Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Creative's latest device sounds better than God

Creative has just released an external X-Fi adapter called Xmod that aims to improve the sound of your music, in every way possible. This time around, vague marketing statements such as "better sounding" were not deemed sufficient to sell this product - Creative boldly claims that with this small $80 device your MP3s will sound not just better, not even near CD-quality, but they will sound better than studio quality! Take a gander at the picture below:

If this image is accurate then MP3s with Xmod will sound better than the day song was recorded in the studio. Of course, I'm sure that's not what they meant to say. Wait, there's more text following the chart:
  • Imagine being in the studio as your favorite artist records a new album. The sound is real and live the way it was meant to be heard.
  • When that album gets mass-produced on CD, it is compressed to fit the format. And the sound quality of that original performance suffers.
  • When you further compress the songs into MP3, you'll notice an even greater loss of sound quality. Your favorite album now sounds flat and lifeless.
  • X-Fi technology breathes life back into the songs. It restores the details, expands the music to surround sound and creates an experience that goes beyond studio quality.

  • The feast of inaccuracies in this snippet of marketing copy continues throughout the Xmod promotional text. For example, the statement when that album gets mass-produced on CD, it is compressed to fit the format is completely off the mark. CDs are not compressed, at least not in the same way MP3 files are compressed. Music on CDs is compressed but in a very different way which has nothing to do with the limitations of the CD format. CD format has a very wide dynamic range (the difference between the quietest and the loudest parts of the song) but through the method of dynamic range compression the CDs today are "compressed" into the louder parts of the dynamic range so that songs sound louder, although they lose the fine definition in their sound (on why this practice has taken off in the recent years see Loudness War).

    There are algorithms to remove dynamic compression after the fact, although they are far from perfect. This may be what Creative's engineers were trying to solve but we'll never know from their marketing materials. Creative, as one of the biggest players in PC audio, is doing a really poor job of educating the customer and is selling on hyperbole alone: Would you like your MP3s to sounds better than they did in the studio the day they were recorded? Where do I sign up?


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