William Softky wrote an article titled How Science Got Sound Wrong.

«  Neil Young…  isn’t the first to denounce digital and acclaim analog. Legions of self-proclaimed audiophiles have lamented the loss of vinyl LPs since digital CDs first appeared in the 1970s. »

«  Consumers and especially producers of the most spiritual and emotional human communication — music — routinely say digitization destroys emotion. For those to whom emotion matters, this problem is bigger than cars or shoes. Science needs to get emotion right, and sound is in the way. »

«  Headphones and earbuds, being smaller and quieter, do indeed give better sound per dollar, but they move with your head and remove the bass notes from your skin. Digital CDs — being digitized but not otherwise compressed — still sounded nearly perfect to me, but not so MP3s, AACs and, later, streaming, all of which made audio more portable and convenient but at some cost. It is very clear to both my senses and my intellect that too much compression really does damage sound quality — no one disagrees with that part. »

« Yet even the bad-sounding conveniences won in the marketplace, so much so that now most of the music and sound we consume is both digitized and compressed. Clearly, having 5,000 songs in your pocket, as the first iPod advertised, is collectively more attractive than having a few really good songs at home on a turntable. The triumph of science was to invent and deploy all those technologies, so people could choose between fast/convenient/coarse (like iPods) vs. slow/inconvenient/refined (like CDs).  »

« The best way to locate sounds is to use the whole body — ears, skull, skin, even guts — since the entire body contains vibration sensors. The brain’s main job is making sense of vibrations throughout the body, eyeballs to toes to eardrums, all consistent, all at once. One single vibratory image unified from skin and ears. Headphones and earbuds fracture that unified sensory experience.  »

«  I wrote my PhD thesis on neural pulses, so I know they last about a millisecond each. »

« How does all this translate into the language of technology? The guiding principle of a nervous system is to record only a single bit of amplitude at the exact time of arrival.  Since amplitudes are fixed, all the information is in the timing.

On the other hand, the guiding principle of digitization is to record variable amplitudes at fixed times. For example, sampling with 24-bit amplitude resolution, every 23 microseconds (44 kHz). Since sample times are fixed, all the information is in the amplitude.

So unlike digital recorders, nervous systems care a lot about microtime, both in how they detect signals and how they interpret them. And the numbers really matter: Even the best CDs can only resolve time down to 23 microseconds, while our nervous systems need at least 10 times better resolution, in the neighborhood of two to three microseconds. In crass amplitude terms, that missing microtime resolution seems like “only” tiny percentage points. However, it carries a whopping 90% of the resolution information the nervous system cares about. We need that microtime to hear the presence and depth of sounds outside us and to sense others’ emotions inside us.

The old analog technologies, LPs and POTs phones, preserve that necessary 90%. Digitization destroys it. Neil Young was right.  »

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