Two years ago about this time I wrote about KOTO's live, real-time broadcast of the Telluride Festival. In 2011 the bit rate was a whopping 20 Kbps, which is slightly better than a Dixie Cup and a string. I ended my blog by writing, "I know that community radio stations such as KOTO have tiny budgets, but KOTO really needs to use a higher bit rate for their Internet streaming. Heck, even 64 Kbps would at least be listenable..."
Well, it's time to eat some words. This year's Telluride broadcast was at 64 Kbps, and guess what, most of it was even worse sounding than 20 Kbps was in 2011! How was that possible? Easy. Merely add a big dose of harmonic distortion on every loud passage so every dynamic peak sounds as if it's happening inside a giant bowl of Kellogg's Rice Krispies.
Early Saturday afternoon, Sarah Watson's live set was so groady sounding that I had to give up listening. Later in the afternoon I tried tuning in again, and while the noise and distortion were lower than earlier in the day, the amusical crap factor was still well above my personal limit for enjoyability. Sunday's set by The Infamous Stringdusters was equally bad, if not worse, with drop outs added to the list of sonic woes.
Several times during the weekend I logged back into KOTO, and after finding the distortion still seriously impinging upon the music I switched over to a 256 Kbps audio feed from Broadwave.MP3 just to confirm that my computer audio system wasn't broken. Wow. So that's what music over the Internet is supposed to sound like...and then back to the grit and grime that made up most of KOTO's feed. Well, at least they don't have to worry about anyone copying, ripping, and reissuing their live broadcasts. Even a pirate would find the KOTO feed beneath contempt.
Briefly, ever so briefly, KOTO delivered on the promise of a live broadcast. Fortunately for Hot Rize fans, KOTO finally got their sonic act together for Hot Rize's late Sunday afternoon set. Bryan Sutton's vintage Martin D-28 sounded glorious, as did Wendell Merchentile's Gibson Super 400. Sure the overall level was a bit low, but at least the sound was clean, sans IM and harmonic distortion. After Hot Rize KOTO replayed Yonder Mountain Stringband's late Saturday night set. Once again, the sound regressed into grit, grunge, and generally high levels of sonic nastiness, and I turned it off.
I hope that by next year's festival KOTO finds a way to solve their technical problems so they can deliver a listenable feed. The Telluride Bluegrass Festival deserves better...