back to article Apple, Beats and fools with money who trust celeb endorsements

Reports suggest Apple is in talks to buy Beats Electronics, which was founded by hip-hopper André Young, aka Dr Dre, for an astronomical amount of money. At the same time Pono, founded by another Young, namely Neil, promises to transform music delivery. John Watkinson, aka JR Cool Dubbya, wonders what is going on. One aspect …

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  1. Tanuki
    Meh

    A fool and his money are easily parted.

    You only have to look at some of the rank stupidities sold to the audiophool community - gold-plated 13-amp mains plugs, oxygen-free-copper 'directional' speaker-cables, cryogenically-treated valves - to understand the gullibility of that sector.

    Looks like Apple have been taken for the fools in this case, just as they've been taking their customers for fools for a while.

    <sarcasm>

    I wonder how much Apple would have to pay to buy Bose?

    </sarcasm>

    1. jason 7

      Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

      A case of the Kool-Aid supplier drinking someone else's variant of Kool-Aid?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

      The audiophile community (or at least a significant fraction) is so bizarrely blind and gullible for this stuff that I cannot actually tell whether this site:

      http://www.machinadynamica.com/machina41.htm

      is a spoof or not.

      1. Pristine Audio

        Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

        >http://www.machinadynamica.com/machina41.htm

        Brilliant! Even better than the €500 audiophile USB cables I was told about recently...

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. jonathan keith

        Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

        Even better is the explanation of how it works.

        http://www.machinadynamica.com/machina42.htm

      3. lpcollier

        Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

        I can tell - it's a spoof. But I did have to read a good few paragraphs.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

          I can tell - it's a spoof. But I did have to read a good few paragraphs.

          If you can't tell from the first few lines, just hit their home page. If you still can't, your irony detector is terminally fubar.

          1. Badvok

            Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

            What I find more amazing than some of the claims for these 'audiophile' snake-oil lures, is the amount of time and money that is spent trying to disprove/discredit them, as this article most effectively demonstrates.

            (Note: 'audophile' in quotes because it is only people who would like to be thought of as audiophiles by their superficial mates who fall for the traps, a true audiophile will always listen first and pay up only if they think the improvement is worth the money.)

            1. Mpeler
              Pint

              Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

              Anyone remember the cartoons by Rodrigues in Stereo Review? He would skewer the "audiophiles" with "supersonic" hearing, cables with supernatural qualities, etc. There's one with St. Peter quizzing a recently-departed stereo salesman about claims he made as a salesman (classic, if you can find it).

              There was a book called "Total Harmonic Distortion"....

              Should be another called "Do You Hear What I Hear", because confimation bias in some audio fans causes them to pay almost infinite sums of money for trivial (sometimes nonexistent) gains....

              To each their pwn, I guess...ironic that the "inventors" of the Beats phones were the Monster Cable folks,

              also an exercise in overpriced kit, though they appear to have come out on the short end of things here...

              1. Vic

                Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

                confimation bias in some audio fans causes them to pay almost infinite sums of money for trivial (sometimes nonexistent) gains....

                A guy I know spent some £5K (in the '90s) on a "passive preamp", because he'd heard that, having no active components, it wouldn't inject any semiconductor noise.

                Oh how we chortled. But not within earshot, as he's quite a bit bigger than I am.

                Vic.

                1. Message From A Self-Destructing Turnip

                  Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

                  I had never heard of confimation bias until now. Is a high confimation bias value better or worse, and what are the correct units of measurement ?

                  I need to know this as I am heading to my local HiFi shop this weekend to upgrade my system, and do not want to look a complete clueless fool when I ask the sales person about it.

                  1. Stoneshop Silver badge

                    Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

                    Is a high confimation bias value better or worse, and what are the correct units of measurement ?

                    Depends on the media you're using; ideally the equipment should have a confirmation bias selector for vinyl, open-reel and cassette tape, DAT, DCC, (SA)CD, MiniDisc, DVD-audio and Blu-Ray Audio. If you find one that has shellac and 8-track cartridge settings too you can infer it's a well-researched design and worth selling your soul, your firstborn and the better part of your worldly possessions for.

                    As for the unit of measurement, El Reg's Standards Soviet is said to be working on one. Rumours say they're as yet undecided between 'Chord' and 'Steward'.

      4. Trollslayer Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

        This reminds me of a competition between myself and another engineer to find the worst spoof audiophile product.

        The problem is that we found spoofs then people wanted to buy them!

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

          >The problem is that we found spoofs then people wanted to buy them!

          Shirley that is not a problem but an opportunity?

        2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

          The problem is that we found spoofs then people wanted to buy them!

          A wild Business Case appears!

          Do you [I]nvest or [R]un away?

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

            A wild Business Case appears!

            Perhaps you'd be interested in my seminar in Monetizing Poe's Law. Register now for the special price of $1000 - a 20% savings!

      5. The Corner of Moron

        Re: A fool and his money are easily parted.

        Not seen this site before...

        "Sonic Tonic Anti-static Spray" - WHERE CAN I GET SOME????

  2. h3

    Beats are real scum (At least at the moment).

    Even though they are not cheap they are designed to fail within 18 months. (Read an article in an engineering magazine about how they go about it).

    What ever issues I might have with Apple I don't think they do that.

    1. Eagleon

      Re: Beats are real scum (At least at the moment).

      Nah, they follow normal engineering practices (actually cheaper sometimes than going through a separate cycle to ensure a part will, statistically, fail outside of warranty) and rely on perceived obsolescence and an update cycle to drive the market instead :) Which is worse, really? They both amount to people buying mountains of electronics instead of one good product that does what it's supposed to do for decades.

  3. jason 7

    The headphones will disappear..

    ...or at least the (ahem) technology will. As someone else said "lot of money to pay for bass boost!"

    It's the streaming Apple wanted.

    As for Pono...what an ugly device. Surely a small desktop unit would be more popular for that crowd of grey haired baby-boomers with sub par hearing and money to burn...again?

  4. Richard 31

    Pono Player

    Who the hell would by a Toblerone shaped music player?

    1. Anthony 13
      Joke

      Re: Pono Player

      People in duty free - 2 for the price of 3?

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: Pono Player

        Duty free Triangular Items. 11GBP for Three! Bargain. Mines the Fruit & Nut one.

    2. 's water music Silver badge

      Re: Pono Player

      Fuck, just reread your title. I thought it said Porno Player. Time to see if I can still cancel the order...

    3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Pono Player

      I like the jokes, but then I also like Toblerone. And bright yellow things.

      There might be a whiff of audiophile woo about the Pono - and a silly name. Perhaps he should have gone for the PwnO?

      But it looks like you can get a good quality equivalent of the iPod Classic for about the same price (maybe a touch cheaper). With a better UI, although that might just be becuase I hate the crappy clickwheel thingies. And it's got solid state memory. I've not seen a dedicated mp3 player with flash memory with more than 8GB. Dunno why. Many phones can manage that. I think it's 32GB + as many 32GB SD cards as you want. So better than the iPod, as no hard disk.

      Another killer feature is that you won't need iTunes. Does happy dance.

      There's also stuff about how it's got better quality DACs and is all lovely and engineered for perfect sound. I'm not qualified to comment on that. The sound from my iPod when bunged through decent speakers is pretty good. And that's only using high bitrate mp3. I've mixed live music, I've got pretty good ears, but I'm not sure I'd back myself to tell the difference in a blind test.

      Oh and the triangle shape is quite practical. It'll probably be comfortable in the hand (and pocket). As well as standing up nicely when you plug it into a set of speakers - and will sit on the desk at an angle so you can read the screen. I believe there's a black model for those who find that lovely yellow a bit too conspicuous.

      So even with all the downsides. If I can get a Pone when my iPod finally snuffs it, I'll look at it. I buy CDs anyway, then rip the music. So I'm not going to be paying double-price for super-bitrate FLAC downloads. And with Amazon I get my CDs at a reasonable price, and when they lost one in the post last week it didn't matter. Because Amazon Cloud Player meant I could have played it within 30 seconds of having hit buy, til it turned up twice today.

      Sadly for Neil Young, I can probably get a Moto G or cheap Nokia Lumia for £100 - and put a 128GB SD card in that. Then I've got both a spare phone and a replacement for the iPod. Sadly the current work iPhone is only 8GB.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Pono Player

        @IAS

        You raise a good point about the shape allowing it to be used easily on a desk. However, this image of the internals suggests it could be made slightly more pocket-friendly:

        http://www.digitaltrends.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/pono-player-internal-components.jpg

        >I can probably get a Moto G or cheap Nokia Lumia for £100 - and put a 128GB SD card in that.

        For large audio files, or for lots of normal audio files? A word to the wise: They can't play back 192Khz FLAC files natively (though the LG G2 can). If you want a 128GB card in order to have tens of thousands of normal audio tracks, you might want to read up on Android file limits and FAT formatting etc before you make any purchases. Just in case there's a niggly issue.

        If you want 128GB for losslessly-compressed CD-rips, ignore me!

        You might also consider a spefic version of an older Samsung Galaxy model from eBay, since they are said to have Wolfson DACs. Apparently.

        1. Robert Baker
          IT Angle

          Re: Pono Player

          My Android tablet (although the instruction manual says "microSDHC cards up to 32Gb") supports microSDXC cards, including the 128Gb ones launched by Sandisk in February — provided only that they are formatted as NTFS, not the default exFAT.

      2. handle

        Re: Pono Player

        @ I ain't Spartacus: "Sadly for Neil Young, I can probably get a Moto G or cheap Nokia Lumia for £100 - and put a 128GB SD card in that."

        You'll have difficulty putting an SD card in a Moto G.

        1. Colin Ritchie
          Windows

          Re: Pono Player

          I think the Moto 4G will fix that for ≠Spartacus:

          http://www.trustedreviews.com/opinions/moto-g-4g-vs-moto-g.

          The article is not wrong in the 40 years of Audio Stagnation, my NAD 3020 amp and Rogers LS2a speakers still sound as good now as they did when built... about 40 years ago. The upside of this is good hi-fi is about £100 a lump on ebay and easy to use. Apple make nice looking stuff and their top end kit is found in recording studios often, buying up another music industry playa's business is probably just consolidation of the M$ of music rep it wants.

      3. RainbowTrout

        Re: Pono Player

        I use my Lumia 920 to play music, its nice you can load files directly or use iTunes (I am glad that having to use the Zune software with the 900 was not a requirement for the 920). My only gripe is there is a noticeable gap on playback on tracks that segue on the CD and do on my ancient iPod Touch.

        Also noticed a vast difference between Apples white earbuds and my Sennheiser earbuds.......

  5. AbelSoul

    Limited bit rate?

    "MP3 is a lossy compression scheme and at limited bit rates – such as the 320kbit/sec of Beats Music – does its best to preserve the dominant sounds by neglecting ambience and reverberation.

    Limited? Isn't 320 about as good as it gets for mp3?

    1. Rosco

      Re: Limited bit rate?

      Yep. And since the author talks about what real people can actually hear, I find it odd that he seems to imply that 320kbps MP3/AAC is awful when blind tests have established that most people cannot tell the difference between that and CD.

      e.g. http://www.music.mcgill.ca/~hockman/documents/Pras_presentation2009.pdf

      1. Mark Allen

        Re: Limited bit rate?

        Play FLAC and 320kbps MP3/AAC side by side on decent speakers or decent headphones and there is a very noticeable difference with many types of music. Compare something like Dark Side Of The Moon on an iPod with the standard Apple headphones with a FLAC playing Android or Blackberry and Sennheiser speakers and you will certainly notice a difference.

        Personally when I listen to 320kbps MP3 played back through decent speakers it sounds like the music is underwater and muffled.

        I found this out after I had ripped my 300+ CDs to MP3. After that rather long task which was carried out over a year I changed my HiFi to £1000+ kit (Just the AV Amp and 5.1 speakers). First time I played back those MP3s I swore. Loudly. Then pulled out the CDs of DSOTM. The difference stood out a mile.

        Since then I have replaced those MP3s with FLACs and not looked back.

        This is why I can't see why people get excited by iDevices and iTunes and over compressed music. It also explains to me why Apple supply such rubbish headphones. This Beats deal seems to me to merge two names "known for music" yet they are adding rubbish to rubbish which just sounds like rubbish squared to me.

        Heavy compression made sense when storage space was expensive. Now with storage so cheap it seems silly not to make use of it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          ABX?

          Unless you used an ancient encoder you imagined the bit about 320K MP3 sounding muffled.

          With the exception of certain killer samples it is extremely difficult to successfully ABX time-synced level-matched high bit rate MP3 against lossless, even on good gear.

          Even better, play about with invert summing v0/320 MP3 to lossless original in Cool Edit/Audition. And do some spectrograph analysis.

          But having spent a year ripping MP3 then deciding to rerip to lossless I'm not surprised you experienced a dramatic improvement.

        2. Lamont Cranston

          Re: Limited bit rate?

          People get excited about access to lots of music in a convenient, portable format. Quality hi-fi gear is a niche interest, and thus there's not a lot of incentive to cater to that market, other than to mug them for more of their disposable income with nonsense products.

          Beats is successfull because their products are fashionable, not better than their competitors - a good fit for Apple, I should think.

          I can't remember when I last listened to a CD - everything is streamed from Deezer, via my phone, hooked up to the car stereo. The quality may be terrible but 1) I can't tell (I don't own any premium hi-fi kit, and never have), and 2) I don't care.

          1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

            Re: Limited bit rate?

            Indeed. The baby boomers grew up listening to music on transistor radios and crummy AM car radios. (And in oppressively loud concert halls, so that we are probably going deaf faster than any of our parents who didn't serve in the artillery.)

          2. pski

            Re: Limited bit rate?

            I have access to all my music (2405 albums with 27183 songs by 1032 artists) wherever I have an internet connection (and from virtually any device- iOS, Android, Winders, Linux, OSX,...) The vast majority of this music came from CD's and is lossless (M4A.) I can listen at any bitrate I can squeeze out of my 4Mb/sec outbound cable connection. This is done with a free program (Logitech Media Server) and two port forwarding rules in my router.

            Picking what you want to take with you has always seemed absurd.

          3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Limited bit rate?

            The quality may be terrible but 1) I can't tell (I don't own any premium hi-fi kit, and never have), and 2) I don't care.

            Amen to that. Sure, MP3s played on my cheap player through bargain-basement ear buds may be terrible in principle; but in practice I don't care, since I pretty much only listen to music when I'm working around the house, and the ambient noise levels are pretty high.

            I realize some people are very interested in acoustic fidelity, but many of the proponents of FLAC, high-quality gear, and the like seem to think everyone should be. Sorry, folks, but we don't all share your enthusiasms.

        3. John Tserkezis

          Re: Limited bit rate?

          "Compare something like Dark Side Of The Moon on an iPod with the standard Apple headphones with a FLAC playing Android or Blackberry and Sennheiser speakers and you will certainly notice a difference."

          Apples and oranges, you can't compare the two because there are vast differences - such as - Apple uses oxygen free copper for their headphones, don't they?

          Therefore, the iPod wins. I know a few DJ's, who clearly know everything, who plug their iPods into their systems and claim it's better than CD...

          1. Flatpackhamster

            Re: Limited bit rate?

            I can't imagine how DJs couldn't know everything about sound. If there's one good way to improve your understanding of it, then spending 20 hours a week with 300dB of bass playing in a sweaty shed will be it.

          2. Robert Baker
            Joke

            Re: Limited bit rate?

            "Apple uses oxygen free copper for their headphones, don't they?"

            Remind me never to use them to listen to Jean-Michel Jarre.

        4. Robert Baker

          Re: Limited bit rate?

          Did you use actual MP3 encoding, or did you perchance use Nero's MP3Pro (or "MP3Poo" as I prefer to call it)? The latter (which is limited to 22Khz sample rate) is supposed to deliver equivalent quality to standard MP3, with only half the file size — but the catch is, you have to be using an MP3Poo-compatible player (which no player I've tried is; certainly not Winamp or the iPod), otherwise the dreadful loss of quality from that half (arsed/witted) sample rate is all too painfully evident, even if playing over "old tin boxes" as Mike Oldfield put it (to wit, the tinny little speakers of my old netbook).

        5. jelabarre59 Silver badge

          Re: Limited bit rate?

          Well, I haven't been ripping CDs, more like vinyl. And when I rip those records, I first create FLAC files, then make CDs and MP3s from those.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Limited bit rate?

      You can be reasonably confident that an MP3 player can decode bit rates up to 320kb/s. A few decoders can handle higher bit rates. See the --freeformat option in the man page for LAME. Selling music encoded with a higher bit rate risks complaints from customers when they find they cannot play their purchases. On the other hand, CD quality converted to FLAC is somewhere between 700 to 1000kb/s and storage is cheap these days.

      1. P. Lee Silver badge

        Re: Limited bit rate?

        The real problem is with CD's.

        Not their audio format, but the complete lack of metadata attached to each track. FLAC would be fine except for the lack of support in portable players. I want one solution which works, not having to transcode all the time.

        The other thing the article neglected is that mp3's are mostly used in mobile devices with poor headphones, so again, audio quality is almost irrelevant.

        I must be getting old. Mostly I listen to podcasts with only the occasional musical item from Mitch Ben, or to the old stuff of my youth as a nice trip down memory lane while I'm hoovering. Obviously I'm not cool because otherwise its, "pop a CD in the player" for a bit of classical instrumental or medieval-style vocals.

    3. Amorous Cowherder

      Re: Limited bit rate?

      Most people simply want to listen to music, a huge percentage would be happy with something as low as 128kbps if it meant they could listen to it on the train, in the car or at home doing the housework played off their mobile phone. Grab 50 random off the street and play them something at 128 and something at FLAC and most of us wouldn't be able to tell the difference and more to the point, probably wouldn't care either.

      I have audio comedy from the 1950's that's as low as 32kbps, it's good enough to listen to because it was never intended to be scrutinized, and probably the performers wouldn't have cared if it could have been recorded so long as it was broadcast at the time on the radio.

      It's only a small percentage who actually cack themselves when they can't get the latest offering in FLAC format!

    4. TheDillinquent

      Re: Limited bit rate?

      Sadly MP3 is limited to 320Kbit/s less than a quarter of CD's 1,411.2 kbit/s which is one reason that MP3s sound awful.

  6. blueprint

    "Now I gather Neil Young proposes to re-release his archive recordings on Pono. Again, one has to ask, where is he going to get the missing bandwidth from? Will a Pono download of an early Neil Young track at an astronomical data rate carry any more information or sound any better than the CD did?"

    An early Neil Young track will presumably have been recorded on high quality tape. As will presumably a late Neil Young track. Do you seriously think that he was sitting there with his band huddled round some equipment that feeds into a CD recorder?

    1. PaulyV

      This puzzled me too. If a track is being re-released, in this case does that not mean they are referring back to the original source (tape masters), and if this is the case would there not be a sonic advantage to having done so?

      Perhaps this assumption is incorrect and they refer back to digital masters of CD-like quality? Would be interested in any insight here.

      1. Pristine Audio

        The frequency response of the multitrack tapes on which Neil Young's early recordings would have been made wouldn't be much different to that of a CD, whilst the dynamic range would be considerably lower. The masters likewise. As the author says, there's unlikely to be anything much of musical value above 20kHz on the masters, even if anyone could actually hear it.

        I my experience of checking out high quality modern digital 96Khz and 192kHz classical recordings from the likes of Linn, what you're mainly getting is silence and the upper harmonics of electronic interference. Musically speaking only the occasional cymbal (and very little else) does much beyond about 22kHz.

        1. jason 7

          Then you need speakers or headphones that will actually output above 22kHz.

          Not that many about last I looked.

    2. lee harvey osmond

      Yup

      Neil Young was an early, vociferous and persistent objector to digital audio, and as such it is reasonable to assume that when others adopted digital studio recording, he didn't, and instead persisted with the best available analogue tape.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Yup

        Most Multitrack analogue tape is generally not as good as CD quality.

        More distortion

        Lower dynamic range

        Maybe 16KHz max.

        For HiFi mono full width of 1/4" Tape and 15 ips was used. It's only up to about 15KHz though.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Yup

          NY had a point with the earlier digital studio recorders (the sampling rate was too low(*), resulting in compromises having to be made in final mixes) but that objection has been irrelevant since the early '80s. Digital recorders since then have easily eclipsed any analogue kit.

          (*) The early stuff sampled at 44.1 or 48kHz. This is fine for direct-to-disk but not so good if you're going via any intermediate mixdown stages.

          1. handle

            Re: Yup

            @Alan Brown: Don't you mean the bit depth rather than the sampling rate? More bits per sample are generated by the multiplications and additions of mixing, which need to be dithered away rather than chopped off; more samples per second are not.

        2. Stoneshop Silver badge
          Boffin

          @Mage Re: Yup

          I once tested my Tandberg TD3600XD open-reel recorder, the standard four-track model, with various semi-professional grade tapes (Maxell, TDK, BASF and Agfa) at 7.5 ips, no Dolby obviously, and after azimuth adjustment and bias calibration got at least 19.4kHz at -3dB, and in one case 20.9kHz.

          Rebuilding the record and playback amps didn't appreciably improve frequency response, but S/N and distortion figures did.

          15kHz max from 15 ips is downright shitty.

          1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

            Analogue, and it not being digital... and why 192k could be useful, not audible

            Bravo Stoneshop for mentioning the -3 dB measure. A lot of people talk about "Bandwidth" of analogue systems and think that if a system has "20 kHz", then nothing beyond that is registered when that's only true of digital sampling. In practice, the recorded signal level rolls off beyond this point (just as human hearing does).

            I'm surprised that the author didn't consider the anti-alias pre-filtering of the original analogue material when producing CDs. Often the fitering starts at around 16kHz with gentle rolloff, rather than 20 with a sharp cutoff, because CD's high-frequency phase response isn't particularly good (a problem that's solved by using a higher sampling rate, although beyond 96 kHz, it's hard to make a case on "listener" grounds). Also, sharp-cutoff filters have "leaky" passbands, allowing alias signals through: another problem fixed by using higher sampling rates.

            I accept that nobody can hear anything much over 18 kHz, and most adults with the money to spend on fancy hi-fi can't even hear 15 kHz anymore. That is statistically speaking, however, and there are a very small number of people who retain a wide hearing range well into their 40s and 50s, but never much beyond 15kHz. But it's still odd to see a defence of the 44.1kHz sample rate of CD as if it's scientifically based: it's not, it was the highest rate that could be placed on NTSC U-Matic video-tape without the machine's horizontal-blank insertion destroying some sample packets. The fact that every subsequent format has used 48kHz or multiples of it, shows that it wasn't quite good enough. 16 bits also wasn't quite enough for preserving linearity of low-level signals; 24 appears to be the minimum for preserving everything that's audible as the signal goes through its various stages from studio, to medium, to replay, to ear. (I'd argue that the extra bits of the "high res" formats are more significant than the extra samples)

            There are also a couple of non-technical advantages of higher bitrate formats: mainly, they require components and system makers to work to higher standards. Before CD arrived, most amps (non-hifi) had a 15 kHz top end, because that was good enough. As noted above, most adults can't hear beyond this anyway, but an amp designed to only reproduce 15kHz is going to be working reasonably close to its fastest swing when reproducing a very audible 8kHz, and failure to track signals accurately will increase harmonic distortion. Signal-to-noise was also not a real issue at this time, as all sources had quite high noise floors anyway.

            Suddenly, CD players arrive, and amplification needs to nominally support 22 kHz. That means new ICs and transistors (valves, if you're rich enough to run Class A, and not care about your electric bills) with a faster slew rate (the speed at which an amp can change output voltage), which means more accurate tracking of signals in the audible band. Similarly, the lower noise level of CDs pushed equipment makers to produce lower noise amplification, which is a good thing in general, because for other, analogue, sources the noise floor still had small amounts of signal buried in it; signal that a lower-noise amplifier would now not obscure.

            So, if 24bit, 192kHz audio became commonplace, we'd have amps that are good for 30+ kHz, with an improvement in linearity in the audible range and noise. What's not to like? So what if it's driven by marketing fluff? So was CD, and it raised the bar.

            But the real, hidden benefit of 24bit 192kHz is something that the author almost touched on but then left hanging in the air: and again it has nothing to do with human hearing. Room-tailored reproduction. If you're designing an active, adaptive speaker system to compensate for the room's acoustics, your task is made a lot easier if you have a source signal with lots of resolution, as rounding and errors are less significant, and lots of samples, giving finer control of signal phase..

            Right now, home cinema system DSPs already upsample to higher rates before applying processing, but upsampling a signal is no match for working with more original data. It doesn't matter that this extra data is inaudible to listeners; it still allows the processing equipment to produce a better audible signal after applying lots of other processes to it... after processing, a CD-quality signal can never have the fidelity of the original (you cannot add information by processing a signal, only remove it). On the other hand, a 192k/24 signal, after processing, can be every bit as good as the unprocessed theoretical CD signal.

            1. Ian 55

              Re: Analogue, and it not being digital... and why 192k could be useful, not audible

              Kit following CDs uses 48kHz because a) it can be marketed as 'better' and b) it's hard for consumers to copy between 44.1kHz and 48kHz without introducing audible artefacts, thus encouraging them to buy the same stuff again (again).

              I think the second one was seen as the most important.

              1. Suricou Raven

                Re: Analogue, and it not being digital... and why 192k could be useful, not audible

                I was under the impression that 48KHz can be a little better because it gives you more room for filter design. Real-world low-pass filters are never a sharp cutoff, ao that extra 4KHz translates to an extra 2KHz space to work with in the filter design.

                1. phil dude
                  Boffin

                  Re: Analogue, and it not being digital... and why 192k could be useful, not audible

                  I posted something technical on this a few months back, but basically higher sampling is a good thing, because higher frequency harmonics are not necessarily in phase on recording.

                  This doesn't matter for electronic music (really it shouldn't so synth tracks will sound the same), but it really matters for analogue instruments (and by extension the sampling of them too).

                  Humans may only hear up to 20 KhZ, but the real world sources are not so neat.

                  P.

                  PS. http://www.whosampled.com/Led-Zeppelin/When-the-Levee-Breaks/ I think J.Page used a house for the "ambience" on this drum track.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Yup

        >instead persisted with the best available analogue tape.

        And hopefully it has been stored properly and not reused too many times since

  7. leon clarke
    Go

    Beats me!

    Actually, I think it makes sense of Apple to buy Beats.

    Beats are, as noted, massively overpriced headphones that manage to sell well due to gimmicky features, styling and a strong brand. Therefore we can assume Beats has some world-class experts at selling massively overpriced goods by adding gimmicky features, styling and a strong brand. That's Apple's core competency, and having some more people who are good at it could easily be worth that much. It's just like tech companies buying startups just for a room full of smart engineers, with complete disregard for the startup's product, only here it's not engineers.

    1. Tromos

      Re: Beats me!

      I'm not so sure that it makes sense at all. Two strong and recognisable brands - what are they going to do with them? Call it beeple and have a 'b' with a bite taken out of it for a logo? Somehow that's lost it's street cred, innit?

      1. Lamont Cranston

        Re: what are they going to do with them?

        Keep both brands and MAKE ALL THE MONEY, I expect.

  8. Immenseness
    Coat

    Something else often overlooked

    by the die-hard snake oil proponents is brain neuro-plasticity. The brain can learn and redefine what the "normal" baseline of listening is, compensating for some fairly huge errors such as room accoustics. In this sense, a person can become accustomed to whatever their setup is. If they are critical listeners, then they can detect very small changes and nuances in their own setup, because over time they have become used to it and all it's imperfections, and subconciously learned to compensate for defects.

    If this is going on, and from personal experience I believe it could be, then it explains why we get the "the speakers sound great with the new crossover caps but only after 10 days of burning in" type of statements. In effect, I think it could be not the equipment, but the listener's ears, or more accurately, brain, that is burning in. :-)

    On the other side of the coin, this is perhaps why in blind tests people fail to pick out changes, that they believe they *may*, and I'm putting it no stronger than may, and excluding the obviously stupid claims such as hearing >20k, be able to detect in their own setup. It is hardly practical, but I'd be interested to know what would happen if the listener could have an extended listen for a few days to just one of the blinds in order to rewire their brain to it, and then doing the blind tests. Could they pick one from the other then more consistently then I wonder?

    In my own experience, I have a couple of sets of speakers and I love set A. Much better than set B. A few months go by, and I swap over to set B - hmmm, they sound better, I'll use them! I am sure that what I am really picking up on is like a difference between them, and that is what sounds "new" and different and hence "better". After a few months of B, I can connect up A and think hmmm, they sound better, I'll use them!

    Of course I could just have goldfish memory, there is other evidence in this regard!

    Mine's the one that oh, er, I'm sure I was wearing one when I came in...

    1. Semtex451 Silver badge

      Re: Something else often overlooked

      Brilliant post- I need a thumbs up 10 pack

    2. Mitoo Bobsworth

      Re: Something else often overlooked

      Hit the nail on the head - perception, ultimately, is the primary factor. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  9. Rosco

    Do Apple want the streaming licenses from Beats?

    From Daring Fireball (he's an Apple shill but he's nevertheless pretty intelligent):

    Numerous people are wondering if it’s all about streaming rights from the music labels — i.e. rights that Apple couldn’t get on its own (because the music labels have long resented iTunes’s dominance in digital music downloads), so they’re buying a company that negotiated those rights on their own. The problem with this theory is that those licenses (to my understanding) aren’t transferable in the event of an acquisition. Music label executives may be dumb, but they’re not that dumb.

    1. jason 7

      Re: Do Apple want the streaming licenses from Beats?

      Tax write-off then?

      1. Rosco

        Re: Do Apple want the streaming licenses from Beats?

        Possible. I'm glad to say I don't understand that sort of high-finance stuff :)

      2. NogginTheNog
        Facepalm

        Re: Do Apple want the streaming licenses from Beats?

        "Tax write-off then?"

        That would presume they paid much tax in the first place.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Do Apple want the streaming licenses from Beats?

      >. The problem with this theory is that those licenses (to my understanding) aren’t transferable in the event of an acquisition.

      I'm sure Apple have enough lawyers to make sure that "Apple Holding Holding Holding Inc" of Grand Cayman's doesn't actually acquire "Beats Holding Holding ltd" of the Dutch Antiles.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Do Apple want the streaming licenses from Beats?

      "Music label executives may be dumb, but they’re not that dumb."

      They're not dumb at all. Beats was pretty much hijacked from Monster thanks to naivity in Monster's approach to contract writing.

      http://gizmodo.com/5981823/beat-by-dre-the-inside-story-of-how-monster-lost-the-world

      also http://www.businessinsider.com/monster-misses-in-apple-beats-acquisition-2014-5

      I wouldn't be at all surprised to see "Apple by Beats" after a few years,

    4. Ian 55

      Re: Do Apple want the streaming licenses from Beats?

      Given how much they pay - "Beats Music has just 111,000 registered accounts, leaked figures show: Royalty statement shows streaming service set up by Dr Dre paid just $0.000126 per play in March" says the Guardian story - it probably is.

  10. Simon Harris Silver badge
    Happy

    Signal Processing

    "The headphones contain something called "by Beats", without a trace of ostentation, and the Beats Acoustic Engine, which is presumably a bit of DSP made for 25 cents and programmed to convolve the unsuspecting input signal with the impulse response of said Mississippi bullfrog."

    If my signal processing teacher had used phrases like that I might have paid more attention in lectures!

  11. MJI Silver badge

    I am sticking with Sennheiser and Walkman

    Now Sennheiser that is a good headphone brand.

    1. Tanuki
      Happy

      Re: I am sticking with Sennheiser and Walkman

      You will only get your hands on my Clement-Clarke Airlite-62s over my cold, dead body.

      1. Frankee Llonnygog

        Re: I am sticking with Sennheiser and Walkman

        "You will only get your hands on my Clement-Clarke Airlite-62s over my cold, dead body."

        You may be listening too loud

      2. Franklin
        Joke

        Re: I am sticking with Sennheiser and Walkman

        "You will only get your hands on my Clement-Clarke Airlite-62s over my cold, dead body."

        Your terms are acceptable.

    2. Swarthy Silver badge

      Re: I am sticking with Sennheiser and Walkman

      For a walkman or other portable, without a headphone amp, I'll stick with my Koss KSC75s.

      Although, I wouldn't say no if someone offered me a set of Sennheisers or Grados, I'd just get (or build) a small amp for 'em.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: I am sticking with Sennheiser and Walkman

      Yes, but I have a soft spot for my Fostek T20s.

      1. The Dude

        40 year old Sansui headphones

        They probably should have died years ago, but my 40 year old Sansui headphones still sound awesome. One of my friends has the exact same headphones, same vintage, and he too says they are the best headphones he's ever heard. Anyone know where we can get replacement ear cushions?

        I bought my son Ferrari headphones (cheap, from a discount surplus outfit) and they sound pretty damn good too.

        Beats... not so much. I thought Apple was the "quality" king....

    4. Def Silver badge

      Re: I am sticking with Sennheiser and Walkman

      Now Sennheiser that is a good headphone brand.

      That was a joke, right?

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: I am sticking with Sennheiser and Walkman

        That was a joke, right?

        Sennheiser has good kit; back in the day their HD424 was THE headphone in that class. And they even have some astonishing kit, like their electrostatics. But that doesn't mean that everything by them is excellent, or even great. Same with AKG, Koss, you name it, basically every manufacturer that has a broad range of products. And especially with headphones, like speakers, specs don't even start to tell you how a specific model will sound; your ears and brain come into play there too.

      2. MJI Silver badge

        Re: I am sticking with Sennheiser and Walkman

        Well they do sound better than the in ears it came with, and are pretty good in their price range.

        1. Def Silver badge

          Re: I am sticking with Sennheiser and Walkman

          I would argue that Sennheiser *had* good kit. There was a time when I wouldn't consider anyone else. But those days are long gone it seems. The last Sennheiser ear-buds I bought were absolutely atrocious. They sounded pretty awful, and their design and construction was a joke. From what I can recall:

          1) The ear-buds themselves were pretty uncomfortable, and kept popping out or working themselves loose from my ears every half hour. I don't think they actually came with foam covers - I eventually found some old ones at the bottom of a drawer that helped.

          2) The cord was split in a Y shape equally on both sides. Gone are the days when the cord used to lie across your neck (and bear some of the weight of the swinging cable) and fall down one side (into your jacket pocket).

          3) The actual split was a real Y shape, the two top cables leading to the ear-buds were distinctly separated from each other. I suspect this was a vague, untested attempt to prevent the leads from tangling up so easily.

          4) The leads tangled up more easily than any other headphones I've ever owned (and I'm pretty old - I've owned a lot).

          5) Untangling them was considerably harder than usual because the cables were coated in a soft rubber which meant they had a tendency to hug one another instead of slide smoothly over each other.

          6) I'm fairly certain the actual jack had a slightly dodgy connection in there too, but that could have been the socket they were plugged into.

          Anyway... I bought these as a replacement for the default headphones that came with my iPod (that had finally broken after a few good years of service). Compared to the Apple supplied ear-buds which *never* tangled the Sennheiser seemed like some horrible joke that I still haven't got. And they didn't sound as good as the Apple ones either.

          These days I'm rocking out with some 250ohm Beyerdynamic DT250s, which are absolutely fantastic.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I am sticking with Sennheiser and Walkman

            Please God I never get stuck with you in a lift.

          2. Stoneshop Silver badge
            FAIL

            @Def Re: I am sticking with Sennheiser and Walkman

            You need to learn the difference between headphones and earphones.

    5. DrBobK

      Re: I am sticking with Sennheiser and Walkman

      Both Senn HD-25 and HD-26 Pro seem great headphone for portable gear. Reasonably indestructible, replaceable parts if you do manage to break anything. Ugly as sin. No audiophile gibberish that I know of.

  12. Nosher

    Whilst I agree with a lot of this article, I wouldn't totally diss re-releasing old recordings. I think it's right to argue that it would make no difference just going from CD to SACD (or Pono) in and of itself, but taking original source recordings, cleaning them up and remastering them for a CD audience can make a huge difference. For about 20 years I assumed that the instrument on After the Ordeal, off Genesis' Selling England LP was a guitar, but the Nick Davis 2007 remix (although controversial to many fans) does at last reveal it to be the mandolin it's supposed to be!

    1. Fihart

      Re: Genesis reissues @Nosher

      Have to agree. Sat down with friend to listen to remastered Foxtrot.

      He very dubious until I pulled out a CDR made from original vinyl issue.

      The remaster was much better.

  13. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Facepalm

    HiFi progress

    I put it to a hi-fi dealer that when buying kit 25 years ago I was told that "perfection was just around the corner" with developments in loudspeaker design and, for example, oversampling on CDs.

    So I reasoned that it should now be possible to buy a perfect system, and from developments in electronics and manufacturing, pay a reasonable price for it. So hand it over, my good man.

    Still waiting...

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: HiFi progress

      You can.

      It's is "solved". In the same way that colour is "solved" on displays. Oh, but you will notice banding if you only show reds on a screen, just as you will notice distortion if the recording is downsampled DAB radio to save on costs.

      The technology is there, it's if the cost is viable, or the marketing is transparent. :P

  14. ArkhamNative
    Childcatcher

    Water is wet?

    As one of the ~1% who would have still read the article with a less deceptive headline, I'll comment the obvious: 'Digital' has always been less about fidelity and more about squeezing things into smaller spaces for convenience and profit. If you're looking for high fidelity, you won't find it streaming/portable/mass market.

    Also, the evolution beyond "CD quality" may finally have arrived with uncompressed "pure audio" on blu-ray. Let's hope so. It's been a very long 30 years.

    For the 99% who came for dirt/rants on Apple: well, clickbaiting happens, especially here. Hope you learned something. :)

  15. Phredd

    Boosted BASS delivered at high levels into earphones. What better way to further scramble the brains of fanbois.

  16. M Gale

    20khz

    Only in mono. Divide by two to get the CD format's bandwidth in stereo. Still heaps better than what came before, mind.

    As for why anybody would want 192Khz/24 bit, I have to say "if it costs beans, then why the hell not?" It's cheap enough to make hardware that good that it comes with my (Asus M4A78LT-M) motherboard as standard.

    You also mentioned exactly why people would want sampling rates that high: For creating their own masters.

    1. Steve Todd

      Re: 20khz

      Erm, I think you'll find that EACH channel on a CD is 44.1K 16 bit samples/sec, there is no divide by two for stereo.

      Oh, and 192/24 is good for mastering tracks, where you're going to process the data in various ways. Once you have finished that then down mixing to 44.1/16 is fine.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: 20khz

        Sampling at 192kHz allows you to get closer to 22KHz or 24 kHz (CD or MP3) with a cheaper filter. Originally material started to drop in response between 12kHz and 16KHz. With 44.1kHz there must be nothing above the background level at 22.05KHz. A Brick Wall or Cliff filter in Analogue electronics isn't possible.

        With 192kHz sampling you can have flat response (inc Phase) up to 24kHz and then use a DSP filter to limit content below 22kHz before downsampling for CD or Distribution. Anti-aliasing.

        Distribution doesn't need more than 16 bits & 44KHz Sampling. But it's an advantage to capture and edit/process/mix to use 192kHz & 24bit ADC.

        On playing also interpolation to 192KHz sampling simply allows a cheaper 22kHz low pass filter on the DAC or Class D Amplifier, you have to have a filter after a DAC before an Analogue Amp (Or after Class D amp driving earphone or Speaker).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 20khz

      Trouble is, the DACs on your Asus will suck, badly, like most PC audio DACs.

      1. M Gale

        Re: 20khz

        Trouble is, the DACs on your Asus will suck, badly, like most PC audio DACs.

        And yet the only not-music noise I get in the headphones when ramped up to full whack is... total silence. Not even the horrific electronic noises coming from within the PC that Yesteryear's shitty onboard sound chips (and some shitty dedicated sound cards) used to make. Not even the hint of a hiss from a cheap PA stage. The CRT whine from my monitor is louder, and that's when I'm wearing the heavily-earmuffed headphones. The line-in might hiss a tiny bit when you turn it up to clip-the-hell-out-of-a-gnat's-fart levels.

        I've yet to feed the output of this thing through an oscilloscope to test DAC accuracy but, for an onboard sound chipset, it really is quite good. Again, whether you can or can't tell the difference, if 192Khz/24 bit costs beans to implement, then why the hell not? It's not like you're being charged a hundred quid for a metre of pure silver oxygen-free USB cable.

        1. Steve Todd

          Re: 20khz

          Cost and storage space. It costs per megabyte to distribute data (whether it be on a CD, via the internet or some other medium) and you need somewhere physical to put it. If you can't tell any difference between 44.1/16 and 192/24 then why go to the extra expense?

          1. M Gale

            Re: 20khz

            If you can't tell any difference between 44.1/16 and 192/24 then why go to the extra expense?

            Assuming there is any extra expense, perhaps for people who want to create their own music? If I'm recording something for later copying and distribution, it's going to be recorded at 48KHz at least, even if it'll be mixed down to 44.1 later. 192KHz/24 bit means you can normalize, time stretch, do whatever it is you want to do to the original signal, while still filling up every spare ounce of bandwidth in a 44.1/16 stream.

            So if you have a choice of a sound chipset capable of 44.1KHz/16 bit stereo, or 192KHz 24 bit 7.1 surround, and they both cost the same or are within pence or fractions of a penny of each other, you're going to choose the 44.1/16 option?

            1. Steve Todd

              Re: 20khz

              Can you not read the post I made above? 192/24 is good for mastering. If you're recording your own music then you absolutely want to use 192/24. When you're done then you'd need to be mad to think that distributing it to fans at more than 44.1/16 is a good idea. It costs you money to send the data and it costs them money to store it (disk storage isn't free). The reason that iTunes, Google, Amazon etc distribute electronically at 256Kbit/sec or better compressed is precisely because most users can't tell the difference and it cuts their costs (plus the user's download time).

        2. Terry Barnes

          Re: 20khz

          "I've yet to feed the output of this thing through an oscilloscope to test DAC accuracy"

          ...because such a thing is impossible.

          It would be like measuring the temperature of your poo to see how effective your teeth are. It rather ignores the other components in the system and, importantly, the inputs to the system.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: 20khz

          It'd be good to see a test of accuracy of a mobo DAC vs a few external hi-fi DACs. Admittedly, most of the ones I've tried are laptop ones, but with them it's not been noise, just the lifeless sound from them.

  17. Scuby
    Megaphone

    Beats ...

    ... their existing crappy headphone offering!

  18. Captain Queeg
    Happy

    "One can imagine no greater sucker..."

    Top quality statement - The Reg at its best!

  19. Slap

    Go pro audio

    I fell into HIFI about 30 years ago when HIFI was still relatively grounded in the real world. However even then there was snake oil creeping in. Today it's just bullshit at the mid and upper end of the market, filled with what is essentially quackery and snake oil

    Fast forward 30 years and I now have all the money in my bank account (thanks, IT) to buy a stupidly expensive system, but you know what, I wouldn't walk through the doors of a HIFI shop if you held a gun to my head, well I would, but only to have a laugh. These days I go straight to a pro audio outfit. 1 grands worth of pro audio kit will kick a 20 grand "HIFI system" into the dirt - no contest. Sure the pro audio kit lacks the "stylish design" of the HIFI gear, but I couldn't give a shit about that.

    As for headphones, I wouldn't touch beats with the proverbial barge pole. My weapons of choice are the senny HD25-II for portable use and the AKG Q701 for home use plus mixing and mastering. Funnily enough the Q701 is actually a celebrity endorsed headphone, but it's just a K702 with a different badge and it has a fantastically detailed and spacious presentation while retaining a fabulously good flat frequency response.

    Basically if the headphones aren't from Germany or Austria (Sennheiser, Beyer Dynamic, AKG) then I'm not interested, apart from a couple of notable Japanese exceptions - Denon and Audio Technica.

    1. Fihart

      Re: Go pro audio @Slap

      I go back further to the days when growing sales and the first Japanese imports were beginning to bring down hifi prices. A 25 watt amp could be bought for about £50, a very good Thorens turntable for £25 and KEF or Bowers & Wilkins speakers (which I still use today) for around £100.

      Then something called Linn Sondek came along and a sort of cult grew around it and the equally expensive NAIM amplifiers. I have no idea whether these products were are clever as was widely claimed -- but one look at the Linn might have suggested that it was inspired by the Thorens -- or by Acoustic Research who pretty much invented the belt drive, deeply suspended, turntable.

      At the time I felt there was a degree of snake oil about the way hifi was being up-priced. Trouble is that the prices they charged seems to have stuck -- while almost everything else electronic has come down significantly.

      People who pay premium for stuff like Beats headphones simply don't care enough about money (or about audio) to investigate cheaper alternatives like the Sennheisers I use.

  20. Nanners

    I've known apple

    I've been using apples since '97. I have always known apple. Been familiar with apple products. With the way they do things. I have always felt comfortable with apple. I honestly have no clue what apple is doing here. It feels totally unfamiliar and altogether wrong. The whole thing feels very microsoft to me. It's bizarre.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: I've known apple

      I agree. I laughed at Google for buying Nest for $3.2 billion, but unless there's more to their streaming contract thing that it appears, buying Beats will be an even bigger waste of money.

      Still, neither Apple or Google is going to come close to topping HP and Microsoft for massively overpaying for something you have to write off nearly in full within a few years.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: I've known apple

      I've been using apples since '97.

      Noob. I've been using apples since the late 1960s. Baked, fried, raw ... you name it.

  21. ecofeco Silver badge

    Beats headphones?

    "Look at me! I have cool, large and colorful headphones and more money than I know what to do wtih! LOOK AT ME DAMMIT!"

    I have a $10 pair of headphones* I bought several years ago. Slim, lightweight, cheap plastic with mini-jack. They have better sound than many pubs and clubs I've been in. I had no idea they were any good when I bought them and didn't care. I just needed some headphones at the time, quick and cheap.

    I have that brain that does NOT adjust to crappy sound. It has ruined my experience for listening to many a crappy garage band, over driven sound systems and cheap speakers and muddled recordings.

    I still rarely use them and when I do, I'm still surprised at how damn good they sound.

    Go figure.

    *TDK HP-100

    1. Swarthy Silver badge

      Re: Beats headphones?

      I had a similar experience with Koss KSC75s. Imagine my shock when looking for a "good" set of cans when I found them on head-fi.org, and they were comparable to 'phones that cost > $300 more.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Beats headphones?

      "I have that brain that does NOT adjust to crappy sound. It has ruined my experience for listening to many a crappy garage band, over driven sound systems and cheap speakers and muddled recordings."

      Ditto, but add to that "movies ruined by dickhead multiplex managers who think that putting everything at 11 makes it sound better" when it results in the subwoofers cones suffering overexcursion/rippling and adding their own colouration into the mix.

      I refuse to sit through a movie when the speakers are farting in the loud bits.

      1. handle

        Re: Beats headphones?

        You think that multiplex managers have control over the sound level?

  22. Trollslayer Silver badge

    Delicately put

    "Their expertise in porcine aerodynamics is unparalleled"

    I remember when I was first traumatised by directional speaker cable. Fortunately for others there wasn't a chainsaw to hand.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Delicately put

      The best speaker cable I had was 10 metre runs of 16mm2 2-core power cable. No losses to speak of and capable of being tripped over without breaking.

      Ugly, but oh so functional.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Delicately put

        >The best speaker cable I had was 10 metre runs of 16mm2 2-core power cable.

        But was it directional ?

        1. Tufty Squirrel

          Directional?

          Of course it's directional. One pair of wires goes in the direction of the left speaker, and the other goes in the direction of the right speaker.

          I don't do 16mm^2, though. 1.5mm solid core is fine. Well, overkill, really.

        2. Tanuki
          Devil

          Re: Delicately put

          What happens with "Directional" speaker cables if you wire them *the wrong way round* ??

          1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

            Re: Delicately put

            "What happens with "Directional" speaker cables if you wire them *the wrong way round* ??"

            Don't you know? Your speakers will become microphones and the transduced signal will go towards the amplifier, clash with the output signal and produce jitter and voltaic unbalanced fluctuations of periodic impedance and your power amp will explode.

          2. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: Delicately put

            What happens with "Directional" speaker cables if you wire them *the wrong way round* ??

            Same as when you play a recording backwards: satanic mind corruption. Only more subtle, as the song's words still appear to be sung forwards.

            1. MJI Silver badge

              Re: Delicately put

              Speaker cable

              I bought cable which was thick and meaty, not expensive, and you know what, it sounded better than the thin stuff I took off.

              Those speakers were too big for the thin wire I had lying around.

              Directional cable - as above 1 to left 1 to right, 1 to centre and a few to back

              Wiring wrong way round, erk just don't left to left right to right and do not cross them over.

              1. Tufty Squirrel

                Re: Delicately put

                Up to a certain point, there are gains to be had. If you have a decent amp, source, and speakers, then you /may/ be able to hear the difference between super-cheapo "wet string" bellwire speaker cable as shipped with Dixons-style hifi and a "fatter" speaker cable. You will not, however, be able to tell the difference between £10/m speaker cable, £1000/m monster cable, or 10p/m 1.5mm solid core mains cable - there is none.

  23. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    One has to remember the iPhone generation believes in spending upwards of three hundred bux only to reproduce the tinny sound of a 1960s transistor radio, and will insist it is a worthwhile thing to do that.

    I have friends who seriously believe their iPhone speaker sound reproduction is "amazing".

    As for those dolts who drive past my house with the fixtures of their vehicles rattling on account of all the bolts having rattled loose due to the attentions of the on-board stereo, please don't count them as audiophiles. Racketophiles would be more accurate.

    1. Robert Baker
      Devil

      Smartphone speaker sound reproduction *is* amazing

      ...it's amazingly naff.

  24. Mitoo Bobsworth

    It's not about the music.

    Like all consumer tech of the day, it's about the marketing, which (to my experience) seems to boil down to one tenet - (PR) garbage in - (product) garbage out.

    I knew an electronics engineer who carefully designed & built himself a stereo amplifier with 2 controls - an on/off switch & a volume pot, run through two equally crafted speaker enclosures. Minimal design, minimal & value matched components, every aspect carefully considered. Slightly off-topic I know, but the point is I have yet to hear a truer, cleaner sound come from ANY audio system since then. When I asked him " What about the bass/treble/eq controls" etc. He simply said " I like to hear a recording in it's truest form, & you don't really need that stuff in the middle if you design your system well."

    Real knowledge, real result - point taken.

    1. M Gale

      Re: It's not about the music.

      He simply said " I like to hear a recording in it's truest form, & you don't really need that stuff in the middle if you design your system well."

      True in theory.

      In practise, no two speaker sets or headphones have the same response curve, and some people don't know how to master a track.

      Though, it does sound like a nice amp stage for a stacking system. Blinkenlights, sliders and buttons everywhere? Pffft. Volume, on and off. Job done. I can definitely appreciate that.

    2. Fihart

      Re: It's not about the music. @Mitoo Bobsworth

      Dead right. One boring Xmas I found a real bottom-of-the-range Sony receiver dumped in the rubbish. To amuse myself I removed all signal switching and tone/balance components from the signal path. Dug out a pair of single drive units speaker boxes (so no crossover).

      Surprising how good a 5 watt amp can sound with a clean signal and efficient speakers.

      Try building a passive preamp (basically two mono potentiometer volume controls in a box) to link a CD player to the tape monitor input of a hifi amp and be pleasantly surprised.

    3. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: It's not about the music.

      I knew an electronics engineer who carefully designed & built himself a stereo amplifier with 2 controls - an on/off switch & a volume pot, run through two equally crafted speaker enclosures

      He probably had just the one source he wanted to listen to. My version also has two input selectors (one for the main amp, one for the tape recording source), and an MC/MM preamp with RIAA correction.

      1. Mitoo Bobsworth

        Re: It's not about the music.

        I should have mentioned in my original post that he was mostly a classical music lover and was mindful of the recordings he collected. Also, this was the days when the interweb of things was in it's infancy - record/cd collections were the order of the day then (showing my age here!).

        My original point was that he had sufficient knowledge to realise the superfluous nature of a lot of the consumer level "tech" thrown into audio reproduction, then and now.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why the spite and bile at hifi lovers?

    I know a lot of it gets daft (anyone remember Jimmy Hughes and his slightly obsessional tweaking?) but go and listen to £30k+ of Naim Audio gear driven from a Linn Sondek and then tell us about the lack of progress and craven worship of semi-dead formats in the hifi world. Go on, I dare you, but leave your credit card at home.

    And re Neil Young: listen to Mirrorball, and then try to argue how much he cares about good quality sound.

    1. M Gale

      Re: Why the spite and bile at hifi lovers?

      What I would like to see is a double-blind study where you can tell a £30K rig from a £500 rig.

      Just don't be surprised if you get it wrong.

      1. That Awful Puppy

        Re: Why the spite and bile at hifi lovers?

        Increase the 500 quid to 3000 quid and it's more likely. Good bass reproduction costs a fair deal of money, but yeah. A 3k studio rig (Genelec springs to mind) is hardly likely to be beaten by a 30k audiophile rig.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why the spite and bile at hifi lovers?

        £500 vs £30k and you, having never met me, are absolutely sure I couldn't hear the difference? Stop being a muppet.

        1. NumptyScrub

          Re: Why the spite and bile at hifi lovers?

          quote: "£500 vs £30k and you, having never met me, are absolutely sure I couldn't hear the difference?"

          Nope, the point being made was that you seem convinced you could. I'm fairly sure I could not, such that I would also find it believable that others could not, regardless of their personal feelings in the matter.

          Were I to suggest that the £500 kit was in fact component cost, and furthermore custom built by an acoustic engineer, are you sure you could still tell the difference between £30k retail kit and £500 custom engineered kit in a double-blind test using the same CD as the input?

        2. M Gale

          Re: Why the spite and bile at hifi lovers?

          £500 vs £30k and you, having never met me, are absolutely sure I couldn't hear the difference? Stop being a muppet.

          What I said was don't be surprised if you get it wrong in a double-blind test. You know, where neither you nor the tester know what hi fi is being used? Double-blind, geddit?

          I would also suggest you stop being taken for a ride by the same people who sell £500 USB cables. I've known people with £300 midi systems that have half a kilowatt of RMS output, and yet can turn that box up all the way without the subwoofer even nearly starting to fart and rattle. It sounds good, across the whole frequency range, for £200 less than I suggested.

          Yes, I have played with B&O gear along with various other overpriced "audiophile" items. Even B&O is bloody cheap compared with some of the stuff that the Golden Ear Cult comes out with, and I still dare you to tell me which is better in a double-blind test.

  26. Charles Manning

    Maybe they just want a second brand

    Apple is an increadibly eletist brand that that is high margin.

    Perhaps Apple really want to release a range of products under the Beat brand.

    Many companies do this sort of brand tiering to bring to market different products. It allows them to sell low-margin products without tainting their high margin brands.

    It also allows them to promote two diferent "images" to the consumer. Beat for Hip-hoppers etc, Apple for their premium stuff to people who don't want to buy stuff made for hip-hoppers.

    Lexus vs Toyota is an obvious example of this sort of brand tiering.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Maybe they just want a second brand

      >Apple is an increadibly eletist brand that that is high margin."

      Their consumers are "aspirational", in that they *think* the products will make them somehow "cool" - that's not quite the same thing.

      I suspect that sort of old people who buy second rate Apple phones also buy second rate "gangsta" headphones, for the same reasons. It's not about "hi fi".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Maybe they just want a second brand

      Too true my friend. My Beamer 6 series, gold Breitling and iPhone make me CxO-aligned, and my Beats, low slung jeans and fixie are true for when I'm rockin' Sho'ditch when the markets close.

  27. Frankee Llonnygog

    If

    "If Apple were to invest a fraction of the amount they are proposing to pay for Beats ... "

    Have Apple proposed to pay anything for Beats? Wake me up when this stops being a rumour

  28. handle

    Room acoustics

    Now that's really cinderella. Yet people seem to think a loudspeaker will sound the same wherever it's put. The differences are enormous.

  29. hypernovasoftware

    I have no idea why Apple is interested in this crap; what's next: "Apple buys Monster Cable"?

    Makes no difference to my 62 year old ears. Stuff sounds the same to me as it did at 18.

  30. Peter X

    @Fihart re snakeoil

    The comments here reminded me of the guy who was claiming super-expensive audiophile-grade SATA cables made things sound better... and it turns out he's still of the opinion that he's right but oddly, without really detailing why; just some twaddle about some engineers have told him that he is right.

    It's comedy-gold though. I especially like the whole Lamborghini vs. Audi TT being a hair-dressers car thing to justify a 16-hundred-quid ethernet cable. Classy!

    1. pepper

      Re: @Fihart re snakeoil

      Haha thats gold, he seems to be mixing facts with fairy tales!

    2. Eponymous Cowherd

      Re: @Fihart re snakeoil

      Thank you so much for that link. It is well worth reading some of this guy's other articles, they are comedy gold.

      Particularly liked the £995 USB cable (I kid you not!!!)

    3. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: @Fihart re snakeoil

      "The whole point of any piece of hi-fi – even a lowly interconnect cable – is surely to move the listener closer to the music he is, one hopes, enjoying, and to facilitate even greater enjoyment."

      Ah, so my motorcycle is a piece of hi-fi gear, as it moves me closer to the music I will be enjoying at a live concert. Similarly, my boots, as I walk across the venue to the place I consider the optimum listening point.

      Coat, to prevent my enjoyment being dampe(ne)d by rain.

    4. Achilleas

      Re: @Fihart re snakeoil

      I was just about to link this when I found your post (had to scan through the three pages of comments to see if it was already mentioned).

      http://www.chord.co.uk/product/chord-sarum-tuned-aray-streaming-cable/

      I don't know what the best part about these cables are. That it's an Ethernet cable that increases the quality of audio streaming? That they cost over a £1000/metre? Or that they claim that the cable is *directional*!?

      I discovered these products a few months ago and was expecting to find out that they were a very elaborate joke. It seems they're dead serious.

      1. Ian 55

        Re: @Fihart re snakeoil

        "The presentation has much of the qualities exhibited by the finest Silver conductor cables along with the musicality of quality copper conductors, which provides useful benefits with the likes of YouTube videos, which do not always exhibit the greatest clarity through a standard USB connection"...

        I always knew the problem with YouTube was that I didn't pay £950 for a USB lead, but foolishly settled for a "less sophisticated £495 Digital Music Box Linus" one!

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More legendary writers please !

    Great to see John Watkinson writing for the Reg - some excellent books over the years (he says looking up fondly at a copy of the Art of Digital Audio on the bookshelf...). More writers of his depth of knowledge please.

    1. Killing Time

      Re: More legendary writers please !

      Got to agree, articles of this quality are why I read El Reg. Clear technical commentary with a health amount of wry observation. Keep it coming..

  32. ImpureScience

    Whoa...

    3.2 billion dollars for an eq setting. That, people, is genius.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Whoa...

      No, 3.2 billion dollars for a stylised lowercase 'b' logo

  33. Snapper

    I think...

    ..Apple is distracting us/pondlife journalists....again!

    My money's on something completely different being announced.

    1. Sander van der Wal
      Childcatcher

      Re: I think...

      Indeed. Remember the Samsung smart watch thingie.

  34. jb99

    Hard to know what to buy

    I'm looking for a good pair of headphones to mostly listen to music.

    But it's SO hard to know what to get. Price doesn't seem entirely reliable as a guide, and I basically don't know which reviewers to trust because many of them seem to believe the same stupid things that this article is about.

    How can I tell what to buy?

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Hard to know what to buy

      Try a pair of Grados...

      SR-60 if you want to listen to portables, '80 or '125 for a home system.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Re: Hard to know what to buy

        What's with the downvote? You don't like Grado cans? - OK, grow a pair and say so (and say why, while you're at that)...

    2. Colin Ritchie
      Windows

      Re: Hard to know what to buy

      Sennheiser PX-100 foldaway headphones are about £40 and sound great, Grados SR60i headphones are even better but about £100 a pop. Pays yer money takes yer choice, I use both.

      http://www.whathifi.com/review/sennheiser-px100-ii

      http://www.whathifi.com/review/grado-sr60i

      I didn't down vote anyone btw.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Re: Hard to know what to buy

        Actually, you can buy sr60i on Amazon for GBP 80 + delivery, new (it says only 2 left in stock, but that is probably not accurate).

  35. stu 4

    paper cone piston

    I do find it strange that we spend so much time talking about compression, bitrates, digital vs vinyl

    and yet the end result is that we represent the sound of a multitude of real instruments and voices at the end of the line, with a couple of cones vibrating back and forward.

    An enjoyable article. As an avid listener, and a logical electronic engineer/scientist I always find anything around audiophiles hilarious and love taking the piss out of them whenever I find them.

    Cables, speakers, bit rates.. it's like taking the piss out of the religious. Almost too easy.

    One of my mates is a guitarist. He buys 100 quid guitar leads.

    I try to point out to him that the shortness of a guitar lead, the sheer lack of bandwidth you actually require from it, and the basic single signal nature from the guitar, means that provided the basic physical/electrical requirements are met (and they are met with a basic 5 quid cable with a decent core/shield and connectors) there is no difference. Not, 'no difference I can hear'/ Not 'no difference to you maybe'.. NO DIFFERENCE. NONE. NADA.

    He still contends that his 'sound better'.

    I remember in the late 80s, of the the audiophile/audiotwat magazines had 8 free corners of cardboard on the front. You were to stick these onto your speakers and it revolutionized the sound....

    The weird thing to me, is usually in any technology you get 2 groups of people:

    1. the 'normals' : they just get something of reasonable quality that does the job.

    2. the Xphile twats: they spend a fortune on something they swear is better against all scientific evidence to the contrary (audio, camera optics, fuel for cars, you name it)

    But with audio, there is this third group:

    'the deaf twats'

    these people spend the same on 'fancy' kit as the audiophiles... but it's different kit. - market crap of dubious quality where there very much IS scientific evidence that it stinks... but they seem to THINK they are in the 'Xphile twat' category.

    It started with Bose, then monster cables, and now Beats audio... spending 300 quid of a piece of paper cones plastic headphones worth a fiver and proudly wearing their brightly coloured headphones in public 'look at me, I have DrDick headphones'

    I've never really been able to decide which group is most pitiable.

    If you must have a pair of headphones: Shure SRH240As. 40 quid.

    1. handle

      Re: paper cone piston

      Yes, I agree with most of that, apart from bit rates - lossy compression is usually tuned down to the level where the effects are audible.

      And as for Bose, well although most of it is doubtless brand engineering, I have to admit I was amazed at the amount of bass you get out of a Soundlink Mini. They really have done something clever there.

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: paper cone piston

      But with audio, there is this third group:

      'the deaf twats'

      Bluff Your Way in Hi-fi differentiated between five or six categories, but my copy is at home still packed in a box after a move, so I can't be more specific.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Record Label

    Rumors: They will make a new record label

    1. Jonathon Green

      Re: Record Label

      "Rumors: They will make a new record label"

      Well it didn't do Warner Brothers any harm. Something over 40 million copies sold I believe... :-)

  37. Juan Inamillion

    If you are into giggling at the absolute drivel written by most HiFi ‘experts’, you’ll love these -

    If you are into giggling at the absolute drivel written by most HiFi ‘experts’, you’ll love these -

    http://tinyurl.com/3b3yrd

    http://tinyurl.com/qapubg6

  38. handle
    Trollface

    There's such a stark parallel...

    ...between hi-fi nuts and anthropomorphic climate-change deniers.

    Let the downvotes roll in. ;)

    1. Tubs

      Re: There's such a stark parallel...

      Not that you might have a point - but put me in both camps.

      My apologies to all for feeding the troll.

  39. Peter X

    We've seen the cables, we've laughed at the reviews...

    ... but this... this... is un***king believable. People of el-Reg, it gives me a huge amount of pleasure to bring you:

    Silent Mount SM5 Titanium 4 (yeah, just the four!) 50mm rack mount screw thingies!

    Quoting: "Can the change of materials make a difference? Absolutely: the titanium Silent Mount SM5s are identical in size to the stainless steel SM5s but are considerable lighter. The reduced weight improves energy transfer and this is why the titanium version produces a better performance."

    They're hand-crafted in Japan you know! And they cost: £599 - yeah, so that's near enough £150 quid for each one (shakes head in disbelief).

    Honestly, I had to check the URL to make sure I hadn't accidentally strayed to audiophile.theonion.com.

  40. doubled1

    cool factor and marketing

    I cant fathom why Apple would buy them at all from a technology perspective, However there are many consumers that think Beats is a cool brand. I doubt if any of them even try other audio devices at all. they just see them on the shelf with a bunch of other brands and pick them because they read a review on Cnet or some other site.

    the silly thing is that Apple has their own cool factor and in my mind cheapens their brand by picking up Beats. but thats just me - a tech person that know darn well that Beats is all marketing.

    1. Bullseyed

      Re: cool factor and marketing

      If you know that Beats is all marketing, why exactly would you buy Apple kit?

    2. Darryl

      Re: cool factor and marketing

      I don't think anyone buys Beats based on a review anywhere. It's all about image. <insert celebrity name here> uses this product, so I must use it too.

  41. Benchops

    Excellent article

    I'm only passingly interested in this subject (I enjoy listening to music, not necessarily the reproduction of music, and I don't mean live I mean just hearing the notes and interactions of instruments), but this article was a compelling read all the way through.

    It also contains my favourite sentence of this week: "If you think the quality is going to be maintained, then you have redefined thinking."

  42. Yugguy

    Seriously. If you buy ANYTHING on the basis of a celebrity endorsement then you are an IDIOT and deserve to be fleeced for every penny you have.

  43. Sil

    Great article.

    I wish all audio devices would be compatible with Flac & WMA lossless.

    Most of my music CDs converted to WMA lossless are 300-450 MB.

    This is quite acceptable, even for smartphones today, unless you absolutely need to have your entire collection wherever you go. But of course problem with smartphones is finding a decent headset.

    Qobuz offers WMA lossless as well as Flac up which is nice.

  44. Truth4u

    Style over subtance

    Apple at least do it properly. I hate that they get away with calling aluminium a "premium material", as if it was somehow rare difficult to acquire or work with, when in reality it is used mostly for covering turkeys and distributing unhealthy drinks. And planes, but you'd have to be pretty pretentious to say your consumer grade junk has the same level of engineering in it as a jet liner. But Beats don't even use Aluminium, just shiny red plastic, so it looks like a child's toy. Woo.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    hello, Philo

    I got some Sony earplugs that were on sale for like 20US at Radio Hack. They were O K and very bassy because of being airtight and also had the stethoscope effect in which anything that brushes against the wires causes sounds like someone's removed the grille and is cleaning the mic's diaphragm with a hankie. Don't care, I like that deaf-to-the-world and the stetho issue is worth it for me. Then the one coil blew/opened/died, and I was sad. Later I got a used walkman 1GB MP3 player at a thrift store for 5US and it had a set of some JVC plugs in it that had some nasty huge foam cones around the tube. I cut the tubes shorter and cut the tubes off the Sony pair's remains and put them together with CA glue, so now I can use the JVC drivers with the smallest of 3 Sony rubbers and push them way into my earholes for extra airtightness. Sometimes the rubbers turn inside out when I take them off and I have left a rubber inside once and had to dig it out. I listen to trance mixes that started life as digital works on a DAW and are made mostly of VST farts but then get distributed on CD or vinyl, and then the cool man plays vinyl into his recorder and releases a CD or a 256k MP3 for me to find on the web. Also, people rip the CDs or record the vinyl and put it up on youtube, meaning between 96k and 150k AAC. Either way, it costs nothing because nobody cares and sounds OK, too... because I don't care. I can't be an audiophile or even close and if I was ever cut out to be, I probably would have been more gentle with that Q-tip.

    I don't expect you to care either but it would be funny if an audiophile got physically ill from reading that.

  46. Grubby

    It'll probably work

    It actually makes some sort of sense from a business perspective. Both are seen as "premium" brands by their customers / fan base. They have a similar customer base who are more like fans, loyal and willing to defend their product; probably because deep down they feel they need to justify spending so much on something that is available for far less and they know it.

    Also HTC and a few other mobile / tablet and laptop manufacturers have been flogging beats as "the best sound quality since the invention of the ear" so it would disrupt their businesses for a little while as it's unlikely they'll still be able to include an apple product with their devices.

    I have a pair of beats headphones I got free with some htc phone I got a while ago, they have lasted longer than the phone. They'll be better than the current apple headphones which is the equivalent to taping a paper cup to each ear and asking someone 100 yards away to sing whatever song you want to listen to while you spin round on the spot.

  47. thx1138v2

    The purchase isn't about sound

    Apple is obviously buying a customer base of prequalified "marketing susceptible" consumers with more money than sense. As they say, "Priceless!"

    The headphones and music are thrown in as a backup plan.

  48. MarkSitkowski

    Ordure of Bull?

    Having spent the first three years after college in the design of loudspeakers and headphones, I can confirm that the audio market runs exclusively on Ordure of Bull and Vested Commercial Interests.

    The impedance match of the moving mechanical bits of a loudspeaker to the air it pushes vary enormously with frequency and amplitude, leading to high coloration of the sound. Couple that with the non-linear frequency response of peoples' ears, and you get a huge discrepancy in the perceived quality of sound from a given speaker, depending on who's listening.

    We solved this problem with two horizontally opposed, phase-cancelling ultrasonic transducers, where the audio signal frequency-modulated one of the transducers, causing sound to appear from a hole in the air. Since there was a 100% impedance match (air-to-air) we could produce 100dBA levels with only a few milliwatts of audio power.

    Could we get any interest from the audio manufacturers? Nah - people like loudspeakers in boxes, amplifiers that warm the room, and the ability to impress with figures of 'peak music power', where 700 watts represents the real output of 10watts RMS.

    I'd just like to add, that it makes a change, to read an article written by someone who obviously knows his subject, and can see past the Ordure of Bull .

    1. handle

      Re: Ordure of Bull?

      I would be interested to read about this, but a search of your name and loudspeaker didn't find anything.

      1. MarkSitkowski

        Re: Ordure of Bull?

        @handle: The project results were never published, and the patent application dropped. If you're really interested, drop me a line, and I'll tell you as much of the technical details as I can remember.

  49. WaveSynthBeep

    It seems to me that the audiophile 'industry' is a bit like the whisk(e)y industry. We solved the problem of turning grain into alcohol a long time ago - the purity of industrial distillate is pretty good these days. But pure alcohol isn't what people want. It's all about the impurities - all those peaty, smoky, earthy notes, botanicals, colourants, whatever. The more impurities it's managed to acquire the better. That's why it's left sitting around pickling bits of tree for a very long time.

    I wonder whether it's the same for 'audiophiles' - actually they like small amounts of distortion and it doesn't 'sound right' if they aren't there.

    The good news is this is easy to game - just add a DSP which introduces the 'right' distortion, sell it for $5000, profit.

    Which, incidentally, doesn't seem far off what 'Beats Audio' does today.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      "I wonder whether it's the same for 'audiophiles' - actually they like small amounts of distortion and it doesn't 'sound right' if they aren't there."

      It's not that simple. There are always distortions in any audio system. The whole thing is one total distortion because it is trying to do the impossible, which is to reproduce accurately a complex 3D acoustic field using only 2 (for stereo) small point-based sources.

      Inevitably, some parts of the original sound are discarded in the process, some are distorted beyond recognition and the reproduction (imitation?) of the rest requires compromises.

      In addition, we still don't know enough about psychoacoustics to say precisely which of the discarded bits and which of the compromises really matter and to predict how the combination of these limitations and the acoustics of the place where the audio will be reproduced will affect the subjective sound of the system.

      With so much uncertainty and such great differences between the original sound field and what the system is producing it is to be expected that opinions will differ. It also explains why, in search for the elusive perfection, some people may chase rainbows and let themselves be seduced by scammers.

      However, it should not be the binary choice between being a total nutcase and being a nihilist audio-punk for whom the quality in audio reproduction is "destroying the musicality" - for most sane people the quality should and does matter and it can be achieved without them having to throw themselves into spending excesses.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        we still don't know enough about psychoacoustics to say precisely which of the discarded bits and which of the compromises really matter

        I know enough to say which ones matter to me. I've heard live music, and I've heard recorded music, and the main difference is the latter is generally too loud unless I get pretty far away from the source. I'm not in the audio-reproduction industry, so I'm not sure why I should care about anything else.

        for most sane people the quality should and does matter

        Bah. And humbug. I don't believe anyone of my personal acquaintance really cares about "quality" in this sense - when it comes down to it, they're just as happy listening to music from portable MP3 devices playing through cheap earbuds as they are with any other kind. No doubt some people care, but "most" is a grotesque exaggeration.1 And why "should" it matter? What ethical imperative attaches here?

        1Most people care primarily about things further down Maslow's hierarchy, and even if we restrict the debate to folks who enjoy the luxury of worrying about audio reproduction in their entertainment, I am very dubious the assertion applies.

        1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          OK, most people who listen to recorded music (music means music and not just any assortment of rhythmic noise and shouted expletives) at home.

          "And why "should" it matter?" - because quality should matter in general. Quality of food, drink, life, you know.

          "I've heard live music, and I've heard recorded music, and the main difference is the latter is generally too loud "

          You have heard of volume controls, haven't you? Usually, but not always, it's a big round knob on the amplifier...

  50. Joe Gurman

    Ah, the laugh lines of yesteryear

    I can still recall the time, a couple of years after CD players became affordable to us hoi polloi, when a commission-based salesperson for an unlamentedly long since expired big box electronics chain tried to upsell me based on a unit's 88 kHz sampling rate. Wait, I thought, I know what the Nyquist theorem means, but how can I explain it to him? Much headshaking on both sides.

    And now that I'm a geezer, I doubt I'd need music sampled at much above 30 kHz, even if I hadn't spent a decade and a half working in a corner of a server room.

  51. Bullseyed

    Apple and Audio Quality?

    Perhaps Apple has made some corrections in the last 15 years or so, but one of the problems with iTunes has always been quality. Apple's overpriced and underfunctioned MP3 players had a problem when they first rolled on to the scene. They had less storage than their competitors and the media wasn't removable. You couldn't just carry a couple other SD cards in your pocket to get more music. As a result, they had to do more with less space. They compressed their audio files down as small as possible, figuring that a lot of barely audible music was better than less music with actual fidelity.

    If their MP3s are still super compressed, I don't see what difference it would make even if the Beats headphones were as good as they claim to be.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Was 'thumbing' through an online magazine the other day. £5000 for a phono cartridge - that's just the bit the holds the needle on the end of a turntable arm.

    £5000 for just the cartridge, no deck or anything else... Madness...

  53. clean_state
    Thumb Up

    good audio R&D from Apple with little buzz: the new earpods

    I recently bought a pair of earpods from Apple because my previous pair broke. It is the first time I am impressed by the design of an earphone. They are almost completely closed. The sound escapes through two tiny holes. This is practical as dirt has little room to go in. The to holes are also cleverly positioned to send the sound into you ear canal in an optimal way. With a usual pair of earphones (no in-ear), when you press on the buds slightly, the sound usually increases significantly in quality. But it is not practical to keep your finger on the earphone al the time while listening. In-ear earphones solve this but are very uncomfortable and I find listening to my deglutition noises superimposed on my music rather disturbing. With the App earpods, the sound quality is good without pressing on them and does not improve markedly if you do. I guess this is a consequence of the two cleverly designed directions to which sound is sent.

    I think it is obvious that a lot of R&D has gone into the design of these $30 earpods and I like the result. I also own a pair of $300 Parrot Zik Cans and I have to admit that they do not sound "better" to me.

    Congrats to the engineer who designed the new earpods. The $3Bn should go to him and not to some idiotic audiophile-branded hyper-marketed brand.

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    CDs are fine, and...

    ... I agree with everything in this article. However, I could not help but make a slight correction: The sampling rate of CD allows an audio bandwidth of 20kHz, which is beyond the range of human hearing _of the average adult_.

  55. Robert Baker
    FAIL

    Audiofails

    This thread reminds me of one idiot I knew at school; a self-proclaimed "audiophile" who to my mind would more accurately be called a "cacophonophile", since his idea was the same as that of those other idiots who buy Beats-me-why-anyone-falls-for-this-rubbish headphones; namely, louder+more bass=higher fidelity. For my part, even back then I failed to see how marginalising three-quarters of the musical spectrum (and the three-quarters which, in most real music (e.g. not (c)rap), contains the most important parts) constitutes any kind of "fidelity".

    At one point, the idiot sought to "improve" a pair of good little all-round speakers by removing the vented backs and replacing them with solid ones. The result, as per his intention, was to greatly increase the bass response; unfortunately this destroyed the balance of the speakers, as the other three registers were barely audible. Also, the increase in the quantity of the bass was at the expense of a vast reduction in quality; instead of being crisp and clean as before, the newly augumented bass was muffled and boomy. Did I mention that another of his beliefs was that you can get something for nothing?

    I've (fortunately) lost contact with him in the intervening 40 years. No doubt he went on to own a system using solid-gold, directional, oxygen-free speaker cables which must be installed running due north/south and by the light of the full moon — and then spoiled any "improvement" thus gained by having too many woofers and not enough tweeters. He probably also fell for the bollards about coating the edges of his CDs with a special expensive green marker pen (which is probably a cheap marker pen with a fancy label stuck on it), and never mind the fact that even if the "problem" this is supposed to "solve" actually existed, the infrared lasers used to read CDs are no more likely to be absorbed efficiently by green dye than by any other colour.

  56. rtb61

    I really don't get how Beats succeed, they pretty uniformly get crappy reviews if you do just the smallest amount of research, what the hell is going on in the minds of the people that buy them.

    Does excessive bass have a dumbing down affect, do you kill brain cells by turning up the bass and do people stupid enough to buy them earn the money to be able to buy them?

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I bought my Quad 33pre amp and 405 amp along with the Ram 200 speakers in 1977.

    I still use them.My vinyl records no longer crackle and pop but as I now have to wear hearing aids perhaps its not surprising :-)

    All the talk of gold plated this and oxygen free that takes me back to the days when I bought hi-fi magazines and thought I was learning so much.

    I've not bought one since I bought the kit. I still love the sound it makes, perhaps I did get it right.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Same here. I bought some Linn kit about 25 years ago. Cost a lot back then but amortized over 25 years it's not so much now. Still sounds great. Very happy with it. I imagine that I'd have spent at least the same amount of money replacing cheaper stuff over the same period of time.

      As for the article, I'm afraid you'll have a hard time persuading me that being able to play a high resolution, high sample rate master in my living room isn't better than a CD.

  58. Psyx
    Pint

    "Gamelan music is played at ear-splitting volumes where the ear is highly non-linear... intermodulation took place that allowed lower sidebands to fold down into the audible range."

    That's exactly what I said to my mate in the pub on Friday night.

  59. Verne

    One size does not fit all....

    One thing Apple have not sorted is their earbuds. One size does not fit all and I find it really annoying whilst commuting having to listen to several musical offerings all emanating from Apple buds. Proper fitting buds will require less level, should provide a better listening experience (marketing speak, sorry) and not piss off those of us that prefer not to listen to music all the time in public.

  60. Verne

    One size does not fit all....

    One thing Apple have not sorted is their earbuds. One size does not fit all and I find it really annoying whilst commuting having to listen to several musical offerings all emanating from Apple buds. Proper fitting buds will require less level, should provide a better listening experience (marketing speak, sorry) and not p**s off those of us that prefer not to listen to music all the time in public.

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