Degraded Audio and Its Promotion

Compressed digital formats (mp3 and its ilk) are expedient: they save storage space and download time.

But there’s something rather disingenuous about MusicMatch — the software accompanying iPod on the Windows platform — misrepresenting 128kbps mp3 as ‘cd quality’!

There is a certain aesthetic to degraded digital audio — classic 12-bit samplers sell at inflated prices on eBay for their ‘authentic hip hop sound’ — but the post-Napster generation is being sold a lie by the music industry about the quality of the music they’re being offered by the ‘legal online music revolution’. It’s certainly quicker to download a compressed music track from the iTunes Music Store than a 16-bit uncompressed soundfile, but shouldn’t consumers be given the choice?

The hidden agenda for the music companies seems to be that uncompressed audio can still be sold as a premium product, and the more the punters accept degraded audio as normal, the higher the margin can be on that premium. Witness the delays on release of SACD and DVD-A decks with digital out: the industry is very paranoid about giving (paying) consumers access to ‘master-quality’ content (and fair-usage rights to copy those tracks to any other format they want). But they’re happy enough to sell distorted mp3s to the kids at a buck each. Depressing.