Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Teens Flock to YouTube for Music Consumption

Élyse Betters writes for 9to5 Mac:

The majority of American teens prefer YouTube to iTunes, radio, online radio, and CDs when it comes to finding and listening to music. […]

YouTube snagged 64 percent of 13-to-17 year olds, while radio came in second at 56 percent. iTunes held 54 percent, with CDs and Pandora rounding the top five at 50- and- 35 percent respectively.

I find radio’s second place finish shockingly high. Nobody I know actively listens to the radio. YouTube’s first place finish is awfully disappointing, considering it uses 128 kbps encoding of what are likely already-compressed songs. I know a few people who also rip songs from the videos with those YouTube to MP3 tools, which further compresses the 128 kbps audio from the video. These songs are painful to listen to.

This jives with Jonathan Berger‘s annual findings:

Berger then said that he tests his incoming students each year in a similar way. He has them listen to a variety of recordings which use different formats from MP3 to ones of much higher quality. He described the results with some disappointment and frustration, as a music lover might, that each year the preference for music in MP3 format rises. In other words, students prefer the quality of that kind of sound over the sound of music of much higher quality. He said that they seemed to prefer “sizzle sounds” that MP3s bring to music. It is a sound they are familiar with.

The O’Reilly article above does a great job explaining Berger’s reaction, but this Gizmodo article explains the methodology better (emphasis mine):

Students were asked to judge the quality of a variety of compression methods randomly mixed with uncompressed 44.1 KHz audio. The music examples included both orchestral, jazz and rock music. When I first did this I was expecting to hear preferences for uncompressed audio and expecting to see MP3 (at 128, 160 and 192 bit rates) well below other methods (including a proprietary wavelet-based approach and AAC). To my surprise, in the rock examples the MP3 at 128 was preferred. I repeated the experiment over 6 years and found the preference for MP3 – particularly in music with high energy (cymbal crashes, brass hits, etc) rising over time.

This is so disappointing. I remember listening to 128 kbps MP3 files when Napster was still a thing, and even then, I recognized that they sound like crap. There’s so much pre-echo that any song sounds like it was recorded in a wind tunnel.

My preference, for what it’s worth, is V0 MP3 for almost everything. It’s a stellar balance between file size and quality, and it’s easily encodable with Blacktree’s iTunes LAME or XLD. The latter also makes it easy to encode FLAC or ALAC files, both lossless formats of which the latter plays perfectly with iTunes. 256 kbps AAC is also a great lossy encoder, and it’s iTunes’ default if you don’t want to diddle with other encoders.

Please stop listening to 128 kbps MP3s, though. The difference is obvious, and it sounds like crap.