Saturday

There's Compression, And There's Compression

Confusing title, but a curious topic as well. Modern music often has a particular sound quality to it, usually the result of compression - where the sound is processed to alter the way the loud and soft parts are represented, largely to make it "sound better" on radio. This audio compression is different from file compression, which is another notable technology affecting the the way music is listened to today.




Since the introduction of digital audio recording and the consequent music CD, one of the big selling points was that the dynamic range of recordings could be much wider. In other words, both very quiet and very loud passages could be represented faithfully and with very little background noise (such as the hiss and pop previously often present on vinyl records).


Perversely, this is the opposite of what audio compression gives us in modern music, where the highs and lows are pushed closer together to give a specific sound. The song as a whole sounds louder to the listener. During music production, individual instruments can have audio compression applied to them as well - a good example might be the drums on "Dance" music.


File compression, on the other hand, occurs when you create an .mp3 or.aac file; the .aac file is similar to .mp3, but it used on Apple products. Those files are compressed so that their file size is smaller. While this process can result in differences in the sound quality, that's not usually the intent; typically it's just to allow smaller files, so you can fit more on your iPod or mp3 player.


There is often argument among audiophiles as to how much the file compression actually affects sound quality, and while most compression does involve a loss of data (repetitive data patterns are discarded to save space), if you are walking or jogging while listening to your favorite tunes on your mp3 player, I submit it will sound just fine.

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