The recording industry is a commercial venture. In that arena,
decisions follow the money. Compression saves bandwidth on download,
and facilitates the sale of cheaper portable players and cell phones
with smaller capacities. If you can get money for a file, that must be
mostly profit. Money for nuthin', and chicks for a fee, the world's two
There are some who figure to gain from those who can hear a difference,
like www.musicgiants.com or www.highdeftapetransfers.net.
There may be others, and it is worth supporting them if you are into
paying for non-physical media. My kids don't pay.
The history of recorded audio quality can be easily graphed, rising
from acoustic to electric, 78 to LP. The cost per unit to the
manufacturer and customer falls in real dollars until the oil crisis of
the 70s, when it rises, despite the likes of Dynaflex pressings.
The quality curve plateaus with the introduction of the CD. The
engineering group assures the marketing folks the sound quality is
mathematically impeccable and the polycarbonate much more durable than
vinyl, and cheaper to boot. That becomes Perfect Sound Forever. This
despite the fact that the audiophile/critical community actually
compares the media and finds CD sound inferior in many respects to
quality (as distinct from mass-market) analog reproduction, tape or
The unit cost of manufacturing CDs declines dramatically, but the
consumer price migrates upwards. "Popular" titles with dubious sonic
quality are then heavily discounted at wholesale to corporate chains
like Tower and Wal-Mart, who pass on the reduction to the public as
"loss leaders". This puts the small independent dealers out of
business, removing a lot of niche market genres like jazz, blues, and
classical from local distribution. Amazon figures this out,
fortunately, and musically eclectic consumers start acquiring their
music from Internet sources.
There are attempts at better mousetraps like SACD, HDCD, etc. but
issues like dual inventory, mediocre players, and the relative
sophistication of the average Circuit City salesbot make them
irrelevant. The market decides specialist audio stores are irrelevant,
and most shift their attention to Home Theater.
Most targeted consumers (10-20 years old) for two decades never
experience anything better than CD quality audio on boomboxes, and
studies show both unit sales of CDs and time listening to music
decline. Car audio takes over for many, then Walkman, portable CD, and
iPod. During the same period, musical education is cut from public
school curriculums as "fat", replaced apparently by the
teach-to-the-test demands of the under-funded No Child Left Behind
fiasco and pressure to add Intelligent Design to the curriculum by the
Left Behind folks, who hate the kids' music anyway as the work of the
Now some on the list may have already considered flaming these comments
in response, so I'll conclude.
The point here is that the "dumbing down" within the culture is
broad-spread because it is profitable. Improvement of anything is
expensive. If decisions are made by corporate CEOs with an eye on their
bonus rather than quality of product, disaster ensues. We are all being
Once CD quality audio was sold to the public as "Perfect", the equation
became simple. If the public will pay $X for Perfect, they will pay $Y
for something not as good (a tape cassette, or a download, for
example). If Perfect is perceived by consumers as poor value for money,
either the price comes down or they quality must go up, or sales
decline. Paying more for better than Perfect is a nonstarter, whether
you are a manufacturer or consumer. Unless, of course, you are among
the eBayers who will pay $100+ for vintage vinyl.
Given that CD quality sound has been accepted by the public as the
ultimate, the question for the music industry was simply how much more
quality can they throw away and still convince enough consumers that
they are listening to music?