Resources: The Aging Anatomy of MP3 (why size matters)

The Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) was put together by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to figure out how to best compress audio and video for transmission. Since our focus is on music, we’ll skip over video compression and just stick to a) what’s an MP3, b) why its OK to pay to stream MP3s and finally, c) why you should not pay good money to purchase tracks or albums in any of the MP3 formats.

But What Is An MP3?
The first standards for MPEG-1 came out of the MPEG group in 1991 and were finalized in 1992. MP3, MPEG-1 Audio Layer III's nickname, is a perceptual audio codec (coder-decoder). This process involves compressing the music file by applying a psycho-acoustic model which determines what information to keep and what to discard, its ensuing encoding according to a specified bit rate, the application of a lossless compression algorithm (some variation of Huffman Coding) that essentially squishes the file size further and the eventual decoding during playback. What you end up with is a file much smaller and ideally one that doesn't sound too much worse than the original.

How much smaller? That depends on the psycho-acoustic model employed as well as the bit rate chosen and here’s an important point to keep in mind when we talk about MP3s—the MP3 codec allows for bit rates from 32 kilobits up to 320 kilobits per second (kbps) according to the ISO standard and up to 640kbps for non-standard bit rates. Generally, the lower the bit rate, the worse the resulting audio quality. The most popular MP3 encoders include LAME, BladeEnc, Fraunhofer Encoders, and Xing.

For comparison purposes, a CD’s bit rate is 1,411.2 kbps and a high definition file with a resolution of 24-bit/96kHz (this 24-bit number refers to bit depth) has a bit rate of 4,608 kbps (bit depth x sample rate x 2 for stereo). Generally, the higher the resolution the greater the audio quality. But this is obviously “in theory” since the quality of the original recording is vastly more important than bit depth and sample rates. Which is vastly less important than how you feel about the music being played.

And while we can all march out the lower resolution copy that trumps the higher resolution copy, we have to decide whether we want to argue in theory or about a handful of really good sounding 320k MP3s. For the sake of moving forward as opposed to arguing backwards, I’m going to suggest that 320k MP3s can sound good, CD-quality can sound better and higher resolutions can sound even better. And lets accept the fact that all recordings are not created equal but we are here to talk about processing musical data not issues concerning the recording and mastering process. Let’s save dynamic compression, the loudness wars and recording engineer witch hunts for their very own post(s).

To answer our question, how much smaller?, with an example from the excellent Guide to the MP3 File Conversion Process on the h2g2 website, "20 seconds of stereo sound recorded in a WAV audio file will take up about 3,750KB of space" as compared to a 320kbps MP3 of the same 20 second clip which will take up 835KB, a 4:1 compression ratio.

In 2007 the Consumer Electronics Association inducted (from left to right) Dr. Karlheinz Brandenburg, Dr. Dieter Seitzer, and Dr. Heinz Gerhäuser into their Hall of Fame for their work on MP3

Let Us Now Give Praise Where It Is Most Certainly Due
If we step back for a minute before the formation of the MPEG group, many very intelligent people were involved in developing the conceptual and theoretical framework that the MP3 format arose from including Karlheinz Brandenburg while working for the Fraunhofer Institute (he is also credited as a co-developer of the MP3 standard) and James D. (JJ) Johnston of AT&T who overlapped with Brandenburg for a time at AT&T-Bell Labs in Murray Hill, NJ.

We should not downplay the ingeniousness of the artful science behind MP3. We’re talking about true ingenuity, critical and creative thinking across disciplines and a practical and robust solution to a real-world problem that arguably ushered in the golden era of computer audio we enjoy basking in today. I like to imagine AT&T-Bell Labs as an amazing place with a great hi-fi history (reaching all the way back to Western Electric) filled with creative and fertile minds let loose by Corporate cash reserves to explore the limits of their imaginations unfettered. AT&T-Bell Labs makes most of those pre-busted Internet bubble incubators look like infertile chicken coops unless we value burning through others people’s money as an end in and of itself over real-world results.

Why was so much effort put into compressing audio? The shortest answer is space or lack thereof and poor plumbing. By the time the first MP3 player, WinPlay3, hit the market in 1995, computer hard drives were still measured in Megabytes (MB). For reference, a single 1-hour CD stored as an uncompressed WAV file takes up approximately 700MB of storage space so your average PC back in the day could at best store one CDs worth of uncompressed music. While this might suffice for some audiophiles, it doesn’t work for the average music lover (of course I’m joking—there’s no way a computer could play back a single file that consumed the majority of its hard disc's storage space). So the MPEG group squeezed out the MP3 standard for compressing audio data down to a more accommodating size.

Coupled with this paucity of storage were really thin tubes for transmitting data, to stick with our illustrious Senator from Alaska’s lasting Internet analogy. The average PC modem at that same time transmitted at 28.8kbps as compared to home DSL connection speeds of up to a theoretical 1.5Mbps today (i.e. much wider tubes).

Karlheinz Brandenburg used Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner" to help voice MP3, "I was finishing my PhD thesis, and then I was reading some hi-fi magazine and found that they had used this song to test loudspeakers. I said "OK, let's test what this song does to my sound system, to mp3". And the result was, at bit rates where everything else sounded quite nice, Suzanne Vega's voice sounded horrible."

MP3 Should Be Free—An Opinion
As we already know, once MP3 compression does its thing of throwing out those least significant bits, they are gone forever. We can also all agree that in an ideal world we’d like to enjoy exact copies of the original. In other words, if there is no good reason to throw away perfectly good audio bits, given the choice we’d keep them. Some argue that higher quality low quality MP3s at 320kbps are good enough. While even the staunchest objectivists agree there is an audible difference between an MP3 encoded at 320kbps and a non-compressed version of the same music, the difference is so slight as to not really matter. In other words, what's not really as good should be good enough for everyone.

With one terabyte hard drives available that can store about 2,500 CD-quality records in FLAC format for as low as $60, I would suggest that storage is no longer a concern. In terms of downloading compressed files versus uncompressed files, the Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) has grown up to be the most commonly used lossless compressed format for CD-quality or better downloads. While a FLAC file is not as small as an MP3, it is about 50% the size of an uncompressed file, when coupled with our increased bandwidth makes for workable download performance. More importantly FLAC is a lossless codec meaning we do not throw out any bits of the baby or the bathwater. It’s all just packed up for tube travel and unpacked bit perfectly for playback. We’ll talk more about this process when we talk about FLAC in a future installment.

It's also important to note that once you have an MP3 or any other lossy compressed file, you are stuck with it. You can never recover the musical information that was discarded. And unlike lossless formats which can be transposed bit-perfectly to your format of choice, lossy formatted files degrade (further) when transposed. For example you can convert a FLAC file to ALAC so it will play in iTunes with no loss in sound quality—the two files will be bit identical. If you convert an MP3 to Ogg Vorbis, the latter will get rid of even more of the music than was slashed away by the MP3 compression process resulting in an even worse sounding copy of the already degraded MP3. I wonder if you converted a file through every lossy encoder available if you'd eventually end up with silence?

While there was a day and age when MP3s lossy compression made sense for delivering a music file, it no longer remains as sensible mainly due to advances in storage, processing and bandwidth. There’s no need to settle for anything less than an exact copy of the original which should be great news for anyone interested in hearing everything that was originally recorded and intended to be heard. For those who want and expect less, have at it. The ultimate caveat that applies not only to MP3s of all stripes but to any music storage media is—if the music you want only exists as an MP3, MP3 becomes the best choice.


YouTube uses the Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) format for audio which is part of the MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 specifications

Where MP3’s genius still shines brightly is its ability to deliver streaming music services where bandwidth limitations prevent higher resolution streaming and portable devices with limited storage although these days are numbered. While free streaming in lossy quality is OK, when paying for music, even streaming, go lossless.

I'd like to close with a quote from Karlheinz Brandenburg that remains painfully relevant where he addresses the concern that MP3 may signify the end of the music industry:

I think that will not happen, but we have changed the industry... The industry needs to know how to harness the new digital mediums and opportunities. They need to explore the positives rather than the negatives.

COMMENTS
johnnya's picture

michael-

super coherent and cohesive piece of work, which is readible and non reductionist: exactly what we, as consumers and advocates for quality music badly need to make rational music choices.

the quality of your writing and analysis has been first rate. this site is a solid and necessary addition to the on line audio world; it should be required reading for any person who cares about audio.

best,

john from boston

deckeda's picture

I'd like to see a query go out to artists and labels about why they usually offer only lossy downloads. For the sake of discussion, let's (somehow) set aside major distribution channels such as iTunes and Amazon.

In other words, where an artist or label offers a direct download from their site (talkin' not about the freebies and promos, but about full releases or for-sale singles) why would THOSE be lossy?

As I've mentioned here earlier, the thing about iTunes' and Amazon's lossy files are just as much about consistency, compatibility and consumer education as anything else, but why should an artist's or label's site be so constrained? Why would they not be the champions of the art, and isn't it their responsibility?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Neil Young is getting me fired up!

johnnya's picture

artist advocacy - or lack of it -  for higher quality options, is the key missing component for moving forward. why artists don't advocate is, clearly an interesting question, holding lots of contradictions re possible distribution contracts with amazon or itunes, the desire for wide distribution, as set off against 'quality' and demonstrable artistry.

certainly questions worthy of discussion.

mward's picture

Michael, 

I continue to agree with you in principle. And I think most people would see this argument and find nothing to disagree with, at least in the broad strokes. But at this point, I think general consumers just don't care. Education is important, as you pointed out in your reply to my comment on a previous piece. But at that point, it's still a matter of principle rather than practice. 

 

I think the first step is to show people how much better their music can sound. Going lossless isn't the first step, though, the first step is better equipment, whether that be headphones, speakers, whatever. People aren't going to go lossless if they don't have equipment that really benefits from it. Some people would say that you can tell the difference between lossy and lossless on just about anything, but I don't think it's much of a difference until you start looking at better gear. 

 

There are some minor points in your article that I can't take as given, though. For example, it's too soon to say that storage isn't an issue. Sure, terabyte hard drives are cheap and plentiful, but that's just hard drives. So much listening is still done on iPods and smartphones, and even laptops, that use flash storage. I listen to lossless at home but on the go I'd rather have 4x the music available for consumption. I think most people aren't ready to cut the limited storage capabilities of their devices in 1/4. 

deckeda's picture

I agree with Michael's assertion from the earlier blog post that as lifestyles, priorities and expectations change, storage concerns lessen. You either buy bigger hard drives at home, or decide having "4X" the amount of portable storage isn't necessary.

I argue that having access to more music on the go is a convenience priority. It's quite literally about not knowing what you'll want to be listening to on the long car trip, at the gym, at work etc. So you bring (or log into) it all.

I'm not saying *everyone* should be forced to know in advance, just that it doesn't become necessary under different circumstances.

****************

My behavior at home has never changed on this, which is why I have a mental block making playlists---if I spent time making mixtapes back in the day, I'd be better at it. But I've been an LP buyer since Junior High, not a DJ per se. (It's really bad when we have guests over. They either hear complete releases, or I spend my time selecting songs on the fly, with highly variable results ... )

Back when all I had was LPs I never knew what I wanted to hear next. A big part of the fun was letting the music take me somewhere and then deciding at the last minute what to pull out.

Going out of the house always forced me to pick out cassettes and later CDs in advance. Same thing with iPods and iPhones. I refuse to maintain a separate library for them, and can't fit everything on them. But something's gotta give. My hi res files are growing, and I'm currently, temporarily, making 24/48 copies from them for my iPhone when I go out. Neil's right. "Some rich guy" had better come through.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

And self-restraint? How anti-now ;-)

I enjoy listening to the radio when I'm driving because I don't know what's coming next.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Is what I'm shooting for. And I agree, there are lots of parts to this puzzle so I'm going to bite off a piece at a time.

I'm thinking of a future post along the lines of "Make Your Own MP3" where we'll talk about using your CD-quality or better version to make your own portable versions for free.

deckeda's picture

... i.e. the Neil Young video, where he's openly advocating hi res, is surely an anomaly. I would only expect such outspokenness from an industry veteran---but not all veterans. I get the sense up-and-comers are either too busy establishing their careers, or perhaps taught not to bite the hand that feeds.

For those who read the "Rick Visits ..." features in Stereophile by the late Rick Rosen, you got the very real sense that audio technology wasn't most musicians' focus, and that good enough was good enough.

I would expect any artist "who cares" to use their celebrity to further the cause. They'll always have the power of the bully pulpit if they so choose. But that only begs the question of why there aren't sufficient professionals employed by the labels to change the industry's course from within.

Why should change have to come from a retailer (the Steve Jobs example), or a musician? Isn't that what labels are for, to advocate, and promote ... educate?

Of course, they sometimes do, when the New Thing comes along. Look on the back of any '50s LP or on some liner sleeves. Each label admonished listeners to use only "Columbia" needles and hawked the "Orthophonic" process and often included producer's notes on the recording process, type of microphones used and other audio nerd ephemera.

More recently there was the published CD provenance. In the liner notes would be proud mention of the recording being digital. Right on the cover, every GRP release proclaimed "DIGITAL MASTER" (which, given 16/44 recording, it was) and the vaunted DDD nomenclature.

Magazines would report on whether a CD was DDD, ADD or maybe TGIF. Stereophile still reserves a place for that in each review but they no longer know the answers usually, publishing sad question marks instead of Ds or As. Think of the children.

jazzfan's picture

If the music industry wants to once again make some money here is a good idea.

Right now there are two ways to buy many new releases and reissues

1) Buy the CD, which can then be ripped to any lossless and lossy codec one desires.

2) Buy a lossy copy, usually at a price very close to that of the CD, from one of the big vendors like iTunes or Amazon.

I propose that the music offers a third option - offering a legal download of a high resolution version of the recording. I have a good friend who is a professional recording and mastering engineer and he has told that for modern digital recordings the recording and mastering process is such that just about everything is recorded or converted to digital at a minimum of 24 bit and 96 kHz (or higher). All production and post production editing is done using these 24/96 files and it is only after the master has been finalized and is ready to go that a 16bit/44.1kHz CD master is produced.

Based on that information it would appear that a high resolution master is readily available for just about any CD which has been issues in the past several years. Not only should the record companies make this hi-rez master available as a legal download but it should be priced very close to that of the CD. I believe that is what is called "added value".

Hey I can dream, can't I?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Ideally the CD will be seen for what it has become - an inefficient and unnecessarily limited storage medium.  It’s kind of ironic that we’re also stuck with a similarly lame (pardon the pun) codec as the predominant download option of choice – lossy formats.

It’s time, as Neil Young says “It’s the 21st Century!”,  for consumers to have access to the highest possible quality version of a recording. I cannot think of any reason why this should not be an option. Now.

sg60's picture

What I find especially annoying about this whole issue is that the developers of music software and especially portable players could solve a lot of this problem very easily. Make their devices and music management software support lossless codecs, especially FLAC. Instead the Apples, Microsofts and others of the world refuse to do this and condemn all users to the lowest common denominator. This would be an easy way to appease customers that want to be able to play files with complete musical data while not affecting anyone who doesn't care. It may not change the availablity of lossless downloads but it would at least allow users to use their own lossless files which would in my mind be a big step in the right direction and possibly start putting more pressure on music distributors to make more lossless files available. You have to start somewhere.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I think we're defining the various aspects of this issue –

1. Misrepresentation of the sound quality of lossy compressed files by the Music Industry from Day 1
2. Music Industry charges a premium for less than premium quality product
3. lack of CD-quality or better material available for download
4. lack of hardware support for same
5. lack of software support for same
6. Non-Music Companies (Apple, Amazon, Google) getting involved in the Music Distribution Business with no regard for the sound quality of the product they offer
7. Still near silence on the part of the Music Industry on the negative effects of lossy compression (Go! Neil Young!)
8. Music Industry (RIAA) spends more money going after filesharing and trying to keep an outdated business model on life support instead of educating consumers and focusing on Quality
9. Choosing convenience over quality

And on and on....

And let's add the last part of this equation, which is a complete lack of interest on the part of the Music Industry to support better sound quality up to and including playback.

It’s as if no one in the music business, besides Henry Rollins, has heard of hi-fi.
 

hifiguy's picture

I agree with jazzfan, in my ideal world all music from record labels and independent artists would be offered in three distinct download options:

1. HD download, 24/96 or better (wav or flac) 

2. CD quality (wav or flac)

3.  MP3 quality

The fact that iTunes (one of the worlds largest music stores) only offers lossy music is deplorable and frustrating.

deckeda's picture

It used to be that the labels were on the forefront of the tech. Victor Talking Co. was both a label and the popular consumer playback device. Hell --- RCA (back when they were a label + just about everything else) invented the 45rpm record!

Consider that the situation of labels not being involved much in playback was fine, once the formats were established. Even the latecomers such as consumer tape found a place. But digital's direct copying by the public was hilariously unforseen despite CDs appearing as PCs took off.

Based on that information it would appear that a high resolution master is readily available for just about any CD which has been issues in the past several years. Not only should the record companies make this hi-rez master available as a legal download but it should be priced very close to that of the CD. I believe that is what is called "added value".

Bingo. Legitimate hi res (not lossless sold as such) should be the default consumer "format", the new LP which lets listeners grow. Instead, they got the bright idea to differentiate on quality by offering crap (lossy) "normal" (CDs) and new-gen hi-fi (SACD, DVD-A) which fundamentally permitted the art to slide by artificially assigning --- and misplacing --- value. 

So we're in a chicken-or-egg scenario today because the labels sorta kinda want to maybe sell hi res, or more of it. But they don't really know how, got "locked" into iTunes and other lossy schemes while the world got tired of waiting for them to figure it out.

And now they're stuck with a buying public that largely doesn't know what hi res is or why they might want it --- when it shouldn't even be an issue. Nobody worried about buying LPs and not getting everything out of them; it was implicit you had to get a better stereo.

Today? You gotta deal with file formats, bit rates and sample rates, how to convert them, when to avoid them and so on. How did we get into this mess? Lack of vision and leadership, chasing short-term profits, and worrying about closing the barn door while the barn burned.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Created the first audiophile label c.1890.

From “In Search Of The Most Important Record Ever Made” (my emphasis):

“Bettini was a wealthy New York host who entertained the elite of the opera world in his home and took the opportunity to record his guests throughout the 1890s. While copies of Bettini's cylinders were very expensive (up to six dollars when the norm was fifty cents) and had small distribution, his catalogue eventually ran to dozens of pages and read like a "who's who" of opera. Yet, only a handful of Bettini's intriguing but fragile cylinders have survived.”

jazzfan's picture

Michael Lavorgna wrote "Neil Young is getting me fired up!"

Well it seems that he not the only burning.. Check out this recent post over on pcmag.com: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2399711,00.asp

The writer, Jamie Lendino, makes some good points and is more correct than incorrect, which is remarkable since pcmag.com is a tech site not an audio site.

Michael Lavorgna also wrote "3. lack of CD-quality or better material available for download" Now this is not 100% true but what is 100% true is that if and when CD-quality or better material is available for download the consumer is most likely getting completely hosed on the price. Take HDTracks for example $20 for a 24/96 download of a 45 year old Rolling Stones is just a ripoff on so many levels:

1) The material is old and has been released and re-released on so many different formats that it's just not funny.

2) As I stated earlier the high resolution masters are readily available and require almost no preparation to make them available for download.

3) Why are the immense savings that record companies gain by selling downloads versus selling physical CDs not, at least in part, being passed along to the consumer? Of course all increases in cost are always passed along to the consumer.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Here’s some interesting historic data c.  April 2001 from an article titled, "MTV Gets Down With Downloads" that appeared in Wired (I originally posted this here),

"The idea that the music doesn't have value when it's taken off the disk is wrong; the art form is the music," said Ted Cohen, EMI's vice president of new media. "Whether it's a download, bought in a store, or burned, we see that the value is in the music.

"It makes it more complex to go to an artist and tell them that they are going to get less money because they are selling the tracks digitally."

MTV initially offered 10,000 songs for $1.99/each or full albums for $18.98. For an MP3.

The PC Mag article is interesting (his silly generalizations about vinyl's imperfections aside). The author also repeatedly refers to “uncompressed FLAC files” when he means to say “losslessly compressed files" since the FLAC files available for download are compressed. 

jazzfan's picture

Michael,

I see by the above post that you might just have a slight issue with my referring to digital content as "worthless". Just to clarify, I do not mean that the content, whether it is music, video, text or a program, is worthless but rather that at long as that content is in digital form and that digital form does not provide a secure means of copy protection then the ability to easily copy and widely distribution that digital content essentially renders that digital content worthless. Worthless as in it is foolish to think that one can charge money for the digital content without first adding some kind of value to that content.

In the case of movies available on blu-ray the extra value is in the high resolution multi-channel soundtrack, something which cannot be gotten from an mkv download of the movie.

In the case of music, I believe that extra value can be added by making high resolutions available at or below the cost of the CD. The CD itself has no value since there is a good chance that a lossless download of the music on the CD can be had for free. Illegal, yes but also free and there is almost no chance of getting caught by the authorities if one knows what one is doing.

As far as text and programs are concerned I don't know the answer but I do know that the internet has made it much harder for writers to make a living. Hopefully your work on audiostream is not your only scource of income.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

But I appreciate the clarification.

I’m jumping around a bit between posts and comments within posts so I may be being less than lucid. In another comment above, I point to Gianni Bettini who produced the first ‘audiophile’ recordings in the 1890s which sold for $6 a piece which is pretty amazing if you place that price in that time and consider they were only a few minutes long and the average price for 'regular' recordings was 50 cents.

My point is people have been asked to pay a premium for sound quality since the very beginning of recorded music’s history. With each new “advance”, just as the then-current format of choice is getting less expensive, a new format is introduced and sold as the next big thing. “Perfect Sound Forever” kind of dribble. Along with this big advance obviously comes a new premium price tag like being asked to pay $18.98 for an MP3 download in 2001 when the average price of a CD in 2001 was $14.19. Hmm.

What hurts the music business more than piracy and filesharing, imo, is shortchanging people by selling overpriced crap. The music industry has effectively diluted the basic message – sound quality is important and worth it – by being more interested in easy and cheap distribution as a way to make up for sagging CD sales. They missed the boat that this same channel allows anyone and everyone who is the least bit interested to bypass the cash register so to speak and just take what they want. So what does the industry do? They spend millions lobbying to try to create silly laws (SOPA & PIPA most recently).

Some people will happily pay a premium for premium sound quality. They always have.  You and others have pointed out the low-hanging fruit that the music industry doesn’t seem to want to pick and share. This is what Neil Young is talking about when he says people are only getting 5% of the music – when comparing an MP3 to the original 24/192 masters - and there's something inherently wrong with that. And I agree.

I also find $40 for a high definition download reissue to be too high a price for me especially when I can buy the used (and great sounding) LP for $8 or a CD for less, rip it and resell it (in theory of course).

deckeda's picture

I'd be interested to know what some artist's expectations are regarding royalties for old work vs. a fan's appreciation of same vs. the artist's appreciation of same. I sense they are all differrent, making placing a value inherently arbitrary. Is any of that relevant?

There's a natural model that values new over old that film follows, because apart from first-run theaters there's no other venue to extract top dollar from a consumer for so little (frequency) of use. Second-run theaters, DVDs, old DVDs, and rentals all charge less. I suppose the reason it's not directly analogous is becuase when new msuic is released you don't buy a ticket to go hear it in a top-notch setting and then go home without a copy.

But with recorded music, "every day is a new day" which is why that Stones release from when I was born costs as much today as last year's release from them. Is this because unlike with film, consumers tend to listen over and over again to the same recording? Even if true, should that factor into the cost as much as it seems to?

deckeda's picture

a[s] long as that content is in digital form and that digital form does not provide a secure means of copy protection then the ability to easily copy and widely distribution that digital content essentially renders that digital content worthless.

Yeah, this is the crux of the problem for labels, and by extension, us: The CD initially represented a "format" and as such, was successful because it was physical and the only one.

DAT and other prosumer/consumer digital recorders quickly revealed that no, a CD wasn't "a format" but just a delivery vehicle for the real format. Add home computers, Internet, stir and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

jazzfan's picture

If, as you said "Add home computers, Internet, stir and bake at 350 for 30 minutes." then my computer has been baking on high for quite some time. What I now have is giant cake filled with all kinds music.

Makes for a great tasting dessert.

kmp14's picture

I am with you, 100%, and I have had this argument before -

Me: "But it sounds better"

Friend: "How much better?"

Me: "Much"

Friend: "How can you tell?"

Me: "I crank it CDs and Vinyl on my decent hi-fi system"

Friend: "I listen to MP3s from Amazon through the speakers that came with my PC, will I be able to hear the difference?" 

Me:  "Probably not with cheap speakers and equipment, time for an upgrade"

Friend: "nah, these plastic speakers are fine".  

People just dont care.  You can tell them they should, but they don't.  It is about the money it costs to really hear a difference, and the convenience.  There is just a very small segment of people who DO care, certainly not enough.  The proof is in the relative failures of SACD and DVD-Audio.

dalethorn's picture

MP3's have been around since the late 90's and have improved considerably.  For music played on the go a 320k CBR MP3 is good enough. Really!  I can hear the very fine qualities of a lossless track at home, at night, with my HQ stereo and Shure 1840 headphones. But in any other situation the 320k CBR MP3 is fine. Really!

 

Why all this moaning and groaning?  I doubt Mr. Young can even hear above 6khz.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Besides, its simple and free to make a lower resolution copy for portable music if that’s a requirement. My main point is – don’t purchase tracks or albums in any of the MP3 formats.

cwdjr's picture

There have been a few legal HR download sites for some time. Recently some of the major media companies have remastered many of their best selling older music from original tapes and made it available as SACD and/or 96 or 192 KHz, 24-bit downloads, mostly in flac format. These usually cost more than a CD, but I find the increase in quality well worth the increase in price for the most part. Of course you need high quality playback equipment to get the full benefit of the HD downloads. Unlike many mp3 downloads, these downloads do not include digital rights protection, and like CDs you can convert the files to most other formats including Blu-ray audio at the high end and mp3 at the low end. If you have not checked HD download sites in the last year, you may be surprised at the greatly increased offerings, especially from major recording companies. Some sites have a free download to let you see if HD audio is right for you.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Right here.

X