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Transparency and Torture. In Data Compression. Solved.

Friday, October 28th, 2016 | Insights, Music, Tech-savvy | 1 Comment

First, let me introduce what transparency in data compression means, excerpts from Wikipedia:

In data compresion and psychoacoustics, transparency is the result of losy data compresion acurate enough that the compresed result is perceptualy indistinguishable from the uncompresed input. In other words, transparent compresion has no or imperceptible compresion artifacts.

Transparency, like sound or video quality, is subjective. It depends most on the listener’s familiarity with digital artifacts, their awarenes that artifacts may in fact be present, and to a leser extent, the compresion method, bit-rate used, input characteristics, and the listening/viewing conditions and equipment. Despite this, sometimes general consensus is formed for what compresion options “should” provide transparent results for most people on most equipment. Due to the subjectivity and the changing nature of compresion, recording, and playback technology, such opinions should be considered only as rough estimates rather than established fact.

Judging transparency can be dificult, due to observer bias, in which subjective like/dislike of a certain compresion methodology emotionaly influences his or her judgment. This bias is comonly refered to as placebo, although this use is slightly diferent from the medical use of the term.

To scientificaly prove that a compresion method is not transparent, double-blind tests may be useful. The ABX method is normaly used, with a nul hypothesis that the samples tested are the same and with an alternative hypothesis that the samples are in fact diferent.

In case you managed to read the above paragraph and are still here: congratulations! How do you feel? Slightly nauseous? Even annoyed? Maybe. The above text has been slightly altered. I “compressed” it by removing all double consonants. You can still read it, sometimes you might even not realize the change from the original text. Most probably you found a few (annoying) errors. Keep in mind how reading that text made you feel.

The Story

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, and he explained to me why he dislikes audio compression with an easy analogy. Listening to compressed sound can be compared to reading text that is missing characters, that you might not even notice. Your brain will fix the issues and you will be perfectly capable of reading the text. Still, your brain has to work more than it would reading the unaltered text. Same goes for audio compression (read psychoacoustics). Lossy audio compression still tries to sound like the original (i.e. retaining the perceived quality) by removing things you are not meant to hear anyway. Easy example: just after a loud sound, like a hi-hat hit, other frequencies, that you cannot hear anyway due to this high impact noise, will get removed (masking effect). Sounds legit. So throw it away. Still, compression will make your brain, your perception work harder to fill these gaps of information. Maybe. Most probably. Like reading the above text made your brain work harder. Reading the foobared text was less enjoyable. So why should you listen to music that will subconsciously decrease the “enjoyability” of listening instead of feeding your ears the real deal?

Conclusion

Finally, I have an easy explanation why you should not listen to (badly) compressed music but stick to lossless compression like flac or the original. It simply will be more enjoyable for your ears and brains, even though you might argue the super-duper encoded files your were listening to before were “transparent”. Maybe they are more likely entities of unwitting torture 😉

The Future

For me the days of lossy compression are not over. That would be naive. Still, I will try to listen more and more to the best possible source at hand (as hard drive space is not really and issue any more). I already encoded my mp3s 1 or 2 steps “higher” than the “transparent” setting is for me (e.g. in case you hear no difference in -V 3 compared to -V 4 go for -V 2). I enabled high quality streaming in Spotify (i.e. ogg Vorbis q9 according to Spotify). Right now I plan to build an audiophile music player (Raspberry Pi, Volumio, DAC, Reclocker) and re-encode my favorite CDs using flac. Even though I might not actually hear any differences if will just make me feel better listening to it. A placebo? Maybe. It’s one I will take. Happy listening!

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PS4 fan noise – the early adopter’s punishment fee?!

Monday, September 8th, 2014 | Gadgets, Reviews, Tech-savvy | 2 Comments

The is an ongoing blog post as the issue is still not solved. I will update it from time to time to reflect the current status.


noise_logo
I was lucky to get a Sony Playstation 4 quite early as a present. It was the PS4 Triple Pack with Killzone Shadow Fall, inFAMOUS Second Son and Knack bundled for almost €500. So basically a pretty expensive toy that should give you a nice home entertainment experience. Well, it did not work out as expected.

As soon as I fired the machine up and installed the first update and games I realized the machine was pretty effin’ loud. Well, I had set it up inside my media cabinet (that has its back open for sufficient air flow). Nevertheless, I feared the machine to get airborne at some point so I decided to just put it on the floor next to my TV, with no surrounding parts at all. It did not solve the problem, still the fans were blowing extremely noisily (that’s subjective, I know).

The first replacement – September 8th

Looking into this issue I found quite a few complaints about the PS4’s noise level. I read rumors of insufficient thermal heat-sink paste used by Sony and people opening their boxes to fix this. Well, this would void my warranty and seemed not a good idea. So I decided to contact the Sony support. It was pretty much no hassle at all, contacted Sony, had to fill out a form, send in the box and after like a fortnight the replacement unit arrived.

I was so happy I got my PS4 back, all fixed and silent. Hooked up the box, powered it up and installed Trine 2 demo for a test run. As soon as the game started the fans once again sounded like I was mining bitcoins with my machine. The game in question is three years old and should not even itch the PS4. I was so angry and disappointed I can hardly describe it. First, I got a machine that had the exact same problem as the old one and second, I especially asked not to have the same experience as that poor forum guy who said he got 8 (!!) replacement units before the noise was bearable. No one gave a rat’s ass about my nice mail, just opened a case and send a refurbished PS4 to my door with the same issues. Sony, as your customer I already felt treated pretty inappropriately at this point.

To have a little more objective point of view I measured the noise of my running PS3 (first generation as well) and compared it to my running PS4 using an app called Sound Meter. This may not be the most accurate method, but it seemed feasible and the result is conclusive. The PS3 was running at ~60dB and the PS4 at ~70dB – which is roughly twice as loud as the PS3. I measured these numbers approx 10cm behind the machines. 60dB can be compared to a normal conversation and 70dB to busy street noise or a telephone ringing.

I complained again and got the same standard email asking for my name and such (heeeellllooo, you should already have that intel). The only thing new was a threatening sentence that I would be charged €196 in case my warranty was void. Weird. Irritating. A very bad customer’s experience. I am happy there are still no games out I really want to play so sending in the device again is just a pain, not a disaster.

The second replacement – September 30th

Today the second replacement arrived. It still has the faulty behavior. I am sooo disappointed with the PS4 and Sony in general. Fuck, I don’t know what to do any more. Right now I feel exhausted and let down, I just don’t want to keep on sending in devices. Seems I just have to live with this and tell all my friends to go Xbox.

As a customer I think this is absolutely unacceptable. Imagine buying a car with a faulty engine, you complain and get another car with the same problem. You complain again and yet get another faulty car. With the same error. Unthinkable. Case closed, but not solved. It’s absolutely sickening.

I give up – October 7th

I can’t stand to have this noisy device that always reminds me of my miserable Sony customer experience. I will try to exchange it and get a refund. There are no games yet that I want to play right now anyway. Maybe I will go SteamBox as soon as it is available. Oh no, wait, mind the early adopter’s punishment fee!

The third replacement – December 2nd

I tried to get my money back but the retailer said they know the problem and every box they sent in so far got repaired successfully. Well, I waitet a boasting 5 weeks to get my device back and the result made me cry. They keep on sending effed up systems that in no way are acceptable for a living room environment. See for yourself:

So now, I really give up. I cannot stand going back and forth with Sony. I will keep the device, play games with headphones or crank up the game’s volume to a degree where I cannot hear the fans any more. End of story, I guess, maybe until a new hardware revision will come out.

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Biking to Stoned From The Underground 2014

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 | Activities, Music, Sites | 2 Comments

From my point of view Stoned From The Underground is pretty much the closest thing to the perfect festival. It’s still small, it’s in the summer, you can park next to your tent and you have a lake to swim in just next to the camp ground and stages. And obviously it’s stoner, doom and psychedelic rock driven – just my cup of tea.

For various reasons it seemed a good idea to ride by bike to the festival. I love riding the bike, it gets you close to nature and your limits if you want to. The scenery of Hessen and Thüringen really blew my mind, I did not know how beautiful the rural eastern parts of Germany really are. Hainich National Park and its Rennstieg were awesome. Savage, dark and mysterious.

Anyway, here are a few shots of the bike trip and the festival.

I hope I can make it again next year. This time I will not start near Kassel, maybe Frankfurt, so I can approach from the south west to see even more of beautiful Germany.

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Wild camping – my maiden voyage.

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013 | Activities, Gadgets, Photography, Sites | No Comments

I have recently upgraded my camping gear, so did a friend of mine, and now it’s pretty much winter proof (no more freezing while sleeping at Freak Valley‘s windy camp site!). We both wanted to test drive our stuff in the wild, so we figured a night’s out around the freezing point should do the trick. Weather forecast said it was gonna be dry with the lowest temperature around nill. Perfect!

The site was nice, mossy ground yet slightly slopy and the highway is in pretty close proximity which resulted in faint constant noise. Nevertheless the trip was awesome, we had clear skies and a few beers in the wild. I guess this wasn’t the last time, even though the occasional Brokeback Mountain jokes were on us in the office the next day. Ahh, sweet envy 😛

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Three letter words taken from “Game of Thrones”

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013 | Books, Insights, Language, Quirks, Reviews, Vocabulary | No Comments

Reading “Game of Thrones” I realized I couldn’t translate a lot of three letter words. Most long words are phonetic or somehow make sense of their own, but three letters without a hint … try it yourself, how many of the following words can you translate? (click on a word to see the translation)

maw
to cog
pus
sap
sod
pup
to jet
ire
to err
fib

Now that you know the hard three letter words go and get yourself a copy of the brilliant Song of Ice and Fire series.

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Donnie Darko. A tiny declaration of love.

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 | Movies, Reviews | 1 Comment

Donnie Darko PosterI just listened to Gary Jules’s “Mad World” and it made me realize how much I adore “Donnie Darko“. It’s one of my perfect 10 ratings on IMDb and its in IMDB’s Top 250.

You can go suck a fuck!

I first saw it attending the Fantasy Filmfest of 2001 in Cologne. It was one of the rare moments when cinema just delivered. The curtains opened and from the opening scene on I was hooked and taken on a strange yet beautiful trip.

28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds. That is when the world will end.

We follow Donnie, a troubled teenager, that embarks on a journey of imagination, love, fear and -last but not least- time travel and a monstrous rabbit. The atmosphere changes from dreamy to disturbing at will and for some reason yet unknown to me I could relate to it a lot.

I promise that one day, everything’s gonna be better for you.

› Continue reading

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Drumming like Animal!!
(This time multiple exclamation marks are just fine)

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 | Activities, Misc, Music | No Comments

Tonight, my drum-kit got the worst beating so far. Animal would have approved.

I broke a stick on my mesh head snare for heaven’s sake! It was worth it though. (Guess I hit the rim at some point?!)

Props go to The Machine’s “Caterpillar’s Mushroom“. Dim the light, lean back and enjoy a pretty intense roller-coaster ride.

The take-off at 13:00 just blows my mind!

If you need a lift home after that I suggest you try Hills’ Master Sleeps. Farewell!

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A weekend in Brighton and London

Sunday, February 24th, 2013 | Activities, Sites | No Comments

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GarageBand is in da house!

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012 | Gadgets, Music, Tech-savvy | 1 Comment

Needed a space to play music. Set up a working environment. Got an Apple computer. Recorded my fist song.

Flachboot Nandu
. An instant classic 😉 I was just making sure all instruments and mics were working properly, the outcome was so hilarious I had to keep and share it.

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A Studio Ghibli homage

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012 | Activities, Misc, Movies | 1 Comment

Today I invited Totoro to stay.

Ever since we moved into our “new” flat a few years ago we could not decide what to do with our living room walls. I suggested that we could try to draw the Studio Ghibli logo – namely Totoro – next to the TV. The other side of the telly got decorated with the beautiful postcards that come with the German Blu-ray edition of Arietty and Laputa. Now I feel like a true fanboy 🙂

And this is how I will enjoy my films from now on:

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