I just read an interesting article over at the Wall Street Journal (ahem! Much adjusting of expensive tie…) by Lee Gomes who asks the question of whether the huge popularity of iPods and MP3 files is leading to a lower quality in the way music is recorded.
According to Are Technology Limits in MP3s and iPods Ruining Pop Music? he argues that a lot of producers are using MP3s as the reference standard for recording pop music which results in listener fatigue since the ear can only tolerate this radically compressed music for so long. According to LA engineer Jack Joseph Puig who is quoted in the article:
“Ten years ago, music was warmer; it was rich and thick, with more tones and more ‘real power.’ But newer records are more brittle and bright. They have what I call ‘implied power.’ It’s all done with delays and reverbs and compression to fool your brain.”
I know that this also relates to the whole argument that CDs are recorded too loud these days because “loud sells” and it is a trend that I find a bit frightening. I am getting firsthand experience with compressing audio files for an iPod as I prepare the podcast and it is true that a lot of the nuiances of music is being lost as we compress the hell out of sound files but I still wonder how much of this we actually notice.
The article does have some listening tests that you can do which I will try out and we will see how that all plays out with these ears but it is a fascinating, perhaps unforeseen dilemma that the huge popularity of MP3 players has created. Has the convenience of MP3s ruined the quality of the music we hear? What do you think?
UPDATE! Podcasting News is talking about the same article and brought up a good point when they say:
“The WSJ seems to have forgotten that for half the history of modern pop music, it was engineered to sound good relatively primitive stereos and car radios. Today’s portable media players deliver sound that’s a leap ahead of the AM car radios, transistor radios and Walkmans of the past.”
This is a valid point, I just hope that an MP3 will not become the reference point for recording engineers believing that the sound quality will be “good enough.” I want high quality recording and mastering on my rock and roll! I listen to it on an iPod as well as my kick ass stereo at home and I can tell the difference.