By at 10:00 AM Monday, February 28th 2011

 

24-Bit Audio Explained By Sean Beavan

8mm, Antiquiet University

 

Here comes the longest interview intro ever, but this is a special one, addressing a very specific topic, and a bit of context is in order…

Last week, CNN reported that Interscope Records CEO Jimmy Iovine is pushing for the sale of 24-bit audio on iTunes and other online retailers. In a news conference for Hewlett-Packard, Iovine said: “We’ve gone back now at Universal, and we’re changing our pipes to 24-bit. And Apple has been great. We’re working with them and other digital [download] services to change to 24-bit. And some of their electronic devices are going to be changed as well. So we have a long road ahead of us.”

The term 24-bit refers to the “depth” of an audio recording. We can explain this technical dimension somewhat by comparing it to video; most of us have bought at least one HD television after reading a little bit on video resolution. Audio CDs are limited to 16-bit, which you might compare to a basic cable channel coming in at 480p. 24-bit is theoretically audio’s equivalent to the 720p or 1080p video coming from our Blu-Ray players or digital cable services.

However, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, and it might be a little more accurate to compare the depth of an audio signal to the number of different colors each single pixel on a television could be (rather than the total number of them). Audio sample rate (which we’ll get to later) is somewhat equivalent to video frame rate.

Yet for those of you not aware of the so-called “Loudness War” that has been raging since the late 1980s, the music most of us listen to is almost without exception “compressed” to be as loud as God allows, to compete for our attention next to whatever came before on the radio or in our playlist. And when everything- all of the colors so to speak- are so relentlessly saturated to be as bright and loud as possible, the question arises: Are we even using 16 bits’ worth? Why do we need 24?

Our own Tom Davenport, in a recent editorial for Gizmodo entitled “Why 24-bit Audio Will Be Bad For Users,” presented the theory that 24 bit audio is a consumer con, and a format that regular consumers will “never need.” This sparked a debate here at Antiquiet. There was the speculation that Iovine’s idea is simply savvy marketing designed to turn audiophiles into even bigger suckers to sell his possibly overhyped Beats Auio headphones. There was my confidence in my own precious hi-fi system and few 24-bit audio sources (I was ecstatic to read that 24-bit audio could be coming to iTunes). And of course, as always, there was the passion we all share for cutting through bullshit.

So we had a bit of a debate, and finally Saturday night we sat down with the most experienced professional we could blackmail, Sean Beavan of the band 8mm. Over the course of an extremely enviable engineering career spanning two decades, Sean has had a hand in the mix of several favorite albums of yours and ours, including Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, and Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals. Also possibly Chinese Democracy.

The bottom line is that while it may not be appropriate for every consumer, the 24-bit audio format has at least the potential, for those that care, to be the best thing to happen to the art form of recorded music since the CD. I choose these words carefully, because there’s as much subjectivity involved as science, as Sean explains in much depth.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

It absolutely must be understood that 24-bit audio isn’t just about “ripping” the fully mastered recordings we’re all familiar with to a slightly different digital format. Just as the mastering process for vinyl is- and in fact must be- completely different than the mastering process for 16-bit CDs or radio; to bring 24-bit audio to market, it’s nearly guaranteed that the labels will locate the pre-mastered tapes (or Pro Tools sessions or what have you) and remaster them responsibly to take proper advantage of the benefits of the 24-bit format. And you may or may not be surprised to learn that these differences aren’t so subtle. Even a non-audiophile can hear them on a regular consumer stereo system. You may also be surprised to learn that the infrastructure to properly bring what is essentially an entirely new format to market is already in place (more or less) at the labels.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

Through the course of our internal discussions, Tom Davenport clarified that his piece as it was originally submitted to Gizmodo was directed more towards Dr. Dre and his headphones rather than Jimmy Iovine and 24-bit audio. It was in fact originally titled “How Dr. Dre Engineered the 24-bit Con.” As Tom says, “it’s really an observation that the headphone manufacturer [is] pushing this, and that I predict the marketing around 24-bit stores will be conning people who really shouldn’t care.” Which is a very fair suspicion. “For some people and circumstances there’s no doubt 24-bit is appropriate. Of course, [Gizmodo's title change] changed the angle and my attitude somewhat.”

With that said, the more you examine the technical and subjective aspects of the format, the more you may come to see it as the opposite of devious marketing: Quite possibly a huge gamble on Iovine’s part, and actually a miraculous, radical idea to cater to a minority of consumers- specifically the hardcore fans- to give them something that most people are not willing to pay for, and in fact may not even be capable of appreciating the value of at all.

24-bit audio, as even Jimmy Iovine seems to see it, could represent a small revolt against the “Loudness War,” and a refocus on the art. Not a gimmick to wrench a few extra bucks out of our hands, but finally a genuine value-add, and an entirely new reason to pay for music… That is, if the labels don’t fuck it up. After all, while, as Beavan explains, Iovine himself is a qualifiable audiophile, there may very well be pressure from insensitive “bean counters” to cut corners on the 24-bit mastering processes, or even to make the 24-bit audio louder (at the cost of precious dynamics), just as we’ve seen them do with 16-bit CDs.

And on the other hand, as our writer Fernando Scoczynski speculates, it’s not necessarily purely about giving better sound to consumers; Aside from the obvious creation of a new revenue stream, there’s a very convenient cross-promotional opportunity presented by this initiative. Why (really) would Iovine go so far out of his way to cater to such a small minority of consumers? Fernando answers:

It just so happens that Mr. Iovine recently teamed up with Dr. Dre to release a line of high-end audio equipment called Beats Audio, promising greater fidelity than most devices out there today. At the Hewlett-Packard event where the promise of 24-bit was made, they also took the opportunity to announce their upcoming iPad-competitor, the TouchPad, which will feature audio technology provided by (you guessed it) Beats Audio. How convenient is it that both the device and the change to 24-bit were discussed on the same event?

Perhaps this 24-bit initiative only exists because it will help Iovine and Dre sell Beats Audio. Or maybe Beats Audio enables Iovine to bring a new format to market that has previously been unfeasible. Either way, it’s hardly a scam.

Now it wouldn’t hurt if record contracts paid a little more respect to the artists in recording contracts when it comes to new formats. In a revelation that could easily warrant its own headline here at Antiquiet, Beavan reveals that many major label recording contracts let the label hold back a significant portion of an artist’s dues from CDs (while they’re paid 100% of their earnings from vinyl) through an absurd and outdated clause held over from the mid-1980s that essentially defines CDs as an “unproven format,” that may or may not take hold among consumers. Fascinating, shocking even, but I digress.

These two clips just scratch the surface of the extremely in-depth discussion I had with Sean in his studio. Everything summarized above (and much much more) is explained in detail in the full lecture, which we present to responsibly educate the audiophiles, aspiring audiophiles, and those curious enough to spare 45 minutes. And in addition to cutting through the bullshit orbiting this 24-bit audio story, there are some interesting (albeit nerdy) little anecdotes from the early days of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson that will definitely be of interest to at least the more hardcore of fans out there. Either way, we hope you get as much out of it as we have. Enjoy, and sorry for ruining your lunchbreak if you’re heading down the rabbit hole.

Big thanks to Fernando for getting the ball rolling on this story, and for writing hundreds of words that wound up getting no further than my interview notes.

In addition to continuing to produce music for everyone from Guns N’ Roses to Envy On The Coast, Sean and his lovely wife Juliette are very active with their band 8mm. Feel free to browse our ongoing coverage of them, and keep up with them through their official site at 8mmLovesYou.com.

Keep up with Tom Davenport’s opinions on this story and other developments in his world and the audio world in general over at his personal site.

P.S. The debate has spilled onto Reddit, and somewhat responsibly at that.

 
 

Meanwhile, On The Internet...

 
34 comments
  1. Mike Mercer says:

    Now THIS article was even-handed! and I was PSYCHED to see that his comments mirrored my own response to the Gizmodo article (I said that we”re all different, and interpret things differently, and that there should be a choice, and there’s science on either side of this debate).

    He said there’s just as much subjectivity as there is science! BRAVO Antiquiet, you’ve done it again. BRAVO

  2. Joseph Rose says:

    In short, it totally IS marketing. Period.

    Are there a few specific circumstances where 24-bit audio will translate to a “better” sounding record to the end listener? Yes, but they’re extremely few, and I’d bet that the opportunity to make those happen will overwhelmingly be passed on by both the people in charge as well as the consumers.

    One major angle that wasn’t covered in the discussion is the goal of any mix engineer to create a “portable mix”; a mix that will sound good to most people in most situations where the album will likely be listened to. In that studio, like most studios, you’ll see some big fancy awesome sounding monitors and probably a sub. You can fire up your mix in there, and it will sound like god himself was riding the faders. But if I’m not mistaken, right behind your head in that video Skwerl, is a pair on Yamaha NS-10 monitors. There’s a pair in my studio too, and there’s a pair in almost every studio everywhere. And you know what, they kinda sound like ass! And that’s why people have them. They’re very dull sounding, and never do much to help your mix. The idea is that after you have your god mix done on those fancy speakers, you switch it to the NS-10′s to see how much of it falls apart. if it sounds good on those, then you’re close to that portable mix that will work in most real-world listening environments.

    My point is, YES, in the rare case that the recording engineers, labels, etc. all get on the same page to create an album from the very start that uses the full range of 24-bit audio, and then releases it in that format, and sells it to a person with a very very specific method of listening to that audio, it could create a “better” sounding recording. This will happen in less than 1% of all songs that get played, ever, and that is no exaggeration.

    Meanwhile, don’t be surprised when iTunes and everyone else charges a higher price for these files that won’t sound any better in the end.

  3. seasonsinthesky says:

    there will always be people who don’t care about stuff like hi-res audio and the difference between 16 and 24 bit. there are too many people with too varied interests in the world to assume that a large percentage of the public will care about details like this when they’ve got so much invested in doing other things with their lives. it’s hard to give a shit about 24 bit audio when your kid crying in her crib is drowning out your precious Downward Spiral DVD-A anyway, right?

    but i think too many people are caught up in thinking that because the public majority won’t care, it doesn’t matter about the quality of the source we are paying for, and the fact is IT DOES. it ABSOLUTELY matters that what we pay for is either the highest or near the highest quality source so that WE HAVE THE OPTION. not just the niche market buying DVD-A (and now BD) and ripping their vinyls, but EVERYONE. sorry for being so goddamn socialist about it, but this is extremely important.

    we have been given bullshit dressed as quality for way, way too long. the CD spec at 16/44.1 is the bare minimum we need to have decent quality, and the public doesn’t deserve bare minimum. every source – stereo, 5.1, digital, physical – should ALL be absolutely the highest possible quality so that the day someone – ANYONE with access – decides they’d like to try the high quality source on a high quality system, they CAN.

    of course, that means less money in the long run to labels like Universal who thrive on re-marketing to fuel re-purchasing of the same music in multiple formats, which means it’s even less likely that this will ever happen.

    it doesn’t matter if you hear a difference or if you ever will. the fact is, you deserve the option, and so does everyone else. all artists, all releases also deserve to be heard in the highest quality possible (contingent on the quality at which they recorded). the lowest common denominator is not, and has never been, good enough for anyone.

    i’m tired of being sold bullshit. moving to 24 bit is better for everyone. the people suckered into Beats Audio on the promise of 24 bit will, eventually, smarten up and try other products. that part doesn’t matter.

    i just wish it would also be a push for 96k sampling rates (or the highest available resolution). hopefully, that will be the next step, and it won’t take us another 20+ years to get there.

  4. Joseph Rose says:

    In my studio, we generally track sessions at 24-bit 48khz. It’s a full blown Pro Tools HD3 rig, and we have the option to step up to 96k and so on, but all that comes with sacrifices as early on as the tracking stage. When you choose those options for your session, your track count becomes more limited. Since we know the end listener is 99.999% likely going to be a person who won’t benefit from it, it makes sacrificing tracks a silly choice.

    And if the industry is always releasing the music at the current highest quality, they’ll have to push a whole new format every few years when Avid and other companies create gear that can record at even higher quality. Talk about a nightmare for the hipsters!

  5. Forbes Too says:

    This is good news…… but with the vast majority of the world using worse formats than 16/44 ( mp3) and thinking they sound good, who is going to care? We are long overdue for the move to a higher resolution so I am very happy, but confused at who thinks they are going to make money off of this? DVD-A and SACD died because no one cared ( I miss SACD…. The Downward Spiral is ‘effin amazing on SACD) There is such a small percentage of music buyers who will be excited, and a quarter of them will buy it just because they want “the best” and another good chunk of them who will “think” they are hearing better sound. If people think they are going to hear a difference between 16 and 24 bit feeding it thru a 25 cent DAC chip in an iPod they are crazy. Same goes for people playing it thru their onboard soundcard in their PC. If people think they can hear the difference thru a pair of “Dr. Dre” headphones they are downright suckers.
    Digital music reproduction has come leaps and bounds in the last few years, so much that I switched to itunes about two years back. I have an iPod dock that bypasses the crappy DAC and feeds the pure signal to a Bryston DAC. The sound quality is so damn close to vinyl that I think I can tell the difference, but I’m probably just fooling myself. So…. I don’t even know if the swap to 24 bit will make any difference for me, a guy can get 16 bit to sound so damn good. Maybe it would have saved me from buying a $2500 DAC and I could have got away with the $1200 I had lol…..
    I am excited tho, it’s about frickin time digital advanced.

  6. Skwerl says:

    the bottom line for me as a consumer is that i could have the choice to purchase audio in 24-bit which will often sound beautiful through my 24-bit hardware, and be mastered more like vinyl, not limited to high hell, yet without the clicks and pops that i’ve come to accept as the price of sound on my vinyl. i’ve said to myself many times, “wouldn’t it be awesome if the itunes store gave you the option of 24/48?” but knowing that the labels would need to cooperate to make very little revenue if any at all kept me from ever hoping it would come true.
    if i could walk into a cd store and buy my audio in sacd format or dvd-a, i would. but those formats aren’t sustainable enough for the shelf space. if they can be sold online, i’m beyond thrilled. just to have the option. whether i have it so dre can sell headphones is irrelevant to me. whether or not you can hear the difference is irrelevant to me. if all of my favorite albums sounded 2/3rds as good as my 24-bit downward spiral remaster, i’d be in heaven. some may never. but i’ll take any step in that direction as soon as possible. and it’ll be a lot easier than begging, borrowing and/or stealing obscure japanese shn-cds or sacds.

    • Forbes Too says:

      Isn’t that downward spiral remaster amazing? Really makes a guy realize how crappy some albums are sonically. It just ‘effin attacks you…. one can just keep turning it louder and louder it’s so clean….. =^D

      • Rob says:

        Where can I get one of those? What could i need to play it on?

        • Forbes Too says:

          It is available online. Amazon has some in stock and I’m sure others do too. It’s The Downward Spiral deluxe edition hybrid SACD. It will play on standard CD players, but to access the SACD layer for all it’s pristine goodness you need an SACD player. Pioneer makes a decent one for a reasonable price. =^D best route would be to find an old Pioneer Elite DVD player. They play SACD’s and are pretty damn good quality and are going for cheap as no one wants a high end DVD player anymore. It’s all blu-ray…

  7. mel says:

    if the music is worth it, i’ll listen through a tin can and a piece of string. but yeah, skwerl, to be able to have the choice is a good enough argument. there’s gotta a bright-eyed intern at universal pleading to his superiors to go this route, only to be told he’s a fucking waste of time, and that they’re mapping out how to reissue some band’s platinum album.

  8. nezshoo03 says:

    wonder if it would make certain music more powerful to the brain….

    most people have not heard the music in this range of sound right?

  9. Adam LaBarge says:

    If it ain’t done right, isn’t 96khz, it will be worthless. If the loudness war carries over into it – again it will be worthless. Hearing Britney Spires and generally most of the crap put out as pop music today in a higher resolution, will be worthless.

    Where this will work, has been working, is with the smaller independent studios and artist who are willing to make the sacrifices needed to present a high quality recording to the public. If they allow iTunes to sell their music, than lucky for those that use iTunes.

    Unfortunately, the studios willing to do this typically only record classical or jazz. Neither or which is bad IMHO, but it certainly isn’t all the world of music has to offer. And they certainly aren’t popular these days.

    Hopefully more artist will break away from major studios who only have profits in mind, not music, and will release via the growing plethora of options available to them.

  10. tbone57 says:

    I have a decent sound system. Cost about $5K. Nuttin special. One thing for sure, rock recordings, for the most part, suck. The soundstage, seperation and depth of sound is compressed away. Apparently much of rock is mixed to sound okay on a shitty car stereo. SACD is a nice format that has all but died. So, while most folks dont have sound system that allows for them to experience wonderful, subtle sonics, those of us seeking higher and higher fidelity would love just to have the option of 24 bit. My questions would be its cost and popularity.

  11. Jonathan Derda says:

    When SACD and DVDA came out people could hear the difference sure but the need for proprietary expensive hardware and a limited catalog crippled those formats. You also couldn’t play them in your car. What was Sony/Phillips/Toshiba thinking??
    At least with 24 bit downloads you can convert them to something 16bit and portable while using the “studio master” on your big boy system at home. I have listened to 24/96 recording from Ryan Adams, Elton John, 24/48 from the Beatles, 24/192 NIN and I’ll tell you the difference is not subtle. More importantly it’s quality and convenience all wrapped in one. Usually you have to sacrifice one to get the other. Another big plus, the hi res files don’t cost much more than lossy downloads from iTunes! Maybe the music industry has figured out their customers don’t want an inferior product in shoddy packaging while price gouging them and suing anyone who doesn’t comply. Well parts of the music industry anyway, Linn Records, HD Tracks, 2L records, and a few others.

  12. 2hands10fingers says:

    How long will it take before artists can take full of advantage of the depth of 24-bit? I’m really excited about the possibilities of classical pieces and symphonies being recorded with such depth. There could be some very interesting electronic music being taken advantage of, too. The possibility of 24-bit seem incredible, and yet useless to the average listener who likes recordings the way they are now. Very great read.

  13. steve says:

    What a pity the interviewer talked all over Sean.
    Clueless.

  14. botley says:

    This is a great article, but I would contest some of the things stated in the interview. I work as a sound designer, so that means I fall somewhere in between “artist” and “sound engineer”, with a foot in either category. All of my work is done in the 24-bit digital realm, no matter what the end product will be; but I believe the consumer should hear my work the way I did when I created it… likewise, I feel music should be heard the way the artist intended. Going to a consumer digital download format with 24-bit audio depth satisfies that imperative.

    Now, bit depth and sample rate are two different matters. Sample rates above the CD-quality 44.1 kHz are great if you can get them, but when sampling rates start to go above 48 kHz, one starts to lose tangible benefits when listening on standard equipment. Expensive systems can reproduce ultra-high frequencies those sample rates capture, but not everyone has access to those.

    Most of Apple’s iPods will already play lossless 24-bit audio files at sample rates up to 48 kHz, and that probably will be the standard that iTunes’ music store will go to if this upgrade they’re supposedly talking about happens. Is that format worth charging a premium to get? Most definitely, in my opinion; especially because we’re probably talking about getting a LOSSLESS copy, which doesn’t discard frequencies in the 16 kHz+ range, like MP3s and iTunes’ AAC formats do. Those are audible frequencies being discarded, and getting them back with lossless compression (even at 16-bit depth/CD quality) will be a noticeable improvement over most digital downloads out there. Again, lots of portable audio equipment out there isn’t good enough to make the difference transparent, and that’s why MP3s took off so quickly before people started to notice that on semi-decent equipment, they sound awful.

    Now, I’m no CD apologist. CDs can sound great, and I’ve bought a lot of them over the years, but of course there are also a lot of them out there that sound like absolute garbage. I usually don’t care enough about having a physical product to invest in them anymore; I do most of my listening on my computer, or on the go with an iPod because both offer easy access to a vast library. Once I’ve ripped a CD to lossless 16-bit files, it goes back into storage and I’ll probably never look at it again. But it’s important NOT to do that before making sure you didn’t lose anything in the conversion: throwing away your CDs if you didn’t rip them losslessly is the same as taking a piece of those recordings and throwing that away, too.

    Even on heavily limited CDs — audiophiles will throw around words to describe them like “squashed”, “brickwalled”, “loudness war casualty”, etc. — there is something missing if you don’t keep it lossless. It may be hard to tell the difference between a decent MP3 and the 16-bit source, but it’s there. Going to a 24-bit master — even a limited one — is a step up yet again. Arguing otherwise, throwing your hands in the air, and raging at the evil labels for subjecting loudness war ripoffs on an unsuspecting public is futile, once you hear the difference between 24-bit and 16-bit audio even on limited recordings.

    NIN’s 24-bit remaster of “The Downward Spiral”, which everyone is creaming their jeans over, is pretty heavily limited. There’s not much dynamic range during the bulk of the album. It’s not even true 24-bit word depth: I tried opening the MLP stereo files from the reissued DVD-Audio layer in Adobe Audition, and the Statistics tool reported a bit depth of 20. Not 24, just 20… so yeah, it’s all pretty subjective, and you can swear up and down that something sounds WORLDS BETTER when in fact it’s not as great a difference as you might think. Nevertheless, it’s still an appreciable difference.

    How can that be? Well, compressing the dynamics is still an operation that requires bit depth. Just because you’re limiting the waveform peak doesn’t mean that bit depth is lost. When Skwerl asked him about this, Beavan went on a long tangent about recordings being tracked too loud, which is a separate issue entirely. We’re talking about what happens to the mix, AFTER recording is done. I do mixes at 24-bit, and still use a bit of peak limiting on the bus when I want it to sound more aggressive. If the artist wants it that way, it should be kept that way. End of discussion.

    “Mastered more like vinyl” is not always something you want. Vinyl has to be compressed, too. It has to have a limited stereo field width. It has to have bass frequencies rolled off and squeezed. It has to be split into 20-minute chunks. If there was digital peak limiting in the source signal chain, it either has to entirely remixed or else compressed EVEN MORE to capture the signal. Digital audio has none of those problems. Vinyl had its day, but we can do a lot better in 2011.

    On this discussion thread, ForbesToo said: “If people think they are going to hear a difference between 16 and 24 bit feeding it thru a 25 cent DAC chip in an iPod they are crazy. Same goes for people playing it thru their onboard soundcard in their PC. If people think they can hear the difference thru a pair of ‘Dr. Dre’ headphones they are downright suckers.” Well, regardless of what else we may think of them, those products are all actually designed for 24-bit audio reproduction. They aren’t the greatest-sounding devices out there, sure, but they can and will produce noticeably increased fidelity if the source file is 24-bit. With halfway decent headphones, 24-bit lossless files on my iPod touch beat the same songs encoded at 16-bit lossless; it can be like night and day. Granted, that device only supports 48 kHz sampling rates, or lower. But for mobile listening in noisy environments, that’s fine.

    Adam LaBarge said of the potential upgrade: “If it ain’t done right, isn’t 96khz, it will be worthless. If the loudness war carries over into it – again it will be worthless.” That’s just not true. Standard sampling rates are perfectly fine, and going to 24-bit audio depth produces better results even when the peaks are limited. “Downward Spiral” is a perfect example, and there are plenty of others. Plus there are record companies out there that AREN’T just jazz or classical-orientated starting to realize this. If iTunes starts selling 24-bit audio — more labels are going to want in on it. And that can only be a good thing.

    • Skwerl says:

      thanks for the thoroughly thought out response.
      as i read the back and forth, i feel like the sort of bottom line for me gets lost in all the tangential sub-arguments. as was brought up many times in the interview, there’s a lot of subjectivity. but i feel like the jump from 256kbps+ mp3s (encoded properly, lame, or even aac files at that bitrate) to the 16/44 cd is not a very large jump at all. it’s very hard to notice, and i’d be surprised if more than 2 out of 10 people could prove me wrong in a blind test. however, the jump from 16/44 to 24/48 or even 24/44 is definitely noticeable, even without super high end equipment. from there, the jump to 24/96 i believe is extremely hard to detect.
      i would love the option to buy 24/48 on itunes. 24/96 i could live without. and either way, to me this all represents an opportunity for the major labels / apple / etc to give us something the torrent sites cannot. and it’s another nail in the coffin for traditional record stores, for better or worse, which brings us back around to joe rogan’s tweet that brought you and some others into this thread. we don’t need horses because we have cars. with the convenience of buying online and now (potentially more universally) the sound quality.

    • Forbes Too says:

      I liked your reply :-) Just curious where you feel SACD fits into all of this. It seems that when “the Downward Spiral” re-issue is discussed, people are talking about the DVD-A version. I have both DVD-A and SACD and find SACD to be far superior. While DVD-A was really clean and bright, SACD brought the warmth and depth similar to vinyl. Unfortunately I don’t have the same album in both formats.
      I assume my love for SACD came from it’s quite different DSD format which uses a 1-bit 2.8Mhz signal.

  15. Botley is, as usual, right on the money, you’re not giving him enough credit for that. He’s allowed to discuss tangents, because he’s part of the conversation, not the guy making the assertion.

    Speaking of tangents…

    Since you want to bring up the twitter argument again, I’m going to repeat the nail I drove into its coffin (at least still waiting on a response from the drunken intern/interns who called me a liar for noticing a difference between CDs and MP3s, thinks “come on” is a reasoned rational argument and finds CD compression unbearable but loves MP3s).
    Hi-Def downloads aren’t available in all markets and even in America the selection is limited. As long as iTunes has 90% of the online music sales market and maintains its merely acceptable standard of 256kbps, the digital music revolution will be failing artists and engineers, and conceding to the uninitiated rabble and one huge corporate distributor with one hand on your wallet and the other on your throat. In fact, I think they chose 256kbps as the standard simply so they can market an iPod as being able to hold 10,000 songs or some other monolithic number of songs which no-one has time to listen to on their way to work anyway.

    This is all moot because iTunes is about to raise its standards, but MP3 apologists are proclaiming victory while the battle is still going on. I believe that digital formats are the future, but the MP3 or 256kbps M4A will not be the format to prove that.
    This is part of a disturbing trend of music pundits ignoring plain facts and damning statistics that tell us 95% of all media on iTunes goes unsold, that in some areas physical music sales are actually increasing (CD singles), that even the huge hitmakers of today don’t move half the amount of product that their peers did in the 90′s and indeed, as some suggest, that less new music from independent artists is reaching the general public that ever before.
    This is similar to the way people thought Myspace and youtube were going to produce monumental stars with frightening regularity, chosen by the people for the people, and yet the most astounding success story in independent digital music sales is Soulja Boy, who managed to sell around 500,000 units without a record deal. Proclaiming the total and complete victory of online media in its current state is just as out of touch with reality as the record executives still flogging physical media. I suggest a more tentative attitude.

    • Skwerl says:

      you assume a lot sir, and taking twitter arguments into a format like this are fine, except for the fact that it’s unfair to call anyone out on the brevity of their arguments there. let me elaborate now that i have the space to. (to be clear, i’m the “drunken intern” that built this site / conducted this interview / took the bait on twitter.)
      i never said i find cd compression unbearable, nor did i say that i love mp3s. all i ever said (and i reiterated in more detail here) is that the jump from 256kbps mp3/aac to cd is negligible. unlike the jump from 16 to 24, you’ll need the equipment and the ear for it, and i’m personally skeptical of the fact that you can hear it even then. i’d love to see you pass some blind tests done between 256kbps aac and its cd source.
      i love my 24-bit system and sources. with all my heart. but getting snippy at the miniscule difference between 256kbps lossy and 16/44 lossless just seems silly to me. this isn’t classical music we’re talking about here, i assume.
      however, your theory that itunes chose 256kbps to market the fact that you can fit more songs on an ipod is absolutely ludicrous. 256kbps lossy is, for all intents and purposes, cd quality. i know you’ve got all kinds of science that disagrees with that. but for reasonable people, that’s more than enough in the vast majority of cases.
      with that said, most of this is beside the original point; this whole thing started because we retweeted joe rogan saying something to the effect of “record stores are like horses. we don’t need them because we have cars now.” to which you replied “not if you care about bit rate.”
      we called bullshit on that because it’s insane to think that it’s somehow easier to get better options in a store than online. you said that you can’t buy lossless formats online in canada where you are due to copyright laws. that’s unfortunate and perhaps a story to focus on another day. but let’s be real here. it’s still much easier to acquire lossless audio online than getting in your car and driving down to a store. perhaps it has to be done illegally, but we have the more efficient mode of delivery.
      now if you said “not if you care about bit rate, live in canada, and wish to support the artists financially,” that would be a more sound argument. and if that’s the case, i totally understand that all of that wouldn’t have fit into the tweet.

  16. botley says:

    I think SACD works best when the source is analogue, and I’m not sure of the signal path used on The Downward Spiral deluxe edition SACD. It sounds pretty good, but that might just be the same 24-bit PCM files from the DVD-Audio layer converted to DSD. If that’s the case, then having a lossless copy of the PCM files (identical to the master) will probably sound better.

  17. That was you? Your arguments was so inconsistent I could have sworn you guys were working in shifts.
    There’s obviously a double standard here as you’re allowed to use childish tactics, throw up smoke screens about my ability to pass a blind test, and swear at me, but can’t take a joke.
    Again you’re arguing for the easier, and the lowest common denominator, and for hi-def at the same time. You know what else the general public doesn’t notice? CD compression, which was your argument for MP3s because “it’s all compressed to hell anyway”. Just go bury your head in the sand and give up.
    What’s easier doesn’t matter, it’s *easier* to sit at home and jack off than go and try to get a date, is it better? No.
    Obviously I’m limited by the country that I’m in and if there’s some misunderstanding about that, I’m sorry, but I’m limited by twitter too, and had you not immediately resorted to name calling and juvenile histrionics, maybe we could have discussed this like grown ups, but that was your call. Your paraphrasing of my argument is exactly what I did say over the course of the argument, and you can check that.
    My ability to pass or fail a blind test is, again a smoke screen, this is about consumers and artists being able to have at least the *option* of something better, which Apple could do with the flick of a wrist.
    Sure, I agree that 256kbps lossless (not MP3 as you repeatedly said on twitter) would be pretty tough to pass a blind test, but just because *you* don’t care about it is no argument for mediocrity.
    You’ve chosen not to address any of the statistics or indeed any part of the expanded version of my argument, which is telling, and keep going back to Joe Rogan as though repeating it makes it true. Rogan’s metaphor works both ways, sure nobody *needs* horses, but the Kentucky derby still happens every year, and people who own horses are connoisseurs. Just like nobody *needs* bricks a mortar stores, but as long as there’s people without the internet, old people/vinyl nuts, and people not interested in having their taste dictated to them by Steve Jobs and music blogger, stores will have a place. Like Botley said, they shouldn’t be in competition. Rogan’s comment and your attitude is needlessly divisive, and trivializes a complicated scientific issue, and it should not be decided in the court of public opinion.

    • Skwerl says:

      whoa dude, grow up. you offered to suck my dick if i could prove you wrong on some detail (you deleted the tweet and i forget what it was exactly) and then you said we didn’t need to be vulgar? cuckoo.
      and wait, since when is any of this a joke that i can’t take? what part are you joking about? clear that up please. no, nevermind, don’t.
      you completely misunderstand what i’m saying.
      i’m not throwing up any smoke screens here. i’m saying (and pay attention, because i’m stating my position very clearly for one final time) that the difference between 256k and cd is tiny, while the difference between 16 and 24 is huge. i’m saying that better options exist online than in a store, no matter where you live.
      in lieu of approaching every minute detail of your argument, i’ll tell you what i’ll do: i’ll conduct an hour long interview exclusively devoted to high end audio with a professional sound engineer who knows his shit way better than you and me put together.
      if after all that, you don’t at least get my position… what do you expect from me? beyond that, i’m down to cheap name calling. that’s all i’m going to give you.
      speaking of which…
      in most cases, staying home and jacking off is way better than going out and trying to score. but you wouldn’t know that, you weird virgin. see how many chicks will listen to you run your mouth about the frequencies missing from your 256kbps mp3 file. mine just walked away disgusted that i was even bothering to respond to your rant.
      and to untangle this whole inconsistent paradox you’re struggling with… i say the jump to 24-bit is worth being that pathetic. 256k to lossless? not so much.
      also, suck my dick.
      no, that’s a joke. hope you can take it.

  18. I deleted that tweet because I had mistakenly thought you had insisted that 24bit audio was unavailable and didn’t work on ITunes, that’s what I thought you were accusing me of lying about. The tweet was “I’ll send you a 24 bit lossless file and if it doesn’t work for you, I’ll go down on you” (quoting a famous Orson recording session) and I only said it because you seemed to be saying something so patently and obviously untrue it was beneath contempt, I retracted it because I did finally figure out what what you were accusing me of lying about. I was also quite upset that you were calling me a liar, and made it very difficult to take the high road. The point still stands that you opened this conversation by calling me a liar and started all the swearing, name calling and personal attacks, lowering the level of this debate, which is academic and scientific in nature.

    Once again, you’re not addressing my argument, facts or statistics and just making personal attacks. I’m sorry about the intern line, but I was legitimately shocked the same person who wrote this mostly great article wasn’t maintaining the same standards on twitter. I understand that *you think* the difference between 256kbps and CDs is negligible. I have understood that clearly from the word go. I am merely stating that your *opinion* is not as valuable as scientific research or peer reviewed data, which you have chosen to ignore.

    I really look forward to your next article, just be sure to check your facts before hand so Botley doesn’t have to do it for you.

    And to respond to your speculation about my sex life, I lost my virginity at 15 to a girl who until she met me was a lesbian within 2 hours of meeting her, and since maintained a healthy sex life. I’ve actually been talking about this issue with 2 lovely women, and they totally get it and pay attention to me when I talk about it, but it could be just because I’m that good looking.

    Great joke, and thanks for all the publicity!

  19. jesus says:

    As a consumer when we pay 10-20 for an album are we actually paying for the music itself? if we are why do we get such limited quality, selling an mp3 means that your cutting out frequencies and giving people the bare minimum of the sound, so why should we be charged more for the full product? we should already be getting this standard. anyone who says there isn’t a difference probably hasn’t heard it through a high-quality sound system. 20 headphones will make all tracks regardless of quality sound alike. This quality music is the difference between seeing a painting with chunks missing through a foggy window, and being right there in person looking at a complete visual entirety

  20. sandglass says:

    24bit is probably a very big step closer to the original, which recorded, stored and transmitted and at the end of the chain beeing transformed to accoustic waves again.
    Dynamics and quantization resolution share the same room in every sample and 16bit leaves only little headrom for dynamic if the original should be kept at least somehow sounding like the original.
    Audiobandwith is another point and important too.
    With 44.1Khz samplefrequency the true bandwith ends at about 11KHz. At higher frequencies, important for brass percussion i.e., the CD format can not resolve different signal forms anymore this happens definetly at above 14.7Khz, the very point of truth of the CD format.At least above 11KHz this is done only very badly.
    The complete human audio bandwith should be kept for reproducing audio close to the original.
    According to Shannon Nyquist there has to be some harmonic spectrum to reproduce a signal in any way, above 14.7Khz there is no harmonic spectrum left anyway, only the base frequency of the signal respectivly wave if sampled with 44.1KHz.
    It would be really great to do both steps at the same time, step to 24Bit and to 96Khz.
    At least this has been a standard for years, the dts stereo format of DVDs enables DVDs to store audio at this detail level.
    Why not do this with online formats like mp3 or flac?

    • mjb says:

      Wow. Every statement you’ve made here is false.

      Any problems you are having with 11 kHz and up are attributable to bad recordings or to playback problems on your end (e.g. a malfunctioning DAC, misconfigured soundcard, damaged amp/speakers/headphones).

      If you read the sampling theorem that Nyquist & Shannon (they’re two different people) contributed to, you would know that ANY and ALL waveforms can be perfectly represented by and reconstructed from a set of samples, so long as the waveform only contains frequencies below one-half the sample rate. In practice, limitations of hardware do result in very very very tiny deviations from input to output, but they’ve been well below the threshold of hearing since before digital audio was commercially viable. What’s more, it may seem counterintuitive, but at a 44.1 kHz sample rate, a 16 kHz waveform is not captured with any less precision than a 160 Hz one! Yes, there aren’t as many “dots on the graph”, but they’re interpreted in a way that results in the 100% correct output. And yes, there is a practical limit to the bandwidth, but it’s all the way up around 95% of the Nyquist frequency; it’s where the lowpass filtering begins in order to avoid aliasing. So the “true bandwidth” at 44.1 kHz is ~21 kHz instead of 22.05 kHz. Higher sample rates only extend the high end even further into ultrasonic territory, and they simplify the filter design. If you are an adult, you can’t hear above 20 kHz, probably not even above 18 kHz if you’re lucky.

  21. mjb says:

    I haven’t watched the 40-minute video, but in the first preview clip, Sean makes several dubious statements in quick succession. He says bit depth affects frequencies. It really doesn’t. He says 24-bit’s however-many million volume levels is “a big difference” to 16-bit’s ~65K levels. In terms of audibility, it’s not. You’re lucky if you can detect differences under 0.5 dB, and at 16-bit, each of those ~65K levels is about 1/4000th of a dB, and at 24-bit it’s nearly 30 times smaller. Increasing bit depth only extends how quiet the quietest sounds can be. He says approaching the dB limits of human hearing is ideal. If you listen to the quietest sound you can hear, and then you listen to something 100 dB above that, you will find that it’s physically painful; you may think you like it loud, but the loudest sustained volume you can tolerate in music is most likely within about 70 or 80 dB of background noise (brief crescendos in orchestral works notwithstanding). He also says ultrasonic content affects how we perceive the audible band. This folklore has an air of plausibility but is completely rejected by scientific experiments. It is simply not true.

  22. Harry Nyquist says:

    As Mr. Beavan explained very well, the big problem with Redbook is noise. Not the noise floor of Redbook, but the actual noise already present in the original recording, prior to Redbook conversion.

    The Nyquist theorem doesn’t say anything about bit-depth. The sampled values it describes are Real numbers, not integer numbers nor floating point numbers but infinite precision ones. It does not in any way take into account the quantization errors caused by limited bit-depth. As a matter of fact, it does not take into account interpolation errors caused by limited samplerate either. Instead, it describes infinite duration signals, not using a short time window like Blackman Harris or anything. Add to that the fact a steep brickwall filter uses band analysis, which never is accurate in the top end of the spectrum no matter how advanced your algorithms are. A noise filter can’t even distinguish between high frequency noise above 20 kHz and harmonics above 20 kHz almost at all, yet some people are still trying to suggest it’s absolutely perfect just as long as everything stays below 22.05 kHz. Hang on to your $9.99 earbuds and go on wikipedia to study some highschool maths if you don’t know what infinity means and what real numbers are!

  23. [...] high res music is still relatively poor. I'm certainly concerned where Apple sits in this domain. 24-Bit Audio Explained By Sean Beavan @ Antiquiet Each time someone buys an mp3 from Apple, the artists who make the music only earn a few cents and [...]

  24. [...] for quite awhile now. They were one of our earliest interviews, and a talk I had with Sean about 24-bit audio for Antiquiet University is certainly our longest. Also, they headlined our Valentine’s Day party in LA in 2009, which [...]

  25. [...] http://www.antiquiet.com/exclusive/aqu/2011/02/24-bit-audio-explained-by-sean-beavan/ Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Posted in bronnen. Leave a Comment » [...]

  26. Jdam says:

    It’s not just a matter of sound quality. These files are 3.5 to 5 times their original size. Portable devices are only increasing a few gigabits per year. No one is going to throw away their entire music collection to have one or two 24bit 96kHz albums on their devices. If there is not a sudden increase in the player capacities, say 700Gb to 1Tb at least, then this idea will be dead before it hits the shelves. Better quality audio is great, but not at that kind of sacrifice.
    Someone higher up on the list had a good point as well. Is there really that much more fidelity to capture when listening to Rob Zombie, Britney Spears or Madonna??? Classical, fair argument. Jazz, maybe. General public beat box stuff, no way.

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