Whee!

Today’s rant is about our disposable society and how it is ultimately affecting everything around us.

“It’s good enough”… God how I hate that term.

Those three little words can do so much damage to the development of something and, unfortunately, it’s become a pervasive concept in our modern civilization. Take audio for example…

CDs are ubiquitous these days; everyone has several of the shiny 5 inch plastic coasters lying about, but the sound quality of these things isn’t as good as an “old school” record. Sure, you don’t get the pops and clicks associated with a cheap turntable running a cheap needle on a poorly cared for album, but you also pay the price in sound quality.

CD’s are compressed, believe it or not, because they are sampled from sounds which are inherently analog. Sampling, by its very nature, misses something in the translation which is why they call it “sampling” rather than “recording”.

The CD format does have some nice features though. They’re smaller and more portable than records and they used to be more rugged before the pressing companies figured out that using softer plastic surfaces resulted in more repeat sales. They essentially switched to a plastic that was “good enough”, but not too good because you don’t want something that lasts too long.

The record companies also, via *much* advertising, pulled a fast one by convincing everyone that CDs sounded better. They like CDs because it costs one tenth the money per unit than a record and, besides, CD sound is definitely “good enough” for the average consumer right?

Ok, time for a little lesson in audio. Up there I mentioned that CDs were sampled right? Well the sampling has a resolution of 16 bits which compresses any point on an infinitely variable analog wave form into one of 65536 possible numbers. Ok, so there is some compression going on there right? Ok. You’re still with me.

Now you have to capture the whole wave form and that is achieved by sampling. CDs are sampled at 44.1Khz and this is where a fellow named Nyquist comes in. Nyquist states in his theory that the highest frequency which can be accurately represented is less than one-half of the sampling rate. So if we want a full 20 kHz audio bandwidth which, by the way, comprises everything a human ear can hear we must sample at least twice that fast; i.e. over 40 kHz.

If we don't, bad things happen.

44.1Khz gives us that 20Khz of bandwidth plus some fudge factor. This is great right? The record companies want you to think it is. But it’s not…

There’s this little thing called harmonics which can be additive or subtractive of the base sound you are recording. Things like the room the performance is in, the types of instruments played, the location of the instruments relative to each other, and a zillion other things all add harmonics to the sound and that is what makes it “alive”. Well, unfortunately for CDs, most harmonics fall above the 20Khz cutoff of their sampling scheme. There is another little issue with the fact that CDs are two channel and it is virtually impossible to recreate the imagery of a live performance with two speakers.

This is where we get a new CD recording scheme called SACD, or Super Audio CD, which is a new product by some very bright folks at Sony.

SACD is completely different in the fact that it samples one bit 2,822,400 times a second. Yes Virginia, that’s 2.8Ghz. So rather than chopping up the incoming wave form into 65536 possible numbers 44,100 times a second, it takes one number and counts how many times it saw it 2.8 million times a second… The more times it sees the number, the more “pulses” it gets and the more pulses, the higher the frequency, up to about 1.4Ghz… WAY beyond the pitiful 20Khz of a mortal CD.

This gives SACD the ability to accurately reproduce an almost pure analog wave form in a digital format including all of the accompanying harmonics. Plus, the format understands 5.1 surround sound and can really put you “in” the room where the music was recorded.

Pretty nifty huh?

Well, unfortunately it’ll probably never see true market penetration because CDs are “good enough”.

I actually blame a lot of this on MP3s. Today’s listener has grown accustomed to getting his or her music simply off the internet. Sure, it sounds like ass, but they don’t care because it was easy to get and didn’t cost anything. This means that when they –do- decide to actually go and spend some money on an actual CD, it in comparison to the ass-sounding MP3 is GREAT!… So who needs a new CD format? Especially one you can’t pirate…

I realize this was probably a lot more about CDs than you would ever care to know, but “good enough” works the same with all sorts of things…

My store sells lots of things, not just computers. We’re kind of a “mom and pop” supermarket of stuff including sporting goods like snowboards, skis, bikes and golf stuff as well as cameras, high end stereo stuff and firearms.

Well, we’ll be getting a “Gart Sports” store in about 100 yards from the store before Christmas and you know what will happen? The same thing that’s happening with our new Super Wal-World… We’re going to have a hard time competing.

See, Gart’s sells crap. They saw the “good enough” trend coming a few years back and started selling junk real cheap. Gart’s won’t carry something like this year’s Unity snowboard which is the absolute best thing you can buy. We have four in different sizes though… The sad thing is, no one will buy the Unity’s off of us because they cost about $150 more than a crap, mass produced Burton over at Gart’s. The same holds true with bikes…

My store has a huge collection of high-end downhill and trail bikes made by companies like Kona, KHS, and Giant. These bikes cost as much as a used car, but will absolutely last longer… Garts sells Schwinn, Mongoose, and low end Gary Fisher. Crap by any other name that will need to be replaced at year’s end. But it’s all $300 cheaper than anything we have and will, therefore, sell like hotcakes.

Just like how we haven’t been able to sell a single camera since WallyWorld moved in. I carry nothing but top of the line real photography stuff like Nikon, Olympus, Mamiya and Leica. WallyWorld sells plastic cameras for half my price and they fly off the shelves.

So, what causes this? Is it the fact people are incapable of saving these days (they really want you to dispose of your income as fast as you can) and so can’t save up for something nice? Is it simply that no one perceives the intrinsic value of better equipment anymore? Or is it just the whole “disposable society” thing again, covering the world in $50 plastic crap that was designed to break in a year?

I wish I knew…