MP3s took root because they’re small. When bandwidth and digital storage was a fraction of what is today, it made sense to shrink audio files into something more manageable. Today, though, that excuse doesn’t fly. We have the ability to acquire and store larger, better-sounding files. And we should.
For the past three weeks, I’ve been roadtesting a portable Sony High-Res audio player. Unlike most (well, virtually all) portable music players, the Sony handles FLAC files, uncompressed digital music files that sound remarkably better than MP3s. Listening to a High-Res version of Bob Marley’s “3 Little Birds”–a song that I’ve heard hundreds and hundreds of times over the decades–revealed bass notes that I never knew were there. It was almost like hearing a brand new song.
Yes, yes, I know that some experts say that I’m delusional and that I only think I’m hearing new detail in the music. For them, I have two words made up of seven letters and three of them are “F.” I know what I hear, bunky.
Wait. Back up. What is High-Res audio, anyway? Billboard explains:
High resolution audio has become something of a movement lately. During a panel discussion at the SF MusicTech Summit in November, audio engineerDennis “Wiz” Leonard summed up the goal of the Musicians for Audio Quality Initiative, a group of which he is a member:”In the time between 1980 and now we have made all these advances in technology but we are in fact listening to lower resolution than the CD standard. And what is at stake here is our sanity, seriously,” Leonard said.
He and co-panelist Bob Weir, founding member of the Grateful Dead and another leader of the initiative, detailed the subliminal affects of listening to the sort of low-resolution music that we get from our smartphones, claiming there was scientific evidence demonstrating that such music causes stress. The holy grail, Leonard said, is high resolution audio that is streamable, downloadable and shareable.
That’s a taste. I highly recommend you read the rest of the article,
As an unrepentant and slightly militant audiophile, I’m depressed by the fact that we’ve actually regressed when it comes to the sonic quality of the music we feed our ears. So many people are completely satisfied with crappy earbuds, bassed-up Beats headphones and listening to music through laptop speakers. They’re missing so much when it comes to the power and impact of music.
I’m with Neil Young on this. His Pono player finally goes on sale Monday for $399 USD and the Pono Music Store–a place where you can buy High-Res audio–is open for business. He hopes that once more people hear all the music that goes into each song that they’ll make the switch from MP3s to something better.
The big drag with my digital library is that it’s all based on iTunes, a program that won’t handle FLAC files. Sure, there are plenty of players I can download, but it bugs me that I have to have two separate digital libraries. Still, it’s a small sacrifice for better sound.
Here’s hoping that High-Res audio continues to make inroads.