CD audio is not good enough, CD Standard is bad quality
CD audio is not good enough, CD Standard is bad quality
May 1 2003, 04:29
Group: Members (Donating)
Joined: 7-April 03
From: Newark, CA
Member No.: 5871
Sound quality is a complex subject, and one that has been thrashed
out elsewhere time after time. Nonetheless I'll give it a bit of a
spin here, without getting all technical, in order to justify why I
think CD audio is not good enough.
When I complain about CD sound I am not doing so as some sort of
retrograde vinyl lover who can't change with the times. :-) I am
simply saying that the sound of the CD I am listening to has audible
problems and does not match what I expect the creators wanted. This
can be measured by how closely the CD replicates the master. Of
course in most cases I don't get to hear the master, so much is
guesswork. However, as a trained audio engineer I have *some* idea of
what is expected and can certainly compare CDs to the masters I
CDs improved on vinyl in many ways, notably in reduced noise floor,
phase artifacts, and crosstalk; ease of handling; and accurate
handling of low frequency stereo information. But CDs are inferior to
vinyl in frequency response and degradation characteristics. If a CD
gets a scratch you hear unlistenable white noise; if a record gets a
scratch you hear a DJ. ;-)
Going further, some may "prefer" the sound of vinyl precisely because
of the distortions it introduces. These include rounded signal peaks
and second-order harmonics, as well as the aforementioned phase
issues. All of these introduce a "warm" sound that is palatable to
many. Whether I like that sound or not, I prefer to hear what the
artist intended. If they wanted harmonics they could have used a
tube. And so on.
A bit more is in order about error correction. Most errors are
corrected by CD players, but this can produce tiny glitches of noise
that most people do not notice. I notice them. It's not that I have
better ears; once I point them out you can hear them as well. Of
course, the better the music reproduction system the more noticable
these are. (Though contrary to this, the better the CD player error
correction, the less you'll hear.) For most people with crappy
stereos it's not an issue.
I do not think that there is anything inherently wrong with digital
sound encoding, only that the 44.1KHz sampling rate and 16 bits per
sample are not good enough. Currently, studios use 96KHz and 24 (or
32) bits throughout the recording chain process, and must reduce this
down to consumer standards for replication. There's probably a good
reason why those people most highly trained in listening don't think
CD quality is good enough for recording. It's simply because their
ears tell them so.
You may be interested to know that the current CD standard was a
matter of much compromise between the American, European, and
Japanese manufacturers. I can remember reading some of the research
articles at the time (I was in university). The Japanese insisted
that 100KHz and 24-bit (if memory serves on the exact numbers) were
required for accurate reproduction. But the others argued that no-one
would hear the difference and it would reduce cost and time to market
if the lower standard was adopted. And so, unfortunately, it was.
Another big problem with many CDs is the terrible job of mastering.
Back in vinyl days you really had to know what you were doing to
adjust the master tape to the deficiencies of the medium. There were
relatively few mastering engineers, but they knew their job. Today
almost anyone thinks they can master, and so they do... badly.
So the problems with CD can be summarised as: insufficient frequency
response, insufficient resolution, poor mastering, nasty error
characteritics, and cases that break all the time. ;-)
MP3s inherit all of these except the bit about the cases.
May 1 2003, 12:44
Joined: 29-September 01
Member No.: 70
The CD standard is often taking an unfair amount of criticism that in my opinion should be aimed at the manufacturers of D/A converters and CD players. The format is indeed "old", but even after over two decades it's only very rarely properly implemented. Playback equipment is generally very poorly designed (recording equipment to, for that matter) and issues like jitter have hardly been dealt with at all, until very recently. There's an awful lot of "bad digital" out there, and that's not going to change just by upping the sampling frequency or increasing the number of bits. That's just marketing. (For an idea of what "good digital" can be, cough up $800 and get yourself a Benchmark DAC1.) Mastering, as several of you brought up, is of course also a key issue. Bad mastering will make things sound like crap regardless of format. My stance is that any shortcomings of the CD standard remains the least of the problems anyone involved is facing.
I find it very typical of our times that the Red Book format is now being deemed obsolete and insufficient, before it's even fully realized. Why do it right when you can do it twice and earn billions and billions on selling both hardware and software? The music industry obviosuly think this is a great idea; it's an excellent opportunity to sell us music they've already earned billions on, for the fourth or fifth time. Soon there'll be nothing but remastered old recordings out there.
Also, I think it's best in these discussions to separate the production side of audio from the production/distribution side. It's common that people involved in making recordings apply their experiences to the end user, but there's a lot that doesn't apply. Recording in higher resolution may be a very good idea considering you're stacking and processing up to perhaps a hundred tracks, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Joe Consumer (or even Steve Audiophile) needs it for playback.
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