Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Great Compression

WE LOVE Proper Discord, it is our NEW FAVORITE CLASSICAL BLOG; yet another post here deflating conventional wisdom. This time he's taking on the old lament about how mp3s are another sign that the kids today are forgoing quality in favor of convenience, and how if you're really serious about music you'll buy CDs instead, and how the iTunes store is rotting our nation's moral fibre. Well, maybe a little! But, here, Professor Propz handily/wittily demonstrates that the difference between uncompressed and lossily compressed audio is in fact scarcely audible at all. (Take his test, and then you can see how you fared when the answers are revealed.) The ever-belligerent A.C. Douglas, Old Faithful of classical trolls, lets loose right on schedule with his usual gaseous eruption:
If you’re using the ordinary MP3 audio system like, say, the audio system on your computer or an iPod, you probably won’t notice any difference between the clips. If, however, you’re using a high-priced, high-quality audio system (the two aren’t necessarily the same thing), you’ll notice the difference immediately. Given the ubiquitousness of the iPod and other crap audio systems, you’d be pretty stupid to pay out more bucks and give up more storage space for a CD-quality MP3.
Which—what? An iPod is a crap system? What is he talking about? In fact, the iPod is a pretty decent piece of hardware: the digital-to-analog converter in some models in fact the same as you'll find in high-end, audiophile components; there's no power cord to generate noise; the internal connections (since the device is so tiny) are extremely short and therefore less likely to make trouble than the connections inside your CD player. It has its problems, but it's far from "crap." And so our host responds:
I can’t believe that you have used an iPod to play back any of the lossless formats it supports through good-quality headphones and still think it is a “crap audio system”. I worry that if your idea of “mediocre” starts somewhere beyond this, then you’re hardly typical of even classical music purchasers – indeed it may well be that your idea of “good” surpasses the quality of the electronics used to record most classical albums in the first place.
To which, "Let me guess," ACD suggests; "You think Bose is a high-end, top quality audio system, right? I’d also guess you’re under 30." In other words, the answer is no. No, A.C. Douglas has never listened to a high-quality sound file on an iPod; he is speaking from sheer ignorance; his only response is to accuse his interlocutor of being—shock!—young.

I would actually be a little surprised to learn that Proper Discord is under 30, considering how knowledgeably and capably he writes. It would seem to me that he has some real experience listening to, writing about, and working with classical music. In ACD's spirit of enlightened debate, however, let me suggest that Douglas is over 70, monstrously obese, lonely and sad. Anybody taking wagers?


Proper Discord said...

Aww. Thanks.

Can nobody in this whole country have an argument without demanding to see a birth certificate?

I'd be wasting my time if everybody agreed with me, but I did rather hope that the quality of debate would be a bit better than this.

One might think that the audiophiles would be the folks best-placed to pick holes in the science. There's certainly some mileage in that approach. I encouraged people to do it, because I'm interested in knowing what the results really tell us. Instead, this is what we get.

I'll post the results on Monday. Have a nice weekend.

Maury D'annato said...

Oh hey mazel tov, this posting just won my Liz Phair prize for being "obnoxious, funny, true, and mean."

It's a hard debate for me even to participate in. I'm fine with the sound quality on that Widdop/Ljunberg Wagner '78 you know? Approximating actual experience of sitting in an orchestra hall isn't truly what I'm after when I listen to recordings. Wondering now if I'm alone in this. $4K vacuum tube stereo recievers seem like a particularly uninteresting kind of madness to me, and (more obviously) conspicuous consumption.

I think my basic feeling on the matter boils down to "if Corelli's voice still produces that stimulation akin to [omit here a reference to the unspeakable vice of the Greeks] then the sound quality is fine."

Anonymous said...

We want to see DSJ on BloggingHeads.TV up against ACD, all 312 lbs and 73 hot-aired years of him.