Friday, October 12, 2007

Radiohead Rant

"Low quality" my ass:

When Radiohead announced last week that they would be releasing their seventh album, In Rainbows, via their official Web site, there was much fanfare and some honest-to-goodness debate about the future of the music industry, the validity of major labels and just how people consume music.

But in the days since that announcement, a whole lot of that fanfare has curdled, thanks to moves by the band and its management that some see as dishonest, distasteful and, well, downright un-Radiohead.

The first bone of contention arose October 9 — the day before Rainbows became available for download — when fans who ordered the album (either in its download-only form or as a deluxe, $81 "discbox" version) received an e-mail from Radiohead's official online store, announcing that "the album [would] come as a 48.4 MB ZIP file containing 10 x 160 [kilobits per second], DRM-free MP3s."

"Most promo MP3s come at a higher bit rate," wrote the author of U.K. blog Kids Pushing Kids. "Worst pound and pence I've ever spent."

"Radiohead has such delicate music that requires detail and depth of sound. ... I for one CAN tell the difference between 160 and 192," responded one commenter. "[With] 160 you can't hear the finer details that make Radiohead so great. I have lost a bit of respect for Radiohead for this. I would never make people pay for 160. They may as well just stream stuff off MySpace."

On one hand, the main reason so many are upset (the 160 kbps thing) seems rather inconsequential, especially given the fact that most people downloading Rainbows are going to be listening to it on their computers or a portable MP3 player. But there is a slightly noticeable difference between a 160 kbps-encoded song and, say, one encoded at 320 (it's heard most easily when played on a stereo). And Radiohead have yet to really offer up any plausible explanation for why they even chose to go the 160 route, especially since their entire catalog is already available at 320.

What a load of crap. Let me explain.

Most of the music I own I either downloaded off the internet via iTunes or Emusic, or uploaded from CDs I already own or that I buy. I store it all at somewhere between 148-192 kbps. That's because it either comes that way whether I want it to or not, or-in the case of CDs-because if I store it at a higher bit rate, a song file can take up as much as twice as much memory, if not more. And unless you're one of these people who enjoys devoting half or more of your hard drive to your music, or enjoys having to buy a 120 MB iPod so you can fit 5,000 songs on there at 320kbps, that's what you're going to do too.

Secondly, no you can't tell the difference between 160 and 192 (which is what it would come as via most online download services, or what most people would upload the CD at via iTunes automatic settings.) At least not on most audio equipment, and using my little portable CD player I can't tell the difference between a physical CD or the uploaded copies of the music that I listen to via my laptop or iPod. Now if you happen to own $2000 worth of stereo equipment and like to listen to Radiohead loudly in a quiet room, then yes, perhaps you can tell the difference. But "low quality" to describe a 160 kbps rate? That's absolutely ridiculous. I purchased the album, burned to a CD, and I can hear everything I need to hear. If I can't pick up Thom Yorke's slight nasal inhalation between syllables halfway through track 5, well I'm okay with that. Most people don't listen to their music on high quality digital audio equipment; they listen to it on their computer, or on their iPod or other Mp3 player, or on a old-fashioned CD player, and they're not going to notice the difference or think to complain about a different bit rate, unlike the knucklehead above who thinks that Radiohead should just stream their stuff through Myspace.

Secondly, Radiohead would have pretty good reasons for not making the files too large; if they were, you'd have people bitching about download problems as they jammed up the servers trying to download the 1.2 million copies of the album that people downloaded in just the first 48 hours.

Lastly, what makes Radiohead music so great is the music. You don't need to be able to hear the faint echo of the high hat running the background of a Radiohead song to appreciate their music. Radiohead doesn't hide subliminal messages in the music that you can only hear at 320 kbps. If you can hear Thom Yorke singing, if you can hear the guitar, if you can hear the drums, if you can hear the synthesized music, then you can hear the music.

I love Radiohead. If they wanted to record their music to Vinyl and give me a crappy personal record player to listen to it on, I would, and I'd be glad for it. Any Radiohead "fan" who thinks they are entitled to the equivalent of a virtual CD of the music after being a jerk and paying $3 for it...well, more power to you. But that makes you a nut, and an ingrate at that.

UPDATE: Another take on the "controversy."

4 comments:

adam said...

What a bunch of losers.

The new album is great, btw.

J.D. said...

With all due respect, you sir are an idiot.

Here are just a few mistakes in your post:

...having to buy a 120 MB iPod so you can fit 5,000 songs on there at 320kbps, that's what you're going to do too.

Don't you mean 120 GB iPod? There's no such thing as a 120 MB iPod.

Even if the bit rate is 128, you wouldn't be able to fit more than 50 or 60 songs on a 120 MB iPod.

That's because it either comes that way whether I want it to or not, or-in the case of CDs-because if I store it at a higher bit rate, a song file can take up as much as twice as much memory, if not more.

It's not memory; it's hard drive space.

Secondly, no you can't tell the difference between 160 and 192

Please get your hearing checked.

If 128 or 160 was acceptable, then why did iTunes launch iTunes Plus, where the songs are encoded at 256 CBR? Because the music community and customers demanded better quality, higher fidelity - that's why.

You have a lot to learn.

OiNK is one of the most popular file sharing torrent sites on the net and if you try to upload anything less than 192 bit rate there, you get banned from their site.

You gotta have some standards, man.

Secondly, Radiohead would have pretty good reasons for not making the files too large; if they were, you'd have people bitching about download problems as they jammed up the servers trying to download the 1.2 million copies of the album that people downloaded in just the first 48 hours.

Again, your naiveté is showing. There is plenty of bandwidth these days. It's not 1997 anymore.

Radiohead has money; they should put some of it into buying more servers, if need be. Don't be a lazy ass and give your fans music that is less quality than what you have.

That's the point here: why should Radiohead have access to better quality music than Average Joe? To assume Average Joe should accept poor quality and just shut up shows great arrogance on Radiohead's part.

What is Radiohead? A bunch of fucking socialists? "We get to hear music in high quality, but not you. You're just peons." That's what their mentality appears to be.

And people who encode at 320 bit rate are morons - I'll give you that, but not for reasons you provide.

You need to use the V0 or V2 switch in EAC or dBPoweramp while ripping, which will give you a variable bit rate and not take up so much space on your PC.

In the end, you'll have appx. 190-240 bit rate, per song, which is high enough. Any higher and the quality doesn't get any better.

But 160 is NOT acceptable; under any circumstances. Maybe back in the days of Napster.

Have a good weekend.

J.D.

Xanthippas said...

JD,

From what I recall, iTunes plus was touted also largely for you being able to buy music in a DRM-less format. Which I find to be far more annoying than a low bit rate; I suspect I'm not alone in that opinion.

OiNK may be popular, but it's also exclusive, which limits it's use, which to me limits its usefulness in a argument about whether most people are okay with anything below 192.

My opinion is Radiohead put the music up there at 160 because the vast majority of people are going to be okay with that. People who visit exclusive online networks to swap music, who are dismissive of the "quality" of the music sold to them at whatever price they name for it, are not. Fair enough, but you're going to find yourself-rightly-in the minority.

160 is fine with me, and I suspect it is with vast majority of people who've downloaded the album, as it is among the people I've talked to who are also Radiohead fans.

To me, there is no significant difference between 160 and 192. There really isn't. Maybe I need to get my hearing checked because I listen to music to loud, but frankly it's absurd to call music "low quality" because it's not at the bit rate you prefer.

If you prefer a higher bit rate, just wait until the actual CD is available in December, then download it for free at your preferred bit rate via OiNK. Consider your present copy a preview.

Nat-Wu said...

JD,

"It's not memory; it's hard drive space"

For one, that's not a substantive addition to the argument, and at this point in techology, mostly a semantic difference anyway. You sound like a technogeek. I'd like to know if you can tell me why the way information is stored makes one format "memory" vs "storage". Why do you think Windows has a virtual memory file? Yes, it is different from RAM, but your argument is stupid in that it is in no way relevant to rebutting Xanthippas' point.

"Secondly, no you can't tell the difference between 160 and 192"

"Please get your hearing checked."

Again, your argument is irrelevant. As Xanthippas said, the vast majority of music listeners do not use music equipment that can recreate the full sound of a recording at its highest quality. I'm willing to bet that most people who download music also don't have a sophisticated sound card to put their music out to a 5.1, 6.1 or 7.1 surround sound system, and end up using desktop speakers. And who that you know uses a 2 or 2.1 soundcard but buys $1000 speakers? Nobody, that's who. So Xanthippas is right about the capabilities of most systems to recreate music. Furthermore, I'm also willing to state unequivocally that most people I know do not have hearing good enough to enjoy the full benefits of such a system anyway.

"Again, your naiveté is showing. There is plenty of bandwidth these days. It's not 1997 anymore."

This is where you lose your technogeek cred. You should know that half of internet users in America are still on dial-up. Given their connection speed, they're not going to allow a model of staggered downloads you would get with those of us who use high-bandwidth connections. You're going to get them hogging time on the server. You want them to stay connected even longer, downloading huge files? And only a few nations have more widespread broadband than we do; the standard in the world is still dial-up. And the vast majority of us that have broadband have under 5Mbps download capability. Lots of ISDN, cable, and T1 users are still around the 1.5 mark.

Now you can argue that Radiohead should lay out the money so that they have enough servers to handle the load no matter how many people blitzed them and no matter what the download rate is. These guys are offering you a free download of their album and you're bitching that they didn't pay enough to do it? What an ingrate you are! Do you have any idea how much bandwidth they already must be paying for that they could even handle 1.2 million downloads in 48 hours of 160Kbps files? Why don't you pay for that and then come tell me they owe it to you?

"That's the point here: why should Radiohead have access to better quality music than Average Joe? To assume Average Joe should accept poor quality and just shut up shows great arrogance on Radiohead's part."

Because they paid for it! As liberal as I am, I ask that people be given shelter from the storm, not a mansion in Beverly Hills! If you want tracks at 320Kb quality, go buy the cd!

Undoubtedly at some point in the future you will be able to download high quality tracks at very low prices, but it's foolish to expect that Radiohead can bring about this revolution on its own. You need thank Radiohead that they were the ones to begin the revolution instead of criticising them for not completing it all on their own.