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Sound

Steve Jobs was a genius, but in putting 1,000 songs in your pocket, did he ruin sound?

Published 16 September 2021 / 4 min read

quality of sound

What if I told you the audio we listen to is bad for us? And I’m not talking about loud volumes bursting your eardrums.

Ever think about how visual media has vastly improved over time? Remember that big square box that used to sit in the corner of your living room, that used to portray a fuzzy version of your favourite characters? It’s crazy to think how far we’ve come with technological advances in the last 30 years. Now we have everything in crystal clear 4K quality on razor thin screens.

Now think about audio; you’ve probably never thought about or even recognised the change in audio over time. That’s because it hasn’t improved, in fact it’s gone backwards. “I’m gonna put a thousand songs in your pocket” Steve Jobs. With the technological advancements of having everything available at the touch of a button has actually made audio quality worse. 

“We’ve made so many advances in every side of things, especially visually things have got better, but the one thing that seems to have gone backwards is the sound element.” Roger Taylor, Queen drummer and IRIS Investor

In order for songs and other forms of audio to be so easily accessible to us, they have gone through digital compression. This process removes at least 90% of the original information contained in the sound wave, so we are left with only a tiny fraction of what was originally there. When it comes to music, we aren’t hearing each and every detail you would get when listening to a vinyl record, or at a live concert. When it comes to other forms of audio like a podcast or voice recordings, the emotive qualities  have been stripped and there is a loss in audio quality. 

But why do we accept this? 

There are many reasons why we haven’t noticed this poor audio quality. The incredible increase in convenience that digital media provided meant we didn’t mind that the audio didn’t sound as good. From a CD Walkman that only held 10 tracks and couldn’t fit in your pocket, to a USB size stick that had the ability to contain thousands of songs – meant we didn’t mind the compromise in audio quality. 

Listening habits (have) also changed, from listening to Classical and Jazz genres where you hear the detail of each instrument, towards HipHop and Rock which aren’t known for their subtlety. The move away from creating music with real instruments to using electronic versions meant that it was harder for us to pick out the difference and detail in instruments because we had nothing to compare them to.

So while the top end of what we could expect from our audio experience was being eroded, the minimum standard stayed the same. Telephones, being one of the first forms of electronic audio, have terrible sound, and give a minimum threshold of what consumers find acceptable. It makes us think it’s okay for other services to offer bad audio, because phones represent a minimum tolerable bar at which we accept.

“It’s never quite been the same since we’ve had to squeeze all those songs onto an iPod and we have not made any progress since then really.” Rob Reng, IRIS CTO

So, even though we have seen huge technological advancements in many different aspects of our lives; sound quality has not kept pace. Compressed digital formats give us convenience, but strip away the live, emotive qualities of sound. We have become disconnected with this most vital sense and have become a passive participant in the listening experience. 

Hearing is an indispensable sense that we should not lose sight of; sound is at the heart of all of our primary experiences, playing a huge part in our emotions, creating sentiment and bringing people together. There’s a reason sound is such a sensitive part of our lives, and that’s because everything in the world is made of atoms and are constantly vibrating, and we’ve got an amazing sense that has the ability to turn vibrations into pitch.  

“Sound enhances every emotion and shapes every experience, it makes us smile, cry and helps us to reach a state of relaxation, motivation, focus and sleep.” Jacobi Anstruther, IRIS Founder and CEO

Audio has a powerful effect on our body, without us even realising. Our bodies are made up of up to 60% water and so listening to music can raise our bodily vibrations, promoting energy flow and circulation. Some believe that the frequency waves end up synchronising with our brainwaves, which in turn have physical and emotional benefits. Helping you sleep, reducing anxiety and feeling more energised. Read more about the effects of music on the body here

During the pandemic virtual audio has been how we’ve communicated with our friends, family and colleagues. We are so conditioned in looking after our bodies nutritionally, why shouldn’t we do the same informationally? 

IRIS was born out of this; Recognising that sound has gone bad, appreciating the power of sound and the wellness elements it brings, IRIS has set out to enable the world to Listen Well. By creating immersive experiences through high quality audio – bringing back audio’s original form whilst keeping its accessibility. Creating live, immersive experiences, allowing you to feel as if you were in the very room talking to the person or standing in the crowd watching your favourite artist perform.

Stay tuned for our next blog as we journey through the importance of audio in our lives; how it can benefit our wellbeing, enhance our experiences and how we stay true to the original quality of sound through voice isolation technology such as IRIS Clarity.