If there’s one thing in audio that enrages me more than any other, it would have to be the so-called ‘Compressed Music Enhancers’ that manufacturers are building into their products. The first reason it enrages me is because when MP3 was introduced, virtually every press function I attended at the time turned nasty whenever the presenter claimed that MP3 was ‘CD-quality’ because I’d be forced to put my hand up and state the obvious: namely that what the presenter was claiming was not true. This would naturally upset the presenter, not least because it alerted the other journalists present (many of whom lacked even a rudimentary knowledge of audio signal processing) that perhaps there was something wrong with MP3 and that whatever it was, there could be a story in it. Then, after each of these events, I would find myself in an argument with the presenter, and/or the product manager about MP3 vs. CD. Such arguments were always a total waste of time, because there was no way any of them would ever concede that MP3 was inferior to CD. About the only concession I ever got was that it was (and I quote!)… ‘so close to CD that it’s OK to call it CD-quality.’
So, after having put up with years of this, you can see why I might be a bit enraged to find that those self-same manufacturers are now building in ‘compressed music enhancer’ circuits in order to: ‘restore poor-quality MP3 files back to CD quality.’ I am of course enraged by their hypocrisy. But far more importantly, I am enraged they’re even daring to suggest they can ‘put back’ the quality MP3 removes from an audio signal. Sorry, but you can’t…at all. EVER! Once an MP3 encoder removes sounds it doesn’t think you can hear, there’s no way on earth that any circuit—no matter how clever—can ever put those sounds back. It’s impossible.
Imagine, if you will, an orchestra that is about to give a first performance of a work by some new-fangled composer called…mmm, let’s say, Ludwig van Beethoven. When Ludwig’s copyist arrives at the concert hall with the scores for the different sections of the orchestra, it’s discovered that somewhere along the way, he’s lost the music for the woodwind section. ‘No worries,’ says the most experienced of the flautists, ‘we’ll just play whatever the violins are playing… I’m sure it’ll sound just like Ludwig intended… maybe even better.’ Seriously, can you even imagine something like that ever happening? I thought not. So why do electronics manufacturers now think they can pull exactly the same trick with MP3? Like the leader of the woodwind section, they have absolutely no idea of what the lost music sounded like. All they can do is ‘fudge it’… rather like a musician who doesn’t know the music, but figures that if he plays in the same key as the other musicians, he’ll probably get away with it. Even if he plays completely the wrong notes, only those who have heard the music before will notice that it doesn’t sound ‘quite right’. It’s exactly like that with MP3 and the so-called ‘MP3 restorers’… though this time around, the only people likely to notice that something is wrong will be musicians and audiophiles. However, since musicians and audiophiles comprise a very, very small percentage of the pool of potential buyers, manufacturers really don’t care: they’re more than happy to market fictions to the masses. # greg borrowman