The Distortion of Sound is an online documentary about the decline of sound quality and how technology has changed the way we listen to music.
This documentary is presented by Harman, an American audio and infotainment equipment company. Some of the artists which appear in it are very fine artists like: Slash, Quincy Jones, Mike Shinoda, Snoop Dogg, Hans Zimmer. Must this documentary be taken as a large advertisement or as an objective documentary?
The last fifty years have seen a striking decline in the quality of sound and listening experience. Compressed music, MP3s and streaming, have diminished the quality and flattened the emotion. Marketing gimmicks and convenience now take the place of excellence. The Distortion of Sound is an eye-opening exposé of the current state of sound starring Linkin Park, Slash, Quincy Jones and more. This documentary will open your ears and inspire you to reach for richer, more soul-stirring musical experiences.
I’ve watched the documentary and this is the message I felt they want to get across:
- lossy formats, like MP3, are bad sounding formats
- all streaming services like YouTube and Pandora are using bad sounding lossy formats
- the soul is taken away because of this
- earplugs and the speakers of a MacBook Pro are bad sounding
- the experience of using YouTube or any other streaming services is a very lonely experience
- streaming services are so accessible so it’s too easy to throw the music away
I was born in 1968 and I remember vinyl, I remember my first Walkman, I remember my first generation Philips CD-player. I can tell you: sound quality has improved a lot over the years. A lot!
Back in the day everyone was listening on cheap sounding home HIFI sets with shitty speakers. The Walkman also sounded far from perfect. Bad headphones were a huge trouble maker. And the cassette-tape was prone to noise and wow and flutter. The playhead of the Walkman often didn’t line up with the cassette-machine which was used for recording the tapes (bad azimuth) so the sound sounded extremely filtered. Often stuff was recorded with Dolby but played on a Walkman without Dolby. I didn’t mind that too much because the experience of taking your music with you outside was a mind blowing experience. But if you talk about sound quality, oh man, back in the days… totally LOFI! (which can also be a cool thing!)
Killing the soul of music
Does bad sound quality kill the soul of the music? Of course not! Even a cheap ass noisy radio can transient the most deep emotions. Hell, an electric guitar sounds better when it’s not totally clean. Pop and rock music was never meant to sound perfect, we compress the instruments, we apply weird effects to it, we overdrive the signal patch. A recording is not a truthful recording of people who are playing their instruments. Even vocals get treatment in the studio using huge amounts of compression to minimise the dynamics. In short: popmusic sounds best when distorted.
Nowadays any smartphone comes with good sounding earplugs. And for a little bit of money you can get some terrific sounding headphones. The output is full range and flat sounding. You can watch HD video on it. Even 4k video! Both the visuals and sound quality is excellent these days. And talking about a Apple MacBook Pro which is shown throughout the video as an bad example, its sound quality is in fact rather excellent for a laptop. A MacBook Pro has an optical audio output connector, so you can connect it to high-end systems. Even my previous MacBook Pro (the one with grey keys) had this type of a connector.
High quality YouTube
In the documentary, shown on YouTube, they give us an example of Uncompressed Audio. And a few seconds later the sound of compressed audio is played. This is a bit strange because YouTube, according to this documentary, offers badly compressed audio. They are biting their own hand with this statement. It’s not true, YouTube offers excellent quality as you can hear in their own example. Like most streaming services. Sure, some of the stuff is uploaded by deaf label managers, but all streaming services offer 320 kbps lossy compression which sounds excellent. And some services even offer non-lossy, uncompressed audio.
In the past the formats caused limitations. But nowadays with digital formats we all can experience an uncoloured sound. No longer are we limited by the format. Any sound the human ear can detect we can put in the digital format. Even with extreme amounts of low end, which vinyl can’t handle. Even with out-of-phase sound, which vinyl can’t handle. Even loud sound which makes cassette to sound overdriven. Even super quiet sounds which would end up buried in noise on cassette.
Music sounds better than ever before. But Harman tells us that it isn’t so. See and hear it for yourself, watch the full documentary in “shitty” online streaming quality: