Author Topic: 24-bit for the masses  (Read 4489 times)

Altus

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24-bit for the masses
« on: February 23, 2011, 05:15:06 AM »
For a number of years, I've long wanted the MP3 format (and similar lossless formats such as AAC) to disappear.  In its place would be a lossless, high fidelity format (preferably open source).  But unfortunately the masses don't know any better and simply accept what's given to them.

The other problem of course is that most handheld players don't accept or support these audio file formats.

I read this interesting article on Engadget, and it certainly sounds like they're FINALLY heading in the right direction.
http://www.engadget.com/2011/02/23/apple-and-other-music-retailers-purportedly-looking-at-24-bit-h/

...Slowly working towards 24/96 being the standard.  Well, we can dream.  ;)
Mike Carss -- Altus : aural journeys for the mind's eye
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APK

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2011, 06:33:52 AM »
24 bit sounds to me like downloads (and especially uploads) of music will be even slower, you will fit less music on your player, most people won't be able to tell the difference anyway, and the major sellers will have an excuse to charge even more for downloaded albums (just as some do now with flac downloads vs mp3). I'd rather buy a physical album than pay the same price for a download.
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ffcal

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2011, 08:28:01 AM »
I'd have to agree with Anthony on this.  Given Apple's recent predatory behavior, I'd suspect that this sounds like another excuse to charge more.  If they were genuinely concerned with improving sound quality, maybe they should start with the loudness wars.

Forrest

Scott M2

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2011, 09:55:05 AM »
Are they talking about jumping from compressed mp3s to uncompressed 24 bit songs for mobile players?
That sounds rather ridiculous to me at this stage of the game.

Uncompressed 24 bit recordings (and perhaps 24/96) makes sense for upstream premastered purposes
and maybe for home listening on a very high-quality stereo or equivalent high-quality amp/headphones.

The death of SACDs and the dearth of recent DVD-A releases doesn't indicate the masses crying out for extreme sound quality.

jkn

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2011, 10:13:17 AM »
Here's the text of the article: 

Quote
Digital downloads, at least pertaining to music, have come a long, long way. The iTunes Music Store in particular has surpassed Walmart as America's leading seller of music, and it's evolved from a DRM-laden mess to a restriction-free(ish) marketplace with higher-than-average bitrate support. But it seems that 256kbps simply isn't high enough. According to unnamed "executives involved in talks," Apple -- as well as a few other digital music retailers -- are currently in discussions with labels to "improve the quality of the song files they sell." Essentially, these retailers are hoping to hawk 24-bit audio rather than the compressed 16-bit files available today, possibly with a price premium attached. The real trick, however, won't be coercing the labels to cooperate, but to retool future devices to actually play back 24-bit files. iTunes itself is already capable of handling 'em, but the iPod, iPhone and a slew of other handheld devices aren't. The report doesn't mention how close to a deal anyone is, but we're guessing it'll be sooner rather than later. Here's hoping the iPhone 5 ships with 128GB of capacity -- we're going to need an awful lot of space to handle those lossless Police albums.

I definitely agree with Altus...  any even remote discussion of the option of higher quality files is a good thing.   I do believe that no matter what ... that key phrase "possibly with a price premium attached" will certainly be in play.

I do kind of see two markets here - lossless files like FLAC for home use on decent speakers - and compressed mp3's for portable. 

One of these days - lossless audio will be portable - it's just a matter of a few years really.

John
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mgriffin

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2011, 10:27:33 AM »
The masses would much rather have 10,000 tracks of 256k mp3s on their iPod than 600 tracks of 24/96 lossless material. I don't disagree with the idea that better audio quality is worth pursuing, but I disagree strongly that the mainstream of music consumers -- who listen to all their music on the el-cheapo white headphones that came with their iPods -- give a damn about better audio quality than 256k or 320k mp3s.

If a market for high-res lossless digital audio ever develops it will be a secondary niche market, basically a new "portable audiophile" market, not a mainstream thing.
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ffcal

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2011, 10:33:35 AM »
Mike,

I agree.  The idea that the unwashed masses are somehow clammering for 24-bit audio for me does not pass the smell test.  I could see some form of 24-bit audio eventually becoming standard on a server-based home audio hi-fi system.  It probably isn't something that would interest me as a listener or as a musician, though.

Forrest

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2011, 10:38:53 AM »
Also I meant to add, Forrest is right that a well-mastered recording released as a 256k mp3 will sound vastly superior to a brickwalled master released in some 24/96 lossless format. The biggest problem with loss of subtlety and dynamic range is not from lossy compression to mp3 but from over-the-top compression and limiting in the mastering stage.
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Scott M2

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2011, 10:49:37 AM »
IMO, a proper 256k mp3 is not really terrible quality, particularly through teeny-tiny amps & headphones.

I recall reading that some blind testing indicated that 172k is the break-point where higher rates begin to be difficult to differentiate.

This site did some (unscientific) listening tests with 160k (VBR) as the bottom line:
http://www.maximumpc.com/article/do_higher_mp3_bit_rates_pay_off
« Last Edit: February 23, 2011, 10:55:42 AM by Scott M2 »

jkn

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #9 on: February 23, 2011, 11:04:44 AM »
Yeah - sorry - I should have added the "niche" market thing. 

cheap free tons of songs - that will all be more important to the unwashed or washed masses.

"in the cloud" subscription services seem the most likely path for that market - where a service millions of songs - and you just stream them to your phone.  It's already on the way.

There will always be a smaller market of people who actually care though.  :-)
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Altus

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #10 on: February 24, 2011, 07:25:03 PM »
I think you guys misunderstood the main reason I posted this, and I think my "masses" comment started it.  Let's ignore the masses and centre on what I know we all care about: audio fidelity.

The prospect of moving away from lossy audio formats as the norm means it's a step in the right direction.  The next logical step would be have lossy formats removed altogether.

While the article was about Apple, let's be honest - This is about Apple offering 24-bit audio, and everyone else following suit (as per usual).  This is what I care about: Starting a trend.  Maybe soon it'll be "cool" to own your music in 24-bit depth.   ;)

I'm actually surprised to hear such negative reactions about this though (unless I'm just misreading you guys).  I thought you'd all be pleased and shocked that this would even be considered.  I've read a number of complaints here and on other forums about how kids growing up listening to MP3 algorithms won't understand the importance of uncompressed audio.  Now an opportunity is coming, and you just make negative comments about that...

Really?  Are we all so jaded?   ;D

Arguments about larger filesizes (for download and storage) is, in my opinion, narrow-sighted.  The capacity of portable players will only expand as time goes on.  Hard drives are dirt cheap.  Limitations on bandwidth will diminish as infrastructure grows.  Where 100GB monthly internet usage is considered fine now, soon 1TB will be considered paltry.
And to be clear, nobody is talking about downloading WAVs or AIFs.  I'm talking about lossless compression techniques.  I don't dismiss that the filesize compared to MP3 isn't small.  The average bitrate for 44.1/16 FLAC is ~1mbit, 44.1/24 is ~2mbit and 96/24 (the beast) is ~3.3mbit.

But it seems such a small price to pay for audio perfection.
Mike Carss -- Altus : aural journeys for the mind's eye
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ffcal

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #11 on: February 24, 2011, 08:23:55 PM »
Mike,
I can't speak for the rest, but I think you've misread my reaction, at least.  The 24-bit issue is more complex than simply wishing for higher quality sound.  It takes place in the context of the decline of the CD, and a further move away from a physical product.  If the Apple engineers and muckety-mucks were hard at work on a 24-bit physical medium that would be backwards-compatible with the existing CD, then I might have had a different reaction to this.  At the moment, given the fragmented market for listening, the idea of a universal 24-bit product sounds as speculative as the idea that all future music releases will be in surround 5.1.  I've also been around long enough to remember the boondoggle that was quadrophonic sound.

Forrest

jkn

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #12 on: February 25, 2011, 07:51:25 AM »
Mike / Altus - I'm totally with ya.
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ffcal

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #13 on: February 25, 2011, 09:57:24 AM »
Mike / Altus - I'm totally with ya.

Err...John, could you elaborate a bit more?

Forrest

jkn

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #14 on: February 25, 2011, 10:26:53 AM »
aaayyyyyeeeeeeee...  sorry that was a truncated, got interrupted, shouldn't have posted but did ... post.

Here's where I'm totally with Mike...  his original post - about finally heading towards better quality files.   He also acknowledges that the players aren't ready and we have a long way to go - but at least it's the right direction.

He then recently posted the longer comment on maybe we all missed the boat from his original post - focusing on music for the masses - and missing the 'at least it's the right direction' comment.

If you read my two brief posts - I acknowledge it won't fly for the vast majority (who I think won't care about iPods storing music much longer anyway - as streaming is going to take over) but there will always be a smaller minority of people that care about audio quality.

I also agree with your posts about formats and such...

So - in essence - I'm "totally with all of ya".

We kind of almost have multiple topics going in this thread.   
John Koch-Northrup .: jkn [AT] johei.com .: owner / artist .: http://relaxedmachinery.com .: http://twitter.com/jkn .: http://flickr.com/johei

petekelly

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #15 on: February 25, 2011, 12:39:05 PM »
I studied ambisonics when I was at Uni and I believed then (13 years ago) that we would all be listening to 24/96 multi-channel audio today. It didn't happen (I recently sold my DVD-A player for peanuts on ebay :( )

I'm very interested in any developments towards higher quality audio, but I also think there's a place for 256/320 kbps mp3s as well. I have to say, I'm still to be fully convinced about 24/96 - the 24 bits part I get, but I'm still not sure about the 96 (kHz) bit.

zzzone.net

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #16 on: February 26, 2011, 07:16:43 AM »
I'm sure you all know where I stand on this.  This represents an advantage of music files over CDs that I have touted before in another thread.  I like the concept but I doubt that my aging ears can hear the difference on my crappy amp and speakers.  I'm a little excited about these files in the same way I was excited about going from vinyl to CD.

However, my $299 Logitech Touch playback device (part of my Squeezebox home music server) has the capability of decoding these files.  And the Touch is cool; it has a cool interface that is conducive to browsing music and cover art.

http://www.logitech.com/en-us/speakers-audio/wireless-music-systems/devices/5745

I'm not sure what other equipment WILL decode these files, but I'm sure Apple will have an an$wer to that que$tion very $oon.

I only have files from Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Talk Talk, Mystified, Brian Eno, Elvis Presley, and Peter Frampton...quite a motley crew!

I'm quite surprised about the negativity to this OPTION everywhere on the net.  Obviously these 24-bit files will not exclude lower res files or even CDs; likely they'll be offered as a higher cost option for audiophiles that have the desire...that desire that audiophiles have.  And with the right high, high-end equipment and the right ears, who knows?  Someone might be able to hear the difference.
« Last Edit: February 26, 2011, 12:04:44 PM by jimzzzak »

Altus

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #17 on: February 26, 2011, 07:35:07 AM »
Forrest:  Yes, I agree that everything we're talking about here only works for download models of selling music.

I believe the decline of the CD is greatly overstated and will be around for MANY years.  Manufacturing CDs is so cheap that as long as profit can be made, the format will stick around... even if it's only for us "crazy" people.   ;)

If and when 24/44.1 or 24/96 becomes the new standard, would a physical product still be viable?  I certainly hope so.  Just so everyone knows, I'm actually not a huge advocate to purchasing music from services such as iTunes.  The main reason is audio compression.  But a close second is, like most of you here, I enjoy the physical product in my hands.
Any music I purchase is almost always on CD, unless it's not available in that format of course.

Also, I have to say that comparing 24-bit stereo to 5.1 surround doesn't really work as an argument.  Any serious producer already works in 24 or 32-bit float, whereas those producing in 5.1 are far and few between.
To be fair, I understand and fully acknowledge your side of the argument though.  Just call me a dreamer.   ;D

JKN:  I love the idea of moving away from local storage and streaming everything from the "cloud".  Given that my content would be stored on redundant raid arrays, it's safer there than on a flash memory or a drive.  I think it's only a matter of time until it becomes a popular option, or even the norm in the far future.

Pete:  If I understand you, I agree that the time for MP3s isn't over yet.  If anyone attempts to make such a change overnight, they're just shooting themselves in the foot.  I just want to see MP3 become less desirable as new formats become available until it's not needed anymore.
Mike Carss -- Altus : aural journeys for the mind's eye
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petekelly

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #18 on: February 26, 2011, 08:28:59 AM »
Mike,

At the risk of going 'off topic', the reason I mentioned Ambisonics (which is a superior surround system to 5.1) is that I remember that there was once quite a bit of debate as to whether people would still be listening to stereo at all 'in the future' and multi-channel was the way forward. Times change. 

cheers
Pete

Altus

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Re: 24-bit for the masses
« Reply #19 on: February 26, 2011, 10:20:27 AM »
Googling Ambisonics.  Very interesting stuff.  Thanks Pete.
Mike Carss -- Altus : aural journeys for the mind's eye
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