Audiophile Releases of Classic Rock Albums: Get 'Em While You Can


Since my post about Frank Sinatra's "Watertown" album almost... sort of... kind of... well, okay, came straight out and advocated downloading that out of print Frank-o-phile obscurity, this post will argue that sometimes the record industry does come up with some stuff worth buying...

First off, it's bugged me for years --since the Napster days-- that the public is willing to put up with crappy sounding MP3 files! I simply do not get it! An MP3 is NOT a digital copy of exactly what's on the CD. Well, that's not quite true because it is a digital copy, it's just a poor sounding one, comparable to, say, a black and white Xerox of an oil painting. It ain't the same thing, not by a long shot. Compare a 128kbps MP3 file of just about any song to the version of the CD and you'll see what I mean. Maybe not on your computer speakers or on your iPod, but on a proper stereo system, even in the car, there's a huge difference.

There's been a little-noticed effort on the part of the music industry to cater to audiophiles in recent years: SACD, DVD-A, and 5:1 surround remixes go quite some distance in stepping it up for those of us who like to kick back, relax and actually LISTEN to our music. But sadly, few seem to care or even to have noticed, although many major artists (The Rolling Stones, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, John Coltrane, The Kinks, Pink Floyd, Elton John, etc) have had substantial portions of their back catalogs reissued in these formats. These releases have largely fallen on deaf ears as no one seems to be buying them. "Dark Side of the Moon" aside, these steroid-pumped recordings tend to disappear quickly after they've been released.

That's why I've been buying them up whenever I can. Before you know it, these shiny audiophile playthings will be impossible to come by, or at least prohibitively expensive. The day of the CD and DVD is almost over and so it seems unlikely that the music industry will continue to pour money down this particularly niche black hole.

It's a shame the extreme audiophile formats never really took off. I can't tell you how exciting it is to hear a classic like Roxy Music's "Avalon" in a crystalline, swirling surround mix realized by the original production team of Rhett Davies and Bob Clearmountain. Or how insanely three-dimensional the Middle Eastern instruments sound on Peter Gabriel's "Passion" album or about the sense of space around the strings in "Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky" on SACD. Or how stupendously mind-blowing it is to hear the afrocentric funk of Talking Head's "Remain in Light" coming at you from five different directions. It's all too much!

Often the classic rock era LPs chosen for the surround remix treatment were originally recorded for the 70s four-speaker Quad format and have source tapes tailor-made for the modern effort. For instance, the Allman Brothers can be heard playing discretely in the channels of "At Fillmore East" --it really sounds like you are there-- and Tony Visconti had access to his own multitrack recordings of David Bowie's live "Stage" record for the 5:1 version of that album. It's as good of a Bowie concert as we are ever likely to hear, preserved for the ages. Worth paying for? You betcha!

It's incredible how much better these albums sound. Like "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" on SACD. I am a huge, huge lifelong Bowie fanatic, but I never really liked that album much. I always thought it sounded tinny and puny, especially his vocals -- even Mick Ronson's guitar-- but the remix (by original "Ziggy" producer Ken Pitt) is simply stunning, muscular and... wildly futuristic. It's like getting a chance to discover it for the first time. I can't stop listening to it.

I could go on and on about this all day and bore you all to tears, but suffice to say if it matters to you that you can hear the sound of Bob Dylan's fingertips as they move across his guitar strings, the sound of Elton John or Carole King's piano peddles or the buzz of Keith Richard's guitar amp, then I highly recommend scooping the soon-to-be-rare audiophile releases up where ever and whenever you can find them because you won't be able to do it for much longer.

(Richard Metzger is a guestblogger)


  1. Because I work on a limited budget (and a family) and can afford computer speakers but not a ‘proper stereo system’ (whatever that is), I can never ‘kick back, relax and actually LISTEN to [my] music’?

    Spare me. Or buy me said system. But either way, do without the condescension.

  2. or you could also, you know, just download them.

    lots of people post SACD _lossless_encoded_ disc images on the n**sg***ps

  3. The common audio CD has enough bits (16) and a high enough sampling rate (44.1khz) for 99.9% of the population.

    With that said, there is no reason why “audiophile” grade recordings cannot be released on an audio CD (or rather, must be released on the uncommon SACD/DVD-A format.) In fact, I would say that there are plenty of audiophile grade recordings out there on CD.

    No, the problem is with the Loudness War:

    Until the studios stop butchering audio with their dynamics limiting and dynamics compression, I ain’t interested…


    Your encryption techniques are masterful and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

  5. Its more like a high quality color photocopy of a painting. it looks the same to the casual observer. You only lose the fine detail of the brush strokes.

    dude has a valid point, but needs to work on his analogies!

  6. I listen to my music in the car with the windows down, in a room with people talking, or on my ipod during a noisy subway ride. When I get my own hermetic chamber with noise cancelation and concert hall accoustics, I’ll worry about the difference between high quality MP3s and the original recordings.

  7. You may want to visit

    They offer high resolution downloads of a small but growing collection.

  8. Music is a background filler for me while I’m working. I would love to have an acoustically perfect environment to listen in, but unfortunately all I have is a server room office with the devil’s own HVAC unit above my head. In those kind of background levels, mp3s are just fine.

  9. Most people don’t use 128kbps mp3s any more. The stores pretty much all do 192kbps VBR or 256kbps (either CBR or VBR). Both of those are above the 90% perception line. That is, 90% of people in fact can’t tell the difference between them and the original in direct comparison listenings. So, you last 10% can go have fun with your fancy audiophile gear, but the other 90% of us, we can’t hear the difference. And really, we’re doing just fine that way. It’ll save us a lot of money.

    And please don’t suggest that I don’t really listen to my music just because my ears aren’t magical. I’m glad that they’re producing releases for audiophiles. If you want higher quality audio, I’m pleased for you to have it. But I can’t hear the difference, so I’m not going to pay for it. And if that disappoints you, well, tough.

  10. To quote Rorschach: “Eeeecchh…”

    The tune of audio/videophiles telling us that we’re fools for enjoying our “low quality” formats is getting a little stale. DVD is a swell format and most MP3s sound fine as long as you’re not listening intently on an expensive stereo… which most of us AREN’T.

    It all comes down to personal taste. When the CD revved up in popularity, I heard people talking about how they hated digital and loved the “warm sound” of vinyl LPs. I thought (and still think) they’re crazy, but I’m also not going to rail against them to try to change their aural opinions.

  11. You can’t REALLY appreciate music until you can hear the guitarist’s heartbeat and distinguish it from the singer’s, and tell which one has the murmur.


  12. This is not just a technical problem. Those super deluxe recording projects need to employ an engineer or two with big ears. In fact, many of the first-gen CDs were simply blindly digitized master tapes that were mixed down originally for LP. A computer would just quantize and filter the bitstream in a very indiscriminate way.

    So, there is often a large remastering step to go through first.

    Because of this, the best re-releases often go back to the original sources and redo the whole thing. This is not cheap.

    And, #1, please don’t take things so personally. I don’t see the condescension you speak of in this article. The fact is that lossy compression is fine for playback on fair-to-middling equipment. Getting middling-to-better requires no more money than the sort of cash one would spend on a good computer or camera. We all choose what we spend our luxury dollars on.

    But long before you get to the point of diminishing returns you get good results from commercial equipment. (No sense in being one of those silly audiophiles who put their equipment on $300 wooden pyramids and swap their power cords for magical ones that make their systems sound better.)

    Lossy compression is a classic quality/convenience trade-off, and that’s fine. It’s just that buying a lossy compressed song as your main media is a bit of a poor choice if you want to hear all of the music.

    I’ll risk getting my anonymous-because-I’m-too-lazy-to-sign-up comment turfed because it has a link in it to provide a similar article I published online some time ago:

    I come to many of the same conclusions state here.

  13. From Mad Magazine, sung to the tune of No Business Like Show Business:

    “… I don’t like to brag how good my speakers are,
    But when I turn the sound up real far
    I can hear the dandruff fall from Ringo Star
    That why I got Hi-Fi!”

    BTW, although I’m not credited, the back cover art for Remain In Light (false-colored planes over mountainside) is my work. Long story.

  14. Aside from the problem that too many people are satisfied with 128K MP3s played through iBuds, along with the idiotic Loudness War, there’s another issue that has hurt quality recordings: good old DRM.

    SACD is so thoroughly locked down that you couldn’t burn your own discs even if you wanted to. As for DVD-Audio, the music business decided to use something stronger than CSS to encrypt their precious content. It is possible to make your own unencrypted discs, but you cannot take advantage of Meridian’s MLP packing without shelling out big bucks for the encoder.

    If you want high-quality, DRM-free live recordings, though, you’re in luck. There are 24-bit FLAC recordings available on the Live Music Archive, and they sometimes come up on the Etree tracker as well.

    P.S.: Are there some technical glitches today? This story has been disappearing and reappearing repatedly…

  15. First of all, standard CD quality, even properly mastered (ie, not compressed to hell and back) is still a fairly low resolution “snapshot” of the music. You are still missing huge parts of the music. DVD and other formats that have a higher sampling rate & number of bits help. But you don’t need an audiophile system to tell the difference between between, say a 192 kbs VBR mp3, and say a Flac encoded one. And the right bit of psychoacoustics applied to the encoding can make a world of difference.

    Sure, it used to be the test of an singles mix was tested by taking it out to someones car and listening to it, but with today’s preponderance people using headphones to listen, most of the mixing on albms today is *BORING*. Music doesn’t move across the “stereo arch”, it clusters in the middle. Part of what put Van Halen records above everyone else’s is the way they isolated Eddie’s guitar to one side, and cleared everything else out so you can hear his fantastic guitar licks. Most of today’s mixes wouldn’t be out of place in a monophonic elevator.

    No, the real reason that most people today can’t tell the difference between a 128K mp3 and a raw wave file of the original recording is that no one has shown them the difference! Add to that, most audio devices come with ear pieces that probably cost less than a dollar a pair. Get a pair of KOSS Porta Pros, or Sennheiser PX100, spend more than $10 bucks and listen to the difference a good pair of headphones makes!


  16. Many have already called you on the same thing I was going to – the “fidelity snobbery”. Of course we lose some fidelity going digital, in exchange for usability and convenience. There’s nothing out there with a higher dynamic range than vinyl, but am I going to spin a record every time I want to listen to Social Distortion while at my PC?

    c’mon. We know what you’re telling us already, and many of us have decided that it doesn’t matter to us.

  17. @ #1, #6, #8 etc. Yes, and for similar reasons I think that anyone that enjoys a fine wine is a complete jerkwad and must be publicly ridiculed. I enjoy the convenience of boxed wine, and anybody who tells me that there is something I’m missing out on by not buying fancy-schmancy bottle wine is completely deluded.

  18. I have this discussion with people all the time. Look, I love music and I appreciate the intricacies that are discernible with high-end audio equipment. Any real music lover would not argue for REPLACING a loss-less digital format with compressed music files. These are 2 very different means of listening to music. One wouldn’t engage in a comparison of playing a cassette tape on a Sony Walkman with playing digital audio tape and listening through a $300 pair of Senheisser headphones. What compressed music files have done for music is allow it to be far more accessible to a far greater number of people. And this fact should be celebrated! Since acquiring the iPod Classic 160GB, my knowledge of classic recordings has expanded almost infinitely. It has truly changed my life to be able have so much important and fantastic music at my fingertips. This is the truth that has set this writer free. So, although it may be loss-ey to the acute audiophile, the advent of the compressed music file should be celebrated for the gift that it has given to so many.

  19. Personally, I don’t think you can claim to be *really* listening to your music unless you are using Monster Cables(tm)

  20. 1. A great tune, badly recorded, heard on a crappy system, will always be a better experience than a crappy tune, well-recorded, heard through esoteric gear in an anechoic chamber. Try it and see.

    2. Contemporary pop tunes (and remixes of classic tunes) are mixed and mastered with so much compression that, MP3 or SACD, they roundly sound like shit.

    3. I think the audio community would embrace SACD/DSD; unfornately, Sony has not made the tools available to the mass market.

    4. 128 kbps MP3s suck. 192 is pretty good for rock; 256 is pretty good for just about anything.

  21. If you hear the Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” on a portable radio and your heart pulse doesn’t increase because there’s only one channel so you can’t get yourself right there in the mix, your soul is doomed. you realize that, right?

  22. In a bit of poetic justice, I blame musicians (or concert producers, at least) for the fact that I can no longer hear any difference between a ≥192 kbit/s mp3 and a CD.

  23. Even if your ears are shot you can definitely tell a difference on 5.1 and other surround mixes. I have an awesome Allison Krauss DVD that has everything mixed that way. More channels == more betters.

  24. Oh please!

    A lot of these remastered CDs sound worse than the originals! They are manipulated on computers until they sound “modern”, thus losing the original aesthetic and becoming quickly dated and stuck in the era in which they were remastered.

    Remastering can equal colorization! Just as the magic of an old B&W film is in its black and whiteness, and its filmy-ness, shot with old cameras with old lenses and scratches and dust spots and warbly sound, a lot of the magic of old recordings is in the limitations of the gear they had at the time.

    I don’t want a record that came out in the 70s to sound like it came out in the 90s! (Which is the era that most of these remasters are from, and they already sound dated.)

    Now, I’m not saying that it can’t be tastefully done while preserving the original sound. Good remasters do exist, and they are sorely needed in the case of all the hastily released CDs from the early 80s where they just bunged the LP masters through a RIAA filter and called it a day.

    Follow the money on this one! This is a great way to sell consumers another copy of an album they already own—an album that they bungled the mastering of in the 1980s when they were rushing them out the door, and they sounded worse than the LPs. Now they offer it to you super-duper CD and in 5.1 surround sound, and its LOUD LOUD LOUD!

  25. If you want high-quality, DRM-free live recordings, though, you’re in luck. There are 24-bit FLAC recordings available on the Live Music Archive, and they sometimes come up on the Etree tracker as well

    My choice! But I’ll admit to having lots of high quality MP3s.

  26. I get so tired of people saying they don’t really care about audio quality and making fun of those of us that do. Fine. Go tell us about how pretty your iPod is or whatever spins your wheels. Just don’t assume your tastes, preferences and interests invalidate mine. You care about minimalist gadget design, I care about fidelity in sound. Whatever.

    Now, let’s even forget whether or not the 24 bit formats are needed or not. The mastering on these records is noticeably better – the folks doing them know not to abuse their compressors to make the record sound “louder.” They take time to work out the little details. When you love a record and it’s rendered this exquisitely it’s a beautiful thing.

    The result, played side by side, is noticeable and if you are someone that has a decent stereo (mine is audiophile quality, but was used and under $1000 all told) and who is willing to plop down and just LISTEN, there are rewards for your efforts. Yes, this isn’t for everyone. It is only for people that are intense in their love for the nuances of music – what is wrong or risible about that?

    24 bit audio at higher sampling rates (96k+) isn’t another Monster Cable thing – it really does sound better. Even if you can’t tell the difference, many people can and we’re not imagining things.

  27. As other commenters have already pointed out: the bog-standard 128k MP3s are obsolete, so a remark such as “MP3s sound crap” betrays a narrow mind. There is much you can do to improve the experience, and I totally agree with the complaints about “ear buds” – I never use them unless I really have to.

    To use #21’s wine analogy: a decent-quality bottle of red is not drastically expensive. I don’t blame people for wanting quality, but if I’m going to pay hundreds of dollars for a bottle of wine, I would expect a life-altering experience to follow.

    If you want to tell a real audiophile from a poser, ask them about the ROOM. I’m regularly amused by “audiophiles” who’ll plonk their kilobuck equipment in any old spot, and sit anywhere, with no thought for the effect of the room on the sound. Reflective walls creating multiple paths between speakers and ears, smearing the stereo image? Bass boost from sitting too close to the back wall? Would you drink a fine wine from a dirty glass..?

  28. @24 DRPHANTOM

    Well, most audiophiles are pathetic in that regard, but at least you can quantify the differences between formats in a mathematichal, and scientific way, which said audiophiles refuse to do relating to cables.

    Anyway you may find this site interesting
    Mp3 or Not

  29. #29 “sit anywhere”

    Actually one of the nice things about 5.1 and similar formats is that speaker and listener positioning is less critical when creating a good image (compared to ordinary stereo).

  30. Oh you people. It is about the music. If perfecting the format helps you get into it, great. If not, enjoy it how you would. But do enjoy it. Metzger has given us a bevy of beautiful records to remember. Roxy Music? Can I just say, “Thank you,” for mentioning that wonderful wonderful band? And you don’t hear too many people talking about Carol King these days, but you did today, and I think that is pretty cool. Personally, I think its best to listen to that 70’s cache of music on 8-track. or a record player. or a CD. For me, its CDs. Supposedly, we have all this music stored as MP3’s somewhere, but so much of the tangiability of the music is lost, for me. Plus, even with one of these bay stations and a few shuffles and whatnot lying about, I’ve never realy taken to the MP3 format. Luddites like myself will always want to buy new and used CD’s. There may be a contraction in the music industry, but that may be a good thing, filtering out a lot of the crapola, and giving us these lovely classic albums that have passed the test of time.

  31. @OP, #18, et al:

    Maybe I’m a philistine. Maybe I’m just not hip enough to enjoy my music as much as others do. Maybe it was too many ear-years in the Army.

    But I’m not buying it. (The argument and the ultra-dollar hipster equipment.) I’m not claiming that audiophiles don’t /enjoy/ their expensive gear more. I’m just saying that the proof in the blind tests doesn’t convince me. (If you like the subjective angle better, just have your girlfriend take your credit card to the store, buy you the cheap stuff, tell you it’s the expensive stuff that you can’t tell the difference of anyway, and secretly use the resulting savings to pay down your mortgage. You’ll benefit more, I promise.) No different than when the vast majority of people instinctively ‘enjoy’ expensive wine better than cheap wine (but only, of course, when they know it’s expensive), relish their rare sashimi (until they’re informed it’s actually tilapia), can taste the different flavor notes in various bottled waters (as long as they’re not told that all the bottles come from the same tap in the kitchen), or receive better fidelity when using high-dollar cables (until they’re revealed to be soldered coat hangers).

    On second thought, never mind. Keep it up. We’re always told that our conspicuous consumption fuels the economy, eh? :)

  32. I’ve always wanted to hear one of these SACD/DVD 5.1 mixes but I don’t really care to find and purchase the equipment on which to play them. Which will be rarer in the future, the albums or the hardware?

    And since I’ve been on a big Bowie kick the last couple years, more comments! I’m inclined to agree about the “Ziggy Stardust” comment, I love the album but if you compare the production/mixing on it to, say, “Heroes,” there’s a definite disparity. The “Heathen” SACD is purportedly much more awesome than the CD version as well, according to Amazon reviewers.

    And finally, you can get a box set of every Talking Heads album in the DualDisc format (one side is CD and the other is the DVD 5.1 audio mix.) Player compatibility issues abound, though, so be wary.

  33. Well sure you can tell the difference between a 128kb mp3 and the original CD, but can you tell the difference between a 320kb or a -v0 LAME encoded mp3? Anyone who thinks they can ought to try a double blind test, which they will fail. I don’t care what equipment you use (my preference is the beyerdynamic DT 880 with discrete DAC and headphone amplifier) as long as the test is properly administered you will fail as all others have.

    Now, when you move up to a higher format such as SACD or vinyl there is an improvement, but a very slight one which often manifests in the ‘space’ around the instruments as the original poster noted. Of course, moving up to these formats is a considerable compromise in portability and cost.

    For those of you dismissing audiophilia outright let me assure you we are not all putting rainbow foil (yes its a real thing) on our equipment and turning our noses up at mp3 users. Most of us just enjoy music, more convincing = more enjoyable, and a substantial gain in realism can be made by a small investment in better designed components.

  34. #17 “of course we lose some fidelity going digital in exchange for usability and convenience.”

    It takes no more effort to load my portable player with FLACs or OGGs than MP3s, and my 10-year-old Sennheisers are far more comfortable than cheap headphones. There’s no tradeoff. The initial investment in time and money to research and buy high-fidelity gear and obtain recordings needn’t be large. And the costs get amortized over many years of happy listening.

    This shouldn’t even be a controversial topic – everybody likes free upgrades to first class – bt gvn hw mny ppl ctvly rsst hghr fdlty vn whn t cms t n cst, sspct thr’s sm l-f “crd” t stk. Gtt’ sty n cch f y wnt t b knwn s mn f th ppl.

  35. Dude, did you break into my house and steal my stuff? You are absolutely right. And for those who don’t know what they are missing, there is no reason you should be missing a damn thing in this day and age, no matter where you are listening. And you are missing a lot.

  36. I bought myself a cheap sacd player and 5.1 surround speaker system (i’m talking under £75) because i wanted to hear the Brothers In Arms SACD re-release.

    I have the original on record and cd… always said the LP was my favourite.

    The SACD blew me away, not just because of the stunning space it creates around you… but because of all the sounds i’d missed from the original… simply stunning.

    If you close your eyes you can litterally place all the instruments in the room around you…. just like being in the studio.

    You can argue about bit rates all you like… the experience that SACD gives you makes you listen to the music in a completly different way. It’s fun trying to work out where all the sounds are coming from and whats making them.


  37. The reason (as everyone knows) that we have mp3’s is because they were fast and easy to download given slow dial up speeds and the memory on ipods was really small. So today we have the musical equivalent of a 13 inch tv in the age of 52 inch ones. I don’t really understand why you would be happy paying for an inferior product when it doesn’t cost anymore for recording companies to produce something with better quality. You may be looking at a 13 inch screen (listening to computer speakers) now but in the future you might want something a little better.

  38. Hw mch tm d y hv t thnk bt ths?

    ‘ll bt y th ntnl dbt tht yr 40+-yr ld rs cn’t hr nythng bv 10 kHz.

    Th d trnsmttd s th thng hr.

    wsh y cld rd yrslf.

    Pls stp blggng nd t sht frvr.

  39. By the way, the Blu-Ray high resolution audio standards (Dolby TruHD and DTS Master Audio) are pretty much the equivalent of SACD and DVD-Audio, and in addition, are playable on many Blu-Ray players while reassuring artists of the difficulty in copying said content.

    And, to repeat, just opened up its 96kHz / 24bit selection.

    The only problem is, they must be played from PC’s and usually via FLAC encoding. (Well, unless there’s some disc player that plays FLAC’s, I haven’t seen one but I don’t know either.)

    Incidentally, you don’t need to buy expensive stereo equipment to get audiophile quality from your PC.

    Look instead to pro audio stores & websites which feature studio monitors, especially those which directly have USB inputs so that they decode your PC’s sound directly and also do not present an electrical circuit difference likely to cause static.

    It ain’t free, but you can get a decent pair of studio monitors from $100 – $300, without needing a stereo in between.

    Conversely, look around on your local craigslist for people selling their old stereo amps cheap, and you can get a decent pair of bookshelf 2 or 3 way small speakers (with a 5 1/4″ or 6 1/2″ woofer) for $50 – $100.

    If they’re sitting on a desktop, don’t worry about weird accessory ‘wooden pyramids’ or whatnot — sit them atop cut foam rubber or sound insulation panels, so that they don’t lose energy into the desktop and the desktop’s vibration doesn’t come right back into the speaker cabinet and mess up the sound. This isn’t tweaking stuff, it’s typical studio tricks.

    DVD-Audio / SACD players are available refurbished for $100. Also the Oppo brand disc players are usually SACD etc players.

    But if you’re going to get a Blu-Ray, one which also plays DVD-Audio / SACD is going to be from one of the audiophile manufacturers and cost an arm and leg.

    And finally, if you’re spending more time & money & energy trying to get the ‘perfect’ home audio reproduction but never go out to live shows, there’s something wrong there.

  40. Well, your first post, under your own name, really opened up a shit storm. Congratulations and thanks!

    Audiophiles do not just plunk their shit down without considering the room. There are many ways to fine tune the system and the room’s acoustics.

  41. 128 MP3 is crap because MP3 is, actually, crap. It doesn’t have the best-thought-out design, and when it degrades, it doesn’t degrade nicely. Nonetheless, 192 MP3 is good enough for most purposes. Vorbis at 160 or better is nicer, if your device will do it, and surprisingly many do (just not that Apple thing…)

    So okay, you’ve got suitable source material. What else do you need? Step one is proper DAC, that will give you more music and less hiss/distortion. Some “MP3 players” are quite good. Some are not so good. You just have to get lucky there. Some PC soundcards, even internal ones, are quite good as well — and you don’t have to lay out for Turtle Beach gear, just get an old Audigy2 off of eBay. A moderately priced stereo, hooked up to a PC (or a CD player) with S/PDIF is ideal here, though. When dealing with a portable player, a “headphone amp” like the Airhead may help when your player just doesn’t have the oomph for your headphones, but most of the time it’s not necessary and won’t gain you anything except one more component to deal with.

    And then, you need the actual audio reproduction. My secret here is not really a secret at all. If you just want to kick back and enjoy some music, but you want clarity and detail and all that other good stuff, it’s easier and cheaper to do it with headphones than to get the maximum performance out of speakers. And again, you don’t need to spend a ton. My recommendation for those who really don’t want to spend: the Sony MDR-V series headphones or the discontinued MDR-CD series. Surprisingly even sound, comfy earpads, and under 20 bucks. My suggestion if you want to take things a little more seriously: Grado SR-60. There’s really no need to go further than that! After that it’s all wankery.

    So get some decently-encoded music (I don’t care if it’s lossy, so long as it’s good, but I will point out that hard drives are cheap and FLAC doesn’t take up that much space!), get an MP3 player with a decent sound chip and Rockbox support, or a moderately-priced stereo with some digital ins, get a pair of headphones that you like and that don’t have too many ugly peaks in the response, and then enjoy some damn music! All the equipment together should cost you less than the complete works of Led Zeppelin on CD, or you’re doing it wrong.

  42. …and the battle continues.

    I think the real point that Metzger was trying to make is that there is a niche market for SACD that is sadly being overlooked.

    SACD is for audiophiles, and audiophiles are snobs about audio, its just the nature of the beast. Expecting an audiophile not to look down on MP3 would be like a concert pianist not looking down on say, Nirvana…

    Both are valid forms of expression (or in this case data storage), and no, they usually don’t get along.

  43. @14
    I’m sorry you weren’t credited for your work. I think good cover art could go a long way toward helping the CD industry. If I’m not mistaken, this CD reissue also includes a DVD? I think if you get a CD and a DVD in one, you are getting a great deal. And with a pretty album to paw over, you have a very nice little object. I recently bought an Iron and Wine album that came with a poster of original artwork. You can’t get that from no stinkin’ MP3!

  44. clearly some people have sharper aural sensitivities. Why is this so upsetting? I cannot distinguish the tiniest subtleties of rare wine vintages. I don’t feel demeaned by connoisseurs.

  45. In blind listening tests, with good audio gear, even audiophiles can’t tell MP3 apart from Red Book CD audio at about 192kbps VBR or above. Of course most audiophiles _think_ they’d be able to tell; for the same reason that some of them are sure they can tell the difference a $500 power cable makes.

    Moreover, I think it’s funny that Talking Heads’ masterpiece “Remain In Light” was used as the poster child of this post, since it was recorded in digital in the first place, and given the time (1979-80) it certainly wasn’t above Red Book CD quality.

    Moreover, I don’t think I want somebody fucking with the mix on that album to put it into five channels. If Byrne and Eno had done it at the time, that’d be great, but they didn’t, and any new five-channel mix is going to represent somebody else changing the way the sound is assembled … which on that album in particular, is as big a part of the music as any of the instruments.

    Music is not about perfect fidelity, especially not rock music. This post makes me think of ’70s stereophiles holed up in their living rooms, getting down with quadraphonic masterpieces by Yes and Boston … while they’re missing out on great shows by the Ramones and the Clash, and oh yes, Talking Heads.

  46. @47 – “clearly some people have sharper aural sensitivies” … the problem is that this is not *so* clear as to be particularly useful. as noted by earlier posters, a lot of the ability to detect subtle differences between wines, waters and recorded sounds vanishes under double blind conditions. for the tiny few for whom it remains demonstrably present … well, great, but it really doesn’t say much about what the rest of us should (or even could) be doing.

  47. Yes, people can hear the difference between 128k MP3s and 320k MP3s. Yes, people can hear the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit PCM, or between PCM and DSD (SACD). Yes, people can hear the difference between two different mastering jobs for the same album, or between analogue and digital. And yes, those differences are quantitatively small. But the key point is that the differences are measureable, real.

    It is a separate question whether it matters for music. It is subjective. It is completely subjective whether those differences matter to you.

    To me, when it concerns music I love, it matters deeply. All other things being equal, a higher quality source (be it file, disc, or tape) is going to provide me a richer, more moving experience each time. I always seek out the very highest fidelity source available because, basically, I consider my listening time valuable, and the experience of listening to music important to my happiness.

    The fact that high resolution audio delivery is made trivial by plummeting storage and bandwidth costs, means that I am baffled why anyone would advocate less fidelity when we can have more.

    The loudness war is a separate but equally contemptible problem.

  48. it’s 5.1 as in five channels of full range plus one channel of low frequency.

    Beck’s “Sea Change” on SACD is absolutely amazing. The sonic mastery that went into the dark side of the moon SACD is mind blowing. Zappa’s “Quadrophiliac” is ridiculously good. “Beggars Banquet” phenomenal. Of course I’m listening on Stevie Nick’s old Westlake Audio studio monitors so ymmv….

  49. Just as a note to those of you who seem to think that CD-quality (44.1kHz at 16 bits) is “good enough”, try recording a full-spectrum musical instrument, such as an acoustic guitar, at that resolution, and then try it again at 48kHz, and at 96 kHz. Also try it at 24 bits. Then listen to the results on a good set speakers (just a good set of computer speakers should be enough… I’m partial to Logitech…) The higher-resolution recordings will sound a lot more vivid, and you will hear a lot of little details you wouldn’t hear otherwise.

    That said, for portable audio, I agree that 128kbps VBR MP3s are often more than enough, as you’re not going to benefit from the extra resolution in noisy environments.

    I just wish all recordings were made with less dynamic range compression (that whole loudness war thing again) and then have portable media players and especially car radios include some form of dynamic range compression so that in noisy environments, everything is brought back to a more practical loudness level.

    One last thing: for those of you who’ve had the chance to listen to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon 5.1 SACD remix, try searching for the unreleased 1975 Alan Parsons Quad mix, which was mastered to DVD-A(with an accompanying DVD-V track for people who don’t have proper DVD-A players.) It’s an extremely compelling 4.1 mix that just makes that album feel new again. In particular, Nick Mason’s drumming is incredibly up-front and the mix made me appreciate his work even more than I’d done in the past. Also look for the Quad mixes for Wish You Were Here and Animals, the latter of which has some interesting moments that really use the extra channels in fun ways.

    There’s also Queen’s A Night at the Opera 30th anniversary edition, which contains a fun 5.1 mix that is more in line with those old-style Quad mixes, instead of being like modern 5.1 mixes, where the rear channels are mostly used for ambiance. (I prefer my surround mixes to surround me with music, not make me feel like the band are playing in front of me in an ambient room.)

    The Flaming Lips have special editions of their last three albums in 2-disc packages, with the second disc containing some DVD-A as well as DVD-V content, in most cases offering 5.1 mixes of the music on the CD. Also look for the Zaireeka DVD-A, which reproduces the experience the band were going for by releasing their album as 4 separate CDs meant to be played simultaneously.

    Lastly, there’s Frank Zappa’s Quaudiophiliac, which offers pristine-sounding performances of some of his best work, mixed in Quad.

  50. Some people only wear designer clothes, others only shop at Target. Some people only eat locally-grown, sustainable, organic food, while others will only eat Burger King. It seems that the unifying theme of this thread is that audio is a polarizing issue.

    I can only listen to Otis Redding on vinyl, on my grandparents’ KLH hi-fi system. I can only listen to it on that format because my dad would play that record every single night when I was a kid. When I listen to it now, I’m hearing my past in time with the music.

    On the other hand, I think that Death Magnetic sounds great on iBuds, converted from the CD to mp3 at 192kbs. And by “sounds great”, I mean, it feels great. It rocks, and it’s distorted as hell. The distortion adds to the overall feeling.

  51. It is unfortunate that discussions like these always swirl downward into a debate about a false dichotomy. So many of the comments suggest there are but two options: shitty MP3s on an iPod listed to while on the subway vs. gazillion dollar audiophile systems. The reality, of course, is that there are a ton of options between those extremes.

    I’ve always cared a bit about the quality of the audio I listen to but I’m not willing to spend a ton of money on silly wood knobs and tuned power cords. I’ve put together a very cost effective surround sound capable system that can play SACD and DVD-Audio because I enjoy listening to some of the rereleases. I didn’t spend a ton of money on my system (for instance, my CD/DVD player cost only $200) but I can hear a significant difference between Bowie streaming low bit rate MP3s from my computer vs. the same stuff on SACD and my ears really aren’t anything special.

    Also, it isn’t true that every rerelease is colored to sounds “like the 90s”. Surely some are but a number of artists have been careful to try recreate the original without generating a wholly different product.

    As with all other stupid and fruitless arguments (PC vs Mac, Ford vs Chevy, Republican vs Democrat), this one got a little carried away.

  52. It is a sad thing but you have to evaluate how sad. I used to love listening to a great album on vinyl through headphones. That never happens now that I’m deep into grown-up-hood and parenting. The world of mp3s does allow me easy and constant access to my music collection and maybe even more important: to NEW MUSIC.

    If I can draw a parallel: I’m a cinephile. When I had more time on my hands, I used to avoid seeing great films on a TV first. It was either on the screen or wait. This was for classics and new movies. It was surprisingly successful and I saw most of my movies the way they were supposed to be seen: in a theater, on film, with people around. Until I ran out of time due to work and being a dad. I still don’t really like watching films on a TV, so consequently I just don’t see many movies anymore. And I know I’ve got no one to blame but myself, so enjoy your DIVX avi files. Seriously. Enjoy them.

  53. @ #45: I don’t think most concert pianists are as biased as you seem to think. Most of the classical musicians I know appreciate many different kinds of music, myself included.

    @ everyone: Live music beats recorded music anyday. The first wax cylinders were an example of convenience over sound quality. IMO, no recording is possible which conveys the actual sound of a live instrument (acoustic or electronic).

  54. I work in a studio owned by AIX which delivers the highest possible quality digital sound recordings in 5.1 on blueray. They sound really amazing. They can be bought online too. I hear, I never have. Anyways, high quality sound is not a thing of the past.

  55. I’m not at all surprised that the formats aren’t selling well. Apart from the price, and narrow selections: most people don’t really *listen* to music … give it their entire attention, understand and enjoy the depth of performances or the technical accomplishments.

    It’s an accessory to their lives, not a focus. And they’ve been conditioned by decades of exposure to throw-aways. And most of the equipment they can buy is caca.

    Consider the speakers on the average TV set. Case closed.

  56. Setting aside all the objections to audiophile snobbery, the difference between stereo and 5.1 surround is undeniable.

    Listening to the 5.1 DSOTM that’s floating around out there was a memorable experience, as the CD copy I own couldn’t be a worse copy from the masters. I could suddenly hear parts of the songs I had never heard before. And while I might not have expensive enough equipment to hear David Gilmour’s fingers as the glide across the guitar strings, I’m still experiencing more of the music than I was with my early-era CD – and that’s plenty of justification for these high-end formats in my book.

    Hooverphonic’s No More Sweet Music came with CD on one side and DVD-A on the other, a great way to compare the formats. There’s a depth to the music in surround that is lost in stereo, and truly takes average-sounding tracks and makes them entrancing.

  57. Good sound is relatively cheap. By good I mean a respectable approximation to the sound heard in the studio the day the music was mixed. Doesn’t get much better than that, I think.

    A pair of studio monitors you enjoy, a sub if necessary, and modicum of setup savvy easily avilable online will have you hearing things you may have not heard before, even if your hearing isn’t to hot (mine isn’t either). The key here is proper install.

    Some time settting up diffusion & bass traps(NOT expensive (i.e. home made works just as well), eq-ing, and speaker placement will provide much joy in the form of instrument/vocal localization in the created soundspace (proper reverb playback, phase and time coherence (not perfection), differentiation of timbre, more accurate tonality (once again fidelity to the mix), Oh yeah and the ability to hear the differences amongst poor playback mediums(not specific to mp3).

    There are issues with mp3, and cd, but conveniance has robbed society of the opportuniy to hear what they are missing.

    You can’t hear all the subtleties of music when there is noise around: traffic, children, fans, etc. etc.

    Maybe it’s our job to sell people on the beauty of a great sound experience?!

    I wish I could invite you’ll to hear what your missing, but my listening space is a tad small for the masses. sorry

  58. some people are “super-tasters”, perhaps some have brain synapses that make their aural experience more intense than some others. It is not just the mechanics of auditory range and sensitivity – maybe the audiophiles are experiencing something very intense and pleasurable to them in a very real way. They are telling the truth when they describe their superior experience and cannot understand why others built differently think they are just posing.

  59. Sadly even CDs are often a poor way to listen to music nowadays, with the rampant compression of the sound in the pursuit of loudness, not dynamic range (and hence, accuracy).

    MP3s aren’t great, but with a good source they’re OK for portable listening for non-audiophiles. Which includes almost everyone, statistically speaking. MP3s don’t deserve the bad rap they get from some folks. Going portable, digitally and with high quality, is also an easy problem to fix if you’re really concerned (buy CD, losslessly compress, store on your large-drive player of choice). But when the source CD is compressed to hell and back, the MP3 gets a double-whammy of compression and even lossless formats can’t improve the sound.

  60. I don’t think high quality audio recording and reproduction technology will become extinct. I think the type of music and the business model it is following determines how it is treated in the studio. For anything that you see or hear on Mtv there is no audio quality to begin with because the music is simply a set-piece for the image of a band that can be quickly pumped up for short-term returns via sales of singles, ringtones and commercial licensing. Pop, dance and hip-hop are primarily digitally created because it’s easy and cost-effective. Nu-metal and it’s loudness wars have real instruments, but a similar lack of depth, nuance or style that would benefit from any format of higher than cd quality. The artists listed in this article are artists who cared primarily about sonic quality and their art deserves to be archived and reproduced with the best quality possible. I think the real problem with SACD and DVD-A is that the manufacturers were trying to make them the next big general consumer format, a new version of cd’s with less convenience, at a time when consumers were moving towards convenience. There’s no technological reason why high quality audio can’t be sold in a downloadable format. Buying a disc that can’t be backed up by the buyer is a doomed business model that needs to die ASAP. Accidents happen; discs get scratched.

  61. Wow. I really envy you :-/

    Here in Mexico is hard to find even the normal versions of the Talking Heads CDs, so a 5.1 mix would be even harder.

    But I might as well try…

    Quality-wise, someone should start a campaign called ‘Kill mp3’ or something. It would be great to create new standard (like FLAC) and it would be great to purchase/download lossless music :-)

  62. Most of us put up with the losses of MP3 format because we’re listening to the music on devices that we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference on.

    I have one of my favorite Depeche Mode albums in both MP3 and FLAC format, on a nice expensive 5.1 computer speaker system… I can’t discern a real difference at all.

    That’s why MP3 is popular. Low filesize, and most people don’t have the hardware to notice what they’re missing out on. We’re listening on our computers or on headhphones which we’d like to be portable, and therefore smaller than a cinder block.

  63. @#5 POSTED BY THEDUDE06:
    I’d say it’s more along the lines of Giclee versus silk screened print.

  64. One last point I’d like to make, “I can’t hear the difference anyway” is a bit of a cop out. You may not be able to now, but audio quality is like any other aesthetic pursuit, be it literature or art or wine. It is possible to train the senses. To expand your horizons and learn to recognize and enjoy subtle variations. I suppose it’s possible to skip it entirely, but it seems a bit like eating only McDonald’s because hey, it provides all the calories you really need.

    Completely disagree. Hearing gets worse with age. Not better. So I will say that if you’re in your 20s and teens you would probably notice the difference. But for the rest of us, it’s no big loss.

    What it’s also coming down to is mastering on all levels. Saw Taxi Driver on the big screen after only seeing it on VHS for years and it blew me away. Film print just cleaned up and it amazed me. Then I saw the digital remastering of Blade Runner and it blew me away as well.

    Then I went to see a rep theater showing of Escape from New York. Horrible. It was some crappy print that was PINK in part with scratches. And there is no excuse since the damned film has been remastered onto DVD before.

    So in that case, watching Escape from New York on my iPod was a better experience.

    I think that’s what would win me over in arguments like this. Immediately explaining to the layperson what mastering is and why bad post-production can ruin the best efforts of things.

  66. I value all the data in my music – and generally rip at the highest possible bitrate (320, mp3), FLAC or Apple Lossless being a bit too data heavy for my large collection and not-so-large wallet (not that storage is that expensive).

    Even then the CD often trumps the rip.

    But I will never, ever understand buying an album that’s decades old re-mixed (no remastered) into something more than a 2.1 channel copy. It seems gratuitous, and the albums I have heard tend to sound absurd… like David Byrne is doing laps of the room while belting out Listening Wind. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

    But I am no audiophile, I just like my audio to play as close to what was originally intended by the artist. And if that is a 7.1 Autechre album, awesome. But after the fact multichannel? Can someone put a solid case forward as to why it is so good? Besides the hit-the-bong, coming-from-everywhere cool factor?

    Do we need to hear the strummings of Mr Dylan from the rear channels?

  67. (BTW, the last few questions were utterly rhetorical, I know they were covered in the post… just my opinion. One that sounded like i didn’t RTFA. But I did. Promise.)

  68. for most, the auditory experience is co-related with pleasing memory. Just as our reptilian brains are most strongly evoked by smell, so the next level responds to associated memory of sound. Can the best audiophile’s equipment compete with the scratchy AM radio of first sex?

  69. Weird about all the defensive posturing. Can I enjoy my bitchin stereo and still say that monster cable is b*llshit? Thanks, swell of you.

    The only reason I can figure anyone would call an “audiofile” pathetic is because nobody did them a favor and sat them right down and “featured” a 5.1 remastered album (and that’s just what it amounts to, a feature…like a film, something that can transport you). At the risk of coming across like a complete Fuck#ng dork I do in fact force some of my friends to sit in front of my stereo and introduce them to something I’m pretty sure they’ve never heard before.

    My hat is off to the poster(s) that tried to drive the point that a surprising amount of really good used gear is out there for not too much money, as there’s a glut of this stuff as people think they’re doing themselves a favor by dramatically scaling down in size.

    Being experienced in sound reinforcement I bought only what I needed and my money went a long long way. Three used M&K’s bookshelfs in the front, two crusty but viable Boston bookshelfs in back, M&K sub ($100), an 80w Denon amp ($150), and an SACD player ($30). This is a home office workstation set up, so another natural step was to run my mac tower optically into my amp, because itunes can handle some multichannel playback of music files floating around…you know, “out there”. So great sound on a budget is indeed possible on a budget.

    In any case, I was delighted to read Richard’s post! Without trying to I dunno…describe what Italian food is like to someone who eats hot pockets, for those of you who’ve never heard what he’s talking about and are interested and (particularly) passionate about music, find a buddy for a demo, it’s really really really worth checking out. Even my 2-channel music sounds ripping.

    A quick shout out to an unmentioned release: The Who’s Tommy in hi-rez 5.1. Townshend remastered this himself, and it leaves me amazed every time, and thankful that the technology existed at that time to capture that much original sonic information.

    Oh…14 gage hardware store wire = perfectly good.

  70. You have ears yet can not hear? Oh well. This is nothing new on audiophile recordings. The Internet has been most helpful to the sell of HQ vinyl. There is nothing that still beats the sound of a good vinyl recording and remastering on 180 or 200 gram virgin vinyl. Some of the SACDs are really good such as when Pink Floyd worked with Steve Hoffman to master the 5.1 version of Darkside. Steve Hoffman is of course known for remastering on the original tube amps. I have both the newly released 180 gram U2 album Joshua Tree and the Originial Master Recording on gold CD and the vinly sounds better. The not a whole lot better as compared to lesser recordings. The vinyl that sounds the best is albums that are released on 45rpm since 45 rpm just can’t be beat for quality.

    If you want to know where you can buy great vinyl, SACDs, etc, check out (in no particular order):
    And even Amazon sells it and there is always google to try and find better prices.

    And more on the great Steve Hoffman can be found at:

    And if you are serious about vinyl, then buy yourself a vacuum record cleaner.

    Now I will sit back, plop down Dark Side of the Moon remastered by Hoffman on my $650 Rega Planar turntable with its $365 Linn cartridge (all low end audiophile mind you) and know that while it sounds great, it could even sound better. What they hell is an mp3 anyway?

  71. Just to say: you’re right, Richard.
    It is a joy to listen to Nick Drake on SACD, and the sheer unforced musicality of some of the format is a pleasure (as long as the engineers have done their job properly, that is). There is a superb range of classical music on SACD, including the splendid Mercury Living Presence recordings (made on three-channel tape in the Fifties and Sixties)
    My own favourite vinyl is the series of direct-cut recordings that Harry James and his big band made for Sheffield Lab in the Seventies (“The King James Version” et al) – that’s a whole LP side played beginning to end, recorded using few microphones and committed straight to the cutting lathe. No edits, no tape, no compression, no hiss: just pure analogue heaven, with fantastic dynamic range, attack and detail. And you can appreciate it on any record deck.

  72. Technogeek: That back cover art has been on my wall for almost thirty years.
    Well done, I say.

  73. Oh, and the track on Remain in Light, about Mo’jiq “planting devices in the American Zone”, is prescient, huh?

  74. Mojique sees his village from a nearby hill
    Mojique thinks of days before Americans came
    He sees the foreigners in growing numbers
    He sees the foreigners in fancy houses
    He thinks of days that he can still remember…now.
    Mojique holds a package in his quivering hands
    Mojique sends the package to the American man
    Softly he glides along the streets and alleys
    Up comes the wind that makes them run for cover
    He feels the time is surely now or never…more.

    The wind in my heart
    The wind in my heart
    The dust in my head
    The dust in my head
    The wind in my heart
    The wind in my heart
    (Come to) Drive them away
    Drive them away.u
    Mojique buys equipment in the market place
    Mojique plants devices in the free trade zone
    He feels the wind is lifting up his people
    He calls the wind to guide him on his mission
    He knows his friend the wind is always standing…by.

    Mojique smells the wind that comes from far away
    Mojique waits for news in a quiet place
    He feels the presence of the wind around him
    He feels the power of the past behind him
    He has the knowledge of the wind to guide him…on.

    The wind in my heart
    The wind in my heart
    The dust in my head
    The dust in my head
    The wind in my heart
    The wind in my heart
    (Come to) Drive them away
    Drive them away.
    yup.prescient indeed.

  75. I love how up in arms people get whenever audiophile notions are brought up. I don’t want to get into the debate, but in keeping with the point of the post, I would like to say that I’m pretty pumped at all the 180gm vinyl rereleases that are coming out – the heavy vinyl definitely holds up better over time and it’s nice to be able to easily find copies of some of the classics that are clean instead of hairy and scratched.

    @54, “Sea Change” would probably still be one of my favorite albums even in a 16kbps mono MP3. Brilliant, brilliant album – Beck + Nigel Godrich = Win, way more so than the new Beck produced by Danger Mouse, in my opinion.

  76. I am 45 years old. I remember watching the Talking Heads live on Saturday Night Live back in the Not Ready For Prime Time Players era. Maybe 20 or 25 years ago, when my ears were still capable of discerning the sort of aural detail you’re talking about, I would have agreed with you. Even if my middle-aged ears could be made to appreciate truly sterling sound quality, or even that of an ordinary compact disc, I am still skeptical that it is worth the investment, given the law of diminishing returns, even if I knew where I could obtain such equipment in today’s Best Buy/Wal-Mart environment. eBay, perhaps?

    Today, I am just looking for a pair of earphones that deliver the best sound my iPod can offer while deadening as much outside noise as can be achieved as I listen to the MP3s I ripped from the vinyl LPs I bought two and three decades ago while cutting my grass, fighting the Battle of the Bulge while trying to ignore Fox News, or weeding the garden. If I can get that, I’m happy.

  77. Lots of audophilia reaches for the (for me) unrealizable “perfect” experience that allows the consumer unfiltered access to the content. But what if, like me and a lot of folks, you live in a tiny apartment with a lot of sound leakage (especially from lead-footed upstairs neighbors)? What if, as folks upthread have mentioned, your acoustics aren’t good, with lots of surfaces that either dampen or amplify the sound? Examples could be multiplied. An analogy would be seeing a 70mm film on a huge screen, only to be horribly distracted by the person chewing, coughing, moving, etc., in the seat next to you. What’s this fetish for unmediated, untrammeled “access” to content about, anyway? It’s simply impossible for most of us, the quality of our tech or ear canals notwithstanding.

    Sadly, I can have a better-controlled listening situation with my humble Ipod and earphones (not -buds). I envy consumers with the wealth and time to construct the perfect listening room, but damn if that doesn’t seem a little silly to me….

    I’m also a little unclear as to what the huge focus on tech specifics and “quality” of the equipment is for. This all seems to be predicated on one sitting silently in a sealed-off room, listening intently, doing nothing but that: a far-off dream for many, and completely undesirable for some who might actually prefer to have, say, portable music with them as they move about the city. I always thought the chief determinant of tech “quality” was its range and number of uses, not some inherent greatness in the tech itself. That is, a bazooka might be a “better” (more powerful) weapon than a pistol, but you wouldn’t use a bazooka to, um, shoot at a target range, or defend your home. So for me MP3s are simply better because I have far more uses for them: I couldn’t care less about the tiny sonic nuances I’m allegedly missing.

  78. Jack #74: I think what Ernunnos #72 is talking about is not raw auditory perception, but attention. Try this simple experiment: pick a song, any song, and listen to it; focus on it. Now listen to it again. Did you hear anything the second time around that you did not notice the first time?

    It’s certainly not because your raw auditory perception changed, but because your attention changed. And the more you pay attention, the more refined your sense can become, to a limit.

  79. Brother Provisional @18, when I have to read a comment three times to tell whether it’s ironic or just rude, you’re cutting it way too close, and many of your readers will be having the same unpleasant experience they’d have if you meant it to be rude.

    Markfrei @29, back off and cool down. Most of the people protesting in this thread aren’t reacting to the idea that your tastes and preferences exist; they’re reacting to what they perceive as repeated put-downs of their tastes and preferences. It makes them irritable. And I can tell you exactly which trope is doing it.

    In fact, I’m going to make this one a rule for the rest of this thread:

    The next person who says “If you would just sit down and listen for once,” or any variation thereon, is going to have that portion of his or her comment disemvowelled. (Note: this is not a guarantee that the rest of their comment won’t be disemvowelled as well.)

    Further rules may follow.

    Everybody: play nice, or else. The internet has had enough audiophile wars.

  80. A point: I have, as an example, access to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue mixed in 5.1. This isn’t interesting to me because it has been around now in stereo for 50 years. And so it should remain. Hell I need the vinyl.

    another point: there are RCA cables that sell to audiophiles that cost hundreds of dollars. This is mainly funny to me because they are being used to listen to albums recorded on $10 XLRs for the mics. The improvement is minimal. Ask Alan Parsons:

    And I believe in both higher- end stereos AND mp3s. They both have their place. Everyone needs to relax.

  81. If BluRay replaces DVD, there will be DVD factories going idle. Those DVD factories will be willing to give the music industry a break and produce DVDs-with-audio-content for cheap. Since every computer has a CD/DVD player already, the transition will be easy. CDs will go away and DVDs-with-audio will become their successor.

  82. @89 Steaming Pile
    “Today, I am just looking for a pair of earphones that deliver the best sound my iPod can offer while deadening as much outside noise as can be achieved”

    These Shure 530’s would do the trick:

    When I first used them I had eargasms – and they block out train noise, plane noise, etc. They aren’t hyped but they are detailed. You’ll hear things on your iPod that you never noticed before.

    If that’s out of your budget, their younger siblings in the Shure SE series are all very good at blocking outside noise and are good quality products.

  83. Frank Zappa was one of the pioneers of Quadraphonic sound. I wish he were still alive. He would have produced some ridiculously amazing stuff through his later years.

  84. @92:

    Thank you. You said it perfectly. Us normal people don’t get testy at audiophiles for spending their money on marginal things; all of us spend our disposable income on things that others may find superfluous. What gets us riled up is that audiophiles (as demonstrated several times in this thread, including the OP, with capitals) seem to insist that non-audiophiles just don’t care about music, just aren’t sitting down and LISTENing. Guess what? I do, and I do. But I’d rather spend my money going to a show or practicing an instrument than on a set of speakers that supposedly allow me to hear things that my well-used ears physically cannot sense anyway.

    Enough condescension.

  85. Ernunnos @37, argue with the argument, not the person. If you find yourself impugning the motives of that many people at once, chances are you’re wrong.

    Pambles @41, your music system is bound to sound like that when it’s being played in the doghouse, which is where you’re currently located.

    Takuan @48:

    Clearly some people have sharper aural sensitivities. Why is this so upsetting? I cannot distinguish the tiniest subtleties of rare wine vintages. I don’t feel demeaned by connoisseurs.

    Nor should you. We’ve all got stronger and weaker areas of our sensorium. I’m okay on wine but much better on citrus, my hearing is mediocre at best, and I see more colors and see better under low-light conditions than almost anyone I know. When I was younger, I also had finely focused vision at all distances.

    So, I have visual preferences that sound a lot like audiophile rants. Tinted car windows: blight on the world. Halogen headlights: an abomination; should be illegal. 300 d.p.i. printing: ick! Little bumps and jaggies all over everything! People who complain about small type: wusses. Websites that use lossy, badly compressed images: are they blind? Can’t they see how bad that is? And then I remember the anwer: No, they can’t. They don’t see it. They live in a low-res world, so shut up about it already.

    Why do audiophiles get into these arguments?

    (1.) Because so many people have had the experience of being told by the audio equipment salesman that the item that costs a few hundred dollars more than they had in mind to spend will sound ever so much better, even though they can’t perceive any actual difference in the sound quality. This makes them suspicious about the whole sound quality thing.

    (2.) Because some audiophiles have failed to notice that their hearing is qualitatively better, and have decided that the rest of us must be stubbornly insisting on not hearing music as well as they do.

    (3.) Because even the smart audiophiles run afoul of a pitfall in English: we use to listen to to mean to pay attention to, the same way we use see to mean understand. Thus, when they’re trying to explain that even if you don’t have hyper-acute hearing to start with, you can train your ear to pick up many of these fine distinctions, they stumble into the dread formulation: “If you would just try listening for once…”

    Their audience hears, You don’t pay attention to the music you play. This irritates them no end, because they have the same strong emotional connection with their music that the audiophiles do. They dig their heels in, and defend the sound systms on which they listen to the music they love so much.

    It all goes downhill from there.

    JPhilby @62, I’m only letting that stand because it went up before I announced the new rule. And by the way, to the extent that you’re saying people don’t give music their entire attention, you’re wrong. They do. The other two factors you mention aren’t listening, They’re training and understanding.

    Takuan again @65: I’m sure many audiophiles do hear things the rest of us don’t. I’m perfectly ready to believe it. What I have trouble believing is that they get well into adulthood, and in some cases participate in multiple audio flamewars, without figuring out that the people around them aren’t hearing what they hear.

  86. Hey…all 9 Dead Can Dancde releases came out on SACD and I snarfed them up in days after they were available, and boy am I glad I did.

    Look, if you can afford a decent rig and play a well mastered CD or SACD on it, you will hear the difference in no uncertain terms. My wife (who is no music lover never mind no audiophile) wanted to know if the live Kraftwerk SACD was the same recording as its CD counterpart.

    Sadly, however (or not, depending) I predict the slow steady demise of SACD and DVD-A as the audiophile formats in favor of vinyl, which has seen huge increases in product for several years now.

    Finally, high end audio is not about hearing the artist sweating. With a good recording on a good rig you hear the music cancel out your sonic environment and replace it with…space, and the playing that occurs in that space. It’s a shock to hear this and it is absolutely mesmermizing.

    mp3s, on the other hand, are a completely different thing that I do not disparage. It’s hard to beat the conveninece of hundreds of albums on a device you can slide into a shirt pocket.

    On the other hand, it’s sad that so few people avail themselves of the other kind of listening, where you are sitting and paying attention to your music and nothing else, totally and completely letting it wash over you. It’s like the difference between looking at porno and having sex yourself.

  87. I think better verbal skills would go a long way toward avoiding this kind of battle. “Sit and just LISTEN” sounds like something you do every day, but it isn’t what they mean when they say it. They mean “do nothing else except giving your full attention to the music, in a very concentrated way; banish all else from your mind while this piece/album/guitar riff plays.”

    Of course, some of us who are not audiophiles do exactly that, but I think it would help if it were clearer.

    And in any case ‘if you would just X for once’ is likely to offend, almost no matter what X is.

  88. @96
    I hope so. They could do all kinds of animation to go with the songs and you could watch/ listen over your t.v. I know the audio might not be the best, but it would be a great alternative to watching tv. You could watch your CDs instead…

  89. This is a message for those who need no convincing on the benefits of 5.1/hi-rez…

    Surprised to see that Porcupine Tree has not been mentioned either in the original piece or here. All their later works are on DVD-A, still in print. The music is mostly superb and the production stunning. On a good system, and on the best cuts, the listening experience is out-of-this-world mind-blowing. The band’s leader, singer, and recording engineer, Stephen Wilson has said that he considers the surround mixes the definitive versions. This music was written and produced with surround listening as the objective.

  90. Agreed #36. This thread make me sad. The main point that I read in this post was that these formats provided an avenue to the original multiple-channel sources, coupled with a mastering love that made the most of the sounds. His MP3 comment was but 18% of the post, but yet nearly everyone latched onto it and ignored the larger import.

  91. #90

    Good closed headphones make your environment irrelevant. Sennheiser HD 240 Pro studio headphones are currently going for under $100 on Amazon and most other audio retailers. They claim -32db noise reduction, and even if that’s overstated you’re not going to be hearing your neighbors. Etymotic earbuds are also good at providing isolation, if that’s more your preference. Either way, you could enjoy a delicate sonata while driving a bulldozer.

    I am running a restored fisher 500 tube amp
    a Parasound turntable and a set of p-audio 15″coaxal speakers i built myself
    total system cost under 1000.00.
    for my digital i run a m-audio audiophile card in my PC
    just picked up a german inport of Fleetwood Mack Rumors on 180 gram vinyl. and a very clean Pink Floyd Dark side of the Moon album
    i thought my remastered compact disks sounded good until i played the vinyl no contest the Cd’s are now coasters!
    an audiophile need not waste money on most of the brainwashing bling thats sold out there.
    but if anyone thinks there Mp3’s or cd’s sound as good your nuts!


    i am trying to find a list and source for high quility cd’s ( some are just recorded better and sound great). i usally use dvd-audio, but want to branch out so some of my freinds who do not own a dvd-a player can enjoy the experiance of great sound ( not ipod downloads). i am trying to avoid the epensive trail and error, so if anyone has advice i am listening.


  94. In 1967, English musician Dave Mason first found fame with the renowned rock group Traffic, the band with which he penned his classic hit Feelin Alright. Rock and Roll hall of Fame inductee in 2004.

Comments are closed.