Sound quality largely sucks today because two distinct types of compression (file size/bit rate and loudness/dynamic range) destroy music's sonic subtleties and seriously decrease the emotional impact of the listening experience.

Another blog article, How Music Listening Has Changed, makes the broader claim that music listening is essentially different now than it was back in the day. That article calls out six reasons, including sound quality. Here is where to discuss the claim about sound quality. (For sound quality background articles look here.)

This is the short version of the sound quality (then and now) story:

Listeners used to enjoy the sound of their car radios and home stereos without misgivings. Recording methods had evoved over six decades to maximize sound quality, including dynamic range, within analog limitations.

Early in the 1980s, portable music devices arrived:  first the SonyTM walkman, then the discman. Digital media arrived. The music business strongly marketed "perfect" CD sound and undermined sales of tape and vinyl. In fact, early digital sound was often brittle and harsh due to subtle timing issues later identified as "jitter." Convenience of CDs overwhelmed concerns for sound quality.

In the last 15 years, compressed digital formats evolved to fit bandwidth limitations of the internet and portable music players. At the same time, record companies began competing to make their recordings sound louder than each other (the "loudness wars") by compressing music's dynamic range, the same reason commercials sound louder than shows that precede and follow them.

These days, people typically listen to compressed music files alone while working on a computer; or to internet radio, an mp3 player or smartphone, while on the move or exercising.

The experience of music listening has suffered since compressed digital files become the standard unit of music distribution. Sound quality expectations are low. The emotional impact of lower frequencies and musical subtleties is missing from mp3s and CDs with minimal dynamic range, contributing to less attachment and passion felt about the music itself.

Does sound quality make a difference to your listening experience?