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Posts by phenixnuner

Wait People Think E-readers are Good?

June 5, 2021

phenixnuner

At the beginning of the pandemic I was considering getting an e-reader so I could read and not have to go the store to pick up books. Then once the pandemic ended I would have something portable to read on. After looking into e-readers I decide to just buy physical books.

Then in my news feed I found an article from Markus Riley called “The Advantages of E-Books And Other Forms of Electronic Reading” appear. I felt like some of the claim where deceptive. E-reader’s hype is enmeshed in the techno utopia replacement of legacy technology in other words DISRUPTION!!!! E-readers have more disadvantages than they appear. Here are some common arguments.

E-Books Are Cheaper

A common half truth about e-books is that they are cheaper than physical books. Your average e-book is most likely less expensive than that same book new. An obvious disadvantage for e-books is you cannot buy used e-books which can have a massive savings. However, if you are buying only new eBooks once you throw in the cost of an e-reader this savings becomes murky at best. For instance, I have been reading this light novel series Konosuba over this the pandemic and new volumes cost somewhere between $14 and $10.49 so let’s say on average it cost $12.30 for the physical book. The Konosuba’s ebook average price is $7.99. If we buy the least expensive e-reader (without ads for the kindle people) for $110 dollars we need to purchase 26 books. Konosuba only has 17 volumes so you can’t break even just buying this series. In Riley’s article he mentions textbooks can have massive savings when purchased as e-books.

If we look at the two most recent text books I purchased which where “Wavelets: A Concise Guide” & “Advanced Signal Processing: A Concise Guide” this story gets complex. The difference in the E-book versus physical for “Advanced Signal Processing: A Concise Guide” is $13.50 when looking on Amazon which had the cheapest price. However, when “Wavelets: A Concise Guide” is purchased from the publisher which had the lowest price there was no difference between the physical and electronic edition. The cheapest e-reader is not comparable to physical books but, I will get to that in another section. E-readers file formats are not always transferable and may require conversion software which is not always free. E-book are notorious for their strict DRM (Digital Rights Management) mechanism making it hard to leave the purchase ecosystem.

note: Most e-readers do not have a replaceable battery and have minimal resale value. This means minimal value can be extracted on resale

E-readers are More Portable

An e-reader is more portable than your entire physical library, but most people are reading only one or two books at a time. Looking at a single volume of the Konosuba light novel which weights about 6.9oz and my copy of “Wavelets: A Concise Guide” weights 15.5oz. A 2021 Kindle has a weights of 6.1 oz and an ONYX BOOX MAX Lumi is an e-reader with a 13.3” screen has a weight 20.1oz. If I carry one pleasure book and my text book this is approximately two ounces more than the large e-reader. If I only carry the pleasure book then it is a tenth of an ounce more than a kindle. The e-readers are small bookish size so your not really saving space. Both of the mentioned books are sub 1 inch so at best your saving less than half an inch of thickness going with the e-reader.

It should noted that I am 6ft tall. The Konosuba Light Novel is the book on the left and has dimensions of 8.25″x5.45″ and the book on the right is “Wavelets: A Concise Guide” with dimensions 9.25″x 6.125″.

E-Reader are Better Than Other Screens for Eyestrain

There is no evidence to back this claim up. It is mixed at best. In the study listed below people preferred the physical book anyways!

See “E-Readers and Visual Fatigue” by Simone Benedetto, Véronique Drai-Zerbib, Marco Pedrotti, Geoffrey Tissier & Thierry Baccino

Physical Book purist just care about feel and smell. They are technophobes not ready for the digital future!

This is an argument that is implied and not often directly stated . However, this critique is idiotic because, all the e-readers that I can find have displays smaller than US letter (13.9 inch diagonal) or A4 paper (14.3 inch diagonal) even BOOX MAX Lumi 13.3”. The standard sized e-reader are somewhere between 6-7 inches which is approximately the size of a sheet of paper folded twice or smaller….. so tiny. If you are lucky you will receive an e-reader that has a 300PPI (pixels per inch) which is the minimum density that most books are printed. Most e-readers have a PPI less than 300 and will actually be less crisp than a physical book. PPI (Pixel per inch) is approximately equal to DPI (dots per inch) where the dots are dots of ink.

Most e-reader displays do not even have an aspect ratio that matches the physical print so diagrams will not laid out properly. None of the book mentioned in this article are even near the size of a standard e-reader with “Wavelets: A Concise Guide” having a diagonal of 11.1” and Konosuba having a diagonal of 8.9” inches neither of these books is large. Comparing Ron Larson’s Calculus book (this is most likely the calculus book you used in school. It has the circle thing on the cover has a diagonal length of 14.1”). You would be forced to get the ONYX BOOX MAX Lumi which cost $879 to read content at its native scale but, not at its native DPI. This is not to meant to be a straw man argument against eBooks this literally the only option to get near actual scale! Even if you go for a 10.3” display your breakeven point is still tripled putting you closer to nearly 80 books (if you purchased a Onyx BOOX NOVA 3).

E-readers are supposed to emulate and expand on the book experience yet they are unable achieve this goal. When you tap a large book you get a nice thud. Books can have beautiful embossed covers and marbled pages. Book can have glossy art pages that shimmer in the sunlight. Books edges can be covered in beautiful gold pigments. Book are not merely an utilitarian way to shovel unstimulating text into your brain. Reading is an experience driven by the text, layout, paper choice, color and gray tones. Experience is an important part of a book and cannot be discounted!

The majority of e-readers do not have color and the ones that do have color displays only have low PPI in the color mode. E-readers are unable to model the different characteristics of papers like its whiteness, reflectivity, texture and composition. Books that use mixed paper types ,like Konosuba does -with its glossy color inserts, cannot be replicated on e-readers. E-readers whole purpose is to replicate text better than traditional emissive displays and they fail at this simple task.


Books Mentioned in this Article

Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!, Vol. 9 (light novel) by Natsume Akatsuki

  • ISBN-13: 9781975332334
  • Dimensions (LxWxH): 8.2″ x 5.5″ x 0.85″ (208mm x 140mm x 22mm)
  • Weight : 6.9oz (196g) (from amazon)

Wavelets: A Concise Guide by Amir-Homayoon Najmi

  • ISBN-13: 9781421404967
  • Dimensions (LxWxH): 9.25″ x 6.125″ x 0.75″ (235mm x 156mm x 19mm)
  • Weight : 15.5oz (439g) (from kitche scale a Taylor model 5257576 )

Calculus of a Single Variable 8th Edition by Larson, Hostetler & Edwards

  • ISBN-13: 9780883903469
  • Dimensions (LxWxH): 10.5″ x 7.75″ x 1.25″ (267mm x 197mm x 32mm)
  • Weight : 4.5lb (2 kg)

It should noted that I dispute the thickness of Konosuba Volume 9 because in real life it smaller than Wavelets. I personally measured the thickness of Wavelets the rest comes from amazon from all the books.

Additional Reading

DVI vs MIDI: What Makes a good standard?

January 17, 2021

phenixnuner

In technology the same goals can be achieved in many different ways. There is a near infinite possible ways to communication between two devices. All you need to do is look to the past to see how many different keyboard and mouse connectors existed. We currently live in a unique time when you can just walk into almost any retailer buy a computer, a random computer keyboard, a random musical keyboard and a whatever computer mouse they are most likely going to work with each other. This capability to connect two random devices is the result of good and robust standards. In this article I am going to discuss two standard MIDI and DVI. MIDI is the undisputed greatest digital communication standard ever invented. DVI is a failure of a standard that even now is unable to live up to the goals it set out to achieve in its standardization.

What do these standards do?

Here is a snippet from “The Complete MIDI 1.0 Detailed Specification Revision 96.1” which explains the purpose of midi.

“The Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) protocol provides a standardized and efficient means of conveying musical performance information as electronic data.”

The Complete MIDI 1.0 Detailed Specification Revision 96.1

Musical performance information is a very broad term, because this information can include volume level, timing between equipment and even custom messages that can contain anything the user wants.

Midi Cable

DVI is explained in a snippet from “Digital Visual Interface Revision 1.0” which was released 02 April 1999.

“The Digital Visual Interface (hereinafter DVI) specification provides a high-speed digital connection for visual data types that is display technology independent. The interface is primarily focused at providing a connection between a computer and its display device.”

Digital Visual Interface Revision 1.0

DVI supports analog video in some form factors so its own description is not quite right.

What did they set out to do?

To determine if a standard is successful we need to know what each standard was trying to achieve. To start we will look at what DVI was trying to achieve.

Another snippet explaining the goals from “Digital Visual Interface Revision 1.0”

The DVI interface enables:

  • Content to remain in the lossless digital domain from creation to consumption
  • Display technology independence
  • Plug and play through hot plug detection, EDID and DDC2B
  • Digital and Analog support in a single connector

Now for understanding the goals of MIDI we need to look at the document that inspired MIDI a paper presented at the 70th AES convention. The proposal written by Dave Smith and Chet Wood of Sequential Circuits for what was then dubbed “The ‘USI’ , Or Universal Synthesizer Interface” along with comments from others in the industry would evolve into MIDI.

“The Universal Synthesizer Interface is a specification designed to enable inter-connecting synthesizers, sequencers and home computers with an industry-wide standard interface.”

“Expandability – The interface is designed to be expandable. …. A status byte extension capability is provided.”

The ‘USI’ , Or Universal Synthesizer Interface

This means that you can make a new special code for a expanded functionality on MIDI. Also, a very important thing about MIDI is the device only responds to status bytes (messages types) it understands and ignores the rest. Which mean you can implement a new version of MIDI without worrying about causing glitches in older devices.

What makes a standard successful?

The success of a standard will be judged by the following criteria.

  1. Does the standard achieve the goals of its development?
  2. Does the standard have longevity?
    1. How long was in common usage?
    2. Are products still sold today using the standard ?
    3. Does it still exist in compatible revisions (eg. USB-C is not physically compatible with USB A but, is electrically compatible so that with a simple passive adapter you to connect a USB A to USB-C). This revision cannot be developed by an standards body that was independent of the original standards body.
  3. Does the standard provide easily accessible and affordable documentation?

When is a standard super seceded?

So lets quickly discuss why a standard gets super seceded even after achieving adoption and could be considered successful. The standard could lose market share, because it is implemented poorly, it is expensive to implement, it does meet design goals and finally it does not evolve with the application.

So lets start with MIDI does it meet design goals

  1. Enable inter-connecting synthesizers, sequencers and home computers with an industry-wide standard interface
  2. Expandability

We can see from the 8-bit guy’s video on the Roland MT-32 MIDI sound module that it was used to create music in early computer games and that computers where capable of sequencing of MIDI. Atari consider MIDI so important it was installed by default on their computers. These facts alone show that it achieved its first goal.

Yamaha DX7

Now its second goal expandability the example I give of this is the first commercially successful digital synthesizer the Yamaha DX7. A video YouTuber—AudioPilz—in his Bad Gear series covered this synthesizer. It had a difficult programming interface, but could be controlled by using third-party editor programs. Literally the only feature that cannot be controlled by MIDI on the Yamaha DX7 is the power switch. I found this out by skimming the manual for the Yamaha DX7 on a Website called DX7 SYSEX. SYSEX is how the DX7 manages it audio presets and how MIDI expansion is implemented. SYSEX is stand for System Exclusive message which described in “The Complete MIDI 1.0 Detailed Specification Revision 96.1” as


“System Exclusive Messages System Exclusive messages may be used to send data such as patch parameters or sample data between MIDI devices. Manufacturers of MIDI equipment may define their own formats for System Exclusive data. Manufacturers are granted unique identification (ID) numbers by the MMA or the JMSC, and the manufacturer ID number is included as part of the System Exclusive message. The manufacturers ID is followed by any number of data bytes, and the data transmission is terminated with the EOX message. Manufacturers are required to publish the details of their System Exclusive data formats, and other manufacturers may freely utilize these formats, provided that they do not alter or utilize the format in a way which conflicts with the original manufacturers specifications.

Certain System Exclusive ID numbers are reserved for special protocols. Among these are the MIDI Sample Dump Standard, which is a System Exclusive data format defined in the MIDI specification for the transmission of sample data between MIDI devices, as well as MIDI Show Control and MIDI Machine Control.”

The Complete MIDI 1.0 Detailed Specification Revision 96.1

To Long; Didn’t Read (TL;DR)

  1. Manufacturers are allowed to send custom MIDI messages when using System Exclusive messages
  2. Manufacturers must use their Manufacturer ID number for their custom messages
  3. Manufacturers must publish their System Exclusive Messages it cannot be secret
  4. Manufacturers must allow other manufacturers to utilize these formats freely (without royalty) ,but they cannot alter their original manufacturers message format.

The beauty of SYSEX expansion method is that MIDI can be expanded without having to issue new revisions or modifying the baseline messaging format. Which means you can run multiple custom SYSEX message formats into a synthesizer that is unaware of these new format’s existence and experience no random misfiring or adverse affects. MIDI clearly met its design goals and has many features that are not discussed.

Does MIDI have longevity? MIDI is still in common usage considering it is nearly impossible to purchase a computer, tablet or cellphone that does not support MIDI suggest that it is in common usage (Supported by Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android and iOS). Considering that a whole industry of MIDI controller and keyboard exist it definitely still sold today meeting the second condition of a longevity. Also the standard has released its first ever revision of version 2.0 which was released January of 2020 expanding the capabilities while maintaining backwards compatibility. MIDI documentation is freely available to anyone who creates a registered account with the MIDI association. Clearly MIDI is a successful standard that is willing and able to evolve with user use cases and is easy enough to implement that people have been implementing it for decades.

MIDI 2.0 Standard Diagram

Now Lets discuss DVI first does DVI achieve the goals of its development. First lets see its goals

The DVI interface enables:

  1. Content to remain in the lossless digital domain from creation to consumption
  2. Display technology independence
  3. Plug and play through hot plug detection, EDID and DDC2B
  4. Digital and Analog support in a single connector

DVI manages to achieve goals one through three flawlessly but, fails at the fourth goals which means it fails it objective. The reason it fails is because not every cable is able to achieve this performance. The DVI working group decided to spread these capabilities across five cables (there is only one midi cable).

DVI-A – it is a fully analog VGA compatible DVI cable. So it is a funny shaped VGA cable.

DVI-D Single Link – Fully digital but, half the bandwidth of a dual link DVI

DVI-D Dual Link – Fully digital and can achieve the maximum bandwidth of the DVI specification.

DVI-I Single Link – Analog and digital but, only supports half of the maximum bandwidth of the digital DVI section

DVI-I Dual Link – Analog and full digital bandwidth

There should of only ever been Dual link DVI-I cables this meets the design goals and is less confusing for consumers. This cable would have been more expensive but, cost is controlled by difficulty of manufacturing and number of units made. Less units are made when you have five different types of cables. We can see this in terms of cost on Monoprice for a 6ft VGA cable, a Dual link DVI-I and an HDMI 2.0 cable. The VGA cable was the cheapest at $4.09 USD . The HDMI 2.0 cable cost $6.99 USD and the dual link DVI-I was the most expensive at $9.15 USD. The HMDI 2.0 supports higher resolution and refresh rates than DVI but, cost less showing the benefits of economies of scale.

The longevity of a standard is how long it was in common usage. We can answer this question with an Intel press release which said AMD would remove DVI-I in 2015 and hinted at that Displayport would allow the features of the future. So lets say 1999-2015. Are products still being sold using the standard lets check the top 10 best selling products on Amazon & Bestbuy.

Acer SB220Q Monitor the most popular monitor on Amazon
AbbreviationResolution
FHD1920×1080
QHD2560×1440
UHD3840×2160
Table explaining the monitor abbreviation

Example FHD@75HZ -1920×1080 at 75Hz


Amazon Best Seller
1Acer SB220Q FHD@75Hz (HDMI & VGA)
2HP 24mh FHD@60Hz (Displayport,HDMI & VGA)
3Sceptre E205W-16003R -FHD@60Hz (HDMI & VGA)
4Sceptre C275W-1920RN FHD@75Hz (HDMI & VGA)
5HP VH240a FHD@60Hz (VGA & HDMI)
6Asus VG248QG FHD@165Hz (HDMI,DVI-D & Displayport)
7LG 27GL83A-B 1 QHD@144Hz (Displayport & HDMI)
8Dell SE2719H FHD@60Hz (HDMI & VGA)
9AOC C24G1 FHD@144Hz (HDMI, Displayport, DVI & VGA)
10Ben Q GW2480 FHD@60Hz (VGA,HDMI & Displayport)
Best Selling Monitor on Amazon access on January 2 at 4pm
Bestbuy Best Seller
1HP 6XJ00AA#ABA FHD@60Hz (HDMI & VGA)
2LG 24ML44B-B FHD@75Hz (HDMI & VGA)
3Lenovo Q24i-10 FHD@75Hz (HDMI & VGA)
4Dell S2319NX FHD@60Hz (HDMI & VGA)
5HP X24ih FHD@144Hz (HDMI & Displayport)
6HP V21 FHD@60Hz (HDMI & VGA)
7Acer K242HQL FHD@60Hz (DVI,HDMI & VGA)
8HP OMEN QHD@165Hz (Displayport & HDMI)
9Samsung UR55 UHD@60Hz (HDMI & Displayport)
10LG 27GN850-B QHD@144Hz (HDMI & Displayport)
Best Selling Monitors on Bestbuy Access on January 2 at 4pm

Seven of the twenty monitors would not have been able to hit their refresh rate targets using DVI. However, their is no resolution that DVI could not achieve in best selling monitor. The rest of the monitors normally would have a combination of HDMI and VGA which could of easily been driven from a single Dual link DVI-I port on the back of the monitor. For 65% of the best selling monitors on each website a single Dual link DVI-I port would work with no loss in capability. DVI also appeared on some of these monitors which seems pointless considering HDMI can handle a DVI-D signal. No revisions of DVI exist because, the standard body no longer exist and the website is not even up. In an HP white paper from March 2011 title “An Overview of Current Display Interfaces” the body was defunct and had not met since 2006. This meant that they could never adopt apple’s Mini DVI like Mini display port was made a standard. Also HDMI is not a continuation of DVI because, it was not released by the same standards body. According to the same HP white paper as quoted below.

“ After the DDWG failed to agree on a specification for a consumer version of the DVI specification, Silicon Image formed a new consortium to develop a digital interface specifically for the consumer TV market, this time with six leading CE companies. The result was the High Definition Multimedia Interface, or HDMI.”

“An Overview of Current Display Interfaces” by HP

As, the website is not up I am not able to tell the standards cost or distribution or any known funding model. DVI is a failure because, it did not accomplish its goal in most cases and did not adapt to the needs of the application.

Who is the standards body?

An important part of a successful standard is not just well thought out technical details, but ways to maintain and update standards. Standards like DVI where superseded because, they where never maintained or updated. To understand what makes a good standards body we must look at the difference between MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA)/ MIDI Association and Digital Display Working Group (DDWG) .

We will start with the MIDI Association which has a clear financing model. Corporate members pay to support the organization and get to input into the future MIDI standards and branding. The MMA does not have different tiers of corporate membership everyone pays a fee based on yearly sales and is an equal member. The MIDI Associate also has an individual membership which is free and allows user to get standards for free but, does allow them to supply any input.

DDWG Logo

As far as I can tell the DDWG does not have a way for anyone to apply to join the organization. You were allowed to join the DDWG Implementer forum (DDWG-IF). The DDWG-IF has two membership tiers Promoters which are made up of the founding members and Adopter which is anyone who joins the DDWG-IF. Their is no way to become a promoter according to “DIGITAL VISUAL INTERFACE SPECIFICATION REVISION 1.0 ADOPTER’S AGREEMENT”. The agreement also needs the sign off from a promoter. Joining the DDWG-IF does not give you any right to influence or change the standard. The only people who could change the standard appear to be the Promoters. This is very different from the MIDI Associate which is probably the reason that only the initial version of the standard was released. Since adopters where not allowed to provide any input and where “Not Partners” as stated in the adopter agreements. The other problem with this approach is DDWG does not have any administrative authority.

“While the Promoters may select an entity to handle certain administrative tasks for them, no party is authorized to make any commitment on behalf of all or any of them.”


Except from DIGITAL VISUAL INTERFACE SPECIFICATION REVISION 1.0 ADOPTER’S AGREEMENT

So then is authorized to implement a revise DVI standard in the first place? Also, DDWG did not even process memberships they had Promoters (founding members) process memberships. As an adopter you do pay a membership fee, but what these funds do is very unclear.

Why you should care!

You should care, because bad standards do not die! You can still buy computer monitors with DVI connections even when a standards body doesn’t exist. As much as I trashed DVI when HDMI was in developed DVI was the basis. DVI was a standard with no user feedback and many of the problems with HDMI inevitably come from this problem. Standards get rolled into each other and become new standards.

DVI is by far not the worst standard in existence some successful standards are written to advantage and/or require you to use a specific companies products. DVD-Video is a prime example of biased standards. This fact can be demonstrated by the archive of “DVD FAQ” of videodiscovery.

A disc can have up to 8 audio tracks (streams). Each track can be in one of three formats:

  • Dolby Digital (AC-3): 1 to 5.1 channels
  • MPEG-2 audio: 1 to 5.1 or 7.1 channels
  • PCM: 1 to 8 channels.

Two additional optional formats are supported: DTS and SDDS. Both require external decoders.

The “.1” refers to a low-frequency effects (LFE) channel that connects to a subwoofer.

Discs containing 525/60 (NTSC) video must use PCM or Dolby Digital on at least one track. Discs containing 625/50 (PAL) video must use PCM or MPEG-2 audio on at least one track. Additional tracks may be in any format. Many MPEG-2 discs include Dolby Digital.

For the case of the North American NTSC Disc one of the required tracks was Dolby Digital meaning to be compliant with the standard you had to include a Dolby Decoder while you did not have to include a decoder for the competing standards DTS or SDDS. It is also mentioned that many MPEG-2 Disc had Dolby Digital tracks as well. This gives Dolby a massive advantage over its competitors since it mandatory or effectively mandatory in most cases. Dolby’s competitors are now expensive questionable additions on a player.

If you are a product designer or a customer who want to have choice in what they buy then you care about standards. If you want new cutting edge features then you care about standards. Some features can not be added without violating standards. The future direction of technology depends on good standards that allow for growth and creative approaches to problem solving.

See Also

Sources

  1. The Complete MIDI 1.0 Detailed Specification version 96.1 third revision
  2. Digital Visual Interface DVI revision 1 released 02 april 1999
  3. “The ‘USI’ or Universal Synthesizer Interface” by Dave Smith and Chet Wood
  4. The Best Sound for MS-DOS Games – Roland MT-32
  5. Bad Gear – Yamaha DX7 – Synth Of Fear???
  6. Manual for DX7 with midi format documentation access from dxsysex
  7. MIDI Support by OS
    1. Android
    2. MacOS
    3. Linux
    4. Windows
  8. Details about MIDI 2.0™, MIDI-CI, Profiles and Property Exchange
  9. Monoprice access Jan2 2021 at 3:36Pm EST products numbers: 614, 85 & 3992
  10. Leading PC Companies Move to All Digital Display Technology, Phasing out Analog (an Intel press release)
  11. “An Overview of Current Display Interfaces” (an HP white paper) released March 2011
  12. About page on midi.org access jan 3 2021
  13. http://www.ddwg.org/jointheif.asp wayback archive from july 2012
  14. http://www.ddwg.org/lib/DDWG_Adopters_Agreement.pdf wayback archive from march 17 2012
  15. http://www.videodiscovery.com/vdyweb/dvd/dvdfaq.html wayback archive from march 29 1997

Image Sources

Why did you download a MP3? Audiophile files

October 12, 2020

phenixnuner

In this this article all data will be referenced in bits using decimal prefix aka 1 kilobit (kb)= 1000 bits and 1 byte=8bits

In music you hear the debate compressed versus lossless music. Audiophiles will say that you can hear the  difference between compressed and uncompressed music. Then someone runs a listening test such as ABX or others outlined in standards such as ITU P.800 (it is a free download), which quantitatively generate  no difference to minimal difference in the metrics between compressed and uncompressed media. I am going to start with the basics what is compressed music?


Lesson One

There are three ways to store media content uncompressed, losslessly compressed and lossly compressed. First, uncompressed is the simplest way to store media.  It is the exact captured content stored in a file unaltered. Some example of uncompressed audio format include WAV and AIFF. Second, lossless compression is a format that is reduced in sized but, when uncompressed the media is numerically identical and indistinguishable (aka each sample is exactly the same across the entire audio file). Examples of a lossless audio format are FLAC and ALAC. The third and final type is lossy compression. Lossy compression causes data to be lost and is not identical to the uncompressed audio format Examples of a lossy audio format is MP3 and Ogg.

Media StorageUncompressedLosslessLossy
Codec NameWAVE & AIFFFLAC & ALACOgg,MP3 & AAC
Common File Ending.wav, .aiff or .aif.flac & .m4a.ogg, .mp3 & .m4a*
A table containing a summary of audio compression

*.m4a is a container and can hold an audio file encoded in losslessly or lossyly

Lesson Two

The quality of a lossy audio format is determined by a comparing  how indistinguishable the sound or metrics of the compressed audio to  the uncompressed audio in a listening test or listening test derived metric. It is important to know,  this is relatively complex to truly achieve. Agata Rogowska investigated how using different musical instrument samples (stimuli) where distinguishable based on LAME-MP3 (the MP3 encoder used by audacity) encoding. He found the low bitrate (32kbps) or highly compressed MP3s of horns from the Sound Quality Assessment Material recordings for subjective tests (EBU-TECH 3253) was indistinguishable from the uncompressed horn sounds.

However,  a viola sound could be distinguished almost 95% of the time [1].  Even when moving to the generally recommended bitrate of 128kbps [2] Viola was still distinguishable 65% of the time. This is where 50% distinguishable would be a random guess. Almost two years after this investigation, the creator of MP3 would recommend that people stop using MP3 [3].

Lesson Three

The question that is overlooked in this discussion —Why are we even using compressed audio formats?  Internet speeds having drastically increased since the MP3 codec was introduced in 1993 .  Storage cost have drastically decreased. For instance, according Matthew Komorowski article, “A History of Storage Cost (Update)” it cost $250 per Gigabits ($2000 per GB) and $0.00375 per Gigabits ($0.03 per GB) in 1993 and  2015 respectively. Let’s examine storage cost of a CD, a CD at max can hold 80 minutes of audio. It cost a little bit less than $0.03 dollars to store a CDs worth of audio and under a $0.01 to store a CD as a 128kbps mp3. Now, how much does it cost to transfer the content of a CD over the internet? That can be estimated two ways. The first way is by using the data cap for Xfinity home of 9.6 per Terabits (1.2 TB [5]); then find the minimum internet speed to be able to hit the datacap in an average length month. which is about 4 Mbps. The slowest internet speed that Xfinity provides is up to 25Mbps for $49.95 per month (retrieved August 30th 2020). That means at maximum it cost $0.0005 per Megabit to transfer the content of a CD over the internet. The second way to determine the cost per megabit is to determine the maximum data that could be possibly be transferred to a home in an average month, then determine based on the monthly cost how much it would cost. As you know, for an additional $30 per month you can remove the data cap [5]. The fastest plan Xfinity provides is a 2 Gbps plan for $299.95 (retrieved August 30th 2020) plus the additional $30 per month. Using this calculation, it comes out to $0.00000000006 per megabit to transfer the content of a CD over the internet. Continually focusing on cost, the average active Spotify user listened to 25 hours of music per month in 2017 [6] which would cost (internet transfer cost can be neglected) $0.86-0.07 per month depending on the quality settings in storage alone. If Spotify premium were to stream in CD quality uncompressed it would cost $3.81 in storage. The average active user only listen a short time relative to the hours in an average month. Therefore, dedicate storage per user can be reduced by the ratio average hours listened to per month since it can be reused across users. This brings the  uncompressed audio cost down to $0.13 per month, which is 1 percent of monthly revenue.

            Media content is also streamed on Youtube,  Youtube has stopped reporting streams overtime. The most recent data for peak plays in a week is Despacito by Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee is 157.307 million views in the 28th week of upload (this was captured by Engauge graph digitizer from a drawing of the plot).  By manipulating the numbers, you can find that the peak plays per minute were approximately 15,600. Using youtube-dl to estimate the size (I did not download and would never condone acts of piracy) of all the □.mp4 video resolution, I summed the storage space for all supported video only tracks” and added  the  □”.m4a audio for each supported resolution. Youtube pre-encodes all supported resolutions [7], so in total Youtube needs 398 Mb per viewer. The social media stats website Social Blade estimates at the time of writing (september 9th 2020 noon) 7 billion views generated between $3.5-$27.8 million dollars [8]. Taking the middle of these revenue generated estimates a view is estimated to be worth $0.002. Assuming that the plays per minute all count as views. The peak plays per minute generated is $3,120 per minute in revenue and it cost $23.28 per minute (using internet bandwidth and storage) to serve the videos. Performing the same analysis with Spotify and adding raw CD quality audio (this could be shrunk using a lossless codec like FLAC), it would only take 121 Mb at a cost of $7.08 to serve versus $2.11 without lossless support. Or simply stated, it is a cost difference of 0.15% more of the revenue generated during peak playback.  After examing cost, I ask the question again, why are we even using compressed audio formats?  I am simply asking Streaming Services to let customers choose to listen to lossless quality audio for less than 0.2% of revenue. 


Why Should I the Consumer Care?

As a consumer you should care because, you are not getting a discount on the reduced bandwidth usage or not having to ship the product. For instance searching on Amazon for Luis Fonsi’s album Vida I find that the CD cost $10.99 and the MP3 download cost $9.49. In more extreme cases ScHoolboy Q’s album CrasH Talk the CD cost $7.58 and the MP3 Download cost $9.49. In the most extreme case presto classical was hosting a sale on High Resolution Music (lossless music recorded at a higher sample rate and higher bit depth than CD) where the 96kHz 24bit was less expensive than the 320kbps mp3. Remember the lossless audio requires over 14 times (a little less when encoded in FLAC 7-8 times [9]) more storage than the MP3. The price difference between lossless and lossy codecs is relatively arbitrary. In many cases, a consumer has to buy a CD to obtain lossless audio even when they would prefer a lossless download. Why don’t music retailers and labels provide this to customers who want lossless audio?

The higher sample rate music is cheaper than the lower sample rate. Accessed September 1st 2020
Close up of the price in the basket

The consumer is still bearing many hidden costs for being forced to use compressed music with non-FOSS (Free and open-source software) every device that can play these propriety Codecs is required to pay a licensing fee which is then passed on to the consumer. Compressed audio also trades storage space for power usage, as it requires more computation power to playback compressed audio.

            Another hidden cost that many streaming devices and Bluetooth headphones is the native wireless protocols use lossy compression. This means that your lossly compressed audio could have sounded fine with one stage of compression but, could be drastically affected by a second round of audio compression. Also, many of the artifacts heard on internet calls are caused by lossy audio compression. Using lossy codecs increases latency by having to wait for the audio to encode and decode. This encoding time changes depending on the content which can cause video sync issues. One of the biggest shames is that we by licensing fee or government grants are still developing new lossy codecs that in general we do not need or use. Notice that most music stores sell you mainly MP3 even when the creators of the MP3 prefers that you use their new lossy audio creation [3]. What other problems could be solved instead of research new audio compression techniques for minimal gains?

References

  1. “Audibility of lossy compressed musical” by Agata Rogowska
  2. “Which MP3 bit rate should I use?” by Nate Lanxon
  3. “The MP3 Is Officially Dead, According To Its Creators” by Andrew Flanagan
  4. Matthew Komorowski personal blog “a history of storage cost (update)”
  5. https://dataplan.xfinity.com/faq/ (retrieved August 30th 2020)
  6. “Average monthly time spent listening to Spotify content among monthly active users worldwide from 1st quarter 2015 to 4th quarter 2017” by Amy Watson
  7. “How YouTube Works – Computerphile” on the Computerphile youtube channel.
  8. Social Blades statistical information on Luisfonsivevo channel
  9. “FLAC compression level comparison” by Nathan Zachary

The Case For Digital

June 19, 2020

phenixnuner

People say they prefer analog to digital recordings for many reasons. Analog’s assumed superiority comes from a misunderstanding of how digital audio works and how to improve the sound quality of digital audio. The most common analog format that is listed as superior is vinyl. Vinyl has a distinctive advantage as an analog format. It is conceptually easy to understand since the movement of the needle creates a movement of air (you can even hear the music just from the needle movements alone). Improving sound quality for vinyl is as simple as following the groove of the record better, improved vibration reduction and playback speed regulation. None of these benefits and tweaks are a panacea for analog audio. The case for digital audio will be made evident in this article. It will be clear why digital audio beats analog audio of any format in recording.

About Vinyl

Many enthusiast purport vinyl is closer to the artistic intent. Throughout vinyl’s history it has been purely a mass-produced consumer standard, not a professional standard. Vinyl’s use in movie soundtracks and musical recordings was extremely short. The Fox Corporation when developing sound for “talkies”, always used optical sound. Warner Brothers movies used vinyl-based sound in the mid 1920s but, by the mid 1930s, Warner Brothers was using optical sound [1]. According to the 1952 SMPTE’s Progress Report by the end of 1951 75% of original production recording for Hollywood was done on magnetic tape. Artists have not recorded directly on vinyl for a long time; thus, violating the artistic intent argument. The ideal music listening experience would be in the control room or a live performance listening to the artist. Magnetic recordings needed to be transferred to vinyl which caused a loss in quality. Vinyl also does not allow for a separation of playback and song composition. So, if you have a continuous piece that is longer than a single side, it has to be interrupted. Tracks are separated on vinyl records by periods of silence but, songs without silence separating them have become very common in the digital era. These fully integrated songs becomes inseparable on vinyl records because, their is no way to denote beginning or ending. This violates the artistic intent. Lossless digital downloads meet artistic intent requirements much better. Consider Mike Dean’s Album 4:20 which was mixed and mastered by the artist. The Album was delivered directly to the consumer at no point did the album need to change formats.

Vinyl has poor value for those who want to argue collecting it is valuable (ask millennials about their beanie baby collections). An example of this: if you bought the original 1973 Pink Floyd Darkside of the Moon (UK Edition) and never played it you could get between $1,700-$3,478.26 (USD). Other than considering that an unplayed record is a waste of money since you do not get to enjoy the music, but this is beside the point. Assuming this record cost $5 (an inflation adjusted version of cost of Tom Petty’s Hard Promises price dispute with his label MCA). looking at the Dow Jones in March 1973, it was at $951.01 while in March 2020 it was $21917.16. If you invested the money instead you would only get $115.23—in this case preserving the Pink Floyd album would have been a worthwhile investment. However, if you pick another popular album from the billboard charts in 1973 Houses Of The Holy (UK Edition) today it could net you between $100-$200. Houses Of The Holy is not a clear winner you can sell at the upper end and it would be worth it otherwise not so much. If you selected to hold on to Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player (UK Edition) you could get between $19-$35—in this case the stock market would have been a way better bet, sorry Elton. All prices were taken from Discog (accessed on April-May 2020—only mint or near mint where used). The only reason the number one album of 1973 The World Is a Ghetto by WAR was not used was because no mint or near mint version could be found for sale.

The following video illustrates some of the deficiencies of vinyl. Ironically, this video was about why vinyl so great, yet it is one of the best explainers of the format’s shortcomings.

A Vinyl Enthusiast explaining the weaknesses of the platform unintentionally

TLDW (To Long Didn’t Watch)

  1. Requires lots of processing of the original recording before you can even start cutting
  2. To cut a vinyl record you need to limit the bandwidth that your music uses
  3. Limits the slew rate of your music to preserve the cutting head not your music quality
  4. “It limits you to what you actually can do”
  5. Forces you to put the bulk of your content in the midrange frequencies instead of having a full range composition
  6. Depending on your sonic decisions your playtime will be adversely affected (having more bass reduces your playback time and so does having a louder record)
  7. To fit on a record your music will need to take on the vinyl sound but not necessarily your mixed sound

Benefits of Digital Audio

Now finally: why should you use digital audio? The story of digital begins with the return to the direct vinyl recording in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Why, after forsaking recording to vinyl directly would direct disc mastering exist again? What problem does this solve? Direct disc recording fixes modulation noise! Modulation noise is unique to magnetic tape and it was very hard to measure.

Modulation Noise – A noise which exists only in the presence of a signal and is a function of the recorded amplitude of the signal. The signal undergoes modulation in both amplitude and frequency. These two types of modulation produce sidebands above and below the signal frequency.

Let’s Breakdown what this definition means. The first sentence means that modulation noise only occur sonce audio has been recorded to the magnetic tape. A tape that has no audio recorded will still have a slight hiss called surface noise, but then will gain additional noise from the modulation noise once a signal is recorded to the magnetic tape. A perfectly noiseless tape will-which doesn’t exist-still have modulation noise. This sentence also means that as the amplitude of the signal increases or decreases the characteristics of modulation noise changes. So, recording louder will reduce surface noise but, will cause an increase in modulation noise. The second sentence means that the frequency and amplitude of a signal is varied over time. In the case of our examples a pure tone with a constant frequency 440Hz that undergoes frequency modulation will now have a frequency that varies from 429Hz to 451Hz. In case with amplitude modulation the amplitude of the signal is varying over time from being multiplied by 1 and 0.98 (which is below human perception of 1.1 to 0.89 if the amplitude was 1). Amplitude modulation of two pure sine waves produce what are known as side bands which means now additional tones are produced at 380Hz (440Hz-60Hz) and 500Hz (440Hz+60Hz). These extreme examples are just with these parameters turned up. The modulation noise uses a combination of FM and AM modulation. The rate of frequency modulation mirrors a Mark Levinson No 515 turntable and the amplitude is modulated by randomly generated white noise to mimic uneven gain size.


Below are auditory examples for different types modulation

This playlist contains audio examples generated in Supercollider programming language using a 440Hz Sine wave modulated using Amplitude Modulation, Frequency Modulation & a Simulated Modulation noise.

Track List

  1. Unmodulated Sinewave
  2. AM (Amplitude Modulated) Sine Wave
  3. FM (Frequency Modulated) Sine Wave
  4. A Sinewave with simulated Modulation Noise
  5. AM (Amplitude Modulated) Extreme Sine Wave
  6. FM (Frequency Modulated) Extreme Sine Wave

Frequency Modulation (FM) Example

A comparison between the unmodulated Sine wave and the FM modulated Sinewave. This frequency modulation is 10 times more than a AT-LP60X-GM the best-selling turntable at Best Buy in mid-2019. Slider all the way to the right Side is the original and Slider to the all the way to the left is modulated. Y-axis is amplitude dBFS and X-axis is Frequency (Hz)

Amplitude Modulation (AM) Example

A comparison between the unmodulated Sine wave and the AM modulated Sinewave. Slider all the way to the right Side is the original and Slider to the all the way to the left is modulated. Y-axis is amplitude dBFS and X-axis is Frequency (Hz)

Simulated Modulation Noise

A comparison between the unmodulated Sine wave and the Modulation Noise Simulated Sinewave. The rate amount frequency modulation is similar to what would be produced by a Mark Levinson 515 turntable. Slider all the way to the right Side is the original and Slider to the all the way to the left is modulated. Y-axis is amplitude dBFS and X-axis is Frequency (Hz)

AM Modulation Extreme Example

This is the Frequency Response plot for the AM extreme example. Notice the distinct side bands near the center frequency. These side bands are the two smaller bumps near the large bump. Y-axis is amplitude dBFS and X-axis is Frequency (Hz)

FM Modulation Extreme Example

This is the Frequency Response plot for the FM extreme example. This is tproduces additional harmonics ahove the fundamental. Y-axis is amplitude dBFS and X-axis is Frequency (Hz)

The source of these errors came from a non-uniform distribution of iron oxide grain size on the magnetic tape. This is because, the iron powder cannot be ground to perfectly even sized grains. Magnetic tapes work by gluing a fine magnetic powder to the tape material. Powder application tends to be inconsistent causing level inconsistencies. This is very similar to gluing glitter to a sheet of paper. Some glitter always comes off. The frequency modulation comes from the imperfect speed regulation of the tape machine [3]. It is noise generated at some frequency multiple of the incoming signal. Modulation noise destroys your low frequency response.

Early Digital

Nippon Columbia, or Denon, wanted to improve their recordings’ quality. In fact, according to Audio Restoration expert Thomas Fine, Denon, when pursuing digital, had one goal: “To produce recordings that were not compromised by the weaknesses of magnetic tape” [4]. Early digital was impossible to edit so it had very limited use cases, but direct disc masters could not be edited  either so most early digital recordings where done as backups to direct disc recordings. Denon’s using NHK’s (NHK is like Japanese BBC) early prototype can be heard on the Steve Marcus + Jiro Inagaki & Soul Media recording of “Something”. Honestly, the recording sounds fantastic, maybe a little limited on the high frequency but that’s the only fault I hear.

This recording is an early digital recording produced on the prototype NHK system

From what I can tell this was recorded on the prototype NHK system, so it had a sample rate of 30kHz and a nonlinear 13-bit depth, that was built in 1969. Sample rate is how often an incoming analog signal is measured per second. So a sample rate of 30kHz means that the incoming audio signal is measured 30,000 times per second. While bit depth is how many unique values the sampled amplitude can take on in this case 8192 unique values. However, unlike a CD the spacing between amplitude values is nonlinear by design in the NHK prototype. See additional reading for further explanation of digital sound.

Early digital audio was focused on providing the best audio to consumers. Soundstream–another early digital pioneer located in Salt Lake City, Utah–was used as a backup to a direct disc recording for a Virgil Fox session. Jerry Bruck, the recording engineer on the session, remembers receiving a call from Soundstream founder Thomas Stockham that the analog feed had a hum problem -80dB down from peak amplitude which was well into the noise floor of the best recorders of the late 70’s. The best tape recorders with signal to noise reduction could only produce 70dB of signal to noise so this hum was inaudible on tape. This shows you one of the unintended consequences of digital recordings was improved signal-to-noise ratios. As far as I can tell no one really thought that improving the signal-to-noise ratio was that important as modulation noise was already removed. To put this into perspective, using OSHA’s guidelines for noise exposure, no worker should be exposed to an average level over 85dBA for a whole day without hearing protection.

If we make your playback level 85dBA then subtract the 70dB signal to noise ratio (I know it is not A-weighted) this gives us the noise floor of 15dBA that is needed to hear this dynamic range during playback. This noise floor is quieter than a quiet study room (20dBA) and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (30dBA) [6]. In most playback cases, vinyl records and magnetic tape are effectively noiseless. Soundstream’s test recordings were good but had limited high frequency content due to only sampling at 37.5kHz (the true maximum frequency was around 15kHz for anti-aliasing purposes) with 16bits. This early recording allowed Soundstream to be co-booked for many more recordings. Telarc Records was impressed by these early Soundstream recordings but found the high frequencies limited and asked for an improvement which Soundstream agreed to do. Soundstream bumped the sample rate up to 50kHz.Telarc Records and Soundstream worked with band director Fred Fennell to record an assorted set of pieces. Band director Fred Fennell who directed the live band could only say the words  “wow” when he heard the digital recording of the session [4]. Telarc Records is famous for its bass drum sounds but, this is extremely difficult to cut into vinyl records but, trivial for digital recordings. If you own a copy of Telarc’s Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite & Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances on Vinyl and love its rich warm sound, then you agree with me that digital recordings sound excellent.

Digital Misconceptions

Now it’s time to discuss digital misconceptions. A common misconception – with sampling is you are losing information. This is not true. An example, let’s say we want to represent data from a single linear line and we need to pick a way to preserve information about the line. We can choose between two representations A or B which contains more information?


Representation A: A set of points

XY(x)=2x
00
12
24
36
48
510
612
714
816
918
1020
1122
1224
1326
1428
1530
1632
1734
1836
1938
2040
2142
2244
2346

Representation B: An Equation

Y(x)=2x for x equal 0 to 23 with a step size of 1


Neither representation contains more information about the line data. Each can be used to create the other’s representation. Even if we took smaller and smaller steps both would remain interchangeable. This is the same with sampled audio. There is a lot of discussion about how digital audio cannot represent the complex overtones of an instrument because, they surpass the audio bandwidth of even the 192kHz. Can analog recordings represent these higher frequencies? Let’s say you are working on capturing an ensemble containing a full orchestra–a Buchla Music Easel and Minimoog Voyager (both are fully analog synthesizers)–directly to vinyl. You use Earthworks QTC50 omni microphones for orchestra and room microphones. While you record the soloist with a Neumann TLM103 you connect everything to a fully analog SSL XL-Desk. First, the Earthworks QTC50 begins to roll off at 50kHz[7] and both analog synthesizers can produce harmonics past 20kHz but the Neumann TLM103 can only produce up to audible content up to 20kHz [8]. Your nice SSL XL-Desk [9] has an upper frequency response of 40kHz which is less than your QTC50 so you’re actually rolling off the high end of the microphone. While if you recorded this signal digitally at 192kHz all of this would be preserved. All physically realizable devices have to have finite decaying bandwidths or else they would require infinite amounts of energy to power (look at definition of energy in signal processing and divergent infinite series to gain an understanding of this point or Technology Connection’s Videos ).

Conclusion

Digital audio does not sound worse than analog. Digital has many advantages over analog from degradation-free copying to longer playback times. You will not gain any benefits from playing audio back using analog media–at best it will sound the same. The collectors’ value of analog media is minimal and speculative at best on average. Analog audio limits artistic expression and can conflict with artistic intent. In particular, vinyl has been a purely consumer audio standard for decades and has not factored in music capture, reproduction or production professionally in a long time. If you enjoy maintaining vinyl and the comradery you gain from being in the analog community that is fine. But you will gain nothing in sound quality from analog music playback compared to digital music playback. You will also lose many of the benefits that digital provides like tracks seeking, glitch free playback, error correction, easy archiving and organizing.

Additional Reading

Reference

1. “Motion Picture Sound Recording “ by John G. Frayne

2. “The 35mm Album Master Fad” by Thomas Fine presented at the 135th AES Convention

3. “Modulation Noise in Tape Recordings” by Robert Z. Langevin

4. “ The Dawn of Commercial Digital Recordings” by Thomas Fine

5. “An Historical Overview of the development of PCM/Digital Recording Technology at Denon” by Almon H. Clegg et al

6. “How loud is too loud?” by OSHA (https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation/loud.html) accessed June 7th 2020

7.Earthworks QTC50 specification (https://earthworksaudio.com/products/microphones/qtc-series/qtc50/) accessed June 7th 2020

8. Neumann TLM103 specifications (https://en-de.neumann.com/tlm-103#technical-data) accessed June 7th 2020

9. SSL XL-Desk Owner Manual accessed June 7th 2020

The Sounds of Silence

April 20, 2020

phenixnuner

There is a general consensus among the left, right and environmentalist is that increasing the amount multifamily residency (which includes apartments, condominiums, townhouses and duplexes) is what we should be doing in the future. The argument on the left is less restrictive zoning, proper incentives for building new homes and making it difficult to hoard land. The argument on the right is that restrictive zoning law slow the develop of different types of housing and the the amount of housing. Both agreeing that single family homes and intense zoning laws are affecting the supply and affordability of housing option. The environmental case for increasing housing density is it will make public transportation easier to facilitate. The increased residential density will reduce commuting time and distance. These are all excellent reasons to support multifamily residences . However no one is addressing the downside that many multifamily residences have which is poor sound isolation which is essential to proper living conditions.

Residential Noise Disputes

I myself have worked on multiple noise disputes they are complicated and extremely personal. A 2013 survey performed by the company FindLaw found that 42% of Americans where involved in a dispute with their neighbor of the disputes almost 50% where related to noise. The next category was Pets and Animals which was almost 30 percent of the complaints. I can not tell you what percentage of these dispute involved sounds the pets made. In multifamily residences this is further complicated by the fact people live in close proximity.

Noise vs Sound

The first thing to get out of the away is avoiding the term noise. To measure the level of sound produced we must use a sound level meter. No noise level meters exist. What is and is not noise is completely subjective. The only thing that can be done is to reduce the sound level that is transferred between units.

Sound Transmission

Sound can travel in two fashions airborne and structurally. Airborne sound transmission is when you can hear your neighbor talking through the walls. Structural sound transmission is when you can hear your neighbors foot steps in a far away room. Airborne transmission is when the sound travels through the air. Structural transmission is when sound travels through solid objects and then radiates from solid objects into the air. Most sound has a combination of both transmission methods.

Regulatory

How we deal with unwanted sound at a local level is very interesting here is an example from the noise ordinance (§ 74-131. Prohibited conduct paragraphs a-c).in Atlanta,Georgia. I picked Atlanta because, finding its rules would be pretty easy and I am cold.

Atlanta’s restrictions vary during the time or day of the week here is a table explain those shifts.

Sunday-ThursdayFriday-Saturday
7am-11pm300ftn/a
11pm-7am100ftn/a
7am-12pmn/a300ft
12pm-7amn/a100ft
Table Containing distance of audibility for Atlanta zoning laws

Atlanta’s Single Family Zoning Laws

  • Restrictions of 300 feet for 7:00 a.m. through 11:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 7:00 a.m. through 12:00 midnight on Friday and Saturday.
    • Mechanical sound-making devices. It is unlawful for any person or persons to play, use, operate, or permit to be played, used, or operated any radio receiving device, television, stereo, musical instrument, phonograph sound amplifier or other machines or devices for the producing, reproducing or amplifying of sound and/or noise at such a volume and in such a manner so as to create, or cause to be created, any noises or sounds which are plainly audible at a distance of 300 feet or more from the building, structure or vehicle, or in the case of real property, beyond the property limits, in which it is located, whichever is farthest, between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 12:00 midnight on Friday and Saturday.
    • Human-produced sounds. It is unlawful for any person or persons to yell, shout, hoot, whistle, or sing on the public streets or sidewalks or on private property so as to create, or cause to be created, any noises or sounds which are plainly audible at a distance of 300 feet or more from the place, building, structure, or in the case of real property, beyond the property limits, in which the person is located, whichever is farthest, between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 12:00 midnight on Friday and Saturday.
    • Commercial advertising. (this section was omitted)
    • Party noise. It is unlawful for any person or persons in charge of a party or other social event that occurs on any private property to allow that party or social event to produce noise in such a manner that such noise is plainly audible at a distance of 300 feet or more from the building or structure from which the noise is emanating or in the case of real property, beyond the property limits, on which the party or social event is located, whichever is farthest, between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 12 midnight on Friday and Saturday. For the purposes of this subsection, a “person in charge of a party or other social event” shall mean any adult person who resides in or on the premises involved in such party or social event and is present at such party or social event. For the purposes of this subsection, “noise” shall mean the same sounds, or any combination thereof, as described in paragraphs a. or b. above.

Atlanta’s Zoning Code For Multifamily Residency

Restrictions for areas within apartments, condominiums, townhouses, duplexes, or other such residential dwelling units. Except for persons within commercial enterprises that have an adjoining property line or boundary with a residential dwelling unit, it is unlawful for any person to make, continue, or cause to be made or continued any noise in such a manner as to be plainly audible to any other person a distance of five feet beyond the adjoining property line wall or boundary of any apartment, condominium, townhouse, duplex, or other such residential dwelling units with adjoining points of contact. For the purposes of this subsection, “noise” shall mean human-produced sounds of yelling, shouting, hooting, whistling, singing, or mechanically-produced sounds made by radio-receiving device, television, stereo, musical instrument, phonograph sound amplifier or other machines or devices for the producing, reproducing, or amplifying of sound, or any combination thereof. For the purposes of this subsection, “property line or boundary” shall mean an imaginary line drawn through the points of contact of (1) adjoining apartments, condominiums, townhouses, duplexes or other such residential dwelling units with adjoining points owned, rented, or leased by different persons; or (2) adjoining common areas or adjoining exterior walls. Said property line or boundary includes all points of a plane formed by projecting the property line or boundary including the ceiling, the floor, and the walls.

Understanding Zoning Laws

It seems relatively reasonable to keep “ sound and/or noise at such a volume and in such a manner so as to create, or cause to be created, any noises or sounds which are plainly audible at a distance of 300 feet (100ft) or more from the building….”. What does plainly audible mean is poorly defined.

However, Paragraph c reference to multifamily residences is utterly ridiculous “…to be plainly audible to any other person a distance of five feet beyond the adjoining property line wall…”. To put this in to perspective the width between to two walls adjacent to my neighbors is 15’ 6” (a little under 5 meters). Which means I have an approximately five foot (~1.5 meters) strip for which I could complain about both of my neighbors sound level. This means if I can hear sounds from my neighbor’s dwelling on my toilet I can not complain (since most most toilets are not more than five feet from the adjacent wall). In a more close to home explain here is the section on noise from my residence agreement.

“Owners, guests, and lessees will be expected to reduce noise levels after 10:00 p.m. so neighbors are not disturbed. At no time are musical instruments, radios, televisions or other sources of noise to be so loud as to become a nuisance, the determination of which is left to the sole discretion of the Board of Directors.”

In this case do not disturb anyone after 10pm seems reasonable. In my residences rules the phase “The determination of which sound become a nuisance will be left to the board of directors.” How will nuisance be determined? When writing this article I could hear my neighbor hammering was this a nuisance?

It is important to understand that an assumption that both of these noise rules have is that you understand the sound levels effect on your neighbor. In Atlanta if you are having a party and the person 300ft (~91m) away from you is also having a party what is “ plainly audible” has now changed. In the case of my residence rules what is a nuisance changes depending on the make up of my Board of Directors. Also, in the case of my residency rules if my neighbors are not home after 10pm and I have not become deemed a nuisance by the current Board of Directors it is impossible for me to violate the noise rules.

It is unreasonable to assume that you know the affect of your sound level on your neighbors. What is needed to do an assessment? The first thing you would need to know is what is the sound pressure radiating on the surface of the wall. The second thing you would need to know is the attenuation provided by neighboring walls. Third,you would need to know what is plainly audible or disturbing to that neighboring person. It is not possible to estimate the sound attenuation of a wall by just by looking at it. It is very unlikely that your neighbor will let you setup a sound level meter inside their house to determine the attenuation. It is also nearly impossible to determine the contributions from inside the neighbors environment and the contribution your making to the sound level in their environment at all times. What is plainly audible or disturbing is not based on sound level they receive from you but, the environment the sound is received in. This is why I am not a fan of noise ordinances or quiet policies because they suffer from these same weaknesses.

Legal Rights

It seems relatively reasonable to keep “ sound and/or noise at such a volume and in such a manner so as to create, or cause to be created, any noises or sounds which are plainly audible at a distance of 300 feet (100ft) or more from the building….”. What does plainly audible mean is poorly defined.

However, Paragraph c reference to multifamily residences is utterly ridiculous “…to be plainly audible to any other person a distance of five feet beyond the adjoining property line wall…”. To put this in to perspective the width between to two walls adjacent to my neighbors is 15’ 6” (a little under 5 meters). Which means I have an approximately five foot (~1.5 meters) strip for which I could complain about both of my neighbors sound level. This means if I can hear sounds from my neighbor’s dwelling on my toilet I can not complain (since most most toilets are not more than five feet from the adjacent wall). In a more close to home explain here is the section on noise from my residence agreement.

“Owners, guests, and lessees will be expected to reduce noise levels after 10:00 p.m. so neighbors are not disturbed. At no time are musical instruments, radios, televisions or other sources of noise to be so loud as to become a nuisance, the determination of which is left to the sole discretion of the Board of Directors.”

In this case do not disturb anyone after 10pm seems reasonable. In my residences rules the phase “The determination of which sound become a nuisance will be left to the board of directors.” How will nuisance be determined? When writing this article I could hear my neighbor hammering was this a nuisance?

It is important to understand that an assumption that both of these noise rules have is that you understand the sound levels effect on your neighbor. In Atlanta if you are having a party and the person 300ft (~91m) away from you is also having a party what is “ plainly audible” has now changed. In the case of my residence rules what is a nuisance changes depending on the make up of my Board of Directors. Also, in the case of my residency rules if my neighbors are not home after 10pm and I have not become deemed a nuisance by the current Board of Directors it is impossible for me to violate the noise rules.

It is unreasonable to assume that you know the affect of your sound level on your neighbors. What is needed to do an assessment? The first thing you would need to know is what is the sound pressure radiating on the surface of the wall. The second thing you would need to know is the attenuation provided by neighboring walls. Third,you would need to know what is plainly audible or disturbing to that neighboring person. It is not possible to estimate the sound attenuation of a wall by just by looking at it. It is very unlikely that your neighbor will let you setup a sound level meter inside their house to determine the attenuation. It is also nearly impossible to determine the contributions from inside the neighbors environment and the contribution your making to the sound level in their environment at all times. What is plainly audible or disturbing is not based on sound level they receive from you but, the environment the sound is received in. This is why I am not a fan of noise ordinances or quiet policies because they suffer from these same weaknesses.

Residential Rights

The problem with current noise law it is ineffective or oppressive. Quiet times should be based at a community level using survey data updated relatively frequently. Just because a person can’t afford or does not want to live in a single family residence does not mean they should have to live in silence. You should be allowed to watch a movie with your surround sound blasting. You should be allowed to hammer a nail into a wall. You should be allowed to vacuum in the morning and night in your private residence. You should be allowed to say your credit card number over the phone without the fear that anyone can hear you. You should be able to sleep in on the weekend without hearing your neighbors footsteps or door closing. Noise law should be focused on making sure that both the public and private nuisances are protected. Public nuisances are threats health or well being of the community. A private nuisance is unreasonably or illegally interfering with some ones right to enjoy property. You should not annoy your neighbor but, you should not be harassed by your neighbor for any sound that you make. If you can not watch a movie or play an album loud on your own private property without the threat of action from your neighbors then your neighbor has become a nuisance. Below are solutions that I recommend.

Building Solutions

  • Every adjacent wall at minimum can be STC (Sound Transmission Class) 55 and should really be STC 60 and above measured in place (I would prefer these in OITC but, not as much information on partition that meet OITC (Outdoor–Indoor Transmission Class) ratings is provided)
  • All stairs and floors need to be acoustically isolated from surrounding structure. Preferred is that the walls between buildings dwelling be physically separate with each wall on a separate stubs.
  • All heating and cooling should be installed by default or in the case of air conditioning ducted if not already installed
  • All already built buildings should be forced to disclose an average STC rating with a raw 1/3 octave band going down to 80Hz for condo/apartment location (aka if you have 13 floors with the same floor plan take an average STC for rooms in that building position)
  • Builders and architects should have an average residential building STC rating attached to their name.
  • All signal wires should be in conduit to allow for easy replace and stop the drilling of holes in walls
  • All Door need to be isolated to the same standards walls
  • When multiple dwellings are in the same room they should all be soft closing door that are acoustically isolated (multiple room mates living in the same apartment)
  • IIC should be a minimum of 60

Noise Regulation Recommendation

  • The abolishment of all current noise ordinances.
  • 30dB(A) Leq (30 decibels A-weighted equivalent continuous sound level) night time average level and 45db(A)Leq Peak during night time hours as determined by the average workers start and finish time collected by survey
  • A peak daytime noise level of 60db(A) in neighboring apartments and an 45Ldn (45 decibel day-evening-night noise level) neighboring apartments.
  • The rebuilding and refunding of the EPA’s ONAC (Office of Noise Abatement and Control) from the Noise Control act 1972.
  • The definition of noise violation should always be inside living areas and not at property lines.
  • For outside of structures but, inside the property line noise should not cause hearing loss in 24 hours average of 70dB(A).

Additional Reading

Ambient Noise is “The New Second Hand Smoke” by Daniel Fink published In Acoustics Today

City Noise Might Be Making You Sick by Kate Wagner published in The Atlantic

Sources

Legal Articles about noisy neighbor

Top 5 Neighbor Disputes and How to Resolve Them by Betty Wang, JD

Legal How-To: Dealing With Noisy Neighbors by Betty Wang, JD

Can I Sue My Noisy Neighbor? by Andrew Lu

Reduce Noise Complaints With a Quiet Hours Clause by Erin Eberlin

Housing Articles

Study: Increased housing density helps combat climate change by Jeff Wattenhofer

To improve housing affordability, we need better alignment of zoning, taxes, and subsidies by Jenny Schuetz

Zoning, Land-Use Planning, and Housing Affordability by Vanessa Brown Calder

Atlanta’s Code of Ordinances section 74-131. Prohibited conduct.

How to Determine Audio Quality: Engineering Tolerance!

February 29, 2020

phenixnuner

This is an image of a Genelec 8050B
Genelec 8050B Speaker

Determining audio quality is one of the most difficult questions I receive about consumer electronics. People will ask me “which headphones should I buy? What are the best speakers to get? Can you recommend a DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter)?”. Honestly, I do not know how to answer these questions. Sound quality is determined by a combination of factors that are both objective and subjective. However, I am going to discuss the most under discussed parameter in sound reproduction that is Engineering Tolerance. More simply stated how consistent are the products that come off the assembly line?

Every audio product will provide you with a set of measurements that are descriptive of performance. None of these measurements matter without a defined tolerance! Here is a great hypothetical example.


You look and see a banner ad on the side of you favorite audio site with the following text

“Our speaker produces 60dBSPL at 1 meter at maximum continuous output! Each speaker is matched to each other with obsessive precision! Made from the finest old growth Italian hardwood! We have a passion for the highest fidelity sound reproduction on the market!”

All your friends go to the store and pick a pair up. There is a group text among friends to discuss the performance.

You go back to the store and wait in the line for the customer service department. You get to the front of the line and explain your problem. The technician whirls the speaker around looking for damage. The technician plugs the speaker in to see if they power on. The technician goes into the back room for a while and comes back and says

“Sorry,there is nothing I can do it is within manufacturer tolerance. The amplifier works, the output is within tolerance” – Technician.

“What is the tolerance? I can’t hear anything from the speaker” – You

“Plus or minus 80dB”-Technician

which means the speakers maximum output can be either above the threshold of pain (120dBSPL) or below the threshold of hearing (0dBSPL) . In this example your speakers could be functioning as designed and be completely inaudible to you.

Albeit, the hypothetical example was extreme but, notice that the speakers can be matched with each other and the consumer can still receives poor performance. Knowing the matching tolerance is very important to understanding the performance. People who purchase the same speaker have drastically different experiences. Depending on which set they had. This is an issues with recommending products without known tolerances. Information on tolerance is very useful for comparison shopping because you can see how a set of speakers compare to each other. Tolerances can tell you if speakers actually have the same performance or are very different. When tolerance is not provided by a manufacturer it is very expensive and time consuming to determine. I generally recommend staying away from products that do not reference their tolerances.


Image of JBL LSR 305
JBL LSR305

Here are some basic terms to look out for in speakers. Measurements can be tricky.

  • Distortion (THD) – The ratio between a fundamental frequency and the harmonics amplitude generated by the devices. An example would be sending 1kHz into a speaker and getting 1kHz, 2kHz and 3kHz output for the speaker these harmonics amplitudes are used to calculate total harmonic distortion. Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) is a method of quantifying how much distortion a system has. THD is the most common method report distortion but, it is not the only way. Total harmonic distortion can be calculated including the fundamental or excluding the fundamental which gives slightly different numbers. The lower the better but, it does not tell you how a speaker is distorted so it is very difficult to compare two speakers without plots of the individual harmonics.
  • Frequency Response – The range of reproducible frequencies within a specific tolerance range. The range is bounded by a specific roll off frequencies which are measured at specific reductions in peak amplitudes. So a speaker with a frequency range of 20-20kHz with the roll off defined at -3dB means that at 20Hz the level is 3dB below peak acoustic output. It is important to understand that to have an even frequency response your roll off regions should be outside the range of human hearing. This is due to the fact that humans can only detect a minimum differences in amplitude of 1dB so this roll off would be noticeable to the ear. Another important point to understand is that different roll off locations can not be converted to each other as they need to be re read off the graph. This means that a -6dB roll off cannot be convert -10dB roll off without reading from the frequency response plot! The frequency response of a speaker is roughly equivalent to the piston band or the region with flat acoustic output above the speakers unique resonance. (see John Eargle’s “Loudspeaker Handbook 2nd Edition” pg.10)
  • Electrical Power Consumption – A useless measurement that should be ignored! Electrical power consumption is only useful if you know the speakers acoustic output efficiency or sensitivity. Aka Power consumption ≠ Acoustic power . Most electrical ratings are reporting total power consumption in watts. A smart speaker’s power consumption includes the WiFi and other microchips power consumption as well not just the audio portion!
  • Acoustic or Sound Power – The mechanical work that is done on the air by a speaker each cycle which is also measured in watts. (See Marshall Long “Architectural Acoustics 2nd edition” pg.63)
  • Sensitivity – The efficiency of converting electrical power into acoustic output at 1kHz or 250Hz for sub woofers. This efficiency is reported in decibels. It is the measured sound output generated with 1W of power input at 1m. An example sensitivity would be Speaker A has a sensitivity of 94dB at 1 meter. The 1W of input is always implied. A common reporting error is to report sensitivity a fixed voltage. A fixed voltage sensitivity is wrong because the wattage at input is being changed. For instance it is common to report sensitivity at 2.83V. If the speaker has an impedance of 8 ohms at 1kHz then sensitivity at 2.83V is a true efficiency. However, if a speaker has an impedance of 4 ohms at 1kHz the reported efficiency is double the true efficiency. The sensitivity is not constant across all frequencies. (see John Eargle’s “Loudspeaker Handbook 2nd Edition” pg.11-12)
  • SPL (Sound Pressure Level)- this the is a decibel scale where 0dBSPL is the threshold of hearing at 1kHz. It is a measurement of acoustic output power. (See Marshall Long “Architectural Acoustics 2nd edition” pg.66)

Now using our understanding of tolerance we can compare speakers to each other.


Image of Yamaha HS8 Speaker
Yamaha HS8 Speaker

The criteria for a speakers in this comparison is a single speaker that was rated most popular, highest priced and or lowest price on Zzounds an e-commerce website. The last speaker in this comparison is one that I own.


JBL LSR305Yamaha HS8Genelec 8050BJBL 305P MkII
ZZounds Filter CategoriesLowestMost PopularHighestI own
Price (USD)99.99369.991,895.00149.00
Cutoff Location (dB)?-10-6-10dB
Frequency Response (Hz)43-24k38 – 30k32-25k43-20k
Frequency Response Tolerance (dB)??23
Max Peak SPL (dB)108*?≥120108
Max Continuous SPL (dB)
?10194
Distortion @ 90dB (THD (%))??0.5?
Combined maximum driver Power (Watts)8212027082
Accessed January 5, 2020 15:09 from Zzounds.com.
*C-weighted

First thing to notice is that the Genelec’s frequency response is not directly comparable to any of the other speakers. Yamaha makes the most popular speaker but, doesn’t provide the user with much comparison data. This makes a comparison more difficult. With our data we can conclude the maximum output of the Genelec 8050B is higher than the JBL LSR305 and 305p MKII. Also the JBL 305P MkII is merely a refresh of the JBL LSR305 which explains why they have nearly identical measurements. We cannot assume however that the Yamaha has a higher output than both JBL models. Remember power consumption is not equal to acoustic output! Normalizing the acoustic output to 1 watt the JBL has a sensitivity 70dBSPL and the Genelec has a sensitivity 71dBSPL. In this example even if the speakers used the exact same amplifier putting the same amount of power out as the JBL they would have different max peak SPL. In fact the Genelec has approximately two decibels more output compared to the JBL. It should be noted that this comparison was done using peak acoustic output but, we do not know how much power each amplifier used at peak output or their efficiency at peak output.

In conclusion even if when we compare a $150 speaker to a $2000 speaker, the difference in output is explained by a 1dB difference in sensitivity and 1dB less variance in frequency response. Neither manufacturer has provided tolerances for their sensitivity so depending on the individual model they could easily have identical sensitivities. With out proper information on engineering tolerances it is almost impossible to say which speaker is the better performer and that is why engineering tolerance is the most under discussed acoustic parameter.