Sunday, November 16, 2003

Was there ever such a thing as an MP2?

I've started experimenting with digital music on the computer over the last couple of weeks. I've been burning some of my favorite film music CDs onto the hard drive, and then listening to the resulting tracks on the headphones while I write. I have to admit that it is a pleasurable way of doing things. It's fairly nifty to be able to just use a couple of mouse-clicks to bring up a certain track, if that's what I want to hear. But I still can't see MP3s ever being my main, preferred means of listening to music.

First of all, they simply don't sound as good as the CDs. I use MusicMatch Jukebox to rip and play, and I rip my MP3s at the highest available rate (160kbs), and even I - - as a relatively low-level audiophile - - can hear a noticeable dropoff in sound quality. They sound "good enough", certainly; even "pretty good" and in a few cases, "pretty darn good". But not as good. Secondly, the ad slogan used to be "Rip. Mix. Burn." Well, I have never been one to "mix"; as I've noted many times before, I am primarily an album listener, so the whole "mixing" aspect isn't that big a deal to me. I prefer to spend extended periods of time in a musical artist's sound world, and one thing that worries me about the "Death to the CDs! Distribute everything digitally! Download your songs, and never darken the doors of a music store again!" crowd is the forcing of a Smorgasbord approach to music upon everyone.

Finally, there's a minor technical issue that's plaguing me. My MusicMatch player does a brief pause between tracks in a playlist, which seems perfectly normal, but there are times when that pause should not be there. This manifests itself, in fairly ugly fashion, in my playlist of the extended score to The Phantom Menace, in which long swaths of John Williams's score are broken into fairly short tracks that play continuously on a CD player but which have audible pauses when played from the hard drive. This drives me crazy, and unless there's a way to get tracks to play seamlessly, this means that I simply won't be able to listen to a fair number of classical music works on my computer, because it's not at all uncommon for classical recordings to have one long, unbroken work recorded as a number of shorter tracks that are to play without pause. I am not going to listen to Richard Strauss's longer tone poems on my computer if I have to put up with myriad one-second breaks. Ditto Wagner's operas. Or Mahler's symphonies. And so on. (Now, if there's a way to disable this feature or work around it, let me know and I'll retract what I've said here.)

And that's to say nothing of the whole "digital versus physical" media issue from a preservation standpoint, except to note that I'd almost bet money that ten or fifteen years from now I will still be able to listen to my CDs, but MP3s will be as useless as those old 5-inch floppy disks from the Apple II/Commodore 64 era. The whole MP3-thing is a neat addition to the music pot, but I don't think it can support the whole dish without changing the dish so radically that I'm not even sure I'd want to continue consuming it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, there was such a thing as an MP2. Appeared about the same time as the MP3... around 1996. Took less time to encode, and was lower quality. Never very popular, it sort of faded out by 1998. I think I only had half a dozen of them (compared to hundreds of MP3s).