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Some Digital Music Sounds Bad

Not All Digital Music Files are Created Equal….Many Offer Poor Sound The Best Audio Comes From the Best Source Material Whether you’re ripping your own CD library or acquiring downloads from online music sites iTunes, choosing the best music file format and import settings determine the sound quality of the playback performance. Unfortunately, digital music files have become synonymous with low bit rate, inferior sounding MP3 or AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) downloads. MP3 and AAC are less than ideal compression file formats that permanently throw away most of the data in the original music file…sometimes as much as 90%!

Fortunately not all digital music files are created equal. It’s never really just 1’s and 0’s. For example, iTunes is capable of supporting lossless compressed and uncompressed music files as large as 32-bit/384kHz. Regretfully the mediocre 128kbps AAC files are the popular choice at Apple’s iTunes store. So remember to check and see if your download is available in 192kbps or even 320kbps which offer audibly better sound. High-resolution digital music files with greater bit depths and higher sampling rates can be downloaded as either uncompressed files or files with lossless compression.

HDtracks is one site that not only offers uncompressed 16-bit/44.1kHz downloads, it houses an ever growing collection of high resolution downloads at up to 24-bit/192kHz. In addition, artists like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have offered uncompressed and high-resolution downloads direct from their own websites. Uncompressed or lossless-compressed high-resolution digital music files sound dramatically better than compressed MP3 or AAC files. So if you have a choice in downloads, opt for the highest data rate/bit depth and the least compression you can get and your ears will thank you.

When ripping your own CDs to your library you’ll have more control. In iTunes you can choose higher bit rate MP3 and AAC (192kbps or 320kbps) for your music, or you can choose to rip and store your music using an uncompressed audio format such as AIFF or a lossless compression format such as Apple Lossless, each of which is the qualitative equivalent of the Compact Disc. As you’ll learn, metadata like song titles, album art and other convenience features can be downloaded from the Internet and directly through iTunes, J. River, and other music library management and playback suites. Metadata is a big-time enhancement to the convenience of using computer audio for music library management, but not all file formats support it. Next month we’ll give a rundown on prevalent lossless/uncompressed file formats, their respective strengths and weaknesses, and how you can make your digital music sound better.

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