Why choose bad sound when you can do better?

Which would you rather hang on your living room wall: A fine print of your favorite artwork, or a reproduction cut out of a magazine and blown up on a photocopier?

What would you rather dine on: A dish made from whole, fresh ingredients, or one made of processed foods and reconstituted freeze-dried vegetables?

As the late Christopher Hitchens was wont to put it, “to ask these questions is to answer them.”

Then why oh why, fellow music lovers, would you willingly settle for sound-reproducing technologies that strip the sound of its clarity, color, dynamics and beauty — the very qualities the musicians practiced for years to cultivate — when you can do better? In other words, why would you listen to your favorite music via MP3, when you can stream, download or purchase the music in far higher fidelity? Don’t you think that by doing the former you not only do yourself a disservice, but also do a disservice to the music and the musicians?

Yeah I know, I’ve been banging away on this topic (including in this blog post) almost as long and as tiresomely as Bernie Sanders has been blustering about billionaires. But this time, I’m going to put aside the analog vs. digital culture wars. If you really think vinyl records sound better than CDs, I will magnanimously permit you to go with what you prefer. What a guy, huh?

In the spirit of comity, let vinylphiles and digiheads unite against a common foe! MP3s and other “lossy” formats suck. They denude the music of its sound and its soul. While listening to MP3s does not by itself make you a bad person, it certainly arouses suspicion. What other crimes against humanity might you be committing? And where do you think all the digital bits stripped out of the music to make MP3s get dumped? Probably in some depressed minority neighborhood or third-world country. (OK, I made that last thing up.)

So, my non-negotiable demands: When either streaming or purchasing for download, don’t settle for MP3, any more than you would settle for just the “food” you can find at Aldi. Go for FLAC or other “lossless” audio formats. Here’s a good technogeek explanation. Not that its owner Jay-Z needs any more of our money, but I strongly recommend his Tidal service for hi-fi music streaming. I’ve done comparisons between Tidal and MP3-only Spotify — and there’s no comparison. And when purchasing music for download, stay away from iTunes. It only provides lousy alternatives. I’ll do a survey of download sites with better choices later this week.

Two qualifications: I’m not saying you have to buy super-fancy, super-expensive audio toys. You’ll notice the difference even with a decent inexpensive system or even a pretty good pair of headphones. Neither do you have to spring for “audiophile” 24-bit and other fancy download choices when offered. 16-bit FLAC is perfectly OK and costs less too.

The Brits have a wonderful expression that fits perfectly here: “The better is the enemy of the good.” In this case, MP3 and its crappy cousins are the enemy. It’s time to destroy them once and for all.


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