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  1. #1
    Atomic Punk
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    Default High fidelity takes backseat to portability

    High fidelity takes backseat to portability

    SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- Music lovers remember a familiar advertising image from the past: a man reclined in a chair, head back, blown away by music from his high-fidelity sound system.


    Like the Marlboro Man before him, Maxell's pitchman is now a relic.

    With their ability to store vast libraries of music in your pocket, sleek digital music players have replaced bulky home stereo systems as the music gear of choice. But the sound quality of digital audio files is noticeably inferior to that of compact discs and even vinyl.

    Are these the final days of hi-fi sound? Judging by the 2 billion songs downloaded from Apple Inc.'s iTunes service, the ubiquity of white iPod "ear buds," and the hundreds of thousands of folks file-sharing for free, the answer is yes.

    "In many ways, good enough (sound quality) is fine," said Paul Connolly, an art installation specialist and longtime audiophile from Sugar Land, Texas, who's now in the process of digitizing his 2,400 CD collection in Apple's lossless digital audio format.

    "The warmth and the nice distortion that the album had was beautiful," he said. "But do I long for the days of albums? No. Do I long for the days of CDs now that we've gone digital? No. It's a medium."

    Justin Schoenmoser, of San Francisco, also traded in his rack system for an iPod. Currently working abroad and toting along his iPod, the convenience of carrying thousands of songs in a gadget smaller than a pack of cigarettes outweighs the sacrifice of quality.

    "The last time I had a full-blown home stereo system was in the mid-90s, and it was a gift from my parents," Schoenmoser said. "As I converted most of my stuff to digital over the last 5 years, I finally got rid of all my old equipment."

    A song ripped from a CD at 128 kilobits per second -- the default setting for most software -- retains only a fraction of the audio data contained on the originally mastered disc. Whether you downloaded the track from iTunes or copped it off LimeWire, the song remains the same. The small digital music file is a highly compressed shadow of the originally mastered recording.

    And regardless of how advanced your home audio setup is, if you're pumping a low-rate MP3 or iTunes file into it, you're getting a low-rate rendition of the original song out of it. It's listenable, but still lacking the luster of a CD played on the same system.

    'It doesn't compare'
    Some experts say the sound quality lost in the process is undetectable to most untrained ears. But Michael Silver can hear the difference.

    Audio High, his high-end stereo shop in Mountain View, sells things like a $5,000 needle for your turntable and stereo cable at $2,700 a meter.

    "It doesn't compare," Silver said of the sound quality offered by today's portable digital music players and their compressed audio files.

    If his high-end gear is like a Ferrari for sound, and run-of-the-mill stereo equipment is a Honda, an iPod is "a moped," Silver said.

    That difference in sound quality, perceptible or not, hasn't saved some of the bigger traditional stereo and music sellers.

    Tweeter Home Entertainment Group Inc., a Canton, Massachusetts-based retailer of mid-to-high end audio equipment, is closing 49 of its 153 stores nationwide. Slumping sales at Sacramento, California-based Tower Records led that former industry juggernaut to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in August.

    And Circuit City, the nation's No. 2 electronics retailer, is laying off 3,400 of its most experienced clerks.

    Year-to-date data from a recent Nielsen SoundScan report shows sales of prerecorded CDs in the United States down 20 percent from last year.

    "Everybody has a certain amount of money to spend. It's not that they're choosing not to spend it on the old-style audio. It's that something new came along," said James McQuivey, principle analyst for media technology at Forrester Research Inc.

    "The MP3 player integrated the collection of the music with the playback of the music," he said. "Now all of it's seamlessly hidden away on a hard drive somewhere."

    With the networked household ready to fill the void left by the demise of rack stereo systems, McQuivey sees a steady stream of new devices on the horizon that will erase any lingering drawbacks to going all-MP3.

    Santa Barbara-based Sonos, Inc., for example, sells a system that allows you to use a handheld device to navigate streamed music from your PC to an existing amp and speaker or home theater setup, sort of a hybrid between the old guard and the new.

    "A CD is not relevant to me anymore," said John MacFarlane, founder and chief executive of Sonos. "The iPod and that type of portable music player has even accelerated that trend."

    Even when consumers do buy CDs these days, "the first thing you do is rip your CDs and put them on your iPods," MacFarlane said.

    MacFarlane isn't even convinced that casual listeners can hear the difference between CD-quality sounds and the dumbed-down MP3 files, which he calls "good quality, not perfect."

    "When Philips and Sony first made the CD, they didn't cut any corners because they were careful to preserve everything that was there, even if you couldn't hear it," MacFarlane said. "That 128 is pretty darn good. A lot of Ph.D.s went in to making that 128 kbps work well and sound well.

    Schoenmoser, the globetrotting Californian, agrees.

    "I honestly can't really tell the difference between CD, tape and digital," he said. "I'd even accept a lower quality as long as it's digital and portable."
    "Watch what people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack.” -- Gen. George S. Patton

  2. #2
    Baluchitherium Leo Van Newhouse's Avatar
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    It's what I preach, and preach, and preach on. I buy vinyls, cause the sound quality is better, and you can hear it. Cheap MP3s will ruin music. You get crappy sound. Seems like almost everyone chooses the easy, cheap way over of listening music. It's a shame. Everyone stick to vinyls, and analog recordings.
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  3. #3
    carpe damn diem billy007's Avatar
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    I just don't think people "listen" to music anymore. It's something to have on in the background while they're doing other things, or it's there to block out the world, or it's there to announce your arrival as you bounce down the street in your hoopty mobile. The people who sit back and listen to an album and escape in the various layers of instruments and production are getting fewer and far between every day - no one has the patience to listen anymore.

  4. #4
    Atomic Punk
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    Quote Originally Posted by Leo Van Newhouse View Post
    It's what I preach, and preach, and preach on. I buy vinyls, cause the sound quality is better, and you can hear it. Cheap MP3s will ruin music. You get crappy sound. Seems like almost everyone chooses the easy, cheap way over of listening music. It's a shame. Everyone stick to vinyls, and analog recordings.
    It's the Have It Fast, Have It Now, Junk Food Society...
    "Watch what people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack.” -- Gen. George S. Patton

  5. #5
    Baluchitherium Leo Van Newhouse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by voivod View Post
    It's the Have It Fast, Have It Now, Junk Food Society...
    Yeah, and it's wrong. More power to the newer band releasing music on vinyl.
    THE PEOPLE HERE TONIGHT : Representing DAVID LEE ROTH in all his glory!!!!!!!!!

    JH: "How was your New Years Eve show at the House Of Blues?"
    DLR: "James...I AM New Years Eve!"

    "To keep up with me, you must be fast. To sing like me, you must be great. To beat me? You must be kidding?" David Lee Roth

    "I'm gonna want to rock out w/ my cock out instead of playing anal taper dork." Colonel Sanders


    ANOTHER HOSTILE TAKEOVER COMING YOUR WAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. #6
    Atomic Punk sixstring's Avatar
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    I think everything up to CDs was fine and I actually think the resolution of the CD is the best it's ever gonna get. Not to knock vinyl, though...

    MP3s just suck - even the so-called high-quality ones. I can ALWAYS hear that 'digital garble' from the file compression in them and it DRIVES ME NUTS. I'll listen to them if I have to but I'll keep my CD collection, thank you very much...
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]


    "20 minutes (late to work)? Shit. Last year I woke up three weeks too late.
    My advice is to go for the alien abduction story. Look bemused, dishevelled and on the verge of tears as you recount your story of intrusive and degrading medical tests.
    Worked for me anyway. I still have colleagues asking me what it is like to fuck a green womanoid with seventeen breasts.
    Alternatively just walk in and inform everyone that alcoholism is indeed a disease and that they should be less judgemental and perhaps a little more supportive."
    - graeme on the addiction to this place.

    "something tells me that after the nuclear holocaust, there'll be twinkies, cockroaches, and a dave vs. sammy argument going on somewhere".
    - han valen, 6.11.04

    "in my best "saw" scary movie voice: "oh, yes, there will be beagles."
    - hatchetforce, 6.7.06

  7. #7
    Good Enough
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    Man I totally agree. Nobody seems to care about how good an album sounds anymore. Plus, the way new albums are mixed you can barely pick our any individual parts, it's just all one big loud wall of sound.

  8. #8
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    Don't even get me started on the diminished quality of recorded music and the medium in which it is delivered today (mp3).

    To be fair, when I was a kid in the 80s the cassette Walkman was extremely popular; it was small (not anything like an iPod, though) and could hold up to 120 minutes of music on a long playing cassette. A cassette, however, was probably the worst form of audio reproduction at the time; it only caught on because of its convenience. Fast forward to the present, and that is exactly what the mp3 is--convenient. Personally, I love that I can take my 1,000-plus CD collection with me anywhere I go on something that is handheld. I recognize completely there is a compromise in sound quality (though I do rip mp3s at a higher rate than the standard crappy 128 kbps).

    Just as we've over-compressed music in the data form to accommodate convenience, we've also done it in the digital audio form; modern recordings--despite having an infinite amount of possibilities and potential for making them the best ever--have taken the life out of what was, originally, played by a human (at least partially). There used to be a desire with engineers to make compression transparent--that is control the dynamics of the instrument but make that limiting unrecognizable. Now hearing the compression is just par for the course, and EVERYTHING is squashed beyond belief, from the tracks, to sub-mixes within the mix, to the entire mix itself. The idea is you can take it in at any volume level and still hear all of the song and the "energy" it puts out. Except then the song barely breathes. Next add loads of digital distortion (a nasty kind of distortion nothing like analog distortion) from pushing EQs in an effort to bump the overall volume of the compressed mess, and you're left with one hell of a shitty recording--all of which was recorded in the finest of A-Room studios with the most popular engineers.

    I think we hit our digital/analog combo peak around the mid-90s. Listen to the remastered VH stuff on the first Best Of CD. It sounds great! I don't know what happened a few years later--why the standards shit-i-fied.
    Last edited by AT; 04.24.07 at 12:25 PM.

  9. #9
    Atomic Punk ZeoBandit's Avatar
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    I am not a music expert by any means, but I can definitely tell the difference between MP3s and CDs when the same song is played first on MP3 and then immediately on CD. However, when you just listen to the iPod all day long, I don't notice the difference as much, and it is a lot easier to carry around the iPod then it is to carry a bunch of CDs.
    "What we are dealing with here, is a complete lack of respect for the law" - Jackie Gleason, Smokey and the Bandit

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  10. #10
    Atomic Punk sixstring's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AndrewThomas.net View Post
    I think we hit our digital/analog combo peak around the mid-90s. Listen to the remastered VH stuff on the first Best Of CD. It sounds great! I don't know what happened a few years later--why the standards shit-i-fied.
    I TOTALLY agree...
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    "20 minutes (late to work)? Shit. Last year I woke up three weeks too late.
    My advice is to go for the alien abduction story. Look bemused, dishevelled and on the verge of tears as you recount your story of intrusive and degrading medical tests.
    Worked for me anyway. I still have colleagues asking me what it is like to fuck a green womanoid with seventeen breasts.
    Alternatively just walk in and inform everyone that alcoholism is indeed a disease and that they should be less judgemental and perhaps a little more supportive."
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  11. #11
    Baluchitherium mistere's Avatar
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    Well, yeah. The iPod presents a trade-off. There is compression that's
    acceptable to me and a lot that is not. But I heart my iPod in theory and
    practice and the technology will only improve over time.

    What I'm wondering is how all you compression haters feel about satelite, as
    my chief complaint thereof is that a lot of their signals err on the unacceptable side,
    rendering many of their stations unlistenable to these ears.

  12. #12
    Atomic Punk sixstring's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mistere View Post
    Well, yeah. The iPod presents a trade-off. There is compression that's
    acceptable to me and a lot that is not. But I heart my iPod in theory and
    practice and the technology will only improve over time.

    What I'm wondering is how all you compression haters feel about satelite, as
    my chief complaint thereof is that a lot of their signals err on the unacceptable side,
    rendering many of their stations unlistenable to these ears.
    I totally agree and almost NEVER listen to radio anymore - although that has less to do with sonic quality than sheer programming stupidity.

    Same goes for TV. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my DVR & digital service but the compression there is terrible, as well.
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]


    "20 minutes (late to work)? Shit. Last year I woke up three weeks too late.
    My advice is to go for the alien abduction story. Look bemused, dishevelled and on the verge of tears as you recount your story of intrusive and degrading medical tests.
    Worked for me anyway. I still have colleagues asking me what it is like to fuck a green womanoid with seventeen breasts.
    Alternatively just walk in and inform everyone that alcoholism is indeed a disease and that they should be less judgemental and perhaps a little more supportive."
    - graeme on the addiction to this place.

    "something tells me that after the nuclear holocaust, there'll be twinkies, cockroaches, and a dave vs. sammy argument going on somewhere".
    - han valen, 6.11.04

    "in my best "saw" scary movie voice: "oh, yes, there will be beagles."
    - hatchetforce, 6.7.06

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by mistere View Post
    Well, yeah. The iPod presents a trade-off. There is compression that's
    acceptable to me and a lot that is not. But I heart my iPod in theory and
    practice and the technology will only improve over time.

    What I'm wondering is how all you compression haters feel about satelite, as
    my chief complaint thereof is that a lot of their signals err on the unacceptable side,
    rendering many of their stations unlistenable to these ears.
    I'm not familiar with the quality of satellite radio, as I don't have it. Is it worse than terrestrial radio? Typical AM/FM radio is also very compressed. These days I mostly listen to NPR and baseball anyway (I'm getting old that way).

  14. #14
    Atomic Punk
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    Quote Originally Posted by Leo Van Newhouse View Post
    MP3s will ruin music.

    They already have.

  15. #15
    Eye suffacozza YEWW! Goo's Avatar
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    For me it's just as the title says

    I'm very much aware of the quality difference - I'll always buy the CD. If I'm listening at home, that's what I'm going to listen to.

    Portability has its advantages though. I'll rip those CDs at 192 or better and put them on the Ipod for the convenience of having them all with me in the car or whatever.

    But yes. I fear many peapole now barely could tell the difference.
    A little zen....... Headed your way.......

 

 

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