The Case Against 24 bit 192kHz Music

Chris Montgomery aka “Monty” wrote an amazing essay on why 24 bit 192kHz downloads are silly and not worth while. Among those lobbying for it include Neil Young. Given Montgomery’s experience with audio encoding (OGG/Vorbis), he’s without question an authority on the topic.

Articles last month revealed that musician Neil Young and Apple’s Steve Jobs discussed offering digital music downloads of ‘uncompromised studio quality’. Much of the press and user commentary was particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of uncompressed 24 bit 192kHz downloads. 24/192 featured prominently in my own conversations with Mr. Young’s group several months ago.

Unfortunately, there is no point to distributing music in 24-bit/192kHz format. Its playback fidelity is slightly inferior to 16/44.1 or 16/48, and it takes up 6 times the space.

There are a few real problems with the audio quality and ‘experience’ of digitally distributed music today. 24/192 solves none of them. While everyone fixates on 24/192 as a magic bullet, we’re not going to see any actual improvement.

Go read the rest. It’s worth while. A couple nice jabs at self proclaimed “audiophiles” are included as well.

How Google Music Works

Google announced Google Music. Needless to say I was curious how they implemented an audio player in the browser. Most of the application is your run of the mill modern Web Application with lots of JavaScript. It looks like pretty much anything Google’s built in recent years. It doesn’t do anything really out of the ordinary for the most part. Until you get to the audio playback.

How the audio is played is interesting:

<div id="embed-container">
  <audio autoplay="autoplay" id="html5Player"></audio>
  <div class="goog-ui-media-flash">
    <embed wmode="window" pluginspage="http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" seamlesstabbing="false" allowfullscreen="true" allowscriptaccess="sameDomain" bgcolor="#000000" flashvars="" src="r/musicplayer.swf" class="goog-ui-media-flash-object" name=":0" id=":0" quality="high" style="width: 1px; height: 1px;"></embed>
  </div>
</div>

You’re reading that right. That’s a HTML5 <audio/> tag. First time I’ve seen it appear in a major product. However as of this writing in Firefox, Safari, and Chrome on Mac OS X the Flash player seems to be used. I suspect, but can’t confirm that this may indicate a future intent of using HTML5 <audio/> in place of Flash. Flash is likely the default for now. But it’s still very interesting to see.

The audio itself seems to be 44,100 Hz 320 kb/s MPEG Layer 3 (MP3) audio. The samples I’ve looked at were encoded with LAME 3.98.2. Obviously if they intend to use HTML5 audio they will need to offer something other than MP3 at least for Firefox users. It’s not currently possible to serve everyone without multiple encodings. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

The servers serving the media seem very similar to YouTube’s delivery servers for H.264 video. It’s progressive download, again just like YouTube. No DRM. I suspect there’s a shared history between this delivery system and YouTube or a very strong influence. But knowing how Google works, there’s likely a shared backend.

It’s pretty good stuff. I highly recommend checking it out. Google built a decent mp3 player in the cloud.

Luxury Markup

Audioholics has a must read review of the $3,500 Lexicon BD-30 Blu-Ray player.

What did they find? It’s actually the $500 OPPO BDP-83 inside a new case. Literally. They put the entire chassis inside, not just the components. Then they did some audio measurements and found they also matched. Not just close but identical.

The Lexicon BD-30 is THX certified while the OPPO BDP-83 is not, however THX certification requires paying licensing which OPPO Digital declined to do. People who bought an OPPO BDP-83 apparently got a THX worthy system for a fraction of the price though Audioholics deputes if the device is totally up to par.

This reminds me of the $500 ethernet cable. Or Gizmodo’s case against Monster Cable.

Lots of people assume a higher price tag equals better quality. That’s often not the case.

[Hat tip: The Consumerist]