Earful of difference in audio quality debate | TheUnion.com

Earful of difference in audio quality debate

With the digital audio battle about MP3s of the early 2000s seemingly ended, a debate boils under about exactly what you’re buying.

It’s easy to get lulled in by Napster, iTunes and other digital downloading services. Most only demand 99 cents per song and you never have to leave the privacy of your own home, allowing you to purchase your musical guilty pleasures away from the prying eyes of record-store geeks who furrow their eyebrows and pierce white-hot holes through you with that “You’re actually spending money on this?” look of disgust.

But lurking behind the conveniences of these services is the battle about the sound quality of these pieces. As MP3 files are one-tenth the size of a CD track, a tremendous amount of data is lost in the compression, reducing the high-fidelity sound reproduction.

Simply put: MP3s offer an inferior music-listening experience.

The divide between the two types of listeners is fiercely apparent. People who are not audiophiles are distinguished by uttering the phrase: “But I listen to the MP3 and the CD, and I don’t hear the difference.”

Admittedly, the discrepancies are difficult for the untrained listener to hear. However, after time, the idiosyncrasies make themselves apparent.

Some of the more apparent flaws resulting from peer-to-peer file-sharing services, such as KaZaA, Soulseek and the old Napster, were “digi-noise” – unintended crackles and pops – and if the life of a particular track suffered enough generations of transfer, it began to sound as if the musicians were performing underwater.

While the remedy for some of these troublesome issues was the rise of the new Napster, iTunes, etc. – everyone now gets the same file from the source and doesn’t have to fear some of the quality erosion – they are still incapable of producing the same quality as a CD.

That’s because these clicks, crackles, pops and warps underscore the biggest problem with MP3s: The compression results in a dull, lifeless sound that strips the music of its charisma and crispness, which makes the listening experience as distasteful as drinking flat soda.

Ultimately, this loss of quality destroys the artistic integrity of music because you’re not hearing the song the way its creator(s) intended. If you think that’s overextending the point, ask yourself this: Is reading the Cliff’s Notes the same as reading the book? Of course not. And you wouldn’t pay for that “privilege” either.

So, as long as I’m shelling out my money, it’s not going to be for some “authentic fake” cheap copy, it’s going to be for real, better-sounding thing.


The name “Hop on Pop” is the title of a 1963 book by Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Giesel. Nick DeCicco is a copy editor at The Union. He may be reached via e-mail at nickd@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4270.

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