Sound f/x MP3 files.....are they really that bad?

Discussion in 'Sound, Music, and Intercom' started by Crisp image, Jun 15, 2019.

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  1. Crisp image

    Crisp image Well-Known Member

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    G'day all,
    I have a question for the wise. I am helping set up a PAC at my daughters school and the venue manager/technician says he wants all audio files in .wav format because MP3 files you can hear the compression.
    Now let me continue by saying that this person has not ever herd of Qlab and I doubt his abilities on the desk taking the option for an ex student to "program" scenes into the mixer. His background is running sound in church but I think others may have set this up for him.
    It is a brand new PAC and I don't know if he has tuned the FOH or rung it out.
    He also has no idea about lighting but this is an audio forum so I will leave that alone.
    So my question is what file formats are good to use for audio tracks in a PAC and can the normal person on the street really tell the difference?
    Please play nice with me I do not profess to be wise in this area but I do think I might have more skills and knowledge than he. I am still learning til the day I die.
    Regards
    Geoff
     
  2. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    I personally have a very hard time telling the difference audibly between MP3 and WAV ... but if your playback unit has the storage capacity and your source material is available in WAV, then I suggest just keep it in WAV format.

    For recordings, the video guy I work with always asks for 24-bit WAV to get the lower noise floor ... I haven't had an issue recording in that format so I've been doing it for several years now.
     
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  3. dbaxter

    dbaxter Well-Known Member

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  4. DrewE

    DrewE Well-Known Member

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    Do they also project or display only BMP files, and never jpegs, on their stage and/or digital signage displays?

    As others said, at low bitrates the compression is increasingly noticeable, but at high bitrates it becomes undetectable for all practical purposes. What the exact definition of "low" and "high" are vary somewhat depending on the person and the situation. You could always convert an MP3 to a WAV when needed to keep the power(s) that be happy (but of course that's not going to magically improve or change the quality).
     
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  5. Colin

    Colin Well-Known Member

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    The difference can be glaring, or not, depending on the quality of the file and the playback system. The biggest flaw in asking for .wav is that many or most people will take their lossy format files and convert to .wav to satisfy the request, which is just a turd polishing exercise.
     
  6. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    It matters, but only if you're reckless with it. You generally can't discern an MP3 at 256kbps, but if someone shows with 128kpbs, it will sound distorted and like it's missing some low end. Nobody sells MP3's that sound that bad, so generally the only way to encounter those is to rip your songs off YouTube or cook those low bitrates yourself. Back in the day, this was a bigger problem because storage was at a premium so people had to cook lower bitrates to get them to fit on their early generation iPod's, flash drives, and hard drives. Now, space is cheap but it hardly matters because most people don't buy their music they stream it off Spotify.

    I've done listening tests between MP3's and FLAC (another WAV-like lossless format) on $700k d&b sound systems running at 96k, and no one in the room could tell the difference between MP3 or FLAC.

    Here's my short list of where you want to be careful because the odds of encountering bad source material are higher:
    • Dance studios -- they have tracks they've sped up, slowed down, spliced, and re-compressed 6-7 times. I had one studio that did this the old fashioned way on tapes and tried showing up one year after paying a service to transfer their tapes to MP3's. They reuse choreography over the years so sometimes a track cut 15 years ago finds its way back into the lineup.
    • Students -- if they don't like to buy their music, they might be ripping it off of YouTube. It probably sounded fine on YouTube actually before they went to some 3rd-party knock-off site to have that site rip it off YouTube for them. The conversion process usually isn't very forgiving to audio quality.
    • Free sound effects websites -- Sometimes they offer WAV's, but the source material can be such a low level that there's a lot of other noise in the track, and you have no idea if that track was recorded directly to WAV or if someone just upconverted it to WAV but it was really a lossy file to begin with.
    Most important thing is to use your ears. Know how good your sound system can sound with decent tracks and without someone messing up the EQ or compressing it in the console. Then you have a benchmark for identifying when a track walks in the door that is worthless.
     
  7. Crisp image

    Crisp image Well-Known Member

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    Some really good points made here especially about converting MP3 to WAV. I will be giving him a demo of Qlab today and might have a look at the audio desk he has sitting there. after we finish focusing the lighting rig.
    Thanks all
    Geoff
     
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  8. Colin

    Colin Well-Known Member

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    MP3 is also QLab's "least favorite format" though I've never experienced problems myself. That could be because whenever I'm providing the content it is WAV, but I don't sweat it if someone gives me MP3 for something like house music or dance recital - I've ignored QLab's long MP3 warning many times and not had a glitch.
     
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  9. cekren

    cekren Active Member

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    Qlab does have to use extra processing to decode MP3 (or any compressed file format) compared to uncompressed formats, which can be an issue on slower computers or very complicated cue lists, but generally speaking won't be a problem.

    As far as fidelity is concerned, I don't know of really anyone who can reliably tell the difference between MP3 encoded at 320Kbps and .WAV, FLAC, etc. - especially on a PA system.
     
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  10. Jason Antwi-Appah

    Jason Antwi-Appah Member

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    They aren't that bad. The only reason you need to have some sort of concern is: a) if you are playing the mp3 from a relatively weak computer, as it needs to uncompress the file, or b) the bitrate is very low. I wouldn't call myself an audiophile, but at a decent bitrate (at least 256 kbps) wavs and mp3s sound relatively similar. However, there's this one audio cue program called MultiPlay. MultiPlay is supposed to be a poor man's QLab, and it runs on Windows. It absolutely hates mp3s. Every time I've loaded one into a cue, MultiPlay either a) throws an error or b) crashes completely. I've stopped using MultiPlay for other reasons, but I would still keep that into consideration.
     
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  11. Crisp image

    Crisp image Well-Known Member

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    Soooooo I went there today with qlab in hand and was shut down quicker than I could open the laptop. "I have this CD player with 9 buttons on it. Can't be easier than that." What if there are more than 9 tracks? Or playing multiple files at the same time?
    Well you can lead a horse to water I guess.
     
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  12. Jason Antwi-Appah

    Jason Antwi-Appah Member

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    Is he still going to use DV cameras to record performances? "It's simple, just put the tape in and record!"

    Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience. The triggering part of this whole situation was, all of the cameras were connected to a computer through capture cards, so we could record all of their outputs at 1080p, 60fps at the computer. Instead, we recorded to mini-DV tapes (which we bought, every Saturday before a service), with 480p recordings, that we had to send to another company to rip and send back as an MP4.

    Seriously though, what happens if that CD player fails? Most computers these days don't have CD/DVD drives, so it would be pretty difficult figuring out where to play all of those cues you burned on to a CD for no reason. On the note of most computers not having CD/DVD drives, what happens when someone comes in with a laptop filled with cues on a program like QLab? How exactly are you going to burn it, and quickly enough before a performance starts?

    I think the best thing to do in situations like these is to let him learn on his own. When under a time crunch, anyone can work quickly enough to find a solution, however janky, dysfunctional, or difficult to operate it may be.

    The funny thing about this situation is most churches will use a program like MediaShout or ProPresenter to play images, videos, music, and other a/v cues, so I assumed he would have been open to a solution like QLab. MediaShout is pretty much a dumbed down QLab, with no edge blending or MIDI control support. ProPresenter is pretty much QLab made for a digital signage or church environment, and it does have some pretty cool features.
     
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  13. Aaron Becker

    Aaron Becker Well-Known Member

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    First of all, someone's experience with qlab or lack thereof has zero bearing on whether or not they understand the differences between lossless and lossy compression audio files, nor their ability to program or otherwise operate a sound console.

    What if the cable from the DSP to the amp fails? What if the computer running qlab fails? What if the sound board fails? Do you have a hot spare? But seriously, we can't operate our systems based on a series of what-ifs.

    What is qlab gaining him for this specific event that the CD player isn't? Sure, CDs are a dying media, but there isn't anything inherently wrong with it for this show from what you've described here besides you have a preference to qlab vs a CD player. Is there a need to play multiple tracks at once? Most modern CD players have "skip" buttons if you need to get past track 9. :) I understand you prefer to use qlab, but if it isn't solving a specific problem or meeting an additional need that isn't already being met, I don't see the reason for being upset over the venue manager not wanting to use it.

    Also:
    My problems with mp3 files stem from almost exactly the same points Mike mentioned a few posts ago. Although someone could have up-converted a mp3 back to a .wav and still have loss to it, as mentioned above. My biggest issue with mp3 files (or anything compressed or lossy) is that I don't generally know where it came from originally. Many of these mp3s are coming from Youtube or similar sites - with absolutely junk quality. All files received from participants should be reviewed on the actual system prior to broadcast or dress/performance anyways, so you can hear with your own ears if it's crap quality. Maybe the compression isn't an issue but it's got a nasty hiss going on because it was recorded off the radio in someone's basement instead of ripped from a CD (or downloaded from a reputable source). Mind you, we aren't even getting into the legal issue of playing random music on public PAs for audiences.

    In general with anything I work - especially anything live - I'm not letting anyone stream or play anything from their own device for the show. This is particularly true when I used to support "talent shows" (it's been many years, but the point still remains), and students would "say" they were going to play song xxx, but then on show day their phone "accidentally" went to song yyy (which was explicit and not allowed by admin/policy/whatever). Bring me your original content, and I'll handle having an offline copy of it at the performance/rehearsals.
     
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  14. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    What problem are you trying to solve here? There are times when Qlab is better, there are times when a CD is just fine -- although most of the time it's just an iPod. All depends on the situation. In terms of the average middle/high school, Qlab is considered a luxury.
     
  15. Aaron Becker

    Aaron Becker Well-Known Member

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    +1 for this.

    To tag onto this, if I am using a CD deck, I generally gather all the participants/clients CDs/mp3s/wavs/whatever and compile my own production CD. Though I haven't used a CD in years for SFX or playback, my point still stands. The same as said for ipods/phones/whatever.
     
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  16. Crisp image

    Crisp image Well-Known Member

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    First point is I have discovered he does not know how to set up his sound board (AH Qu24) and by demonstration he confirmed that.
    What if we were all abducted by aliens? My point here and if we lived by the "what ifs" we would never discover the "we cans".
    Qlab is great and he may be able to use a cd player. what it does not allow is multiple sound effects or tracks to be played together. Qlab basic (stereo audio output) is free to use with the only restriction being it has to be on a Mac.
    The fact that I was shutdown so quickly without a decent demo, before he could see the advantages or the disadvantages is what the problem is here. I am offering free advice to help build this PAC to be a great place for students to learn what is used in the community so that if they decide to follow that path either as a career or for fun they have real world knowledge. If he had taken the time to listen and then decided not to use it that is making an informed choice. It takes me about an hour to drive there and I have spent 3 days there helping him to get the venue ready as a volunteer for his first performance in the venue with my main focus being lighting. There is just some attitude that I am getting and I am not sure why.
    He did ask me to come tech for him at the first event but I had to decline that one because I work a full time job and I would be there the whole day after teching for the next performance which has my daughter in it.
    They (the school) can use any equipment that they want to. it would be nice to know that they have done their homework and taken in all the available information before making an informed decision. I try not to be closed to new ideas never saying we have never done it that way before but willing to look at new ideas that might make my life easier/better.

    Thanks for listening to my opinion. it is important to listen to everyone even if they are wrong :) or I think they are because they might actually be right.
    Geoff
     
  17. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    @Aaron Becker, the funny part is that there were maybe 2-3 years there where people kind of stopped pirating music because it was easy enough to buy off of iTunes/Amazon. I have zero data to back this up but I think we're beginning to pendulum back to piracy via YouTube. Thanks to streaming, the average person is again not purchasing music. I'm a nerd so I have 100GB of music stored on my phone and 1TB of purchased music at home, but I'm willing to bet most people just live vicariously through Spotify, Pandora, and the very occasional Apple Music subscription.

    @Crisp image, you can't really do his job for him. If he wants to listen, great, but my experience with that kind of thing is if there's no apparent need to the person you're trying to teach then you're just stressing them out with one more thing they have to worry about. 98% of the shows that happen in that room won't have multiple tracks playing at once. The average high school show only does that very sparingly for sound effects for theatrical productions and that's usually only when they've hired in an outside designer who's bringing their own license of Qlab anyway. If playback is really a problem, he'll learn the hard way before long and then he'll understand the problem well enough to know what to look for in a solution. I would venture a guess that if you search through the other threads here about schools interested in Qlab, more than half of them include a remark "but we can't afford to buy a Mac so Windows options only please -- must be free we don't have a budget for this." That right there is an immovable problem for a lot of schools.

    By and large, K12 TD's aren't familiar with all the equipment they're working on from Day 1. There's almost always a 6-12 month learning period. That's the nature of the beast both because of the large disparity in equipment getting installed in these spaces and in the skill levels of people getting hired to support them.

    Maybe the guy's a dick and he gets whatever frustration is coming to him, but he's probably not getting paid much, is also responsible for a dozen other things, and has another job on the side to be able to pay his rent at the end of the month. I don't know in this case, but that's it's way too common that schools get techs to work for pennies.
     
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  18. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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  19. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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  20. Crisp image

    Crisp image Well-Known Member

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    Not my dream environment (by along shot) but a great place to learn, to spark an interest, to let our young people see/feel the possibilities.
    I volunteered to help because I have skills in the area. They are a school with a strong music and drama department with one facility manager/technician who needs help (his own words) so why would a school not teach students to do stuff even if it is out of normal school hours.

    I value all of your comments so please don't think I am being argumentative in my reply. Text does not convey feeling of the spoken word.

    You all make good points in your posts so thankyou for spending the time to reply.
    In the end I will play the game because there is not another option if I want to be involved with my daughters school and contribute to their community.

    Regards
    Geoff
     
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