17 Things That Prove Sound Quality Doesn’t Matter…

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Things that are popular:

1. YouTube

2. iTunes

3. Spotify

4. MP3s

5. White earbuds

6. FM Radio

7. Pandora

8. Beats Headphones


Things that aren’t popular:

9. iTunes Plus


11. High-end stereo systems

12. Expensive speakers

Things that aren’t as popular as people say they are:

13. Vinyl

Things that are dead:

14. SD-Audio

15. DVD-Audio

16. Quadrophonic Sound

17. PONO


Image of Apple white earbuds after gong through the washing machine, and still working, by JD Hancock (licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 (CC by 2.0).

36 Responses

  1. john

    Still hating the dog pic but love the jab at neil young and pono.

    btw, young pulled all his shit from streaming service. good riddance! fuck that guy.

    “Total Hypocrite” – Don Trump

  2. Me

    iTunes Plus is the format – 256 kbps AAC – that is used for music sold and streamed by Apple. So why is iTunes popular and iTunes Plus not popular?

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Right. Audio quality tends to improve in services over time. But the point is that most consumers didn’t react to iTunes Plus, because they really don’t care that much.

      • Name2

        Audio quality tends to improve in services over time.

        Complete and utter horseshit.

        I know that that URL you pulled is dated 2015, but you do realize, don’t you, that “iTunes Plus” was rolled out in 2007? When Apple were finally free to go to 256kbps AAC?

        And that 256kbps AAC is still the state of the art over there? So tell us about the positive correlation between time and fidelity. Show your work.

        • Paul Resnikoff

          Bigger picture. Remember, bandwidth still matters, and storage capacities for that matter. These are practical constraints, that are slowly easing over time.

          • Name2

            And yet, Apple – the savior of music – hasn’t changed its fidelity since 2007 except to introduce “Mastered for iTunes”.

    • Johnny D


      I believe it’s ultimately just because of marketing. YES, I agree consumers don’t know the difference. They downgraded to mp3’s because they were told to by Steve Jobs when he promoted the first iPod (remember 1,000 songs in your pocket?). Now more than ever, high quality audio does not require a massive investment of hardware (that is only accessible in the home therefore NOT in the car) to enjoy it. Once consumers believe that EVERYONE is doing it they will embrace high quality audio just like they do for free tap water in a bottle (that’s sold for twice the price of gasoline), Air Jordan’s, The Pet Rock, Tickle Me Elmo, etc., If people were only about spending money on the things they truly understand or otherwise being pragmatic, everyone would drive a Hyundai, wear cheap shoes, and shop at WalMart. Once we convince consumers better quality is worth it (for what ever reason, if not just vanity) we can give the 24bit/192k file players away and make money on the $3 tracks for Super HD Audio (just like Gillette gives the razors away and makes money on the blades.) That would put a 10 song record in the $30 range where it was in 1978 (inflationary adjusted pricing, of course)

  3. cuz

    So by the same logic, because more people eat mcdonalds than wagyu beef, food quality doesn’t matter? etc.etc.etc.

    Why not allow a world where music can be listened to at a variety of qualities, depending on the user’s tastes? Like the one we’ve been happily expanding for the last 40-50 years?

    Can’t do that, then there’d be nothing to write idiotic clickbait lists about, would there?

    • Paul Resnikoff

      It’s not that sound quality isn’t intrinsically a worthwhile pursuit, it’s that most people don’t care about it. It’s sort of like the high-end kobe beef restaurant in NY. Most people (a) can’t afford it, (b) don’t know it exists, and (c) would rather eat at Olive Garden.

      • Name2

        But unlike the music industry, the Olive Garden knows you can’t charge premium prices for downmarket slop.

        Even promoters have realized that while EVERY act has followers who will pay premium prices for some experiences, for the most part you probably can’t fill up a stadium with them.

      • Anonymous

        “most people don’t care about it”

        That’s one way to interpret your list.

        I think people do care about sound, though — they just don’t know the most cost-effective ways to improve it:

        Buy cheap headphones instead of earbuds/laptop-speakers!

        Next level: Mid-range headphones.
        Next level: Any decent stereo system.
        Next level: Expensive headphones.
        Next level: Studio converters/monitors (they will make your record library sound like shit though; i.e. full of pops and clicks and weird fret/vocal noises).

        Vinyl and CD-quality (or better) files don’t make any difference unless you’re in a studio environment — and then you already know that vinyl sucks (you can make easily an mp3 sound like vinyl, but the opposite is impossible), and hi-res files only make sense for mixing/mastering.

        :) The real Anonymous :)

      • cuz

        There is a world of difference between “most people don’t care about it” and “it doesn’t matter”.

        Most people don’t care about this site – does it matter? To a few, I’m sure it does.

  4. Randall

    “Proves” it doesn’t matter to who? Katy Perry fans? Not a good argument here Paul.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Actually yes, Katy Perry fans, for example, which represent a massive number of consumers… in bulk and in tonnage. The number of people that care about a 180-gram Papa John Misty vinyl release in comparison is painfully smaller. Or, the same number that care about listening to Mahler in HD. I can probably have a real conversation with the latter two, and so can you, but that’s not the point.

  5. Name2

    19 things which prove that it does: the $19.99 a month I pay to Tidal.

    Meanwhile, I’ve spent $10 at itunes in the last ten years, so you do the math.

    You can choose not to chase audiences that actually spend $$ on music, but hey, it’s a free country.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Wait, what? That proves nothing, except that you, ie, one person, is paying $19.99 a month for better sound quality. That’s an anecdote, and a fringe exception.

  6. Name2

    What is the sound of one hand clapping?

    Is it anything like clickbait without ads?

  7. Noah

    Paul, you listed very few legitimate examples.
    MP3 is what spotify (and many other “HQ” services use, so that’s redundant.
    There are expensive earbuds that don’t suck and are white.
    Also, Spotify is the same quality (if not, slightly higher) as iTunes plus.

    So………. yea.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Redundant means the same thing. MP3 is a file format, used independently of platforms since the 90s. Overlapping, sometimes.

    • Name2

      Vast swaths of Spotify streams are 320kbps, although Spotify prefers to not mention which ones. If ever in doubt (and you’re a premium Spotify subscriber), download and run “Fidelify” for your desktop system, which will tell you the real bitrate of whatever you’re streaming.

  8. Me2

    My 8 yr old niece cranks the volume on her battle worn 7 inch tablet and thumb slams the YouTube play button to hear music.

    A friend of mine (who is a mom) just discovered that her iPhone can plug into the car stereo.. “OMG it sounds so much better than when I just put the phone in the cup holder”.

    That’s where it’s at.

  9. sound quality

    18. early live recordings of billie holiday

    • Name2

      Not sure why PONO is bolded and saved for last. Its music store has undergone some recent improvements, its hi-res offerings usually beat HDTracks.com on price, and as a piece of hardware, I appreciate having a portable, NO-INTERFERENCE source of music with a line-out when I needs some 192/24 Joni in my home office – a piece of hardware that was, with one exception at the time, the only offering under four figures at retail.

      If Neil closed pono’s doors tomorrow, he’d have done more for “Digital Music” that the sorry lot here.

      • Name2

        Didn’t mean to reply to “sound quality” just then, but since we’re here – billie holiday live boots? Without video?

        Again… booooooooor-ing!!!!!

  10. Ariel

    Wait cheap stuff is more popular than expensive stuff!?

  11. Cassandra @ The Huge Anime Fan blog

    I have to agree with vinyl. I am a 1994 born millennial and no matter how much the music industry wants to push vinyl on us the consumers I still remain unconvinced. I’ll stick to Collector’s Edition/Limited Edition releases of artists I like such as TK from Ling Tosite Sigure or Ling Tosite Sigure but I still remain unmoved by “the vinyl”. No offense to those who work in the music industry. Between the two physical format options I still prefer CDs.

  12. Tony Drootin

    Sound quality does matter. The fact is that most people don’t know the difference. The same can be said for musical taste. Most consumers don’t appreciate someone who has studied music all their life and mastered an instrument or their vocal. They prefer someone taking a picture on a tarmac in front of a Jet and a Bentley surrounded by girls. They have no talent other than to make money from nothing…doesn’t mean the musician who studied isn’t more talented. It just means people don’t know better.

  13. Troglite

    I think audio quality COULD be am important factor if it was used within a broader windowing strategy.

    Free, ad-supported platforms could be limited to very low quality audio and video quality for professional, commercial works (but you can keep uploading those car videos in 1080 hd).

  14. begrudging

    I really don’t like to agree with DMN, but you couldn’t be more right this time Paul. Sorry Neil, and the Tidal crew, but shut up, you are not helping

    • Name2

      Yeah! We want to degrade quality more and more and more, and simultaneously charge more and more and more.

      Our plan can’t fail, except for you meddling kids who offer less degradation and have been the only sector able to increase the price of purchased music since about, 1997.