Left Brainer
by Mark J. Medrud

It's been a while since I've found anything new and interesting in audio-- especially in digital audio, but all the recent activity on the MPEG audio scene has been pretty exciting.  Though probably not a true high-end medium, ISO/MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3 is capable of compressing music at 12:1 or better with quality that very nearly lives up to the hype.  Most consumers won't be able to tell the difference and audiophiles may need more than just a quick listen to tell the original from the compressed--it's that good.  And that might be the dangerous part...  If MP3 (from the .MP3 computer file extension) were mediocre or poor, then there would be less danger that it would set a new (and lower) standard for consumer audio.  As it becomes ubiquitous in broadcasting (mini-dish satellite TV, DVD video, Digital TV) though, MP3 may lower the standard for all of the music we hear.  This pessimistic view fits my mantra about consumer formats and products: "Smaller, cheaper, worse." With luck MP3 will remain a video adjunct and stay out of the world of music distribution.  The CD is pretty well entrenched after all.  Though capable of other much higher (and worse sounding) compression settings, the 112,000bps data rate provides the so- called "CD quality" that is of most interest.  Anyone with a late model personal computer, sound card and access to the World Wide Web can find a plethora of freeware and shareware MP3 players and one software based CODEC (COder/DECoder). Using L3ENC and L3DEC, I put together a selection of music samples and burned them on a CD-R.  The even numbered tracks are the MP3 encoded/decoded versions and the odd numbered tracks are the bit-for- bit extractions from the original CDs for easy comparison.  It really is an eye- opener