On audio quality

2020-07-22 @Blog

I admit … Beyond a certain minimum, I don’t much care for the audio quality of music. And this comes from a listener of Vinyl records and compact disks.

First, to address the eternal debate akin the superiority of analog vs digital, I’ve not the slightest opinion nor concern. My hearing fails to discern those subtleties.

I care for different subtleties. Such as the scratching inherent to used Vinyl records. Or the paper inserts and artwork. Or that slight noise to follow FM radio broadcasts.

Granted, the mentioned acoustic artifacts are generally indicative of the analog sound. But in themselves they neither enhance nor distort my underlying audio perception.

Most pleasure I derive from the aesthetic and the scarcity elements anyway. The various audio noises simply tend to follow the scarcer forms of music listening, in contrast to the computer.

To expand the point, I’ve also occasioned to download MP3 music of older Vinyl pressings, scratches all part of the package. It’s pleasing to the ear. But it doesn’t suspend disbelief. Not one bit.

You can ‘mar’ the digital audio frames with analog artifacts to your hearts desire, but you cannot simulate the user experience of Vinyl/CD/Tape/Radio mediums. The scratches are the consequence of my preferred listening style; not the cause.

Concerning the audio equipment I employ for listening, it can vary from Hi-Fi apparatus to an alarm clock speaker. I also happen to prefer mono over stereo.

When I do resort to the computer or the MP3 player, 128Kbps leaves me perfectly satisfied. And for anything 160Kbps or beyond, I cannot differentiate.

Now these debates surrounding the heresies behind digital music consumption reached particular tension when MP3s really took off in the late 1990s. Back then and for a solid decade after, continuing into the rise of streaming services, low bit rate audio was fairly standard. 128Kbps was the accepted, and I personally considered 160Kbps somewhat of a luxury.

As such, MP3s were an easy target for analog (or even compact disk) enthusiasts. Understandable. Most listeners probably even took conscious awareness in that inferiority, recognizing the convenience.

The digital music of today, be it offline MP3s (per my preference) or streamed, CD-like quality became the standard and the expected. 256-320KBps MP3 or FLAC (a format that I’ve never much explored) are easily available and accessible.

But I still listen to plenty of 128-160Kbps audio and hardly appreciate the subtle differences, even when discernible … Not on any of the equipment at my disposal: cheap computer speakers, 90’s boombox, a radio receiver, or any in-or-around the ear headphones.

And I don’t particularly yearn to develop that higher degree of acoustic awareness. I don’t want to spoil my hearing.

It’s the mechanical user interaction I value. And of course, the mere appreciation of conscious and dedicated listening to a full album. To appreciate the actual music, the instrumentation, the harmonies, the rhythm, the structure, the journey.

Once at the computer, or in the course of a walk, headphones secured, musical selection limitless, attention divided like finely sliced meat, what remains? Background noise? Perhaps a little vibrant energy to rouse the spirits? Sure. But I hardly care for the bit rate.

Questions, comments? Connect.