24/192 Music Downloads are Very Silly Indeed xiph.org

Bit of followup regarding the LG G2’s ostensibly ultra-high-quality audio stack from earlier this month. I linked to this article from Christopher Montgomery, creator of the Ogg Vorbis format, in 2012:

Articles last month revealed that musician Neil Young and Apple’s Steve Jobs discussed offering digital music downloads of ‘uncompromised studio quality’. Much of the press and user commentary was particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of uncompressed 24 bit 192kHz downloads. 24/192 featured prominently in my own conversations with Mr. Young’s group several months ago.

Unfortunately, there is no point to distributing music in 24-bit/192kHz format. Its playback fidelity is slightly inferior to 16/44.1 or 16/48, and it takes up 6 times the space.

Here’s a test you can do to see if you have golden ears:

  1. Get a friend who knows what they’re doing.
  2. Ask them to burn you a CD of twenty copies of the same song; roughly half of these should be lossless, while the other tracks should be high-quality MP3s (LAME’s V0 setting is adequate).
  3. Play back the CD on whatever audiophile bullshit stereo equipment you can find, and try to guess which tracks are MP3 and which are lossless.

I have decent ears. I can barely tell the difference between high-quality MP3s and lossless files, and that’s only after knowing what to listen for. As Montgomery explains (with science), you almost certainly can’t tell the difference between 16/44.1 and 24/192 fidelity.

Before you write an angry letter to me regarding my praise of the “audiophile edition” mastering option for Nine Inch Nails’ new record, note that there’s a big difference between what I’m complaining about above and what I’m complaining about with regard to record mastering. The loudness battle, induced by hyperactive compression and poor mastering, is a real thing. Like bad kerning, it’s extremely grating after you notice it.

By contrast, the difference between the aforementioned lossless audio formats is simply inaudible to any human ear. We don’t have the ability to hear that spectrum.