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Steve Foy

Why Your Music Files Sound Like Crap

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I've got to say that my opinion of her intelligence isn't very high after reading her first paragraph.  What terrible grammar,  she sounds like a 14 yr old.

 

"Those music files - be they MP3, AAC or WMA - that you listen to on your portable music players are pretty crap when it comes to accurate sound reproduction from the original recording. But just how crap they really are wasn't known until now."

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Indeed. The ability to differentiate single-frequency tones when nothing else is playing certainly tells us how we'll perceive things in the context of a fully produced song. 

 

Article seems to take the position "I know mp3 is crap[py] on my portable player. Here's a test of something else, which shows the basic assumptions behind mp3 could be refined, and that's why mp3 on my portable player is crap[py]."

 

Nothing about controlled listening experiments of mp3 vs linear; it's been done so it's old news. Or her crap[py] portable player vs her same source files on a good system; that would take work.

 

The science is worthwhile. If we improve our assumptions we can come up with more efficient algorithms, which will translate to better sound for the same bitrate or more efficient storage/transmission for a given quality. These are good things.

 

But the reporting...

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I've got to say that my opinion of her intelligence isn't very high after reading her first paragraph.  What terrible grammar,  she sounds like a 14 yr old.

 

"Those music files - be they MP3, AAC or WMA - that you listen to on your portable music players are pretty crap when it comes to accurate sound reproduction from the original recording. But just how crap they really are wasn't known until now."

Why is this bad grammar?

 

In this context 'Be they MP3, AAC or WMA' means 'regardless of whether they are MP3, AAC or WMA'

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Hopefully someday soon we won't need MP3 compression. Wireless internet will be blisteringly fast and huge capacity miniature drives will be cheap...

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Love the cartoon.

 

I think lossy files have their place for casual listening. About 9 years ago, I did a bunch of tests and decided that I could live with 320kbps AAC for my iPods, which is about 4:1 compression. I figured out over time that 4:1 is a magic number: that's also about the compression rate for Digital Betacam in the 1990s and for HDCam-SR videotape in the 2000s. Many people shooting Red Cameras have found that about a 4:1 or 5:1 ratio is optimum; any more than that, and you start noticing the artifacts.

 

I wouldn't master professional sound with lossy recording, but for music listening in cars and on portable players, I don't think it's a huge compromise. There's a big difference between a 320kbps file and a crap/crappy 96kbps file. 

 

The author of the original article should be aware that the AES has a very informative (albeit mundane) demo CD called "Perceptual Audio Coders: What to Listen For." It shows very quickly the harm that MP3 and other codecs do to audio signals, and once you know what the artifacts sound like, it makes listening to low-res files very painful. The link to buy the AES CD is:

 

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Yeah, Mr. Brandenburg was quite a pioneer. I read an interview with him awhile back, and he mentions that he realized around 1990 or 1991 that if everybody was able to rip their CDs to small digital files that could be endlessly cloned and duplicated, it could mean the ruination of the music industry. Sadly, he proved to be right over the next 10-15 years. He's a very thoughtful, interesting man.

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