The Loudness Wars

Are they finally over, thanks to Apple?

I noted in an email to someone the other day that, just as young people have no concept of what quality phone service sounds like, many of them have never heard good music, either, due to the overcompression and crummmy digitalization over the past few decades. I hope that the article is right, and that we can get back to a good listening experience soon.

One thought on “The Loudness Wars”

  1. In several ways, Apple has probably done more for music than just about any other company around today: they have made it incredibly easy for people to have near-instant access to a stunning variety of recorded music (iPod / iTunes), and have also made it far easier than ever before for people to create their own music via cheap software tools such as GarageBand and via the amazing software infrastructure present in iOS (the CoreAudio API), which has been leveraged by several software vendors to turn the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch HW into sophisticated musical instruments. It’s quite intoxicating for an amateur musician to see what can be done with an iPad and a few dollars worth of software. Android can’t compete because it lacks the low-latency audio APIs required for synths, guitar amp simulators, etc. And I haven’t even mentioned music teaching apps, guitar tab databases, sheet music, easy access to the hundreds of hours of instruction available on YouTube and other sites…I could go on and on. Music is truly in Apple’s DNA; who else would sponsor an entire MONTH of free music concerts in London every year?

    However, it pains me to no end that, despite Apple’s position as a huge patron of music, they have significantly contributed to a downward spiral in the sonic quality of recorded music. AAC-encoded music is mostly superior to the MP3 codecs, but for several years, iTunes gave you a paltry 128kbps that could not be considered hi-fidelity by any stretch of the imagination; it was only when Apple crushed the music company requirements for DRM (no, it wasn’t Amazon; they didn’t have DRM because the music companies tried to use Amazon as a lever against Apple, but lost anyway) that Apple went to almost-indistinguishable-from-CD 256kbps AAC. Then, there’s the earbuds: Apple’s iPod amplifiers and DACs have always been good, but the damned earbuds have been horrible, continuing down the path that Sony blazed with the Walkman. And the portability of music, combined with the often lower quality of said portable music, helped to kill the midrange home audio market – now all that’s left is the cheap-ass stuff and the crazy expensive “audiophile” snake oil.

    Hopefully the volume normalization in iTunes Radio will help; they’ve improved the standard earbuds quite a bit starting with the iPhone 5 last year too. And the Mastered for iTunes program has the potential to make iTunes downloads sound about as good as a decent quality CD in 10% of the space. Maybe people will start to care about HOW music sounds again, and I can stop telling these kids to get off my lawn…

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