Why You Might Not Want to Stream Digital Music from the Net

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And now for something completely different: We’re honored to present a post written by guest contributor Dave M. (“I am by profession, an audio design engineer and I design recording equipment for major recording studios and film scorers. That’s what I do.”)

Why you might not want to stream digital music from the Net:

Here is an explanation of digital audio. I hope it is not too boring. I am not talking about the legality of music downloads, that is a whole separate subject; but I’m just going to explain why downloads sound bad.

Music, (sound), is a real phenomenon made up of little waves of air pressure that reach our ears. The normal atmospheric pressure, just due to the weight of air above us and gravity, is about 14.7 pounds per square inch (psi). This varies a little due to high and low pressure areas of weather. Fast variations occur when something is vibrating or exploding which causes the air near the source of the vibration to be compressed or rarefied. This sets up a wave, not unlike the waves in the sea, which then propagates outwards from that source. The wave moves at the speed of sound, which is about 750 miles per hour and the important thing is that these waves are a real phenomenon and have as much possibility for variation as the number of air molecules in say a square inch and that is an enormously large number. These waves are not a string of numbers. If we want to convert a real world phenomenon into a bunch of numbers, then we have to somehow measure the real phenomenon and write down the results.

This is more easily explained by imagining the sea and the waves coming into the beach. If I want to record in a bunch of numbers, the representation of those natural waves, then maybe I could put a yardstick into the sand a little way from the beach and look at it from time to time and write down what I see. But it is really important how often I take the measurement and to what accuracy I read the yardstick. It is pretty obvious that if I only look at the yardstick once a day, that is too infrequent; heck I wouldn’t even catch the tides! If I read it a million times a second, that’s more than fast enough, but I need to write down a lot of numbers. (In digital electronics this is called the SAMPLING RATE.) The accuracy of the measurements is also important and that depends on your purposes and, of course, waves come in all sizes from tiny ripples in almost still water to giant dangerous tsunamis. How much accuracy is enough depends on your purposes.

In attempting to capture the waves of sound, this measurement, frequency,
in other words the sampling rate, needs to be a certain minimum. Some mathematician named Nyquist determined that it needs to be AT LEAST double the frequency of the fastest waves that are present in the incoming stream of waves.

For the purposes of listening to sound, we can consider the highest frequency that some people, (young people), can hear is about 22,000 cycles per second, called 22KHz (kilo hertz). The trouble with Mr. Nyquist’s simple theorem is that it states what is sufficient in data points to EVENTUALLY be able to figure out what the real wave looked like given maybe only a couple of data points per wave. If you want something to be able to recover the original wave shape quickly, the sampling rate should be much higher.

When CDs first came out, I think it was about 1984, we didn’t have the technology to make good enough measuring circuits (called ADCs for analog to digital converters). The trouble is CDs set a standard which persists to this day. CDs use a sampling rate of 44,100 measurements per second, which is only fast enough on paper and not fast enough to avoid major difficulties in using those limited data points later. The measurement accuracy was standardized at 1 part in 65000 (ish) because in 1984 it was a big struggle just to do that!

Hey, what’s wrong with 1 part in 65000? Sounds pretty good? Well it would be except that our hearing is logarithmic. We evolved the ability, I guess because we really needed to, of being able to hear not only very loud sounds but also pretty quiet sounds with almost equal ability. If the very loudest sound that we can measure is measured to that 1 part in 65000 resolution then the average sounds on a CD are probably only being measured to 1 part in 2000 and classical music is even worse, maybe 1 part in 500 leaving room for the crescendo!

These measurements are too coarse and we can hear the errors (called quantization distortion) even if we cannot immediately say why we don’t quite like the result. The sampling rate is too low to accurately capture the treble events.

Sure, CDs were a major improvement to most people who had badly cared for vinyl LPs and a low cost turntable, but it sure had a long way to go to catch up to the accuracy potential of LPs or even of magnetic tape.

Eventually the technology improved and us folk who work in so-called pro-audio, designing recording systems and mixing desks that studios use, always expected that there would soon be a new improved CD, maybe you could call it Super CD or something. We got it wrong. Super CD never happened because the “record stores” said NO. They weren’t going to stock two discs for that white album. They refused. And that was that. The inferior standard for CD remains to this day.

What happened next was initially beyond belief. People wanted to be able to store some songs on portable devices, and while initially there were some portable CD players that you could strap onto your belt, that was a problem because reading back the data on a CD is a tricky mechanical process and too easily disturbed by walking or running. Much better if the data could be stored in “memory chips” like in computers. OK, but storing all the data points recorded by the CD standard, 44,100 per second x 2 (for stereo) x 2 bytes per data point x say 5 minutes for a song, requires about 53 Million Bytes–that’s a large number for computer memory chips. Also, people wanted not to store ten songs, they’d like hey, how about 1000?

What to do?

Mathematicians found ways to throw some of the data away within the framework of an average person not minding too much. This so-called data compression is also needed to get music files downloaded quickly over the Internet. Remember dial-up modems? (You’re lucky if you can say no.)
The really good ones could achieve an internet connection speed of maybe 38,000 Bits per second (A Byte = 8 bits), so to download one song 53 Million Bytes = about three Hours! In a more so so 4 Mb/sec modern connection, it’s about 2 minutes.

So data compression (meaning throw away lots of data that is too subtle for the industry standard listener to complain too much about) is the online norm. Although there a few specialist internet sites that offer full fidelity downloads, the gear you have to receive the downloads is pretty much not your laptop or your Ipad or your phone and you would have to be a geek to get the specialist gear you need.

So in conclusion, digital audio was not good enough at inception and the demands of internet download speed and mass storage on your phone made it even worse.

Could digital audio be good? Sure, modern equipment could re-write those archaic standards.

Will digital audio ever be good? Maybe.

The best hope is that kids get tired of the way their parents listen to music, because kids do that, and demand something new. Once you can store 1000 songs on your Iphone or whatever, storing 10,000 isn’t really that exciting. Maybe better will get rediscovered.

Interestingly, vinyl sales are steadily rising and my local supermarket is selling record players although they probably won’t be that good; but re-discovery of the greatness of music is possible. Many people who hear for the first time a good vinyl LP played on a good turntable into a good hifi system say, “I didn’t realize.” In 2017, we still could do better. Will we?

I hope so.

Postscript: I should have reassured that the recordings made in recording studios are to a much higher standard with faster sampling rates and much higher resolution. So the digital masters are good. The trouble is that they have to be downsized to put on CD or released to the Net. If people demand better, someday, the masters will be able to provide it.

Also, all the stuff that was recorded to magnetic tape (multi-track tape machines) is very fine too, but with one important reminder: Magnetic tape has limited shelf life because it is made by gluing very small particles of iron to the flexible tape.The iron is the magnetic bit, the tape just holds them in place. Glue doesn’t last forever. After about 25 years, you can play an old tape that is in storage – once. Then you have to clean all the iron “dandruff” out of the replay machine and hope you made a good copy.

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59 responses to “Why You Might Not Want to Stream Digital Music from the Net

  1. Thanks, Dave M., for the interesting article! It’s far from “boring.”

    I’ve been informed many times by those who know more than I about music (namely, male relatives) that LPs sound far better than CDs and that downloads are bad, too. Now I know WHY that’s so!

    Unfortunately, I’m old enough to remember not only dial-up modems, but also magnetic tapes, LPs, and hifi systems. I’ve several boxes of LPs in the basement, with no currently working turntable to play them on, because I need a needle.

    Thanks also for the info about magnetic tapes. I didn’t know that old tapes that are also in the basement will be playable ONE TIME ONLY after all these years of storage. If hubby ever decides to resurrect them, I’ll be sure to share with him the news that he’d better get ready to make a decent copy ASAP.

    I hope that if readers look at the wave image at the top of the post, they perhaps can visualize why if the sampling rate is too slow, you lose a lot of resolution.

    You’re probably on the right track to hope that the younger generation leads the campaign for “better” music. The younger members of my family have “discovered” LPs. Now they’re eyeing my stash! I do have some classics that I’d love to play, if only I could find a needle …

    • YAY. You got some “likes”, Dave. I tried to like it myself, but the system won’t let me since I posted it. 🙂 Anyway, you got as many if not more likes than I usually get. 😉

  2. ^^^ BOO-HOO I need a NEEDLE … I think we CAN MAKE IT WORK!

  3. Very interesting! Thank you. 🙂

  4. So the Russians hacking the election have been formally identified… how very soviet…

    • So true. They’re trying to turn it backwards, and say that if a “judge” (you know, a god) ordered it then he or she MUST HAVE seen (gasp!) probable cause. However, it’s common knowledge that MOST FISA warrants are given but in this case they were forced to NARROW it, because they at first tried to actually get an outright tap on TRUMP himself. THIS was reported in the mainstream long ago. I clearly remember reading about it. These FISA warrants are like a Grand Jury indicting a ham sandwich. IOW, it was NEWS because Obama’s minions were actually DENIED a warrant to tap Trump. In addition, it’s said that the warrant for anything is like a foot in the door. Once they have one, then they can monitor “U.S. persons” who are in contact with the so-called “target,” which is some Russian or other, and THEN they can go outward from there to look at what those U.S. persons are saying to OTHER U.S. persons (read TRUMP). Because this is so secret, it’s likely we’ll NEVER KNOW who the judge was or the basis for the warrant, IF one was given. I personally believe that even if the warrant was denied, Obama’s NSA would still be listening in to WHATEVER they want to. That’s what Snowden said, anyway, and I have no reason to disbelieve him. Trump’s problem, really, in dealing with all this is that he is NOT evil. Just like most of the conservatives are at a disadvantage. It’s the EVIL ones who can do what they want and have no qualms about lying, deceit, mendacity.

      • facebkwallflower

        Even though the second FISA does not name Trump, doesn’t the first lay out the intent of being to listen in on TRump?

        • One would think so. We’ll see if anyone ever gets hold of the paperwork. Supposedly Judicial Watch is asking for it and suing for it, but I don’t know if such warrants can be released. Trump, they say, has the authority to declassify them; but if he did that, the media (as they’re already doing) would accuse him of interfering in an investigation. Your comment reminds me of how the judges and the anti-Trump people who oppose his order on the “travel ban” want to use his prior statements during the campaign about his proposed “muslim ban” to say that the current ban, even though it toes the line perfectly with regard to any (even specious) “legal” or “constitutional” objections by the judges, should still be thrown out because of his “racist intent.” That’s something that’s new. The notion that people can go back in a president’s statements, before he was president, presumably back forever, and then CLAIM that he must be a racist and so has ulterior motives for whatever he does, and that the judicial branch can second guess a president’s actions and policies and unilaterally declare them “void” if THEY consider him an unrepentant racist (bigot, anti-woman, homophobe, xenophobe, whatever). So then WE could use the same notion against Obama, saying the second warrant shouldn’t have been issued because the first one proves he was TRYING to spy on his political opponent. Ironic, huh?

  5. YEP…MORE sick-NESS …the cover UP ..didn’t work! they go “LOW”!!!
    http://www.wnd.com/2017/03/trump-sick-obama-had-my-phones-tapped-in-trump-tower/

    • The funniest comment on a news article that I’ve seen in a long time was something like, “Obama’s been bugging ME for at least 10 years.” Ha. So true. And more than bugging.

  6. ~~~~ WIRETAPS IN THE TOWER… ~~~~~ W O W !!!!

    OBAMA SPOX DENIES…

    TRUMP: OBAMA BUGGED ME

  7. ~ Jayseventynine •
    With democrats it is always party over country.

    ~ JacksonPearson •
    Communists;
    Ku Klux Klan;
    Democrats
    Progressives;
    Victims;
    Race card players;
    Country security leakers;
    Keep changing the name, & eventually they’ll F O O L … someone. ?

    ~ Country_Dog •
    Democrats are NOT Americans.

  8. THINK YOUR A REAL”COOL” D U D E ~ BARRY O’BOMB USA???

  9. HOW … “LOW” … DID U GO >>>BARRY BOY<<< O'!

  10. Who ordered Loretta Lynch to call for rebellion in the streets?
    Civil War Drumbeat?

  11. AJ Strata doesn’t post much but he has done a huge article on the trouble the democrats are in, legally, realize Trump owns the FISA evidence
    http://strata-sphere.com/blog/index.php/archives/21934
    highly recommended

    • Obama’s administration had become so Addicted to Circumventing laws by executive orders, procedures, rules, etc they apparently went to that Well one time too many. ….. >>>>> LOVE IT!!!! ….^^^^

      There is NO legal cover behind an illegal rule. This is not going to Protect these people from legal jeopardy (may reduce their sentences somewhat). And the more players involved (Lynch, her successor Yates, etc) the more this runs into the RICO statutes.

      Team Trump looks to have a GREAT case here. Plus they have access to the government “smoking gun” documents spread throughout. I do not understand why Obama’s administration would dig their legal hole deeper in disseminating the classified information the law required them to delete
      & not leak. But they did.

      So what does that indicate about team Obama? Either colossal stupidity, uncontrolled panic, or a combination of both. Maybe by they time they realized Trump would find the FISA court records their only avenues was to try & turn public opinion using their robots in the Fake News media.

      All Trump has to do is let out the smoking gun documents one at a time. Let the left deny & parse words, then drop his counterveiling bombshells.

      Rinse & repeat.

      If this is as BAD as some SAY, Trump will Milk this all the way – as he should.

  12. COMEY TURNS…
    WIRETAPS IN TRUMP TOWER?

    PELOSI: ‘WE DON’T DO THAT’…

    CLAPPER: ‘I CAN DENY IT’…
    Flashback: Lawmakers Renew Calls for Clapper Perjury Charges…
    Former Bush AG: Trump right there was surveillance…
    Growing Furor…
    OBAMA FACES CONGRESS INQUIRY…

    DEMS SMELL BLOOD IN WATER

  13. the .. L O’ W ….DOWN is COMING FAST & FURIOUS!!!!!!!

    http://www.homelandsecurityus.com/archives/11249

  14. >>>>COMEY …. WTP GOT YOUR # …sorry sad sack dick head!

  15. Ex-DOJ official: Dem’s have Secret Motive for Targeting…. Sessions

    Exposes ‘real Goal’ of political Left …… COOL!!!!!

    Former Sen. Jeff Sessions recently took office as President Trump’s
    new attorney general.
    A former U.S. Justice Department official says the liberal outrage over Attorney General Jeff Sessions having contact with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 campaign is much ado about nothing & Democrats are doing whatever they can to Thwart the Trump agenda.

    Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2017/03/ex-doj-official-dems-have-secret-motive-for-targeting-sessions/#ZtWi5tdKkLbMj5gQ.99

    • Today TGP reported that Reid also was making noises about Trump being spied on, when in that same Oct. (after the successful FISA warrant was obtained), he started accusing Comey of knowing “explosive” information about Trump and Russia. I remember that, but didn’t remember where it fit in the timeline. SO, not only Clinton but also Reid were being fed classified information about the FISA warrant, which is supposed to be SECRET, not to mention what it was based upon (the so-called spike in communication between Russian banks and an out-of-service server in Trump Tower).

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