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Re: MP3 vs CD ...and some personal reflections on download shops

Subject: Re: MP3 vs CD ...and some personal reflections on download shops
From: "Andrew Skeoch" listening_earth
Date: Sun Dec 16, 2007 2:21 pm ((PST))
Hi folks,

I've spent a lot of time listening to 192kbps Mp3s vs CD. What I've  
found is that if you listen to the audio content, a particular sound  
or musical instrument, it is difficult to tell a difference, not  
impossible, but not immediately obvious. The big difference is in  
what I would call the 'grain' of the audio. The audio data that gets  
dropped in the mp3 algorithm is often the fine grain detail and  
transients. Its what makes the recording sharper, 'grittier' (I'm  
searching for words to describe what it sounds like here...) and more  
full bodied.

I agree with Bernie, I don't like CD 16bit particularly, but in my  
experience this often has more to do with the playback technology.  
Most domestic CD players sound thin and weedy. They are often  
adequate at extracting the data, but then it gets scrambled in the D/ 
A process. The result is hard, sharp, sometimes brittle audio, with  
little warmth or depth to it. It takes a considerable investment to  
get a player that will do justice to the available data on a CD. I  
have a Naim CD player, and it does a lovely job at smooth playback of  
a well-mastered CD, but its not a cheap unit. So for my ears, 16 bit  
is not the best. Even listening back to 16bit playback of the raw  
computer mixdown has the same aesthetic limitations.

An mp3, by dropping a lot of that sharp, gritty detail, actually ends  
up sounding quite nice. It is softer on the ear compared to a CD,  
less 'peaky'. Personally I enjoy the listening experience through  
headphones, although an mp3 definitely shows its limitations over a  
hi-resolution speaker system.

I always encode our mp3s using 'variable bit rate'; it sharpens up  
the audio very nicely without adding to the overall file size  
considerably. Without it, mp3s can sound slushy, particularly on  
transients such as bill-snaps. Using iTunes, with VBR on its highest  
setting, the audio is still smooth, but the transients don't  
disintegrate, so a best of both worlds.

Like Bernie, we have been selling CDs of our nature recordings for a  
long time, and the change over to self publishing via our own online  
shop is, well, a huge relief. Unless you have dealt with distributors  
and retailers, it is difficult to communicate how frustrating it is  
for any artist. The pressure to publish 'best sellers' is paramount,  
and it skews one's entire endeavour towards quantity sales over any  
artistic consideration.

So for us, having our own online shop allows us to publish without,  
as Bernie points out, the inefficiencies and environmental footprint  
of tangible product manufacturing and distribution. Some of these  
recordings would not be viable in the retail environment, and never  
be published. So we are excited by the possibilities. It is nice for  
us to be running a more intimate business, communicating directly  
with our customers (one phoned at 4.30am this morning...), and have  
the freedom to publish important recordings without being obliged to  
sell them out.

To see how we've set things up, our website is: http://
and the direct link to our shop: 

Finally, I don't post often here, but appreciate the accumulated  
wisdom and experience you folks contribute to this forum. I wish you  
all a wonderful Christmas!


...and pray our new government seriously shifts the playing field on  
global warming negotiations in the coming year!

Listening Earth P/L
Andrew Skeoch and Sarah Koschak
Nature Sound Recordings

Tel: 61 3 5476 2609
P.O. Box 188
Victoria  3450

"While a picture is worth a thousand words, a 
sound is worth a thousand pictures." R. Murray Schafer via Bernie Krause

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