Lou Reed: 'MP3s Sound Miserable'

Reed also hints that he's earning a paltry cut of his digital music sales, and earned more palying cheap bars as a teenager.

Ultimate Guitar

Lou Reed has called out MP3s for their poor sound quality, and complained that his royalty rates for downloads are a pittance.

Speaking to journalists of Guardian at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Reed said the digital format was shocking compared to the warm sound of vinyl.

"MP3s for God's sake. A really miserable sounding thing, people don't understand what they are missing. It has been reduced to the lowest common denominator," said Reed.

Comparing modern music to yesteryear, Reed said: "Before you had to search things out. There it all is. But it sounds like sh-t. [Once you have found it] then you try to get a vinyl copy. You can get a good vinyl player for $400 or $500."

He went on to recall getting a royalty check of $2.60 when playing in a bar as a teenager, then said: "It's pretty much what I get from downloads now."

If true, Reed probably needs someone to check how much his label is earning, because that sounds pretty low by any measure. Unless he's confusing streams with full digital downloads, which have wildly different royalty rates.

"I understand young people were brought up on downloading and Steve Jobs tried to make it into some kind of business which benefits Apple but you get about a sixteenth of a penny," he said.

What's your view on MP3 sound quality? Does the format deserve some credit for driving down file sizes and sparking an online music revolution?

84 comments sorted by best / new / date

    So that's why Lulu sounded like sh*t? Should I get the vinyl then, Lou?
    Yeah, maybe it would sound better if you weren't singing about "the smell of your armpits and taste of your labia?"
    Build the portable vinyl player then.
    It's more of where do you store, thousands of vinyls, and the sound quality degrades over time, unless you have one of those $10,000 vinyl players that reads the record with a laser. The better answer is to design better analog-to-digital conversion algorithms and then, of course the hard drive space for all that music, I personally have 416GB of music on iTunes with about 120-320kbps encoding, and that's far from audiophile quality, FLAC takes up far too much space. Yes there is a noticeably difference between analog recordings and digital, but until the technology comes about, mp3's are still the most logistical medium. But then again this bitching is coming from a guy who released an album of noise to get out of a record contract.
    "It's new, and I don't like it because it's new." The negligible differences between a high-quality MP3 or other digital format and a vinyl record are well worth the extreme availability of music they've brought about.
    He would have praised the "genius invention of Mp3" if he ever got rich by digital downloads. Heh.
    I don't disagree with that. Nicely said for one sentence. You win. *click*
    I certainly wouldn't say the differences are negligible. The differing mastering processes and the capabilities/limits of each format are hugely apparent. You are very correct in that the introduction of digital formats - both physical and not - made music a much more available thing. Perhaps it devalued it, but hey. That's a different issue. Don't artists want everybody to experience their work? I for one will not line this dinosaur's pockets.
    Mr Winters
    "You can get a good vinyl player for $400 or $500" brb, gonna buy a vinyl player with those 500 bux I don't have
    actually I got one for $90 from amazon and it's pretty solid, 400 is for those audiophile quality ones.
    Lou has really missed the point. I'm a vinyl enthusiast and can provide many reasons why vinyl is a much more satisfying product then a digital download. Essentially what Lou Reed is doing here is complaining about this generation without giving a negligible reason other then his own problems with revenue, which on its own is doubtful.
    I can only presume that this was part of a larger interview anyway, so perhaps context has shifted slightly through the reduction and encapsulation process.... Still, you can't both lament and force yesterday's nostalgia on subsequent generations. I for one am not too nostalgic about Napster, high speed tape dubbing, older builds of uTorrent, etc. That said, I still use an old version of WinAMP.
    Really? 320kbps vs vinyl, you cannot tell the difference. Most music is digitally recorded anyway, hell, CD's are totally uncompressed, losing literally no audio quality. Lou Reed is a moron. Never been a fan.
    you can tell a lot of difference actually. A lot of vinyls sound more pristine, and as mentioned, the sound feels more digital on most CD's. Mp3's really kill the vibe. Besides, what beats sitting on your bed with a vinyl player, big headphones and looking at the large album artwork
    Vinyl sounds different. It is though, highly technically inferior to a CD. But whatever you enjoy the most is what's right for you. Sometimes technically superior doesn't mean more enjoyable. I'm a cd/flac guy myself, but I do respect and understand that some people prefer vinyl to anything else. But it is a highly technically inferior format, there's no way denying that.
    Why is this downvoted? This is true and the fact that it's on the red just proves how far people will go with their denial. I accept the nostalgia aspect but if you look at the issue objectively, vinyl is technically inferior.
    Now I have to disagree with you on the CD point. They are a persistent quality format compared to vinyl which degrades however there is a clear limit to the resolution that CD can achieve. Mastering engineers twist the original masters to squeeze the most out of the limits of the format which usually results in a CD master that is made for loudness than actual fidelity. Technically, vinyl can have a far greater dynamic range (although not over the entire platen as discussed) without having to encounter any of the potential ADA conversion artifacts that digital attracts. I don't prefer vinyl myself as a listening format, however it does possess superior aspects to CD in specific aspects which can be taken advantage of. CD is technically consistent, but also consistently limited and adversely manipulated. Perhaps you could view a good vinyl as an expensive scotch which you would dip into occasionally for special times. Far too expensive and impractical as a daily drinker. Technically, Jack Daniels is cheaper if you want to get loaded daily.
    I'm reminded of digital vs. film cameras. Digital-formats require conversion to 1's and 0', then back if you want to see the photo, and storage-media is easy to make and carry around, but no computer in existence can convert literally every single particle in a picture to binary-and-back. Film-formats can theoretically capture literally every single detail in a photo with zero loss in the conversion, but the production and storage of the media is difficult when compared to digital, and it will degrade over time like all matter does. It is really the same argument between film and audio. The only real reasons for digital rising to prominence is that digital is cheaper to produce, requires literally zero expense to copy, and it can transcend the degradation of matter over time. Analog will always have a place for those that want every detail, but digital usually gives a nice approximation.
    You don't compress and brickwall to death to get the most out of the CD-format. That's incorrect. The only reason you do that is to get it sound louder (or as loud as)than your competitors. Or did I misunderstand you? Also, a vinyl's dynamic range is limited to 60 dB, until it hits the noise floor. A CD is capable of a far greater dynamic range. It is most often however, not utilized as they are so ridiculously compressed. I think, one of the main benefits of a vinyl however, is similar to your view. When you listen to flac files, you (I at least) often don't listen to the album as a complete work, but selectively shuffle inbetween. When you sit down and enjoy a vinyl you might listen more actively and careful. Like with enjoying a fine scotch compare to a JD.
    Well, I actually meant the opposite really. Brickwalling a CD master is counterproductive since the bit resolution is linear. Reducing the range you're utilising to the "top few" bits produces a horribly smushy master which - despite being weapons grade - is like throwing out all of the nice bits of an expensive well-made car such as the seats and dials just so it'll drive faster, looking like shit whilst it does so : That's the exact opposite situation to the one you described - taking advantage of that superior noise floor. Yeah, the noise floor of a CD is far lower but again this is one of the aspects of mastering to the destination format. Take advantage of what you have to get the best possible master for that format. Intentions vary of course however in my opinion, brickwalling is offensive to providing a quality product for the listener. Perhaps I am a little long in the tooth, expecting the music I buy to be produced to the highest quality rather than being brickwalled and abused just so it is marginally louder than the next sucky pop song on the radio's rotation.
    I think CD are not compressed when the recording is completely digital. When the recording is analogic (like every record before the end of the 80's), the CD version is not loseless.
    CDs have an enormously coarse format which was decided upon in the late 70s. The technology just wasn't there at the time to go higher in a consumer format so we have been stuck with a legacy format of two channels at 44.1kHz in 16 bit. Amazing back in the day but inadequate now. If you compared a FLAC or 320kbps MP3 ripped from a CD against one ripped from vinyl, you will hear a difference presuming that the vinyl was mastered specifically FOR vinyl. A CD is mastered completely differently to vinyl and more often than not ends up brickwalled to squeeze the most apparent loudness out of the very limited format. Vinyl however tends to be more limited by the physical space available. Two long sides of vinyl are inferior to four short sides. Really, you can't compare the two without an actual understanding of the processes that the original recorded audio goes through to suit the end format. A digital master at 192kHz/64-bit can easily sound better on vinyl that it would on CD. Data compression is completely different to format compression. CDs are often compressed in dynamic range and always in format. An MP3 goes one further and reduces the size of the data, compounding the loss. I might add that Lou Reed would sound like a little less of a dinosaur if he just advocated people ripping their MP3s from vinyl rather than CDs. Don't even get me started on the processes used to "master for itunes" or whatever. An abortion is more likely to leave you with a gleaming useable end product.
    I agree with most points. The difference in vinyl vs CD is however not solely in whether they have received separate mastering, but within the format itself. The bass response for instance gets worse the closer you get to the middle, due to the thinner grooves. It gets harder for the needle to engrave them properly. There's also the matter of distortion introduced which, changes the sound slightly. Older vinyls tend to have less top end response, due to wear. The difference is not just in how they are mastered, but within the limitations of the format itself. Whether higher sample rate (sample. not bitrate) is actually better is, not set in stone. It's debated, for good reasons, because it is theorized that it can introduce distortion on playback, within the audible range.
    Agreed - good points raised. Vinyl is certainly a "living" format as opposed to the cold hard data on a CD. There is much to be said about lossless FLAC et al, hence me raising the fact that a digital rip taken well from vinyl will completely kill that of one taken from the highly rate-and-bitdepth-limited CD format. It merely comes down to the quality of your source. Without sounding flippant, a FLAC file taken from a 64kbps MP3 will of course sound crap. That's not the FLAC format's fault. Much the same thing applies to the CD format in addition to the unkind mastering processes prevalent in CD audio prep. Lou Reed can go shove all of his CDs up his arse also. I have a boxed set of vinyls on the way to me very soon which I fully intend on a session ripping them to lossless FLAC using the best hardware I can muster. The mastering processes specifically for this vinyl set was done to be kind to the source and takes best advantage of the format. Importantly this will produce a first play rip of superior quality to that on the original CD release. The vinyl will then go to storage as an heirloom item. I respect analogue and know its time and place when it comes to situations where digital has its advantages. One or the other? That's just a stupid question ; Lou Reed can go **** off about digital formats. He certainly isn't the authority on these things. If he wants to release his work in 192kHz/64-bit format, I won't buy that either. It would however be a welcome format for many of the other albums I love. In the meantime, "archival quality" vinyl rips provide an excellent compromise.
    I think after his collaboration with Metallica he has no room to talk about newer music being bad or sounding bad. That was by far the worst thing i have heard, and if he thought that was good. #smfh
    You can't complain about mp3 if you don't even bother to search for high quality rips (or get the CD and rip it yourself properly). Getting a good setup for records is expensive. It's worth it in the end but it's not something everyone wants to, or can, go through. Someone of Lou Reed's popularity could easily self-distribute their music. If you let Apple take all your profits that's really your own problem.
    Look at all you lemmings, jealously coddling your MP3s, too dumb to realize they sound like shit, too ignorant to seek out lossless formats, too cheap to buy actual CDs, Vinyl, or hi-res digital, and too lazy to care.
    Missile Tank
    in my view he's right. If you record a track in a studio Situation, the track-size is about 2-5gb big. After converting to wave the track will jzst have about 40mb size. which is a gigantic lost! The Resulting mp3 has only 6mb left from his original state. So there is a poor quality on mp3 which is noticable in comparison to vinyl. If you ever have the Chance to listen to your favourite song on vinyl, you will understand his opinion.
    You are mourning over data which was a) losslessy compressed meaning NO original data was lost at all (think of .zip files) b) audio data which is NOT audible by human ear. Most people can't find the difference between a 128 kbps and 320 kbps audio file given they were compressed with the same encoder. Now, there are people who have been proven to be able to see more colors than the average person, but a similar finding for hearing ability has not been found as far as I know. Having frequencies as high as 40 kHz, if you have a 88.2 kHz sampling rate for example, is undeniably useless. It will only strain your equipment without you actually hearing anything more. For similar reasons, 16 bit is plenty for non-studio purposes. It's a common misconception to associate file size with sound quality. These do not even potentially correlate. On the other hand, as already explained, vinyl is technically the inferior format outside from specific mixes for vinyl. I understand if you prefer vinyl to CD, but that's because you prefer the traits of vinyl (crackling and numerous other issues) whereas CD contains the more accurate presentation of the music.
    haha Well, I can understand you are biased against vinyl however you shouldn't write it off. Same as I wouldn't write off a 128kbps lossy format....really efficient live streaming for example! You're right in that the "2-5GB" data quantity quoted would not make a difference. After mixing down in the digital domain prior to even considering making it audible as analogue via speakers/cans that soon drops down to the range of a few hundred MB at the most. Sampling rate does just have importance on what we hear - it is also the fidelity of the digital to analogue conversion process. A shitty DAC converting a 44.1kHz bitstream to analogue might just mash it up, introducing artifacts through intermodulation distortion, aliasing, etc. A higher rate greatly improves this by lowering the amount of interpolation and mathematical jiggery pokery.
    Unless it's recorded on analogue it's not a great deal better. The real reason to buy vinyl these days is just because it's more unique than a download or CD that we can just get for free anyway, when playing through the same speakers the quality isn't a great deal better for albums recorded digitally.. The way a record sounds better usually comes down to the stereo you bought for it, along with the fact that you have to set it up and give more attentiveness than you would an mp3
    I believe that loseless formats such as FLACs should hit the market, sure they are much bigger but the quality is on par with a CD if not better. MP3 at 320kbps still suck compered to other formats and I think we should just evolve to improve the sound quality and not care about the Itunes store.
    Now that the media-less music-genie is out of the bottle we have the opportunity to go beyond the limitations of the CD: 44,1khz, 16 Bit. We could have 96kHz/24Bit mp3 (or even lossless). As long as nobody demands it, though, nobody will offer it. Hey Apple! Think of it as a reason to sell all new devices! "New iPhone now with HighMarketingBlatherSoundFoo!"
    So you're saying that MP3s sound terrible, Mr Reed. Weren't you the one that sung on Lulu?
    Lol Natures
    It's mostly a placebo kind of effect. You want to believe that the vinyl sounds better, so in your head, it does.
    Vinyl does sound better. FLAC is pretty damn good though if you have decent enough speakers. but low grade mp3s... they're terrible.
    to be honest, if it's not a high quality mp3 file then I won't listen to it. I prefer raw audio to horribly compressed stuff
    Seriously? No Velvet Underground fans around here? I don't really like the music he made post-Transformer, but you really REALLY can't slag the guy's music if you haven't heard anything by The Velvet Underground. He was a ground-breaking pioneer and one of the greatest writers of his time. Show some respect.
    I have a record player, I use streaming services, CDs, and MP3's. It doesn't matter to me what format it's delivered on, and i'm not going to moan about any of them. MP3's are great. Maybe Mr Reed should write some decent music, and not rely on some songs he wrote 40 years ago to make him money.
    I'm sorry Lou Reed, but if you think putting "Lulu" on vinyl will make it sound better then you are dead wrong.
    He's right. I'd don't know why everyone is getting so defensive over MP3s. Are you related to one or something? Also, you're ignorant if you don't appreciate his music. You don't have to like it; just appreciate it for what it is.
    Sure, Lou. Let's destroy all the technology developed in the last 40 years to allow us to listen to your music anywhere we want, rather than sitting at home with a gigantic machine that plays music and not go anywhere. There are other groups with the same mentality of taking everyone back to the stone age - they're called Al Qaeda.
    Meh, some people get really pissy about vinyl vs mp3, analog versus digital. I couldn't give a stuff. Personally I like being able to carry my whole collection round on something the size of a pack of cards - I can never decide what I want to listen to and the convenience of being able to listen to a huge variety of music with minimal fuss is a massive winner for me. But I appreciate that some audiophiles are really bothered by it. Meh. Lou Reed talks bollocks anyway.
    1. This is why I have a Spotify subscription to try before I buy the actual CD. 2. itunes mp3s are noticeably lossy... that is why you make sure you can get a lossless minimum for proper listening at home. I just do 320 vbr AAC on the ipod (it's not like you're going to tell the difference using an ipod vs. proper hifi gear.)
    it depends ... I would like to have a vinyl player at home, but I really like fact that I can take my mp3s on my phone anywhere I go.
    Buying vinyl anymore is useless because most bands don't create separate mixes for vinyl, so in the end you just get what sounds like a nice CD. It doesn't help that it's digital either. Bottom line, if you buy vinyl for the quality superiority, if it isn't recorded in analog, it's not likely to sound any better.
    You know with all the bullshit that is being produced these days its may as well be digital. The instruments are mainly regurgitated digital drum, sythns, etc.tracks with crappy vocals.
    Lou Reed is just pissed that he isnt relevant anymore (like he ever really was) MP3s sound perfectly fine hes just a crabby old man