SAM MORRELL


ASTROPHYSICIST

A Little Digital Audio Rant

November 17, 2011   |   Reading time: ~4 mins

Hi All, it’s that time of the year again. Time for a good ol’ rant from yours truly.

This time I’m ranting about digital audio. In particular, music downloads and CDs. Personally I just can’t get my head around why someone would rather buy MP3s / AACs off of iTunes or any other miscellaneous MP3 purchasing service. Whenever I buy an album, I usually, if given the choice, buy the CD. Why you ask? Because CDs always have been and always will be much higher quality than MP3s and AAC, or for that matter any lossy format.

You’re currently probably sat there at the moment thinking I’m a complete fool, trying to espouse a 30 year old format over modern standards. Ok, let me prove it! CD Audio, or the ‘Red Book’ standard uses Linear Pulse Code Modulation (LPCM) which is completely uncompressed, meaning it’s the signal that was exported from the Artist’s computer or whatever they used to make it. This means it keeps all the nuances of their mixing, the way you hear it is exactly as the person mastering it heard it. However, both MP3 (MPEG Audio Layer 3) and AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) are compressed ‘Lossy’ formats, this means that the signal that is derived from the data being fed in to the decoder to make the pretty sound come out of your speakers has been sent through filters, compressors and mangled beyond belief. Now, why would you spend the same amount of money on a mangled, nasty MP3 when you could get the same recording on CD for the same if not less, which is bit for bit the same signal that the artist or recording engineer intended.

The other bug bear I have is iTunes, for various reasons I’ve always stayed well clear of iTunes unless absolutely necessary, which surprises many people as I have a MacBook, an iPhone and an iPad. There’s many reasons for this. Maybe it’s the fact that Apple, at least used to, impose very restrictive digital rights management (DRM) on all music and video downloaded from iTunes, maybe it’s the fact that once you’ve downloaded the file once you cannot download again if you loose yours, or maybe it’s the fact that Apple claim to have very high quality audio, when their files are a measly 256 kbps, and yes that is lossily compressed, when CDs are a whopping 1411.2 kbps completely uncompressed. The audio is just much higher quality. I mean, hell it’s well over 4 times the bit rate! Does that mean nothing?

Another thing I like is that CDs are generally just nicer! You have something to hold for your hard earned £8, or whatever you pay. There is something tangible to hold, with MP3s all you have is a smattering of numbers stored in some kind of storage medium. You get the excitement of waiting for it, unpacking it, sticking it in the stereo and sitting and listening. With iTunes and other download services all you have to do is click and button and they’re there, it’s no fun!

If that doesn’t put the final nail in the coffin for my argument, what can you do with CDs. Stick it into your computer’s CD drive, which pretty much every computer has, load up iTunes, take 2 or 3 minutes to rip the AAC / MP3 files and end up with exactly the same thing you would buy off iTunes minus the crappy DRM and restrictions, from the CD! It just seems a no brainer to me, with the CD you can play it as many times as you want, rip it to any computer you want, no 5 computer limit. Every computer!

You can mock me for ‘standing in the way of progress’ if you want, but get this. The MP3 standard is just as old as CDs. It’s been around since the 80s. So There!

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