Stop listening to Music on YouTube – seriously!

Marc HenshallCulture & Industry42 Comments

Seriously, do yourself a favour and stop it – you deserve better.

Yes, it’s convenient, and yes, sometimes it’s nice to watch the accompanied music video; it can even be a great way to discover new artists or rare releases. But please, please don’t use it as your primary listening platform.

What’s my Beef?

First of all, if you’re consuming music on YouTube, the chances are you’re listening through small laptop or multimedia PC speakers that just won’t do your music justice. At best you’re listening through some nice headphones or even a hi-fi system. But even then, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice and denying your soul the ability to really experience something special – and here’s why:

All audio on YouTube is compressed (approximately to around 126 kbps AAC), which in itself isn’t such a bad thing; AAC compression can sound ok at relatively low bitrates. It becomes a problem, however, when poorly compressed videos are used as source files – effectively compressing the audio twice. In an attempt to improve the situation, Google does recommend using higher bitrate source files of 384 kbps when uploading videos, but even when these guidelines are followed the audio has still been compressed twice – not good!

Imagine then, the varying degrees of user understanding when it comes to video production and audio formats. Long story short, the quality varies enormously. In fact, it’s a complete mess.

The truth about compressed music

The truth is, compressed music – particularly badly compressed examples – is that it just doesn’t have the same effect on us emotionally. Badly compressed music can sound tinny, lifeless, or even distorted, and this has a knock on impact when it comes to our emotions. As an example, Sophie Heawood of the Guardian writes a fantastic piece about her experience of selling off all her music and going digital. Claiming, and I quote ‘Streaming music has made it so dull I’ve lost all interest in it’. Powerful words, but I suspect that what she’s experiencing is not so much a consequence of losing the physical medium, but more of a side effect from going all compressed.

Sophie’s experience is a trap, that, if we’re honest, we’ve all fallen into at one point or another since the rise of MP3 at the turn of the century. Combine this with the increasingly passive and fickle listening experience that streamed music encourages, and you can begin to see why people start to forget why they loved music in the first place.

Think about it. When was the last time you really felt moved by a piece of music on MP3, YouTube, or even Spotify to the point it gave you chills? Anyone who has seriously connected with music will be able to relate to this feeling, and I have a hunch it’s been a while since you felt it. Thankfully, there is a way back; you just need to get back to basics and shut down YouTube!

Do yourself a favour…

Next time you feel the urge to open YouTube and dwindle away hours casually drifting from one track to another – dig out an old favourite from your record collection instead. It can be vinyl or digital (it doesn’t matter), but make sure you sit yourself down in a quiet room where you won’t be disturbed, and you can listen on the best system you have. Try to listen on a proper hi-fi if you can, but the most important thing is to take time out of your day and give 30 – 45 minutes to music, and music alone. It might just be the start of a rekindled friendship.

brain-listening-music-mriIn addition, it could also do you good. Music is powerful stuff; it has the ability to excite, inspire, and even reduce stress. Just look at this MRI scan of your brain listening to music from audiologyonline.com for a glimpse of how powerful music can be. Music is like food for the brain – shouldn’t you feed it the best it can get?

Finally, if I were to encapsulate how I feel about YouTube – or even Spotify – as a listening platform, it would be something like this:

Listening to music on YouTube is like consuming fast food. It’s quick, cheap, and delivers some result, but ultimately, you’re left unsatisfied. Do yourself a favour and rediscover real music; just like real food, it will cost more, and take more time, but ultimately, it’s more satisfying in the long run.

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Carlo Lupi

Well, I just came here coz I was surprised how bad was my recording on YT compared to what I can hear directly on my hard disk – I am using good level ribbon mics for recording flute, but all in all my recording equipment just worths around 3k euros – nothing more. I can hear the difference of the sound quality between YT and uncompressed files even by simply using the amplifiers of my computer. Eventually I removed my recording from YT because to me it was not acceptable. This is not the quality of my sound. Will try to establish something on a personal website to share my music.

Last edited 1 month ago by Carlo Lupi
Mike

I think what y’all are missing is that youtube doesn’t pay squat to the artist (and neither do most other – thanks for the tip on Tidal). So, if I were a successful artist, I would make sure I put crap on Youtube. If I were up-and-coming, I would put as good as I can.

I have to add that, while vinyl is good, though I don’t quite understand it, lossless digital seems to be better. Most importantly, to me, which has been mentioned in passing in some of the comments above, is the recording itself. There seem few rock artists that care at all. London Grammar is an exception but the exceptions are few and, even with London Grammar, I get that occasional cracking where the vu meter, I sure, was red-lining and it doesn’t matter what format I listen to.

Robert Martin

To me, music is about the listening experience and I want the best possible experience. HOWEVER, without a good song, composition, performance etc. it is meaningless. I am certainly a music enthusiast (my whole life). I have recorded and mixed several CD’s, run Live sound for 25 years.

All that said, some of my most enjoyable music experiences have been with a mono speaker strapped to my daypack and hiking on the Appalachian trail. Certainly that is not a “HIFI” setup. What I am saying is, the MUSIC is what matters, not necessarily how or where you listen to it. I am guessing the majority of people do not have ideal listening equipment or environments.

Dennis Verhaaff

This is utter horse manure.
There are thousands of fantastic musicians sharing their talent on YouTube, waiting to be discovered, and if this jackwagon has his way, they can keep waiting.
Not everyone has the means, or even wants to listen to music in a quiet room with $30,000 worth of equipment.
I have my pc hooked up to my stereo, and while I acknowledge that lossless is better, it is very possible to enjoy music from YouTube and you’re “doing yourself a disservice” not to listen to music any which way you can.
I also have a record player, and while I love the sound, it is simply not better, but like with YouTube, it doesn’t matter as long as I have another way to listen to music.

And if you’re an artist who wants people to listen to your music “the way you intend to”… go fly a kite.
I continue listening to music the way I want to, and sometimes that’s a crappy car stereo, a scratchy record from the thrift store, a small transistor radio, cheap ear buds, or a mono Bluetooth speaker, the way almost everybody but sound snobs listen to most of their music.

David Gee

If you go to the quality setting or the Music/Video button on their Music app and pick video 1080p you can get a very good
sound. The problem comes from those options not being available on all choices. MQA
is a good alt for the masses as it sounds very good and allows compatibility to most formats
whether fully utilized or not. We all need to understand how important quality sound reproduction is whether or not you comprehend it or not, inferrior sound disturbs our brains. Just going 432 is not the answer.

Stinky Wizzleteats

what snobbish horseshit.

Cass

Just came here (waaayyy late) to say that I googled the question of why YouTube sound sucks and arrived at this page. I appreciate your appreciation for good-quality music! I always found it disappointing to have YT as my only option for some video game OSTs, which interest me very much. I hope other music streaming services can step up in the future and give us the high quality music we deserve.

Gyriosomus angustus

Yeh i feel the same, even in Spotify we only have access to compressed music. Although to be fair, the OST is already compressed xD it’s nothing like hearing it live. Like at a Symphonic concert. Before Corona, i heard part of WoW OST in a concert and man… that’s heaven.

Cezare

Wrong wrong wrong! I Got serious hifi equuippment and almost every album that I’m listening to sound better than CD. Sometimes much better. Listening to the music on YT is just like being in the library. I feel thrill every time.

AL

There’s a very noticeable difference in sound quality between official artist/label uploaded songs on YouTube and Itunes. Jefferson Airplanes “Somebody to Love” is 296kbps bitrate (Itunes), while YouTube bitrate is 127kbps. Youtube’s version sounds dull and lifeless. YouTube is free but I want the best.

Jimmi Ellis

Does anybody know where to go on the internet to listen to wav or flac audio format

Gregory R. Hockett

Dynamic range over compression, Lossy data compression, psychoacoustic 90% or so sound removal (mp3 and others), THE LOUDNESS WAR. Its just generating square waves! The music starts and all the VU meters in the studio go red and stay there. Studio monitors are NOT calibrated in audio studios. At motion picture houses the monitors are calibrated at -85 db. Thats one reason motion picture audio sounds so good specifically in comparison.
Want a good example? Get a top notch older (80s or so) vinyl record album say Al Dimeola – Elegant Gypsy. Play it on a decent turn table into a good old tube amp to a really nice a pair of speakers. The nuances and presence and THE SOUND is amazing. Now take an mp3 ( with somewhere around twice the dynamic range of a turn table!) the same song thru a transistor amp to the same pair of speakers and it just SUCKS in comparison. Dynamic range is overrated today at 110db or so but it cant hold a candle to the 54db or so of vinyl.
We drug rocks thru grooves to make our music! (and we still like it!)

Ken Corigliano

Has anyone made an opinion of the new Amzn Music? here: https://amzn.to/2Bprh8l

David

Got to be one of the worst!

Than Zamp

When the day come they will have replaced each old SSD drive with each new one having ~500 Exabytes of capacity and the Internet’s speed is 10000 times faster, then they start use as their main audio compression, the uncompressed WAV format. I can guarantee that to you.

Josephine Jimuteus

Yup. The author of this hatchet job on youtube is a jackass. Youtube sounds great on my system and for you suggest that even today where peoples watches are more powerful than the cray supercomputers used to be, that our technology cant easily surpass analog in quality of the soundwave, is ridiculous.

Rick James

If you think YouTube sound quality compares to a record you are jackass. And if you can’t hear the difference at least give someone with an ear some credit. Know this. There is a huge difference.

glegster

youtube sucks. you miss the beats and the notes the way the creator intended. that is why i strive for nothing less then 24bit it give amazing sonic resonance. you can hear more of the reverberation of an acoustic guitar and so on. i know youtube can do wonders with what it is but never enough to make you drip the way and melt the hi res audio can. i suggest you listen to the hi res version then the youtube version. if you can not tell the difference then might be your ears. but hope i am not picking on you it is just a system needs to be higher then low midrange to notice the difference even some logitec speakers wired can prove the diffidence but not enough to melt and drip the listener into a pool of lovely mush

Jemand

I still buy CDs and rip them lossless as FLACs

Jim

Why not RIP them in wav format flac is good but wav is much better lp and cd audio format.

Matt

FLAC is lossless…you will have the same fidelity as you would with a WAV, the biggest difference is just smaller file size

K.T

And the features of ID3 tags/properties (such as being able to fill out title, artist or album info). That’s a major downside to .WAV files and why that format isn’t fit for a music library.

Alex M.

Youtube is a great platform for finding new music perhaps, but I would suggest once you find your favorite songs to switch to a different platform. When it comes to audio quality though, I think headphones are the most important factor. A good pair of headphones can change a bad music experience to an amazing one. Here are some of my favorite lists showing great headphones to use. I actually own a few pairs that show up on the list.
http://www.audiogeniushq.com/headphones/best-headphones-2017/
http://www.audiogeniushq.com/headphones/bass-headphones/

Matt

Broken links…

Russell

Access using the “wayback machine” web.archive.org

LINUXGUY

I’m a professional musician and composer/producer, and I dislike the overuse of compression/limiting in music production, as well as lossy data compression such is being discussed in this article. Unfortunately, this is how people do and will continue to consume media, and it’s only going to get worse. As someone who strives for perfection in my work, it is frustrating to know that the end listener will only hear a small chunk of what I have worked to achieve: each small adjustment I make is inconsequential, as those details will be lost as waveforms are approximated time after time.

Does it make me work less hard? Do I throw in the towel and produce mediocre material because it doesn’t matter and they’ll be listening on Crappletop speakers and won’t hear those subtle parts, panning positions, EQ on this guitar, keyboard parts sweeping in and out…?

Hell no, because I want people to hear my music! Period. A small slice is fine, yes please. Maybe seconds if it’s good. Seriously, the goal is to reach the masses. We use the tools that get us there. I hear you about quality, believe me. To be blunt, as a creative musician, i would rather have you listen to my music on the worst possible system, rather than not at all, in the hopes that my stuff is produced so well, that it sounds good under the worst circumstances, and will make you WISH you had a Macbook or something to listen to it on.

This is coming from a musician with 20 years experience as a professional. The “it just sounds worse” argument is no longer valid, it is just an excuse for audio snobs to cultivate their psychoacoustic egos. That’s fine, someone’s gotta buy those $1000 IEC power cables I suppose.

As an artist, we have different goals, and sometimes we wish people would be less concerned about the gear/system/speakers/blah/blah/blah and actually try to understand what is trying to be expressed.

Anything short of a live performance is a compromise already.

Juan Diaz

there are many, like me, that we are very demanding with the sound quality. That is why the only music service I use is Tidal, which does not compress the music. I think it is still important that musicians record with high quality.

glegster

they use compression. the only ones that do not are studio masters but yes tidal is some of the best but i like to buy mine in 24 bit or 16 bit flac i got neil diamond in 24bit 192khz flac he does melt my ears

Josephine Jimuteus

Jesus Christ man u are full of yourself.

David

Sorry but a live performance is as much or more vulneralble to crap sound. Without quality sound equipment and a great engineer and an environment condusive to good sound a live performance today might be a great experience for many reason, but sound quality is not usually one.
A great symphony in a great hall and no microphones might be the exception.

Clara Bell Efrona

I had an idea. How about if Google/YouTube made speakers. Specially made “YouTube” speakers. Yeah, sound quality will still depend on the people who upload, but for trusted channels, it would be a way better experience. It would also introduce a younger audience to a higher quality audio listening experience. I wrote the following rant the other night, but never posted it anywhere. “Dear Google, Will you please manufacture YouTube speakers? That way we can all enjoy a better listening experience when we’re throwing parties and are gathered around the computer playing video after video. Your UX peeps are already currently aware that audio is more important than visual for message impact, just ask them. So dish it out already, alright? Thank you very much. Love, Clara – Lady Audio”

ckowkay

i use youtube because there are so many different songs in one place that i cant find anywhere else and its so easy to save everything into one playlist that i can access anywhere

Marc Henshall

O yea, don’t get me wrong, it definitely has its uses. But as a main listening platform – i’d argue we lose out.

Robert Martin

Convenience is certainly a factor. To me, the fact people are listening and enjoying music is the ONLY point.

Edward Fildes

Difficult though when decent garage records go for 30 quid a pop on discogs

Marc Henshall

Thanks for your comment. Totally agree, vinyl is way more expensive than I’d like it to be, but that’s supply and demand I guess. I wish we could have more ‘independent only’ pressing plants, as the majors clogging production with repressing seems to be a major cause of the supply issues. Cheers, and happy listening!

[…] on the most rudimentary of playback devices. In fact, you can even hear it on YouTube – which is not a way I’d advocate listening to music if you care about how it […]

James Huycke

Excellent piece. Micky Hart, Grateful Dead drummer, has amassed quite a bit of info on impacts of music, and Bob Weir, rhythm guitarist, has pontificated on the same issue of “lossy” recording. Nice job!

Marc Henshall

Thanks again James. I’ll be sure to check out their findings. It is madness that we’ve spent over 100 years perfecting the recording process, only for it to be wrecked at the last possible moment!

Sergei Rusakov

Marc, please do write to me using your personal email and I will provide you with detailed overview of what has happened to music in the last 50 years. I will point to the real issues that had practically dragged Her Majesty Music to the compressed digital no-res gutter. I will also bring to your attention DSD format which, at last, saved the face of digital audio and allowed music to be properly recorded retaining all its analogue essentials and many things besides – things that allow us to hear and enjoy music for a change again. My company is about to start a global campaign in defense of Music – this unseen and misunderstood Invisible Art that for over 30 years had an increasingly rough ride at the hands of a new generation of clueless music ‘businessmen’ – inept digital audio packagers for want of a more polite description. I would be very happy to have your support and your audience that, on the whole, has no idea of the severity of the problem as well as where to turn for solutions. Sincerely, Sergei Rusakov [email protected]

Ryan

Hit me up Sergei I’m all ears [email protected]

Sam

Hello everyone; I’ve listened on both sides of the types, first of all, maybe most, if not a lot of “listeniners” are “millenniums” with all due respect to my “children” and the age group mentioned, that being said, like some of the commenters, the “mp3 or music file beit 3 o 4 or etc. Is digital, compreesed, in 1999 a friend brought me a model file cd player with like a thousand of song on a disc, “COMPRESSED”..
In my younger years, listening to lp’s, or vinal records 45 or 33,3rd; or 12″ singles, the sound was pure, clean, original.. then we heard our first “cd” “compact disc”.. the sound was amazing. But since the late 80s. Till now, not the same!! I listen to YouTube music through my TV and audio video receiver. Surround sound, all channel stereo, 2 Chanel stereo, etc. At higher volumes with good quality speakers the sound and clarity fades, distorts, blurs, especially on low quality uploaded formats, I’m now learning about how to get the real music back; this is WY turntables, vinal have comeback ,, dac Amp receivers, analog tube amplifiers etc. The compressed music files YouTube is using should be better, can’t they really reproduce the sound the way it was originally recorded?? I hope so, or we’ve lost something most haven’t even heard or understand.. if you haven’t heard music before it became digital. Than u may not appreciate what you’ve been missing!!! Hope I can figure it out. And the broadcasters can or will care, do, or what…???? There’s to much to cover, or detail. Unless you know before and now , then the divide!!! If your still reading this, ; thanks ; you probably are like me, in between the before and now…… let’s not loose the MUSIC!!!!