December 10, 2006

More Lefsetz Letter

I wrote this in response to Bob Lefsetz' latest email rant:

Hi, Bob,

Lots to think about in your latest rant, but I have to respond to this:

>DVD-A failed, as did SACD. Please, let it go. One world is >enough, for all of us. And in that one world, there are two channels...

Maybe. But does have to sound so mediocre? When digital music
can sound as good - maybe even better - than VINYL?? You
know what I mean: not just a two-dimensional simulacrum of music, but
a compelling, emotionally involving, rapturous listening experience?

People steal MP3s because they know they're not worth anything.
Fremer's right: People aren't buying music because they're not even
LISTENING to music. They're in the car, or through crummy ear-damaging
ear buds all the while doing other stuff and, for that, MP3 is "good enough."

But some of us care what it actually sounds like and would, you know,
like music to sound really good instead of really not so good. And
we're people who actually buy records - lots of 'em. MP3 is not even
remotely good enough to actually pay money for it.

Sony blew it again a-la-Betamax with SACD. Vastly superior to CD sound,
but a stupidly proprietary scheme that was too expensive to implement for
anyone but the truly hardcore. After predictably tepid sales, Sony
promptly abandoned the format (leaving those of us who actually bought the
things wondering if I'll still be able to play it back in 10 years).

DVD-A has a chance of remaining a viable format for high-resolution digital.
Sure, most folks don't have 5.1 setups, but they probably wish they had
the $/space to do so. Everyone has a DVD player and any DVD player
can play a CD. A high resolution stereo PCM soundtrack can be played
back on any DVD player. The difference in sound quality is stunning.

Please, let's let the format wars go. Let's admit that records are software
and deliver it via the most efficient - and high quality - media standard available.
Let's continue to upgrade the software, just make it backward compatable
with whatever 5 inch disc you throw at it. Throw on an MP3 track you can easily
load onto your i-Pod. This is easily and cheaply possible right now. Why is
it too much to ask?

Well, I think you know the answer to that. You write about the foolishness of the
music industry better than anyone.



Keith Murray said...

I've been reading your thoughts on the vinyl v. cd v. mp3 issue. mp3 is a lost cause. It's always been my understanding that the purpose of the format, no matter how high the sampling rate, is to compress an otherwise unwieldingly (if that's even a word, but it makes my point) large data file into something manageable for a device with limited storage. mp3 does this by stripping away the high and low frequencies that, apparently, the human ear can't perceive anyway. So it's designed to be a degraded listening experience. And just because the human ear may not perceive the sound, that doesn't mean we don't perceive it in other ways. The ear may not pick up the lowest thrums of a cello or bass, but you can't tell me the human body doesn't feel that sound wave.

I agree that clearly mp3 misses the mark, but it was invented for the masses and given the state of much of popular music today, it's not suprising that it is not a particularly fulfilling experience. It's a quick fix to dump (what I think is) horrendous modern popular music onto a tiny device with tiny earphones (that yet play excrutiatingly loud). That's the point of the technology.

I remember buying TONS of vinyl growing up; hundreds of rock, jazz and classical albums and yeah, they are a bitch to care for but, man, the sound on a good turntable was just fantastic and rich and full. I'd still have it all if my oldest brother hadn't tossed it all into a dumpster (there is no collection of individual letters or words that can express my frustration at that event).

This ongoing debate reminds of the similar debate between advocates of solid state electronics and advocates of the older vacuum tube technology. The 'tubers' insist that the sound they get is a much richer, fuller sound than with circuit boards and chips. I think they are right. Hearing isn't our only means of perception and the human body and brain know the difference, if one truly listens.

Whether it's vinyl v. digital, or solid state v. tubes, you CAN hear the difference. 'Problem is, most people aren't listening.

Rodger Coleman said...

Hi, Keith!

How nice to see you here!

I can't believe your eldest brother would do such a thing!
Do tell...


Keith Murray said...

The usual occurred: Life in transition, left stuff at his house to store away for me while I got my proverbial sh*t together, he rented a twelve foot dumpster and carelessly threw it away when I wasn't looking.

You know, that old chestnut. = )