This was posted a few months ago, but I'm finally getting around to writing my take on it. Here's the gist: with the iPod and various other MP3 players becoming more of the standard with listening to recorded music, is audio fidelity not a priority anymore? "Back in the day, high fidelity was a big deal, a significant aspect of the listening experience; any serious music fan was, to some extent, an audiophile," Michael wrote. "That's all gone by the boards. Now, music fans walk around with those awful standard iPod headphones – they don't care a jot about frequency response or stereo imaging, they only care about the convenience, portability and perhaps prestige of the player."
So that makes me ask: how come we live in a culture that prefers the pristine sight and sound of HDTV and DVD, but doesn't seem to care about audio fidelity of music? Are we just really accepting that computer-based stuff (ie, MP3s, YouTube videos) aren't up to snuff, but we prefer them because they're easy to handle?
Not to be snobbish about it, but audio fidelity makes a lot of difference to me. Case in point, over the holidays, I finally got the chance to hear Mastodon's Blood Mountain. The deal was, it was on an iPod through a home stereo via MP3s ripped at less than 128 kbps. The constant fluttering of the sound distracted me from the actual songs. Trying to feel the heaviness of the guitar riffs, the pulsing of the drums and the brutal-to-clear vocal melodies just wasn't happening. When I heard the album on CD last night in my car's stereo, everything was in focus. Even though the CD was a CD-R made up of MP3s ripped at 192 kbps, that made all the difference. The sound was full and in my face. Now I'm understanding the greatness of Blood Mountain.
These days, I listen to my iTunes library more when I'm at home. I'm very well aware that listening to music on my computer is no match for listening to my car's single-disc player or my den's multi-disc changer. Since I'm at my computer most of the day, it's convenient to not get up and change a CD out of my boombox. Since my moods are always changing, I like the accessibility of clicking from the Style Council to Against Me! to Killswitch Engage with ease. It's hard to argue with selection between a CD with twelve tracks and a hard drive with thousands of songs.
When I go on walks, it's important that my iPod is not blasting in my ears. I have to hear cars coming by, police/fire vehicles coming by, etc. Plus, I don't want to pull my headphones out and have my ears ringing. So it's important for me to have the iPod at a contained volume level. This sure beats having a portable CD player on me. Nothing worse than a CD skipping because I took a step up onto a sidewalk.
But if I want to really get into an album, I put it on in my den if I'm at home or in my car if I'm travelling. This way I can hear almost everything in the mix, especially the bass guitar. These are the the best ways of really judging an album before I pass judgment. That's just where I come from.
Still, seeing how advanced home theater set-ups have morphed in the last twelve years, it's strange to see how condensed music listening has become. Picture quality and surround sound are big deals. Movies and TV shows are now viewable on iPods, but they have yet to become commonplace viewing. I doubt they ever will. I might be comparing apples with tomatoes here, but think about it. CDs are still the best ways to listen to music. Then again, there are still plenty of people that prefer vinyl over everything.