Music Quality vs Recording Quality

Pro ToolsWith all the advances in technology, it seems we’ve created a contrast in the way music is produced, and the way it’s consumed.

On one hand, recording technology has enabled the recording of high resolution audio. Most studios these days are able to record at least 24-bit/96Khz. Some studios have the capability to record even higher sampling rates such as 192Khz. This increased sampling rate smooths out the digital audio making it a more accurate representation of the original sound wave.

Hearing a recording like this over great speakers is an incredible experience. Yet that’s not how the vast majority of us listen to music.

In contrast to the advances in the production of recorded music, technology has also affected the way we listen to, or consume, music.

The CD serves as a de-facto, though declining, standard for music delivery. CD audio is served up at 16-bit/44.1Khz, far below the resolution now possible for recorded music. And if you’re anything like me, you rarely listen to a CD over a good set of speakers. My first listen is generally over the speakers in my laptop. If I like what I hear, I “rip” the CD to AAC files for playback on my iPod.

The AAC files are simply a newer standard than mp3, delivering a slight increase in quality and decrease in file size. Nonetheless, these files are highly compressed and there is a distinct loss of audio quality with either mp3 or AAC. Even so, this is my preferred listening format, simply for the convenience of it.

I listen to these compressed files over the speakers in my laptop, my iPod earbuds, or my car stereo via iPod playback. And I have to say, as one who works in the recording industry, I don’t mind the loss of quality. The favorable benefits of having my music with me wherever I find myself, far outweighs the downside of the reduction in audio quality.

For me, the quality of the music itself is far more important. Is it a good song? Is it well played and sung? Is the arrangement interesting? And on the recording side of things, the important factor isn’t the resolution, it’s tones and the mix. The quality of the tones captured comes through even in and mp3. And the mix is the most important part. If the recorded resolution is as high as it gets, but the mix is bad, I don’t want to listen to it. If the mix is good, I’ll tolerate a low fidelity file.

I would encourage all the artists out there to keep this in mind. I don’t think I’m alone as a music consumer. The quality of the music is much more important than the quality of the recording.

  • string_theory

    “The quality of the music is much more important than the quality of the recording.”

    Not UNtrue. Which is why it’s still rewarding to listen to Carter Family records through a dull roar of 78 surface noise. BUT I worry you’re letting us all slide down the slippery slope too far. After much delay and logistics, I finally got my stereo set up in my new house with a couch set in the sweet spot and at least a moderately audiophile turntable/pre-amp situation running through some nice tall line-array speakers and it’s just a fundamentally different experience than the iPod dock or god knows ear buds. Most extraordinary are LPs recorded in the 1960s, with super wide dynamic range and space between the instruments that was a factor of their actual position in the studio rather than a post-production decision. We all love music in our cars and at the gym, but every fan should have a zone of premium listening. MP3s on tiny speakers are like driving up to the Grand Canyon and looking at it through your dirty bug splatted windshield rather than getting out of your car. Or eating a four-star meal with a clamp on your nose. I’m calling for an audiophile backlash. Cheers guys.

  • cbhenry

    Very Good Post. I would rather listen to Monroe through a phone than most music on a CD.

  • sims318

    I am new at this blogging thing so bear with me. I agree 100 percent with the post. There is no doubt that the actual sound of the music coming out of the speaker has improved tenfold, but there is something lacking. I have always been an old school bluegrass guy. The thing i like about the older music is the roughness of it. Its not perfect, and thats what gives it that edge. That edge is why it will continue to be listened to in its rough state. For example, I purchased the Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs album second generation bluegrass on compact disc about 2 months ago. There is no doubt that the sound quality is rough, even though its on a cd. Its still great music and has that rough edge that will seal its immortality.

  • Well, I don’t agree totally, Older bluegrass is recorded very sparsely to begin with, We still have that today, There are groups today, I will give one example, the Latest CD recording by “The Lonesome River Band”. The music is very traditional bluegrass, but the recording is modern and does not have that rough edge to it. Modern musicians are more interested in recording than their pedecessors who did not have access to the recording world, they left that to the studio.
    Putting a vinyl record on a CD format will not make it sound better. When the CD medium opened up, several, very bad digital transfrs were done and the CD sounded worse than the record. Today, that has change, because there are a lot of very good mastering engineers who can take an old record and do wonders with it.
    Back to new Recordings, The Lonesome River band CD on Rural Rhythm Records has a real good acoustic bluegrass sound with no clipping or distortion.