Music storage and Integrity – Breaking down the Music

Music Storage and Integrity of Sound

the movement of music is something that has been occuring for thousands of years. By the movement of music i mean exactly that, becuase music is composed in absolute stillness (Good music that is). When a sound is produced it moves from the point of where the sound is made, we have come up with many different ways that sound can me moved, and that came with the invention of instruments that can store sound, such as with the traditional Tswana instrument known as “stinkana” which was really an instrument fashioned into a keyboard using different sized metal sprigs on a wooden block, this, I think is what gave us the music box, which instead of the metal sprigs used a cylinder that controlled the movement of the metal sprigs and melody was stored.

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vinyl records, the choice for the highly skilled DJ

Fast forward through time and we will see the evolution of a multitude of storage devices for music. The first most dominant storage format of the music storage era was the vinyl. It was the invention of the phonograph that paved the way for vinyl records to be used as a music storage device. These were 12inch plastic discs that had the groove of the sound of the music etched on to it, and can only store about 13minutes of music on each side. As the need for storage of more music increased, the technology improved along with music production aswell, and gave rise to the audio tape which was a sheet of plastic coated with iron filings of which the pattern it encoded coded for music that could be read out on a tape player which was really a magnetic pickup device that eventually decoded the signal.

Things began to rapidly change as digital storage media was invented and the tape was set to be reinvented again with the digital audio tape (DAT) and developed by the sony coorporation in 1987. This used a digital encoding mechanism, which meant that more sound could be stored on the tape and you could have higher sampling rates than the old cassettes, and the music sounded clearer. It was thought that this would replace the old cassette, but that was not the case as it was too costly to manufacture and produce meaning that the music stored on it would be expensive. This kept the old analog cassettes popular until digital storage of music changed the way music was produced stored and distributed. The digital audio tapes were popular with producers and the record industry but not with the consumer, mainly because of price. This all changed when the compact disc was introduced as a popular form of music storage. The first compact discs had 74minutes of high fidelity sound storage, and the music was stored digitally but this time it was read using lasers to read the digitally encoded music. This made production and storage of music incredibly fast, and thus lowered the cost of distributing the music and the popularity of CD’s exploded both with producers and listeners of music alike.

the difference in wave forms for WAV (uncompressed sound) and MP3 (compressed sound) picture courtesy of djtechtools.com

The development of the internet and compressed music radically transformed music production and distribution in the modern day. This change was brought about with the introduction of MP3 audio. This was meant that music could be compressed further from signals of digital audio to signals of digital audio compressed into a wave form made up of different layers of audio (the way it is done is too complex to discuss here). This meant that music was now stored as compressed data, and the use of the compact disc changed and could now store much much more music than before. This also meant that producers could make music much much faster than before aswell as the disc was not limited to 74/80 minutes but now storage terms were spoken of in megabytes of which a CD that could hold hundreds of megabytes of audio which was only a couple of megabytes big.

Where is this all going? Well, it may seem that a revolution is taking place, because now focus is not on producing and storing music faster and faster but now it is on the quality and fidelity of music that continues to be released. Serious and independent artists now prefer to store their music on vinyl records, and the reasons for that are varied and many. What is definitely certain is that vinyl storage of music is increasingly coming back. although it will may never compete with mp3 audio in terms of volume, but there is a certain quality of music that is brought about when playing the music on vinyl because of the differences in quality.

The main difference between vinyl music and mp3 music lies in the way they are coded to be reproduced. Audiophiles and real music purists will tell you that vinyl sounds much much better than mp3 music. The reason being that the way mp3 music is stored uses what is called ‘lossy data compression’ this means that the mp3 encoder essentially cuts out certain data about the music and essentially stores the bits that will reproduce the sound to sound exactly like how it was when it was produced, when really it is not, and this will depend on the bit rate of the mp3, a rate that determines how much data is kept in the compression, so it never represents the full audio recording. Vinyl on the other hand is an analog storage medium that uses a recording late to cut out precise grooves on a vinyl disc to make the needle that picks up the recording on the record player vibrate. The needle will vibrate according to how the music was recorded and this would mean that all if not most of the sounds are kept during the recording, resulting in a rich warmer sound than its mp3 counter part. This means that the sampling rate (the range of sound stored) on a vinyl record is higher than a standard sized mp3 which is why people that take their music seriously only prefer to listen to vinyl music.

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