What to use for a distributed audio system is an important decision these days. If you love music the ability to have your music flow with you everywhere in your home, out on the patio and pool, is important when you are building or renovating your home. The wrong choice can be a decision that you may have to live with for a very long time so making the right decision as to what devices to use is of paramount importance.
Wireless technologies for audio distribution have been around now for quite some time, but what is the best choice?
The quality of your digital source material is the most important factor in determining the quality of your whole home audio. If your music collection is encoded in MP3 format at bit rates lower than 320 mega bits per second the music that your hear is going to be a pale comparison of the original recording. In the early days of digital audio recording storage space was very expensive, but today digital storage is cheap, I can remember buying the first thumb drive storage devices for over $200 and only getting 256 Mb of storage. That $200 today can buy you upwards of 2 Terra Bytes of storage! So, you want to use the highest sample rate you can for your music if you want to use MP3. The advantage of MP3 is that it is almost universally readable by digital music players no matter what manufacturer you use, they will play on Apples, PC’s and Android devices. The downside is that MP3 is what is called “lossy” compression. What this means is that the compression algorithm (the recorder, for simplicity, throws away, or “loses” information from the original music that it doesn’t think that we can hear)! Thus the term “lossy” or lost format – once this information is gone you can’t get it back again – PERIOD. A far better way to record digitally is by using “lossless” technologies. Now these are much bigger files because they haven’t thrown any of the original music away, they simply compress the file to make it easier to manage. The most popular of these file formats is FLAC but other formats are out there, like Apple AAC lossless, Monkey Audio etc. However, these lossless formats still rely on how well the original recording was made, and guess what, CD is not a great digital recorder! And here’s why… When Compact Disc was developed, jointly by Sony and Phillips, the major consideration was that they wanted a disc that would easily fit in a small portable player (anyone remember the Sony Discman?) and the dashboard of a car. Audiophiles wanted a 12″ disc, so more digital information could be stored on them. Alas, Sony/Phillips won and the result is what we have today, a fuzzy picture of a beautiful thing! Rejoice! CD’s are not the end of the digital music story. When CD was developed good quality digital recorders were either non-existent or ridiculously expensive, so a compromised system was used to record the CD. Compact discs were, and still are, recorded in 16 bit (the length of the digital sentence) and 44.1Khz rate (how many snapshots of the original analog signal are taken every second). The other thing that CD does is cut off the frequency response (the bass and the treble at 20 Hz for the low bass and 20kHz for the highs). They also limit the dynamic range of the recording (the difference between the quietest information on the disc and the loudest) to 90 decibels. Now, you might think that this is a lot of information and that this should be enough to satisfy the golden eared audiophiles amongst us! But we now have the readily available affordable technology to turn that fuzzy snapshot into an indistinguishable copy of the original – so let’s go for it!
Higher sample rates and Neil Young!
OK, Neil Young is an aging icon of Rock, but he does know what a good recording sounds like…cause he was there when the original was played and he knows that what he played during the recording session sounds nothing like the edition rendered on CD! The reason; There is not enough digital information sampled to recreate the original performance. Now, no recording will ever be able to absolutely recreate the live experience of Neil Young rocking out to Rocking In The Free World from a front row seat in concert, but the technology is here today to get us closer to that seat than ever before! Neil Young has even introduced a portable music player that takes advantage of this new technology called the PONO player. https://www.ponomusic.com/ The rest of the industry is now taking note of this increase in sound quality and have started incorporating it into their devices. But NOT SONOS or Apple Airplay or devices that connect via Bluetooth.
You may have diligently taken advantage of the latest digital technology available and downloaded all your music from ITunes in Apple AAC lossless encoding but as soon as you send these pristine music files to the Apple Air system or a SONOS system or over Bluetooth those files get down converted to a Compact Disc sample rate of 16 bit, 44.1kHz for transmission to your system! Unfortunately, until Apple and SONOS incorporate the needed electronics inside their devices and Bluetooth changes the way it transmits you will never hear the benefits of having a better music file to start with! This will require a physical change in the hardware. That’s right, new Apple products and a whole new SONOS system. Android and Windows based systems are already supporting these higher bitrate audio formats and a consortium of companies have formed the Play-Fi group. Here’s a link to Home Theater Review’s take on the system Play-Fi
At Wired 1 Consulting we strive to provide you with the best experience in audio and video. Contact us today for any questions you may have or to have us design and install the system you deserve!
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