To MP3 or Not to MP3? Sound Off

When I first started in this field, there were two mediums of playback-record albums (LPs) and cassettes. No, excuse me–there was another medium that went the way of the dinosaur in less time than you could say diplodocus, and that was the eight-track tape. But regardless, albums and cassettes were both analog. That was about 1980. Sometime towards the end of the 80s, digital recordings began to manifest–first as digital LPs and then as compact discs. The digital controversy in the sound healing community began about then: Were digital recordings as healing and therapeutic as analog recordings?

Some scientists and researchers tried to show that digital was indeed inferior and in fact was the opposite of healing. Digital technology improved. Records became dinosaurs. Cassettes soon disappeared from the scene. The point became moot; we became a digital world. It was either digital or nothing. Digital quality continued to improve. Then, a real bright spot in the sound world appeared–Super Audio–a medium that did not play back sounds sampled at a 44.1K (approximately 22,000 Hz). The reason for this sampling rate chosen for CDs was that since humans can not hear above this 22,000 Hz, any material above this rate was deemed irrelevant (though some speculate that there is important sonic information that we can perceive with our nervous system and energy field that is well above 22,000 Hz.). Super Audio was able to sample music at 64 times the rate of CDs. The implications were astounding for not only listening, but for healing. All those frequencies–the ones we couldn’t hear, but perhaps contained powerful and sacred energy–were present again.

Super Audio required its own playback unit and somehow, it never caught on. While it still exists as a medium for both recording and playback, its presence is negligible. Those who have heard it, know its power. But most never will. Enter the mp3. We are now in the age of “convenient sound,” where wallet size playback units that contain nearly all the music in the world are available. And who wouldn’t want that?

An mp3 file is compressed sound, which is the main reason why you can fit so much music in such a small system as an iPod. Mp3 files are about 1/10 the size of a CD file and achieves this through by reducing the accuracy of certain parts of sound that are deemed beyond the auditory resolution ability of most people. It seems our brains fill in the missing parts in terms of the sound.

It’s an auditory illusion, since the sound isn’t actually there, but most people don’t seem to care. It’s convenient and it’s easy. The question is: Do these parts of sound that are reduced in mp3 files contains important aspects of sound that may have great relevance in terms of the healing and transformational ability of sound? Or does the convenience of being able to access so many different varieties of therapeutic and transformational music outweigh the lower quality of the sound?

Are iPods hazardous to our sound health? Should we celebrate the easy access to the variety of worldly sounds available as mp3 downloads? Does the size of the frequency spectrum matter? Or is there something more that makes sound healing? I’d like to hear from you with regard to your thoughts on this subject.

Jonathan Goldman is an international authority on sound healing and a pioneer in the field of harmonics. He is author of Healing Sounds, Shifting Frequencies, Tantra of Sound (co-authored with his wife Andi), winner of the 2006 Visionary Award for “Best Alternative Health Book” and his latest The 7 Secrets of Sound Healing. He is director of the Sound Healers Association and president of Spirit Music Inc. in Boulder, Colo. Learn more at or

By Jonathan Goldman, Healing Sounds


Rev Zak Z.
Rev Zak Z8 years ago

Eileen, No need to worry about vibrating our bodies or planet apart. But I can empathize with your statement about the overuse (abuse even?) of bass. Bass isn't all bad though. After all, tribal drumming and certain forms of classical music have it in spades. Myself, I happen to like music with a healthy heap of deep vibrant bass, but I like to keep it in balance with the rich melodic trebble.

As for sound quality, there are some real downsides to mp3 compression - First, not all mp3 files are created equal. The bitrate and hence the amount of compression applied varies. Too much compression can lead to some truly grating artifacts. I personally recommend Ogg Vorbis or FLAC (Free lossless audio codec) for compressing audio. The best part is they're both free, and they're good for your karma*. (Your mileage may var when you try to play them on commercial audio players). For portable players, I'd recommend mp3 at a bitrate no lower than 96kbps, preferably 192 or even 256. AAC is even better, but steer clear of wma.

* Open source is good for your karma, and good for the planet.

Donald M.
Donald M.8 years ago

I have to admit that, especially with my hearing loss, I can't tell the difference between compressed and uncompressed audio.

As Lianne points out, though, the technology is improving. Lossless compression formats (such as the Apple Lossless format) are about half the size of a CD file and contain the exact same audio content. Alternately, the MP4 standard (aka AAC) used by Apple provides roughly double the quality of MP3. The iTunes Plus content that Apple now sells is sampled at 256k, rather than the 128k that was the previous standard.

With the capacity of players continuing to double every year or so, perhaps people should start pushing for better quality sound rather then more songs.

Lianne Lavoie
Lianne Lavoie8 years ago

I don't think I've ever noticed a difference in the sound quality, and I'm a musician, but it might be that I just don't have a great musical ear. I have an mp3 player, but I still buy CDs because I don't like not actually owning my music. It just seems weird to pay money to get something downloaded to your computer.

Anywho, since they keep making mp3 players that can hold more and more music, maybe one day they'll be able to hold better quality music, and we'll be able to have all the frequencies of sound even through our tiny headphones.

Caralien S.
Caralien S9 years ago

Music is in itself healing. The smaller size of the MP3s makes it more portable and less frustrating even to get a taste of something which reminds me of people/places/experiences. Even crappy radio and the over-played mix-tapes from my teen to mid-twenties brought me to other places. Having to cart them around as the quality diminished between storage and overplay didn't matter. It was the music with whatever memories I had added to fill in for the quality.

I love the incredible sounds from a great live concert or sound system, but am happy to have a variety of music at my fingertips to get me through the day.

So yes, even mediocre quality can be theraputic. I'm sure my musician friends think otherwise, but it's as with many things--the experts demand X, the end user is happy with X-n, with n being whatever it is that the experts deem necessary but which is not necessarily discernable to most end users.

Michael C.
Past Member 9 years ago

As a professional musician who's in the business of hearing things, I like .wav files much better than mp3 and with the right headphones you can definitely hear the difference. Mp3 is just more portable; not the best sound quality.

Larry S9 years ago

I agree Eileen, good point. I feel loud anything should be restrained in all areas in public, including loud semi-trucks, motorcycles, etc., really pretty much anything that makes a nuisance of itself from the noise it makes.

Eileen R.
Eileen R9 years ago

Since the early 90's bass has become a epidemic, this annoying low frequency noise that invades everyday of my life either blasting from cars or from tv shows or movies. I remember deciding not to go to night clubs because my heart was pounding in my chest. I find this destroys any type of tranquility and relaxation i so badly desire. Since this is a vibration as well as noise why is it so popular? why do are people vibrating their bodies apart? Why are they addicted to this annoyance? I'm totally lost to this as to me it is a hurtful noise that causes pain. I fear that the ways the world is going i may never see peace and quiet again. I wonder what is it doing to our planet, is it slowly vibrating our earth apart? What damages are happening in the name of music?