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Blog // Sounds
August 5, 2008

Any Future For High Quality Audio?

Ever since the introduction of the CD, the sound quality of commercial music has been in steady decline. The first CDs sounded awful, far worse than the albums they replaced. While the quality of CDs and digital mastering has improved, the loundness wars and the advent of MP3 have not only eroded those gains, they […]

Ever since the introduction of the CD, the sound quality of commercial music has been in steady decline. The first CDs sounded awful, far worse than the albums they replaced. While the quality of CDs and digital mastering has improved, the loundness wars and the advent of MP3 have not only eroded those gains, they have impoverished the listening experience of most music consumers (maybe forever?). We are now in an amazing situation where the potential quality of recorded music far, far exceeds not only the standard delivery formats, but also the equipment most people use to listen to music is worse than what would have been standard in a lot of homes a generation ago.

Content delivery versus price determines the tech specs for the consumer market, VHS, CD, MP3 all confirm that. Fact is, we have been on a downward spiral for a long time in terms of commercial music quality and until it becomes cheaper and faster to downloads *hundreds* of songs an hour in a high quality format, nothing is going to change.

HD video is an interesting case, because people are spending real money to consume a better format. It’s not impossible that people might spend in the future to consume a better quality of audio.

We don’t just need a new mindset towards audio quality, we also need a new pricing model and a new retail experience. I’m not going to pay music companies again for the same music on another format (I already did that up to a point with the vinyl to CD transition). I’m also no longer convinced by the idea that all music should be parity priced.

But, the shopping model also needs to change. It is still easier, faster and more pleasant for me to go to a local music store than to buy online. I also tend to end up with more new and unexpected purchases, which is a joy of buying music. Maybe that’s because I actually like talking to people who sell music (or am lucky enough to have local retailers who employ knowledgeable staff).

As long as there is a one price fits all approach and music is sold like frozen chicken don’t expect a higher quality format to flourish.

Responses
Toni 12 years ago

Interesting comments. I feel that the same happened with the transition CRT to LCD as happened from vinyl to CD. There was a perception of smaller, neater and sharper while at the same time the aesthetics were degraded and much of the pleasure removed. Also IMO video in no way was a viable replacement for LP covers. As for the MP3 phenomenon, no-one who considers themselves interested in quality reproduction could possibly view the MP3 as a viable format.

It seems extremely unlikely that the masses (or even a significant minority) would ever be willing to pay for improved quality. Rather the trend is toward cheaper at any cost.

TBH I feel like music needs to return to support through performance and patronage. It would cut a considerable amount of the ridiculous excess that some perceive as integral to the life style of musicians and also encourage more people to get out and perform. And while I’m not fan of people breaking the law, as you point out, we’ve been sold the same product again and again and again by the music industry. It seems entirely reasonable to me that music created on a format already owned should be free to posses in whatever format is available in the future with just a small charge for media.

It is becoming difficult to see, as a musician myself, right-thinking behind the current operation of copyright law within the music industry.

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