Are Audiophiles Just Fogeyists?

The Wall Street Journal asks, Are Technology Limits In MP3s and iPods Ruining Pop Music? But man, couldn’t they find anyone who doesn’t sound like a complete “back in my day” fogeyist? Kids these days, I tell ya, they just don’t care about quality anymore. At least according to dudes who’ve worked with Fleetwood Mac, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Cher, Michael Jackson, Santana and, ahem, Chris Daughtry.

The annoying thing is that what they are saying really is important:

Producers and engineers say there are many ways they might change a track to accommodate an iPod MP3. Sometimes, the changes are for the worse.

For example, says veteran Los Angeles studio owner Skip Saylor, high frequencies that might seem splendid on a CD might not sound as good as an MP3 file and so will get taken out of the mix. “The result might make you happy on an MP3, but it wouldn’t make you happy on a CD,” he says. “Am I glad I am doing this? No. But it’s the real world and so you make adjustments.”

This shift to compressed music heard via an iPod is occurring at the same time as another music trend that bothers audiophiles: Music today is released at higher volume levels than ever before, on the assumption that louder music sells better. The process of boosting volume, though, tends to eliminate a track’s distinct highs and lows.

It’s true, and it sucks. But they’re not going to convince anybody with that kind of tone.

What might convince some people is the audio samples they’re hosting that highlight the differences between mp3s and their uncompressed counterparts. For example:

In Elvis Costello’s “No Action,” the digitized analog copy [wav] includes clatter, drums and cymbals that “sound hard and annoying” in the MP3 file.

Of course, as long as the CD you’re ripping wasn’t mixed to sound like crap, it is possible to create your own MP3s that actually sound good. It’s just kind of a pain to set up. And they take up more space. But when engineers mix for earbuds, we’re fucked. Garbage in, garbage out.

8 thoughts on “Are Audiophiles Just Fogeyists?”

  1. what are they supposed to do? advertise it with snappy marketing campaigns?

    it’s really sad what’s happened to the technical side of music + engineering. everything is compressed until there’s no dynamics and shit is being EQ’d to accomodate a flawed compression format.

    i listen to mp3s as much (or more) than the next guy, but come on… don’t people realize that eventually we’re really just lowering the bar? i like having music on different formats. mp3 is great for portability, but the fact that the average person BELIEVES they can’t tell the difference between an mp3 and a cd or vinyl is fucking absurd. i’m sure that most people can… but they’ve been trained not to care.

  2. thorens mkII 166….nad amplifier….polk reference audio monitors….all pre 1990…fogey indeed…but my ears are precious and deserve the best….the best i can afford anyhow…..

  3. Perhaps a solution is to have separate mixes, for digital files and cds.

    We used to get Stereo and Mono versions of the same album, and often they contained slight differences.

    I for one wouldn’t mind getting a mix off itunes (or wherever) that was made for earbuds/headphones specifically, while another mix existed on cd.

    I do agree that albums mixes are way too loud/”hot” for the most part and the dynamics get ruined.

    As an aside: Different mastering for the vinyl versions was used recently for the RHCP’s Stadium Arcadium and White Stripes’ Icky Thump albums.

  4. SACD, DVD-A and the advent of specialty high end vinyl demonstrate that ‘pop’ might well be considered a different industry than high end. People buy SUPER expensive audio equipment every day. There are HUNDREDS of high end manufact co’s. But these listeners buy music that does not ‘chart’.

    But as to Jake’s question there is the fact that lots of time, effort and money is spent by engineers producing music FOR THE HIGH END. So this stratification and diversity is nothing to worry about, in my estimation. I dont really need 50 cent or brittney in SACD and the kids dont need Debussey on thier Iphone.

    INSTEAD I CLAIM THAT: there is an OVERABUNDANCE of choices both high and low quality- THIS is the financial challenge for the music biz- not some degradation in listener demand for quality.

  5. Good point. The latest iPods can hold 160GB!

    But still, if you had a choice to download (and store) a 100MB copy of an album in high-quality mp3 format, or a 500MB copy as uncompressed WAV files, which one would you take?

    Even though I consider myself a fan of quality, I’d probably just grab the mp3s. As long as it was ripped properly (EAC/LAME –V0 or at least –alt-preset-standard).

  6. Like has been said above, it would totally depend on the music. I specifically bought the last two Elliott Smith albums on vinyl (as well as Icky Thump) becuase I needed the fidelity of that format given the way theyr were recorded and mastered. I bought Kanye’s latest on iTunes because the mids are lost in the mix anyways so why not just download the compressed files? It was a matter of priorities.

    I would never buy Tonight’s the Night in a compressed state. I would always buy Lady SOV in a compressed state.

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