Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Music Apple

Apple in Talks to Improve Sound Quality of Music Downloads 450

Posted by samzenpus
from the sounding-better-every-day dept.
Barence writes "Apple and music labels are reportedly in discussions to raise the audio quality of of the songs they sell to 24-bit. The move could see digital downloads that surpass CD quality, which is recorded at 16 bits at a sample rate of 44.1kHz. It would also provide Apple and the music labels with an opportunity to 'upgrade' people's music collections, raising extra revenue in the process. The big question is whether anyone would even notice the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit files on a portable player, especially with the low-quality earbuds supplied by Apple and other manufacturers. Labels such as Linn Records already sell 'studio master' versions of albums in 24-bit FLAC format, but these are targeted at high-end audio buffs with equipment of a high enough caliber to accentuate the improvement in quality."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Apple in Talks to Improve Sound Quality of Music Downloads

Comments Filter:
  • In other words (Score:2, Insightful)

    by OverlordQ (264228)

    Labels such as Linn Records already sell 'studio master' versions of albums in 24-bit FLAC format, but these are targeted at high-end audio buffs with equipment of a high enough caliber to accentuate the improvement in quality

    In other words, they're making money off the placebo effect.

    • by Locke2005 (849178) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:18PM (#35294358)
      How can I appreciate the awesome response of my Monster Cable speaker wires if I'm not playing 24-bit FLAC audio files over them?
      • We all know that coat hangers are where its at...

      • with an alpha channel

      • by multipartmixed (163409) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @11:09PM (#35296440) Homepage

        You will still experience better sound quality with a 16-bit CD than with 24-bit FLAC files.

        This is because CDs are recorded and played back with lasers, meaning they are essentially an analog medium, because light is analog.

        FLAC files, on the other end, are made of bits - sharp little bastions of absolute certainty, having a value of either or one, with nothing in between.

        So, in essence, while CDs are recorded in analog bits, whereas FLAC files are recorded with digital, electronic bits. This means that CDs will sound better, because each bit is closer to the original recording; and, remember, that the whole is even more than the sum of it's bits!

        PS: Make sure you orient your Monster Cable wires in the appropriate direction to maximize electron flow! There should be an arrow on the insulation pointing toward the speakers.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Given M. Sur (870067)

      Not really, although possibly, depending on the recordings. The difference between 24-bit and 16-bit audio is the dynamic range, with 24-bit having a much wider range between the quietest possible sound and the loudest possible sound. This is something that can definitely be heard, even on lower end equipment.

      Today's music, however, is so compressed (as in audio-compression, not data-compression) in the quest to "make it louder" that it doesn't even get close to reaching the possible dynamic range of 16-b

      • Re:In other words (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Desler (1608317) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:26PM (#35294452)

        Not really, although possibly, depending on the recordings. The difference between 24-bit and 16-bit audio is the dynamic range, with 24-bit having a much wider range between the quietest possible sound and the loudest possible sound. This is something that can definitely be heard, even on lower end equipment.

        16-bit audio has a 100dB dynamic range and if properly dithered from 24-bit to 16-bit almost no one will notice the difference. To claim otherwise is to fly in the face of ABX tests which back this up.

        • by Desler (1608317)

          To further add, the dynamic range of the average human ear is only 120dB. You really aren't losing THAT much by sticking to 16-bit. 24-bit will provide nothing but larger file sizes with little benefit. This is about as asinine as the people who claim that they need 192kHz audio as well when their ears can't 75% of the frequencies being retained by such a sampling rate. The only benefit 24-bit and 192kHz has is for mastering when you want to lose as little quality and introduce as little aliasing as pos

          • Re:In other words (Score:5, Interesting)

            by boristhespider (1678416) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @07:43PM (#35295236)

            A year or two back I decided to actually test where I hit transparency on MP3s encoded with LAME as it then was. I thought I'd get transparency at somewhere between 192kbs and 256kbs. I didn't, I got it at roughly 160-170kbs depending on the song. (Too many cymbals does fuck that up but up the bitrate enough and at maybe 210-225kbs cymbals and cornets go transparent for me, too. Maybe I've got cloth ears but since I'm encoding my music for me I don't give the slightest hint of a fuck - also I doubt it, I think the desire to prove how great you are is driving a lot of audiophiles to convince themselves they can hear more than they can.)

            A good friend of mine -- a better musician than me by a long way and I'm not actually that bad -- hits transparency at about 150-160kbs on modern encoders, though to be fair he uses OGG by default and I tend to hit transparency down around there on OGG too.

            I'd love to see more people who claim they *need* lossless to listen properly do an actual, full double-blind on a range of tpyes of music. I've no issue believing other people hit transparency higher than I do, but frankly I don't believe anyone who says that 320kbs MP3 isn't good enough.

            Disclaimer 1: I have FLAC rips of all my CDs except a few which I ripped with iTunes and haven't swapped from ALAC yet. This is partly to have full quality archives of my CD collection, and partly because I'm well aware of the haemorrhaging of quality you get by reencoding compressed files.
            Disclaimer 2: Both I and my friend did these double blinds through headphones. Nice quality headphones (Sennheiser over-the-ears, can't remember which model) but headphones nonetheless. The results through a big speaker stack would probably be different and I'd expect to hit transparency a bit higher, at maybe 256kbs again. But I might be wrong and it might be lower (or, of course, it might be higher).
            Disclaimer 3: Not really a disclaimer, just that when I record at home I tend to record in 48kHz and 24 bit. That's mainly because my computer is aging. Give me more RAM and I'll happily sit there and record at 96kHz and 32 bit. I'll then downsample it to 16 bit and 44.1kHz because I really don't see the point of doing anything else given I'm compressing everything so that maybe -50dB is the lowest volume my music hits and normally it's between -30dB and -0.1dB...
            Disclaimer 4: I'm very loathe to buy anything from online music stores because they're only offering compressed formats, so I've automatically taken a quality hit. But when there's no physical release I buy them anyway because in all reality I can't pretend to tell the difference between a 320kbs MP3 and a CD and nor can I tell the difference between a 192kbs AAC and a CD. But if I ever have to re-encode -- like if I end up back somewhere running Linux and I can't put on MP3 support unlikely as that now seems -- then I know I'll lose some quality. Which may or may not be audible, of course....

            • Re:In other words (Score:4, Interesting)

              by TheMeuge (645043) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @08:27PM (#35295564)

              The biggest determinant of sound quality is the recording and mastering. Most music coming out these days is mixed for portable players, and is made to be heard through a torrent of street noise. It doesn't matter how good your bitrate or bit depth are, if the track has a 10-15dB dynamic range, and clips throughout the song.

              A great recording, on the other hand, demands an adequate sound system. On my reasonably expensive system (MSB DAC, Aragon preamp, B&K amp, Klipsch speakers), I have done blind A/B testing, and was able to tell the difference between a 320kbit MP3 and WAV. On the other hand, using OGG, I was reduced to only being able to tell the difference up to 256kbit at best (depending on source material). My mom, who's a conservatory-trained musician, was able to pick out 256 kbit OGG from WAV 100% of the time (total of 10 tracks), and 320kbit OGG vs. WAV on about half of them. My guess is that a professional musician might do even better.

        • by thogard (43403)

          But when some record exec wants the thing compressed so bad that you only need about 20 dB dynamic range, it won't matter. I suspect that rap is one of the few growing forms of music is that it screws up the auto compressors and so it has a wider dynamic range and dynamic range seems to be what conveys emotion in music.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The use of more dynamic range is it's increase in the signal to noise ratio....or reduction in quantization noise: the stair step of digital audio. In 16bit audio, the minimum step between levels is 1/65535 of full loudness. For the same listening level, with 24bit, that goes to a ridiculously small 1/16777215, or 256 times less. This pretty much making quantization noise negligible for the whole recording to delivery workflow if you're pumping the signal up to any reasonable power level.

      • Re:In other words (Score:5, Insightful)

        by commodore6502 (1981532) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:53PM (#35294756)

        >>>Today's music, however, is so compressed (as in audio-compression, not data-compression) in the quest to "make it louder" that it doesn't even get close to reaching the possible dynamic range of 16-bit, which effectively makes an upgrade to 24-bit completely worthless.
        >>>

        Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding. We have a winner!

        As for quality I used to care, but not anymore. As long as the MP3s I download.... er, I mean purchase sound as good as the FM Radio where I originally heard them, that's good enough. ----- If an artist releases a Greatest Hits CD I'll buy that, but mainly to "support" the singer with his commission, not because of quality.

        BTW Super Audio CD and DVD-audio failed because nobody cared about quality. I expect these 24 bit things to fail too. If Apple really cares about quality, they should start selling Lossless versions of their songs.

        • by cgenman (325138)

          I still have a Janet Jackson CD from the early days of the medium. The music is old and crufty, but it was amazing how much they played with changes in intensity and volume. Nowadays, if someone whispers on a music track it's at exactly the same volume level as the regular singing. There is just a contrast that is lost.

          Of course, making 24 bit masters from 48 bit sound files that were intended for 16 bit CD's isn't going to sound very different than the CD originally did. They'd need to re-master the mu

      • by KZigurs (638781)

        Quite a few people are absolutely happy to pay the premium (and you do need to be a stupid animal to even start looking at 'hey, who might be selling lossless DSD stream zips?') although not realizing that what they actually want is not the extra 8 bits bit rather the fact that no monkey execs have been let near the compression button.

        But since MSFT is gone - it's about time to switch over and listen to crappy compressed records only now in 32bit/192khz quality!

    • by dunezone (899268)

      In other words, they're making money off the placebo effect.

      Nope

      It would also provide Apple and the music labels with an opportunity to 'upgrade' people's music collections, raising extra revenue in the process.

      They're making money off selling the same product again to you.

      • by idontgno (624372)

        But... but... It's not the same product again! it's 8 bits better! OMG! I can heeeeear the sonic purity!* And it makes the Apple logo on my iPacifier to glow even more brilliantly!

        *on the crap earbuds, with traffic noise leaking through. Trust me. The RDF is strong with this one.

    • Well, maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:56PM (#35294788)

      If you don't think there is real high end equipment it just means you've never looked/listened. I'm not taking $1000 speaker cables or other such snake oil, I'm talking high end speakers and so on.

      Speakers in particular have a wide range because they are almost always the worst component of a system. An amp that has THD in the fractions of a percent may be hooked in to a speaker that has THD in the 5-10% range when played at a high volume.

      There can be a pretty big difference between normal and good equipment. There's also a pretty big monetary difference so it isn't worth it for everyone, but if you like good sound, maybe it is. It also isn't something magical that you have to have faith exists, it is stuff you can measure. Flatter frequency response, lower THD, lower noise, better dispersion, etc, etc.

      Now, does that mean 24-bit is useful? Eh, I dunno. In theory possibly. You get 96dB of dynamic range out of 16-bit audio. You can extend that through dithering, but at the cost of raising the noise floor. Human hearing is more in the 120dB range. 0dB SPL (20 micropascals) is chosen as 0 becuse it is roughly the threshold of human hearing. Some people can hear a little below that, many cannot hear that low because of hearing damage/loss. 120dB SPL is about the level where you start to feel immediate pain and thus going past it is not recommended.

      So to fully cover the human range of hearing you'd need 20-bits, but then more can be useful because of course if you are trying to represent low level sounds with just 1 or 2 bits, they are going to have rather bad quantization artifacts. Again dither can deal with this, in trade for higher noise levels, but just going 24-bit solves it.

      As a practical matter though, it is of questionable usefulness. For recording it is quite useful because it allows for headroom. You want to be able to have plenty of digital headroom (to prevent clipping), but still capture all the detail. However when you mix everything and normalize it down, that's not so important. It also takes some fairly high quality equipment to start getting 100dB or more of actual effective SNR and dynamic range out of a system, not to mention a rather quiet room. You can hear sounds below the room's noise level, but only maybe 10-15dB below.

      I've played with it quite a bit since audio production is a hobby and I really can't form an opinion. I can set up tests where I can hear the difference, but I can set up tests where I can't.

      Over all I think it would be nice to move to 24-bit since space is rapidly becoming a total non-issue and it just avoids it ever being a problem. Kinda like moving past 8-bits per channel for video. However I don't think it is a big issue and it isn't something I'll tell people they gotta have. "CD quality" has endured precisely because it is "good enough" for most things. Maybe not perfect, but you don't really notice any problems in normal use and that's what matters.

    • You know when you turn on a stereo and you hear a slight hiss and hum? Linn stuff doesn't.

      Linn kit does a pretty good job of sounding like it isn't there...

      At a ridiculous price of course.

      A while back, I saw a comparison between various brands of stereo equipment, including some very high end stuff, and a live performance, and price does matter, you can tell even with the most outrageously expensive, but it's more difficult the more you spend. Seems to be logarithmic, you spend 10x more for a linear improve

  • Damn (Score:4, Funny)

    by ShavedOrangutan (1930630) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:17PM (#35294354)
    Looks like I'll have to bootleg my music collection all over again.
  • NEVER underestimate the placebo effect when dealing with audiophiles.

    Even if they can never hear the difference, because they THINK 24 bit lossy encoding is better than 16 bit lossy encoding, they will believe it sounds better and therefore you have a chance to charge them more for it.

    After all, the audio/video realm is the home of massively overpriced digital cables with gold plated contacts and vastly inflated pricetags, because some suckers think they are better.

    • Interesting to contrast audiophiles and musicians. The audiophiles want you to listen to the difference in some piece as reproduced by two pieces of equipment; the musicians want you to listen to the difference in interpretation in some piece as played by two different people. In my experience, musicians typically have fairly crappy equipment, but enormous amounts of content.

      As they say, people listen to the music and audiophiles listen to the noise.
    • Yeah, I agree that the increased fidelity of the recording isn't going to make any difference in sound quality. However, as we have seen with DVD-A, the existence of an "Audiophile Format" means that studios that release them usually create a mix that doesn't compress and clip the audio to all hell, because they are catering to that market, not the FM radio market.

      I'd pay a little more for a correctly mixed recording. I don't care whether it is 24-bit or 16-bit; I'll be re-encoding it to a 192kbps MP3, and

    • by Falconhell (1289630) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:38PM (#35294586) Journal

      From an audiphile forum:

      20% of the money will buy you 90% of the sound...another 30% of the money will buy you another 5% of the sound...you can't buy the remaining 5% of the sound because nobody can agree about what it is.

      • by enoz (1181117)

        Dare I ask what happens to the other 50% of the money?

        • by idontgno (624372)
          You'll spend it anyway, in a futile attempt to get that last 5% (or, more honestly, in a risible attempt to pose to your fellow audiophools that you have attained sonic Nirvana with your oxygen-free native-thorium 23-to-1-braid speaker cabling at $45,000 per meter).
      • 5% of the money will buy you 100% of the sound, plus the whole concert experience and maybe a few beers as well.

    • by bugi (8479) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:41PM (#35294638)

      Not just audiophiles. I can't hear worth crap. Never could. I could hardly care less for the difference between a scratchy record and a CD, much less what color my cable is, gold or green or fuscia. What I do care about though, is being able to format shift my music. My archive is in FLAC, which I transcode to a lossy format for general use. When something more palatable comes along, I'll be able to transcode to that instead of having to repurchase everything -- that assuming I could even find half of it, which is very unlikely. And unlike if my collection were solely in a lossy format, I won't have to endure the progressive distortions of transcoding from one lossy format to another, the cumulative effect of which would eventually drive even me nuts.

  • I heard (Score:5, Funny)

    by Konster (252488) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:20PM (#35294382)

    Audiophiles listen to stereos. The rest of us listen to music. :)

    • Re:I heard (Score:5, Funny)

      by shawb (16347) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:24PM (#35294434)
      Q: How many audiophiles does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

      A: Only a PHILISTINE would appreciate the punchline with the ATROCIOUS acoustics in here.
      • by blackpig (1112913)
        Q: How many audiophiles does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

        A: One, but the lightbulb costs $350--and the old one cost $295 and still works perfectly well.
        • Q: How many audiophiles does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

          A: It's actually a trick question because they only use Victorian gas lamps.

  • Not in theory (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pipatron (966506) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:20PM (#35294384) Homepage
    A correctly mastered 16-bit file wouldn't have any audible difference compared to the 24-bit file anyway, unless we're talking measurable differences instead of differences you can actually hear. I'd rather see an increase in the samplerate, but preferably both.
    • In theory, sure. But in practice, today's audio CDs tend to be very poorly mastered.

      It is common to see 16-bit clipping artifacts on major label CDs, as audio engineers strive to make their disc sound "louder" than others on the shelf. I know it sounds like a joke from spinal tap, but it's true.

      For an illustration of the problem, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Gmex_4hreQ [youtube.com]

      For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war [wikipedia.org]

      The move to 24-bit samples could solve this problem by making CD

      • It'd only be idiot proof until they make them even louder, thus maxing the 24bits. :/
      • by Desler (1608317)

        The move to 24-bit samples could solve this problem by making CD mastering more "idiot proof."

        No it wouldn't. Nothing about moving to 24-bit stops them from overly compressing the dynamic range as they are now. The only "benefit" is going be from the fact that the sound files will need at least an additional 30% or more in space.

      • by pipatron (966506)
        Absolutely not. A 24-bit fixpoint/integer format will still have a ceiling, thus everything will still be mastered as loud as before. The only way this would not be true is if all audio players would play 24-bit files louder so that, say, 24-bit files would have a 4 bit headroom compared to the 16-bit file, but this is just not true. Perhaps it would be wiser to implement an 8+16 bit floating point format which could have a chance of surviving the loudness war, but I wouldn't bet on it.
        • Re:Not in theory (Score:4, Informative)

          by kevinmenzel (1403457) <kevinmenzel AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @07:20PM (#35295044)
          There are already floating point standards for audio. 32-bit, 48-bit, and 64-bit formats. When recording I typically record to 24-bit integer, but everything beyond that runs at 64-bit (all the processing). There's an amazing freedom moving to a well-implemented 64-bit audio stack for mixing, because it lets you go over 0db (ie past the digital clip point for integer level stuff) and drop the level down in a bus (like a collection of all 12 - 16 mic tracks), instead of having to carefully level all of those tracks (and every track really) so that at no point does the audio signal ever get too hot, checking the level between every single plug-in you use. It's a wonderful freedom that makes making music easier. But as a commercial distribution format, that would seem to be really REALLY overkill. Those formats, to my knowledge, are pretty much exclusive to the recording world (though Windows uses floating point audio for mixing everything in Windows Vista and Windows 7)
      • by epyT-R (613989)

        moving to higher sample rates and bit depths allows easier filtering of nyquist noise. the highest audible frequencies are damn close to the nyquist limit of 44100hz making it difficult to filter the aliasing without losing high frequency information. higher frequencies also benefit from additional samples.

        http://xiph.org/video/vid1.shtml [xiph.org]

  • by aardwolf64 (160070) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:21PM (#35294396) Homepage

    Apple will of course rebrand FLAC as Apple-FLAC, or AFLAC for short.

  • red herring (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fred fleenblat (463628) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:23PM (#35294416) Homepage

    the bit depth is interesting, but the largest improvement would come from simply not using lossy compression. one hopes that TFA glossed over this and that nobody is seriously considering 24-bit MP3's.

    • Re:red herring (Score:5, Insightful)

      by afidel (530433) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:29PM (#35294484)
      Apple already sells Apple Lossless files so that's a non-issue. If Apple *actually* wanted to improve the quality of music they would demand remastered tracks with actual audio engineers doing the work instead of rap "producers" using the compression widget in Protools to make it sound "better".
      • by metamatic (202216)

        Apple already sells Apple Lossless files so that's a non-issue.

        They do? Must be for a pretty small subset of the available catalog, as I've never seen them offered.

        • by afidel (530433)
          Oops, guess I was misinformed by yet another AAPL rumor. Don't use the itunes store myself and assumed since I had heard it was coming and the player supports it that they would actually offer the files, silly me =)
          • by metamatic (202216)

            I just checked, and The Beatles catalog isn't available in lossless or 24 bit, let alone both. And I know the digital masters are available, because The Beatles USB Apple comes with 24 bit lossless audio. So I think Apple don't sell any lossless at present.

            Lossless would pretty much eliminate my last reservations about buying music from the iTunes store. I've already bought albums from bleep.com in lossless format...

  • by Applekid (993327) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:23PM (#35294422)

    Perhaps is music wasn't overly compressed (talking about dynamic range, here) they wouldn't need so many more bits of resolution for the -3 dB they're mastering audio at these days.

    • 1) It isn't limited for -3dB, it is limited for 0dB. They limit it to the maximum the digital signal can be. Often the resulting wave form almost looks clipped it is pushed so hard.

      2) You kinda have it backwards. When you limit things you don't need the extra resolution. If you don't limit them you may. You can only hear detail and noise so far below the signal. So if the signal is 0dBFS the whole time then you don't need so much resolution. I'd bet that 12 bits, dithered, would be plenty. That would give y

    • by labnet (457441) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @07:24PM (#35295078)

      Perhaps is music wasn't overly compressed (talking about dynamic range, here) they wouldn't need so many more bits of resolution for the -3 dB they're mastering audio at these days.

      I 100% agree. Modern music is so overcompressed, you could probabbly have 8bits of resolution and not tell the difference.
      The reason it is overcompressed, is make it to make it sound 'loud' and therfore 'more exciting' on typical low dynamic range equipment such as FM radio, PC speakers, cars, shopping centres.
      One reason people like vinyl, is simply because the mastering is not as compressed, so it sounds better on high end equipment, even though vinyl sucks as a medium of transport.
      What the record industry needs, is meta layer for compression, where the end user can select low/high dynamic range, and the meta layer contains the compression settings which are applied in DSP of the end equipment.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Gmex_4hreQ [youtube.com]

       

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheScreenIsnt (939701)
      Yes, the Loudness War http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war [wikipedia.org] continues.

      But, as you know, many people aren't participating. And I'm not just talking about microphone geeks recording Mozart for the 18,000th time.

      I find the Age of Adz http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Age_Of_Adz [wikipedia.org] to be a great example of how some artists are embracing the latest production techniques, yet employing them with careful compositional intent. Such work deserves to be delivered with the temporal and amplitude resolution with
  • by RapmasterT (787426) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:25PM (#35294448)
    Over the decades I've read several studies testing peoples opinions of different bitrates and compression schemes. The typical response is people can just barely tell that there is a difference between bitrates, but they are unable to accurately pick the HIGHER bitrate one. In other words, even when they can tell there is a difference, they're still not sure what one is the original...just that they sound "different".

    I don't even want to get started on "audiophiles". They're institutionalized hatred of the sound of live music sickens me...they claim to want the best quality possible, but won't suffer through anything that hasn't been run through an unintentional distortion or dynamic range limiting filter.
    • by godrik (1287354)

      For having done the blind test myself (lossless flac and lossy flac from ripped cd of classical music). I can not tell the difference, my earing is pretty bad. Most of my "audiophile" friends can not tell the difference as well (about 20 tried). Some people (3 people) I know can tell the difference.

      There is definitly way less people that claim they make the difference than people that actually do.

    • by evilviper (135110)

      The typical response is people can just barely tell that there is a difference between bitrates, but they are unable to accurately pick the HIGHER bitrate one.

      You need to stop reading stupid, half-assed tests some guy put together in his basement.

      Real audio test, performed by professionals as part of the early theoretical basis behind lossy audio coding (see Perpceptual Entropy) and later the MPEG audio codec development process, have shown quite conclusively what bitrates are needed, and which are excessiv

  • Years ago I worked at a very large music mail-order company and had a field day going through and testing all the stuff. Among the biggest lessons I learned was that CD is not the end-all be-all of music formats that I thought it was. My friend and I would run blind tests using an album we were both very familiar with (Yes 90125) and we could actually tell the difference and preferred reel-to-reel over CD. However, the only way to really tell was to wear headphones. Granted, we were wearing the industry s

    • by metamatic (202216)

      I don't own a dedicated portable music player, but it's hard for me to imagine that companies like Apple would use poor quality amps.

      Depends what you mean by quality. The amp in an iPod may or may not have good linearity, frequency response and so on, but I know for sure that it's barely capable of driving a pair of headphones. Even with earbuds, you get a major improvement by using a headphone amp.

      Apple also uses pretty wretched amps in their computers; you can get a major improvement from using an external USB audio interface.

      Basically, anything beyond current iTMS quality is a waste of time if you're using raw iPod amplification o

  • Hoopla (Score:5, Informative)

    by JBMcB (73720) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:29PM (#35294490)

    A quick note about dynamic range, which is what the bit depth affects.

    Maximum dynamic range that human hearing can discern: 140dB average
    Maximum practical dynamic range of CD: 90dB
    Maximum practical dynamic range of 24-bit audio: around 140dB
    Dynamic range required for full range live music playback, according to Ampex: 118dB average
    Maximum practical dynamic range of high quality studio analog tape: 80dB
    Maximum practical dynamic range of studio analog tape in the '60s: ~70dB

    So, if you have a piece of music recorded, mixed, mastered and released in pure 24-bit depth, you *may* hear a difference under ideal conditions (excellent production, good equipment, *quiet* listening room, etc...) Note that there have been double-blind listening tests of SACD, and listeners were unable to hear a difference between the CD version.

    All those old Beatles and Rolling Stones albums? Keep the best CD version you have, more bits aren't going to make a difference.

    • Re:Hoopla (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Animats (122034) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:54PM (#35294772) Homepage

      Right.

      I've been in the auditorium at Dolby Labs in San Francisco, which is set up for high quality audio. (The entire room is vibration-isolated from the rest of the building and soundproofed to the point that external noise is essentially zero. The audio gear is, of course, good.) In there, 24 bit audio with full dynamic range can be clearly distinguished from 16-bit audio on orchestral music. The soft passages don't get that awful 4 to 6-bit sound quality when the high bits are all zero.

      Through earbuds, on the street, or in a car, no way can you detect that difference in quality. For rock, it doesn't make sense. Hip-hop could probably be clipped at 8KHz without much loss. As long as you had enough speaker power for the bass nobody would notice.

    • Re:Hoopla (Score:5, Funny)

      by vlm (69642) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:57PM (#35294802)

      Maximum practical dynamic range of CD: 90dB
      Maximum practical dynamic range of 24-bit audio: around 140dB
      Dynamic range required for full range live music playback, according to Ampex: 118dB average
      Maximum practical dynamic range of high quality studio analog tape: 80dB
      Maximum practical dynamic range of studio analog tape in the '60s: ~70dB

      Maximum dynamic range of post loudness war recordings: 3 dB

  • by v1 (525388)

    I think this is a great idea. Granted, the majority of us won't be able to HEAR the difference, playing the music on our ipods or even our computers' built-in speakers, (laptops in particular, such as mine) but it's good to hear they're trying to offer better quality.

    Imagine they offer the option to pay a buck for the song, or a buck thirty for a higher quality version. I bet they could get the extra 30c a lot of the time. It's a good business move. And we KNOW how the **aa love to sell you the same thi

  • Loudness Wars (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Microlith (54737) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:30PM (#35294504)

    Sure they'll be 24-bit, but they'll also have the dynamic range compressed to shit.

    Unless that's the actual selling point, getting copies of the songs before they've passed through the hands of the mastering engineer whose job it is to destroy the difference between the quietest and loudest parts of songs, or worse yet causing horrible clipping.

  • Huh? I haven't any problems with the quality. Has anyone in actually asked for "better than CD quality"? Can users typically hear a difference? Are users ready to spend more time and bandwidth on downloading "better than CD quality" music?

    Let's spend the effort on streaming music support instead. A Spotify alternative with the iTunes catalog would be nice. And actually useful.

  • Well, if you have people who pay for gold plated cables, you'll have people who pay for 'higher quality' music which makes no difference.

    Would be funny if they say its 24 bit, change nothing and see how many people gab on about how they can hear much better.

  • by StripedCow (776465) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:35PM (#35294560)

    What I'd like to see (or rather hear), is that we can have access to the individual tracks of each song, so that we can remix stuff. Kind of like the open-source of audio.

  • Sweet! (Score:5, Funny)

    by KiwiCanuck (1075767) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:42PM (#35294644)
    128kbit/s at 24-bit! Now excuse me while I crank it to 11.
  • by Per Wigren (5315)
    The main reason for going higher than 16 bit, 44.1 khz is when you want to manipulate the audio, for example mixing, pitching and applying various effects.
    Imagine that you have a 1600x1200 pixel screen. You have one 1600x1200 pixel image and one 4000x3000 pixel original. On your screen both images look identical. Now apply a spherize filter effect. The 1600x1200 pixel image will become pixelated on the parts where it's stretched out but the 4000x3000 pixel image will still look good.
    The same theory applie
  • ...Slashdot is proud to present, for your delectation....

    AUDIOPHILES vs. FANBOIS - THE REMATCH!!!

    Right, popcorn's ready, in your own time...

  • by swordgeek (112599) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:48PM (#35294702) Journal

    My stereo(yes, two channel!) is worth several thousands of carefully-planned dollars. I think it could be put alongside systems worth $20k, and hold its own. (The speakers at present are the weakest link, and they still sound much better than yours. :-)

    That said, it's a practical system. I've got enough background in electronics and acoustics (and psychology!) to know better than to buy a huge amount of the insane junk that's out there. Amplifiers that go into oscillation with the wrong cables? No thanks! Vacuum tubes? The guitar amp is downstairs, thanks very much. Cable elevators? Um...no. Just no.

    So here's my defense of 24-bit 48kHz recordings: Breathing space.

    Nothing to do (specifically) with dynamic headroom or the like, but when producing, mixing, and mastering data recorded as 16-bit 44kHz, there is very little you can do without inadvertently affecting the audio signal. In other words, it's harder to get it right when you're operating right at the threshold of hearing.

    If studios did everything in 24-bit/96kHz and actually avoided clipping through the whole chain, then a final mixdown to 16b/44Khz (i.e. a CD) would sound gorgeous - perfect sound to the extent of human hearing. However, mixing is often done poorly, and as hot as possible for better sales, and the result is that the poor CD suffers the abuse caused by the engineers.

    • by solanum (80810)

      Indeed, I have never understood why Slashdot is so keen to bag 'audiophiles', particularly as the majority of readers have probably never heard a high-end hi-fi, let alone good recordings of classical music on such equipment. I have no idea whether 24bit will sound better than 16 bit, but I can tell you that going from MP3 (lossy) to FLAC (lossless) has a large and obvious effect on sound quality even on my $50 PC speakers (and I'm talking indie-rock here, classical music is unlistenable on my PC). Most M

  • The big question is whether anyone would even notice the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit files on a portable player

    The bigger question is why the geek thinks Apple wouldn't like to cut itself a slice of the high end audio market?

    Denon sells a dock for the iPhone.

    Why not an iTunes app on the Denon home theater receiver? The Panasonic or Samsung HDTV or theater sound bar? Pandora is there. Rhapsody is there. Why not iTunes?

    Its not that 24 bits of data makes the sound better. It actually does not. What is does is give your audio more room to breathe in the numeric realm of digital audio. Remember, we are talking about numbers, calculations, not analog waveforms. With 24 bits of data demarcing your recording medium, its is possible to record extremely dynamic music, with very quiet soft passages and extraordinary loud passages. Quiet passages will be less likely struggling to stay above the noise floor on your system. One can record with no compression. You can record at lower levels, with more headroom. This ensures that the occasional peak is not truncated at the top and it will give converters some room the breathe. Because you are not pushing the limits of your bandwidth, your instruments will sound clearer, and the vocals may sound "cleaner", the song will mix better and there will be less noise. So its not that 24 bit recordings sound better. In fact they may sound just as bad or worse than 16 bit. But 24 bits gives the recordist a noise floor and headroom to create an excellent recording. Its a tool, and in the right hand, it can blow you away, audio wise.

    16 Bit vs. 24 Bit Audio [tweakheadz.com]

  • people complain about sound quality of podcasts downloaded with my plugin [mozilla.org], so I guess could see the use of it. I can't hear the difference, but I guess if you start with sources meant for 24-bit...
  • by subreality (157447) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @06:57PM (#35294808)

    Going 24-bit will make no practical difference on 99% of popular music. It lowers the theoretical noise floor, but that's only relevant if the master tapes are good enough (rare), and more importantly, the music actually has that much dynamic range... Which the vast majority of music does not. How much music in the iTunes store has passages so soft you can barely hear them? It happens occasionally in classical, but virtually never in rock.

    I think the point of this is to get over the stigma of compressed audio. Now instead of people saying that CDs are better because they're uncompressed, Apple has an answer: "Yeah, but ours are 24 bit!". It's meaningless, but now it's "debatable" which format is better, instead of the previous situation where CDs were objectively better and the only contention was if the difference was audible.

  • Blind surveys have shown that people could only tell the difference between SACD and DVD Audio at uncomfortably loud volumes. And the difference between those formats and CDs are larger than what Apple is going to offer.

    I still prefer CDs for listening enjoyment at home. But I can certainly appreciate the convenience of AAC. CDs give me a permanent backup and the freedom to rip music for any other device I choose.

    I can absolutely hear a difference between Apple's 256kbps and CDs. But then, I don't normally

  • by pandrijeczko (588093) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @07:52PM (#35295320)

    Apple will make this work as a tried and tested sales methodology.

    "Our FLACs go to 24" is the same "Our amps go to 11" marketing principle that has fanbois creaming their knickers to get hold of iGadgets today.

  • by Sir_Dill (218371) <slashdotNO@SPAMzachula.com> on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @07:53PM (#35295344) Homepage
    I am not going to get into an argument over whether or not person A can tell the difference between format 1 and format 2 nor or am I going to debate the merits of one format over another because this move has nothing to do with providing a better product and only has to do with figuring out a way to charge you (the sucker) more to sell you the same thing they sold you two years ago.

    Sure there are empirical ways to prove that one format has more dynamic range than another, just like you can prove 1080 via HDMI is better than 1080 via component, HOWEVER in practice, unless you are an elitist erudite prick who "can't stand to not watch or listen to the BEST" the reality is that most of us won't care.

    And for the record its got nothing to do with not knowing any better or being ignorant of the quality difference.
    It has to do with biology.
    Take that wrist watch, if you were aware of it ALL THE TIME it would drive you crazy, but our nervous system has automatic processes which filter out continuous stimuli, like the watch or the hiss of a low quality recording.
    Now I get annoyed when I can hear compression artifacts, but since I switched to high quality VBR, I rarely hear them and that's the point.
    For 90% of the music out there, this is adequate for most listening environments.
    There will always be a market for people like those audi commercials...."this cuestick is clad in the leather from a pigmy albino hossenpheffer's nutsack and is so rare that there are only three made each year"....whatever.
    I am all about the minimum effective dose because once you get above a certain point you are just lining pockets that don't belong to you. Some might consider this aspirations of mediocrity, but I disagree and prefer instead to think in terms of efficiencies.
    Why spend more when what I have is perfectly adequate for any and all of my requirements?

  • by Swampash (1131503) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @08:13PM (#35295478)

    No, really I don't. I listen to music I like because I LIKE THE MUSIC, not because I like the fidelity with which the music is reproduced. I'd rather listen to a third-generation analog magnetic tape recording of an AM radio broadcast of The Beatles than a pristine 24-bit digital reproduction of the latest American Idol winner's latest single.

  • by mmj638 (905944) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @08:17PM (#35295502)

    This is the stupidest thing I've heard in a long time.

    16 bits per channel gives you a whopping 96dB or so of dynamic range.

    All popular and contemporary music has crap compressed out of the dynamic range so you'd be lucky if you could get a discernable 20dB of range. Classical music needs a lot more, but not 96dB. Maybe 60 or 70dB.

    You would need as quiet a listening environment as an empty concert hall, and a very high powered amp turned up loud, to even hear as much dynamic range as is represented by 16 bits.

    And they think adding more even dynamic range than that is a good idea?!

    If they wanted to make a difference to sound quality, they should increase the sample rate to 48kHz, or hey go why not crazy and go to 96kHz. It will still not sound any different to the average person, but at least the difference can actually be detected and measured with the right equipment.

  • by Gavin Scott (15916) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @08:18PM (#35295504)

    This is just a prelude to the new Apple iEars implantable neural audio interface (with full DRM and iAd support) that they're going to sell you so you can fully appreciate this exciting new bandwidth. Then there will be the iEars TruSeven 7.1 channel version, which involves drilling another six holes in your head so you can actually experience BluRay Movies the way that God intended.

    The Genius Bar guys can get you set up with an appointment at your nearest AOSC (Apple Outpatient Surgery Center).

    G.

  • Cautious optimism (Score:4, Interesting)

    by steveha (103154) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @08:35PM (#35295624) Homepage

    We don't really need 24-bit recordings. We need the producers to use 24-bit in the studio, and then a nice 16-bit final output with dithering, and we have all the dynamic range we really need.

    16-bit gives you about 90 dB. That's enough to go from "barely audible in a quiet room" to "starting to make your ears hurt". It's enough dynamic range, really.

    But look up the "loudness wars" and find that much music being sold these days doesn't even use all that dynamic range. They compress the daylights out of the music to make it "louder".

    So, I'm sort of interested in the 24-bit standard, if and only if it implies that the music will be produced with some actual dynamic range. If Rush makes a new album, they can release the CD with the dynamic range compressed away to nothing; and they can release the 24-bit mastered with some actual dynamic range.

    Will this actually happen? Who knows. But I'm cautiously optimistic. This will give the studios the chance to release two completely different mixes, the mass-market one that "has to be loud" and the one marketed at audiophiles which "has to be clean". I don't spend $2000 on a power cord for my stereo, but I do appreciate a clean mix, so I hope this does work out.

    steveha

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein

Working...