The Science of Sample Rates (When Higher Is Better — And When It Isn’t) – SonicScoop

One of the most hotly—and perhaps unnecessarily—debated topics in the world of audio is the one that surrounds digital sample rates.

It seems an unlikely topic for polarization, but for more than 10 years, the same tired arguments have been batted about by each side with almost unrelenting intensity.

At the fringes, advocates of either side have often dug deeper trenches of faith for themselves. But as much as that’s the case, there’s also a growing consensus among designers and users who have a firm understanding of digital audio.

Namely, that there are perfectly good reasons for sticking with the current professional and consumer standards of 44.1 and 48 kHz for recording and playback – and some valid arguments for moving up to slightly higher sample rates, such as 60, 88.2 or even as high as 96 kHz. What seems to have less informed support is the push to ultra-high sample rates like 192kHz.

We’ll explore the arguments on both sides of the major questions around sample rates and try to find out where each faction has got it right – and where they may be missing some crucial information.

This article is a deep dive into sample rates, one element of digital music (the other being bit depth). It notably points out that higher isn’t always better, and that the search for ever higher sample rates may just be a waste of time and money. (But those who sell high-resolution music don’t want you to know that.) For example:

It turns out that in many cases, we can hear the sound of higher sample rates not because they are more transparent, but because they are less so. They can actually introduce unintended distortion in the audible spectrum, and this is something that can be heard in listening tests.

And:

To him, the issue is not about whether 44.1kHz is the last stop. It’s clear that it rests on the cusp of the point of diminishing returns, and that by the time you’ve reached 60 kHz you’ve exhausted all the theoretical benefits you could ever add. The real benefits to be had are the ones that come from improving implementation, not from ever-increasing sample rates.

The problem is that higher sample rates mean bigger numbers that companies can use in their marketing, and bigger sounds better.

Source: The Science of Sample Rates (When Higher Is Better — And When It Isn’t) – SonicScoop

The Next Track, Episode #90 – Liz Pelly on Streaming Muzak and Playlists

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxJournalist Liz Pelly talks about streaming muzak, Spotify, playlists, and the future of streaming.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #90 – Liz Pelly on Streaming Muzak and Playlists.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

The Big Missing Element on Music Streaming Services

I’m listening to John Coltrane’s extraordinary 1958 album Blue Train. I’ve heard this album many times, and it’s one of those great jazz albums from the time when jazz was great.

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There’s a great pianist on this record; I can’t remember who it is. I could search Google; I’m sure Wikipedia has a page about this album. (Here.) But I shouldn’t have to. I should be able to find this out when I’m listening to the music in iTunes, or on my iPhone. I might want to know the names of the musicians (it’s Kenny Drew on piano), who wrote the songs (all but one are by Coltrane himself), and more. Since release dates are often incorrect – they often list the record’s last release, not the original date – I might want to know that as well.

Tell me who produced it, who the other sidemen are, and all the other information about the disc that I would get if I had the CD. Because CDs come with liner notes; streaming services don’t.

There is one streaming company that claims to offer liner notes: Qobuz. I subscribed to Qobuz for a year when I lived in France; around 2012 or so. They had some liner notes, and I don’t know how many they have now. (They say “millions of digital booklets.”)

But this metadata should be available for every album. Yes, it’s up to the record labels to provide it, and I’m sure there are some labels who would be happy to do this, to make their recordings more attractive. Apple put a lot of time and money into their Mastered for iTunes, which is mostly ignored these days. If they had invested in liner notes, I think a lot of listeners would be happy. (Though this is still a small percentage.)

How iTunes Handles Albums, EPs, and Singles

The album is an artificial construct, yet it is the main unit of organization for music. As its name suggests, it was originally a collection of separate records, in a sort of book that was similar to a photo album. (Doug Adams and I discussed the creation of the album in the very first episode of our podcast The Next Track.) For at least 70 years, the Album has dominated music sales and listening.

Album

At the same time, the single has long been the gateway medium for discovering new artists, or for getting the latest songs by your favorite artist. This size of this record – 7 inches – was a sign of the more limited content it contained. But it also played faster, in part to fill up the record; a 7" record at 33 rpm would look half empty if it contained just one song per side. The single wasn’t only a 7" record: in Jamaica, 10" singles were common starting in the 1960s, and 12" singles started being released in the US in the early 1970s. (There were also double singles in gatefold sleeves; I recall a live set by The Cure that contained four songs on two 7" discs.)

Cure

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ECM Records Now Available on Apple Music

ECM Records is now available on Apple Music. You can stream their excellent roster of jazz, classical, and world music (which they call “transcultural) on this and other streaming services.

Most of ECM’s presence is in the Jazz genre, where Apple is highlighting featured playlists, other playlists, and “new releases” – new to Apple Music, not recently released albums. (As you can see, the first is the landmark Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett.)

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ECM is one of those rare labels that has their own sound; something you don’t find much any more. Check out music by Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheney, Jan Garbarek, Bill Frisell, and so many more. This 10-hour playlist will give you a taste of the ECM sound.

While ECM isn’t as visible in the classical section, they have an excellent line-up of classical recordings, including works by Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt, and the wonderful recordings of pianist Andràs Schiff. On of my all-time favorite classical recordings on ECM is the Hilliard Ensemble’s 1989 recording of music by Pérotin, a haunting recording of early polyphonic music.

This link will take you to the ECM “curator” page, where you can browse their catalog.

So, stream away that great jazz and classical music that has made ECM one of the great record labels.