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What is wrong with people?

Despite the severe high-fidelity shortcomings of MP3s, most people seem completely happy with what they deliver.

Beginning in the late1940s, we’ve been told to upgrade to a new type of music playback medium every five or six years so that we be able to experience better sound.

If you’re brave enough to step into my basement, you will find CDs, LPs, 12-inch singles, 7-inch singles, cassettes (both pre-recorded and homemade), a couple of 8-tracks (Where did those come from?), a pile of DAT tapes, assorted MiniDiscs, some rescued concert recordings on 10-inch reel-to-reel tape and probably a couple of 78’s. Under the stairs is a pile of 12-inch Laserdiscs that I’m willing to let go cheap. I’ll even throw in the player.

About the only thing that’s missing are some cylinder recordings and a couple of stillborn formats like the Elcaset and anything to do with DCC.

The International Standard Organization’s approved the algorithms that make music as MP3 files possible in 1991. Twenty years on, the public’s love affair with the format’s convenience seems to know no end.

We’re firmly into the digital age. Global digital music sales reached $4.6 billion in 2010, which equals about 30 per cent of all sales by record labels. The value of the global digital music market has gone up 1,000 per cent since 2004. There are more than 13 million tracks legally licensed for download by music publishers. The MP3 rules.

But despite the severe high-fidelity shortcomings of MP3s, most people seem completely happy with what they deliver. The same goes for Apple’s AAC format, which is what you get when you buy a song through iTunes.

Although technology used in today’s hard drives keeps driving the cost of storage lower and lower, few music consumers seem interested in switching to a better sounding codec like FLAC. A song ripped to FLAC is about four times larger than when ripped to MP3—but if you’ve got the room, who cares?

Outside of a hardcore cadre of audiophiles, no one seemed much fussed that the public is listening to music with sonic qualities that are substantially worse than what we heard from vinyl on a good turntable 30 years ago. I find it strange—and rather depressing—that while we continue to demand bigger and better HD and 3DTVs, few people are demanding that the audio quality of their music gets better.

Why is high-fidelity going backwards? What’s wrong with people?

 
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