Michael Jackson and MP3 fidelityPosted: April 6, 2015
A couple of months ago I saw this video – a Version of Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega made up of all the bits an MP3 takes out during its compression. They chose Tom’s Diner because it was the song that was used to test the making of the MP3 compression system. The remains are spooooooky.
I was reminded that, during the summer, I had done an experiment using MP3s. I’ve been interested in the fidelity of these things since I discovered that Windows Media Player was encoding my songs at 64bps back in ’02. Then there was the anger felt by people who paid for “In Rainbows” when it came out and discovered that it wasn’t encoded at CD quality! and then there was Neil Young creating the Pon(y)o because he felt mp3s killed sound quality.
I wondered if you could here the difference between an mp3 encoded at 320bps compared to 180bps compared to 64bps compared to… In fact would you be able to hear a drop in quality of 1bps? So, being the arty type with too much time and OCD, I took my favourite Michael Jackson song, Beat It, and “remixed” it by dropping the quality of the mp3 by 1bps every second. I started at 320 bps and only hit a snag at 16bps (that’s as low as my computer would go). I merely degraded the track by re-encoding at 16bps after each second (I don’t care if that doesn’t make sense).
Things I noticed:
At the start there’s hardly any noticeable difference.
There’s a noticeable drop after a couple of minutes.
It gets slower.
It gets fuzzier.
I called it “The Boiling Frog Remix” because of the thought experiment of the frog in the saucepan. If you very gently heat it the frog will never jump out because it doesn’t notice the difference from any point in time, so it will eventually boil.
Then I thought: “Why stop here”. I asked around and people suggested an experiment on Earth Song. I started out degraded well below 16bps encoding and then moved it eventually to glorious 320bps encoding. This is the “Boiled Frog Remix”.