Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fooled by MP3 ? Not Me!!!

What ever happened to all the years of developing hi fidelity sound for the consumer? Its almost impossible to walk into a high street store these days and buy some decent Hi-Fi kit.. It seems most people these days are afraid to be seen playing music from a turntable or CD player on a separate system, its like they have been brainwashed into thinking if its small and its the latest gizmo it must be better ?

Today most homes have ipod dockers and shitty PC speakers pumping out poor quality MP3, and its not just the XBOX generation, many adults who once enjoyed vinyl and CD have moved over to MP3 not realizing that the old technology and media had a far superior sound quality but for most people nowadays its quantity not quality that matters. "Oh my ipod holds 1000,000,00 tracks" "CD's and vinyl take up too much space, blah blah". Many have chucked out their amps and speakers to purchase ipod dockers not realizing a simple jack to phono lead can connect the media player to an old amp. "Oh but the amp doesn't charge the ipod" use your PC for christ sake!!!!

Stereo Mini Jack to phono lead €2.99 approx..

ipod Docking System €400.00 approx

Originally the MP3 was developed to reduce the size of audio files for quicker and easier transfers over the web, ideal for commercial applications where a composer of music for a TV commercial could easily send a demo to the client without them waiting for a CD in the post or trying to hear it over a telephone line but somehow it managed find its way to consumer use.

Now when you purchase a download at some stores they state the following...

Files @192kbps: Suitable for home listening and ipod etc..

Files @320kbps: Suitable for Dj use.

Wav or Flac etc: Suitable for professional use.

Ok if anything the 192Kbps may scrape by for DJ use, as you are not going to be able to hear all the details with crowd noise etc, while the 320Kbps will reproduce bass better on bigger club sound system. Truly the 192Kbps files should only be used for streaming music samples and is an absolute crime for these to be sold to the consumer..

And wav for professional use now ?

Well as most people know CD's use WAVs or AIFF files. When the CD was introduced in the early 80's it was a consumer product promising the best sound ever along with some dodgy claims of indestructibility, the CD was aimed at home use and not for the reserve of professionals like Radio, TV and movies producers.

So you now have to be a DJ or TV producer to enjoy higher quality sound ?

So is the convenience of modern technology is devaluing art ?

When you actually go to the trouble of entering a record store and browsing through vinyl/Cd's and making a purchase with your hard earned cash you are usually more committed to listening to the album properly, so if at first you are not so sure about an album you will go back in a day or so and try again which you may find one or two pieces growing on you, after a few more days you can find yourself compelled to listen again, often albums that take many listens can end up being some of your favorites..

With MP3, particularly illegally downloaded ones you have no invested interest if it doesn't appeal within two or three tracks in you just quickly go to the next album, so an album which could have slowly grown on you has been discarded to the bottom of your hard drive or dragged and dropped to the waste bin and never given a chance.

Another appealing factor with physical releases is that you usually commit yourself to listen all the way through, opening the CD case or slipping out of the vinyl sleeve, carefully placing the record to the turntable and dropping the needle or that sound of the CD loading tray closing and then sitting back to enjoy the music as it was intended to be heard, from browsing the liner notes and perhaps reading the lyrical content to enjoying the artwork and often savoring the scent of the print all adds to the sensory experience.

The problem with the MP3 on an ipod or other portable device is that the temptation to quickly flick to the next track or album is way too easy, too many choices creates greater indecision and if you are listening on a PC you also have the sound of the PC's fan and hard drive spinning over the already poorly compressed audio and generally awful generic computer speakers.

In tests it has been proven that vinyl or cassette will hold your listening attention longer than CD, while vinyl has certain surface noise issues and cassette has the old hiss problem, the analogue sound reproduction stimulates the human brain for longer periods than CD so what does that say for highly compressed MP3 files which often holds up to 80% less digital information than a wav file as used on CD ?

While some people may listen to music to just happily sing along to or as a comfort in the background the MP3 is fine for that but if you really want to feel the power of rock or the emotion of classical and the detail of electronica etc, then vinyl or CD on a proper sound system is still the best way to get the maximum feeling from the music.

So apart from the actual audio quality of MP3, the effect of illegal downloads is impacting big time on the quality of production, many underground electronic acts who would have hired session musicians and professional recording studios and engineers in the past are now resorting to solely home produced releases as the return for big studio albums is practically zero thanks to all the so called freeloading music fans, so epic sounding electronic albums like The Orbs "Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld" and 808 States "Ex:el are quickly becoming a thing of the past.. Instead we now have the beatport/Juno generation, where someone who's been knocking out a few tracks on a cracked version of Fruity Loops in the space of a few months sets up a digital label, the online distributor will distribute because they get a fee from the label to host the music so it doesn't matter if it sells zero units. Back in the purely physical days the distributor had to be a lot more choosy about the artists or a labels they unleashed on the public.

While some people may argue that everyone should get their music heard but the problem is that the digital markets are flooded with too much generic electronic music and much of the really good material gets lost in the sea of mediocrity and the idea of scrolling through the thousands of new releases every week online is just not the way I want to find new music.

While there are some benefits that the MP3 has to offer, its ideal for streaming samples and demoing music online, the ipod is a perfect traveling companion, also its also fine for DJing with , no more lugging massive back breaking record boxes around with you but I just don't see why its been pushed as the only media to consume music ? Maybe I'm one of the very few true music lovers and for most music is just a disposable art form that has no value anymore it seems ? many also have the attitude of "F**k em musicians make enough money, that may be the case for acts like U2`or Beyonce but not for the small indie artist. Its not just the music scene though, the same mindset seems to apply the movie industry.

Nowadays many people are content with watching the latest movies recorded with a shaky hand held camera in some dodgy cinema the file is further compressed and then downloaded and viewed on the 3"x 3" screen of the latest blackberry or other trendy must have device, so with everything so instant and accessible the value is lost, I remember back in the days of pre VCR waiting for a week in total excitement because a James Bond movie was gonna be screened on TV for the first time or to read in the NME that your favorite band was releasing a new CD and to check your local music store every week to see if it had arrived and the thrill of seeing it in the store made your heart jump!

Recently one of my favorite acts Biosphere announced his new album will be released in July, I ordered the CD online and have awaited patiently for the last six weeks or so only to hear from Geir Jenssen himself on a certain social networking site that the album has already being downloaded illegally 23,000 times, so thats 23,000 people have heard it [in lesser sound quality of course ; )] before me without paying for it..

I often ask myself a question about someone who has actually purchased a CD or download and then felt the need to share the music online. Are they looking for some sort of pat on the back or acknowledgement ? "Oh look at me, I was the first to share this amazing record" or to be accepted on some music sharing forum, maybe there is some ego stroking thing going on, who knows?

Some internet providers have had to take action against serial illegal uploaders by cutting off their web access, only to have certain groups complain that it is now a basic human right to have internet access, well isn't it a basic human right to get paid for work that you do ?

So most people may think that I'm a fool for buying CD or someone else who has honestly purchased a digital download, while there are those who continue to support the music they love, the freeloaders should be thankful, because as soon as everyone develops the same freeloading mindset the well of free new music will most certainly dry up!!


  1. I'm sorry, I completely disagree, and I think that anyone who claims to be able to tell the difference between a 192kbps mp3 and a CD is a liar, or deeply deluded.

    And no, I'm not some hapless podperson hoovering up any old shit, I'm a musician who cares about how his music sounds but hasn't been fooled by the audiophile snobbery that seems to have always been around where reproduced music is concerned.

  2. Great Alex, I posted my opinion and you post yours, the power off the internet : )