Streaming Music 101

Many, many, years ago a guy by the name of Thomas Edison patented a wax cylinder device that actually recorded and played back sound, this quickly evolved into a circular lacquer flat disc that morphed over time into the vinyl record. Along the way many magnetic tape recording devices came and went, the reel to reel. the 8 track, the cassette. All of these devices have faded into museum pieces, with the exception of vinyl records, which are enjoying a bit of a renaissance, why? Because they sound good! A well pressed record on a better than average turntable can still provide fantastic sound. But they have to be handled with care and eventually friction and fingerprints will prevail and you are left with a ticky muddled version of the original, not to mention the “skips”! Digital recording emerged to the consumer market in the early 1980’s (although digital recording had been around since before world war 2). The Compact Disc all but killed competing audio formats with it’s almost instant access and portability – but man, did those early CD players ever sound “BAD”! As the technology developed elaborate filtering systems were introduced to try and smooth out the sound but because of the size of the disc itself and the recording and manufacturing technology of the day the CD was destined to be usurped by advances in technology that allowed for higher sample rates and longer digital words. Enter the MP3. Early digital devices used for audio playback didn’t have much storage capacity and extra storage was very expensive so in order to get more music stored for playback a compromise was taken in that the early MP3’s were far from the quality of the original. Today we have extremely fast processors, storage is cheap – it’s time we stopped listening to compromised renditions of our favourite tunes! If you are listening to MP3 as your music file format (even at 320kbs) you need to change. MP3 reduces the size of the music file by using compression and “throwing away” portions of the original that the algorithm in the compressor that it mathematically calculates that we can’t hear. This is called “lossy” compression, and as the name implies, you are losing information. There are now, and have been for some time, “lossless” compression systems (flac, apple lossless or aac, monkey audio etc.) that simply squish the file size without compromising the original content. There are difficulties with these file types however as all but Apple lossless are NOT supported by ITunes and most portable music players and smartphones! Enter higher bit rate: MP3 and most lossless encoders work at 16 bit and a 44.1khz sample rate. To put it very simplistically 16 bit is the maximum length of a descriptive sentence and 44.1khz is the number of “snapshots” or samples taken every second during the recording and playback process. Well, this is 20 year old technology! High bit rate is where it’s at now. You can now download music that is sampled at 24 bit (the sentences are more descriptive) and sample rates of 196kbs (more snapshots every second) so a much better and accurate sampling of the original. Neil Young actually put his money where his ears are and stated that with today’s technology it’s time for the public to hear what the musician that created the music hears. He just launched the new PONO player. A high bit music player that supports this better audio format with a state of the art digital to analog convertor. A lot of the new smartphones are incorporating better audio processors that can play back these higher bit rate files, but sorry to say, not ITunes! A lot of, in fact most of today’s computers have the ability to play back these music files simply by installing a compatible music player on your computer. I use Foobar and VLC media player. Both programs are free on the Windows platform, which is the right price for me. There are also similar programs available for the Mac. ITunes won’t do it. If you like music check it out, your ears will thank you. Search “HD music” on the web.  And remember, Wired 1 Consulting has some great systems to make sure that you hear every detail in these high definition recordings! Call us today.

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