Sound Quality

Are we going to wait for decades, until bandwidth and desire conspire to deliver higher quality files, or is the music industry going to lead the charge in the distribution of higher quality digital music?

Notice I didn’t say analog music. The vinyl LP is just fine. You can catalog its faults, distortion and physical vulnerability, but you can’t deny its warmth. I’m not saying that we’ve got to bring back the twelve inch disc format, but we can recreate the listening experience, of gathering around the stereo enjoying music, if only some effort is expended, some attention is paid.

It’s not like the public is ignorant to quality sound. They hear it at movie theatres. They hear it at home, via multi-channel home theatre systems. Quality sound is a thrill. Why has this goal been abandoned?

Let’s count the fuckups.

Multi-channel high quality. Fuck more than two. If you’ve GOT to sit in one place to hear high quality sound, it’s a nonstarter. You don’t walk around your house watching a movie, but you do move when you listen to music. Any configuration that REQUIRES you to sit in one place is not desirable to most people. One of the great advantages of music is you can take it with you…we don’t want to cripple this.

Price. If you think a premium is the way to go, you’re not following the Blu-Ray disaster. Forget that the rival format was finally killed, people still don’t want Blu-Ray. Sales have tanked again…

They’re hoping the format will take off by October 2009. With Warner announcing simultaneous delivery of DVDs and iTunes rentals yesterday, any delay in physical disc format adoption is a potential fatal drag.

Bottom line, it’s got to be like the conversion from mono to stereo in the sixties. Both have got to be the same price… The high quality and the low. Then people WILL buy the higher one, believing that in the future they want its benefits… Then they’ll ultimately purchase the equipment to experience/hear the higher quality. If they’re broadcasting in HD, you want a plasma/LCD set in order to VIEW in higher quality. Especially after seeing the great images at a friend’s house. Hear high quality digital files at your buddy’s and YOU’RE going to want higher quality speakers to unlock the greatness in the tracks YOU own.

And the new higher quality must be digital. Analog is dead. And the files must be unlocked. Fully transferable. Let’s not fight the battles of the past.

And the sampling rate must be higher than that of the CD. You must be able to hear all the music. Exactly the way it was made. That’s the ATTRACTION!

Do we have enough bandwidth? Questionable in a country without a broadband policy. But maybe Verizon can be brought in as a partner, with its high speed FIOS system. Maybe that’s where flat rate/Jim Griffin music distribution should start. Get FIOS (which is not cheap), and you have access to everything!

Why should the industry care? People are dumb. They don’t know quality. Wrong! Then how do you explain most people listening to AM in their cars but purchasing expensive stereos in the sixties and seventies? People want to unlock the sound. Sound quality decreased with the 8-track and cassette and the MP3… But this is not because people didn’t care what music sounded like, they just wanted portability and convenience. Portability and convenience must be built into any new scheme!

The key is to get people excited about music. Hip-hop sounds good in present digital formats. Folk music does not. Quiet music needs to touch your heart, and it does this best in a higher quality format.

Someone needs to lead the charge. Someone needs to bring everybody together. ISPs, equipment manufacturers and producers/distributors. There must be a coherent plan, which will deliver dividends in the foreseeable future. The HDTV ramp-up should be used as a model. The availability and quality will drive adoption.

I listened to the Mudcrutch album via low quality excerpts on the band’s site. I didn’t like it, I thought it was crap. Then I listened to the files on my iPod, one song came alive. Then I played the album via my AUX OUT speakers and shit, now I’m HOOKED! There’s music underneath. I just had to scrub away all the shit obscuring it. It’s like falling in love. It’s hard to do from a distance, in the dark. But up close and personal, in the light, you’re hooked!

If you could hear my speakers, you’d buy them too. But, if the public at large were given truly high quality music to listen to, MANY people would buy them. They’d buy better headphones/earbuds for their iPods. We don’t want to kill the computer or iPod listening experience, we can’t deny the future. But if the music is truly that good, many will want a separate amplifier to hear even MORE of what’s underneath.

This benefits EVERYONE! Manufacturers, producers/distributors… Even concert promoters.

We’ve got to get everybody excited about music. That’s the future. Exclusivity/scarcity is death.

At some point in the future, high quality sound will reign. But why should we wait? Why can’t NARAS pick up the charge? Truly do something good for music. Or the RIAA… Do something positive instead of suing your customer base.

If you’re reading this, chances are you remember going to the stereo shop and being blown away by half-speed mastered vinyl discs. You lusted after both them and the equipment they were played on. Hell, "Crime Of The Century" is a religious experience on Mobile Fidelity, on MP3 it’s just another album. Music cannot be a second class citizen any longer, it must ascend to its rightful position as the most powerful, most fulfilling art form. Can’t someone LEAD THE CHARGE?

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