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Young people prefer the sound of MP3s to uncompressed music (gizmodo.com)
36 points by markessien on Mar 11, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments

I, a creature of a different age, suffer a similar phenomenon. I have cherished old mix tapes that I prefer the sound of. I've tried recreating those tapes with playlists of perfectly ripped flac from cd's and they just don't have the same life.

I've gone so far as to record the tapes straight into flac and listen to those on my ipod instead.

I know every warble, wow, and flutter from those old tapes, I even have a rough chronology in my mind of when the tapes developed their defects. The too hot car stereo in my friends camero that summer day... that lousy walkman that tried to eat it.

I can play the modern digital copies in the right order till the cows come home and be unmoved but even a whisper of the noise between tracks on one of those old tapes and its '94 again and I'm back on the beach at sunset with that girl in my arms...

There was an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond about this. Ray buys his dad a really nice, new CD system along with CDs of his favorite music. His dad hates it, they get in a big argument, and the episode ends with the dad in the basement listening to the scratchy sounds of his old record player with his eyes closed, obviously taken back to memories of his youth.

"I've tried recreating those tapes with playlists of perfectly ripped flac from cd's and they just don't have the same life."

See the story from a day or two ago about how badly CDs are being mastered.

Personally, I listen to a lot of non-English music and I'm beginning to wonder if part of the reason might be that non-US music companies seem to be much less likely to utterly destroy their music in the quest for illusory volume, because the "foreignness" is not something that I particularly care about either way.

Try your experiment on a CD from the mid-nineties. It is highly likely that what you are experiencing is a result of atrocious mastering, and not a digital-vs-analog result. Note that it has to be a CD that physically dates from the mid-nineties, not merely an album from the mid-nineties, as companies have been going back and destroying the old music on re-releases.

Of course that doesn't address the issue of your personal memories and if you like that, hey, great. I'm not going to complain or tell you it shouldn't be that way.

The reality is that CD's used to be mastered to produce a "sound stage" - because the target was the hifi in people's homes.

Now the target is iPods, Cars and maybe Radios. So they mix to make it sound good in those scenarios (well, in lots of cases).

Also, whilst this sounds interesting, knowing more about the experiment might help. AAC compression can do more than just compress the music (might be doing some other form of levelling, and/or adding punchiness in some other form).

Could you provide, please, the link of that story about CDs?

I had a post on that story, but I can't get through to my threads display (HN seems to cut that off when load is high, makes sense, not complaining). But I'll endorse aoeu's Wikipedia link. Between that and some of the article Wikipedia links you can get a pretty good idea of the problem and the scope.

Until this problem goes away, CDs are no longer the choice of discriminating audio enthusiasts.... but not because "digital" is worse than "analog", but rather because "destroyed digital" is simply bad. Right now in the "digital vs. analog" war, CDs aren't bringing their A-game.... they're not even bringing their D-game.

A further thought occurs to me; maybe people prefer "Crappy 44KHz originals with clipping softened by MP3" to "Raw crappy 44KHz originals". This ought to be controlled for, if it wasn't, as this might be the rational choice even by audiophile standards. (Yes, it's crap vs. crap, but there may yet be a distinctly less crappy one.)

I can't see that article (you can use searchyc.com to search) but there are lots of articles around if you search for loudness war. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war

I didn't think about it until you mentioned it, but I would love to have my mix tapes back from high school.

Ridiculous, kids these days actually like the sound of the artifacts introduced by the reproduction technology?

Everyone knows the best way to hear music is through the soft clipping of a tube amplifier.

Is there anyone still making tube amplifiers? I might like to have one, if it didn't cost too much.

Absolutely! There has been a big resurgence in this.

I've got a http://www.mcintoshlabs.com/ tube/valve amplifier. I rip my CD's to FLAC, stream via a squeezebox, into a monitor-grade DAC-1 (i.e. neutral sound) into the amp. So it's bit-perfect digital, which is then given character by the amplifier.

Mcintosh were once the king of tube amplifiers. They moved away to solid state back in the late 70's / early 80's. Then, as part of an anniversary, they decided to revamp some old tube designs. To their surprise, they liked the sound, do they bought some of the designs back.

I remember reading they were stunned at the quality of the actual tubes - obviously back then they were using tubes that were made using 30+ year old manufacturing techniques. In the meantime, the Soviets had actually put a lot of work and research into tubes (as they were late to the silicon game)... Anyway - Upshot is that you can get tubes nowadays that are extremely high quality and reliable - perhaps moreso than in their peak.

I've also noticed there are a lot of tube iPod docks now as well: http://www.google.com/search?q=tube+ipod+dock&ie=utf-8&#... .. They are reasonably cheap - As for the quality, I can't imagine, but they are around.

Edit: The place that tubes (KT88's and the like) are also still found is in guitar amplifiers - for the same soft clipping reasons mentioned above.

My buddy lovingly makes these by hand one at a time: http://toneking.com He is obsessive about controlling every detail - not only the things you know affect the sound like speakers (custom designed) but also the power transformer is custom wound - even the covering is custom run.

They cost $2000-$3000

If you've ever soldered anything in your life you can build one yourself. They're really easy to build, kits are available, and parts are VERY cheap. Of course, be careful. Getting shocked by 750 VAC is... interesting.

That's a good idea. I think I'll give it a try. Thanks.

Of course they are. They are de rigueur in the realm of high-end analog audio equipment (which digital still can't touch btw). Tube amps provide linear frequency response and near-instantaneous slew rates that transistors can't touch.

And let's not forget the THD characteristics of tube amps. Even-order harmonics ftw.

Used tube amps can work very nicely.

I'd take a OTL amp + a good turn table any day.

It might well be that many people complaining about "soulless, thin MP3s" would not be able to tell a 160kbps VBR MP3 from the original in a controlled experiment. Low-quality headphones and speakers are obviously a different matter, but if you're telling somebody that compression makes their music soulless and thin, you're an audio snob without any facts.

The article establishes that people can, in fact, tell the difference between MP3 and uncompressed, no?

According to the article (and the one linked in it), the percentage of people that prefer MP3 quality is rising, that's all. It does not say these people would actually be able to tell that the recording they prefer is an MP3.

"To my surprise, in the rock examples the MP3 at 128 was preferred. I repeated the experiment over 6 years and found the preference for MP3 - particularly in music with high energy (cymbal crashes, brass hits, etc) rising over time."

Encoding to MP3 @ 128Kbs will apply a low pass filter (so that more bits can be used to encode the lower frequencies) and high freqeuncy sounds can sound smeared. I would guess one or both of these factors could be responsible for reducing harsh sounding treble.

I'm guessing of course but if right, I wouldn't say the MP3 was better. Merely, it masks a horrible sound to begin with.

It could just be me, but I've observed MP3 encoding tends to make hard transients more mushy, which is something that one might become accustomed to.

I used to think, MP3s sounds almost the same as uncompressed music (CDs), but, was until I got a fairly big audio system (in my car) that I realize that my MP3s sucked big time. But in ipods and other small devices MP3s are fine.

They don't have to. The theory is sound. Throw enough bits at a good enough encoder and you can't tell the difference.

However, 128Kbps in an encoder designed to encode as rapidly as possible will not have that result, and that's the usual case.

Also, hooking up a decent set of headphones to an iPod and that itself can be a "nice audio system". The stats on the iPod are pretty good, it's the headphones that are crap. I have a Creative Labs Zen myself, which has an inferior interface, but has even better audio statistics, and the best audio experience you can get in my household are my ~$100 monitor headphones hooked up to the Zen. That's pretty fine. Run a great MP3 through it and you'd never know it's not the original CD. Run a mediocre MP3 through it and you'll cry.

Listening to Metallica's Enter Sandman on my crappy PC speakers, I couldn't find much difference between a 128K MP3 and a 360K MP3. Listening to them on a huge set of surround sound speakers changed my opinion.

You can't really hear the different instruments and the layers of sound unless you have reasonable quality speakers. I've tried purchasing good, expensive headphones, but nothing beats the experience of listening to music on a set of wooden-casing surround sound speakers (arranged optimally around the room, of course).

BTW, this is coming from someone who is definitely not an audiophile. Currently listeing to Piano Man on my crappy MacBook speakers.

I wonder in what measure modern production techniques (for instance, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_range_compression ) influences the choice of the listener.

I think what the study shows is that listening to music goes beyond the encoding technique, like everything, it has the quality of contemporaneity; listening to music is made up of the music and the listening process, which includes the medium, vinyl, cassettes, cd, mp3 etc. We all have our way of remembering music, be it on 8 track, cassettes, or ipod. The current twenty somethings will reminisce about the old days, how their iPods sounded and how they would split their ear buds with their sweetheart of the day, just like the first guy and his Camero and sunsets with Susie :)

Its the same as photography, film, like cassettes, vinyl etc is no better than digital, its just different. The medium is an important part of any art form, possibly with the exception of literature. For the visual and music arts I have seen this phenomenon often but I am not sure if it applies much to books. The medium is largely the same I suppose - we've moved on from writing on pigskin, but for the past few hundred years and book today is much the same as a book from anytime, only the content has changed. The arts move, and are moved by technology at different paces. Possibly the Kindle will change things, but it hasn't had enough time to know yet.

I got an amplifier with a TOSlink (SPDIF optical) connection, and got a cable from the soundcard to the amp. This means there was no analogue distortion or amplification in the signal chain - it just went right from the soundcard to the speakers (which are studio monitors in my case).

You can hear the difference between MP3 and CD/FLAC sources quite easily, so I've come to like CD/FLAC.

I started off listening to vinyl at about 12, CD/tape until 1998, then Napster in 2000. Now I buy CDs and rip to FLAC, if possible, and hardly listen to MP3s.

By the way, albums like Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor sound really bad on MP3, because it's been mixed to a very full sound and compresses poorly. I don't know if that's the producer (Stuart Price) or the mastering people, but a bootleg of this album made from MP3, I ordered by mistake, was really really bad sounding.

Everyone knows the best way to hear music is live, un-miked, un-amped, with analog instruments. That's one of the reasons I've gone into opera: http://gatewayclassical.org/

The idea is interesting, but unfortunately the article doesn't have too many details. A spectrogram or something similar would have been nice.

it's fascinating how this phenomenon works. I grew up listening to cassettes I had made from recording records. These recordings had flaws introduced by the cassette mechanism, drop outs, warbles, etc. I was used to it and didn't think about it. When I'd hear the same song from a CD it sounded weird. I can't say I prefer cassettes now, I never listen to them, they're all in a box now, and many have been thrown out. Records still sound as good as ever, many are much nicer sounding than the CDs that came out later on. I wonder if digital radio will eventually replace analog broadcasts, as has happened with TV. That would be a shame as all the old radios would suddenly become door stops.

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