Lose the pejorative 'Low Quality' for MP3 and similar

Hence Roon describes them quite correctly as ‘High Quality’ or ‘Lossless’ depending on the audio chain. In this case they are reporting on their transport of the audio. For MP3, Roon is passing judgement on your files.

I don’t think we are going to win any arguments here!! I totally agree with posters who say that mp3 discards information, but, in my mind it’s information that is not audible and is useless to the playback of the actual music anyway. Many believe otherwise and will vehemently argue the alternative, that the discarded information in some way contributes to the sound and feel whether you can hear it or not.

I do not fault those folks for their beliefs it is what it is, they should not fault us for ours. I just choose to go a different direction in that I don’t think there is an audible difference. I have just learned to ignore the “low quality” button and am happy that the Roon designers did not make it a flashing light that says something like “WTF are you thinking” or “how could you?” LOL.

1 Like

So ‘High Quality’ is not an assessment while 'Low Quality is? I don’t quite understand. Of course I understand that if you feel Roon is bashing your chosen file format it’s annoying, but I believe Roon would also call and Bluetooth audio ‘Low Quality’ because it is lossy. Convenient and ‘popular’ no doubt, but lossy.

Well here’s the thing @ogs - Roon says ‘High Quality’ not because of your files, but because of the transmission and the equipment. For example, the headphone output of my PC is ‘high quality’ but the USB out to my DAC is ‘lossless’ - this is about the audio transport and is not a comment on your files. Everything from FLAC/ALAC at 16/44.1 right up to silly multiple-DSD and PCM is called Lossless because of the transport. (I think it falls back to ‘High Quality’ when Roon doesn’t have complete control of the chain - such as with AirPlay.) PC output to my Bluetooth headphones is described as ‘High Quality’ (unless the file is MP3 or AAC).

When Roon says ‘Low Quality’ it has nothing to with the transport, which could be lossless/RAAT or AirPlay, SONOS, PC output etc. It is classed as low quality simply because the file is MP3 - lossily compressed. Now, I’m not asking for anyone to admit that MP3 is as good as lossless FLAC, ALAC or uncompressed WAV (although with the best modern encoders it’s pretty close). I’m simply suggesting that it would be helpful to change the wording to the more neutral ‘Lossy compressed’ (or even just ‘Lossy’).

I would say, in many cases, that the term ‘Low Quality’ is not just pejorative and judgemental - it’s patently untrue. You may not like it as much as lossless - but those who suggest that all MP3 sounds awful are (in my opinion) foaming-mouthed audiophile fundamentalists. (Being deliberately provocative there for partly-comic effect.)

Changing the wording (not the amber light) would presumably be a very minor change for a future release, it would not give MP3 parity with the lossless and uncompressed formats and it’s not trying to change anyone’s belief system. It’s simply a little friendlier, a little more pragmatic and plain, simple common sense. I’d be interested to see what someone from Roon thinks of this @RoonFAQ

5 Likes

I think speaking about “quality” is the right message, and calling things “great, greater, greatest, ultimate” to avoid negative feelings is cheesy.

We denote lossy files as “low quality” for two reasons:

  • Because the effects are reliably audible to some people.
  • Because in our product’s opinion, investing in lossy content should be discouraged

A lot of times when people argue about this topic, they cite studies of random populations–which generally determine that people on the street can’t tell the difference. A lot of our customers treat music listening as a hobby or a passion, invest in highly resolving equipment, and work on training their ears. In my experience, the artifacts introduced in today’s lossy compression approaches are reliably audible once you know what you’re listening for.

The second point is a little bit more indirect, but also important. Investing in source material that is not of the highest available quality increases the chance that you will want to re-buy it later to upgrade quality–so Roon is nudging you towards thinking about acquiring better quality source material by labeling the low quality stuff accordingly. The product’s opinion about this reflects something about who our audience is/tends to be.

BTW, for anyone who wants to explore whether lossy compression is audible for you, this is a fun test to try. It pits 320k MP3, 128k MP3, and WAV against each other. Use headphones.

13 Likes

Yaaaaawn. All-too predictable response, sadly. I kind of hoped for better.

1 Like

Your two proposals (“compressed audio”, “lossy compressed”) above don’t work. We have used the “low quality” designation for topics other than source material in the past–so renaming it to either of those is too specific.

“Lossy” is also problematic because most DSP processes are lossy. The important fact about this stuff isn’t that there is information loss, it’s that the quality is degraded.

Anyways, I was just explaining the why behind it.

My mind is open. I’m listening. Convince me otherwise :slight_smile:

1 Like

I think the idea these unnamed studies use ‘people off the street’ is irrelevant. I am sure that there are plenty of studies completed with music enthusiasts. My challenge would be to get a bunch of audiophiles in a room and conduct the test. Can they consistently tell lossless from lossy in a scientifically-controlled blind test with files sourced from the same master? I can’t always pin it down clearly on a fairly nice system - and the differences are often more about mastering than the codec used.

However, I wasn’t trying to say that MP3 is indistinguishable from lossless/FLAC or whatever. Roon seems to be a very pragmatic, science-based company with a great product - but with your statements above you’ve derailed yourselves into the worst kind of audiophile nonsense. There’s a lot of it on this forum - but this is the first time I think I’ve seen it from someone at Roon.

I’m interested to learn that you used ‘Low Quality’ in the past for other purposes - however now it seems to only be used for lossy files. I’ve never seen it used for any other reason. Your lossy DSP processes are described as ‘Enhanced’, non-RAAT transmission is classed as ‘High Quality’ and we have ‘lossless’ - all sensible and accurate terminologies.

My position is still that ‘Low Quality’ is often untrue and (unlike your other terms) inaccurate. Unlike all the others you’re using ‘Low Quality’ to make a point. So it is pejorative and judgemental. That is the best reason to think of something more enlightened, in my opinion.

2 Likes

Malcolm just enjoy your music. Personally I do not store mp3 music, but when I’m on the road I listen to my Tidal account on my phone. Indeed the lossy quality, via bluetooth to my Sennheiser Momentum2 Wireless (total overkill). Guess what? I still enjoy the songs!

2 Likes

I’d add - it’s fine to be an audiophile, music enthusiast, hi-fi buff whatever. I am all of these things in the right mood. But let’s focus on stuff that actually makes a difference.

I felt a little uncomfortable about the use of ‘Low Quality’ as, to me, it smacks of the worst kind of audiophile indulgence. The kind that fetishizes megabucks-USB cables, cable risers and the like. So I posted this suggestion. I’m a little disappointed that Roon seem to be indulging this sort of attitude - but I guess looking at this forum they’ve probably judged their audience about right.

I can hear the difference between MP3 320 and redbook cd (flac). Over 50% of my library is MP3 or aac. They still sound decent enough but not as good as lossless. I don’t find ‘low quality’ demeaning as I agree with the statement. I am slowly moving my library over to flac redbook standard. Fwiw I can’t tell the difference between flac redbook and 24/96 or DSD.

1 Like

Thinking about it ‘reduced quality’ might be a better term than ‘low quality’… but I really don’t have enough motivation for it to change

I usually can - sometimes I can’t. There’s a hundred different things that influence the sound before you get to the codec being used. And you can’t always guarantee that the MP3/AAC download and the redbook CD use the same master. (Don’t get me started on different mastering for vinyl :wink: )

As I said I am no devotee of MP3 and indeed I believe in CD quality audio (and beyond)!!! - I would just rather see a more rational and factual descriptor.

@Malcolm_Percival

You’ve made a feature request, and the Roon team will consider it, along with feedback from members posting. As far as I’m concerned, everything is fine as is. My guess is most Roon users are fine with the current layout. If your MP3s sound great, that’s awesome. The low quality label only pops up when you tap the signal path light. You only will see it - if you choose to see it.

1 Like

Perhaps, Roon should use “Subpar” instead.

1 Like

@Adam_Woodbridge

Thanks for the humanities sarcasm. I needed a good chuckle this AM.

Roon Lite is but another thing to avoid.

Nowt as strange as folk as they say but if this really is an issue I think “lower quality” might solve all the angst.

.sjb

1 Like

We have definitely editorialized when binning stuff into those categories. That is the goal–to encourage people to find a better experience by looking at ways that quality is being compromised in their current situation.

In practice, “High Quality” is usually remedied by upgrading your playback hardware and “Low Quality” is remedied by upgrading your source material. Both are meant to provoke thought about how the user might increase the quality of their situation.

Only “Lossless” is objective. “Enhanced” says nothing about the sound–it just means “Roon is doing something to the sound because you told us to”.

Low/High quality are two degrees of prompting the user to take action. And yes–the product is advancing an opinion that lossy codecs have a larger effect size on audibility than the DSP processes that we label as “high quality”.

But–if you thought that wasn’t true you’d be arguing for a “high quality” label for lossy codecs, and you’re not. You just want the word changed. And I still don’t quite get it.

I think you really want more than new language–maybe you don’t want the product to nudge its users towards making their experience better.

I don’t think of megabucks USB cables and MP3 as being in the same galaxy.

The reason MP3 was invented was to give up a variable amount of quality in order to save space. I don’t think there’s any disagreement on whether the MP3 codec can produce audible degradation at all–we all know what low bitrate MP3 sounds like.

So it’s more a question of how much bitrate is “enough”. THAT feels like a judgement we should not be making–but it seems a lot less offensive to acknowledge that the content was processed via a codec who’s raison’d’etre is literally all about trading off quality for space.

As far as megabucks USB cables go…I wouldn’t take the pepsi challenge on one of those.

4 Likes

Now this I think is stretching things a bit! There is audiophile nonsense, sure. Just as there is nonsense in every discipline, but there was no nonsense in the post you refer to.

Why not “Low Bit Rate”? That would be objective, not pejorative.

AJ