Are iPods training us to like poor quality sound?
Dale Daugherty writes on O’Reilly Radar about a Stanford professor who tested his students by playing them the same piece of music from an MP3 file and then from a much higher quality source (of which there are many). The professor was dismayed to learn that the students prefer the sound of the MP3s. If you’ve read Neil Postman, you won’t be surprised by this, because as Postman famously stated, “the medium is the metaphor.” In other words, a dominant medium defines how the people who use it expect the world to be. Because we listen to music on iPods more than we listen to it any other way, we like the way music sounds on iPods best.
Of course, this discussion didn’t begin with the iPod. If you spent time in a professional recording studio when digital recording first reared its ugly head a number of years ago, you know that many musicians didn’t like it (and many still don’t). They thought its clarity and precision made it sound cold and antiseptic. They preferred the gentle distortion and tape hiss on recordings made with analog equipment.
While I suppose it’s useful to be able to tell the difference between good quality and bad quality sound, the student’s consistent preference for MP3s prove that Steve Jobs is more powerful than the discriminatory powers of the human ear. Oh, well. De gustibus non est disputandum.