* Posts by Richard E

4 posts • joined 17 Aug 2009

Master Beats: Why doesn't audio quality matter these days?

Richard E

Hard to know where to start...

There are so many points here it's hard top know where to start.

Most modern music sounds crap because it's over-compressed at the mastering stage, where too many people think that making their content appear louder than anyone else's would make it sell better, whereas in fact it becomes a tiring muddy mess that makes people NOT buy music. And the technique doesn't work because a) everyone else is doing it and b) virtually everything you listen through has its own method of levelling things out that thwarts maximising. For more details, look up "Loudness Wars".

Most music heard on personal stereo systems whatever the make sounds crap because of lossy compression. MP3 - an ageing technology at best - is worst at this; AAC is much better but still not perfect. Lossy compression claims to remove the things you can't hear to reduce file sizes but in fact it removes plenty you CAN hear too. The only way round this is to use better compression, ie lossless. Apple Lossless and FLAC compress files without losing ANY data at all. Storage is cheap as anything now so why worry about compressing the crap out of your music (and the life out of it too) when you can hear it all? There are also new technologies in the pipeline that will deliver maximum detail if you have a special player and normal quality if you don't.

The main problem with listening on a personal stereo isn't the personal stereo, it's the headphones. Tiny little earbuds manufactured for pence are going to be hard-pushed to sound good. To get any kind of decent sound you will need something better - not necessarily over-hyped over-hyped names but good solid headphones made by reputable audio manufacturers at whatever price you can afford.

The last thing you might like to look at is the replay system. Your computer is not the best environment for music because it's so busy being good at doing other things. If you want to listen on your computer, however, you have many more options than you do if you want a personal stereo. To begin with you can buy an external USB DAC like Meridian Audio's Explorer or one of its competitors - a couple of hundred quid but worth it if you care about your music (and if you don't, why are you bothering?). Coupled with decent headphones, a good USB DAC can transform your listening, and the better the source, the better it sounds.

Hope this helps.

Happy birthday, LP: Can you believe it's only 65?

Richard E

The CD is not dead yet...

Although I'm sure it'll happen eventually, the Compact Disc is not dead yet as a medium, and reports of its demise have been exaggerated. There is still a greater selection of music available on CD than in the form of files, and of course the quality is generally better than file downloads unless the files were created losslessly. With any luck, the combination of convenience and quality that lossless files offer will win out in the end, but it's not certain at this point whether people actually care about quality enough for that to happen.

At the same time, the LP really has virtually gone away. It accounts for a tiny percentage of the current market, and while that percentage has risen significantly over recent years, a significant rise in a tiny percentage is still not very large. It's a fraction of the size of the CD market for example. Its popularity is due primarily to fashion and nostalgia, as it really isn't a very good representation of what the artist and producer intended. The same can be said of the overcompressed, over-"maximised" files and even CDs release in recent times thanks to the "loudness wars" of course, but while digital files can be created properly, the issues of the LP can never be fixed.

But that's not the point of the LP of course. As one cutting engineer put it after trying - and failing - to get a decent representation of the source material on to a disc, "Just sit back and hear what you want to hear".

'Leccy price hike: Greens to blame as well as energy biz

Richard E
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Somewhat misleading

I think you'll find that the current proportion of energy bills that goes to subsidising renewables is miniscule. Yes, it will rise somewhat over the coming years but it will never be anywhere near the money made by profiteering energy companies.

In addition, remember that energy security is going to become increasingly important as climate change kicks in. The more we rely on foreign energy sources, the more risk there is that we'll be caught out without power. Not only that, fossil fuel energy prices are set to rocket in the years ahead while renewables will actually get cheaper as the technology matures and is employed more widely.

In terms of energy security we should also be considering whether it's appropriate for our energy generation systems to be owned by overseas companies anyway, and whether or not they should be returned to state ownership and operated as non-profits. Energy supplies are simply too important to entrust to overseas interests and big business, and any profits should be ploughed back into the system to ensure we can meet the future's needs.

In real terms we actually are not promoting home-grown energy sources and renewables enough. Almost certainly we also need nuclear power, however unpopular it may be among Greens. If we wish to retain our lifestyles, we need to bring down CO2 emissions. If we don't, we will have a poorer and poorer lifestyle in the future as things get progressively worse. It's as simple as that.

Second Life figures cast doubt on Ofcom report

Richard E
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…and that's just half the story

Another reason why the Second Life figures are odd is that Nielsen changed their methodology in October 2008 (see p 290 of the Ofcom report). The graph takes a plunge at that very point—from 22 hours to four hours. The numbers come in at the left so high that the drop is particularly eye-catching.

Indeed, under the graph is the note: "Due to a change in methodology, use caution for comparisons pre October 2008". Caution? It means, essentially, that you can't do much with the data prior to October, and certainly not make comparisons across the boundary.

Second Life's figures are definitely going up. These days I see the number of concurrent users pushing up towards the 100,000 level and they have risen dramatically during "UK-friendly" times of day over the last year or so. I meet more UK residents than ever before.

This adds yet another level of untrustworthiness to the Nielsen's figures as discussed in the article. Second Life is a so-called "Web 2.0" application involving many different types of activity. In the course of a discussion in chat, one might switch to voice (technically another sub-application) or open a browser window to follow a link (another sub-application), all during the course of a conversation. Nielsen suggest that if you do any of those things, they stop counting your time in-world. Well, sorry, but I often have several apps running at once, in different windows, listening to music, following a link, getting some info for someone, or whatever. This is not 70s television watching that we are covering here, it's an immersive, linked series of activities that make up a whole multi-window, multi-screen, multi-person online experience.

Another example, it would seem, of people trying to quantify and analyse something they simply don't understand.

Thanks for a very useful article.

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