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ARSCLIST  January 2008

ARSCLIST January 2008

Subject:

Re: The "dumbing down" of Downloaded Recordings

From:

Roger and Allison Kulp <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 25 Jan 2008 14:56:51 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (95 lines)

http://www.rollingstone.com/rockdaily/index.php/2007/12/27/special-report-the-death-of-high-fidelity-in-the-age-of-mp3s-sound-quality-is-worse-than-ever/

 I see there are currently twenty posts in this topic.I do not download music from the web,except for a few well transferred 78 rarities from members of the Google classical group,and probably never will.I do stream,though.As I said to Tom offlist,there is a great variance in the quality of one stream to another,just as there is among the sound of one radio station to another.

What a lot of people do not seem to realize,is I believe we are  in the transitionary phase of a dramatic paradigm shift in the way recorded music is sold,and distributed.Basically the end of all physical formats of recorded music, as a whole. Yes there will still be new vinyl and CDs pressed,but they will be limited edition runs sold on eBay,Amazon,or label/artist websites.That will be it,period.The other option will be CD-Rs burned on demand,like Smithsonian/Folkways offers. The retail store selling new vinyl/CDs will go the way of Betamax in the next few years,"collectors" stores aside.

Yes most people currently listen to music on  computer speakers,or through an iPod,but  bad sounding playback has always been the standard for the masses too ignorant to know better.Before the iPod,there was the walkman,and the 8-track.Before that,the transistor radio,and the cheapo Sears Silvertone/ Woolworth's  Audition phonograph.Hell,when electrical  recording was introduced in 1925,I don't think there was a rush to get rid of the old hand cranked machines.


This is nothing new.This argument has been played out in the pages of magazines,like "Goldmine",and "The Absolute Sound" for at least the last two decades now.

I don't think we will see any real change in the audio quality of downloaded files,until the players most people use Real,iTunes,QuickTime,offer FLAC versions.Or there are competitively priced audio components for the computer . Not everybody can afford a $2000 Logitec.While I will not pay for "non physical media",as you put it,I am more than willing to pay for a superior downloadable media player.

Your assessment about quality plateauing  with the CD is an accurate one,it definitely went downhill from there

 You mention the hideous Dynafloppies,and the other godawful US major label pressings from the 70s,but don't forget this was also the time that most record stores  began to have "import" sections,and were more than willing to special order superior European,or Japanese pressings,if a customer was willing to pay extra for them,and wait a week or two.

There will always be a new generation of record/CD collectors,who will discover the good stuff they were not around for,be it from the 1970s,or the 1920s.Usually about the time they hit their twenties.Yes vinyl is better than CDs,I have a record collection that is slowly edging up towards 20,000 pieces,byt nary a single CD. But I can appreciate what those who make high end equipment have done to inprove the playback of an essentially flawed format.

                                   Roger

Bruce Kinch <[log in to unmask]> wrote: 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 
oldest professions.

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 
disc.

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 
Devil.

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 
Enron-ed.

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?

Bruce
       
---------------------------------
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