High Fidelity

Apple announced recently that Apple Music will now have an option for even higher fidelity music files. This did little to stir my blood. I realized long ago that the limits of my own video and audio perception are much lower than those technology is producing. This makes things like ultra-high definition and “spacial” and “lossless” audio diminishing returns from my perspective.

In a way, this is strange. My dad has much higher fidelity audio and video perception than I do, for instance. I remember when laser discs first came out and he obtained The Hunt for Red October. He had surround sound setup in the house and he danced something of a jig of excitement when the opening music played. Even much earlier, I remember a Buick he had sometime around 1980 or so that had a stereo system in the car. Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” came on the radio during Casey Kasem’s Top 40 Countdown, and I can remember my day squealing with delight, “The bells! Listen to the bells!”

You would think such perception was inheritable, but if so, it was a recessive gene on both sides and I didn’t inherit it. I’ll admit that the first time I saw high-definition television, I noticed a difference in picture quality. It was a Mets baseball game (don’t ask) and I felt as if I could see the individual blades of grass on the infield. That impressed me. But when it came to movies and TV shows, I never notice the high-definition quality. It’s the story that interests me, and if the story grabs me, everything else including video and sound quality, goes by unnoticed.

It is even worse with music. Whether I listen to music on my AirPods or my Bose headset, the music sounds the same to me. Sure, I’ll notice a difference if I hear an old recording of a Bing Crosby song, say a 1931 rendition of “Where the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day.” There, I can make out the whisper of a needle or the static of the recording. Actually, I think the sounds adds charm to the piece. But give me different qualities of music files and I can’t really tell the difference. It is too subtle for my senses.

Fortunately, this isn’t a problem when it comes to books. Sure, there are font differences on pages, which can make the page of one book differ from another. Indeed, that paperback and hardback editions have a different page numbering scheme can be confusing is true, but one version of the book does not “read” differently from another version of the same book just because of that. The story isn’t any different.

I’m happy for everyone who will benefit from spacial and lossless music, but I doubt I will be among them. I’m also a little bemused by the term “lossless” music. I know that it is a corollary of lossless compression, or lossless image files, but when I think of lossless music, I think of music that can never be lost. And frankly, I can think of at least some music worth losing.


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