It seems that mainstream digital files are finally getting the sonic treatment they deserve. Apple claims that they are in the works to improve the quality of their downloads in the Itunes store, and HDTracks recently announced that they would be releasing The Rolling Stones catalog in high-resolution audio downloads. It’s no secret that the sound quality of MP3s is inferior to that of CDs and vinyl.
While this is fantastic news, it should have been occurred earlier. In most other areas consumers have not only expected, but demanded high quality products. Organic foods are getting more popular every year. Hollywood has been pushing digital versions of their movies for years. And who wants to go back to watching an NFL game on a television that’s not in HD? So why is it, that when it comes to music, most consumers opt for a shitty low quality product?
It probably comes from ignorance of what constitutes good sound, and a preference for convenience. Sure, an Ipod gives you access to as music as you could possibly want at one time, but you’re getting the audio equivalent of a grainy technicolor movie. Due to the compression, some instruments in a song are either buried, or left out completely.
I’ve always been aware that MP3s give a distorted version of a particular track, but I never paid much attention to it until recently. I could tell that an album sounded better on a CD or vinyl than it did on my Ipod. When I received Bob Dylan’s Original Mono Recordings as a christmas present, I really became aware of how much we settle for inferior sound.
With the exception of Bob Dylan, I’ve listened to his first eight albums probably hundreds of times. I know most of the tracks by heart. Listening to the Mono versions, I heard instruments on “Like a Rolling Stone” that I didn’t know existed on the song. The songs on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan had a warmth and immediacy that is lost on even the CD version. On “Mr. Tambourine Man”, it sounds like Dylan is actually playing in front on you, complete with an echo that sounds a shiver down the spine. The set came with a coupon to download high quality MP3s of the albums, and I was surprised to find out that they sounded almost the same as the CD versions. I’ve since deleted my original copies of the album, as I can’t go back.
The quality presented on the Original Mono Recordings is for a specific group of fans, but it shouldn’t have to be that way. Music fans deserve more than bastardized versions of their favorite songs. And perhaps, people would be more willing to pay for a product that actually sounds good.