Before I blockquote an enticement paragraph to Clive Thompson’s piss-on-the-grave rant about the death of audiophiles, I want to make one point: the “compression” spoken of by audio producers is different than the “compression” used to make digital audio file sizes smaller. The former compresses the loud and quiet parts of a song into one generally uniform volume, removing dynamic range; the latter may affect audio quality, but does not have to. I think those of us who understand the difference between these two types of compression need to bang the drum a little bit about this issue to those who don’t quite grok it. There’s no reason a well-produced album can’t sound great on MP3 (or FLAC or Ogg or AAC etc.) if the files are encoded properly. (This distinction was the primary reason I didn’t like the Rolling Stone piece that prompted Clive’s screed.)
I think what annoys me about audiophiles — and perhaps what has begun to annoy me, ever so slightly, about the handwringing over “the loudness wars” — is that they posit a way-too-fussy, sanctimonious attitude towards how one ought to listen to pop music. Because when it comes to pop music, are ultra-high-precision sound systems really so necessary, or even desirable? After all, pop music originally came to life in the 50s and 60s on horrifically tinny AM radios. Indeed, the playback devices were so crude that producers had to mix the stuff specifically to take account for the jurassic properties of the godawful speakers. (One of main reasons Phil Spector invented the “Wall of Sound” was that it gave a relatively fat sound when played on jukebox-primitive sound systems.)
In fact, I’ve come to believe that crappy technology — lousy studios, horrible playback devices — is a boon to pop music. Because when you strip out the superhigh and superlow frequencies that send audiophiles — planted with geometric triangulation betwixt their $325,000 Acapella speakers (pictured above!) — into such supposedly quivering raptures, you’re forced to reckon with a music simpler question, which is: Is the song any good? A really terrific pop song can survive almost any acoustic mangling and still be delightful. A mediocre one can’t. A mediocre song needs a doubleplusgood sound-system to bring out its half-baked appeal; a truly excellent tune is catchy even when played on a kazoo. For years, I have listened to all of my music either via a) a pair of $25 Harmon Kardon speakers attached to my computer, or b) an MP3 player of dubious provenance, outfitted with earbuds that I buy, well, at whatever electronics store I happen to be nearest when the old ones break down, and with whatever spare change I have in my pockets — and I do not think my soul is any the worse for wear.
Why audiophiles are dying out [CollisionDetection.com]