The misnomer of quality and playback

Posted: December 3, 2014 in Digital Audio
Tags: , , , , ,

I had a client recently who wanted MP3 files in addition to a CD master.  When I ask clients what bitrate they want me to deliver I usually always get the same answer…..”huh?”

I actually prefer this answer most of the time because it gives me the opportunity to educate the client on the different types of MP3 compression and what the pros and cons are.

My client told me that they usually use 128kbit MP3s in house because “they’re just going to be played on crappy earbuds, and the file size is greater for 256”.

The voice inside my head screams, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

This is EXACTLY why you want to use better quality files!  If they medium you are using to listen is already compromised, you should START with best quality product so that you can make the most out of your crappy playback device.  Otherwise it’s going to sound TWICE as bad.   Not to mention, low quality earbuds can sometimes overemphasize the frequencies where the harshness of MP3 is most apparent.  (Not all the time though)

Regarding the other argument, the file size difference is negligible.  It’s a few megabytes.   Nothing in this day in age.  We’re talking a couple extra text documents or emails worth of file size here.

Frankly, I’m surprised that we are even balking at the file size of uncompressed audio anymore.   I have 100mbit/sec internet speeds at my HOUSE.  It takes me like 10 seconds to download a 40MB file.  Hard drives for most people are in the 2-3 Terabyte range.  40-50MB is not a big deal.

But that’s going on a slight tangent.   The real problem here is the misconception that low quality files are for low quality playback systems.  That opinion couldn’t be further from the truth.   Garbage in, garbage out.    The same goes for recording and mastering.   If you start with the highest quality possible, then it’s going to sound better as it gets degraded further down the line.  But if you start with cheap microphones, bad preamps, etc… can’t get any better than that.

Of course, anyone who reads my blog is going to be fully aware of these things.  So what’s the point here?


There are always opportunities like this to let our clients know about good quality audio and what that means for them and THEIR clients.  Don’t be afraid to have that conversation.  They’ll appreciate it.



  1. Dave Smith says:

    YES.That’s the exact reasoning that Barry and I used with clients from the very beginning. Clients would say that the audio quality didn’t really matter because it was just going to be played through a TV with a tiny speaker, or a small audio cassette player. I came back and told them that it’s all the more reason to start with excellent audio when the final audio playback systems are so bad.

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