Value and Compromise

9:02pm Mon May 1, 2017

The crown jewel of the Laconian mobile studio is the built-in monitoring system. After mastermind Johnny Strasser finished tuning it, one of the first things I did with it was spend an evening conducting ABX tests, the audiophile’s double-blind experimentation model. This gets interesting, I promise. 

I encode my tracks using the ironically-named LAME mp3 encoder. The entire history of the format is fascinating, but all you need to know is that mp3 was created and I daresay perfected by scientists who study nothing but psychoacoustics – how you hear and how to manipulate what your brain does with the signals it gets from your ears. 

People will tell you mp3 is inferior because it is a “lossy” format. Like a jpg image file, there are details left out so the file is smaller than the original “lossless” source. When they tell you they can hear the difference,  you need to respond to those people like you would if they told you about their girlfriend in Canada. 

I spent hours with the mastering quality Strasser monitoring system, (lossless) wav files, LAME-encoded mp3 copies, and a program that plays audio files for you and lets you guess which is which (here’s an ABX app you can use online). I don’t claim to have golden ears but I can confidently tell you that, on this system, I heard instruments in recordings I’ve listened to for decades that I’d never heard before. Not just like a brighter cymbal sound, I’m talking an entire part of the arrangement. So, like, pretty much the opposite of how we listen to music 99% of the time, in the car or through ear buds, which is compromising what the artist intended you to hear roughly a million times more than a well-encoded mp3 file. 

I failed this ABX test miserably. It was worse than guessing

Now: Why did I go through all this? For the same reason I did the research and found the LAME encoder years and years ago, when you HAD to use mp3 simply because we didn’t have enough storage for lossless copies of all our music. I want to give you, dear listener, as many reasons as possible to value the music I make. 

This acoustical saga was just one part of my ongoing quest to try and add value to the product of recorded music. “Maybe I can offer hi-fi lossless files,” I thought. Well, I can confidently promise you that, even if my mixes are crap, they sound not one decibel crappier as mp3. 

So, this time around, I’m making videos of the recording process. I’ll include those with the music downloads. If you’ve read this far, I think you’ll enjoy them. But if you’ve read this far, I’m betting you already think a song you love is worth more than 99 cents. So, thanks, from the bottom of my heart. 

I put some effort into the songwriting, too.