A few years ago I was talking to a high school student about music. “What do you listen to your music on?” I asked.
She pointed to her laptop. “It is,” she replied. “Through the columns.”
I was horrified. “You that is how do you hear all your favorite songs? Through laptop speakers? ”
She shrugged. “It’s good enough,” she said.
Good enough? What?
Alan Cross explains how our music is shaped by technology, part 1
If you are a certain age (i.e. you have grown up to the internet and MP3s), you may remember how you spent an insane amount of dollars after paying stereo taxes, hoping to create the biggest, worst, loudest, clearest, most accurate sounding within your budget. At one point in my bedroom there was something capable of acting as software for Black Sabbath taking place in Glastonbury. The stereo in my car was only slightly less powerful, but still able to fill an arena of decent size.
Such audio culture (and, well, fetishization) was everywhere. All my friends – it was almost exclusively dude – all dived into the deep end. We bought what we could afford and then spent many days in stores listening to ultra-high speakers and other equipment. It cost nothing and we kept listening to our favorite recordings played in their best beauty.
It all came crashing down with the rise of MP3s. Encoders have compressed files to one-tenth of their normal size, allowing them to be transferred over old copper telephone wires. MP3 files were also seen as a solution to the problem of PC storage. Computer hard drives were pathetically small by today’s standards, so copying an entire CD in the original .wav format was not the beginning. One of my old 1GB hard drives would barely hold a single CD. Instead of just saving a couple of dozen songs in .wav, you can save to that drive thousands with MP3.
We marveled at the magic of this technology. Choice! Portability! Libraries and playlists we created! File sharing! Yes, the sound wasn’t as good as our old records and CDs, but the trade-off between convenience and sound quality was worth it. We were fine with poor quality sound. And outside the niche audiophile community, that’s where we’ve been stuck for a couple of decades.
Alan Cross explains how our music is shaped by technology, part 2
In fact, modern music sounds worse than in the 1970s or even the 1960s. Too many new CDs contain music that is compressed in a mistaken attempt to make it louder, compressing the entire dynamic range. Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica (especially St. Anger album) are some of the worst offenders. When these songs are played on the radio, even more compression is added. If you rip these songs to MP3 format – well, it’s like shoving a grape can into a hydraulic press. And yes, most radio stations play digital files, even MP3s with a criminally low (below 320 kpbs) bitrate.
Meanwhile, the audio industry desperately needs a long cycle of upgrades as consumers move from compressed music and the devices that play them to something much better, such as Hi-Res Audio and other lossless digital formats (i.e. lossless). ). Such a movement will send multibillion-dollar ripples to almost all areas of consumer electronics.
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Oh, they tried. Does anyone remember SACD or HDCD? Both were optical discs with twice the resolution of audio discs, and were capable of transmitting music with astonishing clarity. They still exist, but you will never know.
Sony allowed me to try a high definition digital player 15 years ago with Bob Marley Legend preloaded. The difference was so catchy, so instantaneous that I seemed to be listening to these songs for the first time. But more than a decade and a half later, Hi-Res Audio (and several similar brands) is unknown to most music lovers outside of audiophiles. (If you want to see what you can buy, check out HDTracks, a Canadian store that sells files at no loss. Pink Floyd’s The wall at 96 kHz / 24-bit can change lives.)
And until recently, music streaming services did not help, delivering audio in the old “loss-making” formats. For example, Spotify has an automatic setting that defaults to four different bitrates depending on the receiver and the available data channel: 24 (low), 96 (normal), 160 (high) and 320 kpbs (very high). Even at a “very high level”, it is still less than a quarter of the data output from the .wav file (2.4 MB / minute vs. about 10 MB / minute).
However, the movement was. Apple Music says it has upgraded almost everything in its library to lossless audio so subscribers can listen to songs “the way artists created them in the studio.” (Well, that’s exactly what my friends and I were looking for that day. Ha.)
Tidal has always preferred audiophiles who want to broadcast. Amazon Music HD, Deezer and some others also broadcast lossless files. Some take more for higher quality, while others just put it into their usual streams.
Spotify’s version, Spotify HiFi, was supposed to be released last year, but it was postponed indefinitely without explanation. One would think that they are in a hurry to offer a level beyond which they could charge more or increase the number of subscribers. No. At least not yet.
But here’s the thing: Does the average music fan care about better sound? Not when they spend most of their time listening on portable devices, using headphones or earphones tuned to overemphasize bass frequencies (I’m looking at you, Beats). As for the last few generations of music lovers, compressed and horrible music (in my opinion) is how music should sound. What’s more, it’s a level of sound quality that they find enjoyable and beautiful. They see no need for anything greater.
What technologies appear after music broadcast?
Yes, the cost of the data is one factor, but it’s only for airing. There is always Wi-Fi. If you are subscribed to a streamer, you can store tracks on your device so you can listen even when you are not connected. And if you’re one of those people who still squeaks CDs, you don’t need to squeeze anything. An 8TB hard drive can be purchased for less than $ 200, and the capacity continues to grow as prices fall.
So far, offers of better sound have been met almost indifferently. I’m starting to fear that the whole concept of compact (or better) lossless audio for streaming will never come to mass. And that would be a crime.
If you are not convinced, go to the nearest dealer with a high audio dealer and ask them to play the version of The Doors encoded by Hi-Res MQA Horsemen on the Storm for a couple of good speakers. The clarity of Ray Manzarek’s electric piano is terribly clear and nuanced, obscured, perhaps, only by John Dansmore’s drums. I swear, I’ve never heard a clearer idea of a stick hitting a drum.
Just heavenly. Why would anyone want to deprive themselves of a glorious listening experience?
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 The Edge and a Global News commentator.
Subscribe to Alan’s “Current Story of New Music” podcast on Apple Podcast or Google Play
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