The MP3 Talk

On the corner of 38th and Madison, just outside the Stereophile offices, there's a street advertisement which reads:

Start Talking Before They Start Drinking!

It cracks me up every time. The ad depicts a kid, you see—he must be about five years old—looking very sad, looking like he's had one hell of a rough day, looking, in fact, like he needs a drink. If you don't talk to that kid quick, he'll be at the gin like it's Kool-Aid. But I shouldn't laugh. It's very serious.

And it raises a good point: It's best to start talking to the kids before there's a problem. The sooner, the better. Audiophiles can learn from this, too, of course. Just as we talk to our kids about the dangers of sex and drugs and alcohol, we should also talk to them about the dangers of MP3s and compression and crappy plastic earbuds!

The sooner, the better. And there's no better time than now, especially as Santa has delivered so many shiny, new iPods to good little boys and girls all over the world. This Christmas, I drooled over my fifteen year old cousin's new iPod Touch. The thing is sweet: Sexy as hell, completely intuitive and fun to use, just plain cool. After I fondled it for about fifteen minutes, I gave my cousin The MP3 Talk. I asked her, "So, what type of music files do you have in here?"



"Oh, my computer isn't working right now, so I haven't been able to load any of my songs."

"Oh, thank goodness!"


"I mean, oh, because, um... Nothing. Did you know you can choose the type of music files you listen to?"


"Yeah. You know what an MP3 is, right?"


"Well, you have other options. A lot of times, people just listen to MP3s because the file sizes are small. You can save a lot of MP3s on your computer without taking up much space. The bad part about MP3s is that they don't sound as good as higher-resolution files. Your regular CDs sound much better than MP3s."


"Yeah. MP3s are kinda just like shadows of the music. You're missing a lot. What's your favorite thing to eat?"


"Well, listening to MP3s is like eating pizza without the cheese."


"I know. It's still alright, but you're obviously missing something important. If you want, you can do a little test. iTunes allows you to select the encoder you'll be using to import your music. If you go into the Advanced Preferences under your Edit option, you'll see a tab for Importing. There, you can choose between MP3, WAV, Apple Lossless, and other encoders. I use Apple Lossless because it offers sound quality equivalent to uncompressed files—that's like the full-quality CD—while using only about half the storage space on my computer. It's like a Zip file. You know what that is?"


"Okay, good. So, you can choose to import a song as an MP3, and then import it again as a Lossless file, and compare the two. See which one sounds better to you. Sometimes, it's not easy to tell the difference. But, other times, it's so incredibly clear, you'll totally freak out. Over time, I think you'll come to find that MP3s suck. When I'm listening to music, I want it to sound as good as possible. I want to know that I'm listening to the best possible quality. For me, it just makes sense."

She smiled. "Makes sense to me, too," she said.

I hope she wasn't just humoring me. In any case, I'm with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

Start Talking Before They Start Listening To Crap!