Stop listening to Music on YouTube – seriously!

Marc HenshallCulture & Industry34 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 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.

  • James Huycke says:

    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 says:

      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!

      • 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]

  • […] 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 […]

  • Edward Fildes says:

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

    • Marc Henshall says:

      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!

  • ckowkay says:

    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 says:

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

  • Clara Bell Efrona says:

    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”

  • LINUXGUY says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

        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 says:

      Jesus Christ man u are full of yourself.

    • David says:

      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.

  • Alex M. says:

    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.

  • Jemand says:

    I still buy CDs and rip them lossless as FLACs

  • Than Zamp says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

        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 says:

        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

  • Ken Corigliano says:

    Has anyone made an opinion of the new Amzn Music? here:

  • Gregory R. Hockett says:

    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!)

  • Jimmi Ellis says:

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

  • AL says:

    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.

  • Cezare says:

    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.

  • Cass says:

    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 says:

      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.

  • Stinky Wizzleteats says:

    what snobbish horseshit.

  • David Gee says:

    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.