HD Quality Is Missing the Point

With the launch of several high profile hi-res music services, the debate surrounding 24-bit audio is spilling out of the realm of the audiophile into the mainstream. The argument surrounding whether or not people can hear the difference will smoulder until hell is blue and icy, but while it rages on it’s worth wondering whether the term quality is being pointed in the right direction.

When it comes to hi-def quality is only ever discussed in terms of the audio signal. The bit rate, depth, whether it’s being flowed down through the right cable. But all of that would seem a bit irrelevant if what’s coming out, the finished product, aka the music, isn’t any good.

Obviously, whether music is good or not is objective. The fact is, it isn’t being discussed and, even when it is, it isn’t being spoken about nearly as much as the quality of the audio signals. And I’d argue it’s infinitely more important.

It was only a few days ago when scientists revealed why pop music all sounds the same. Isn’t this something that should be tackled long before we worry how many bits of it are reaching our ears? Probably.

Admittedly, the hi-red debate is currently largely contained within a subset of genres and audiophiles. Many alternative genres, from hardcore and noise to black metal or grindcore have a long standing history of diy ethic, with far more emphasis on getting the music out there into people’s ears than how it does so.

Henry Rollins discusses his fondness for this approach to music in a documentary, commenting “I buy records from bands on regular basis who only make CDrs.”

It’s a Male Thing

On part of the hi-def debate that can’t be ignored is it’s heavily male-centric. It’s not about music, it’s about numbers. And guys love big numbers (they’re better than small ones, right?) As a post in The Guardian highlighted, “only a man pays for music that he can’t hear.” Deafeningly true.

Even some of the services themselves seem ok with this. One of the latest to launch, Tidal, even appeared to forget that a female audience might exist, as CMU pointed out in their post, following its launch.

In case you haven’t seen it, the brief ad discusses five things every man should apparently have, echoing a similar post Tom Ford made, because, you know, everyone’s the same. Here, it ventures even further away from music and into fashion.

The Ugly Side of HD Music
The Ugly Side of HD Music

Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Admittedly, not all HD products are fashionable. Look at Neil Young’s Pono, whose service is the latest to launch but the loudest to shout about the merits of high res music. Little is fashionable about the unit itself, but it’s chanting a popular tune-though whether anyone can actually hear it is up for debate

Whether or not 24-bit audio is a good thing or just an expensive hobby is a decision left to the individual. All we can hope is at some point the focus diverts from kHz and cables to the sounds they’re carrying.

After all, I’d prefer hearing some Black Sabbath through £10 headphones on a busted stereo, than the latest bit of Take That on a $4k hi-fi. But that’s just me.

I’ll leave you with Henry Rollin’s optimistic words about music.


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