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SoundCloud Refutes Decreasing Audio Quality, Cites Standard Testing ( 60

cordovaCon83 writes: NestHQ published an article today noting that online streaming service Soundcloud has implemented the Opus codec for its archive of music and started streaming at 64kbps instead of its prior 128kbps streams. Opus has been touted as a more efficient codec than the aging MP3 codec. Whether this will have a major effect on audio fidelity remains to be seen, as well as whether such a move will affect the already ailing music service's business. UPDATE: SoundCloud tells Billboard that this swap in codecs is nothing new and is part of frequent tests it runs with its audio -- just as other streaming services do regularly. "We always appreciate feedback, but these reports are inaccurate," a SoundCloud spokesperson told Billboard in a statement. "SoundCloud has not altered its approach to audio quality. We have been using the Opus codec (among others) since 2016, and we regularly test different combinations of encoding and streaming to offer listeners a quality experience on any device. Furthermore, we store all content from creators at its originally uploaded quality level so we can continually adapt to advances in encoding and playback."
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SoundCloud Refutes Decreasing Audio Quality, Cites Standard Testing

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  • Reducing costs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Friday January 05, 2018 @08:23PM (#55872533) Homepage Journal
    My guess is they are trying to reduce costs to delay going out of business caused by not having a business model. Beats having a real job I guess!
  • Cables? (Score:5, Funny)

    by dohzer ( 867770 ) on Friday January 05, 2018 @08:44PM (#55872635) Homepage

    Maybe they switched their Ethernet cables for low-fidelity cables, or ran them straight along the ground instead of on an elevated platform.

    They could have had them plugged in backwards. It takes a qualified audio technician to hear and identify the optimum cable directionality.

  • Sounds plausible (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MtHuurne ( 602934 ) on Friday January 05, 2018 @08:58PM (#55872689) Homepage

    Opus at 64 kbit/s isn't terrible, probably as good as or possibly better than MP3 at 128 kbit/s (also depends on which MP3 encoder was used). Whether that's good enough depends on what you're using it for, but this change doesn't seem like a downgrade to me. I think the article writer underestimates how much progress was made in audio compression in the last ~20 years.

    • In my experience over the last half-decade or so with opus, the rough "approximate quality of various codecs at different bitrates" chart on the site ( seems to be pretty accurate - and, yeah, stereo opus at 64kbps really is pretty equivalent to old-and-crusty MP3 at twice the size (128kbps) in general. Or, at least, that's been my experience.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        old-and-crusty MP3 of 128 kbps was terrible in the 90's though. Severe ringing artefacts that you could even here trough crappy computer speakers.

        MP3 encoders after the 90's did improve the sound quality a lot.

  • "Touted?" (Score:5, Informative)

    by ewhac ( 5844 ) on Friday January 05, 2018 @10:03PM (#55873023) Homepage Journal

    Opus has been touted as a more efficient codec than the aging MP3 codec.

    Nothing "touted" about it -- it is better than MP3. []

    Opus does have an unusual limitation, however: It has a limited selection of input sample rates, and 44.1KHz is not one of them. So anything recorded at 44.1KHz has to be up-sampled to 48KHz before it can be encoded in Opus.

    • This has always struck me as a ridiculous limitation, given the ubiquity of 44.1Khz source material. I don't know the reason for this limitation, but I imagine it has something to do with the psychoacoustics being tuned by hand for the various potential source sampling rates. Still, it seems like a glaring omission.

      I especially don't understand why, as most lossy codecs work on a frequency spectrogram based system, where all your data is going to manipulated in a floating point space calculated via FFT/DCT

  • by gordguide ( 307383 ) on Friday January 05, 2018 @10:03PM (#55873031)

    Soundcloud are absolutely correct in that there are better codecs than mp3 available; mp3 is about 20 years old and it's development goes back at least five more. However 64 kbps codecs are generally quite crude sonically compared to 128 kbps variants of the same codec. So I understand the concern.

    Satellite Radio. which uses a proprietary codec and therefore isn't available to others, is a 64~80 kbps codec. It doesn't sound terrible, and it's also quite old.

    So the idea that a competent 64 kbps codec could be out there isn't all that crazy an idea. I think it's reasonable for Soundcloud to be live testing codecs of any bitrate, and I wouldn't want them to stop. It's far more than most lossy compressed streams ever bother to even consider, let alone practice.

    • I'd qualify the compression used for SiriusXM as pretty terrible. For some types of music it's listenable, but for others - trap music with the rapid hi-hats for example - totally ruined.

      I haven't tested Opus yet, it's been years since I looked into all the different codecs in detail. But the consensus seems to be that it does very well at 64 kb/s. It's open-source and I'm sure you can find binaries for your platform of choice to perform your own tests.
    • by caseih ( 160668 )

      SiriusXM sounds completely awful. It baffles my mind people actually want to pay a subscription to listen to horrible audio quality like that. The talk channels seem to have the lowest bitrate (obviously), and are so tinny and choppy as to be painful. The music channels are better, but still sound extremely bad, much like 64 kbit mp3s.

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      Satellite Radio. which uses a proprietary codec and therefore isn't available to others, is a 64~80 kbps codec. It doesn't sound terrible, and it's also quite old.

      It's not proprietary. Initially it probably was, but it's migrated to AAC and now is AAC+ (AAC-HE, I believe).

      Bandwidth though per channel has been dropping - it's 64-80kbps AAC+ right now which isn't great. It's basically a problem of satellite bandwidth - there isn't any more available so to squeeze more channels onto the same bandwidth requires

  • One of the things that I noticed early on with MP3s, even high bit ones, was audio fatigue after listening for a while, maybe after an hour or more. At least compared to lossless codecs and even regular CDs. I used to be into high end audio and fancy DAC to playback good quality CDs back in the day, and this used to happen to me when I started to use high bit MP3s for some things. Granted there are additional variables like quality of speakers/headphones, but for some reason MP3s always fatigued my ears aft

  • Just give me some notice before Soundcloud goes under so I can rip all my favourite tracks. Note that I am a paying subscriber, and like Soundcloud for both original content and obscure DJ remixes.
  • Dispute, not refute. Refute means to prove wrong. When used properly it's is an extremely useful word with a specific meaning. Please don't dilute it when there's the word "dispute", which already says *exactly* what you want to say. It's as if people had never heard "refute" before and thought "Oh, that's a fancy way of saying dispute, so I'm going to use it to sound more elevated."
  • WHY AREN'T YOU DRINKING THE KOOLAIDE!!!??? DRINK IT!! DRINK!! Reading the story, this is all I saw. There are enough other music sources that if one craps the bed, there's no reason to stay with them.
  • i personally like soundcloud i l=thin kthe quality is fine

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