You may recognize the image above, but simply because your brain tells you that the colors and shapes are familiar. At second glance one can see that although familiar, it is blurred, distorted and “compressed”. Now what if I were to tell you that unless the music that you listen to is on a CD or vinyl, that the image represents the visual equivalent of the loss of sound wave, or frequency in the music most of us are listening to?
The MP3 format has become the new standard, for both the mobile DJ and the casual music listener. It’s not unusual for a DJ to carry from 500 gigabytes to a terabyte worth of music with them these days in an MP3 format, replacing the cumbersome and laborious CD collection. In an article published by About.com titled Vinyl vs. CD (a very good read I might add) the author says this;
“It is a strange music world we live in. There has been and is a major upheaval in the way consumers discover, purchase and listen to music. People listening to music on their cell phones and fitting their music collections in their pockets with portable iPods and MP3 players. Digitization, it seems, is the new distribution process for most with file sharing, ring tones, YouTube, iTunes, MySpace, Satellite radio and downloading is the only option for some.”
Although true about digitization being the the new medium for distribution, and ultimate convenience finally being within our grasp (both DJ and consumer), is the sacrifice really worth it? This brings me to the next article I read regarding the subject (another very interesting read), by John Atkinson, Editor of stereophile magazine titled MP3 vs AAC vs FLAC vs CD which makes this statement:
“The MP3 codec (for COder/DECoder) was developed at the end of the 1980s and adopted as a standard in 1991. As typically used, it reduces the file size for an audio song by a factor of 10; eg, a song that takes up 30MB on a CD takes up only 3MB as an MP3 file. Not only does the 4GB iPod now hold well over 1000 songs, each song takes less than 10 seconds to download on a typical home’s high-speed Internet connection.”
But apparently this is not the first technological “upgrade” that has resulted in us being robbed of some sound quality. According to Gary Freiberg from Vinyl Record Day – a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of vinyl records – the analog recording (vinyl record) has a wider frequency range than the digital compact disc, and in speaking with him, he agreed it would be fair to say that the compact disc is merely a compression of analog. It would seem therefore that the loss started back in the 80s when the CD supplanted the vinyl LP record album.
It all seems pretty dismal, but there is still hope. My first suggestion would be to stop downloading all of that music from iTunes and Amazon, and to start buying CDs again. Unless of course you are downloading “lossless” digital file formats (WAV files for example are truly CD quality, but take up a great deal more space). This would take the capacity of your 8GB iPod from 2,000 songs down to about 260 songs (or 26 albums), and I highly doubt anyone will make that sacrifice, so for now we’ll all keep using MP3s.
But technology will improve, storage space will increase, file sizes will shrink and it will all become more easily affordable in the next few years (it always does). If you own the CD, you can rip the songs in any format you like. No matter what you may read or hear, the MP3 is not CD quality, but you can at least choose to rip a CD at a higher bit rate than most online downloads offer. This in itself is a significant improvement in sound. Eventually, when the storage space in an iPod jumps to the multiple terabyte range, you could conceivably delete MP3s and re-rip your music to a non-compressed file, and re-achieve CD quality. Or of course you can keep buying inferior MP3s, and perhaps repurchase the larger files when the technology finally catches up with the convenience that is causing us to lose the fullest possible sound in our music.
For now, I’ll keep my CDs. I maintain control over the bit rate at which my MP3s are created, and when the MP3 goes the way of the dodo bird, I’ll still own the CD master files which I’ll be able to use to create the improved and lossless digital files. As a DJ, this will allow me to improve my sound quality, without spending the money time and time again… I own the masters. For those hardcore vinyl and CD enthusiasts, more power to you! Keep up the good fight!
On the other hand, there are those who say the loss doesn’t take away from their listening pleasure, and for the most part I would tend to agree. Perhaps on a bazillion dollar home theater surround system with flux capacitors and warp drives the loss is clear as a bell, but with most music listening these days happening with little headphones, it seems we can still enjoy our tunes without missing a beat :).
Image reproduced with the permission of Source Interlink Media