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For six years, the Internet Nexus served as my technology blog, but I've since started blogging at the SuperSite Blog instead. If you're looking for the blog, please head there. --Paul

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Music: It's better than it sounds on MP3

San Francisco Chronicle:
The artificial audio of MP3s is quickly becoming the primary way people listen to music. Apple already has sold 100 million iPods, and more than a billion MP3 files are traded every month through the Internet.

But the music contained in these computer files represents less than 10 percent of the original music on the CDs. In its journey from CD to MP3 player, the music has been compressed by eliminating data that computer analysis deems redundant, squeezed down until it fits through the Internet pipeline.

When even the full files on the CDs contain less than half the information stored to studio hard drives during recording, these compressed MP3s represent a minuscule fraction of the actual recording. For purists, it's the dark ages of recorded sound.

How much the audio quality is affected by the MP3 process depends on the compression strategy, the encoder used, the playback equipment, computer speed and many other steps along the way. Experts agree, however, that the audio quality of most MP3s is somewhere around FM radio. The best digital audio, even with increased sampling rates and higher bit rates, still falls short of the natural quality of now-obsolete analog tape recording.

How good MP3s sound obviously also depends greatly on the playback system. But most MP3s are heard through cheap computer speakers, plastic iPod docking stations or, worse yet, those audio abominations called earbuds.
I'm always amused when people say that low-quality MP3/WMA/AAC tracks sound just fine. It literally is the audio equivalent of calling a McDonalds Happy Meal delicious. I guess it just depends on what you're used to consuming.

Related: Just because it's digital, doesn't mean it sounds good

Semi-related: I discovered this story through MacSurfer, which is a good (if curiously repetitive) Mac news aggregator site. They were linking to a story on The Inquirer, which is a sad little "The Register"-wannabe site from the UK that, as it turns out, simply reworded a story they had discovered on The Seattle PI. (My guess is they do that a lot.) However, even that story wasn't the original: The PI can apparently republish stories from The San Francisco Chronicle, but of course they don't link to the "original." So I went and looked for it and linked to that here. Sometimes I really wonder about the Internet.

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