Thursday, March 23, 2006

Spot the difference

I buy a lot of music. Most of it on Compact Disc, some of it via, and if I can't find it anywhere else, a few tracks from the iTunes site. This is primarily a cost thing, Apple's prices aren't exhorbitant, but they aren't even close to eMusic's rates. The second thing is that the tracks on the iTunes site are copy-protected. I hate copy protection, I hate it in principle, and I hate it in practice (but that's another blog).

Up until iTunes 6, there was a clever program called JHymn which removed the copy protection codec without interfering with the audio data. iTunes 6 rendered JHymn impotent, and it doesn't look as if there is going to be a solution arriving any time soon.

There are at least two other ways of disabling the copy protection on iTunes tracks. The first one is to use software like AudioHijack to re-digitise tracks. Tests I have done with this results in a significant decrease in audio quality. The second way is to burn a CD from iTunes, then re-rip the CD back on to iTunes. Audiophile web sites I've browsed report that is also results in a significant reduction in quality, and so I have avoided employing it. Recently one of my children asked for a song I had recently downloaded off the iTunes site. I used the 'copy to CD' method to remove the encryption and, because I was using up a CD, put a number of other tracks on it as well.

As an experiment, I made up a playlist for my iPod with the original iTunes tracks and the 'double-ripped' versions back-to-back, and played them through my car's (substantial) stereo system on the way home. Try as I might, I couldn't hear the difference. I'm sure that if you ran the two tracks through an oscilloscope, there would be, but not that my ears could detect. So I now have a clumsy but effective way to remove the encryption from my iTunes store downloads.

It left me thinking over the whole area of what it is that makes something 'yeuch!', 'good enough', 'brilliant' and 'even more brillianter, but not so much brillianter that I'm willing to pay any more for it'. With music and video, I push towards the top end of the scale, I love listening to loud, clear, articulately delivered music, and watching high-definition movies on a big screen. I have friends who aren't so bothered. They make polite noises about my home-cinema, but with no indication that they would want to own one themselves.

Last weekend myself and a good friend (Aaron) paid a visit to the Tate Modern to be by turns impressed and appalled at the various installations and exhibits. After that we visited a place called 'Vinopolis' for an introduction to the joys of wine tasting.

It was a very enjoyable few hours, and I got the chance to sample wines way above my usual price-point. What did surprise me was that while I enjoyed the 'nose' of the very good wines, my mouth didn't enjoy them as much as some of the less expensive vintages.

In short, I really enjoyed the experience, but it hasn't convinced me that buying wine that is above the £5-7 range is worth the cost. Maybe my taste buds are less sensitive than my eyes and ears? Or maybe I've just spent less time in the aesthetic arena of aromas and tastes? Maybe if I'd stuck with more basic audio-visual equipment I'd be enjoying myself just as much for a lot less money!


andrewodom said...

while i don't pay the lowest cost for wine (or music), i also don't pay the most expensive. i just don't think price equals quality. in my experience price makes up for packaging and marketing...not quality of product.

speaking of wine? what is your favorite vintnor? just curious.

brett jordan said...

hi drew

price doesn't equal quality in a mathematical way, and you're right about packaging and marketing... however, in the analogue realm at least, because many of the loveliest things have taken a lot of time to make, and have used premium-quality materials, they often cost a lot of money

so, i've yet to use a cheap fountain pen that works as well as an expensive one, or hear a set of cheap speakers that sound as good as an expensive set, or sat in a cheap chair that was as comfortable as an expensive one...

wine-wise, my current favourite tipples include a rich, chocolatey italian primitivo/merlot blend by da luca, a plummy australian shiraz/viognier by yalumba and smooth, blackcurrant laced australian cabernet shiraz by hardys

all the best