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Will the crappy sound of MP3 replace the crappy sound of vinyl?

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Read this!

 

Doubters!

 

http://stereophile.com/asweseeit/are_you_a...r_or_a_leveler/

 

Are You a Sharpener or a Leveler?

 

By Robert Deutsch • February, 2009

 

A psychological theory (footnote 1) that I've always been fond of is the one that proposes the perceptual/personality dimension of Sharpening vs Leveling. As defined by the early Gestalt psychologists, Sharpening is an exaggeration of differences, Leveling a minimization of differences. In visual-perception research on this topic, when test subjects were presented with an asymmetrical figure, some later recalled it in ways that exaggerated the figure's asymmetry (Sharpeners), while others minimized or eliminated it (Levelers).

 

It seems fair to say that—like those who have a strong interest in wine, food, photography, etc.—audiophiles are devoted to exploring subtle differences; generally, we tend to be toward the Sharpening end of the continuum. But even among audiophiles, some will describe as "night and day" a sonic difference that to others sounds fairly minor: these are Sharpeners, whereas the wire-is-wire, bits-are-bits, all-amplifiers-sound-the-same folks are Levelers.

 

Where does a tendency toward Sharpening or Leveling come from? The first possibility is that being a Sharpener or a Leveler represents an inherent characteristic of a person's sensory system. In technical terms, the difference threshold—the smallest difference that a person can reliably discriminate, also known as the just noticeable difference (JND)—varies among individuals: some have a low threshold (small JND) and are able to discriminate among very small differences, whereas others require differences to be quite large before they can discriminate among them.

 

No doubt such differences in sensory capacity make some contribution to a person being a Sharpener or a Leveler, but I think it's a minor one. The skills used in evaluating audio equipment are far more complex than those involved in simple experiments in pitch discrimination, and to a large extent they're functions of experience. People are not born Sharpeners or Levelers. A novice audiophile may judge two speakers as sounding pretty much the same, but, having gained experience by listening to a variety of speakers, when that same audiophile listens again to the same two speakers, he or she notices differences that were not obvious before. The tendency to begin as a Leveler and progress to being more of a Sharpener is part of the learning process of becoming an audiophile.

 

But there is another factor, one that goes beyond sensory capability and skills acquired through experience, which I would call a type of expressive style or personality characteristic. Two people with the same sensory capability, both seasoned audiophiles, may listen to the effect of substituting a certain component in a system, and the relative Sharpener will describe the difference as a "lifting of several veils," whereas the relative Leveler will say that the difference, while worthwhile, is fairly small. Is one more correct than the other? In my opinion, there is no "objective" answer—each person's perception is true for that person. A problem arises only when a Sharpener or a Leveler tries to persuade the other that one is true and the other false.

 

Is it better to be a Sharpener or a Leveler? I'd like to consider this issue as it applies to three groups of people: audio designers, audio reviewers, and consumer-audiophiles.

 

In the extremely competitive field of high-performance audio, designers are always looking for ways to improve their products. In developing a new amplifier, a designer may build prototypes with different circuit layouts, use different materials for circuit boards, and try various makes of capacitor at a certain spot in the circuit. Progress is made by accumulating small improvements until they add up to a major one. The audio designer whose attitude is "It's good enough" or "People can't hear the difference anyway" will not succeed in advancing the state of the art. These folks have to be Sharpeners.

 

You might think the same would be true for reviewers—and, to an extent, it is. We have a duty to our readers to listen for and identify audible differences that may sound slight to the average person but that audiophiles consider vitally important. An audio reviewer who is insensitive to these sorts of differences, or who thinks them unimportant, is like a wine expert who thinks that all red wines taste pretty much the same. (For those familiar with the film Sideways—a favorite of mine—our sensibilities should resemble that of the Paul Giamatti character, Miles, and not that of Jack, played by Thomas Haden Church.) That said, reviewers vary in how they communicate the differences they perceive. Those who tend toward the Sharpening side may wax rhapsodic about an improvement that to most audiophiles is minor at best, whereas those who lean toward Leveling may seem so blasÇ that you wonder if they're suffering from burnout. In considering any reviewer's opinions, the reader must take such tendencies into account. (Of course, neither extreme describes Stereophile reviewers, who are known to be practically perfect in every way.)

 

And what, Dear Reader, about you? Are you more a Sharpener or a Leveler? If you're a Stereophile reader, then, almost by definition, you must have some significant Sharpener tendencies. You listen to your system critically, make changes in components, and tweak the speaker positions, always listening for those improvements that bring the sound closer to the real thing. When you're comparing components or evaluating the effect of a small adjustment of speaker positions, I think it makes sense to take the Sharpening approach.

 

But being always in Sharpening mode, listening for the most minute sonic differences, has a downside illustrated by the kind of person who can't listen to music for more than a few minutes without getting up to tweak something in the system, or who buys component after component in the hope of finding the magic one that will allow the system to sound indistinguishable from live music. This is when being a Sharpener has much in common with obsessive-compulsive disorder—and you don't want to go down that road.

 

My advice: When it comes to selecting components and setting up a system, be as much of a Sharpener as you feel like. But when everything is working more or less to your satisfaction, it's time to switch out of the hypercritical Sharpener mode, become more of a Leveler, and have a good time just listening to the music.—Robert Deutsch

 

 

Footnote 1: As a now retired professor of psychology, Bob knows his psychological theories.—Ed.

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I heard an interesting one the other day, and that is that 99% of people believe vinyl sounded better because the music was better, the other 1% however are just following the pack.

 

I don't think it is a case of mp3 quality is shit, it is a case of it being shit compared to lossless or CD, and thusly, people will refuse to listen to MP3.

 

I like having all of my music fit onto a hard drive and have space left over, but I dislike that all of my CDs will not fit onto anything other than an iPod or an expensive 64GB SSD MP3 player.

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I only have to ask is why people put whole albums on any sort of player?

 

Albums that you can listen to right through where you like every track are very rare IMHO and that is one of the setbacks to vinyl.

You can't skip tracks easily.

 

I have all the tracks I like off over 1000 CDs and that only amounts to 65GB on one of my hard drives.

All in .wav.

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I was thinking of this as I was listening to some Led Zepellin MP3's, ripped @ 320bit from the IV CD and from Early Days CD and it got me thinking, the hiss from the master tapes sucks arse, couldn't they have cleaned that shit up!

 

It takes me back to the introduction of CD's and the warmer richer sound of vinyl debate, digital has come a long way since those early days, the one thing I'm glad about is the death of the cassette tape.

 

P.S I'm burning in some new headphone's Sennie CX300 II which the guy at JB chucked in for free after I spent a prohibitive amount on a shopping trolley full of big black things of audio goodness, which has now all been plugged into my plasma and works after much playing with wires, reading of manuals and scratching of head all the while keeping the receipt hidden from my inquisitive missus.

 

Is burning in a wank?

 

I've had music and pink noise (hissing emanating from my sock drawer as I slept) going non stop since yesterday afternoon.

Edited by hill60606

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By memory, the Early Days CD wasn't a remaster.

 

I can't recall the double remastered CD have any annoying tape hiss and I never converted it to MP3 so I don't know if the conversion exacerbates it.

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Albums that you can listen to right through where you like every track are very rare IMHO

I disagree.

 

Mind you, I own...

 

25 albums in CD format.

 

They're all brilliant albums however, and purchased because of that.

 

*shrugs

 

I love listening to albums through. I very rarely skip tracks.

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Yeah, markets can be good, record fairs are also a good source, I missed one on the weekend here in Brisbane :(

 

Sometimes vinyl for a few dollars each are better than a lot of new stuff :)

I found five in absolute perfect condition last week, Janis Ian-Night Rain, Dire Straits-Brothers in Arms, Eagles-Hotel California, and two by Andreas Vollenweider.

 

Only drawback is, it takes a lot of looking to find them, along with bucket loads of luck.

 

I rarely buy vinyl new.

If you drop that Eagles one in a big pot of boiling water you can make a useful fruitbowl out of it or a rather large ashtray, at least it beats listening to that overrated wrist slashingly, west coast, hippy tripe!

 

P.S. I may not be a terribly big fan of the Eagles.

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There's no quiet time. No end. We don't listen endlessly. A large portion of folks using MP3 players on PT are also reading a book, paper or magazine. Hell, or even talking shit with friends. Music is cancelled out and therefore you may as well be listening to the radio or nothing at all. Recording engineers are attacked for their abuse of compression so their tracks stand out on the radio over others. I wonder if they do it because a lot of people just don't give a shit about music quality anymore? Quantity over quality.

amen

 

i sat on a plane back from adelaide, and the gen x or y guy in the next seat had on his ipod, but still dialled in the virgin seatback video, and then proceeded to glance through a magazine with brief breaks to play his nintendo

 

otoh, i read a little murakami and then stared out at the clouds

 

my daughter truly believes she is paying attention to our conversations when she allows one earbud to hang on her chest while the other remains firmly in situ, and her eyes are glued to skype (next to the three other open programs)

 

as for music, i am not convinced vinyl is "warmer", and spent my youth listening to cassettes, but through a luxman amp and a pair of epicures

 

presently i don't mind mp3 at 256variable, but then they are through envy24 based cards, and the desktop speakers are klipsch; i can still appreciate how much better cd without compression sounds, but unless i sit down to listen to music exclusively, rather than as the background part of cooking or browsing, 235 is okay

 

a "good" sound system can be had fairly cheap; a great system is shitfully expensive

 

and sadly, most of the current generation wouldn't appreciate any difference from their ipod

 

bit like digital images really - if you are after perfection then slr and iso64 is great, but if the pics are to remember an event, rather than objets d'art, the 640x480 is acceptable to most

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Screw this.

 

I have been gentle and diplomatic but the reality is (from my perspective)

 

Analogue is better than any form of digital sound.

 

Analogue formats have their issues with surface noise but they never assume or approximate music like digital formats do!

 

That's right digital is but a close approximation of music, it will never capture true music.

 

It does not matter how many samples you take, digital by its design is an approximation of an art form that has an infinite number of variables of sound.

 

it can sound clear, clean and crisp but it will never be full or complete, that is impossible with approximations and assumptions!

 

Hate me all you like that's how I see it

 

luck

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Most of the stigma associated with the classic mp3 'distortion' is a result of extremely poorly-encoded CD rips that one finds from torrent trackers oriented towards yer average consumer, and of course, those Kazaa files that are like.. 6 years old...

 

I've personally found albums encoded at 320kbps that sound pretty much exactly like the CD, even through Foobar2000 Kernel Streaming ==> Xonar Essence STX SPDIF ==> Tannoy Reveal 6Ds, which is pretty revealing... and I've also found albums at 320kbps that sound worse than some 128kbps encodings (a recent Master of Puppets download... probably says a bit about Metallica fans).

 

Paydirt is really in the private trackers, where people are encoding into FLAC or at least OGG using Exact Audio Copy, ripping vinyls with fairly decent turntables and uploading really cutting-edge music from all over the place, stuff that I wouldn't know how to buy even if I wanted to.

 

And don't get me started on the audio circuitry in iPhones.. it's garbage. Worse than my integrated sound card. If people get used to that sort of sound... gah. At least it's really, REALLY cheap to get it :p

Edited by cobwebs in the sky

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Analogue formats have their issues with surface noise but they never assume or approximate music like digital formats do!

I realise I'm late to the party, but this is bullshit.

 

I'm not saying that digital is better than analogue, as I understand that some people like the noise and nuances that come with analogue, but to suggest that an analogue recording is not an approximation is crazy.

 

A microphone's transducer does not produce an entirely accurate signal, a pre-amps output will not be totally faithful to it's input, and whatever media is being used will also introduce approximations of its own.

 

Rob.

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Yes, but wht he is saying is, that with digital, there is always something missing..............even with DSD........although it goes damned close.

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But... do you really care that something is missing. As soon as the sound is played through a speaker it is different to it coming from an instrument. I'm with Rob here. Unless you are listening live without amps you are always listening to comprimised sounds.

 

I personally I mostly prefer the digital sound. I like the crispness and seperation. But every now and again I here something I wish was being played off vinyl through a valve amp. I'm not about to spring for the equipment any time soon though.

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Yes, but wht he is saying is, that with digital, there is always something missing..............even with DSD........although it goes damned close.

Yes, but what I am saying is, that with analogue, there is always something missing......... even with [insert technology]......... although it goes damned close.

 

:P

 

Rob.

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I do care because I can hear what's missing.

 

That said, people get used to listening to crap.

i suspect that there is a fair degree of self delusion in the beliefs of those that can hear every nuance because of this or that technology

 

in studies done with blindfolded people who are alleged audiophiles, they have noted some people are convinced real musicians are inferior to recordings

 

my bet is that the appreciation of a certain reproduction is driven by subliminal recall of prior loved experience, rather than "perfection" of any particular tech; yes, of course analogue is better than mp3's at 128, and cd is better than mp3's at 320, but cd versus vinyl is a little less obvious to me, and often is more driven by the quality of the production - i haven't had enough opportunity to compare the same music from both sources, but am a little sceptical

 

that said, i notice the difference between wolfson dacs on the av710 and and the standard ones on the normal porting, and i adore the quality of the klipsch over even my older wharfdale diamond 3's

 

but i think too many people are pulling their penes when they claim analogue is "superior" - different, yes, and sometimes better, but not universally that much always for the win

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