Andrew Hall .....
"It's good enough" are the three words that often drive audiophiles – and anyone who knows that something can be so much better than the speaker's definition of "good enough" – crazy. These three seemingly innocent words are especially maddening and depressing when you hear them spoken by iPod users listening to low-bitrate MP3s through the stock Apple headphones merely because it's convenient.
MP3 is a deprecated format that simply won't die, and with good reason: everything supports it (and almost nothing else). Apple's ubiquitous products don't support other, potentially superior lossy formats like Musepack and Ogg Vorbis or otherwise standard lossless formats like FLAC, instead requiring that users transfer music in Apple's proprietary M4A and Apple Lossless formats, which are only iTunes and iPod friendly and work with almost nothing else.
And often users compress their music into small files so that they can fit more of them onto a portable device, compromising quality and producing horrendous frequency cutoff at bitrates as low as the iTunes standard 128kbps. LAME-compressed MP3s do sound noticeably better and can practically approximate CD-quality given the sophistication of their variable bitrate algorithms, but many users and distributors of online music don't take advantage of this.
Furthermore, Apple's headphones (and many pairs of $10 consumer headphones, as well as internal speakers) are mediocre. They lack the frequency response and dynamics necessary to reproduce well-recorded music in a state anything like the one in which it was captured, and the music suffers as a consequence. This is particularly crushing given that a pair of speakers or headphones that responds considerably better is an affordable add-on for many listeners, and the difference is almost always an epiphany: listeners suddenly start hearing instrumentation and dynamics in the music they've never heard before in music they've heard hundreds of times already.
Finally, convenience is a damaging thing. Using Apple's unsealed headphones - or any unsealed headphones for that matter – means turning up the volume to hear things well past safe exposure ratings, which means running the risk of hearing loss, which means compromising the listening experience later on in life. Getting a good pair of sealed headphones can make a huge difference in one's health and one's listening experience, and it can quickly prove that what once was once "good enough" is no longer acceptable, making it a turning point in the life of the convenience-oriented music listener. It might even produce an audiophile.
Andrew Hall is a guest blogger