by Mike Masnick
Wed, Sep 12th 2007 12:05pm
It seems that with every new generation of music delivery, there are going to be people who complain that the quality just isn't up to par with what came before. Remember when CDs first came out, there were quite a few upturned noses who insisted the sound quality just couldn't compete with vinyl LPs. And now that mp3s are becoming the standard, folks are complaining that the quality simply can't live up to CDs. This has certainly gone on for a while, as we've noted there are even online stores that cater to audiophiles who believe that compressed mp3s just aren't worth listening to. However, now it's going even further, as the WSJ claims that some audio engineers are saying that the popularity of mp3s and iPods is ruining music. The theory is that audio engineers are using iPods and mp3s as the lowest common denominator for recordings. Since they know that so many people are going to end up hearing the song just through the cheap white earbuds of an iPod, that they don't bother to make a high quality recording that would sound better on high end stereo equipment. Thus, the claim goes, pretty much all music is sounding somewhat crappy, and it's turning people off from the latest crop of new songs. In other words, music is less popular today, because the songs are engineered to sound like crap. This seems silly. It's certainly a different argument than the industry's typical claim that downloads are killing the music business -- but it's equally ridiculous. Sure, there may be some engineers who are doing a cruddy job in engineering the music, but as one audio engineer in the story notes, there's no reason to ever engineer a song "down" to mp3 levels. Instead, you should just engineer it to a higher level and it'll sound fine on a CD as well on an iPod. However, to put the whole thing in perspective: songs compressed to mp3 level certainly do lose some quality at the margin, but there's only a small group of audiophiles who really care or will notice on a regular basis. At the same time, compare that to how much more music is being produced today thanks to cheaper production tools and easier distribution of music through the internet, and I think you could make the case that the mp3 and the iPod has done a lot more to improve music than to hurt it.
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