"Streaming is the worst audio in history"

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  • #12343
    Andy Brown
    Participant

    According to Neil Young.

    “AM radio kicked streaming’s ass. Analog cassettes and 8 tracks also kicked streaming’s ass, and absolutely rocked compared to streaming,” Young wrote. “Streaming sucks. Streaming is the worst audio in history. If you want it, you got it. It’s here to stay. Your choice.” Young adds that he doesn’t care if fans “copy” his songs for free as long as it’s with the sound quality that he intended. “All my music, my life’s work, is what I am preserving the way I want it to be,” Young wrote. “It’s already started. My music is being removed from all streaming services. It’s not good enough to sell or rent.”

    http://tinyurl.com/ofktxy8

    His point contains some validity. Of course, it should read “streaming services” and not streaming, since like any other form of media distribution the devil is always in the details. For example, not all AM stations are/were (in the heyday period) engineered equally. Not all 8 track tapes were mass produced equally. Lumping everything in a specific delivery system into one group is short sighted. Every medium has its weaknesses.

    Is it really the mechanism of streaming that is at fault? I don’t think so. It’s the greed factor (more on that later). The knowledge of digital compression is (as King Crimson wrote in “Epitaph”) “a deadly friend when no one sets the rules.”

    I applaud Neil for taking a stand. Unfortunately we live in a world where fidelity of reproduced (recorded) music is no longer considered important by a large percentage of consumers. Loudness trumps accuracy. BPM trumps dynamics. Sad but true.

    Ah yes, the greed. Bandwidth is not free. The more you compress, the more data can be streamed within a given bandwidth. That means the more users can be served and the more options can be provided. That is why streaming sucks. There is no one to step in and tell corporate providers they can’t squeeze the crap out of a decent piece of music just like you can’t tell Top 40/CHR programmers to quit speeding up the music.

    Maybe there should be.

    #12344
    Alfredo_T
    Participant

    Forgive the unscientific quality of the following observation. I have run across a number of people who go out of their way to avoid listening to AM radio stations. Some of these people have even told me that they do not like the sound quality of that medium. However, these same people have no problems watching YouTube videos or listening to Pandora. These people obviously think that the streaming services are vastly preferable to AM broadcast radio.

    I think that Neil Young is upset about the rampant music piracy that is taking place online, and he might also feel that he is losing out on the royalty income that he was able to make in the era before recorded music was available on the Internet.

    #12345
    jr_tech
    Participant

    So, How is Neil’s Pono Player selling?

    ” The Pono player was created by music legend Neil Young. The reason Pono was created was to allow the music lover to hear high resolution music the way the artists recorded it and ultimately intended songs to be heard. ”

    http://www.amazon.com/PonoMusic-Portable-Music-Player-Yellow/dp/B00WBS32K4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1437002633&sr=8-2&keywords=pono+music+player

    Pono Music:
    https://www.ponomusic.com/

    #12352
    Amus
    Participant

    “Streaming is the worst audio in history”

    I think Mr. Young may be exaggerating a bit.

    #12353
    duxrule
    Participant

    How could Neil Young be that old, and never have heard any “tunes” by Mrs. Miller?

    #12355
    MarkAndrews
    Participant

    Well, Neil Young, an artist I admire, can have his opinion… Personally, I think age is taking a toll on his hearing. I stream 5 or 6 different stations through the TuneIn app in my Jeep, and I’ve found the sound quality nothing short of incredible. My Jeep stock sound system is an amazing surprise! Great Big Radio, WSM, and even an occasional dose of Portland Radio Project are my favorites. Beats the hell out of the quality I’ve heard out of SiriusXM…

    (Kudos, dux, on the reference to Mrs. Miller…that’s definitely LOL!)

    #12356
    Amus
    Participant

    Personally, I think age is taking a toll on his hearing.

    #12357
    missing_kskd
    Participant

    He is likely to have good discrimination under 10khz, and maybe had great in his youth. In tracking my own losses over time, bandwidth is going down, but overall discrimination isn’t, but dynamic range is.

    This makes the extremes silly for most people, but young people might pay up, and may jeep paying, so I don’t blame him for trying to raise value this way.

    I find youtube a great experiment. People who really do care actually do put very good quality audio up there. The coarse metrics one can gather suggest there is a niche of people who do value production values enough to get audio quality sufficient to appreciate them.

    The solidifying vinyl niche is suggestive too.

    Neil, rather than slam streaming, should incorporate it into his quality audio strategy. I think it might pay pet user like Apple often gets per user. Add lots of value and ask for it, ignoring the masses and go for a nice margin. Seriously, there is likely a nice business there for somebody.

    I had put another post here which didn’t seem to take.

    When comparing typical code use in the wild and AM radio, one can totally hear the vocal and many instrument artifacts present under 6khz. They are there and there are people, I being one, who will trade some noise for accuracy, or a specific sound. Both AM and vinyl have their appeal fo those reasons. I can listen right through it, and the good stuff is there for me.

    Back in the day, Neil probably has AM experiences much improved over what we hear today, and his comment in context makes some sense, though it won’t for a lot of the audience he seeks.

    My Mac and Samsung phone have awesome audio out. A really great source matters and is reproduced well. My Lenovo and old motor Droid suck.

    When I compare my Ford and Kia it is similar. The Ford is accurate and it has few resonance and notch or peak problems in its overall profile. The AM radio is capable too. Notable.

    The Kia is less good though not as bad as some cars are. It’s AM is unusable.

    Good streams and good audio in general can matter, but I fear the majority of people don’t listen on something capable of reproducing that value.

    Neil could expand on his quality gig and carve out a notch with good hardware and reviews or certs for comparable devices.

    Could be a nice business there, but it does need to be presented in a more consistent, realistic way.

    #12358
    missing_kskd
    Participant

    I made the discrimination comments I did, because I have seen people who are used to hearing things remain quite capable even with losses.

    If we develop this in our youth, we keep the benefit of it throughout. I suspect he has a diadetic aural memory. I also suspect many of us do too, and if not, we are more discriminatory than most.

    I know my aural memory is good, and it is that which makes artifacts notable. For me, it is mostly on vocals. I recall them with very good precision, and on tunes I care about can often identify them on a quarter second of audio.

    (Some friends and I would play the snippet game to extremes when we were young)

    For these reasons, I will lend him some credence. Quality may be worth paying for, and it takes this kind of advocacy to find out.

    I find really great audio memorable now. I’m just not around it much. Sure would like to improve on that.

    Go Neil!

    #12359
    missing_kskd
    Participant

    Oh there is one other thing in play here and that is psychoacoustic compression may demonstrate extra artifacts for people with losses.

    The assumptions made may simply not be aligned with what the ear does and in that case raw or analog may actually deliver a superior experience.

    Neil may well be such a case, and given the loud crap so many are flogging there ears with, could be joined by large numbers soon.

    #12360
    Chris_Taylor
    Participant

    I’ve noticed as I’ve aged, I have issues with some frequencies more than others. Then again, I have rock and roll ears.

    My years in radio and the voice over industry wearing headphones, being a club and mobile DJ, playing in many different bands who played at many different db levels, plus, a touch of tinnitus – my ears are not what they used to be.

    I’ve never been overly discriminating when it came to sound quality. For me it either sounds good or not. It really wasn’t until I recorded my own album did I truly recognize the talent and importance of my sound engineer. So glad his ears understood the nuances of sound quality.

    #12361
    Andy Brown
    Participant

    Interesting comments.

    Here’s some additional thoughts.

    Musicians love overtones (harmonics). Without getting too technical, one of the big problems in digital to analog conversion is called aliasing. In digital sampling and recording, aliasing is digital distortion that occurs when the frequency being sampled is higher than one-half the sample rate (called the Nyquist Frequency). Essentially, when a frequency exceeds the Nyquist Frequency, it is “folded over” and becomes an audible component of the signal. Most digital recorders have filters, etc., to prevent aliasing from occurring. In samplers, aliasing also becomes apparent when a sample has been “stretched” too far in pitch (another reason why I claim radio programmers that pitch up don’t have a clue what they are doing, but that’s another thread). To combat aliasing, often, very steep low pass filters are implemented (aka brick wall filters). Unfortunately, the medicine has side effects on the unfiltered audio such as phase shift and non linearity near the cutoff point. It’s a lose lose situation. There is no replacement for quality D/A converters but much of today’s big company streaming can afford high end gear, so what is the problem?

    The problem is two fold. The listening equipment/environment and the listener. The second part is subjective and contains personal opinions on what sounds “good” or “bad.” The first part is more straightforward.

    For example, using previously mentioned examples:

    Youtube Sure the encoding and decoding is critical, but if you listen on a decent sound system instead of the tiny speakers in your computer the final output clearly will be different. What I’m getting at is its the entire chain of equipment and technique that matters.

    Listening in the car The car or truck or SUV or any mobile listening environment is not a good choice for evaluating actual musical fidelity unless you are limiting comparisons to other sources in the same listening setup. Cars are like headphones. If it wasn’t for partials and the human brains ability to hear stuff that really isn’t there, everything coming through the car system would sound like crap. Not to mention the ambient noise.

    Cross medium comparison(s) Like I said in my OP, every medium has its weaknesses. Some are errors of commission and some are errors of omission. Either way, and getting to my initial point above, Neil Young grew up in a world of tube type guitar amps and vinyl. Now what do these two components have in common? Rich reliance on overtones, creating “warmth” and a strong presence (4 to 6 kHz.). Not only that, but an inaccurate high end and in vinyl’s case poor low end separation. On the other hand, what does D/A conversion, streaming, and digital compression all have in common? Too much brilliance (6 to 20 kHz.), low end anomalies due to the overall challenges of digital noise and the limitations of filters, and a brittleness that lends itself to artificiality. The truth in reproduction systems is not always pretty and in the case of modern day music which is created by machines in many cases and not real instruments, the product put out by the music industry is really the biggest flaw in the chain. However that does not overcome additional destruction by a pipeline to the consumer that is perilous.

    Not to expand the field of discussion even further, there is a big difference in digital media from the early years of 16 bit sampling with no normalization and 2nd generation digital media with 20 and 24 bit sampling and normalization and the current wave of recording technology with oversampling and 64 bit (or higher) based processing. However, no matter how good a facsimile of the original you can make, it is still just a facsimile. Live music is the best comparison, and even then you have the challenges of the acoustic environment and the subjective ears of various listeners to deal with.

    Neil is old (like most of us) and he is having a large problem with new technology. I don’t know how his Pono player is impacting any of this, but after all, we already had uncompressed digital audio (PCM and its variants like wav and aif) so I don’t see Pono being a game changer. I don’t know about you, but I have CD’s that are way better than other CD’s I own (when listened to on the same system be it my best stuff or in the car or otherwise). In the end it’s good if YOU like it.

    We still listen in analog, so one can not hope for perfection if we convert to digital for storage and transmission and then covert back to consume. There are too many knobs in-between the ends and not everyone involved is really qualified to be turning those knobs. All the more reason the people running the commercial recording industry and broadcast commercial radio today need to be prompted to quit cutting corners to make a buck. They are the principal reason why music sales, you know, actual dollars spent on the output of artists today is in and has been in a huge nosedive.

    #12362
    Amus
    Participant

    This is a bit of a sidebar, but I read the article below a few months back on “analogue warmth” (it’s from a British publication). I thought it was pretty interesting.

    Keep in mind when reading that the Brits call tubes “valves”.

    http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/feb10/articles/analoguewarmth.htm

    #12363
    missing_kskd
    Participant

    Yeah, Andy. Right on on all counts.

    Just the other day, I was watching a program on TV. I think it was “Supernatural” and it had an absolutely beautiful transition with great 70’s era sound, and it’s warmth largely present, mixed with the modern sounds produced as part of the peogram.

    Was gorgeous! The two stood out just perfectly, and the engineer clearly knew what they were doing. Both eras filled the room, not unlike one experiences when a good sound production, or live is close and amidst the normal, everyday sounds people tend to make.

    I listened to it a couple of times, then went to get that same audio to compare.

    The from vinyl track I found on some torrent just nailed it. Very close to what was present in the program. A CD release didn’t.

    I believe there is a lot of merit to what Andy put here as far as the chain goes. And Neil may well be struggling in those ways.

    I suspect the Sonos is overkill. Even on my modest system the differences really stand out. I’ll have to do it again with headphones one day.

    One could argue the subtleties inherent in a real system with tubes, etc… and maybe there is merit to that. What I heard was damn fine, and it was all about the engineering to get those 70’s era sounds into a digital space properly.

    Given a sufficient bitrate, the impact of that would sell to those who crave it, and it does not need to be extreme to be felt, just competent, IMHO.

    #12364
    missing_kskd
    Participant

    What I find most distinctive about live is how the products of phase and the environment play out in robust ways. Locating sounds, the small changes that happen when one moves or turns the head, or people occlude the source in some way.

    It’s real, and when that gets reproduced, it’s not so real. But, it have an unreal sound one can crave anyway. Vinyl is an example, as are the different production methods and values.

    Maybe there is another path there for Neil. I sure would enjoy more attention to accuracy in the expectations from various eras, even when those aren’t technically superior.

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