Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

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petal
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Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by petal » Fri Jan 05, 2018 6:52 am

Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Maybe Soundcloud is not the right place to display the superior sound quality of your or music or Scope anymore:

https://www.magneticmag.com/2018/01/sou ... oads-half/

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by Sounddesigner » Fri Jan 05, 2018 8:10 am

I think the younger generation of music listeners don't care for high-quality sound like us older generations. The millennials wich are people under 35 years old listen to music for different reasons than the older generations like my Generation-X or Baby-Boomers or the Silent-Generation or the Greatest-Generation. Music is different now and the Millennials are a different breed :) . Soundcloud may not suffer much harm for lowering soundquality. This might just be a unfortunate sign-of-the-times.

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by kensuguro » Fri Jan 05, 2018 10:32 am

It's an interesting move. IMHO being on the side of using SoundClound as a broadcast point would prefer support for better quality, but within the mass streaming and hyper mass consumption, the users may care less, as Sounddesigner points out. From SoundCloud's perspective though, it's puzzling what they would gain from this. Less storage space for sure, and less bandwidth.. and maybe a paid option to access the not-crippled files? That's kind of a moot point since pay to uncripple doesn't really work if you offer the uncrippled service first and artificially take it away.. (it'd just get a bunch of people upset)

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by petal » Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:01 pm

Or a moneytization angle which they so desperately need: Pay for good sound quality.

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by w_ellis » Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:08 pm

When I'm not tinkering with Scope, my day job is as a VP Engineering at SoundCloud 😁 One of my teams happens to be responsible for Media Streaming. It's a bit sad that these ill-informed tweets get so much broadcasting and amplification. I can't comment too much for confidentiality reasons, but the article on billboard is a bit more even-handed: https://www.billboard.com/articles/busi ... dard-tests

Taking a more personal stance, I think it's quite funny to draw a distinction between generations when looking at sound quality. I remember being delighted to be able to listen on my awful car stereo to DJ mixes I taped off a crackly and poorly compressed radio show in the early 90s. I also take great joy in listening to pristine flacs on my hifi at home! As Gary would say, it's really about the music, not the equipment!

Having said all of that, I can tell you that I have a team that is obsessed with delivering the best possible experience for our users, both listeners and creators.

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by w_ellis » Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:11 pm

P.S. The benefits of higher efficiency encoding are all for users: faster time to start playing, store more content on your mobile device, reduced bandwidth usage for your mobile contract, smaller cache required to avoid network issues. We still store original formats plus other encodings, so it doesn't save us money

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by w_ellis » Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:13 pm

This is also quite a nice article with some technical background: http://opus-codec.org/comparison/

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by petal » Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:34 pm

OK - Thanks for clarifying! Sorry for running with rumours.

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by Sounddesigner » Fri Jan 05, 2018 10:28 pm

w_ellis wrote:
Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:08 pm


Taking a more personal stance, I think it's quite funny to draw a distinction between generations when looking at sound quality. I
Not just talking sound-quality but other factors also makes music sound horrible now. For the last 20 years music has been made completely different (starting in the late 1990's to early 2000's) with the birth of Computer-Music and its horrible early rudimentary plugins, loudness war, mp3's and their cheap playback systems, instant sample-libraries and drum-loops rather than playing real instruments, over-processing with effects and autotune abuse, etc - all together makes for worser average-quality of mainstream music. Each generation has had music made and listened to differently and grew-up on those differences and often are use to those differences. Music has naturally changed from era-to-era and decade-to-decade due to different studio gear used, playback systems, and records mediums/mp3's (The 60's music sonicly is generally different than the 80's wich is sonicly different than the 2000's). The horrible sound of the last 20 years is all some younger people know and what they grew-up on. And unlike previous generations higher-sound-quality was apparently not a main goal as it took a backseat to the convenience of computer-music, loudness war, dirty vintage-emulations, and mp3 players while CD sales declined and DVD-A/Blu-ray/etc music never really took off.

While I agree a great song is a great song regardless to what gear it's made with and playback system used, but still a element of irritation and discontent can be present when the great music isn't made right and listened to right, atleast for some of us. I do believe better sound to go with a great performance adds another dimension of enjoyment that many like myself prefer and it gives a song more power and impact. But better sound isn't just mediums and playback systems but natural singing vs autotune, real instruments/hardware vs sample-libraries and modeled instruments, more natural levels vs loudness war, clean and naturally charactered vs dirty vintage-emulations, more conservatively produced music of some past decades vs over-processed with effects and re-mastered, etc. I know I definitely get a added element of enjoyment when I listen to music from past era's/decades on a decent playback system. And even tho I buy mp3's when all I want is one song from a artist I generally prefer to buy CD's :) .


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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by valis » Sat Jan 06, 2018 6:33 pm

Soundcloud's problem is their business model, and so users are starting to react to that. I do think that there's a natural 'competitive' aspect to humans always, and when you're an established player, you'll meet resistance just from that alone. However as both a been 'pro' subscriber and someone that used SC for streaming, SC has grown more social features and UI elements than it has in terms of the backend. My comparison from 'pro' features is vimeo, not because they're the same market but because vimeo has been able to carve out a niche alongside youtube, and they cost about 1/3 of what SC charges for 'pro' features...and the backend costs and datarates (bandwidth) are MUCH MUCH higher for vimeo.

So I understand that the Opus discussion related around edge cases and testing models: the user that started this particular reaction documenting opus was doing so in a case where opus needed to be used, rather than seeing a defacto deployment of lower quality for SC overall. However it's still clear that the returns you get as a paid user or pro user has gotten a bit 'fuzzier' over the years, as SC's core model has either not changed much aside from the social feature (boardroom meetings to 'increase user engagement' and 'drive content lock-in' may or may not be behind this) and people reacting to the quality issues are a reflection of that. How to enable higher quality streams without giving end users a way to directly 'rip' content is something the entire industry faces, but users are going to expect more & more to turn over their dime as competition increases.

Just my observations...

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by w_ellis » Sat Jan 06, 2018 8:32 pm

Sounddesigner wrote:
Fri Jan 05, 2018 10:28 pm
And unlike previous generations higher-sound-quality was apparently not a main goal as it took a backseat to the convenience of computer-music, loudness war, dirty vintage-emulations, and mp3 players while CD sales declined and DVD-A/Blu-ray/etc music never really took off.
Are you referring to consumers or producers of music here? I know that my parents love music and have never paid attention to the reproduction quality. When I was growing up they were listening to hissy tapes on crappy players that were both inconvenient and sounded bad 😁

Anyway I don't want to come across like I disagree on all your points. I actually despise a ton of modern music too, particularly over produced auto tuned crap. However, I think at least for the last 60 or so years there's always been crappy mainstream music. Perhaps people were saying the same 500 years ago about the latest troupe of players!

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by w_ellis » Sat Jan 06, 2018 9:20 pm

valis wrote:
Sat Jan 06, 2018 6:33 pm
My comparison from 'pro' features is vimeo, not because they're the same market but because vimeo has been able to carve out a niche alongside youtube, and they cost about 1/3 of what SC charges for 'pro' features...and the backend costs and datarates (bandwidth) are MUCH MUCH higher for vimeo
Interesting that you compare with Vimeo. Did you know about soundcloud's new CEO and COO moving from Vimeo? They're certainly a positive example of building a business around focus on the creators of content. I'm not sure about your numbers on Pro pricing though, as that's not what I saw when I just took a look, but perhaps I'm missing something about the comparison.

In terms of costs, it's very difficult to compare audio and video services, as often it's not technical costs like hosting and bandwidth that are that significant to the business model. Staffing and industry fees are much more relevant.

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by valis » Sun Jan 07, 2018 2:16 am

There is a Soundcloud pricing tier in between the $15 & free now, so that's certainly more flexible than just the $15 tier. But that's comparable to the tier of vimeo I lowered myself to last year, which is $12/mo or I pay $7 a month by paying yearly. This still enables a basic subset of all pro features, though I did lose (logo) watermarks on my videos and a few niceties in the embedded player. Still has 5GB/week of storage & Up to 250GB a year...

And of course I understand the complexity of things from a business perspective. I can't know what you know of course, but I can share my perspective both as a 'pro' subscriber for years (until recently) and as an end user who paid for the streaming content for a while. Certainly this isn't intended to be directed at you specifically, I am speaking for the benefit of participating in this conversation as a whole.

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by braincell » Sun Jan 07, 2018 9:41 am

Even worse, the music industry is planning to end all downloads! That really bothers me.

http://www.techradar.com/news/will-2018 ... ially-dies

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by Nestor » Sun Jan 07, 2018 6:28 pm

Whatever the market will try to do, or will actually do, people will undo. We are already way, way too used to freedom in terms of how to access music and even on how to give, share or sell our music to our costumers, listeners, fans, etc., it is too late already for the market to manage this, it will forever be out of their control. The more they insist in telling us: "Hey, if you want to publish or listen to some music, you have to do it through here, through this interface and this conditions, exclusively", the more people will find a way to escape their dictatorship-interest-conditions like mentality. That is why, in a way, I don't even care about this right now. The more we go, the more there is diversity, but definitely not a standard. We could talk about several standards in that case, really, we cannot say there is one single standard for anything music files related matters, there are so many ways to do the same thing, and these ways are full featured... so what? I don't really care, I don't feel they are getting into my domain, it is me who is getting into theirs... In other words: it is their problem, not musicians problem.
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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by kensuguro » Mon Jan 08, 2018 12:33 pm

Checked out the opus page. I wouldn't call the graph exactly scientific, but perhaps the test may have been to see if Opus at 64bit could eclipse mp3 at 128bits in terms of quality. From the graph, I gather that Opus degrades much more forgivingly as the bit rate drops. The "quality" y axis is somewhat subjective I think, but it'd be interesting to see how such a metric could be mechanically defined. (so measurements are reproducible)

Completely separate from the Soundcloud as a business conversation, I think this is an opportunity to search for a better format than mp3, which I feel the general consensus is that it's not exactly flattering to the music. FLAC is good, and so is AAC, but from a quick glance at the bitrate vs quality graph, Opus does seem to have a distinct curve that bridges a gap. Of course, with mp3 so engrained it's difficult to hop right over to a new standard. But that doesn't mean we should give up hope and stop looking right.

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by w_ellis » Mon Jan 08, 2018 12:52 pm

This is an another fair article: http://www.factmag.com/2018/01/05/what-is-opus-audio/ which mentions an important fact, i.e. mp3 is 20 years older than opus. When you think about what's happened with video codecs in that time, it's no wonder there's better available.
kensuguro wrote:
Mon Jan 08, 2018 12:33 pm
Checked out the opus page. I wouldn't call the graph exactly scientific,
Correct, I think it's aimed as a marketing graph, with a rough sense of quality per bitrate. Here's the gory details if you're interested: http://jmvalin.ca/papers/aes135_opus_celt.pdf

P.S. One trade secret that's not really that secret, but we always transcode from the file you upload to SoundCloud, so if you want your music to be heard in the best quality, upload uncompressed or lossless compressed audio. We also store those versions forever (or until you delete them) and they're available to download (even by others if you want to allow that... some limitations apply)

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by valis » Mon Jan 08, 2018 3:01 pm

Yep knew that, and hopefully others do too.

Ken, one of the big advantages of opus (and in theory Ogg Vorbis before it) is that it's relatively 'unencumbered'. This idea applies both the BSD license for the software side of the codec ("free as in speech": anyone can modify, extend and utilize the code as long as the bsd terms are adhered to), and the codec is royalty free ("free as in beer"). Given that combined with the usage scenarios that SC has stated they're going for (holds up better in degraded bandwidth situations), I can understand the usage for those profiles.

At the same time, SC's opus usage still needs tuning, at least for the usages that were shown in the article/blog post by the fellow that turned this into a major issue. This isn't really surprising either, as I'm sure the tech guys at SC are in the process of tuning their presets versus cpu utilization/time for encoding audio...

This whole issue happened to co-incide with my yearly task of looking over my costs/books and thinking about what I pay various services, and I had a few discussions with other people about the value we're getting from SC exposure versus the cost, versus what other services provide. It has its niche for sure, but I realized that the growth of soundcloud over the last few years for my *personal* case hasn't been in features that necessarily bring me actual gains, just 'social' gains and followers that it's hard to quantify in any real sense elsewhere.

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by Sounddesigner » Mon Jan 08, 2018 4:02 pm

w_ellis wrote:
Sat Jan 06, 2018 8:32 pm
Sounddesigner wrote:
Fri Jan 05, 2018 10:28 pm
And unlike previous generations higher-sound-quality was apparently not a main goal as it took a backseat to the convenience of computer-music, loudness war, dirty vintage-emulations, and mp3 players while CD sales declined and DVD-A/Blu-ray/etc music never really took off.
Are you referring to consumers or producers of music here?
I'm referring to both because I feel the whole picture needs to be seen in order for me to make my case. The problem isn't singular and just a consumer mp3 player choice problem wich results in a direction of lower sound-quality vs DVD-A/Blu-ray/etc wich are not popular but the direction of higher sound-quality. The problems are a Hydra (multi-headed monster) and goes to the production of music itself and the new belief that crutches are fine and talent is no longer needed to make music (crutches are autotune, sample loops, one button auto-mix plugins. etc). In 1997 the pro industry migrated from large SSL consoles to Protools/ITB with horrible plugins, and ITB had many sonic problems comming from plugins, aliasing, latency, autotune, etc that were not present or prominently present in the past when the pro industry used large SSL consoles and high-end hardware effects. ITB also allowed anyone to be a developer of audio tools and anyone could be a engineer and producer no large amount of money and education is needed to develop ITB and its open to all, likewise with Audio Engineering ITB was cheaper and less prohibitive thus overall talent level has declined wich produces more horrible music as a result. There was a decline in sound-quality and overall sound once music production moved to ITB instead of the continuing of the progressive improvements in sound from decade-to-decade like with previouse eras of music production. Different tools naturally produces different results, this has always been the case, but the computer era is totally different and a step backwards in sound initially. Lastly, great sound I refer to encompasses playback systems, Production, Mediums, talent, etc.

w_ellis wrote:
Sat Jan 06, 2018 8:32 pm
I know that my parents love music and have never paid attention to the reproduction quality. When I was growing up they were listening to hissy tapes on crappy players that were both inconvenient and sounded bad 😁
I think most of us over 35 years old jammed off crappy playback systems at some point like your parents :) . Have your parents equally jammed happily off the music of the 2000's? Many of us who jammed off crappy playback systems of old are more irritated by the flaws of todays music and lack of talent. The loudness war, autotune, etc are all fairly common complaints of this era. There is a difference with the sonic flaws of todays music verses the sonic flaws from music of decades ago wich i'll elaborate on in the paragraph below. I have a link somewhere to a article where test was done measuring the artifacts and distortion from music during this loudness war compared to music going back to the 70's showing the decline in quality, I wanted to post it but sadly can't find it ATM.
w_ellis wrote:
Sat Jan 06, 2018 8:32 pm
Anyway I don't want to come across like I disagree on all your points. I actually despise a ton of modern music too, particularly over produced auto tuned crap. However, I think at least for the last 60 or so years there's always been crappy mainstream music. Perhaps people were saying the same 500 years ago about the latest troupe of players!
My best approach is to ask you about the modern over produced autotune crap music you stated you hate and put the focus on what sounds 'natural' to the ear vs what sounds 'unnatural' rather than dirty/distorted vs high-fidelity/clean. Wich sounds more 'natural' to you the modern over-produced autotune crap or the dirty music full of hiss you listened to when you were growing up? Wich do you prefer?

To be more clear, wich sounds more natural to your ears vocals drowned in reverb of the 1980's and 50's or todays vocals drowned in autotune?
Wich sounds more natural analog clipping or digital clipping? Wich sounds more natural to your ears real instruments played or static samples? Does extremely loud music sound natural to you or does it sound like the music is missing some of what it needs?

Does the often flat 2-dimensional beats/songs and autotuned heavily music of today sound natural to you?

To me real instruments played in the dirty cloud music of the 1960's and 50's sound more natural than today's static samples.

I believe its more about what sounds 'natural' to the ear rather than what sounds dirty/distorted. I'm not just talking about fidelity and sound-quality but the overall sound of today's music with the unnatural being at the heart.

Even talent has suffered. Common problems that affect talent are - 1) latency- tracking threw high latency ITB DAW's and plugins has detracted from performances at times. The latency has thrown vocal performers off a bit, this was not really a problem long ago.

2) Autotune- people lean on autotune rather than learning to sing in pitch.

3) sample melodies and drum loops- people aren't push to innovate new melodies and beats but depend too heavily on samples and loops.

4) There is now plugins with Artificial-Intelligence that analyze your music and create a custome-preset for your song, basically the plugins Mix and Master for you. Izotope has these type plugins.

Talent has definitely suffered in this era IMO. Ultimately i think one has to look at the whole picture when looking at todays music wich is playback systems, production tools, mediums, and talent of engineers/vocalists/developers/etc and ask is the results of the music and direction of the industry 'natural'.


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Last edited by Sounddesigner on Mon Jan 08, 2018 9:00 pm, edited 8 times in total.

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Re: Soundcloud lowers audio quality to half

Post by Sounddesigner » Mon Jan 08, 2018 4:46 pm

After saying all that I do believe overall the computer-music era is the greatest era, especially now since it has greatly improved :) . The industry migrating to the computer was a no-brainer despite all the flaws and growing-pains. Computer-music is a great revolution, and one I am happy and gratefull to be apart of. Overall the computer is superior to past production methods when considering all its virtues and improvements. And sound-wise the computer can easily produce a pro sound now, one does not have to work as hard as the early stages of ITB demanded.

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