back to article Master Beats: Why doesn't audio quality matter these days?

Returning from a school trip to New York, my son handed back most of the $350 spending money we’d given him. Yes, I too thought it was a lot of dosh for a four-day tour but then I have no experience in the matter. When I was a kid, a school trip involved walking up to the pond to catch tadpoles for biology class, not …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Beats vs. BeyerDynamic

    You know something's gone very wrong when consumer headphones cost considerably more than the professional ones used to master the music in the first place...

    1. Steve K

      Re: Beats vs. BeyerDynamic

      Not sure that anyone would master on headphones though.........

      1. Ash!

        Re: Beats vs. BeyerDynamic

        Not exclusively, no - but the point is still valid...

      2. A J Stiles

        Re: Beats vs. BeyerDynamic

        Joe Meek used to master on speakers nicked from cheap record players and transistor radios, because that was what he knew people probably would be listening to the finished result on.

    2. smashtag

      Re: Beats vs. BeyerDynamic

      If people are mastering solely in headphones then it's no wonder the output sounds awful. You need full range speakers, an accoustically-treated listening environment and experience to be a mastering engineer.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Beats vs. BeyerDynamic

        And then somebody else to turn the loudness up to 11

        1. Will Godfrey Silver badge


          If you want to do the job properly, yes you do master on headphones, and proper studio monitors, and triple check on the car stereo - which often gives surprising results.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. The Real SteveP

      Re: Beats vs. BeyerDynamic

      For the morons that buy them, it makes no difference - they are the idiots who allow the record companies to distribute music tracks as low quality mp3's while conning the public that their quality is as good as CD or vinyl. Mp3's = limited audio spectrum for for people who know no better. So those people would rather spend hundreds on a Jamborie Bag toy with a designer badge than buy quality. They buy Apple and BMW for the same reason.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Beats vs. BeyerDynamic

        >Joe Meek used to master on speakers nicked from cheap record players and transistor radios, because that was

        what he knew people probably would be listening to the finished result on.

        I believe that was common practice in American studios in the 1950s, according to a radio documentary I heard.

      2. Frank Bough

        Re: Beats vs. BeyerDynamic


    4. keithpeter Silver badge

      Re: Beats vs. BeyerDynamic

      BDs usually used for tracking, so the singer can hear the rhythm/melody without leakage into microphone. Grot boxes used to check low bass and roll off the fundamental a bit compared to the higher harmonics to avoid damage to domestic speakers.

    5. Purlieu

      Re: Beats vs. BeyerDynamic

      When mastering I do one master for the CD and a different master for the MP3 version.

      That way both can be optimised for their target market. I thought everybody did this.

    6. heyneighbor

      Re: Beats vs. BeyerDynamic

      Master Beats


      Culture, it's that simple.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Beats vs. BeyerDynamic

      +1 for BeyerDynamic!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Kiss FM?

    It could be worse. At the hospital I work at, we have Heart FM played day in, day out. I think it's actually beneficial to our patient recovery rates - patients get better quickly so they don't have to listen "Lady Attenbellum - I Need You Now" for the 400th soul-destroying time in a week.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      Re: Kiss FM?

      oh my don't get me started on Heart FM's promise of 'More Music Variety'.

      I can't imagine that they know what that means since they only seem to have a selection of 30 tracks at any one time to choose from.

      1. Andy 97
        Thumb Down

        Re: Kiss FM?

        Welcome to the future.

        Ever listened to US-based 'hit' music radio?

        1. Eddy Ito

          Re: Kiss FM?

          To be fair there are a few flavors of 'hit' music radio. There is 'hip' rock radio aimed at the urban population and then there is 'hick' rock radio for the rural commuters. Of course that gets mixed up with the monthly 'top 20 (or whatever lasts the better part of an hour)' with the expected weekly or bimonthly refresh. The weekly ones tend to bias more on the 'top 10' side of "dear FSM a_F'ing_gain" and the bimonthly refreshes have you to the point of suicide when you get about 8 fresh singles you haven't become totally nauseous over. Then again that's why I praise Bongo the super cat that my car reads 64 GB USB flash drives.

      2. Ian 55
        IT Angle

        Re: Kiss FM?

        Heart FM = Radio Goodies, with a very slightly longer play list.

        ".. we don't have that one, but we DO have 'A Walk In The Black Forest'..."

  3. CADmonkey



    - talks the talk

    - walks the walk

    1. mikecoppicegreen
      Thumb Up



  4. Alan Sharkey

    Of course, it really started with the lousy quality of MP3 many years ago. You can't compress files and expect to produce serious audio quality.

    Mr Beats (or whatever he's called) is just tapping into a generation that has never experienced the "real thing".

    1. John Robson Silver badge


      Of course you can - you just need to not do lossy compression.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There is also the issue that much of the music released since MP3 came around is rarely worth listening to, so the audio quality hardly matters.

      1. Tom Maddox Silver badge

        I know, right? Kids today, with their terrible music, appalling taste in clothing, disrespect for their elders, etc. Back in my day, we had universally fantastic music like 2 Live Crew, 'N Sync, Kylie Minogue, and all the other greats of the era. Truly, those days will never come again!

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "I know, right? Kids today, with their terrible music, appalling taste in clothing, ..."

          Hi Dad!! <waves>

        2. Kiwi

          @Tom Maddox

          ... 'N Sync, Kylie Minogue, ... those days will never come again!...

          Thank God for that!

    3. Steven Roper

      I don't have a problem with mp3

      if they're encoded at a decent bitrate (>= 256 kbps).

      I'm 46, so I know my hearing probably isn't quite what it was in my yoof, but aside from a bit of tinnitus in a silent room I can hear even quiet sounds distinctly enough, and a hearing test last year put my frequency range on the order of 17 Hz - 18.2 kHz. Not much wrong with my ears mate.

      Despite this, I honestly cannot hear any difference between a CD, a FLAC and a 256 kbps mp3 on my stereo system*. So anything higher (e.g. 320 kbps) is simply a waste of space. I can hear some high-end aliasing noise in 128 kbps mp3s, especially if the piece is classical or movie soundtrack instrumental, and I can just about pick it with a 192 kbps mp3. So I encode classical and instrumental music at 320 kbps just to be sure, and rock and pop at 256, and it all sounds sweet to me.

      So unless you FLAC afficionados have ears like fruit bats, I just don't get this "mp3 sounds lousy" thing. Yes, a 32, 64 or 96 kbps mp3 sounds like shit (96 is the bottom end of tolerability if there's no other alternative), but anything 256 or over is indistinguishable from uncompressed to my ears.

      *Technics SU-Z780 Class A amp circa 1986, 80W rms per channel, still sounds as sweet as the day I got it, and 2 custom built 140W rms speaker boxes of same vintage with two 16" woofers, 4 midrange drivers, 2 tweeters, 1 piezo super-tweeter and bass reflex duct per box, connected with oxygen-free copper monster cable.

      1. DF118

        @Stephen Roper Re: I don't have a problem with mp3

        Careful mate, that's the sort of sense-talking that gets the FLACshionistas all in a froth.

        1. Stacy

          Re: @Stephen Roper I don't have a problem with mp3

          On my last system (JVC about the same class as your Technics) I would agree with you. When I upgraded to a Cyrus system with B&W CM9 speakers I heard the difference immediately (to the point where I assumed something was wired up wrong!). Only when I put a CD on did I realise it was the 320kbps MP3s that sounded awful, and not the speakers!

          That was the point where I re-encoded all of my CD's. I now use the MP3 player for background music and the FLAC file (or just the CD's) for when I want to actually listen to something.

          1. Danny 14

            Re: @Stephen Roper I don't have a problem with mp3

            I spent 15 years in signals having my ears killed by PRC352s and PRC320s. 128k mp3s are just fine and dandy.

            The kids moan though.

          2. DF118

            Re: @Stephen Roper I don't have a problem with mp3

            @ Stacy: you're doing well then, cos my system easily outclasses yours (not bragging or anything, just saying it to make the point) and I can't tell the difference between 320kbps mp3 and normal CDs.

            SACD, yes, but not CD.

          3. Anonymous Coward

            Re: @Stephen Roper I don't have a problem with mp3

            There is no such thing as an 80WPC class A amp from technics or JVC. I knos they used the moniker on the faceplate, but that was a swindle, they were AB class at best, with something like class A up to 5 Watts and then switching to class B. I think Technics used the term AA-class, which was, technically, codswollop.

            But enough pedantism for one day, enjoy your weekend

            1. MJI Silver badge

              Re: @Stephen Roper I don't have a problem with mp3

              I find the type of music tends to expose compression.

              My kit is mid range, I use a DVD player as a CD player, it also plays SACD and DVD-Audio. Through a decent mid range AV receiver and a set of HiFi speakers.

              I also have a Minidisc recorder.

              CD isn't perfect, DVD-A and SACD, do sound better, I can just tell the difference between MD and CD.

              I have some MP3 CDs in the car, 128 dreadful, 192 OK, haven't tried higher in the car.

              But I find the worse the source the more is lost, you can't really hear it but feel it.

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: I don't have a problem with mp3

        I don't have a problem with MP3, full stop. But that's because I care about content, not fidelity or audio quality. If it's recognizable, that's good enough for me. (And sorry, Alistair, but you're wrong about what "anyone would choose to play audio that mattered to them". Your way is not the only way in which audio can matter.)

        Of course, I also think color was only a minor improvement in TV picture technology, and I have no use whatsoever for HD. I realize many consumers do value audio and picture quality, and that's fine; but it'd be nice if they realize not everyone does, and stopped belittling those for whom mobile-phone sound, or whatever, is perfectly suitable for their needs.

      3. Anonymous Coward

        Re: I don't have a problem with mp3

        You don't need better hifi. You need new ears. Or someone to teach you to use yours properly. And I'm not kidding either. But enjoy all the same :D

  5. Sartori


    It says a lot when you get people in mobile phone forums saying oh i'm an audiophile while listening to music on a phone consisting of audio processing to the sum total of a few $ at best while plugging in their in ear headphones. Or if they think they're really going overboard some cheap USB DAC.

    Expectations seem to have dropped considerably, the only plus side seems to be that less people are now satisfied with truly awful bargain basement headphones.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Audiophile....

      Audiophile - isn't that the PC way of saying "I'm an incredibly dull overpaid bore who listens to rubbish music"

      or more commonly "My stereo is bigger and more expensive than yours"

      1. Crash!

        Re: Audiophile....

        Not all music lovers were created equal.

        There are people out there that spend a huge amount of money on Hi Fi because they like listening to music in as much glory as they can afford. You won't know to label them audiophiles as much like other solo pass times, they don't feel the need to discuss it or compare equipment.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. 142

            Re: I'm less convinced than I sound that all DACs are created equal

            Heheh, yeah, I don't think you'd need to be a professional to hear the differences - you can hear the difference a mile off even between professional converters - this is mostly due to the manufacturers being idiots with their AA-filters, though. If you're interested in this topic, Dan Lavry has some outstanding white papers on the subject.

            Interestingly, by far the most blatant of this i've ever seen was on the old Sound Blaster Live series of soundcards by Creative - they were one of the first generation of mutli-IO computer based soundcards. They used different converters for the front L/R and surround L/R outputs. Plug your speakers into the front ones, and play a song - the sound was OK. Plug them into the surround output instead, and set that as your main output in Windows.... And it sounded STUNNING - like someone removed a blanket from over your head!

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

              1. Darryl

                Re: I'm less convinced than I sound that all DACs are created equal

                I always found that the fastest way to distinguish an 'audiophile' from someone who just loves listening to great music reproduction is to look at the speakers - do they have Monster Cables™ plugged into them? - 'Audiophile'

                1. jason 7

                  Re: I'm less convinced than I sound that all DACs are created equal

                  What I love seeing is folks on Audiophile websites waxing lyrical over these small fag lighter sized USB DACs containing about £12 worth of parts but retails for £400+!

                  That and the amusing trend to try to apply old fashioned hi-fi voodoo to bog standard PC kit.

                  Oh and that £200 a meter hifi cable was probably originally specced to go in CAT scanners or a 747 via a smelting factory in China for 0.02cents a meter. Virtually none of those hi-fi cable firms have their own metallurgists/smelting/cable making plants. They all buy it in for next to nothing from Poland or China and rebadge it. You run out on the spool and can't find anymore? So you just find the closest match and call it Superduper Audio Cable Mk2!

                2. swschrad

                  Monster? audiophool. 12-gauge speaker wires: audiophile

                  stunning physics fact: copper is copper, is 98% of the conductivity of pure silver. why not buy it at 1000 feet for $67.00 (THHN 12 gauge single wire) instead of 16 gauge Monster zip cord at 30 feet for the same price? then you truly get a straight wire with no gain and no discernable loss, and for 20 times the distance.

                  1. Tom 7

                    Re: Monster? audiophool. 12-gauge speaker wires: audiophile

                    I recently looked at 'modernising' my hifi and found an amp that according to the literature for several thousands of pound would provide high power high quality and high stability into any speakers from 2-16ohm and hugely complicated response patterns. But if you used anything other than their fuck off expensive cable then the amp might blow up. Lying bastards.

                    I did a degree in electronics because I loved HiFi. I started to get disillusioned when I worked out a lit candle between you and the speaker causes more acoustic features than separated most hifi systems!

                    My speakers cost £5K, I use single core mains cable to connect them to the amp.

                    1. 142

                      Re: Monster? audiophool. 12-gauge speaker wires: audiophile



                    2. 142
                      Thumb Up

                      Re: Monster? audiophool. 12-gauge speaker wires: audiophile

                      And yip. Heavy, single core mains cable's what most speaker manufacturers use when demoing their speakers to customers!

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: Audiophile....

      Expectations seem to have dropped considerably, the only plus side seems to be that less people are now satisfied with truly awful bargain basement headphones.

      No, seemingly they are happy to pay a small fortune for truly awful bargain basement headphones that have been blinged up a bit.

      BTW, although I have always been sceptical about Beats headphones and other Monster products, when I last bought a proper home pair of headphones, I did test a selection of headphones (including various beats models) with various kinds of music. The Beats headphones ranged from £90 to over £200, and did well on hip hop, but awfully on everything else.

      Eventually, I settled on a £70 pair of Sennheiser DJ headphones that did a good job on all the music (and, IMO, beat the Beats on hip hop as well). Yes, I did include classical music in the test, and all the music was from Audio CDs.

    4. Frank Bough

      Re: Audiophile....

      Have you bothered to look at the specs for modern phone DACs / audio hubs? They're bloody impressive. Go have a poke around the Wolfson website for a start.

  6. Nagy, Balázs András
    Thumb Down

    Sad realities

    although I'm a bit younger, I do have to agree, wholeheartedly. Audio quality has gone down the drain in the last decade or so, in portion thanks to these fashion cans, and also to Apple's dumping. Mobile phones in themselves are another source of this trend, as they are generally whoefully inadequate, compared to earlier, goond quality dedicated music players.

    I'm thinking of my good old, retired half brick iRiver H-340 that still beats every mobile I've had as another reviewer in my grasp, at least in terms of quality, but sadly, the days of these beastly masters are nigh over, as is that of the wired remote that I could operate blindly.

    What do we get now? I have to fish out the phone to change albums or tracks, or get a bluetooth can that has its own battery life, sub-par audio, connection issues and all the other things that you really don't want to deal with.

    Quantity over quality.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sad realities

      The problem with the iPhone is they moved to Cirrus DACs from Wolfson to save money. IMHO Cirrus are garbage. Hence I still have my trusty old nano. The DAC in your iRiver should be a NXP UDA1380TT; one of my friends has one still going strong at what must be coming up to 10 years old - how long did the HDDs on iPods last?

      As for headphones, I have a pair of AKG451, bass is a little overpowering but at £50 they're as good as you'll ever need for a phone/mp3 player. The real pain that Beats have bought to our lives is that all other manufacturers are going for bass at the expense of clarity; and let's not forget that Beats were originally made by Monster, who have form in the audio industry, and are now HTC.

      Beats are, however, just a brand. Like Red Bull, you're paying a massive premium for a name. If you have that kind of money to blow I would suggest Grado, then the Germanic companies like Sennheiser, AKG, BeyerDynamic, etc.

      There is also the sad factor that music is more frequently being mastered for MP3 and to be lound (c.f. Nick Southall's article on compression).

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Sad realities

        The mistake you've made there is to think that Apple products are high quality, rather than just shiny and ubiquitous. Even when the original iPod came out, it wasn't the only MP3 player out there, and it certainly wasn't the one with the best audio quality. What it did have was the best product designers and marketing.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Sad realities

          "The mistake you've made there is to think that Apple products are high quality, rather than just shiny and ubiquitous."

          This site seems to disagree:

          Do you have any actual, measurable justification for thinking that the audio quality of Apple products is bad? Or are you just annoyed by Apple's success?

        2. k9gardner

          Re: Sad realities

          I know what you're trying to say, and a lot of people have said it before, but it's really not true. Apple ~does~ make exceptionally high quality products, which I've been using for years. This is not to say that they've always done, or that they're now flawless - nothing is - but they are insanely great, from concept to industrial design to software standards to execution and beyond (they're even designed for recyclability after they're spent!). C'mon, man, life is short. Enjoy the good stuff that's out there. You know as well as I do that the reason the iPod trounced all the other PMPs out there was that it was so much better than the rest. It's not just the creature but its biosphere too. It all worked, and it worked much better and easier and more intuitively than everything else.

          1. paulll

            Re: Sad realities

            "concept to industrial design to software standards to execution and beyond"

            Vis a vis the original ipoo ...

            Concept - wasn't new

            Industrial design - 'orrible, imo. Matter of opinion

            Software standards - LOLOLOLOLOL itunes? HEHEHE

            Execution - Locked-up battery that shat and died, no usb, fussy interface?

            "(they're even designed for recyclability after they're spent!). " It's not meant to be SPENT! Nobody else thinks these are disposable items.

            You know as well as I do that the *only* reason the iPod trounced all the other PMPs out there was that it was so much better-advertised than the rest. Ok, and shinier, I'll grant.

        3. Frank Bough

          Re: Sad realities

          Just fuck off. Look at a fucking iPhone teardown and learn a thing or two.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sad realities

        That's interesting - I have a Nano and a 4th Generation Touch, and I've always thought the Nano sounded much better...Thanks for the explanation!

      3. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Sad realities

        >The DAC in your iRiver should be a NXP UDA1380TT; one of my friends has one still going strong at what must be coming up to 10 years old - how long did the HDDs on iPods last?

        Er, the same amount of time?

        The iRiver H1xx and 3xxx series used the same Toshiba HDD as the iPods at the time... and indeed the same Li-ion batteries. (I had a H320 that I dropped a few times onto concrete, the HDD died so I replaced it with one from a broken iPod - happy again until someone stole it)

        Before having a HDD-based music player, I had a MD recorder- strange that not many MP3 players could record audio like the iRivers or MD-recorders could.

      4. FutureShock999

        Re: Sad realities

        TOTALLY agree on the Beats influence. Pah. My current headphone of choice is the AKG K701, which is a tad analytical, but very revealing. I demoed a pair of Beats White Tuxedos today in a store, just because I had seen someone endorse them recently. ARGHGHGHGH! That heavy, smeared bass nearly did my head in. Then I realised that they were perfectly suited for playing pop and hip-hop, and probably dance club music of all types.

        Currently I am listening to Donald Fagan's "The Nightfly" on 180g vinyl via my hot-rodded Pro-Ject Debut III turntable through a Creek Evolution 2 amp into the AKG cans. Bliss...and as near as I can afford, the way music was meant to sound.

        1. Random Handle

          no static at all

          >Donald Fagan's "The Nightfly" on 180g vinyl via my hot-rodded Pro-Ject Debut III turntable through a Creek Evolution 2 amp into the AKG cans

          These days I couldn't tell the difference - 25 years of headphone use probably a serious factor.

          ....... does the vinyl really compare favourably to the digi remastered Nightfly - it's in 5:1 DTS - existence of which is a further reason to eschew headphones.

      5. squizzar

        Re: Sad realities

        I've still got my multiply-resurrected IHP-140. It's on it's second incarnation (blew one up when I accidentally plugged in a car adapter for one of those dodgy FM transmitters), second HDD (well the one from the first that I blew up), second battery (replacement higher capacity ones are awesome), and second OS (Rockbox).

        Having the little remote pod means I can bury the brick in the bottom of a bag with the remote attached to a shoulder strap. All in all a brilliant little device (not that little anymore though!). It will get replaced one day - does anyone have a suggestion for something suitable though? That iRiver never really took off and everyone bought crappy iPods instead (smaller disks, more expensive, less battery life, crap processor that couldn't decode OGG) is one of the reasons I dislike Apple and the legion of 'ooohh shiny' people that buy their products instead of something good.

    2. Jim 59

      Re: Sad realities

      MP3 players did not stop evolving because phones came out. Something like a Sansa Clip is small, cheap, capacious, high quality (especially with RockBox), and if it gets crushed in the gym, you won't cry. Get you to Amazon !

    3. Ian Yates

      Re: Sad realities

      "What do we get now?"

      Well, I have a Cowon J3, which has a superb sound and plenty of EQ controls. Battery lasts 50+ hours and I've currently got 64GB on it (32GB onboard + 32GB uSDHC card). Plus, it plays everything from classical and opera through to rock and indie without concern.

      I can't see me moving away from a dedicated music player for a long time; I don't have to worry about using up phone battery to listen to music and the device is designed specifically to play music well.

    4. Kiwi

      Re: Sad realities

      I got one of those 20Gig HDD Irivers way back when.. 20G and 260K colour when the best apple could offer was black&white, far more than twice the price, and a whopping 8g.

      Still gets daily use. Still going strong. I did want to upgrade the HDD recently, opened it up only to find what it had inside was nothing like what I was expecting.

      Wonder if the drive is able to give me any data on its run time. I suspect the number of spinning hours will be some years. The thing's on damn near 24/7. And it still pisses me off that it could only handle 999 songs in a playlist!

  7. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    "Music" is the problem

    The term "audio quality" just isn't applicable to rap, house, techno, bieber, schmieber and similar. That cr*p would sound the same coming out of Aerial Acoustics driven by a Krell, as out of an arse.

    The deteriorating tastes in music and devaluing of music itself is the problem.

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      Re: "Music" is the problem

      The term "audio quality" just isn't applicable to music I don't listen to or understand. That crap would sound the same coming out of anything as I'm just not listening.

      Other people liking different things, which in reality are the wrong things, is the problem.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        @Sabroni Re: "Music" is the problem

        "music I don't listen to or understand."





        Enjoy! :-)

        1. sabroni Silver badge

          Re: @Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          Yes, understand.

          Though obviously you've proved your thorough understanding of hip hop with that extract from De La Soul's "3 feet high and rising"....

          1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

            Re: @Vladimir Plouzhnikov

            Thanks! With such peer recommendations I may take up a career in hip hop studies! Cheers! :-)

        2. Triggerfish

          Re: @Sabroni "Music" is the problem

          You know there's plenty of quality music in other genres, even if you don't like it.

          The arrangement on some quality deep house tracks can be just as impressive as other music for example, and friends who dj are just as fussy about audio quality they are playing somewhere.

          I can't see how people who call there themselves music lovers can blindly stick to just one genre and dispel others with such prejudice, and so much music shares its roots or is influenced by another form.

          You like rock, but think blues or some folk would be automatically be shit, what do you think Page and plant where listening to then?

          Being like that with music is like the comment made by audiophiles earlier its just daft willy waving.

          1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

            @Triggerfish "Music" is the problem

            What you are saying would have been true were we talking about different genres of music. We are not. Not really.

            Some modern music is just primitive low quality crap. Just like with any other thing produced by humans you can usually tell if something is crap or not. But some people like crap, because they have a primitive taste. You can walk into any souvenir shop anywhere in the world and see what I mean.

            But then there is a whole different paradigm. I maintain that house, rap, dumb step etc are actually NOT music at all. They are more akin to African tribal drums, they are meant to affect totally different circuits in the brain than music. They consist of just one composition, endlessly rehashed with minute variations. They all have highly formulaic structure based on monotone repetitive rythm pattern with a "bass drop" in the middle, followed by more of the same repetitive rythm pattern. If you express it mathematically you will probably find that all of these "songs" are 99.999% identical. And it is the rythm pattern that is purpose of listening to these audio styles. They are just painless substitutes to knocking one's head against the wall as a way to induce a mild trance.

            Music serves totally different purpose.

            1. P. Lee

              Re: @Triggerfish "Music" is the problem

              I have to agree with Vlad on this one.

              The tunes are often there mostly to support the drums.

              The strong beat, single-level, high-volume (encouraged) and almost exact repetition seem designed to disengage the brain. It appears to be the audio equivalent of alcohol - numb the senses and blot out thought.

              While classical music uses repetition, its (usually) done with enough variation on the theme that the change stimulates the brain into registering and engaging with the alterations found through the piece.

              1. Steven Roper

                Re: @Triggerfish "Music" is the problem

                I also have to agree with Vladimir on this one.

                I have a very broad taste in music: glancing through my collection, I have folders for classical (Baroque such as Handel, Vivaldi and Bach; Romantic such as Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms; Bohemian such as Tchaikovsky and Sibelius), opera (ranging from Rossini and Verdi to Wagner), movie soundtracks (such as Mancini, Williams, Goldsmith, Horner and Zimmer), pop chart music from 50s to pretty much present day, 70s and 80s hair metal (from Hendrix and Deep Purple through Sabbath and Dio up to Metallica and G'n'R), emo metal (Evanescence, Nightwish), synth (Jarre, Vangelis, Eno), ambient (Kitaro, Genest, Enya etc), easy listening (Yanni, J. Galway), 8-bit c64 chip/SID tunes (Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway, Jeroen Tel), techno/trance (Oakenfold, Kai Tracid, DJ Tiesto etc), traditional folk tunes (from Europe, Middle East, Asia and Native American like Konalien and Eddy Omonte) and even military marches (Sousa and co, played by the Coldstream and Grenadier Guards bands, mostly.)

                My music collection contains works by all these and more, and I cycle through pretty much all of it regularly.

                So you can see from that lot that I have a much wider taste in music than most people. But I agree with Vladimir that rap is not music. I've tried to listen to it, I really have - I'm always eager for different music, as my wide range above shows. But it just does nothing for me. It doesn't engage my soul the way all those other genres do. Listening to some homeboy rhythmically ranting over boom-tisha-boom-erk-erk-erk, about gettin' down with ma homies, killin' da pigs, and smackin' ma muthafukkin bitch up yo muthafukka yo, isn't what I call music. Not even remotely.

                1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

                  @Steven Roper RE: "Music" is the problem

                  That's an impressive collection, by all counts. But one question though - no prog?

                2. sabroni Silver badge

                  Re: isn't what I call music. Not even remotely.

                  So what. You don't call it music but millions of people do. And Vlad's attempt to somehow separate "tribal drums" from other forms of music just shows the ludicrous snobbery going on here.

                  What both of you seem to be saying is that you think about music, and when you think about hip hop it doesn't make sense to you (plus you only seem to have heard ganster rap, a popular genre but by no means all that hip hop has to offer). Try feeling your music instead of thinking about it. Maybe these other forms will start to make more sense to you then.

                  1. Triggerfish

                    Re: isn't what I call music. Not even remotely.


                    Well I would still that not all of the dance and rap and the variants are just there to maintain a beat, not all go for repetetive compositions either, although your more likely to find that tendency out of pure dancing in clubs music (although some is more tuneful than you think) admiteddly if you arent into the music its also unlikely you'll be hearing it) since its rarely heard on the radio, and I would agree with you that I am not a major fan of that sort of dance music either because its boring to me.

                    Some of the variants outside of the club, trip hop for example has plenty of tunes and variations.

                    Also when do you define that a song has to many repetitions. What about a waltz, or some heavy metal tracks?

                    Does that not devalue the tunes of other songs for example how about something like Yngwie Malmestein (sic) track that basically is just a delivery vehicle for him to indulge in some guitar onanism?


                    Rap is not all like that. I cant really identify with that get my gat macho shite either tbh, I grew up in a relatively ok part of London, drive buys with my hommies were not part of growing up.

                    It leaves me cold as well.

                    But how about something like "disposable heroes of hiphopcrisy" that rapped about things like literacy falling because everyone's watching the television, and lyrically is clever.

                    Or the Massive attack, they use rap quite a lot. There are rap bands out there that don't do all that, its just seems to be the fashion to be this over the top gangster stuff hats the problem.

                    But have noticed that in other genres, shoe-gazing indie, heavy metal that sounds like the singers vomiting into the mike (dunno what style you call that), rock with funk (chilli peppers, faith no more) etc

                    Just to be clear I am not saying you are wrong for not liking a style. Theres plenty of stuff I don't like either. But don't see the point of being so closed either, there's usually a song or two from most genres that you can turn around and go hey that's actually rather good.

            2. kain preacher

              Re: @Triggerfish "Music" is the problem

              Obviously you never listen to people like the roots, Outkast, Common.


      2. Tom 7

        Re: "Music" is the problem

        If your sound system is better for one kind of music than another then it is quite simply not HiFi and shit.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Music" is the problem

      I used to think that people grew out of X Y or Z isn't proper music in the 90s. I may as well throw in an Ice T quote "I feel sorry for people who only listen to one kind of music" used to defend his rock band.

      I was sad to see the amount of people at Glastonbury who were outraged the year that Jay-Z headlined one night, people even had "Ban the (c)rap" T shirts. Exactly the same people who said that The Smiths should headline and not Hawkwind all those years ago were queuing up to say that Jay-Z shouldn't play. Anyway I went to see him and he turned out to be crap, I would have much rather seen Ice T, but at least I had me horizons broadened.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: "Music" is the problem

        The sad thing is, I'd rather see Hawkwind on stage than The Smiths, and I'd definitely prefer them over J-Zed. At least they put on a proper show with a big robot and pyrotechnics and stuff.

        1. Anomalous Cowturd

          @Loyal commenter.

          Preferring to see Hawkwind over The Smiths or Mr. Zed is nothing to be ashamed of. I saw them in the late 70s, and they were feckin' excellent. The 50 odd Liberty cap mushrooms may have helped. :o)

    3. 142

      Re: "The term "audio quality" just isn't applicable"

      LOL... You do know the people mix-engineering the top tracks in those genres are making £20,000 per track at a minimum? Do you honestly think record companies would pay that much if the results wen't good? You're just letting the artist's "image" dictate what your ears think they hear.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: "The term "audio quality" just isn't applicable"

        good profitable

        1. 142

          Re: "The term "audio quality" just isn't applicable"

          True: profit's the goal - But why the hell would they waste money on an engineer if audio quality doesn't matter?They pay them those prices because of the quality of the results.

          1. paulll

            Re: "The term "audio quality" just isn't applicable"

            But why the hell would they waste money on an engineer if audio quality doesn't matter?

            1) The boss, "producer," and, "engineer," all consider each other to be their homos, and look out for each other.

            2) Said status, cemented by appearing in the background of a photo/video with the 'posse' wearing hosiery incorrectly, makes his image marketable whether he knows anything about audio or not.

    4. h3

      Re: "Music" is the problem

      Not true - Techno doesn't sound right unless it is played from vinyl (Or using live using analog drum machines / synths.)

      There is certain types that sound ok with computer generated bits. But an analog drum machine I think is pretty essential.

      One of the main parts of the sound is the action of 2 records playing at the same time.

      House the sound quality totally matters. (Even awful examples of it sound much better in a Nightclub that is acoustically designed so the room goes properly with it)

      (Only problem with house is the choices of which examples of it to play in UK NIghtclubs and the people who are present there).

      (I listen to modern classical solo piano / electro / 1800's classical / techno if I am out (And I can which is getting rarer).

      I like stuff to sound like it is supposed to but I am not really an audiophile. (I do know one though with the Meridian reference system and all the speakers built into the walls of a well designed room - it does sound divine).

  8. Phil W

    Tinny shit

    Mr Dabbs, I would contest your opinion that all music sounds like "tinny shit" on a laptop.

    Certainly this is true for the most part, and as someone who enjoys both good quality heavy weight vinyl pressings and 320kbps MP3s through a fairly nice Wharfedale 5.1 system, I agree that no laptop can compete with a proper Hi-Fi system.

    That said, try listening to some music on a Dell XPS. I have a Dell XPS 15 (L501x) which has some of the best audio quality I've ever encountered in a mobile device on the right side of £1000. This is probably due in part to the dedicated bass speaker in the bottom of the laptop.

  9. djstardust
    Paris Hilton

    Beats are trash ....

    I gave my son my spare pair of Sennheiser HD25MkII when he was 5. He is now 10 and has great fun going round Currys plugging his device in to the Beats display and telling everyone how crap they sound. The Sennheisers were around £150 ten years ago but worth every penny.

    Apple are partly to blame here ..... the iphone music quality is flat and dreadful. Add to that the really poor earbuds and kids don't actually know what good music sounds like any more.

    Paris ..... because here music is shit too!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Beats are trash ....

      As above, it used to be better, but for profit there was a shift to Cirrus DACs. Beats just emphasise bass which, codec dependant, can be the most lossy-compressed part of the audio stream.

      1. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Beats are trash ....

        I always test out the bass of any speaker or headphones with this track -

        If you listen to it on Beats headphones, as I have done in PC World, the bass is just completely missing. I guess the main difference between my test track and a lot of tracks is that the bass is a 32ft bombarde playing a tune rather than a percussion instrument.

        The Beats headphones weren't the worst, but they weren't particuarlly brilliant. I found no correlation whatsoever between price and sound quality in their headphone range.

    2. Frank Bough

      Re: Beats are trash ....

      I've had enough of this.

      Every mobile phone I've ever bought came with a pair of earbud 'phones. THEY HAVE ALL BEEN SHIT. Nokia were the absolute shittest, Ericsson next, then Sony then Apple. Yes, the shitty white Apple earbuds were the best bad earphones I've ever had.

      I like listening to music on my iPhone, so I have a pair of Audio Technica M50s. The lead is irritatingly long, but the sound and comfort more than make up for it.

  10. Frankee Llonnygog

    There's a lot of audio gear designed to 'pump' music

    It has over-emphasised, distorted treble, and one-note bass boosted by tuned ports or similar techniques. Beats are in that category

    I had a quick informal listening comparison recently between some Beats and B&W headphones. The Beats were like having your ear canals scoured out with a bog brush. The B&Ws in comparison were like warm honey being slowly dripped into your ears through a velvet-lined funnel by Fenella Fielding dressed as the vamp from Carry On Screaming (plain Egish - the Beats sounded horrible, and the B&Ws were gorgeous)

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: There's a lot of audio gear designed to 'pump' music

      +1 for the Fenella Fielding reference.

      My parnter saw her on a train once, but was too shy to say hello. Later regretting it, she wrote her a letter and had a lovely reply. It's a shame that more actors aren't nice people like Fenella.

  11. Dave K

    The music itself is the problem

    The problem isn't so much the equipment, but the actual music quality itself. The music industry hasn't cared about the sound quality of what they produce since the mid 90s now. It's all about loudness instead.

    So, the volume is turned up to 11, drums get squashed until they're muffled and distorted, all the finer details of the music are obliterated, and all you have left is a solid wall of 100% volume with gratuitous clipping and digital distortion everywhere.

    And once the original music is butchered in this way, no headphones or hifi out there can undo the damage. Maybe if the music industry started to care about quality instead of just volume, maybe a decent pair of headphones would matter.

    1. meanioni

      Re: The music itself is the problem

      Yeah, as my grandma used to say: "the music's too loud and you can't hear the words"!!! :-)

      1. Sparkypatrick

        Re: "the music's too loud and you can't hear the words"

        That wasn't your grandmother, it was The Members. Now that was proper music...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The music itself is the problem

      The loudness war is over, and a lot of recordings are now being mastered with an emphasis on varying dynamics rather than overall level. That's why the only question from the engineer when I last had something mastered was "do you want loudness or dynamics"? Of course, a lot of commercial dance music still relies on pushing everything up as high as the limit, but that's because it's intended for high volume playback where it would compress to a near constant level anyway.

      1. Dave K

        Re: The music itself is the problem

        Not by much to be honest. Dynamic range may have crept up ever so slightly, but it's still a long time since I saw one with a DR of greater than 6db or so - a far cry from the dynamic range of 12-14db you had on the likes of Nirvana's Nevermind.

        And also, just when you think that music is slightly improving, The Chilli Peppers come along with a new album that's managed to find a "12" on the volume dial...

    3. Naughtyhorse

      hyperbole much

      Maybe there is a tendency to 'mix to the meters' more with all digital kit, and as for mixing to cans.... well do that and you will get what you deserve. I'm sure that the kids making music today really care about the sound, well some of em do. Praps the democratisation of the tech has something to do with it here - i have a studio on my spare pc that george martin would have killed for in the 60's - unlimited tracks, incredible s/n, absolute piece of piss to edit, unbelievably flexible signal processing tech, and only cost a few grand. But of having the kit is only a very small part of the equation of course.

      I think the issue is more of the context in which music is played these days - it seems to be the soundtrack to our lives rather than an activity in itself. Could you imagine kids today sitting still and shutting the fuck up for an hour to listen (actually listen) to an album from start to finish? Of course not. Grumpy old fuckers like me are just a guilty - far and away the best stereo I have is in my car, where most of my listening is done these days - Mp3's with all the associated road and engine noise - with at least 25% of my attention devoted to predicting what random action the fuckwit in the beamer in front is about undertake.

      Given the attention and excitement I remember when Dark Side of the Moon or Aja first came out I cant really see how that would fit in my life today - and after a few thousand listenings i can sing along with Gadd's awesome drum solo on Aja, so don't really need to concentrate on the music much :-) (beamer drivers permitting)

      If we value music less (the fact that cowel is walking around sans bullet holes proves that), then it's hardly surprising that the quality of writing or engineering of the music declines (oddly not performance - there are some incredible players around these days, which is good, so long as they keep on playing the old tunes).

      As for Dr. Dre's poncy cans.... I guess the name iPhones was taken.

      nuff said.

    4. 142

      Re: The music itself is the problem

      I used to think that, but I've realised there's no reason for it to be true, except carelessness.

      The problem happens if you take an old recording that was designed around having tons of dynamics, and then remaster it to be loud as hell, then it sounds disastrous. Case in point being the remasters of Zeppelin's Immigrant Song, where there's zero impact when the scream comes in anymore.

      But if you work from the start trying to make sure the arrangement is ok, and built around loudness from the start, with space for several sounds to come through and be loud simultaneously without fighting, and without overloading the mix, then you're ok - a lot of Foo Fighters stuff shows this very well.

    5. P. Lee

      Re: The music itself is the problem

      You forget that there is nothing so disastrous in marketing as a fantastic product which so satisfies the customer they they never come back and buy again.

      The music industry knows what its doing when it makes products it knows you'll get bored with shortly after buying.

  12. a_milan

    It's hard to remember which came first - crappy Apple players or crappy music production values...

    I do remember being astonished that my friend's then-shiny-new iPod sounded like a normal cassette vs. CD when compared with Sony Walkman phone. And that with same headphones and same tune.

    Ten years later, all music is produced to iStuff quality standards, and there we are.

    Although being totally honest, Beats are decent headphones - I got a pair and although they can't replace Shure's that I broke, they aren't half bad either.

  13. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Mr Dabbs wouldn't have used his article to suggest that Apple is the new Amstrad, would he?

  14. Mark Jan

    The Output Can Only Be as Good as the Source

    When (young) people these days consider mp3 to be "music" then that's where the problems (through ignorance) begin. When the output audio generated by a typical mp3 encoded track (constrained by sample frequencies, discarding of "unheard" frequencies, error correction etc inherent in any digital recording) is listened to, no headphones can ultimately correct the sound.

    I feel sorry for an entire generation who have been led down a "pure digital perfect sound forever" path., particularly mp3.

  15. Eradicate all BB entrants

    Please don't use ....

    ..... 'I'm an audiophile' and MP3's in the same sentence. You are not. If you were you would know MP3 compression removes sounds the human ear cannot register, therefore changing the entire dynamic of the audio wave, so missing out on the full experience. If you had used audiophile and flac I may have forgiven you.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Please don't use ....

      <tinfoil hat>

      Let's face it, MP3 is entirely adequate for a PMP through earbuds or in a car[1]. You can't tell the difference between MP3 at a sensible bitrate and any other codec. In order to tell that MP3 sucks, you need something of audiophile quality.

      The likes of Beats headphones are obviously part of a conspiracy by the music business and PMP makers to stop expensive hifi pissing on their picnic.

      </tinfoil hat>

      [1] I don't care how much you spent on your in-car setup. It's in a ruddy car, so background noise, shite speaker positioning and crap acoustics render it irrelevant.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Please don't use ....

        Granted a good car audio system is certainly not going to match an audiophile home system, but there is a world of difference between tinny sounding low end car stereos, and more expensive rigs which can deliver a fairly decent resolution.

        Also, more expensive cars actually have pretty good isolation as far as background noise goes, even at motorway speeds.

    2. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Please don't use ....

      I honestly can't decide if you're being sarcastic or not. But, just in case:

      "MP3 compression removes sounds the human ear cannot register" - and this affects sound quality to the human ear how?

      Changes the audio wave? Er... how? In ways the human ear can't register? Nobody cares about the things in the audio that they *can't* hear. Or is this some sort of Zen where removing the bits you can't hear anyway somehow affects the bits you *can* hear (which, of course, is true to an extent if you do the job badly or too much, but the point of MP3 is that it doesn't, provided you have high enough settings, and yet it still takes 1000th of the storage space).

      Maybe, just maybe, the thing is that people don't care about audio quality because 99% of the population CAN'T tell the difference between a decently-recorded MP3 and the original sound source, or cheap headphones and stupidly overpriced ones, or Bose hardware and some actual, professional rig, or gold-plated oxygen-free cable and a 50p bit of copper?

      Maybe the vast majority of people were never able to. Like those able to discern HD at any sensible distance in a proper equivalence test (note that PAL signals fed down analogue copper into an interlaced SD TV compared to a HD-clean, digital processed signal with greater display dynamics available on the actual image elements anyway isn't really an accurate test of just resolution, for example) - maybe they are in the absolute minority in this case? Maybe most people bought a new TV in the last few years to get a flat screen rather than a cubic box, a bigger screen, a brighter screen, one that has HDMI sockets but NOT because it was actually capable of HD? Maybe it really doesn't matter if you wear designer trainers or some cheap junk that lasts longer but looks slightly different (and probably came out of the same factory anyway).

      Maybe, just maybe, people don't care because THEY CAN'T TELL. It's like a colourblind person being told they have to buy a t-shirt that's red-and-green rather than just red. If they can't tell, and there's no compelling reason to otherwise affect said purchase, maybe it's all the same to them and they'd rather have the cheaper, easier, plain red t-shirt?

      I can't spot HD. My HDTV receives both HD and SD and displays both with relative indifference (many don't - I've seen some HD TV's that just cannot handle SD content nicely). I can see the difference up close (from years of working on 1024x768 screens back in the VGA-only era from inches away while watching SD TV's *PERFECT* images on a WinTV card in the corner of my screen), and I can spot a dead pixel or screen dirt at ten paces, but I haven't actually bothered to do anything about HD.

      Hell, I have HDMI inputs for everything purely because that's the standard now, not because I get anything more from them (but HDMI travels less well over Cat6 than VGA in my experience). They are just sitting there, doing the job of a SCART or Composite lead, really. About the only thing I can see that actually comes out in HD differently is if I plug my laptop in, with it's stupidly high resolution which I can't read from the other side of the room when it's like that anyway. Put it in 1024x768 and I notice no less pixels, but it's at a decent size I can read from 6 feet away. About the best thing about HDTV's is that everyone now has a TV you can plug a computer into if your screen breaks, and which will take any resolution that even a ten-year-old laptop could pump out quite happily without requiring special conversion, adaptors or smoothing.

      My car has an SD card reader in the radio. Junky MP3's are all it plays because - with even the quietest of driving noise - I can't tell the difference between that and the CD player in it. Hell, I can't even tell when it's the radio playing the same songs as I have on the SD card unless I drive through a tunnel. You could swap the radio for anything else and I still wouldn't tell. I changed car for one with the 15-year-old original radio/cassette in it recently and could not tell the difference between that and the usual radio I use when I moved it from my old car.

      My laptop has inbuilt sound, and it's a gamer's laptop, as was my previous one ("gaming laptop?!" I hear you cry? Yes, because for the games I play, the fast-paced twitch-reflex FPS shooters and everything else, I can't tell the difference between a powerful desktop PC running them at 120fps and my laptop that doesn't dip much below 60, so why not have a laptop that's portable and battery-backed as well?). It's supposed to be very good sound, according to all the stickers on it. They make a big fuss about how it's not your usual integrated sound.

      I turned off the mixer panel in the toolbar because it annoyed me (and all that equaliser junk). I set it to 2-speaker stereo in VideoLan and any games because it made my movies sound funny in 7.2. I plug in a cheapy pair of over-the-ear headphones and I'm literally deaf to the world except for game sounds (and can hear the slightest buzz - on other people's laptops, I actually pick up their hard disk and even mouse-moving-on-the-screen sounds through those headphones that you can't hear otherwise without a stupidly amplified external speaker). How many people with expensive headphones for "quality" then have noise-cancelling ones that basically modify the signal based on some internal mic at some unknown sample rate anyway?

      I can happily watch TV through my laptop with the internal speaker and entertain a room of friends without anyone cringing. You know why? It's good enough. If you asked me if I could save £5 by not having 7.2 surround on my computer's sound card, or 96KHz mixing, or whatever, I'd do it.

      Maybe, just maybe, some people are overly fussy and think they need these things, or actually do need these things and want to make EVERYONE else have them for no good reason (possibly to make them cheaper for the person to get their "specialised" hardware? I don't know). If *YOU* can hear the difference, you go buy them. Don't tell everyone else what they should or should not be buying, listening to, or watching.

      Me? Hell, if push comes to shove, I'll pull a pair of in-the-ears out of the "60p" box in Maplin's if I really need them. I'll barely notice. I suspect almost everyone on the planet is pretty much the same. Back in the 80's, I don't remember anyone complaining about the audio quality from the huge over-the-ear school headphones that all plugged into a splitter box out of the back of a cassette player. I work in schools - found some pair that was LITERALLY from the 80's the other day in the "does anyone want these" bin, was tempted to keep them for myself but actually, they sound just the same as any other headphones I've ever tried that were a similar design. And nothing has a 5mm jack or whatever size it is any more.

      Please stop telling people that audiophiles should somehow be deciding what the world listens to. That's like having sportscar enthusiasts dictate how fast milk floats should go.

      If you can hear it, good for you. I'm quite happy with MP3, SD, 25-50fps, and having more money in my pocket. As are about 99% of the world.

      1. Naughtyhorse

        Re: Please don't use ....

        'I honestly can't decide if you're being sarcastic or not. But, just in case:'...

        hes not being sarcastic, and you are entirely correct :-)

        1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

          @Lee D

          mp3 compression is claimed to only remove the stuff you cant detect, but that moot at best. Even at 320k with quality encoding, you can often easily detect artifacts on HF sounds like cymbals. Added to which not all decoders are equal. I have some mp3s that are reasonable on my elderly iRiver, but absolutely dire played on a 'modern' mp3 player.

          1. 142

            Re: @Lee D

            " you can often easily detect artifacts on HF sounds like cymbals"

   comes to mind on this topic.

      2. 142

        Re: Er... how?

        "Changes the audio wave? Er... how? In ways the human ear can't register? Nobody cares about the things in the audio that they *can't* hear.""

        Heh... fair point, but it depends on the sound system and the size of the room it's being listened to in.

        To take it to extremes - if you play an MP3 out of a top level PA or club sound system, it turns into an incoherent mush. It's striking - like someone faxing in the song.

        I guess the nature at which the frequencies arrive at the ear in those sorts of environments is so different that the assumptions about which "sounds the human ear can't register" are wrong.

    3. Shaha Alam

      Re: Please don't use ....

      wait, are you suggesting audiophiles hear things their ears can't register?

  16. Senior Ugli

    I do like to laugh at the suits wearing beats by dre head phones thinking they are down with the kids.

    Those cans aint going to make your Nickelback sound any better pal!

  17. Kubla Cant

    The listeners are the problem

    An audio system is the result of engineer's best effort to reproduce sound with minimal distortion. With the bass and treble controls centred you should hear something as close to the original as he could get it for the price.

    So what do most listeners do? They turn the bass control to number 11. When that makes everything sound boomy, they turn the treble up to 11, too. The result is generally even more distortion as a result of overloading the power amplifier.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The listeners are the problem

      "They turn the bass control to number 11. When that makes everything sound boomy, they turn the treble up to 11, too."

      Bought a new media player for the kitchen to see how DAB sounds. That was quickly answered and went back to FM.

      The space requirement meant that a slim vertical CD player and "flat" speakers were ideal. It was reasoned that the subwoofer unit could be discarded. Oops! - that was also the amplifier. Even with bass at -4 and treble at +4 it is still booms - even on the shipping forecast.

      The lounge Celestion Ditton 10s (bought secondhand for £10 in 1966) still do nicely. Libera boychoir's "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" on CD is a choral arrangement of the rousing bit of Saint-Saens 3rd (Organ) Symphony. Have to check the neighbours are out first though.

  18. Andraž 'ruskie' Levstik

    So many crap cans around now-a-days. Even the good brands aren't all the same. I have a set of portable over the ear Sennheiser and out of the two I was making my choice between them and tried them both I got the ones that don't boost bass. So music sounds ok. I don't expect hi-fi quality from headphones but I do expect to be able to hear the finer details of music. And with the type of music I listen to this shows. Hda these things for a few years now and am really happy with them for when I do listen with them.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. plrndl

        re Sennheisers

        I bought my first pair of Sennheisers in the 70's, and I chose they because they were the BBC standard for monitoring. This gave a huge boost to their sales volume, resulting in a very good price to consumers. They were also remarkably robust.

        Since then I've rarely used anything else, and except for the PX30 model (which sounds brilliant at under £10, but falls apart when you look at it), they've all been excellent for the price. Best of all they're flat, not bass-boosted like most cans these days.

      2. Badvok

        While everyone knows the name "Sennheiser", I generally prefer "Beyerdynamic". So if you are looking for 'proper' headphones, give them a try. I can hear every detail of Peter Gabriel's New Blood in full 24/96 FLAC through mine.

  19. Don Jefe

    Tiny Drivers & Dirty Power

    Those are the biggest issues with getting decent sound today. The move toward tiny drivers in exotic enclosures means that low frequency tones physically can't be made and upper range bass is massively exaggerated to 'trick' users into thinking they're hearing a 'powerful system'.

    Secondly poor sound is down to simply dirty power. A shitty speaker can be made to sound half decent if you give it a clean signal but, once again, the move towards tiny, focused frequency, built in amplifiers really screws up the sound. The amps don't need balanced frequency handling, they've just got to focus on the midrange because the shitty tiny drivers.

    All in all, it's a case of fooling consumers into thinking they're hearing 'good, powerful, dynamic sound' by ramping up a narrow frequency band and having an expensive price tag.

  20. S4qFBxkFFg

    I got some with my current phone (HTC Sensation XE). They're OK, but the materials choices are bizarre, to put it mildly.

    The cord insulation appears to have a large enough frictional coefficient that it grips everything - its own loops, insides of pockets, fingers; combine this with the reverse being applicable to the ear buds and they pop out while walking.

    Also, it seems impossible to get the same amount of "sealing" in each ear, which is annoying.

    Compared to my headphones from Shure (who seem to be very good about replacements if anything whatsoever is wrong), Beats are just bad.

    1. Steven Raith
      Thumb Up

      Good old Shure

      I'm not audiophile, whatever that really means, but I do like music to sound fairly clean and not overly exaggerated.

      I've had low-mid range shures (from their 1xx-3xx) range over the years as walkabout in-ears for the commute in london for years, always been happy with them. The abuse they got meant they didn't always last too well (but to be fair, I only took them off to go to bed...) but Shures customer service is just utterly bob on - polite, friendly, and accomodating. If the headphones are out of warranty, when I did that last, they offered me 25% off a new pair.

      Not bad at all in my mind.

      That said, since I left London (now in North Yorks) I've had less need for them. Or headphones, at all. No commute, natch...!

      Steven R

  21. Rosco

    Bass is everything

    Unfortunately, to such a lot of people "audio quality" means "how loud is the bass?" Manufacturers know that's where the money is.

    1. Dazed and Confused

      Re: Bass is everything

      > "how loud is the bass?"

      My son is extremely "badge concious" and decided he wanted to blow nearly all the money he'd got for his birthday on a pair of Beat's headphones, about £220 quid was the cheapest we could find them.

      They just seemed to crank up the base beyond all recognition. They might by optimised for the sort of music he's into but with my taste in music the base was just so distorted it was unlistenable to. With plucked double bass in Jazz they were horrible some other stuff was so bad it was almost funny.

      I think the "how loud is the bass" think only works if its actually capable of making the sounds its trying to make. I found that faced with some heavy bass sounds they just rolled over and gave up.

      He took them back yesterday having finally decided that image perhaps wasn't everything.

      Generally MP3 is shit even to 50 year old ears, but it is really convenient. Audiophile quality Deutsche Grammophon vinyl records played through the sort of gear I never had sounded out of this world, but they were hardly the easiest way to listen to things.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bass is everything

        "[...] about £220 quid was the cheapest we could find them."

        So that's what people are wearing nowadays - had wondered about this new fashion. At that price it must create a market for muggers - especially as the victim wouldn't hear a buffalo stampede behind them.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I had a subwoofer on one of my old Acer laptops, it sounded brilliant.

  23. Annihilator


    " A rumour had gone around before they set off that one spoilt little sod was taking a grand with him, so we wanted to be sure ours had enough to at least buy himself a reputation-saving music tech gadget if he happened to pass an Apple Store."

    That's a joke, right?? Giving your child money for a trip, fine, but giving it to them just because you've heard young Tarquin is being given money? A new level of keeping up with the Jones' I have to say..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: WTF?

      "That's a joke, right?? Giving your child money for a trip, fine, but giving it to them just because you've heard young Tarquin is being given money? A new level of keeping up with the Jones' I have to say.."

      And the type of attitude that critics of Thatcher claim she helped to foster, which is kinda ironic considering the earlier reference to the Iron Lady from Mr Dabbs.

    2. keithpeter Silver badge

      Re: WTF?

      Hope he got to take the ferry. And the Subway. And get a breakfast in a small diner and watch the people going past. Sod the Tarquins

  24. Bod


    At least the "trend" has switched back to big ear enclosing cans like the old days (remember the kid in E.T. wearing them?). They do potentially at least keep some of the sound in the ear, not the majority of it leaking out to annoy everyone around and delivering tinny crap to the wearer, i.e. iPod etc in ear buds*

    * - should say there are some cracking good in ear buds out there though. Proper isolating ones that go right in the ear canal and seal the ear off with mouldable rubber or foam. Keeps all the sound in and helps enormously in good bass reproduction compared to loose ones that fall out of people's ears. Sure, still not your home kit, but best you can get in an office or plane (and cuts out a lot of the outside noise).

    Shall we talk crossfeed though? (or lack of in most portable players) ;)

  25. ducatis'r us

    It's in the ears of the beholder

    I'm probably a little older than Alistair Dabbs as I went to university in the late 70's. The average student then generally had a crappy mono 'record player' , or more accurately record destroyer, whilst only the more fussy/rich had a set up usually based around components from Wharfedale, Garrard and that other colossus of the cheap British 'HiFi' Clive Sinclair. At home My parents had a 'radiogram' where the quality of the wood veneer was far more important than the sound. So most people put up with sound quality far worse than today's MP3 players. I think that the average, admittedly not Hi Fi, sound quality of music that people listen to is much higher than it was 30 or 40 years ago and for most people that is good enough as it always has been. There will also always be people for whom this isn't good enough, myself included although i wouldn't go as far as:

    Context is also important. If I really want to listen to music i will always prefer the source whether it's Vinyl or CD, I have never messed around much with FLAC etc, but when i am enjoying an evening around the dinner table with some of my amazingly witty and intelligent friends then MP3 is fine, plus I don't have to keep changing things. The same for listening in the car.

    So chacun à son goût as Nigel Farage would say. He likes a pint or two, apparently.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: It's in the ears of the beholder

      My parents bought one of those Amstrad hi-fi things in the 80s. Sure it wasn't brilliant, but I'm pretty sure it was better than anything they could afford before that.

      Similarly I remember when I bought my first CD player. It was pretty rubbish. I know that now. But the jump from tape to CD (live VHS to DVD) was so amazingly huge that I thought it was the bees knees. It was only when I could afford something a bit better, that I realised quite how poor it really was. I've never felt the need to spend on serious audio goodies, but have used professional gear, I don't think the leap in quality is quite worth the money.

      I'm no audiophile, but I've mixed quite a bit of live music. And I'm therefore fully aware of how much less most people pick up.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: It's in the ears of the beholder

        Mr Dabbs was just a bit too late.

        As a studentin the late 70s and early 80's, I had some of the earlier Amstrad HiFi, including an IC2000 amp. and an IC3000 tuner (and a JVC KD720 tape desk, and a turntable from Strathern, a failed Northern Irish employment project). I also had a set of Comet speakers which were the weakest components, but were the same as Amstrad speakers of the time, and definitely had two drivers, although they were replaced by a set of Keesonic Kubs, which I still have today (great little bookshelf speakers).

        Now I know it was not up to the grade of my friends who had Rega, Quad, Tangerine, A&R and Mordaunt-Short kit, but it was definitely better than the so-called 'Music Centres' or pseudo stacks that many of my friends had. Was a good compromise between cost and quality.

        The follow up Amstrad kit that was in hardboard boxes with tin-foil glued on to make it look like metal were crap, however. The switch was when the switch from from discrete power transistors to integrated circuits for the power amplification was the point where it went downhill. (BTW, the IC in the IC2000 amp referred to a single IC in the pre-amp stage, not the rest of the amp).

    2. ducatis'r us

      Re: It's in the ears of the beholder

      I have to agree with Alistair, having heard through a related young person, that Beats (tm) is just a loudness switch you can't turn off

  26. Stefing


    Most of my friends buy vinyl rather than CDs or MP3s these days, in their case it's not hipsterism, they genuinely believe that the quality is better - and there is some truth to this, although CDs are clearly technically superior, the audio itself is often hideously remastered using dynamic range compression - WHICH IS WORSE THAN HITLER.

  27. Salacious Crumb


    You can spend millions on a studio and still sound shite if you crush the dynamic range of music.

    Dust off a quality hi-fi and play a CD that was manufactured in the '80s, before the 'loudness wars' took hold and marvel at it's sound quality. You'll find you'll need to turn up the volume knob. Compare with a modern CD with so little dynamic range they may as well have recorded in 8 bits. You'll need to turn the volume knob down.

    Good article on the sad subject:

  28. C Phillips

    There will always be a following of high quality and expensive equipment, and if you follow the Hi-Fi magazines you can see there it is possible to spend in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for it. The makers of most equipment are just catering to the crowd and going where the money is. Most people really don't care about quality over quantity (the most songs they can pack into a playback device) because they really don't have the ears to tell good quality from bad. Those who consider 128 kps Mp3 playback to be CD quality really can't tell the difference when played against the original CD. Sometimes it is just a choice of trying to get the best quality for what you can afford that makes us buy what we do. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is simply because others (who probably can't really tell quality) have made a certain type of headphone popular by giving good ratings rather than bad. My best set of earbuds were some skullcandy that were on clearance for $4.00 and I couldn't tell you what model they are. But for the most part, most of us can't afford to be buying 10 different brands to find the best so we lean on the opinions of others for good or bad.

  29. Skrrp
    Thumb Up

    Audio on the cheap

    I'm not an audiophile but I spend a lot of time walking and listening to mp3s on my phone. A mix of TNS, TNQ, Audible and music.

    I've learnt a long time ago that headphones in the 3.5mm jack kills phone sockets in short order so I use a mix of a Jabra Clipper and cheap headphones. The Clippers last about a year and are replaced at £25 each from eBay.

    The phones I prefer are £8.99 JVC jobbies from Carphone Warehouse. They last about 6 months and have surprisingly good bass response compared to the other manufacturers I've tried. I suspect most of my money on them goes into magnets rather than packaging or brand.

    All in all I spend sub-£45/year on kit and have a happy experience, with the Clipper's ability to answer calls as a bonus.

    I'd shell out on the full Jabra over-the-head unit if I thought I wouldn't destroy it in short order and have to pay somewhere near £200/year.

    Note: my replacement cycle is not a negative statement about the products or the manufacturers, it is a symptom if the use and abuse I give my kit.

    1. Bad Beaver

      Re: Audio on the cheap

      What's your hobby, parkour?

  30. Eponymous Cowherd

    Is the complete package for the tech Fashion Victim....

    a pair of Dr Dres plugged into an iPhone 5?

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Is the complete package for the tech Fashion Victim....

      All the cool kids are doing it.


  31. Ian 62

    Gap in the market..

    I've got a volume knob made of wood to give a warmer smoother sound.

    I've got speaker cables raised from the floor on ceramic towers to reduce vibration.

    I've used laser filtering pen to colour in the edges of my CDs to reduce refraction.

    I've put my stack on foam mats to remove cd wobble.

    I've used a mains electricty filter to reduce distortion.

    I've got oxygen free gold cables to improve signal transmission.

    So why does my copy of Britney still sound pish?

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Gap in the market..

      Wow. Learn something new everyday.

      There's a couple of things in that list I've not heard of.

      How can I be so old and yet be still amazed at the endless depth of stupid?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Gap in the market..

        There's something similar to audiophile silliness amongst musicians as well. Check out the number of "boutique" effects pedals that are just minor variations on designs from thirty or forty odd years ago, but sold for many hundreds of pounds more than the components cost. The worst are fuzz or overdrive pedals, which are incredibly simple circuits, but have entire forums and message boards devoted to them. Some of the people who post there must spend so much time worrying about which pedal to buy next that they never actually play their instruments ...

    2. plrndl

      Re: Gap in the market.. (NOT a joke)

      A musician friend of mine once told me of a friend of his who had a very expensive hi-fi.

      He paid hundreds of pounds each (1980's prices) for cartridge, tone arm, record deck, valve pre- and power-amps, and £60 for fashionable-at-the-time tiny Wharfdale speakers.

      He listened exclusively to punk music.

    3. Zmodem

      Re: Gap in the market..

      i just re-engineer cd`s, because they sound complete shit in general and a joke to anything of sound quality

    4. Mips

      Re: Gap in the market..

      That's so esoteric. You must be getting it right. No joke!

  32. g e


    Gimungous stupid big earcans.. I'm sure they exist to keep hipsters' brains from leaking out of their paper-thin skulls while making them think they look individual and interesting.

    You know when someone gives a shit about their headphone audio when they're using Shure Isolators or similar... approx 1/8th the size of those recycled oildrums though you do look a tad like Lieutenant Uhura though fuck me that's better than a 50's sci fi alien...

    In fact I have a pair of £2 poundshop - yeah I didn't get that either - earbuds that actually sound bloody great, surprisingly extended bass, full middle and airy tops, though I have to prefer the car audio system for music on the move - OK, perhaps not in pedestrian areas ;o)

  33. Irongut


    Even their cheapest pairs are better than anything from Beats.

  34. Fading

    I'll admit it.

    Yep - I had one of those Amstrads (was a bargin from Dixon's IIRC). You couldn't buy a cheaper 4 track tape deck (top one was two track for mixing down to). Bit of muting the central track and you had a nice cheap karaoke machine (if nice and karaoke can be used in the same sentence).

    1. Darryl
      Thumb Down

      Re: if nice and karaoke can be used in the same sentence

      No, no it can't

  35. Ben Holmes

    Fuck yeah!


    Excuse me whilst I go and dig out Getaway.

  36. oldcoder

    Hearing damage

    I suspect a lot of the lack of interest in audio quality has been caused by the industry itself - the overloading of the volume on everything...

    And then overloading the amps causing additional distortion with very bad effects on listener...

    As in making them deaf.

    The industry has forgotten that music is not just in the notes, or the volume... but also in the silence between the notes.

  37. Churchy

    I agree about the Thatcher Years

    I agree with the article, but the second paragraph was brilliant!!!

    1. Naughtyhorse

      Re: I agree about the Thatcher Years


      bitch i wish she was...

      oh hang on a minute...

      ding dong etc etc

      1. Dazed and Confused

        Re: I agree about the Thatcher Years

        I take neither of you two children is old enough to remember the 70s.

        1. sabroni Silver badge

          Re: old enough to remember the 70s.

          I remember. If only Dave could buy the prole's votes by giving them houses, eh?

          1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

            Re: old enough to remember the 70s.

            But would he remember to tell the councils they couldn't spend the proceeds on building more houses?

  38. jubtastic1

    My tuppound

    I believe its a combination of napster and youtube thats to blame for this, there's a whole generation thats grown up with 'free' music, whatever you want to listen to, whenever you want, that most of it is compressed to shit seemed like a fair compromise at the beginning but now my kids (who have grown up with this), expect the compression noise and peak levels throughout to the point that music sounds wrong when it's missing.

    I'm hoping as they grow older they will reasise what they've been missing and rediscover music.

    Oh, and beats are just fashion cans, how they sound is pretty irrelevant.

  39. Patrick R


    Girls want to date footballers (you know why, ... not because they are the new role models). Guys want to look like footballers. Footballers got wet hair cause they're interviewed after the match and after the shower... put gel in your hair so you look like a footballer. Footballers have Beats headphones... wear Beats headphones. Footballers give a show of constant cheating in sport... Cheat.

    Insult, be a racist twat, ring a colleague cause you spotted a drunk teenager, or even better, take your colleague's wife, bite if you want, It's okay, just a bit of anger management will do for you, cause you're a footballer.

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      Re: Footballers

      Random Rant of the thread! Take an upvote!

  40. Matt 75


    RHA SA950i cans - sound better than Beats and cost only £50. British company too. Tell your friends!

    1. Alfie
      Thumb Up

      Re: RHA-audio

      RHA MA-350 earbuds are good quality for the price, but kept falling out of my ears. Got a set of Comply memory foam tips, and problem solved. All with change from £40. Better than the Sonys and Sennheisers I've owned over the years. Not audiophile quality, but good enough and the Comply tips get rid of the background noise on the bus/train.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Amstrad Faux Hi-Fi

    I had to laugh at the bit about the speaker cabinets with three holes (ostensibly for bass, midrange and tweeter) but just one speaker inside.

    My friend had one of those Amstrad towers which looked like the classic separates system of the day - with amplifier, tape deck and tuner stacked on each other in a chipboard and veneer cabinet and topped off with a turntable.

    All very fine until one day it went wrong, and being a budding engineer I volunteered to fix it. Imagine our surprise to find that the "separates" were in fact just a single sheet of aluminium-faced plywood, with components stuck to the back, divided into three sections to look like discrete units and screwed to a largely empty wooden box.


    1. Jess--

      Re: Amstrad Faux Hi-Fi

      I used to do a roaring trade in modified amstrad stereos by turning them into slimline wall mountable units, people thought it was amazing that they could be slimmed down to 4 inches in depth (with the loss of the turntable) and still work perfectly, very few realised that the rest of the box was normally empty on un modified stereos.

      my system at the time was various sony tape decks, a cd player unbolted from the bottom of a combined system (cant remember the make on the outside but it was sony innards) a pioneer sa-706 amp (still have it in the loft) and some sony APM-101 speakers.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You are now my favorite El Reg hack

    "in order to help fund Thatcher’s cock-sucking City trader friends’ plan to steal from the public sector for 30 years and then, when it eventually went wrong, get the public sector to pay for it."


    1. Piro Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: You are now my favorite El Reg hack

      Fantastic quote.

  43. Sequin

    One problem

    Why pay for a hugely expensive seat of headphones when you have to listen to them with a pair of ears that came free of charge?

  44. MartinBZM

    Audio "Quality" on Phones

    My daughter likes to listen to "crap music" on he phone.... It sounds even crappier to me coming from the phone than from de radio, and she kind of agrees wirh me.

    One day I told her there is a way to vastly improve the quality of the sound of the phone ...

    "You have to put it on the floor with the display facing down."




    "And then stomp on it really hard with your foot !"

  45. IGnatius T Foobar

    Did you really need the political commentary?

    I was prepared to read something about audio quality but I stopped reading when you prefaced the article with a bunch of left wing political crap.

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      Re: Did you really need the political commentary?

      I find it's valuable to read things written by people who's politics I disagree with. You certainly can't engage with them in any meangingful way if you don't at least try to understand where they're coming from.

      1. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: Did you really need the political commentary?

        sabroni: "I find it's valuable to read things written by people who's politics I disagree with"

        +1. I greatly enjoy reading the output of AO, LP and TW on these pages, although I doubt we share much political common ground.

      2. Steven Roper
        Thumb Up

        Re: Did you really need the political commentary?

        I also make the effort to read articles and comments by those whose politics I don't share; there's no point in trying to argue with someone if you don't understand why they think the way they do, or you'll just end up crossing wires and neither of you will get anywhere. As a result, my political stance encompasses elements of of both leftist and rightist thinking. You need some kind of minimum standard of living and welfare for those who need assistance to maintain it, but you also need some leeway for business to be able to grow and survive in a competitive world. So it's important to understand both sides of the issues.

        My biggest problem though, comes when dealing with those whose political views involve the use of words like "racist", "sexist", "misogynist", "homophobic", "xenophobic", "heteronormative", and "(white/male) privilege" - which generally leaves me wanting to blow their sanctimonious heads off. I find it ironic that the worst offenders in that camp are often white and/or male themselves. Methinks they doth protest too much?

  46. ecofeco Silver badge

    Tin ears

    Most people have tin ears and always have.

    Headphones? I often find some cheap headphones actually have some very good quality. How do I know this? When I can hear the string plucked that I haven't heard in years. Or the inhale of breath. Or a very high note or fading drum beat that's been lost over the years.

    Don't get me started on pub/bar sounds systems. "Shit" doesn't even do 'em justice.

    1. Tel Starr

      Re: Tin ears

      Why would you want to hear McCartney let off a wet one mid way thru Hey Jude?

      Music is to be enjoyed. So long as you are enjoying it how you actually listen to it is meaningless.

    2. plrndl

      Re: Tin ears

      If you go to a pub/bar to enjoy the quality of the background music, you have seriously lost the plot.

      And on that note, I'm going to the pub for a beer.

    3. Don Jefe

      Re: Tin ears

      I think you're confusing isolation with quality. Even crappy headphones block out a substantial amount of the ambient noise that drowns out subtle sounds in the recording.

      Ambient noise is one of the biggest killers of sound quality & people generally try to compensate by cranking the volume, which results in poor quality due to mechanical limitations on the drivers & pushes already overloaded amps past their limits.

      Instead of putting big bucks into gear a more efficient route (assuming you own your residence) is to invest in quieting the room down. The same is true in vehicles. In the mid-ish 90's when we were building car systems for competition it was common to spend as much on sound deadening and resonance control as was spent on the components themselves.

  47. Andrew Heffron

    Fiat is actually offering Beats Audio as an upgrade to the STANDARD Bose system. What?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Fiat? I could understand Mitsubishi

      Fiat? I could understand Mitsubishi doing this, along with the "zero suspension travel" slam-down, "rubber band on huge rims" t[iy]res, "day-glo paint", "undercarriage neon", "stupidly high 'spoiler'", "large number of stickers", and "Krylon black windows" options that seem to all go together.

      Oh, and lest I forget, the all-important "chrome phart-pipe exhaust" option.

    2. 142

      Given the quality of Bose systems in the last decade, Beats Audio is probably an order of magnitude upgrade!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They're just following the basics of "BOSE" - Buy Other Sound Equipment.

  48. Richard E

    Hard to know where to start...

    There are so many points here it's hard top know where to start.

    Most modern music sounds crap because it's over-compressed at the mastering stage, where too many people think that making their content appear louder than anyone else's would make it sell better, whereas in fact it becomes a tiring muddy mess that makes people NOT buy music. And the technique doesn't work because a) everyone else is doing it and b) virtually everything you listen through has its own method of levelling things out that thwarts maximising. For more details, look up "Loudness Wars".

    Most music heard on personal stereo systems whatever the make sounds crap because of lossy compression. MP3 - an ageing technology at best - is worst at this; AAC is much better but still not perfect. Lossy compression claims to remove the things you can't hear to reduce file sizes but in fact it removes plenty you CAN hear too. The only way round this is to use better compression, ie lossless. Apple Lossless and FLAC compress files without losing ANY data at all. Storage is cheap as anything now so why worry about compressing the crap out of your music (and the life out of it too) when you can hear it all? There are also new technologies in the pipeline that will deliver maximum detail if you have a special player and normal quality if you don't.

    The main problem with listening on a personal stereo isn't the personal stereo, it's the headphones. Tiny little earbuds manufactured for pence are going to be hard-pushed to sound good. To get any kind of decent sound you will need something better - not necessarily over-hyped over-hyped names but good solid headphones made by reputable audio manufacturers at whatever price you can afford.

    The last thing you might like to look at is the replay system. Your computer is not the best environment for music because it's so busy being good at doing other things. If you want to listen on your computer, however, you have many more options than you do if you want a personal stereo. To begin with you can buy an external USB DAC like Meridian Audio's Explorer or one of its competitors - a couple of hundred quid but worth it if you care about your music (and if you don't, why are you bothering?). Coupled with decent headphones, a good USB DAC can transform your listening, and the better the source, the better it sounds.

    Hope this helps.

    1. Jess--

      Re: Hard to know where to start...

      it doesn't have to be a seperate usb dac

      pretty much anything apart from on-board audio will generally give a vast improvement (on-board is generally there for office usage error beeps and maybe a few video calls)

      this was highlighted to me by doing like for like comparisons between my computer and my business partners

      both in the same room

      both with identical motherboards

      identical speaker systems

      the only difference between the systems is that mine has an obselete sound blaster audigy and his is using on-board audio, words do not describe the difference in audio quality (and I know the audigy is far from perfect)

      1. 142

        Re: Hard to know where to start...

        Ah yes... the beautiful sound of every mouse movement signal bleeding over from the USB input on the motherboard, onto the on-board audio headphone output...

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There are very few "names" I would trust....

    There are very few "names" I would trust for audio - most performers have no clue about the technical aspects of sound (ESPECIALLY what passes for "music" "performers" now-a-days).

    I *might* buy headphones with Tom Scholtz's name on them - the man has a Masters in Mechanical Engineering, as well has having proven himself as understanding production. I *might* buy headphones with Alan Parson's name on them, because again, he's shown he understands production.

    But really, the only name I'm really going to jump on would be Bob Heil, because he's shown over the decades that he understands how to make things that make music.

  50. Phill 3

    Beats audio quality

    I find it interesting that there a no published specs. for any of the 'Beats' kit. Nor for the shorter lived but similar HP branding exercise etc. E.g. Frequency response, sensitivity, THD. I think it's fair enough to promote them on their fashion styling but I find it annoying that they purport to be of superior sound quality yet they refuse to release any figures.

  51. Natalie Gritpants

    You need to shoot yourself

    Feeling miserable because GDP has gone up? I remember what this country was like in the 70's and 80' and the sense of entitlement in some sectors was higher than it is now. Thanks to Thatcher we have now stripped most of the power from the unions (but not before they destroyed the car industry).

    Music on cheap headphones sounds better than on expensive old stuff because it has no wow, flutter, clicks, print-through, interference from engine ignitions. It has similar harmonic distortion and frequency response but your brain is quite capable of compensating for that and removing a fair bit of random noise otherwise you wouldn't be able to have a conversation while walking between rooms.

    Cheer up and listen to some music you enjoy.

    1. Steven Roper

      No, you need to shoot yourself

      Are you really happy that your kids are working 60+ hours a week for a pittance while the CEO of the company they work for waxes fat and rich on their labours, because this Thatcher whose boots you lick destroyed all the hard-fought rights of workers to decent pay and working conditions?

      I also remember the 70s: a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, a 38-hour week, and only Dad had to work to pay the house off (Mum started working in the 80s so they could get their 25 year mortgage down to 10.) You try and find that lifestyle anywhere now, thanks to people like you supporting Thatcher and her ilk.

  52. Britt Johnston

    good sound is possible

    As commenters like peter gathercole mention, quality of sound has been a problem since Edison. But I'm happy with my current sound from my laptops, and use these in preference to mobile devices. The laptop signal feeds to a USB soundcard, and from here into the AUX channel of a bedsit Hifi.

    - so yes, tinny laptop speakers are the worst problem

    - the two laptops differ in signal: an Acer being noticeably better than a non-Beats HP

    - I do attach sound-compensating headphones, to filter out house noise and let others sleep, but they would be unsafe in traffic.

    - Youtube is interesting, also because of the range in quality of uploaded music - a valuable discipline of its own, as previous comments have mentioned.

  53. Thorfkin

    PC Audio

    The same thing has been happening in the PC market as well. You used to be able to expect that a high end PC would come equipped with a creative labs, turtle beach, or other comparatively high qualify audio card but these days you're hard pressed to even find them separately let alone buy a machine with a decent audio card pre-installed. I remember I used to be able to find motherboards with creative labs audio chipsets onboard. Now all I see are realtek chipsets. My home theater PC is poorer for it.

    But I also agree that the source audio quality is a big problem these days. I have an old album called the Sierra Soundtrack Collection recorded my Mark Siebert that I bought back in the early 90s. The audio fidelity is absolutely amazing. It easily destroys newer stuff like my Disturbed albums in quality. Don't get me wrong, I love Disturbed's stuff but I do really miss the 90s focus on audio fidelity.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: PC Audio

      Old audio cards/chips offloaded a bunch of sound processing from the CPU because the CPU was not fast enough to do it itself, or only barely fast enough.

      Now that the processor in your phone is literally 50 times faster than your 486, fancy sound cards are absolutely not necessary.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: PC Audio

        If I remember correctly, the big thing about Beats Audio on HP notebooks was that more consideration had been given to design and layout of the audio circuitry on the motherboard - basically they realised that audio signals are different to digital signals...

        So HP would seem to have used "Beats" as a tool to market these notebooks with a "youth appeal" image that couldn't be obtained through using names such as Dolby or Creative...

      2. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: PC Audio

        True, the processing needed is completely irrelevant these days.

        However, the onboard DACs and line/headphone amps tend to be really rubbish, built as cheap as possible with noisy PSUs.

        This doesn't matter though, as almost all of them have a digital audio output to feed into something with a decent set of DACs and amps - be it HDMI, SPDIF or optical.

        Pretty much every discrete graphics card with an HDMI port has this capability, and the Realtek, nForce audio etc chipsets not only all have the digital output to connect it, but will "sound" exactly as good as anything else playing the same audio file.

        Nobody needs a discrete sound card for good PC audio playback anymore - just a decent amp and speakers with digital audio input.

  54. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    A revelation

    So Dr Dre's PhD isn't in acoustics then ?

  55. vinyl1

    It is ironic that audiophiles...

    ...have gone in the other direction. I was at the Chester Group audio show in New York a couple of weeks ago, and there were no systems on display under $100,000.

    Of course, it's a show, they're going to show off their best stuff, but things have gotten out of hand. The sound was fabulous, but really.

    Not only that, but the best music was private double-DSD rips of analogue studio master tapes, which of course are not available at all to consumers at any price. While 5.6 million bits a second can sound mighty good, there's no point to the equipment if no music is available.

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Quality seems to be improving to me

    Does anybody remember 10 years ago? I had a Creative Labs MP3 player that came with earbuds that were ridiculously cheap, uncomfortable, sounded bad, and made annoying little clicking sounds depending on what was being played. They were at least as bad as the awful earbuds they give you for free on domestic flights today. For as much crap as Apple takes, the earbuds they've bundled with their products have been excellent in comparison.

    Similarly, I remember buying stereo computer speakers 10 years ago that were incapable of reproducing any bass at all and had massive distortion when turned up over 50% of their advertised volume. I don't think it's possible to buy such bad speakers these days, and I'm very impressed with the quality of output from these tiny portable Bluetooth speaker sets like the Jambox, which seem to put out a pretty significant amount of bass for being so small.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Quality seems to be improving to me

      I still have my 15 years old speakers ... roaring cubes of nastiness.

      But why change?

  57. Bad Beaver

    Suckers will be suckers

    RE: Music quality goes down the drain – I used to be much more invested in the topic but once I noticed that I, me, myself am part of a significant market – listeners who care about how stuff sounds – I knew that I would always be catered to. There are more high quality music releases than I can find the time to listen to. Hell, MobileFidelity alone releases so many top notch SACDs on a regular basis that they could eat up the better part of my monthly music budget. If you are more of the download type, there are several places that offer a great variety of up to 192Hhz material.

    RE: Quality gear is getting too expensive – Far from it! The area in particular is home to some of the best makers of audio gear on the planet. Linn, Naim, Exposure, you name it – and they all offer affordable systems with excellent bang-for-buck ratio. Sure, you can still shoot for the moon. That is a game of quickly diminishing returns. Plus quality gear is an excellent thing to buy second hand. It tends to last.

    RE: Beats phones – who gives a toss? You know they are overpriced abominations for posers and fashion victims. Buy something else and educate your kids about the finer things in life. Stop worrying about how other people spend their money, have more time to enjoy your music.

  58. cbf123

    Lots of reasonably priced headphone options...

    The Koss KSC35 looks a bit odd, but has excellent sound. The Koss PortaPro uses the same driver but fits over the head and is foldable, plus it has a cool retro look.

    Another decent on-ear headphone is the Crado SR80i. For over-ear you might consider the Sennheiser 280 Pro.

    For ear-bud style, the Creative EP630 gives excellent value for money.

  59. Dave 62

    without reading all the comments I'm just gonna weigh in and say fuck you Alister because Senheiser and Beyer Dynamics have been selling quality headphones for cheaps since fucking forever, the only difference with beats is they're fucking sparkly. (n.b. senheiser seem to be going downhill these days, meaning they charge more for lower quality but it's fashionable with people who think they're cool cos they didn't fall for beats)

    1. Brenda McViking

      I have some beats, yes I was ripped off (and knew it, but the airport had no other noise canx headsets and I had 24 hours of flying ahead of me)

      They're around the same quality as my Sennheisers which are probably 90 quid RRP (if anyone ever pays RRP?) so Beats are overpriced by factor of 3.

      Equally, lots of fake Sennheisers around, in VERY convincing packaging, accessories and all, particularly if you buy online.

      Sure, Beats are a fashion accessory, but like the fanbois buying up iPhones for the same reason, it is quite nice to have a lot of people with too much money reducing the cost of technology for the benefit of the rest of us. Beats may not be highly rated in audiophile circles, but they so much better than the crap HMV used to sell in packaging with "neodynium magnets" plastered all over it 5 years ago. Once people have heard music with half-decent earphones, they don't go back - and that can only be good news for the audiophiles. (unless they like being loners)

  60. Jim Lewis

    I wholeheartedly agree. I can't help feeling that the younger generation have been sold a pup on this one.

    We are of the age that regarded the pursuit of better and better sound quality a worthwhile thing to do, hence the apogee of CD sample rates.

    Once convenience trumped this goal all was lost. 'Look i've got 200 albums on this iPod', 'sure, but the quality is pish'

    Can it be coincidence that music today really is shite when what people listen to it on is incapable of revealing that fact? Or indeed that 'lo-fi' became a thing around the same time?

  61. David Kelly 2

    Quality of Content?

    Why bother with audiophile reproduction of unworthy content?

  62. QAZXSW

    Finished with ElReg

    I've put up with the pathetic innuendo for years, but when an author talks about 'c@ck-sucking City trader', then it's time to to say sod off and leave it to the ignorant. If others wish to read news stories at such a low evel then that is your wish, not mine.

    Totally unacceptable.

    1. Anomalous Cowturd

      Re: Finished with ElReg

      Thanks for registering, just to say goodbye. Mr city trader QAZXSW

      Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

      P.S. Great article by the way Al. ;o)

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Finished with ElReg

        It's to gear up discussion and have some righteous simmering anger burst into flames of lyrical discontent in these here barren plains of commentary.

        1. jason 7

          Re: Finished with ElReg

          Must be a dissapointment in life to work your way up to a high postion in the city, expecting the respect and gratitude of the nation to find yourself actually ranked socially lower than MPs and Peadophiles.

          I can't imagine why?

  63. the_other_oddsock

    Anyone remember the “It’s a hi-fi! It’s a studio!”

    Yes. Yes I do. With this one recollection, Mr Dabbs, you have won my (manly) affection for ever. The phrase was on my lips before I read it in your article. I'm so gratified that it wasn't just me and my weird friends who found this particular piece of advertising copy so amusing. I would also like to shout out to my old school friend Andrew Oldfield, who 'did the voice' best.

  64. Sil

    The younger generation only knows music as mp3 with too low bitrate, autotuned 'singers', music with 0 dynamic to win radio's loudness war, and too much sugaring (reverb & co)listened on crappy laptop loudspeakers or 50 cents mobile headphones. Within these parameters an over expensive piece of 'pro' headphones must sound reassuring. They would probably hate true neutral monitor headphones, accusing them of too thin bass.

  65. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    +1000 brownie points

    "to help fund Thatcher’s cock-sucking City trader friends’ plan to steal from the public sector for 30 years and then, when it eventually went wrong, get the public sector to pay for it"

    It would be funny if it wasn't true.

    Oh, and Beats headphones are widely acknowledged by the cognoscenti as being truly dire over-priced dross.

  66. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    "in order to help fund Thatcher’s cock-sucking City trader friends’ plan to steal from the public sector for 30 years and then"

    My Goodness! Did I arrive at The Morning Star!? Something must have gone wrong with the Internets. And no page 3 either.

    Oh yes, audio quality? Well, you know.... there is an ear and a brain that judges, so it's all personal. I hear good applications of minute quantities of LSD will Improve Experience™

    And might the esteemed readership vector me to a good book about the UK economic developments of the last 30 or so years like "Greenspan 2.0" or "The Great Deformation" (i.e. not of the "It's Capitalism Wot Done It, Mate" bullshit kind)? I need more info.

  67. Pointer2null

    No point having decent hi-fi/speaker/headphone if the original recording is low grade junk.

    I listened to an Amy McDonald album recently - sounds like it was mixed using a pair of cheap headphones by an amateur. Also listened to a track from Katy Perry (Fireworks), it's distorted and clipped ffs.

    Seems like it produced to sound ok when compressed to a mp3 junk file and played on a nasty ipod or similar crap.

  68. jason 7

    The quality nosedived when folks no longer needed a recording studio!

    Now anyone can buy a laptop and some software and record an album. No training or skill needed. No concept of accoustics or mastering required. A lot of artists now record their major albums on the road in their hotel rooms with a Macbook for Christs sake.

    Twenty years ago the young tykes would have been pushed into a well equiped studio and issued with a couple of experienced engineers and a producer that knew what he was doing and kept them from touching the desk.

    Listen to those pop albums from the 80's and they sound fantastic. Even what we considered the throw-away pop from the 70's and 80's sounds like a David Sylvian sonic masterpiece in comparison to the pop of today.

    Dynamics, space, layering of vocals and instruments, placement, studio tricks, they are all there in those vintage recordings but totally absent from 90% of todays pop/rock.

    To frighten the kids of today and let them know what dynamics mean I sit them down and play them Scot Walker's Tilt. They nearly hit the roof when one part in particular plays. Here endedth the lesson.

  69. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All I need to say is "Grado"

    My teenage daughter who is marketting fodder kept on going on about "Beats" audio and one bored saturday afternoon I was "showrooming" in Currys and they had a display that let you test their heaphones. Some of them were "Beats", and I thought they were all generally shit, especially for the massively over inflated prices.

    Fast forward to another bored saturday morning where I ended up in Richers Sounds near a Glass Shop where I was waiting for someone to cut some glass. "Come back in a hour" the Glass Cutting Chap said. Hence I had an hour to burn.

    So I was browsing Richer sounds and thought I'd try my crap MP3 sounds from my Android phone , doesn't matter which one, they're all just sorta okay, and I tried out Richer Sounds range of heaphones.

    There was some set of AKG ones for around 30 to 40 quid and they weren't bad. No Beats in sight , thank flip, the ones that really grabbed my attentiion were some Grado SR80i's , open backed admittedly, so bound to pee off everyone else, and not that good in noisy enviroments, but the clarity blew me away, so much so I bought a set , and then found on the net lots of other people thought they were flippin' good too.

    Bottom line , AKG , Sennheiser , Grado and probably a few others generally make pretty good headphones. I've had some Sennheiser's I've liked too. The open backed and closed back is also an important question to answer, i.e. where are you going to be using the headphones.

    My summary on Beats is well' they're just well beaten by all of the above on price and performance, if not marketting.

    So I guess my teenage daughter will still be fodder for the rubbish the bullshit department of Beats puts out . hey ho, maybe she'll learn one day.

  70. dannymot

    lack of balance

    Audio is such a mistrusted subject now. It is for me as I find so few opinions that go along with what I experience. I imagine that allot of people are finding the same thing.

    My source is a passive low power PC with my music stored on SSD. In its music playing state it requires less than a dozen watts to power. No hard drives or fans as I found them to be too noisy. The music plays on JRiver media player using WASAPI event style. My PC connects to an m-dac then a roksan power amplifier and finally a pair of Spendor SE1's which are well positioned in a room size they were designed for (small to medium). The house has low background noise.

    All my own music is in a lossless compressed format. I can hear no difference and measure no difference between them and uncompressed lossless. I have played lossy formats and struggle to hear the difference between them and lossless or uncompressed as long as they are not encoded at minimal settings. However my brain doesn't seem to find them as interesting.

    I don't care that much about loudness wars as most offenders are aimed at chart/radio which is not my cup of tea anyway. There is some annoyance that a handful of interesting albums have fallen victim. Largely the loudness change happened as more could be added without negative effects when mastered for CD rather than vinyl. It was introduced more and more as vinyl became less and less popular. They all get tarred with the same brush as offending albums when trying to prove the loudness wars though. Oh and 80's albums do not sound better just quieter. There are more poor 80's albums quality wise than 90's or 00's when used with digital equipment. If you take the poorest of any decade they will make any other decade look like is was a Nirvana. It is just unfortunate that the poorest as the years moved on is the stuff I'm slapped with across the face with most often from radio or TV.

    I have expensive digital cables, interconnects, speaker cables and a star earthed power cable. They have added nothing to the experience except for the speaker cable which is visibly much better looking.

    For my laptop and phone I have some AKG headphones which are perfectly fine and certain hi-fi magazine recommended bluetooth headphones which are terrible. I have owned a quality headphone amplifier in the past as well as some Grado's and Sennheisers phones which were great but I didn't listen to them enough to justify keeping.

    DAC chips are cheap and mostly good quality nowadays. The poorness comes from what happens before and after the chips. They still need a decent clock and some kind of amplification with few interference creating parts nearby (good luck mobile phone) before going into an amp or headphones. For easy to drive headphones though most mobile players are adequate.

    Beats audio headphones are overpriced and not well balanced, but why trust the music enthusiasts when they can't even come close to agreeing on lossless, lossy, analogue, digital, cables and stands, or an article that brings up audio quality and then Apple as the answer.

  71. bill 20


    Grados SR60i all the way - the antithesis of Dr. Dre(adful)'s pieces of expensive crap....

    They're ugly, uncomfortable, cheap and plasticky looking, and they sound HEAVENLY.

    1. Colin Ritchie

      Re: Anti-audiophile

      Gotta agree with the Grados SR60s, on my 2nd pair in 10 years and loving every note.

      I went down the old school route to decent hi-fi which cost a fraction of the prices folk want for "proper" equipment nowadays.

      2nd hand Rogers LS2a speakers for £115 a pair, NAD 3020i amp for £100 (when new in the 90's!) and a pair of Sennheiser PX100-II for £20 when HMV went bust, which blew away a Bleats by Dr Dre-adful owner at work when I convinced him to swap for 5 minutes....

      He was gutted at the trouncing a tiny pair of cans for a tenth of the price handed out to his pride and joys.

      Love the old kit it works better, lasts longer and ears haven't evolved any different since.

  72. Zmodem

    beats are for barbie dolls, anyone who listen to any kind of decent music and has any street cred have marley headphone made by bob marley

  73. Francis Boyle

    Curious, Captain

    I don't recall 1987 being in black and white.

  74. bag o' spanners

    The thing about listening on headphones is that it's personal, not social, industrial or political. No two sets of ears have the same frequency response across the entire spectrum, so it's all subjective. For someone whose eardrums have taken a pounding from close proximity square waves, most audiomush sounds fine if it's really fookin' loud. For someone who wants detail, and doesn't need their head stoving in with loudness, a pair of ye olde Quad Electrostatic headphones might be closer to ambrosia. And gloriously fragile.

    Myself, I monitor on a cheap-ass active Sumvision pc speaker thing when I don't want to annoy my neighbours. Otherwise it's ATC SCM10s and a couple of A&R Cambridge IC blocks from the waybackwhen. Not exactly audiophile, but they're nicely matched. I've got a pro line driver stuck in front of them, and the feed for that comes from a fancy DAC in a TC Konnekt 48. It works for me.

    I use two sets of cans for checking the consumer reality. Closed Sennheiser HD 570s for the warm woolly tube sound, and open HD480s for the brutal dj monitoring experience. If I'm compressing wavs to mp3, i strip out the very low subs <50hz, and push the resonant bass frequencies around 250Hz. I leave 0.3db of headroom to stop it squeaking on tiny low quality DACs, using an Ultramaximiser plugin to give it a sweet dynamic optimisation, that doesn't trade off clarity and warmth for loudness (other costly plugins are available). Then I crunch the wav down to 320VBR, and it sounds rather sweet, even on my Sony phone with soft earbuds.. You could use any cheap headphones to listen to properly mastered music, and it would refuse to sound crap (psychoacoustically), because it's designed for a wide range of kit, from budget to unaffordable..

    The Beats headphones are heavily biased to the budget bass end, which, in a closed space, reduces the available headroom for the rest of the signal. When punter X cranks up the volume in order to hear the top end, it's kinda obvious that it'll sound awesomely bassy, but it's just turbulence in a teacup if you like a warm balanced sound.

    Some of the encoding on the interweb just baffles me. A mindless dork murders a fabulous 70s funk track by optimising it to death, a few hundred more give it the gushing thumbs up, and nobody seems to notice the vile whistling artefact that makes it unlistenable to anyone who's ever heard the vinyl. Beats headphones are sold into that blissful ignorance market..The same market that thinks having a 500W PMP subwoofer in your boot equates to sound quality, when all you can hear is panels and fixtures rattling.

  75. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    I'm a Sennheiser man. Have been for years.

  76. WatAWorld

    Good headphones cost 50% to 75% more in Canada than the USA

    I've been looking for some good headphones, but strangely good headphones cost 50% to 75% more in Canada than the USA.

    And online shops that will ship most of their goods to Canada will not ship headphones here.

  77. Slap

    TL; You DR did you.

    I've long been interested in audio and have come to the conclusion that one mans meat is another mans poison. Audio quality can be both subjective and objective at the same time.

    Take the analogue lovers for instance. They feed a signal from a wobbling needle into RIAA equalisation, then into a tube amp, and finally into a pair of carefully voiced speakers. It sounds warm, full, and generally wonderful, and I agree. So the sound quality must be good, right?

    Well yes and no. Subjectively yes because the sound is so pleasantly listenable to. Objectively it's a train wreck as there's so much 2nd order harmonic distortion being introduced into, and generated in, all parts the signal chain, which is the stuff that makes it sound so inviting to human ear, that the sound only bears a passing resemblance to what's actually been recorded.

    The truth of the matter is that you could take a compressed 128Kbps AAC track, feed it into a reasonably good DAC, then into a good neutral class D amp, and finally into some flat response monitor speakers, and you'll have a sound that is far far closer to the original recording than what you'll ever get from an expensive vinyl/tube setup. The downside is that subjective quality has been reduced as a lot of people find this sound too cold, clinical and perhaps too harsh to be enjoyable.

    This is where Beats and it's ilk come in. It seems that Beats, and the general trend towards headphones with a marked bass presence and rolled off highs, are attempting to put the warmth back into the music. The problem is that just putting in a bass hump and a treble dip does not mean warmth. For my ears it just produces a muffled congested sound, which on less demanding material may sound ok, but complex material just becomes an impenetrable wall of sound that is neither warm or pleasurable to listen to. I'll take my Sennheiser HD25-1 IIs (a design that's over 2 decades old) over any beats or beats pretender in the marketplace today.

    Just a quick comment on audio compression. Is it bad? For me it depends. I recently did a test in which I compressed a couple of AIFFs into AAC 64, 128, 256VBR and 320, and into MP3 64 and 128. Using Audacity I set up all the tracks to play simultaneously via a neutral DAC/headamp combo feeding a pair of AKG Q701 headphones, which are known to be very analytical sounding.

    I used Audacity to quickly A/B the tracks and to cut a long story short I found the MP3 files were so dismal in terms artefacts and metallic sounds compared to their AAC counterparts that I didn't bother testing higher rate MP3s - MP3 is now an antique format which has outlived it's usefulness IMO. The lower rate AAC files were so superior that I would say that if you're a only a casual listener who is happy with earbuds (or beats) then 128 is probably all you'll need. Personally I couldn't hear the difference between AAC 256VBR and 320, but I could differentiate between 320 and AIFF. it was tough to find, but when I found it I could consistently hear the difference. It's only a very slight difference but it manifested itself in the higher frequencies where the compressed track just lacked a touch of air and space compared to the AIFF.

    To be honest I found the quality of the AAC files, even at 128Kbps, to be pretty damned good. So much so that if somebody gave me an unfamiliar track at 128Kbps and told me it was lossless I wouldn't be able to argue against it. As a result in music where I want the last degree of detail now gets encoded as ALAC, and music where I'm more interested in the musical message rather than absolute detail gets encoded as AAC 256VBR

    Compression has a bad reputation amongst music lovers. However I feel that that reputation is no longer applicable today, and came about purely as a result of poor MP3 encodings. With AAC audio compression is now, and has been for some years, fit for purpose

  78. All names Taken
    Paris Hilton

    Glad you brought attention to this - iTunes music quality seems pre-1960s.

  79. Dr Lecter

    The article that informs us of nothing....

    I read the register often and its bookmark adorns my web browser for quick and easy access to its informative and interesting articles. This article caught my eye and I as I have a "beats" phone I was interested in the writers critique on what I felt was really a well marketed loudness feature with some snazzy headphones. What further insights would the writer present us with, some analysis of the headphones performance and the overall quality of the product? No, what we got is nothing more that what we already know interspersed with a lead in paragraph which resembles a foul mouth petulant teenager throwing his toys out of the pram and all because he lost out on, as his own words describe as a "jolly". A very poor article and very disappointing for a well respected website. Perhaps Mr Dabbs should start writing for the Guardian as his critique of beats audio highlights nothing new, at least there he can roll out the same old drivel to his hearts content.


    Proud owner of the Beats Pro

    The point being that the masses have bad taste because it is different than mine? that would be arrogant of my part, don't you agree.

    Audio quality has progressed enormously from the hissy tapes and horrid headphones from the Walkman era to the great phones and digital encoded music from today. Boom boxes progressed from noise boxes to very compact yet powerful systems.

    And beats headphones are overpriced in the sense that the BMW 1. Good car, yet the VW golf is better and cheaper.

    I can't see a deterioration in audio standars.

    1. MJI Silver badge

      Re: Proud owner of the Beats Pro

      Car comparison.

      Some of us don't like wrong wheel drive

  81. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If you have any other readers as old as me they may 1) remember the story of The Emperor's New Clothes and 2) remember the quote by H J Leak (one time designer of extremely good audio gear) that the ideal amplifier was a 'piece of wire with gain'. Simple concepts like an extended and level frequency response and minimal distortion seem to have disappeared in a welter of 'spin'. This is not just the moaning of an old crumbly raging against the dying of the light - we do seem to have forgotten what audio is supposed to be about. That is, the recording and reproduction of sound so that a listener may hear exactly what the original performance sounded like.

  82. Bell Meister

    In ear Beats however are the Daddy !

    I have to agree with the £200+ over the head units - they look the business but upon use you will soon realise how much you have wasted....let alone sit on the tube and it is awash with over the hea Beats toting sheep (almost as bad as the iPhone crowd)

    The in ear however are the best I have ever used and I have had high end B+O, Klipsch, Shure, Sony etc - granted the build quality isn't on par with other units in this price range however the rich sound from beats trounces all competitors without fail.

    Warm them up for 10+hrs and enjoy the deep bass and crystal highs - I won't trade mine in for any other brand and have spent north of £500 in my search for some decent in ears.

    All this hating tsccchhh !

  83. Chris Beach

    No Information

    Given the apparent rage about these Beats, I took a look at a pair in Curry' it me or is there no technical information about them at all on the box? I don't know the SNR, sensitivity, no of drivers or impedance, that just smacks of "shit product in fancy marketing".

  84. Paul Smith


    " my American jolly was dropped in order to help fund Thatcher’s cock-sucking City trader friends’ plan to steal from the public sector for 30 years and then, when it eventually went wrong, get the public sector to pay for it..."

    If I read that right, what you are saying is that thirty years ago you expected to doss through univeristy at public expense and wind up very comfortable as something in the City, and that you are still bitter that the Thatcher era meant that east end wide boys who went to the wrong schools and had the wrong accents but could buy and sell you, were able to take the job, the money, the prestige and probably the sex that you believed you were rightfully entitled to?

    Of course, the economy would have been so much safer in your hands, wouldn't it? The fact that you give your kid too much money because rumour has it another kid has more, and then express disappointment because he didn't blow on something stupid sounds like the ideal skill set for a city trader.

  85. JBH

    Over-rated pish!

    I am not an audophile by any stretch, I just like a good tune, but funnily enough I was trying out headphones just the other day...

    Out of curiosity I tried a pair of Beats cans, costing £240. To say the sound quality was disappointing would be an understatement. It was bloody atrocious. So ridiculously bass-heavy, it was like listening to Barry White, underwater, with a pillow over my head. I appreciate some people like a bit of bass, but these just sounded muddy and I felt like my tunes were being mangled into a barely recognisable mess. Not only that, but the headphones themselves felt cheap and nasty. Not even there external appearance could justify the ridiculous price tag.

    I also tried a cheap pair of Sony headphones, costing only £20. They sounded crisp and clear, absolutely beautiful. No prizes for guessing who got my money.

  86. caffn8me

    Sound quality was better in the 80s ;)

    A while back, a friend got a new home cinema system with some nice B&W speakers and a good receiver. She wanted to see how good it sounded with music so I suggested Peter Gabriel's 'So' album. When this came out in 1986 (an original analogue recording) it caused a stir in professional audio circles because the sound quality and production were so good. It became a reference recording for many engineers.

    Unfortunately I couldn't find my CD of it so we downloaded it from iTunes.

    I couldn't believe how dreadful it sounded. It even had what sounded like mains hum! It was lifeless and muddled. I could honestly say it was impossible to enjoy.

    I finally managed to find my CD and the difference is incredible. It's back to how I remembered it.

    If people these days only know music from downloads and poor stereo systems they really are missing out.

    Speaking to someone the other day they had never realized that if you had a decent stereo set-up and a good recording you could close your eyes and point to all the instruments :)

  87. SirDigalot

    my kid

    I think eats headphones or something, she will go through a couple of pairs a month sometimes, I have long since given up thinking about expensive brands or even half decent ones... this last time she blamed her ipod for breaking them (it was the ear bud that broke - again because she not only wears them constantly, but uses the cord like a bungee for the ipod!) She was begging to use some of my headphones, and I point blank refused I still have some earbuds going back to the mid 90's when I was wearing them all the time.. needless to say child-o-destroyer-of-headphones can deal without the music for a day or so... then again all she listens to is endless new country and ICP/screamo/wtfisthatactuallymusicthesedays? so there is no real loss in quality, since there never was any to begin with!

    my home system although getting old - ish (8 or so years) is dependable, I replaced the large bookshelf jbls with a set built from linkwitz-lab, more of a project then for pure enjoyment, but they do sound nice and they are generally a good talking point... given my living room has the acoustics of an empty concrete box, I am not to concerned, I use a usb dac just because it is a darn sight easier to plug/unplug stuff at the desktop then it is behind the tower... and I can also give any machine a soundcard.

    outside I have fairly small gainclone that I use with the jbls, and a laptop, most of the time it is internet radio.

    having listened to way too loud volumes as a teen, and later working in a blues club in Chicago where the amps were all stuck on eleventyone (seriously 120+dba at the sound desk in a packed club for 9 hours straight!) and having the odd feedback screech happen a foot from your head, I have pretty bad tinnitus (which thanks to experiments I realised was about 17khz ) and moderate hearing loss in one ear :( I have tried to warn the kid that if she listens to the type of screamymetal she dies which honestly sounds like a mess of whitenoise with earbuds all the way in her ears she WILL get hearing loss... she of course ignores this because she is a teenager...

    if she was responsible I would giver a pair of my sennheisers (though I am pretty sure she had already taken a set and either sold lost or broken them since I could no longer find them even when we moved).

    I miss dynamic range in music, it is so much more enjoyable then just loud (though I will say my guilty pleasure is dance music - not for the quality or musician skill...just because....and not on the expensive speakers, though I have found that, with a decent set of cans or coffins you do not need to listen to it as loud.

    after going to a few concerts too they seem to tailor that to the sound of the mp3 or cd these days, all loud and no range, but I guess if it sounded too different then people would not like it.

    dr.dre beats, yeah well if you are making crap sound then it does not matter if you mix on crap headphones what exactly is he a doctor in anyway?

    a lot of todays yoof are going to be the sound engineers of tomorrow and, hopefully by then, I will be stone deaf.

  88. deMangler

    Koss Porta-pros

    Koss Porta-pros beat all the headphones I have ever tried out. Easily. And I have spent some serious money over the years.

    And you can pick them up for less than 30 quid. And they have a lifetime guarantee.

    They don't look any more silly than some of the more "fashionable" cans out there either.

  89. oswdt

    Distortion depends on power output

    The headphones output is about 50 mW. The ouput of amplifier is about 50 W. It is more difficult to keep distortion low at higher power. So the headphone sound quality is quite good, Imo

  90. Snar


    I've been using a pair of Stax SR-303 electrostatic earspeakers and an SRM-313 enegiser for getting on for a decade. Not a portable system and you look like a Cyberperson wearing them. But they work really well. Anyone who is serious about getting a good set of cans should listen to Stax.

    When I'm out and about I use a pair of B&O headphones. Not a fashionista, I bought them because I liked the sound. IMO they are very good. Well made and I've had them for quite a few years and no problems with broken wires. Beware that there are fake ones on E-Bay; I bought and sent back a pair.

  91. Kiwi

    30yrs ago it was cheap rubbish, today...

    Not sure how old they really are, but my stereo at home runs a couple of Celestion speakers (mid/woofer/passive) topped off with a couple of speakers left over from my old HK9000. I think the Celestions are somewhere around 30yrs old, and I believe that they were a very cheap speaker by the standards back then. But compared with what's around today, well, these speakers are worth a fair bit more than what was paid for them, or so I hear (anyone got any info on Celestions? Would love more background etc). I've listened to some fairly expensive modern speakers - you'd have to be nuts to pay more than a tenner for some of them, but the price tag is many weeks of average pay.

    The quality of so many things today is slipping. A cheap radio from 20yrs ago probably gives a better sound than today's garbage. But, as people will shell out money for it and not challenge the waste of money, companies get away with it. I still have the celestions today in (large) part because they still go so well, but also in part because there's little out there that can compete with them .

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