No audio format is perfect. Whether you’re recording to tape, vinyl or CD, there’s going to have to be some rounding off somewhere, and a little bit of detail is going to get lost. In almost every case, increase to sound quality comes at the expense of playing time.
The 12″ 45rpm record sounds better than the 12″ 33rpm record, but it doesn’t hold as much music.
If you want tape to record at higher fidelity, you simply run it through the machine at twice the speed.
If CDs held the 16-channel, 24-bit, 96khz session files with which many recordings begin, they’d hold less than three minutes of music. Mix that down to two tracks, and they’d still only last for 23 minutes.
In the case of digital formats, the reduced file size (and longer playing time) is normally achieved by simply throwing away data – no attempt is made to compress the files in a way that conserves the audio quality in a smaller size. That’s because the very high fidelity formats are only used during the production process, where speed of access is valued above ease of storage.
It’s only at the very end of the process, when the files are made smaller again for download, that we do anything differently: the compression used to create MP3 and AAC files conserves much of the original sound quality in a smaller package, at the expense of processing power. There is some loss of quality, but it’s nowhere near as bad as if we just scaled down the files again.
When people tell you that you should only listen to music in “lossless” formats, remember that they’ve drawn an arbitrary line in the sand, and by the time you get to where they’re standing, most of the loss has already happened.
If you want to hear what a performance really sounds like, go to a concert. Anything else is going to involve some sort of compromise. I won’t try to stop you obsessing about your speaker cables, but let’s not pretend that this is about the music.