Minority Report


By Michael Brown

Am I the only person in the world who doesn’t like MP3 files?

I like the idea of MP3 files. What’s not to like about carrying thousands of tunes in the palm of your hand? Or of buying music online and having it delivered that instant? Or streaming music from a single source to any room in your house without using wires?

No, I like the idea of MP3 files just fine. It’s the sound of MP3 files that I don’t like. I’m a lapsed musician, but I’ve never considered myself part of the “golden ear” crowd. I would never spend $20,000 on an ultra high-end amplifier—and even more for speakers—even if I could afford to (the salaries of journalists and musicians aren’t far apart). But I do buy the best audio equipment I can; and MP3s, frankly, sound like dog-doo.

MP3s don’t sound as crisp, as clear, or as faithful to the original performance as music played from CD. And have you heard the sonic splendor that 96kHz/24-bit DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD discs are capable of? Play me an MP3 that can match those formats, and I’ll rip my entire CD collection the next weekend.

I’ve really tried to like MP3s. I took the Sonos Digital Music System for a test drive, and I thoroughly appreciate what Sonos has wrought. These guys clearly care about audio—they brought in the legendary Ray Kurzweil to do much of their analog design work—and they obviously know a thing or two about networking. But it can’t reproduce what’s not there in the first place.

I know my opinion of MP3s is in the extreme minority, but here’s what I don’t understand about everyone else’s opinion: If we strive to achieve the best performance from our PCs by upgrading our videocards every six months, our CPUs every 18 months, our displays every couple of years, and every other component on some schedule in between, why is it perfectly acceptable to not only tolerate, but to openly celebrate technology that makes music sound worse than it did in 1982?

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