I recently purchased an 8GB video Walkman to replace a 256mb player and it is wonderful that I don’t have to refresh songs so often (I used to fit an average 60 songs/about 5 albums). I’ve got 20 albums and a few vids on it and I think I haven’t even used 1 full GB yet. Marvellous.
MP3 bit rate is a contentious issue for some, but I’ll throw my hands up and say that I’m satisfied with 128k, which is often arguably touted as CD quality. I notice artifacts or at least differences at lower bit rates but at 128 or higher, my heavy metal worn ears don’t notice a difference, so to conserve space and power I choose not to use WMA and stick with that bit rate to conserve space.
I understand however that some, in fact many ears, can discern a difference so the bit rate you choose is just a personal thing. But on an mp3 player, or even a compact Hi Fi system, which are reduced experiences to a Hi Fi system, I don’t see the point in bothering with 256-320kps. I’m first and foremost a music fan and not an audiophile so I would rather hear a good song crackling through AM radio, than a turd in HD audio or whatever. Of course I prefer the best quality but I’m not so touchy.
The first time I heard an mp3 was in 1997. I remember it well. A well known band’s song had leaked and a person on the net. directed me to WinAmp and the mp3. I thought the quality of the file was astounding. Prior to this, grainy RealAudio was the only real way to hear music, and through dial-up. I can’t remember if the mp3 quality was perfect, or what bit rate it was but it was better than audio cassettes that were still available.
But now, the new we’re getting lossless formats. There are a number of them, so I’ll talk about FLAC which is the most talked about:
FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is a lossless format, that means that average 40-60% compression does not remove any data at all unlike lossy formats like mp3. This is great because although we have broadband now, smaller lossless files help us save bandwidth and space and yet we can get true CD quality (or higher if 24 bit mastered) which is appropriate for backup and burning.
What makes FLAC stand out is that it’s free and has been used by a few major artists for a little while now. There is a lot of software support, but not much in terms of hardware yet.
However, broadband speeds are getting faster and hard disk space is getting bigger. This inevitably will mean the slow phase out mp3s as FLAC files get downloaded in minutes for CD burning or direct transfer to multi-terabyte drives. Lossless will kill lossy.
One final hurdle remains though, in that digital signals are still not as warm or round sounding (or so I’ve heard people say) as vinyls. I’ve grown up with tape, CD, MD and mp3, but I’ll take the vinyl lovers stance so the last thing we need is lossless compression with the full spectrum audio capturing of analogue and then we’ve pretty much satisfied everyone and set things in stone. After that, I don’t know where we’ll go. 5.1 is just not a concern with music as when you go to a concert it’s generally a doubled wall of sound coming at you, so stereo is acceptable.
For the time being though 128k music on my player suits me fine, but when downloading music I will choose FLAC first if I can to burn to CD and then create mp3s from that.