“If Music Is a Drug, Then MP3s Are Methamphetamines…”

Music is a drug. But what kind of drug?
  • Save

You’ve probably heard the phrase, ‘music is a drug.’  But what kind of drugs are music fans using, exactly?

From the ‘High Quality Audio: Does It Matter?’ panel at Music Biz 2014 in Los Angeles last week…

Steve Silberman (AudioQuest):  “Streaming at higher-rates, at CD-quality or above, is going to be a very big part of this eco-system.  I think people really want better-quality music.”

“Where I live, in my town, I’m the only guy with a stereo system.  And the hardest part about getting people out of my house is, the stereo becomes such a magnet.  But it’s not the stereo itself, it’s the quality of the sound.  My friends who all had great stereos in college twenty, twenty-five years ago, all forgot what good music sounds like, because they take the short cut.”

“They use Pandora for free through their crappy speakers on their television set and think that’s music.”

“And there’s that ‘a-ha’ moment I see on people’s faces when they come into my home.  You hear, just, CD-quality music on a decent stereo system, it’s fascinating.  And the fact that people are buying so many records, record players, from a place like Urban Outfitters, I find that to be fascinating.  People –”

“Music is a recreational drug, and MP3s are methamphetamines.  It’s bad, crack drugs.”

[audience laughter]

Vickie Naumann (moderator): “It’ll be good to see that in Digital Music News.”

[more laughter]

John Hamm (Pono): That’s a tweetable quote right there.  ‘MP3s are the meth of music..’

[noise and chatter in the audience]

Silberman: “It’s the meth of music.  What people want is the high-quality Colorado weed.  And high resolution files and vinyl, all of that it’s transportive — it’s transportive–”

Hamm: “I think given the choice for quality, humans will always tend to want something better if they can have it.  We’re like this about everything else in our lives.

“The artist is saying to you, ‘I want you to hear my best work, I want you to hear it the way I made it.’  And if a chef went to that level of detail to get it right and dropped half of it on the floor on the the way to the table you’d be pissed.  But the truth is, that’s what happens in music, is that some fraction of the artist product that they make in the studio gets to you in a highly-compressed media file.  But what the artist really wants is for you to get their best work, so in that regard they’re all in already.

“And fans will listen to artists way more then they’ll listen to us.”

73 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    I’ve never heard a single person outside of the music industry complain about audio quality of MP3s.

    • jw

      Have you ever heard anyone complain about the quality of tv?

      Do you think that’s why 720 came out? And then 1080? And now 4k? Because there was some consumer-mounted campaign against low quality 480 resolution tv?

      • Anonymous

        ” And now 4k?”

        Again, I’m another Annoying Anonymous and I don’t like mp3s. But here’s why you can’t compare audio and video:

        16/44 is as good as it gets.

        Want better sound? Buy better hardware!

        Video, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish: 4K will soon be obsolete, and for good reasons. Here’s an area where you don’t need blind tests. Higher resolution is always better, period. Everybody can see that with their own eyes whether we’re talking TV, cinema, phones, tablets, laptops or desktops. The sky is the limit, and consumers are willing to pay.

        With audio, they just can’t tell the difference between CDs and 24/96.

        But make them listen to a nice pair of studio monitors, and they’ll weep…

        • Anonymous

          It’s happening to video too. Smartphones already have pixel densities that are beyond the capability of the human eye to discern.

    • GGG

      So if it doesn’t make a difference to the average person, and data is getting cheaper to store, why not make them better quality?

      If we waited for the masses to complain about something before improving it we’d still be in the stone ages.

      • Anonymous

        “why not make them better quality?”

        I’m another Anonymous here and I agree to a point: Mp3s are a disgrace.

        But I don’t get this interest in stuff beyond CD quality. I really don’t think people understand what they’re talking about. People can’t tell the difference between 16/44 vs 24/96 in A-B tests, and more than a few of those who can think it’s worse, so forget about it unless you’re mixing for bats.

        Again, higher rates are crucial for engineering — but only because they allow you to edit the sound in ways you can’t do at 16/44.

        It’s exactly like JPGs — use a good quality at the original size, and you can’t tell the difference. But modify them in any way, and they look like trash.

        • jw

          The idea of A/Bing HD audio is kind of absurd to me. The way it works with any of this stuff (HD audio, video, etc) is that your eyes/ears/brain have to learn to process what they’re receiving, & once you’re used to that, you go back to the old format & the screen looks fuzzy or the audio sounds muddy or distorted or whatever.

          The A/B argument misses the point entirely. But beyond that, what’s the problem with offering HD if people want HD? I don’t get what people get out of being so cynical.

          • Anonymous

            “The idea of A/Bing HD audio is kind of absurd to me”

            That’s because you don’t take it seriously. There’s more hype and superstition in audio than in any other business I’m aware of, and every mistake you make is expensive. So blind tests are essential every time you need to determine if you should move from one gadget or format to another. It’s the only absolutely reliable tool.

            “But beyond that, what’s the problem with offering HD if people want HD?”

            But they don’t.

            I could release my own stuff at 24/96 in a heart beat and wouldn’t mind doing so if it served any purpose, which it doesn’t, but like I said to GGG: Size still matters to many people, in many scenarios, and will continue to do so at least the next decade. And don’t forget there are huge — and very relevant — catalogues out there that can’t be converted because better source files just don’t exist.

          • jw

            The reason you can a/b video is because it’s contained… you could look at two pictures simultaneously & distinguish between one screen and another. You wouldn’t be able to do that with two audio formats playing simultaneously.

            If you a/b video and you show a 720 scene, then take it away & show a 1080 scene, I don’t think the results would be much different than 16/44 vs 24/48. Because you have to memorize the last scene or sound clip to compare it to the next.

            Additionally, you’re learning the music if you aren’t already familiar with the song. How are you supposed to know how it should sound, in order to make the comparison? Speaker buying 101 is you bring in a recording you’re already intimately familiar if you’re going to make comparisons. And, just the same, if you’re really seriously comparing video equipment, you should bring in a film that you’re intimately familiar with in order to really have any sense of whether the display is meeting your expectations.

            You could certainly release HD, & you’re probably right, no one would want it. If that’s your criteria, we’re never going to agree. Should you release HD recordings? It’s probably not worth your time, but it wouldn’t hurt anything. However, if you were Stevie Wonder. If you were Fleetwood Mac. If you were an artist with a legendary recording that a lot of people want to hear at the best quality possible, it absolutely makes sense.

            You’re right, a lot of recordings weren’t recorded at a fidelity that would warrant 192 or even 96. But who cares? The point is that you can build a collection, and eventually stream, FLAC at whatever the best quality is available (or that makes sense according to your playback system & your budget). Everything doesn’t have to be 192, no one’s arguing for that.

            I mean CD quality isn’t bad, & if all digital music was available at 16/44, that would be a great start. That’s all most people have the ability to play back, anyhow. But your argument that no one can tell the difference between 16-bit vs 24-bit or 44 vs 192 in any meaningful way is nonsense.

            But maybe that’s not even the issue. The reason a lot of HD releases sound better isn’t always because of the format itself, but because they’re remixed/remastered & get the ideal sonic treatment, not having to account for low grade consumer playback equipment. And that can oftentimes make a world of difference, especially on modern recordings.

            Additionally, my argument isn’t that *I* can tell the difference, I’m arguing that *you* would be able to tell the difference. My casual HD playback rig is a Macbook Pro -> Audioengine D1 -> Grado SR225i headphones, which is a very cheap rig, so far as audio is concerned. But you would be able to tell the difference between 16/44 & 24/48 or 24/96… in a recording that you’re familiar with, you would be able to hear more separation between instruments, more articulation in the higher frequencies (specifically hi-hats & cymbals), & you’d be able to listen more comfortably at higher volumes & for longer periods.

            I agree with you that the hd audio scene is full of snake oil salesmen… for instance a digital signal is a digital signal is a digital signal, & the very idea of an “HD” digital cable is a farce. And yes, if you’re playing back on crap equipment, you won’t be able to tell the difference. And oftentimes moving your speakers a foot or two further from the wall might make worlds more of a difference than upgrading your system to accommodate HD audio. But that doesn’t mean that HD audio is worthless, or that people can’t hear it.

          • Anonymous

            “But your argument that no one can tell the difference between 16-bit vs 24-bit or 44 vs 192 in any meaningful way is nonsense.”

            Here’s the good news: You don’t have to trust me. Just do the test.

            It’s easy to set up, it’s easy to participate — and it’s fun because most of us end up with red ears instead of the golden ones of our dreams…

          • jw

            I wouldn’t be having this conversation if I hadn’t done the comparison myself.

            But I’m saying your premise is wrong. A lot of people get told they have “red ears” instead of “golden ears,” but the problem isn’t their ears, it’s that they 1) Don’t have a reference of what the song SHOULD sound like, & so it’s impossible for them to place sound clips on a scale of least to most accurate, &/or 2) they don’t know what to listen for, which is to say they spend the 30 seconds or what have you focusing on the vocals, & not the cymbals or the soundstage or whatever. I’m saying it’s more of a cognitive issue than it is an ear issue.

            You might say that whether it’s an ear issue or a cognitive issue, it’s all the same. But it’s not, because it’s not a cognitive issue for everyone, but it’s also something that can be learned by listening to the higher files. After all, who can better recognize & articulate their appreciation for a Porsche? Someone who’s just making the step up from a Honda Accord or someone who’s owned several Porsches?

            And do we test people’s taste buds before they go into a nice restaurant? Or before they buy nice clothes? If Joe Shmoe on the street can’t explain the difference between a $60 pair of jeans & a $300 pair of jeans, does that mean that there is no difference? Of course not, that’s terrible reasoning.

          • Anonymous

            “Don’t have a reference of what the song SHOULD sound like, & so it’s impossible for them to place sound clips on a scale of least to most accurate”

            But this is crazy — you can’t say what a song SHOULD sound like. Why do you think most studios are loaded with all kinds of ridiculous consumer speakers? The goal and the challenge is to make the song translate equally well to all platforms.

            “they spend the 30 seconds or what have you focusing on the vocals, & not the cymbals or the soundstage or whatever”

            When you make a test, you use material that represents all frequencies from sub bass and drums over male and female vox to the cymbals you keep mentioning.

          • jw

            I might not be able to hear the difference if you’re just giving me tones.

            But at this point we’re beating a dead horse.

          • Bobby

            JW – weren’t you the one who tried to shut down my argument YESTERDAY by suggesting that I A/B audio?

            “jw Thursday, May 15, 2014
            Have you ever sat down & listened to 16/44.1 vs 24/192 on a decent system?

            I love it when people post this article & have never listened for themselves.”

            PS – I have.

          • jw

            Maybe you’re no different than the average consumer. Maybe you don’t know what you’re listening for. Maybe I gave you too much credit. I dunno.

            My point is… if you can’t articulate the difference, that doesn’t mean that I can’t, or that someone else can’t. That article you posted is pretty wordy & convincingly written, but it falls apart when you listen closely to the recordings.

            Some people might not be able to articulate the difference, I’m not disputing that. But I also don’t think that everyone who says they can hear the difference is lying.

          • Bobby

            No, JW, that article illuminates that what you THINK you hear in terms of difference between the two is either entirely in your head (confirmation bias) or a product of the higher rate sample being pulled from a different master source, encoded to a lossy format (mp3, etc) or other variables not related to the actual sampling rate/size.

            Science proves it. There’s no arguing with the sampling theorem, the dynamic range of human hearing or the dB range of 16-bit audio. No human’s ears can tell the difference between 16/48 and 24/192 given the same source.

            All that said, using better equipment makes ALL the difference.

          • Anonymous

            “But I also don’t think that everyone who says they can hear the difference is lying”

            Nobody’s accusing anybody of lying. Many people really do believe they hear a difference.

            But blind tests always prove they are wrong.

            There’s only one way to improve sound: Buy better gear. And don’t forget that 10k speakers sound like Logitech over a cheap interface.

        • GGG

          I mean, the thing is it just doesn’t have to be some giant debate about quality, it’s just that we are getting to the point where we have the space for it (even if we are talking about cloud storage). I have a 2TB external that’s less than a quarter of the size of a 500GB external I got like 7-8 years ago. There’s not really a need for mp3s compressed that much anymore. So if 99% of people can’t tell the difference, who gives a shit, at least the music is out there as high quality as we can make it. It’s the principle.

          • Anonymous

            Again, I completely agree about mp3s. I just think it’s more realistic to ask consumers to upgrade to 16/44 rather than go total ballistic and change to a format nobody wants. There’s a huge difference in size between 16/44.1 and 24/96, and file size still matters in many situations.

            If 24/96 did provide any audible advantages over CD quality I would agree about that too though, but it doesn’t, so I don’t.

        • Anonymous

          “People can’t tell the difference between 16/44 vs 24/96 in A-B tests”

          And I guarantee they could tell the difference between 24 bit and MP3.

          MP3s sound horrible. The treble content is just gross.

          • Anonymous


            Then I’m sure you won’t mind taking a public ABX test.

      • Paul Resnikoff

        Actually, this IS what’s happening. Most streaming services are upping quality when it makes sense, without the consumer even realizing it.

        But beyond that, there are many companies trying to tackle the issue of fidelity within platforms like mobile and streaming. That’s a small niche that could become much larger. The criticism of Pono, which I think is worth paying attention to, is that their model exists outside of streaming, outside of YouTube, and inside an ecosystem that is past its prime (ie, downloads and separate players).

    • Anonymous

      “I’ve never heard a single person outside of the music industry complain about audio quality of MP3s”

      I certainly have. There’s zero reason for consumers to go beyond CD quality, but mp3s damage your sound in no small way.

      Then again, cheap interfaces/speakers are much worse. So you shouldn’t worry about mp3s if you listen to Logitech speakers over a soundblaster/laptop card.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      It’s quite a comment, but I’ll take it a step further. I’ve never heard a non-industry person even mention the MP3 in the streaming context. It’s mostly background details that they don’t care about.

  2. Minneapolis Musician

    For the past decade I have found it interesting to see how the recording gear industry advertises ever-increasing sound quality specs, but the music is listened to on 128k MP3s over crappy little speakers, or earbuds.

    I record and engineer all my music on really high quality gear, with decent headphones. My wife was pleasantly surprised when she put on my studio headphones and heard what real fidelity sounds like.

    — Glenn


    • Anonymous

      “My wife was pleasantly surprised when she put on my studio headphones and heard what real fidelity sounds like.”

      I’m not a headphone fan — and certainly not for engineering — but yes, even mp3s through a nice set and a decent interface will blow most consumers away.

  3. Pie Rate

    If you are mentioning 128K MP3 files, it shows that you have not been paying attention for a few years. Amazon’s MP3 files are at 256K. iTunes also appears to be at 256K AAC by default. Bandcamp offers a 320K MP3 option at no extra cost.

    Pirates have mostly moved to 320K and they are somewhat snobby about it.

    MP3 at 320K starts to get back some of the life and bloom of a good original recording. I find 256K generally tolerable.

    • Anonymous

      “MP3 at 320K starts to get back some of the life and bloom of a good original recording. I find 256K generally tolerable.”

      I hate to agree with a pirate but your comment makes sense.

      The mp3s most of us dislike are indeed the dreaded 128’s. And they really were that bad. But fact is that even engineers find it hard or imporssible to distinguish modern iTunes compression from CDs.

  4. Jughead

    I do not think most consumers care. I am around hundreds of people all day using iPods (at a gym), and in 10 years I have never heard a single person say that MP3’s suck.

  5. Anonymous

    Here’s a suggestion for Paul:

    Why not do a public A/B/C/D test right here in order to end all these discussions?

    Just upload a public domain song in mp3, 16/44, 24/96 and 24/192 and let us guess which is which.

    Jw and others finally get the chance to prove their golden ears.

    (Not to spoil the party, but here are the results: 75% can tell mp3s from anything else; 15% can tell 16/44 from 24/96 but half of them prefer 16/44, and 0.000% can tell 24/96 from 24/192 on a good day.)

    • jw

      When people listen to HD audio, or even when they listen to nice stereo equipment, what do they say? They don’t say, “This is a noticeably higher fidelity than what I’m used to!” Because fidelity varies as much from recording to recording as it does from speaker to speaker.

      Instead, they say, “I hear things in my favorite recordings that I’ve never heard before.”

      That’s the test, not the A/B test. You need a frame of reference, you can’t do anything blind.

      The difference can be subtle, but at the same time, those subtleties can be transformative. Of course, you can fake this experience in a “nice” but poorly EQed set of speakers or headphones (i.e. Beats), but that’s not the experience that the artist intended. Why not promote flat speakers/headphones & allow HD audio to reveal those details appropriately?

      • Anonymous

        “they say, “I hear things in my favorite recordings that I’ve never heard before.””

        That’s definitely true. But you leave out the funny part: There’s a limit to what you want to hear. Most good songs ‘fall apart’ and turn into separate, more or less meaningless sound patterns when the monitoring equipment reaches a certain level. Many good records have dirty ‘secrets’ such as throat noises, lip-smacks, string noises, bumps and worse, stuff you definitely don’t want to hear. So transparency is not always what we aim for. Pleasure is. (Not that I subscribe to Beats or the other kinds of hyped gear that you mention.)

        “You need a frame of reference, you can’t do anything blind”

        I honestly don’t understand what you mean. You listen to 4 files, you compare and you say which is which. Preferably without cheating. 🙂

        That’s the only reliable way to stop the mind games we all play and decide if the latest gadget or resolution makes the promised ‘night and day’ difference.

        • jw

          It’s clear that you don’t understand what I mean.

          But you’re going to have to pick a side here. What’s your argument? That HD audio isn’t worthwhile because people can’t hear a difference? Or is it because they shouldn’t hear the difference? You can’t have it both ways.

          And I’ve never heard a song at 24/192 fall apart on any of my equipment. That’s nonsense. And it also, again, contradicts your earlier argument.

          It’s clear that you’ve got a preconceived notion & you’re just trying to make the point at any cost.

          • Anonymous

            “you’re going to have to pick a side here”

            No, you divided the discussion into two parts when you claimed that people discover new details when they listen to high def audio or nice gear.

            The first part is wrong — people do not hear details in 24/96 that they can’t hear on their CDs. Do an A/B test and you’ll see for yourself.

            But the second part is correct: You do hear new details every time you upgrade your audio setup.

            And I responded to that part by telling you what I believe is a funny detail: That there is a limit to the detail level people actually want to hear. That’s why they buy hifi gear instead of studio equipment.

            “I’ve never heard a song at 24/192 fall apart on any of my equipment.”

            No, consumer speakers are very different from studio monitors. And that goes for interfaces, too.

            Visit a studio and listen to a professional setup and you’ll know what I mean. You will indeed discover elements you don’t want to hear, even on legendary albums, and the term ‘fall apart’ is accurate:

            Every instrument sits in its own isolated space, you hear every frequency. This is extremely useful in that context, but it’s no longer a pleasure when you reach a certain level.

            Separation is what you want in the studio — not in your car.

    • MDTI

      >>>> 0.000% can tell 24/96 from 24/192 on a good day.

      What I have been told, by a guy who won an industry award for recording and mixing a celine dion live tour, is that 24/192, or even 24/96 is more for the sound engineer who access more dynamic range and can mix better in terms of relative gains and frequencies, and that translate also when converted to CD or even mp3
      (btw: never saw a 128k mp3 file for sale, it is more about 256 and 320 nowadays. 128 was ok in the early days as it was stellar quality compared to… Real Audio).

      For the rest, it is still technical but for example the Solaris synth that runs natively at 24/96 offers a much higher quality than the same algos at 24/44 or 48 . This is about aliasing at high frequencies.

      For the rest, frankly, I would agree with the people who compare the process of acknowledging a better quality with video. As long as you don’t experience the higher resolution, you are satisfied with your current resolution, until you see the difference. Then you want to upgrade once you have experienced the better quality.

      Myself, I found that there are some occasion where an mp3 sounds better than the original file, because it is normalized (in the sense of “looks like the norm”) and this is true *- for me – with some home mixed/mastered tracks. Converting to mp3 can improve it, not becauise it suddenly gains quality, but because it ressembles to other tracks (ie, a sound that you know and that you can understand easily).

      • MDTI

        >>>128 was ok in the early days as it was stellar quality compared to… Real Audio.

        people immediately recognized that the mp3@128 was better.
        They are still recognizing that 256 is better than 128
        Today, when you submit a track for online distribution, it is better to send a 320k mp3, because some shops sell those and don’t sell 256 anymore.

        slow process.

      • MDTI

        >>>>Then you want to upgrade once you have experienced the better quality.

        And the only difference betwen video and music – in my own eyes and ears – is that in video industry, I know a lot of professionals who don’t give a damn about the higher resolution, contrary to the audio professionals. That’s the only real difference for me 🙂

      • wallow-T

        “128 was ok in the early days as it was stellar quality compared to… Real Audio).”

        I always feel I have to stand up for the great technologies of the past. Real Audio’s chief virtue, for its day, was that it could negotiate the stream data rate up and down to adjust for bandwidth conditions, which were quite variable in those days, with a considerable population still using dial-up.

        MP3 streams would just stop working if one didn’t have a good high-speed connection; Real would negotiate down, and down, and down… if it was a program I really wanted to listen to, and the network was not kind, I might find myself listening at 11K. Good times! (Remember, the alternative to degraded Real Audio was not listening to BBC DJs John Peel or Charlie Gillett at all.)

        • mdti

          That’s true, and I actually tried to run an audio service with real audio to promote newly signed bands, in 1996/1997 or so), and , beleive or not, I had signed authorizations from producers in major companies such as universal or sony for the bands I wanted to promote, something that would not happen a few years later. I also tried the competition, liquid audio, which was less good than real audio (more hiccups etc).

          But when mp3 became available, you could reach a quality near FM radio, and you could also bet on the evolution of the connections from dial up modem to RNIS (if i remember) and a few years later ADSL arrived and that changed the game compeletely.

          became popular and allowed to grab a record and make it available for download on your own computer. That completely changed 2 things:
          – the interest of listeners as well as musician toward online music listening/downloading etc
          – the interest of labels and major companies which saw that as a threat, and began to “retreat” from online venture and refused mp3 globally.

          mp3 was a game changer, for better or worst, depends where you stood.

          Real audio was something more interesting in terms of music promotion, i would totally agree to this.

      • Anonymous

        “What I have been told, by a guy who won an industry award for recording and mixing a celine dion live tour, is that 24/192, or even 24/96 is more for the sound engineer who access more dynamic range and can mix better in terms of relative gains and frequencies”

        He told you the truth.

        “(btw: never saw a 128k mp3 file for sale”

        That’s what iTunes used to sell. Many still have them though iTunes Match can fix them today, and they are solely to blame for mp3s current reputation. Nobody can tell 320s from CDs.

  6. MDTI

    and comparing mp3 to meth and drugs in general is just..well you know… ok see you later !

  7. Willia

    Based upon the quality of an MP3, the drug to be equated to is the lowest form of street mix, cut with antifreeze.

    • Anonymous

      And yet, even audio professionals have a hard time telling high resolution mp3s from CD quality…

  8. David Hyman

    all the people outside the music industry who don’t complain about mp3s? well they didn’t complain about cassettes either until the compact disc came out. they didn’t complain about vhs until dvd came out. hard to complain about what you’ve never had a taste of.

    • mdti

      We alwaus complained about cassettes ! I began recording music with my band on a cassette 4 tracks.
      It was hell, alays looking for the best tape, “metal” i remember, and they had to be stored well, and the tape could go crazy, and there is degradation happening fast and the tape that goes out of the case, and the tape “eaten” by the player, etc etc. But that was the only possibility when computer did not exist and you didn’t have the money to upgrade to studio quality tapes (reel to reel). The DAT was a great improvement, but it was still a tape.

  9. John Hamm, PonoMusic

    As the CEO of PonoMusic, I’m in the “better quality digital music file” conversation all day, every day – with artists, recording and mastering engineers, music label people, and – most importantly, music lovers (consumers) of all technical levels, from hard core audiophiles to completely non-technical consumers who just love music, love to listen to music, and have a very keen sense of what music means to them, emotionally.
    I will say, with no reservation whatsoever, that the vast majority of people I’ve ever met can very easily – with no effort or strain or great analysis – discern the difference between mp3s and the same song in CD quality or higher digital resolution. And none of the people I’ve ever witnessed make this comparison would prefer a lower quality, less revealing, less emotionally engaging experience if they had the choice, given a similar price and similar ease of use. The idea that “people” can not hear this difference is just categorically not true, in my substantial personal experience of conducting this experiment, albeit non-scientifically. It is a more interesting conversation to discuss how many people will pay for this difference, what it is worth to different consumer segments, and the listening environments (home, portable/mobile, car, active listening, etc.) and playback scenarios (music player, headphones, stereos, etc.) that support different quality/price/convenience tradeoffs. There is no monolithic “customer” and there is nothing that all “people” do. Music, like every other consumer product, attracts different customers to different quality price/convenience scenarios, and there are very large niches of music, consisting of millions of people each, that do not represent the “mass consumer” trends that attract most of the popular media attention.
    There is a very healthy conversation emerging about the quality of digital music – and what will ultimately emerge is choice. We believe that every music consumer should be able to choose the quality, the convenience, and the price of recorded music that matches their music values. Music is one of the “arts” that adds to the richness of our lives, and any and all efforts to advance the quality and emotional satisfaction of the listening experience of recorded music should be supported and celebrated.

    • Anonymous

      “the vast majority of people I’ve ever met can very easily – with no effort or strain or great analysis – discern the difference between mp3s and the same song in CD quality or higher digital resolution”

      Sorry Mr. Hamm, but that’s just not true.

      Unless of course you are referring to 128s — but why would you do that? iTunes haven’t sold them since 2009.

      Here are the facts: Blind tests show that even engineers can’t tell current 256s from CDs. And 256s are what we’re discussing here.

      So please prove your claims, by participating in a public ABX test, or back off.

      • Anonymous

        Gotta love anonymous commenters… they believe in their point of view so much, they wouldn’t dare be known for what they say…

        • Anonymous

          Dear Anonymous, 🙂

          I just asked Mr. Hamm to prove his outrageous claims. And you know what?

          He can’t do it.

  10. Anonymous

    OK, here’s a test everybody can take!

    Now, don’t cheat — 🙂 and don’t be depressed by the fact that you can’t tell a 246kbps iTunes clip from true 24/44.

    Almost nobody can. Not even audio professionals.

    Links usually take a few hours to pass through DMNs spam filters, so I’ll post this one in a separate comment below. If you want to take the test right now, then paste the following line into Google’s search field

    “Take Our Audio Poll: Do We Need High-Definition Sound?”

    Go ahead — it’s super fun!

    • Anonymous

      Only if you don’t have a soul. Music is art. You don’t compress or downscale art!!

      • mdti

        well, check my next post because that’s exactly why i think the dabate is biased

      • Anonymous

        “You don’t compress or downscale art”

        You don’t compress… music? 🙂

        At any rate, blind tests are the scientific gold standard for cases like this.

        They are globally accepted as the only reliable way to tell medicin from snakeoil.

        • jw

          Having people play wav files through their browser is hardly a gold standard of anything.

          • Anonymous

            So your browser somehow modifies audo files? 🙂

            Like I said, this test is for everybody. It’s an easy and funny way to see for yourself that you can’t tell iTunes quality from CD quality.

            49% got it right…

            A flip of a coin would be accurate.

            But I’m not saying this is the test Mr. Hamm and Mr. Young should take.

            On the contrary: They need to take a public, double blind ABX test if they wish to prove their claims.

            And that will never happen!

          • Anonymous

            “It’s an easy and funny way to see for yourself that you can’t tell iTunes quality from CD quality.”

            …except the .wavs were in fact 24 bit, so it should be even easier to tell the difference.

            But it wasn’t…

        • jw

          Here’s the thing, anonymous. Supposing a user is playing the wavs back on a system where the difference could be recognized, how are they supposed to respond? Suppose they recognize that one file is louder than the other… is that a result of compression inherent to the file format, or is it because the larger file has more data? Suppose they recognize that the guitars are more prominent in one file… is that the result of, again, compression, or is it a result of a better soundstage? You need some sort of background in how these different formats make audio behave before you can match a clip to a format.

          If you’re really interested in the gold standard of scientific tests, the question should be “Do you hear a difference? And if so, what differences do you hear?” And then you explain to the subject what they’re hearing, because you’re the expert, not the test subject. You’re putting far too much responsibility on the shoulder of the user for the results to have any value. The test is flawed because it’s effectively asking the user “Which do you prefer?,” because the user will inevitably perceive that to be the higher quality file. But HD audio isn’t about preference, it’s about accuracy. Consider this… my Grado SR225i headphones are the same price as the Beats Studios… is the average consumer going to recognize how clear & flat my Grados are & judge them to be more accurate, & therefore higher quality? Or are they going to recognize the bass response of the Beats & judge them to be higher quality? Very often it’s going to be the latter, even if that’s coloring the playback, & that is the bias built into your test.

          And maybe consumers like & even want their music compressed to hell, but is that a learned preference, as an outgrowth of convenience/limitations of modern playback equipment? And if that’s the case, as people who know better, shouldn’t we be trying to stem the proverbial tide? Neil Young is arguing that it’s up to the artist to decide what sounds better, and a lot of consumers are content to say, “Don’t force me to do a comparison test and decide… it’s your art, make the decision for me.”

          But, for me, what it really comes down to isn’t the A/B testing. I converted a 24/96 rip of Fleetwood Mac’s Second Hand News to mp3 (encoded with Lame with APS settings), & I let the two loop in my headphones until I forgot which is which, & I would wince on Mick’s open hi-hat chirps at a specific part of the time, & I’d look back at VLC & without fail it would be because the mp3 version was playing. Listening to higher quality encodings (or vinyl records) is just more comfortable. Sure, it’s pronounced at certain frequencies & at certain volumes, but I think that subconsciously we’re always reacting to the compression & distortion, whether or not we consciously recognize it.

          I’ll give you one thing, the difference is subtle, and I think that a lot of people think that the difference is more pronounced than it actually is because, like you mentioned, they’re listening to different mixes of the same material. But isn’t that a point unto itself? With this new groundswell of consumer support for vinyl records and HD digital audio, people are saying, “We want the best quality available. We don’t want our music compromised by how it’s going to sound through Apple earbuds or laptop speakers. We are investing in playback equipment, we want uncompromised audio to play through them.” Regardless of whether you think that sampling theorem is the end all or the file size give-and-take of HD flac files, there is an argument to be made for, not just 16/44 audio mixed for “one size fits all,” but for releases that are tailored to high quality playback systems. (Yes, this has been tried before, but it was tied to dvd home theater systems. With the flexibility of modern digital audio, the time is right for this type of format.)

          • Anonymous

            “Supposing a user is playing the wavs back on a system where the difference could be recognized, how are they supposed to respond? Suppose they recognize that one file is louder than the other… is that a result of compression inherent to the file format, or is it because the larger file has more data?”

            What you are saying is, in short, what you also repeat later: That the difference is subtle.

            And yes jw, there is a difference.

            Ask any bat, dog or whale.

            But the sad thing is that nobody can pinpoint exactly what that difference is — let alone if it’s good or bad, desireable or not.

            So don’t you think we need just a tiny bit more evidence — as opposed to hearsay, belief, anecdotes, superstition and snakeoil hype — before we ask consumers and studios to invest in the biggest and most expensive audio ‘upgrade’ since vinyl?

          • jw

            I don’t really understand what you’re saying.

            Where is the cost to the studio? No one is recording at 16/44. Nothing has to change. The only thing that’s really changing is the format of the final mixdown, which is a fraction of the size of the project file itself. Either way, Moores law says that data storage capacity doubles every two years… there’s no argument for data storage costs.

            And to the consumer, Moores’ law is also applicable. And if, for instance, Apple is building support into devices consumers already own, what is the cost?

            If what you’re saying is, “should we be encouraging consumers to buy better playback systems,” my answer is a resounding yes. Absolutely. Why wouldn’t we?

            No one is saying that all audio should be 24/192. What the internet allows for is choice… consumers should be able to purchase the format that they desire, according to their playback system.

            But maybe I’m missing something… what are the expenses?

          • Anonymous

            “what are the expenses?”

            You would have to remaster all your catalogues. Consumers would be asked to buy them. For the n’th time. That’s what happens when you go from one format to another. It’s expensive, and nobody’s going to pay for it.

            Then there are the other issues: Post-tape content that only exists as 16/44. Material that simply can’t be remastered for a number of trivial reasons, including original software that just can’t run on modern machines.

            It would be expensive, it would be a mess and it wouldn’t do you any good — unless you’re in the hd audio business like Mr. Hamm.

            Let’s encourage music fans to upgrade their terrible earbuds and interfaces instead. That’s make an instant and dramatic difference. And that’s the only way to satisfy their hunger for wonderful sound.

          • jw

            Again, where are the costs to the studio? If anything, this should be great for studios as time has to be booked for remastering.

            Labels will incur a cost for the remastering, but remastering happens all of the time, anyways. Almost any album that will have a demand for HD audio has already probably been remastered several times, already, & for new releases, the cost of releasing an additional HD version isn’t substantial. Certainly much cheaper than releasing an album on vinyl.

            You’re creating a false scenarios left & right. Consumers can pick & choose what they want… that’s the beauty of digital audio, is that your files don’t have to all be one format. If a consumer wants to have their entire collection at 16/44, & then 3 or 4 albums they really love at 24/96, they can. Only albums with a proven demand for HD audio needs to be remastered. If it’s going to make money, labels will find a way to remaster the album.

            And the consumers who are calling for HD audio have already upgraded from their earbuds & their laptop speakers. They pre-ordered a Pono player, or they already have an X5 or a Z2. They have a decent pair of headphones, or a nice stereo. No one believes that HD audio is going to sound any better through cheap equipment… this is a format for people who have already upgraded their playback system.

            Should consumers with terrible playback systems upgrade? Yes, absolutely, without question. Should consumers who have upgraded their playback system have an option for a format that isn’t hampered by the “one size fits all” mastering that must account for earbuds & laptop speakers? Yes, absolutely, without question.

            You’re inferring that everyone should buy better speakers, & then when that becomes the norm, we can master for that scenario. But I’m saying that the beauty of digital distribution & the flexibility of digital audio allow for these two paths to diverge, & for everyone to get what they want. The availability of the file format will actually promote the upgrade of playback systems, which is what you seem to want.

            I don’t see any of your arguments against the format holding any water, outside of the sampling theorem, which a lot of anecdotal evidence disputes… which, along with my own ears, are enough to convince me.

          • Anonymous

            You’re not listening to the consumers, probably because you don’t have to, but here’s one thing they keep saying:

            “Don’t force us to buy the same sh!t over and over again! You did it with casettes, you did it with CDs and you did it with downloads. Please don’t do it again ever, thank you very much!”

            As for the money: Yes, consumers and labels would have to pay a lot for your little adventure, but so would an increasing number of independent studios owned by independent musicians such as yours truly.

            And I honestly don’t know where that all cash would come from in the current climate. Do you?

            But I do know how I would spend it if it were there:

            I’d produce a lot of exciting new music by exciting new artists instead of releasing pointless copies of old stuff that no one can tell from the previous three versions.

          • jw

            No one’s forcing anyone to buy anything. That’s the point. The format is digital. It’s downloads or it’s streaming or whatever… HD audio is not a new baseline format, it’s a premium option for consumers who have that desire. People who don’t want to replace anything don’t have to. No one is making that argument. This is not a format transition, format transitions are over… it’s a supplemental format. Most consumers who don’t want to play back HD audio can’t play HD audio, anyhow. You’re buying HD audio because you’ve invested in the hardware to play it. There’s a built in demand there… no one is lobbying your mom to replace all of her Hall & Oates iTunes digital downloads. And your fans probably don’t care to have your music in HD, so that’s a non-issue, but you should consider releasing your music at FLAC 16/44, because there is a growing demand. (Of course if you’re using a platform like Bandcamp, this is built in & you’re ahead of the curve.)

            Eventually HD, or at least 16/44, will become premium streaming… that’s horizon here, where ownership and the concept of “replacement” no longer even exists.

            Yes, some consumers are saying, “We don’t want to replace our stuff.” But those people aren’t the demographic for HD audio.

            And re: where to spend the money, the split between current & catalog sales is almost 50/50, & the investment in remastering an in demand catalog release for a new digital distribution is minuscule compared to the cost of launching a new act or recording a new record. The ROI is strongly in favor of supporting catalog remasters. Which are going to happen anyways… remastering, whether for improved fidelity or just marketing, happen all of the time. I mean every month remastered catalog albums are released… there are entire labels dedicated solely to that (Legacy Recordings, Rhino, etc.). And if this format takes off, it could potentially create a lot of revenue for the labels, who would then presumably pump that money into new artists.

            What you seem to be missing is that there are many different types of consumers. Your fans are obviously a specific type of consumer, who probably listen through earbuds & aren’t interested in replacing their mp3 collection. There’s a whole different type of consumer who already owns Paul McCartney’s Ram on multiple formats, but that doesn’t stop him or her from spending $100 on the new deluxe reissue box set. Just look at the inventory on popmatters.com… there are outrageously priced reissues that are going to be released on vinyl or at 16/44 no matter what, it’s a small additional price to remaster these releases for 24/48-96-192.

          • Anonymous

            …also, I agree that the current consumer interest in alternative formats is extremely important. There is definitely a sincere desire for better sound out there.

            And here’s why: The listening equipment most of us use today is the worst in 50 years.

            I mean, MacBook speakers! People had better gear in the 1940s.

            What I’m saying is that people are looking in all the wrong places. There are no magic hd-bullets, no cheap shortcuts. Better hardware is the only solution.

  11. mdti

    There is something i did not see in any reply.

    The real problem is that, as long as labels, radios and promoters will require that the tracks are matsered at 0 dB RMS (which is thecurrent standard whatever you say or would like) , there will be a limit to the quality.

    Mastering, done at industry standartds, will degrade the quality of the mix and will dump some frequencies. There is a loss of quality, in terms of dynamic, that means the way the track breath.

    In my opinion, that is why after a certain threshold, there will be no improvmement, because the tracks has been set to a standard made for FM brodcast, not for audiophile experience – and I know that mastering improves the amount of details, but it suppress the depth that allowed subtleties, and the fact that some sounds could only be discovered by the fans, ie after a few listenings, not immediately.
    In thge 80’s, i remember that i just loved when i ould discover a sound or an effects long after i bought the record, and even when i thoiught i knew the track by heart.

    Myself, in the process of mastering my own tracks, i begin to wonder whether I should do it at industry standard or to my own criterias, making them less loud than commercial tracks, but more respectful of the qualities developped during the mix. That require dimension (dynamic, air ) rather than a full spectrum of frequencies. the way things ‘melt’ together creating a groove: i could never retain that quality after sending to several different mastering studios.

    So quality is not necessarily the spectrum range, but contains other “dimensions”.

    do you agree?

    • mdti

      thanks to excuse the annoying mis-spelling, due to my typing very fast 😉

    • Anonymous

      “i begin to wonder whether I should do it at industry standard or to my own criterias, making them less loud than commercial tracks, but more respectful of the qualities developped during the mix”

      Now, that’s an entirely different and much more interesting discussion.

      I personally like brick walls 🙂 but they’re definitely not suited for everything.

      And my god, the stuff we lose in mastering… if only consumers could hear the music the way it really sounds in Logic or PT.

      Give them that opportunity and it will be a real revolution.

      But again, it’s crucial for consumers to understand that the dynamic range compression that takes place during mix and mastering has nothing to do with the file reducing data compression that turns a 24/96 file into a 256kbps AAC.

      • mdti

        >>>I personally like brick walls 🙂

        me too, except when it begins to saturates, which seems to be the “norm” nowadays.

  12. Anonymous

    I have two great sound systems at home, a high quality component system and a shockingly fabulous LG shelf system on the porch. People are amazed at the sound quality of the LG. Phone bluetoothed in and I’m rocking the neighborhood at Club Loud volume.

  13. Mark Schwendau

    Those of us riding Harley’s listen to music in a combination of ways on our ‘infotainment” systems. My first choice is my FM radio but it fades as we travel the hills and valleys pretty quickly. Next, we may use our onboard CD player. Most recently we have been using the 4G Smartphone with downloaded iTunes. We can also use Pandora but prefer calling our own shots with downloaded music.