Are mp3’s the next thing to die?

Or have they already?  How does the mp3 fare in a streaming music world and does it still make sense?  First lets look at the pros and cons of using mp3s.

Pro’s: The smaller compressed file size makes it quick to download and it doesn’t take up much room on your devices.  Con’s:  Its poor sound quality and low dynamic range make it undesirable for an enjoyable listening experience.

A 5mb mp3 made sense when we had 8gb phones and limited internet speeds, but now with 256gb phones with basically unlimited data plans and high speed NBN, a high quality music file at 50-100mb is easily handled by our devices.  There’s no reason to still use an mp3 over higher quality formats like FLAC.

With video we weren’t satisfied with the quality of a 720p DVD and moved to a clearer 1080p Blu-ray and now even 4k TVs are becoming commonplace for their amazing picture quality at four times the pixels of a Blu-ray.  Listening to an mp3 is the video equivalent of watching a youtube video at 144p or 240p, blurry and pixilated.

What about music streaming services? Most of them (Spotify, Apple, Pandora) are streaming at around 256-320kbps, which is only a quarter the file quality of a CD (30-year old tech). Tidal is the only service that offers 24bit 1411kbps lossless FLAC streaming, which is better than CD quality… clear, punchy, dynamic…  but the interface and music selection isn’t as good as the others, but its growing.

Will we see more services like HDtracks offering HD downloadable music in the future?  Apple’s ALAC lossless format can easily be stored and played from an iPhone with files up to 96kHz 24bit.  Android phones can play the FLAC lossless format in high quality file sizes as well.  It makes a big difference when listening through some decent headphones.  There are companies like KZ offering triple driver ear buds for under $100 these days.

As a musician, I take my music listening experience even more seriously than my movie watching experience and will always seek out the best quality services for music listening in the same way we seek out HD video for our TVs.  Don’t be satisfied with low quality music.

– Dave

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