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Why Your Music Collection Probably Sucks

Topics: Music | 2 CommentsBy admin | March 25, 2010

That massive music collection you’ve compiled by buying songs on iTunes? The songs are probably worth just about every one of those 99 cents you paid for them. MP3′s intrinsically suck as an audio file format.

A long time ago we pointed out why your music selections might suck. Well, now we’re going to tell you why your collection sucks. How many songs would you say you have on your hard drive? A few hundred? A few thousand? Did you buy or otherwise download them online as mp3′s? If your answer is “yes”, we can fairly safely say your music collection sucks a little bit. Why? There are two reasons. One is that mp3′s – at any bitrate – simply will never contain the content of the original recording. The methods used for compression in an mp3 file are based on psychoacoustic modeling that by its very nature removes sound that you pay less attention to in the first place. Although you’ll find audio nuts arguing about .mp3 vs .flac vs .wav ’til the end of time on discussion boards, it’s a moot point. If you can’t hear the difference between a high-quality CD and an mp3 rip of it, that just means you can’t hear the difference. It absolutely is there. It may not bother you – which in fact seems to be the case with the iPod generation – but that in fact is just another psychoacoustic phenomena. The other reason your music collection probably sucks is that since the late 80′s, producers and engineers have engaged in what some in the industry call the Loudness War, which is the recording industry’s tendency to abandon dynamic range altogether for the sake of pure volume. If you think this is some sort of obnoxious audiophile whining, see the graph and brief video below, or if you’re interested in an in-depth technical rundown, see A Chronology of the Loudness War (scroll down). The difference is pretty astounding. So how can you resuscitate the quality of your music collection? Well, if you’re listening to it on your iPod or through your computer speakers, don’t worry about it, you won’t be able to hear many of these differences anyway. On the other hand, if you have a lot of disposable income, you could start replacing it all on vinyl and high-quality import CD’s, and play them on your $554,000 stereo system. If you haven’t listened to your music on a full-blown stereo system for a while, see the clip and graphic below to visualize just how bad this problem really is.

This graph shows the loss of dynamic range on the song “Something” by The Beatles over the past couple of decades. It’s been re-mastered on CD four times since 1983:


Source: Wikipedia

This clip quickly demonstrates how dramatic this loss of dynamic range can really be.

Read Comments

  1. Posted by Is Classical Music Dead? at dissociatedpress.com on 11.03.10 12:17 am

    [...] And in the 90’s, my snobbishness finally died a quiet death in the hands of a computer and a crappy file format known as mp3. The ability to compile and shovel around songs by the thousands and not need physical storage [...]

  2. Posted by The Verizon whyPhone And Why Cell Phone Sound Quality Still Sucks | dissociatedpress.com on 02.04.11 10:50 pm

    [...] baby. Just see my Disappointing Technologies Part I and Part II. Or my explanations of why your mp3’s or your robots suck. But one thing I probably have found more annoying than anything – whether [...]