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Schrödinger's Pussy
Observing a box has never been this much fun
Fascinating article 
29th-Dec-2007 09:02 am
The Death of High Fidelity

"With all the technical innovation, music sounds worse," says Steely Dan's Donald Fagen, who has made what are considered some of the best-sounding records of all time. "God is in the details. But there are no details anymore."

I came across this article on rollingstone.com this morning. It totally explains the frustration I have with a lot of what I hear out there these days. gwyrah, I imagine you've come across this phenomena quite a bit.

I know there are those out there that really don't get the fascination Brian and I have for really good music played with high end equipment, and I actually feel a little sorry for what you're missing out on. Well mixed music played so that you can hear and experience all the instruments is pure art. It's audio artwork, and we like to display it as you would a fine piece of visual artwork. It's a palette of color for the ears. It's a smörgåsbord of culinary delight to be heard. It has all the texture of fine fibers. It's the aroma of memories in your ears.

And so much of the digital crap out there lacks any depth. It's refrigerator art. Amusing, sentimental, but not ever gonna see the the inside of an art gallery.

"it's like going to the Louvre and instead of the Mona Lisa there's a 10-megapixel image of it," he says. "I always want to listen to music the way the artists wanted me to hear it. I wouldn't look at a Kandinsky painting with sunglasses on."

"The excitement in music comes from variation in rhythm, timbre, pitch and loudness," Levitin says. "If you hold one of those constant, it can seem monotonous." After a few minutes, research shows, constant loudness grows fatiguing to the brain. Though few listeners realize this consciously, many feel an urge to skip to another song."

"If you limit range, it's just an assault on the body," says Tom Coyne, a mastering engineer who has worked with Mary J. Blige and Nas. "When you're fifteen, it's the greatest thing — you're being hammered. But do you want that on a whole album?"

To an average listener, a wide dynamic range creates a sense of spaciousness and makes it easier to pick out individual instruments — as you can hear on recent albums such as Dylan's Modern Times and Norah Jones' Not Too Late. "When people have the courage and the vision to do a record that way, it sets them apart," says Joe Boyd, who produced albums by Richard Thompson and R.E.M.'s Fables of the Reconstruction. "It sounds warm, it sounds three-dimensional, it sounds different. Analog sound to me is more emotionally affecting."

"In the Seventies and Eighties, you were expected to pay attention," says Matt Serletic, the former chief executive of Virgin Records USA"

Brian has said this many times recently. When he was a young thing, he loved to listen to music and friends would come together, specifically to "listen" to albums. It wasn't just background noise. And albums in the 70's and into the early 80's were put together in a particular order on purpose, not formulaic. Songs flowed into the next with intent. This is something most often found only in Indie or Jazz albums today.

I'm not saying that the music or the artists today aren't as good 'as back in the day', I'm saying that how they are recorded and distributed pale in comparison. I applaud those artists of today that still get the fine art part of this artform. I also don't believe, as the author of the article says, that this is the death of the audiophile. I think it's an opportunity for the independent minded to really shine.
29th-Dec-2007 12:25 pm (UTC)
That's the reason we just got an MP3 player this year and the reason we haven't done anything with it yet. Eric spent his reward point from his Sony card to get it, so we didn't pay actual money. However, the sound quality on an MP3 is so much lower that he's not really interested in using it. I'll probably load it with some B-52's and other Delia music to use in the car.
29th-Dec-2007 12:27 pm (UTC)
I expect some major changes to be in store as artists and producers try to counteract the waning popularity of physical media. Thus the (slight so far) resurgence of records.

One direction we're moving in is a huge change in the way media is captured. For instance, rather than ripping an MP3 off a CD, producers are creating their own digital copies and porting them to AAC or MP4 or another higher-fidelity standard.

As the throughput of the internet continues to increase and increase, I expect we will find our audio media, like our video media, to come closer and closer to indiscernable from analog. I don't know how long it will take (years, decades), but I do think we'll reach a point where the digitization will happen on the master level, and the sampling/quantization will be more fine than the human ear can discern. Eventually.
29th-Dec-2007 02:14 pm (UTC)
I know I've posted on and off thru the years about this and many people just don't get it or say it doesn't matter. Listening to digital music is like being in another room to me. Its ok for background noise but when you want to actually listen there is nothing currently close to analog (I do have a disclaimer here) Remember the crap in crap out rule. All of this only matters if the source meets audiophile, hi-fi or true artistic standards.

I'm 50 years old now, and remember growing up with music that still has not been surpassed. Music was a much more important part of our life. Maybe it was the group of friends I had but we all strived to have real music systems. Large receivers, 4 foot speaker boxes stacked in the corners and add on tweeters to make details stand out. We all had stereo systems that rivaled the cost of our cars. It was a regular event to either call or get a call from a friend saying "I just got a new album, come on over". We would then proceed to sit silent for at least an hour listening, yes talking was reserved for after the music.

I use a iPod for work background noise. I own ALL of the music I listen to. I just can bring myself to purchase something that I can't seem to enjoy hearing. I also rip whole albums to my iPod at 320 (I'm considering moving to WAV only). I guess I'm still hanging on to the idea that an album is still a complete piece of art and not just a track of sound. Once and awhile I flip to track shuffle but always go back to standard play. Its like going to a artist's gallery showing and only looking at one piece and then leaving. I like to linger for awhile with that artist.

Over the past few years I've reverted mostly back to vinyl. These days we purchase at least 6 new LPs to every 1 CD. Vinyl LPs are still alive and well and becoming easier to find. There are more vinyl albums being sold now then there was when the CD was introduced. This includes both old and new music. Your not going to find vinyl in your local record store, but then I don't normally find anything I want there anyway. I also think that we are once again behind in the music trend. While searching www.discogs.com recently I discovered that there are 1,390,109 vinyl albums listed, and only 162,712 entries came from the US.

Places like www.elusivedisc.com and www.acousticsounds.com are great sources for both new and old artists. Its also interesting that the local Circuit City now has 3 turntables on display.
Vinyl is not really coming back. It never really left. It just stepped aside for awhile.

The digital industry seems that it is trying to recreate the wheel. I've held off on the new higher digital formats (SACD, DVD-A) for two reasons. First I do NOT like music in surround sound unless it was done correctly and most are not. I don't want to hear a musician running around in my living room. And second, no matter how much they try they still do not sound as real as analog. In most cases they are too sterile. Its been proven that listening to poorly produced music with high compression causes fatigue where as most analog sources do not cause this effect. Our brain is a analog device. For you computer geeks, do you realize that the human brain runs at a speed of 1-13Hz, Notice I said Hertz and not Mhz. Forcing the brain to hear digital signals requires that it has to reassemble the digital input back into a analog sound. This causes your brain to work hard when your goal might be to relax. I could go on about this but its like discussing religion. Nobody wins.

Yes I may be a freak in todays world, but then I embrace it and make it part of who I am.

For those interested to seeing what we listen to you can browse our music collection at http://5thelement.com/music and search on "LP"

I think its going to be a analog day.

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