In “The Distortion of Sound,” a short documentary produced by audio company Harman, a collection of producers/engineers and musicians ranging from film composer Hans Zimmer to Snoop Dogg take us through a brief history of how we listen to music and what we’ve lost in the age of digital compression.
The clip is beautifully produced and the interviews are all interesting, but to experience the real ‘proof is in the pudding’ moment, jump to 11:45 where you can see and hear an audio track switched back-and-forth between a compressed and uncompressed version. It’s mentioned several times throughout the video that, because the majority of audio today is compressed to reduce file size for ease and speed of delivery through MP3s and streaming services, our ears have grown accustomed to it. We don’t even realize we’re hearing a shadow of the true sound.
But when given the chance to compare side-by-side like this, it is impossible to deny that the compressed version is, as one subject puts it, “a distortion of the art — like looking at a Van Gogh through filtered glasses.” And when the majority of us are not only listening to this distorted version, but listening to it through poor-quality earbuds, laptop speakers or logo-heavy headphones that value fashion over quality, it’s easy to see why the musicians in this clip, including Slash and Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, wonder aloud whether or not all the work they put into making an album, tweaking the details in the studio, getting every instrument to sound just right — if any of that is even worth it.
We think it is. And, like the producers of “The Distortion of Sound,” we think nothing that we’ve lost so far has to stay lost forever. We just have to value and support quality.