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Is “Good Enough” Killing Our Industry?

With the advent of high quality acquisition tools for relatively little money, is there really a role for the highest quality production outside of niches?

By Terence Curren | February 24, 2011

I contend that the "it's good enough" mentality is killing quality, and especially in our industry. Philip sees it differently. What do you think? Episode 20 of the Terence & Philip Show.

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leeberger: | February, 28, 2011

I always say Content is King, Codec is Queen.  Even in the on-air broadcasting days of analog television, producers had to stay within budget to deliver programming.  The original Star Trek is good enough for television, but doesn’t compare to 2001.  That to me is proof that good enough depends on the medium and the audience.  When Dan Rather interviewed the Ayatollah Khomeini during the Iran hostage crisis, the picture quality was quite poor.  That didn’t matter as the audience was more interested in what Khomeini had to say to Rather, than picture quality.

I would also like to comment on the comparison made between CD’s and the good old days of vinyl records. Terrence asserted that vinyl records were better than CD’s, specifically in dynamic range.  I don’t think he meant to say that.  One of the breakthrough features of CD’s was their extended dynamic range compared to LP’s.  Indeed, some dynamic compression was added in the LP mastering stage in order to keep the cutting lathe from cutting too wide a groove if the music got too loud.

I can remember one of my first CDs.  Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms.  The second track must have been composed and performed to take advantage the CD’s dynamic range.  It starts off softly with Sting singing “I want my MTV” and then ramps up to an ear shattering crescendo of guitar and drums.  I loved to demo this cut to my friends who had not heard a CD.  The assertion about vinyl’s better sound had more to do with imaging and sound stage then anything else.  Critical listeners complained that the sound staging was flat and sterile (enter Carver with a tube in the output stage to mellow the CD sound).  I for one was glad to hear a quiet passage in a classical selection without a click or pop (no matter how well I cleaned the lp and discharged static charge). 

By the way I still listen to vinyl and own two high quality turntables.  Growing up I was into HiFi and had a nice turntable, amp and speakers.  Most of my friends listened to crappy department store stereos from the likes of Electrophonic or Sears.  These systems featured cheap speakers, low power amps with high harmonic distortion, and crummy turntables fitted heavy tonearms and inferior ceramic cartridges. A telephone sounded better. Talk about quality far from the original master.  Today most personal MP3 players feature decent amplifiers and reasonable headphones.  Even at 128 Kbs, when listened through headphones the sound quality is far superior to those awful home stereos, car stereos, and boom boxes of yesteryear.  By the way, compact cassettes were “good enough” to launch the very popular walkman (just went out of production this year).  A great example of how good enough worked in a portable music player.

Finally I too notice marco blocks.  Watch the end of the superbowl as the confetti streams down.  Ouch!  I also notice 8-bit color banding in Blue Ray discs.  I try to and mostly succeed in ignoring these artifacts and enjoy the movie.  But also consider YouTube.  It started out as awful 240 x 320 highly compressed mush.  Today as bandwidth and storage has increased it is far better.  The 1920 x 1080 encode is reasonably good (as long as it doesn’t halt).  If bandwidth continues to improve then “good enough” using internet distribution may improve.  Let’s hope so. 

Keep up the good work on your excellent podcast.  I always look forward to it.

Terence Curren: | February, 28, 2011

Thanks for the feedback. I agree that content is king. But that s often used as an excuse for delivering poorer quality than is possible.

As for CDs vs. LPs. Here is a good comparative study, http://tinyurl.com/yq8345  and yes I should have said relative dynamics.

Either way, an awful lot of “prefiltering” (which is industry speak for compression that is not called compression) occurs in the CD manufacturing process. Engineers in a lab decide what we probably can’t hear, and then eliminate that prior to the official compression stage. Audiophiles claim they can hear that difference in an LP.

leeberger: | February, 28, 2011

The comparative study is very interesting and surprising.  I almost find it hard to believe that that the quiet sections are so similar, but there is a lot of energy at 400 Hz and below on the vinyl.  That noise I believe is quite audible in the space between songs and during quiet passages.  Don’t forget tracking angle error as the arm approaches the center.  That distortion used to drive me up a wall.  Having said all that I do enjoy listening to vinyl and love getting a bargain lp from time to time.

Terence Curren: | February, 28, 2011

I would be lying if I said I was an audiophile, though I do have a lot of friends who are.

The bigger point was that CD quality was a step away from LPs, in exchange for the convenience. Now MP3s on your iPod are step away from CD quality for convenience. The goal isn’t improved quality.

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