Many of us started out drinking whatever wine we could purchase under $5.99. You didn’t care about its origin, the type of grape it was fermented from, or how long it had aged in the bottle. A bottle of wine was a bottle of wine — and to the inexperienced they all went down the same.
Then there was that time you went to a dinner party and enjoyed a $20 bottle of wine. This experience changed your baseline of what wine could taste like and you started to understand which wines you like and which ones you don’t — even if you can’t always articulate why. It just tastes better.
The same is true of music: There’s no “wrong” way to listen, but you can discover new ways to enjoy it more.
Use a High Quality Music Source
Looking to recreate the sensation of listening to your favorite artist live? Start by considering the source of your music because it has a direct impact on the quality of the sound. High-resolution files and vinyl records, for example, hold a great deal of information and are typically the closest to the original recording.
Conversely, compressed files (like MP3s) take up less storage, but also have less information on them. You can never really regain that loss, no matter which system you play it on.
Moving to a higher quality source is one of the most affordable ways to upgrade your listening experience. Here’s a look at some of the options and how they compare:
MP3s — This is the source people are most familiar with. These compressed digital files were the best option at a time when storage was expensive and hardware could be bulky. AAC, the Apple version of the MP3 was what allowed the first generation iPod to store 1,000 songs, right in your pocket.
A similar format is also what you’ll hear on most popular steaming sites, like Pandora. Although MP3s work just fine if you’re out for a jog or listening to background music at work, the process of compression diminishes much of the details that the artists and mixing engineers work so hard to put into a recording.
CD Quality — There’s no question that CDs offer much better sound quality than MP3s. A good mid-resolution option, many of our customers still maintain a CD collection. However, the downside is lack of portability and having to search through your entire CD collection to find the right song.
High-resolution Audio — High-resolution files pick up where MP3s and CDs left off. They have a higher sampling rate than both CDs and MP3s, which means that more samples per second were taken when the original analog sound was converted to digital. The result is greater sound purity.
You could listen to one of your favorite recordings in high-resolution, and although you’ve heard it a thousand times, you’ll discover details that you’ve never heard before.
Now that storage space has become affordable and high bandwidth networks are widely accessible – there is an opportunity to make high-resolution music more widely available. Streaming services, like Tidal have high-resolution options, and it’s likely many others will do the same in the near future.
Vinyl Records — A vinyl record can carry a great deal of information on it, far more than an MP3 or even a CD. Its sound quality is comparable to a high-resolution digital file — and both offer the closest representation of a live musical experience. Which option is best? It’s really a matter of personal preference. We suggest experiencing both and deciding for yourself what you enjoy best.
In digital music, bitrate is the amount of data transferred per second (kbps) and has a direct impact on sound quality.
The Sound System
One of our favorite aspects of our job is getting to share in someone’s first experience listening to high-performance audio. We’ll ask, “What’s your favorite song?” Then we cue it up on one of our high-performance audio systems and they hear sounds that they didn’t before.
“The thing is, it doesn’t require any special training to hear it,” explains Craig Abplanalp, President of Definitve. “The listener hears the difference instantly. Every single time, they are blown away by the details that are in a high resolution recording.”
Which part of the sound system is responsible for bringing this song to life? If you said “speakers,” guess again. Every single thing in the system has an impact on what you hear as a listener — from the brand of speakers to the components to the cables.
Speaker placement heavily influences the sound produced. Although there are digital tools available to measure in-room acoustical response, an experienced professional is your best way to locate the “zone of neutrality” — the area in your room where your speakers no longer fight the dimensions of the room. When this happens, the music effortlessly flows through the room and you achieve the best sound from your music. You’ll be amazed by how the right speaker placement influences the way your favorite songs sound in a room.
Just Keep Listening.
You don’t have to be an audiophile to enjoy music to the fullest, nor do you need an extensive vocabulary to describe the sounds. The goal is to continue to listen to the music you love, but to hear it in a whole new way — with all of the fine details that the original artist intended. Over time, you’ll learn to distinguish the qualities you love — and have a greater understanding of how to amplify them.