The Hills are Alive

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Date: Wednesday, July 14th, 2004, 06:29
Category: Archive

With the sound of digital music and ……. FUD.
Sony’s claims of more storage in 20GB than a 40GB iPod is a true Apples to Oranges comparison and deceptive to boot since Sony chose 48 Kbps compression to compare with the iPods superior AAC compression set to a much higher bit rate of 128 Kbps. At the other end of the spectrum, I see the NY Times News Service carrying an article from the Taipei Times that slams the iPod for being lo-fi. Everyone is playing the percentages here because of the limitations of miniature drive storage and bandwidth for online downloads.


With the sound of digital music and ……. FUD.
Sony’s claims of more storage in 20GB than a 40GB iPod is a true Apples to Oranges comparison and deceptive to boot since Sony chose 48 Kbps compression to compare with the iPods superior AAC compression set to a much higher bit rate of 128 Kbps. Apple’s Greg Joswiak has moved to rebut this, pointing out that the iPod can hold four times the number of songs at 16 KBPS in what is probably an attempt to quash this type of claim in any of the Walkman’s official advertising.
At the other end of the spectrum, I see the NY Times News Service carrying an article from the Taipei Times that slams the iPod for being lo-fi. But it is the iTunes music store that limits songs to 128 Kbps compression and not the iPod itself. In fact, with 40GB of storage and Apple’s lossless encoding, you could have a fair amount of true CD quality music available, if that is what you want. Most people want capacity.
Now for my take:
Everyone is playing the percentages here because of the limitations of miniature drive storage and bandwidth for online downloads. Sony is probably hitting near the 75th percentile when they talk 48 Kbps. I bet only about 25% of the public would really care or want higher quality with fewer songs. Seems to me Apple is going for something around the 95th percentile. That last few percent is nearly impossible to target. They will know and care and fret about the difference.
I consider myself somewhere just below that 5%. I don’t mind the level of iTunes music store compression when listening on foot or even in my car. I use Sony MDR-EX70LP earphones while moving about the cabin and have installed Polk replacement speakers in my car because that sort of improvement is quite easily perceived. I would love to listen to uncompressed music everywhere and actually do have a plain old CD changer in the car and find it preferable. My head unit will not play MP3’s and I don’t have a good way to connect my iPod anyhow. At home, I really can tell the difference when listening to a stereo with 20 year old B&W speakers and a Philips amplifier. With little background noise and good equipment, there is enough of a difference that I don’t bother with compressed music. In the media room with smaller surround speakers and a subwoofer, I don’t mind putting an MP3 disk in the DVD player to listen to music, but still prefer a CD. Same goes for my Quicksilver G4 and Cambridge Ensemble II sub/sat speakers.
Most music is still produced using musical instruments which are made of wood or metal. Wonderful analog devices. Guitar pickups can be analog or digital, but somewhere a conversion takes place. The standards set down for the music CD are pretty old, and if you remember when they were introduced, a lot of folks did not like digital audio and some still don’t. Very few turntables are made these days and seem split between those that let DJs move the platter in reverse and amazingly beautiful pieces of engineering that are often connected to high priced modern tube amplifiers.
While I don’t hear anyone clamoring for Eniac to be recommissioned in order to generate warm and subtle calculations for artillery trajectories, I do think there is some compatibility between iTunes and a true audiophile. 100 plus GB hardrives can be had for less than $100 and lossless compression can squeeze CDs down to half their size. Streaming such files with AirTunes can bring true hi-fidelity to networked music. And don’t forget Moore’s Law, which predicts exponential increases in storage capacity. Expect a longer wait for faster internet connections to make large files acceptable for online music sales and don’t forget about Digital Rights Management issues. To top off all the FUD look at the Gartner report labeling the iPod as a security risk and all the articles refering to the Senate bill that could kill the iPod!

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