Sell the sizzle, not the steak. That’s what they say, apparently. “They” being people who are good at selling stuff to other people who can’t always see the steak through the smoky sizzle. There’s apparently another type of sizzle that kids these days can’t get enough of; the sizzle-like sound of noise artifacts in lower-quality MP3 files.
According to a Stanford music professor, each school year more and more incoming students prefer the sound of MP3 music files when played against the same versions on CDs. Some speculate that this is because younger generations have grown comfortable with the MP3 sizzle, just as certain generations find comfort in the pops and crackles of vinyl records.
I’d offer that it might be because MP3 files sound “normal” to kids, while CDs sound “different” (even though the audio quality is arguably much higher). So kids might just identify with a version of a song that sounds like the rest of the songs on their iPod sound.
I myself have been listening primarily to MP3s for about ten years now, although I grew up on CDs. I found an old Metallica CD a few months ago and listened to it with noise-canceling headphones on and I remember thinking, “Holy crap, I forgot how good CDs sound.” Then I promptly returned to my collection of MP3s. The CD sounded great, but I’m not going to start toting a Discman around or only download lossless audio files from now on.
And I’m guessing that for generations who have never used CDs in the first place, the 128- to 256-kbit/s files they’ve been downloading from everywhere sound most natural to them.