A Tidal Wave Of Listener Apathy

Nobody Listens PicThe recent relaunch of the Tidal music streaming service bolstered by many mainstream big music stars throws up more questions than answers for me.

The first of which is does the majority listener demographic of the music artists who were part of the brand push own the kind of equipment where listening to uncompressed audio actually reveals greater fine detail and fidelity. Or (shameful stereotyping warning) are they more likely to think that a pair of Beats headphones is the pinnacle of the music listening experience (they might be good for some types of bass heavy music. But I seriously doubt they are the best item for discerning the subtleties of lossless audio streams)?

I don’t know. But I’m unsure enough people care enough to pay twice the asking price of a service like Spotify. I’d rather music companies paid more attention to mastering. Even mp3 can sound good when care is taken. But uncompressed streams and conversely even CD’s, SACD’s,Blu Ray audio etc can sometimes disappointingly sound appalling or at best no better than compressed lossless audio options if mastered and/or encoded badly with high compression and maximised loudness which much popular music is prey to.

As a service aimed at audiophiles it will always be a niche product but popular music isn’t universally recorded to high audio standards. There are many music sub genres that revel in a decidedly Lo-Fi sound.

I wish them well but audio quality is not entirely down to bit rates. It’s not even about absolute fidelity. Look at the resurgence of vinyl as a physical listening medium which probably sounds good to many because you simple HAVE to take care in how you master to disc because the medium has all kinds of limitations.

Audio fidelity is often about the care taken in recording, mastering and transcoding to other formats. And not all music demands greater clarity (Have you heard the Blu Ray audio remaster of The Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bollocks? That kind of previously unheard fidelity almost sounds wrong applied to classic punk rock).

Image by id-iom under this creative commons licence

Blu Ray Audio: Once More Unto The Breach

P4HiFiThe music industry appears to be about to launch yet another attempt to lure the 17-32%  of music listeners worldwide who treasure sound fidelity enough to lay down money to acquire it.

Sadly this is a bit DeJa Vu for some as these golden eared listeners have may have already bought into DVD-Audio and SACD formats that were launched at the turn of the century. SACD remains popular in Japan and some titles remain in print such as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

Both these formats required specific enhanced hardware for playback (though many SACD releases were dual format and allowed playback on standard CD players as well as revealing extra detail in appropriate players). Out of print releases from these formats now fetch daft prices.

Now the industry is pegging a tail on the musical donkey once more with Blu Ray audio. The official launch date for Europe is September/October. Some classical pieces  and a selection of rock releases can already be ordered many of which are taking advantage of the greater capacity of Blu Ray to allow complete composer collections on one disc. Each Blu Ray audio disc with be able to hold uncompressed PCM, DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD at a higher sampling and bitrate than CD which will often allow the inclusion of a surround sound version. A voucher code with each disc will entitle purchasers to download an MP3 or FLAC encoded download version too.

Maybe it’ll catch on as the cost of Blu Ray players continue to fall and at least they’ll play on all players and existing owners don’t need to buy new hardware. On the other hand it’s a streaming download world and the number of punters who sit down to immerse themselves in very high fidelity music via a decent HiFi system are niche numbers these days.

The success or failure of yet another HD audio format will come down to a good catalogue, appropriate mastering (none of that loudness war bastardisation that has tainted the fidelity of CD’s please) and visible promotion with clear explanations of the advantages and above all easy availability of product.

Anyway here’s to yet another ride on the physical music format merry go round. The discs alone might be an investment if this format goes the way of the pear.

Original image by Nesster under this creative commons licence

Alas Alac Lossless

ipod valve amplifier

My hearing is less than perfect but for those that can hear the difference lossless digital audio formats offer the means of storing sound recordings whilst preserving as much of the original without resorting to the kind of heavy compression and lossy methods of mp3’s,MP4,WMA and the like.

Apple have just open sourced their Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) which has allowed audio purists to store their recordings in a lossless way for playback on iPods and similar Apple portable devices. ALAC is particularly suited to playback on low power devices so there is now a possibility that it could arrive on non Apple devices.

The best known lossless audio format is probably FLAC which is also open source but can only be used on Apple devices via a third party firmware hack called Rockbox.

Tape Archive: Phone-In January 17th 1983

[audio https://stuffem.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/robbie-vincent-phone-in-1983.mp3]

Here’s something I’ve meant to share or a while. It’s part of a radio phone which I date as Monday January 17th 1983. It’s interesting as a historical piece as it’s a small window on the cultural  changes in our society revealed by both the host and the ordinary public calling in to comment.

There’s a slight topical link here with regard to the recent riots in Tottenham, London prompted by a shooting by the police. This recording references the mistaken shooting of Stephen Waldorf on January 14th 1983 by police on the streets of Kensignton, London.

Also referenced is the public’s opinion on the launch of breakfast television on the BBC which happened that very morning.

Oh and no surprise in the traffic report which tells us that the Blackwall tunnel is yet again closed.

The host is Robbie Vincent.

An AAC+ encoded version (size:7.5Mb) is available here.

Image by Affendaddy under this creative commons licence