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Why do we accept MP3 format as a standard? Does size really matter?

By Oz_Media ·
While immensely popular, the MP3 format is really just garbage that sounds similar to the original recording, but is FAR from the same quality of the original studio work.

128kbps reproduction is ridiculous especially today when such quality surround systems are commonplace for PC's, even notebooks have somewhat decent speakers these days. You can make tracks that sit around 256 or 320, but even 320 doesn't really cut it for a good recording.

I am just wondering how, after all the format wars, have we ended up with MP3? Poorly compressed, completely eliminating massive portions of an album's sound and dynamic presence all in order to save space.

Not just downloads, even downloads offer FLAC, or DTS copies of good music, but still MP3 leads the pack.

Have we forgotten what musical dynamics really are?

Have we not realized that iTunes is crap audio and MP3 is no better (even though a more portable format)?

Does teh average music listener even use or know about FLAC and other lossless formats for recording or portable devices (usually requiring the Ogg Vorbis codecs are available)?

BUT...
Is today's music even worth high bitrate?

1) Most new music is so poorly engineered, produced and compressed that the dynamics are really limited, especially electronically reproduced music that doesn't have any sonic or dynamic quality to begin with.

2) Most other music has been carefully engineered for dynamic presentation, it offers a great soundstage where instruments can be heard a few inches to the left or right of one another, or where you can tell if an instrument is closer to the recording source or farther away. This offers a sense of spaciousness to the music, increasing the realism and listeners enjoyment.

3) The other problem I see is VERY low quality disks being used, almost like when KTel made vinyl turn into a cheap, wafer thin disk that came warped right out of the wrapper.

Quality recordings: bands such as Dire Straight have always taken a great deal of time to create a sonic masterpiece even when starting with digital bed tracks.
Then you look to companies like Telarc which, while mainly Classical and some Jazz, offer unsurpassed digital reproduction that makes it sound like high quality vinyl (minus the scratches) or Chesky, one of the most famous audio recording engineers to date; it CAN be done.

There are even 'vinyl plugins' for most mixers (like Cubase, Cakewalk, and even the beginners favorite, ProTools)these days that many artists use to add an imperfect/poppy sounding flavour to make their music appear more natural and less canned and compressed.

So why do we accept such poor portable formats when there are better choices already available to us?

As they say, size isn't everything, and with the large storage sizes of todays music player and SD cards, size no longer plays much of a role in portable music.

Its almost like they were pushed and pushed ot crate a good digital format, and they created many, but finally stopped and made a sacrifice. Heavy compression at the smallest size and people gobbled it up, thanks to P2P sharing for that I guess.

I don't blame the creators of these formats, some are really good (again, I must plug FLAC files which are EXCELLENT), I blame the lazy assed consumer who said "1000 songs will fit on my player now? good enough for me!"

And that was it, nothing more has been demanded of them. Sure many of us use fully lossless formats but not enough it seems.

Is it:
1) because todays music is of such low quality and is so poorly produced and engineered that it just doesn't matter?

2) nobody knows or appreciates good quality audio anymore?

What's funny is that the Digital Video market is the exact opposite. They are constantly puching for better formats, dynamic quality improvements and better separation, and people pay the money for it and appreciate it.

When it comes to music nobody seems to care anymore though, just pop in a couple of low end earbuds and play an MP3 recorded at 128kbps. Despite owning a $6000.00 car stereo that reproduces frequencies that no human can hear anyway.

What has happened to quality and sonic reproduction? No wonder everyone downloads music these days and nobody is out there buying it too. The stuff off teh shelf ir crap so the lower quality downloads don't make mushc difference.


To drone on some more, I had a friend over on teh weekend and was playign a few tracks to demonastrate what a soundstage and dynamics and separation all meant. His jaw was on his chest as he said, which recordign is this? He was hearing all kinds of tones and misical nuances he had never heard before, listening to teh same track. Well one reason is that I have some pretty high-end audio equipment (vintage) and teh other is that he finally got to hear what the original music was actually supposed to sound like (even though it was just a burned CD at a high bitrate).


Shakespeare said "If music be the food of love, play on." Unfortunately music is now becoming an issue of less time and less space.

Saddening.

Next gripe: Why do people buy massive, powered subwoofers that get sub20hz frequences when most bass notes don't drop below 47hz and most people can't even hear 20hz?

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I guess I fall into the 'good enough' category

by The Scummy One In reply to Why do we accept MP3 form ...

cause it really doesnt matter too much to me.
I dont have a $5000 stereo, or an awesome speaker system, and my mp3 player cost less than $25 (1GB)
I listen to music mainly in traffic, until I got the mp3 player recently, in which case, while I am gardening too now.

Do I need all of the extras -- nope!
Would I like better sound -- yeah, as long as it doesnt up the price too much!

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Money isn't the issue though

by Oz_Media In reply to I guess I fall into the ' ...

With even a half decent set of heaphones, $30.00, you should be hearing immense dynamics that make you look around you as amibient sounds chirp in from around you.

The music should not sound like it is coming from headphones that are stuck in your ears, that's just what people have become used to.

I have a few vintage audio components, far better than most product available today, but also a lot less expensive. When new, it would have been $5k+ but today and with my being in the industry I dug up some good toys at a great price (less than $500.00 all in). I believe in real amplification (individual amp transformers)and high current output, phrases not heard of in today's IC based products.

But again, that's unimportant. You SHOULD be getting the same dynamic separation and spacial qualities of a high end system with inexpensive headphones. But with compression it is just unavailable, I am sure that with a comparison in your own MP3 player, even with your existing headphones, you would be shocked at just how good the same music can sound when properly recorded.

Most people just don't know what they are missing, MP3's compression is like running Windows from a command line. You can do it and your programs will run, but its just not the same thing.

I spoke to the friend I had over on the weekend, he has been up late recording new tracks for his portable player in a lossless format, he was REALLY pissed that he had been missing out on half his music for so long.

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"Have we forgotten what musical dynamics really are?"

by CharlieSpencer In reply to Why do we accept MP3 form ...

I regret to inform you, most of us never knew. As a result, we also don't care. I don't mean anything harsh by that; I mean it in the literal sense. If you don't know any better, if that's all you've heard, what's the problem?

In my case, I don't listen to much music any more. On the drive to work I listen to US National Public Radio or occasionally a CD on the 12-year-old speakers that came with the car. On the weekends I listen to NPR on a $35 Sony FM Walkman with a pair of $15 Magnavox phones. I have an .MP3 player that I use occasionally at the gym, but it's used for either those radio shows I missed over the weekend or in FM mode for the news, with the same Magnavox phones. Throw-away radio shows aren't going to be improved by my investing in quality headphones; I'm far more interested in what I can do to improve my FM reception when I'm in the gym or the garage. I will not use any headphones that weigh too much, won't stay put when I'm bending over pulling weeds, or with a cord so long I get tangled in the roses or so short I'm constantly getting my head pulled around. Sound quality comes in pretty low for me compared to comfort.

Most people are willing to settle for 'Good enough' in areas they aren't deeply interested or knowledgeable about. In this area I'm one of them; I'm not familiar with at least half the technical terms you used in your original post. 'Good enough' explains McDonald's, Microsoft, the .MP3 format, and Will Ferrell movies. No, wait; nothing explains Will Ferrell movies.

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Fm reception

by Oz_Media In reply to "Have we forgotten what m ...

With a walkman yoru FM antennae is teh headphone cable. If you have it tied up or tucked in a shirt or even zipped into a jacket, you will lose reception.

Good headphones generally come with a thicker, more conductive cord/antennae and therefor teh reeption generally improves too.

Not big bucks, but you should spend at least $25-$30 and you'll get something good enough for the task. also, keep your batteries fully charged, or use high quality batteries as this will also be directly related ot FM reception.


As to sound and technicalities, okay sometimes I get to be a bit of an audiophile/snob with music but really it is not technical at all and you WOULD care had you heard teh difference, even in a cheap little player with cheap headphones.

It's like not knowing what you are missing and then hearing it full on, you will be amazed at how much mroe enjoyable music is, of course, I a radio show will be the same, as you noted, depending on guests, studio equipment etc. Nicer vocal tones and presence is always an improvement but not imperative.

I don't know if you have HDTV, but comparitively it is like paying for an HDTV signal, buying a top of the line flat panel screen and watching cable quality movies with ghosting, signal noise and mono audio.

When you get the full HDTV signal and 5.1 surround sound, nothing else seems to compare.

Good enough is complacent,it's like paying for premium gasoline and getting regular out of the pump. It may be good enough but your cars performance would be better with quality gasoline that you had paid for in it.

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That's another reason I'm using the Magnavox phones.

by CharlieSpencer In reply to Fm reception

I know the headphone cable is the antenna. Of the eight or ten sets I've tried, the Magnavox phones result in the best reception. Recommend some $30 headphones and I'll give a pair a try when I lose / break these.

I'll consider an HDTV when the prices come way, way down and the programming improves. I'm not dropping over $400 for a television just to get a better picture of the same old junk. Outside of NASCAR, Mythbusters, and Cartoon Network I don't watch much TV anyway.

I've never had a car that required premium and hopefully never will. The only performance measurement I care about is miles per gallon. I'm under the impression that engine designs that require premium don't emphasis good mileage, but I could be wrong again.

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Headphones

by Oz_Media In reply to That's another reason I'm ...

My favorite for a value headphone (convertible) is the Panasonic RP-HG20.
http://www.panasonic.ca/English/accessories/headsets/hifimonitor/RPHG20.asp

They are a cheap monitor set, either overhead or they have built-in ear clips to sit on the back of your head while secured to your ears. The clips get a little uncomfortable over time, but aren't that bad.

Sound: I have recommended them to many friends looking to get more bass than earbuds offer and still comfort, and every one of them thinks they are the cats arse.

You will get more bass, fuller sound, crystal clear high end and great spacial imaging. $29.99 at most places, popular here at London Drugs but you can find them all over the place as they are so popular.

they aren't too big and goofy, like some DJ headset and are light, durable and, did I say CHEAP yet?

Great buy!


Premium gas, firt of all you won't tell much of a difference on a newer car, BUT you will slowly build up sludge and other contaimnants by using a lower grade of gas and ultimately reduce the engine life. Nowdays, cars have pretty good electronics to compensate for lower octane fuels, but you lose a bit of horse power with regular gas and again you mileage will go down slightly, over a long term it will be reduced quite a bit as sludge builds up on valves.

They don't build too many cars now that require premium but all cars benefit from cleaner burning fuel with a higher octane level, and you do get better mileage, especially in teh long run.

If you are one of those guys that leases a new set of wheels every couple of years, then who cares?


If yuo are seeking to enter the half million mile club, you are best off running the best gas you can afford or at least adding a $5.00 bottle of octane booster/injection cleaner every few tankfulls.

You just happened to hit on two subjects I know very well. :)

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Maybe $20-30 canadian...

by Dumphrey In reply to Fm reception

but when I started looking for headphones, the best cost/performance I could find was a a pair of Shures for $100. Maybe my standards are to high though....

As to MP3, its a matter of convenience. It became the standard because of compression ratio to sound was the besta t the time, when bandwidth was more limited. Inertia keeps it going, and studios love selling you junk for Rolex prices (they have to protect their IP after all).

Palmetto brought up a very valid point as well... not everyone is an audiophile.
ME? I use 5 year old Marantz amp (5 discret channels, 180 watts per at .01 thd)and preamp, and paradigm monitor speakers, a solid middle of the road system.
BUT, most people just use low cost integrated receivers with crappy THD and budget speakers (or Bose, don't get me started on those frauds). And while "good enough", they lack the dynamic range, clarity, and soundstage of good equipment. But, as Palm said, many people just dont care.
Its interesting to note, that most of the audiophile grade recording I see are classical music.
Pop music is designed for the masses, and so its mixed (in the release version, not the master) for common systems. (Just like not all cars actually benefit from premium gas.)
(Jethro Tull gold edition of Aqualung vs the standard release is a good example).
there are some exceptions:
the Nirvana MTV Uplugged is a much better quality recording/mix then most.

Another part of the problem comes i how sound is "rated" on various systems. An amp may put out 100 watts at .01 thd with only one channell driven, but will drop to 50 at .9 THD with all 5 or 7 driven, and its difficult sometimes to figure out what stat is valid... higher end systems do not have this problem, as all amplification is discrete. So some people think they have heard better quality then is actually the case. (They thought they were buying premium gas but got regular instead.)

It all comes down to spending priority. A surround system may be worth $1k to some, but $8k to fewer, and $128k to even less (yes this is easily possible to spend on a high end Ht set up). The audiophile market has always been a specialty niche.

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The REAL reason

by mjd420nova In reply to Why do we accept MP3 form ...

I think that so many of todays NOW generation have ruined their hearing with the loud music in their formative years that they can't tell the difference anymore. Like my father used to say, "Just sounds like noise to me". When subjected to the stuff the younger generations like to listen to today, I ask them if they will provide me with a similar amount of time to listen to Yanni or Kenny G, they shudder and turn it down below my hearing level. I can't stand to listen to an MP3 representation of the music I like as it really sounds incomplete. I'll give you an example of what I mean.. I set up a test using a single/dual signal generator, a frequency counter, a CD burner and an amplifier. I first established a standard, a recorded 1,000 cycle and 500 cycle signal input to the amplifier, measured the signal with the frequency counter at the input and output to be sure that what I put in was the same as I got out. I recorded this unto a CD using.WAV format, PCM, 16 bit, 44KC stereo. The output from the playback from the CD was identical to the input that was recorded. I them tried the MP3 format. What I got out was not 1,000/500 but 985/510 cycles. Now to the average ear, this might not be too discernable, but what really struck me was the obvious beat note difference. Playing them back, one in the left speaker and the other on the right, the difference is quite noticable. What garbage, I'll never use any compression schemes for my music and even though some say they use a lossless format, that's junk, as any compression scheme will subtract something from the music that cannot be replicated during the decompression process. There is no such thing as a lossless format period.

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Nice test but you contradict yourself

by Oz_Media In reply to The REAL reason

You just said you copied ot WAV and it was the identical to the input, that would confirm that WAV encoding is a lossless format.

FLAC- Free Lossless Audio Compression is just that. In fact when disks are engineered in the studio a great deal of compression is used to make the sound fuller, it is actually completely lossless and helps incease sound pressure levels when played on home systems.

So you can compress without loss, and in fact studio compression (properly applied) will offer an overdrive effect and essentially boost musical dynamics. Not to be confused with MP3 compression which actually eliminates similar data in order to save space.

For music, I have grown up working in the industry. I have scouted, managed, engineered, produced, promoted, toured etc. with numerous acts. I have spent gods know how many hours in empty arenas doing sound checks and sitting a few feet away from music played at levels well above what the local noise by-laws permit. I work with heavy metal bands and I also listen to a lot of classical and jazz, so I pretty much have an open ear as long as music is made with some quality and talent.

As far as my hearing, I am sure that I have lost a few kHz off the top end but that is natural with age too, has nothing to do with listening to music other people just don't understand or want to listen to.

No, not all heavy metal is noise, you just have to have an open ear and listen carefully and you will find it is actually based on classical scales and blues riffs.

If it is not your choice of music, allow others to enjoy it anyway, when I was a kid, my favorite heavy metal bands gave me the mental strength to get through some of the hurdles and growing pains that life threw me.

Positive messages from Judas Priest and Iron Maiden helped me stay positive and confifdent, when everything else seemed to go against me, THEY understood and spoke my mind without me being an angry, rebellious kid.

I despise RAP, it has no musical talent, though it does take great vocal talent, but sampling tracks is not music 'to me', but I accept that I am an old fart now and younger kids have been force fed a world without musicianship. They see the same form of strength that I did in metal, though I feel the message is getting a bit antisocial and rude now. Lyrics were cleaner for the most part in the early years, now they just look for shock value.

I giggle to myself when I see some kid in his car with the subwooofers rattling the rear quarter panels, there are no bass guitar or kick drum notes that really sit below 47Hz, but they'll pay thousands to feel vibration from well below their hearing level.

But again, people didn't get my music when I was young, most people don't get it now either but that's not relevant. Music is personal interpretation, you either get something out of it or you don't, in fact I prefer music that is NOT too popular, it allows me to feel individual and not part of the masses.

Let kids be kids be groovy and enjoy what switches them on, in the end we all benefit from the music in our lives.

Peace out!

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Availability, maybe?

by CharlieSpencer In reply to Nice test but you contrad ...

Back to the original question. Maybe so many people accept .MP3 because that's what's sold or offered by the download services? Where does one get other formats?

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