In a recent
First Look at iTunes Plus I offered my impressions on how I perceived the differences between The Store’s standard protected audio files and those new, higher-bit rate (and unprotected) iTunes Plus files. Essentially, I found the difference between the protected 128kbps files and the 256kpbs unprotected variety to be anything but startling.
This prompted a couple of “these observations are useless unless you conduct proper double-blind listening tests” admonitions. To which I reply: Why bother when I can offer this more helpful advice?
Spend the $1.29 necessary to do it yourself, because, ultimately, you’re the best judge of what is and isn’t acceptable audio.
Were we talking about a piece of gear—a new iPod or speaker system, for example—objective testing makes sense. In such cases it’s important that you know if that gear is noisy or bass-heavy or incapable of blowing out windows in the apartment across the alley because you’re likely to be putting some real money on the line. And before you do, it’s worth knowing what you’re getting into. Ideally, you’d glean what you could from this information and then find a way to have a listen to this particular hunk of hardware for yourself.
But when we’re talking about an audio file that costs a buck twenty-nine, you’re far better served skirting the middle-man and conducting a personal listening evaluation. That way you really find what works for you. And that leads me to this story.
Years ago I was invited to a pinot noir tasting by a friend who was a wine broker. This was a blind tasting so we had no idea which bottle was which. After tasting a bit of each wine we wrote down our impressions and then compared notes at the end. Much to my chagrin, I rated one of the cheapest bottles as a favorite while the “quality” stuff barely made the middle of my list.
In a follow-up conversation with the broker I admitted that I obviously needed to work on my palette.
“What, so you can agree with me? Nonsense,” he replied. “That wine may not have had all the characteristics that I like in a pinot, but it made you happy. You can get the same amount of pleasure from a bottle of wine that costs one-fifth the price of the bottle you’re ‘supposed’ to like. Where’s the harm in that?”
Same deal here. If, for whatever reason—you’ve got inexpensive equipment, you listen in a noisy environment, or you don’t have terribly discerning ears—you can’t tell the difference between a CD, a standard iTunes protected track, or an unprotected iTunes Plus track, don’t feel embarrassed or put upon by the supposed audiophiles among us. Embrace the fact that you’re a cheap audio date. You can purchase your music less expensively and that music will take up less space on your hard drive and portable music player, thus allowing you to cram even more music into your life. In short, there’s just as much value in enjoying those things that you pass by your senses as there is in being “right.”