Ex Die in Diem


Electronic Renaissance

Hello again, dear reader; a double post!

This one is going to be shorter than the last, and less labour intensive for me. I wanted to take the opportunity of having been so slack last week to shoehorn in this titbit that I recently discovered.

You may have noticed that the way we listen to music has changed dramatically over the last twenty years or so. Almost nobody now listens to vinyl, or even tape, or CDs. Almost everybody that I know now selects and listens to music using entirely electronic, often solid-state, means. My listening is now done almost exclusively through music that has been streamed from the internet, either through a streaming service, a video sharing website, or iTunes Match in the case of my personal music library.

All of this has recently led apple to commission a new effort on the part of record producers to remaster their existing material with iTunes standard 256kbps AAC files in mind. Rather than thrashing around out of my depth on this topic, I’ll refer you over to the story that I recently read about this: Loudness, written by the Chicago Mastering Service.

This story was eye-opening for me. I learned a lot: for instance, did you know that digital noise had to be added to CD masters so that the silence that naturally occurs in a track wasn’t jarring to the ear? As well as the issues raised directly in the article, this got me thinking about the quality of the recordings we listen to, and how the equipment we use to listen highlights or downplays the efforts of the mastering chaps.

As I said before, all of the music that I listen to these days is streamed, and that means compressed. Now I’m very lucky (though audiophiles may disagree) in that my hearing is poor enough for 256kbps AAC to sound identical to very high bitrate master tracks to my ear. But a part of this “audio transparency” is down to my equipment.

I mostly listen through rubbish white apple headphones, which reduce the fidelity of any recording to a level that I could realistically master to. When I want to actually hear a tune (i.e. when I’m not on public transport), I listen on my big, clumsy, on-ear headphones. with relative quiet around me, the difference is quite astonishing. details that simply can’t be heard through earbuds reveal themselves seamlessly, basslines appear as if from nowhere, and the entire track will often just seem to come into focus.

If you want to try this at home with your own big headphones, I can recommend Under Pressure as a track that hides its light under a bushel through cheap equipment. It may as well be a different tune through a nice set of cans.

I said this would be shorter, and I hope it is. I’ll try to be more consistent in future.

See you next week.

This is from the