Listen to digital music? You’re missing some sounds
I’m old enough to remember when the first iPod came out. I couldn’t wait to get one because up until then, I’d spent thousands of dollars on CDs (and before that tapes, and to a more limited extent, vinyl when I was a kid). And whether it was records, cassettes or compact discs, it was always difficult to cart your music around with you. I scratched many a CD in my car when I changed albums mid-drive, and I’m still not really over the fact that when I was 23, hundreds of CDs that I had collected from all over the world (plus ticket stubs to the hundreds of concerts I attended), were stolen from my car. My entire music collection was gone in minutes.
So to this music fan, the idea that I could download thousands of songs to a tiny device that I could always keep with me seemed like the best invention of all time.
I was early to the digital music scene, but it was only recently (when I spent time at a friend’s house listening to records) that I started to wonder about what I have been missing. Listening to her record of an album I had on my iPhone, the experience was richer and more enjoyable. Sure, her speakers were better than my headphones, but still, what have I not been hearing when it comes to my favorite music?
The MP3s that we all listen to today were designed in the early 1990s by the Moving Pictures Experts Group as a way to simplify and encode highly complex music files when bandwidth (and storage) was much more limited than it is today. According to PhD student Ryan Maguire, who studied this issue on his site, The Ghost in the MP3, explains: “Listening tests, primarily designed by and for western-European men, and using the music they liked, were used to refine the encoder. These tests determined which sounds were perceptually important and which could be erased or altered, ostensibly without being noticed.”