The impending release of Neil Young’s ‘Pono’ raises many questions, both for serious consumers of music, and particularly for those of us who produce music. The veteran rocker‘s new service is slated for release this summer and it promises to offer extremely high quality 192kHz/24 bit digital audio. Compare this to CD quality sound (44.1kHz/16bit), and you’ll have some kind of an idea of the level of fidelity we’re talking about.
Just how high does the quality of our digital audio need to be? For DJs, how important is it that the tracks you play out in clubs are of the highest quality? For producers, is it important that the creations you have slaved over for hours in the studio arrive pristine through the listener’s headphones?
The debate still rages about just how high the quality of the audio should be that you play in clubs. The general consensus seems to be that mp3s of 320kbps are fine through club speaker systems, but there are those who say that even these high quality mp3s just don’t cut it through a big system. In an interview for Beatport last year such luminaries as Sander Van Doorn, Loco Dice and Andrew Weatherall all extolled the virtues of DJing using lossless formats such as AIFFs and WAVs. It’s probably worth pointing out that this was in an article that advertised Beatport’s special offers on lossless files, so the recorded views perhaps shouldn’t be that surprising. However, Loco Dice still went on record as saying: “I play lossless files because the format contains uncompressed audio, gives me the maximum audio quality, and doesn’t fail when I combine digital files and vinyl records.” Meanwhile Weatherall states that when he walks into a club, he knows “immediately if a DJ is using Serato and playing MP3s, because to my ears the sound is a little bit harsh in the upper-midrange area. The DJ tries to compensate. You get to the mixer and all the EQs are up—they’re trying to put back in the frequencies that have been taken out—and it never works. And the sound engineer is scratching his head, saying, ‘Oh, the soundsystem doesn’t usually sound like this.”
Many DJs do still swear that it is near on impossible to hear the difference between a 320kbps mp3 and a WAV, but the fact remains that mp3 conversion does leave artefacts as this excellent video by Kendal Osborne demonstrates: