal down to the molecular level.
        IIRC you can't reproduce much more accurately than with 16-bit digitisation.
        Vinyl does have a superior sampling rate to CD (although the same limit as above applies).

        The dynamic range of vinyl is much more limited than that of CD, though. The dynamic range depends on the thickness of the record and the groove pitch, but most commercial recordings are limited to 50 dB or so, so for most music you do need some compression.
        The dynamic range of a small group of musicians is something like 90 dB, an orchestra can reach 120 dB, so in practice you need compression for any recording.
    • Since you pretty well said everything that was on my mind, I thought I'd drop in a few ancillary comments.

      I practically cringe every time one of these 'audiophile' flamebait / troll articles appears on /. .. This is one of those subjects with which /. has become a parody of itself. You know the up-modded posts about expensive wooden knobs and fancy cables are just a few lines down the page amidst a Slashgasm of smug, self-congratulatory back-patting by users all to quick to dismiss the finer, more subtle q

    • by martyb (196687)

      You might not hear it at home, on computer speakers or certainly not your earbuds, but the bigger the stereo, the more it is obvious. And actually what is the most disturbing is that what is very, very wrong about lossy encoding formats is that it doesn't necessarily affect so much the frequency response, as it does the 'punch', transients and other intangibles which when played on those large-format systems become quickly apparent. (emphasis added)

      Thank you for your well-reasoned and clear comment. I RTFA and I agree with you. I'd like to elaborate a bit on the part of your comment I quoted. It seems to me that they used the term "MP3" rather flippantly: to mean BOTH the compressed audio format AND listening to music on an iPod's tiny ear buds. If I'm listening to music on a portable player with ear buds, then it's an almost certainty that I'm listening to an MP3 (Ogg, etc. notwithstanding). But it is NOT the case that all MP3's are listened to

    • by paulbd (118132)

      amazing. finally i've found someone who has done real double blind tests of lossy audio data compression versus high quality originals in real spaces, and has proven conclusively that at least 99% of the listening audience can tell the difference. could you post a URL where i can read the details of your testing, so that i can post it whenever some fool shows up and claims that every double blind test to date has shown that virtually no-one can tell the difference? i'd also love to read your work on DSD an

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I highly disagree.

      You keep putting the blame squarely in the hands of the format. I put the blame Firmly in the hands of the Audio engineers. you guys know you are destroying the sound.

      I record live events with a mixture of equipment. From high end binaural mic's coupled with a portable DAT recorder to my chump-change cheapie using a personally matched pair of cheapie electro's into a mp3 recorder. and EVERY single time I get far superior recordings than the best audio engineers produce and release. I get
  • I just ripped my newest CD in different formats using Sound Juicer. First I used the standard setting, 160kbps OGG Vorbis. It sounded good, but I decided to re-rip in FLAC. After all it takes only 5 minutes to rip it, and I have lots of free HD space.

    The difference was huge. Even with my poor $150 speakers I could hear the difference. The biggest difference was the bass. My subwoofer was a lot more active, and the music sounded richer.
  • by DynaSoar (714234)
    Another scare tactic article by the music industry and others who make money from it.

    With respect to hifi equipment (because you can't hear the stuff they're doing on portables):

    For roll off (loss of highs and lows) there's the loudness control and/or equalizers.
    This is necessary because the auditory system has roll off at low volume.

    For volume, there's a volume control.
    Obvious.

    For dynamic compression there's dynamic range expanders.
    An extra piece of equipment, not cheap but not overly costly. But it has t
  • I guess they are quite as "dancable" any more - but one thing is for sure - my cables are atleast three times as "finger snapable" as your disgusting Best Buy Monster Cables.
  • I've billed myself as an audiophile for many years, and I'm glad to hear that there are some folks around here that share the interest. I also have the benefit of being a computer enthusiast for the last 15 years. Interestingly enough, I just completed my latest set of speakers last night using parts that I asked for for Christmas from my SO ;). Anyway, onto the statement that I came here to make.

    Mp3's generally sound bad. Well, rather than make a broad sweeping claim, I'd more say they have an "mp3 soun
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by julesh (229690)
      frequency response is sometimes questionable, although at higher bit-rates is acceptable (320 kbps, and not that sliding crap either, I don't want software telling me what part of the song is important enough to hear properly.)

      You don't actually know how VBR works, do you? It actually reduces the amount of judgment the software is making over what's important, by assuming everything is equally important, rather than individual sounds in more complex parts being considered less important, as is the case in
  • by DragonTHC (208439) <Dragon@gamersTIGERlastwill.com minus cat> on Saturday December 29, 2007 @11:51AM (#21848896) Homepage Journal
    They have been screwing up mixes since the early nineties way before mp3s were prevalent. Fidelity was a thing of the past way back in the past. Mixing engineers first compensated for everyone's crappy speakers and little tinny headphones. Then they started doing it for mobiles and mp3s. This is all at the hands of some moronic producer who doesn't understand quality. Compare anything mixed after 1990 with "Dark Side of the Moon". Nothing stacks up. Case in point. Norah Jones. Her first album was mixed very well. Her second album was mixed by someone with no concept of fidelity. And, yes, I have the system to fully enjoy it. My headphones alone can handle more of the spectrum than the human ears can.

    Producers don't care about the music or quality or fidelity anymore. It's all about the dollar. "What can I sell to people?" This is part of the reason why I don't buy music anymore. The last two CDs I bought were both Paul McCartney albums. (Though "memory almost full" is pretty crappy.) I occasionally buy singles from itunes but that's it.

    I like to think that my music [binarybeats.com] is mixed well.

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