Headphone Listening and Music Download Guide

Image Headphone Listening and Music Download Guide

 

OPTIMIZE your music downloads and tune headphone sound in 3 easy steps.

  1. High Resolution Music: What You Need To Know.
  2. Downloads: Best way to download & store music on iPods, iPads, Macbooks & PCs
  3. Optimize: Tune your headphones, earphones & custom In Ear Monitors (IEM's).  


1. High Resolution Music: What You Need To Know

Hi res music is made by digitally sampling an analog audio or digital source or "master".  Not all "masters" or original audio sources are the same. No matter how much digital magic exists today, limitations of the master remain and can't be improved or resolved.

For example, Wikipedia notes that some Super Audio CD's can be lower quality than traditional CD's if the "audio encoded into one of these file formats is not necessarily high-resolution audio... {for example} a WAV file could contain audio sampled at 11,025 Hz and quantized at eight bits, which is lower quality than CD-DA".  So, if this is what the SACD is derived from, it simply cannot sound better than the original even when its upsampled, as the original information or bits aren't there to begin with.  

Music is similar to visual art. We can restore a Picasso, but we can't add to or edit the master's original. Details created THEN can be preserved and "restored" now with care and lots of Q-tips. This post is about making your music downloads sound awesome. 

Audio signals with a bit depth and sampling frequency that is greater than 96kHz/24bit is a general definition of high resolution (hi res) music but there is no single standard definition that exists today. As a point of reference, original CD recordings are standardized in the music industry as “44.1kHz/16bit” therefore, hi res music should sound better than cd recordings or do they?  That is a question that everyone should be asking when they listen with headphones today so they can have the best sound quality.

An abundance of audio format choices exist today and this can be confusing, difficult to decipher and compare for headphone lovers & music listeners so we are here to help decipher this information for you. 

Audio formats available today include:

 

Audio Formats Lossy or Lossless Definitions
 MP3 MP3 is an audio coding format developed by Apple that uses lossy data compression to shorten download times & storage space required.
 WAV The Waveform Audio File Format captures music as uncompressed, linear Pulse Code Modulation or PCM and is a mainstay of computer audio. example: Compact Disc (CD's)
 OGG 

The Ogg bitstream format is a free, open container lossy audio format without copyright restrictions created for efficient & manipulation of high resolution digital media streaming & storage.

 AAC Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) is also a lossy format developed by Apple to be the successor of the MP3.  It is said to achieve better sound than MP3 at similar bit rates.
 APE Monkey's Audio (APE) is a free lossless compression audio format used mostly by Windows & Linus users. 
DSD (DFF)

Direct-Stream Digital (DFF) is the professional, uncompressed 1-bit format used in recording and mastering Super Audio CDs (SACDs) and the trademarked name used by Sony and Philips for their system of digitally recreating audible signals.

DSD (DSF)

Direct Stream Digital-DSF represents a PC-friendly version of 1-bit DSD used to burn files onto DVD.

AIFF 

The Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF) is an uncompressed, linear PCM audio format developed by Apple from 8kHz ~ 192kHz (8/16/24bits per Sample).

 

FLAC

The Free Lossless Audio Codec saves space by compressing files while maintaining 100% bit-for-bit accuracy during playback.

ALAC

The Apple Lossless Audio Codec also maintains 100% bit-for-bit accuracy while saving storage space.

Moon Audio does ONE thing.
We make audio cables in our Cary, North Carolina HQ. Many sound engineers and musicians you love use our cables because they hear the music they created. Our Silver, Black and Blue Dragon audio cables shorten distance from their guitars, voices, instruments, and mixing boards to your ears. Our Headphone Listening Guide shares tips, tricks and secrets so music you love sounds better. Our award winning audio cables help you listen to headphones and earphones like a pro and our Download Guide shares how to download music like a pro too.

Analog To Digital: Not All Masters or Conversions Are Created Equal

Image Audio Mastering differences

Audio engineers created "analog" recordings that were pressed into "long playing" records or LPs. Webster defines analog as, "of or relating to a device or process in which data is represented by physical quantities that change continuously". Today we record digitally. Webster says "digital" is of or relating to information stored in the form of numbers 0 and 1.

Analog audio sources were recorded on analog master tapes. As CD's brought the digital revolution to town digital music files for CD's were created from analog master tapes. Analog masters were typically recorded at 16 by 44.1kHz (expressed 16/44.1kHz). As the digital revolution marched on higher resolutions such as 24/96 and 24/192 became available.

There are two ways to create higher resolution recordings. Either hi res recordings are re-recorded in the higher resolution or higher resolutions are crafted or interpolated from original analog files. This "crafting is called "upsampling". Upsampling has the "Picasso Problem". No technology can create data not there to begin with on the original 16 bit formats. Upsampling can distort new hi res recordings. Sometimes new high res recordings sound worse than the original 16/44.1kHz files.

2. Save, Download & Catalog Music: at Optimal Sound Quality:

Control Your Source

Control your Source.

Great sound always starts with the original high quality source of the music or recording. Starting with an original CD or High Res Download is the best way to ensure your source is able to output the highest quality sound for your music listening. Standard CD's are a great place to begin if you want your digital sources to have optimium sound. We buy CD's to support the arts, musicians, and to RIP the CD to our digital music catalog to ensure our digital music is also uncompressed quality.

We also buy LP's for home listening because there is so much more "music" when listening via a home turntable audio setup. It's MAGICAL music to our ears and digital music simply cannot replaced lp listening. Many vinyl lovers, are still LP purists today and a recent vinyl resurgence in "record sales growing by more than 50% in 2014 to hit more than a million" says Newsweek. A recent article named "Why Vinyl has made a Comeback", published in April 2015 via Newsweek says 2014 had the highest rate of record sales since 1996.

In summary, always control your audio source by starting with an uncompressed audio file such as a CD, hi res download or lp. Next, share this audio recording by uploading it to your digital music libraries.

Image Download Once Share Everywhere

Download Once, Share Everywhere.

High definition downloads can be shared across your portable idevices, office & home computers, once you save them to a digital music catalog.

Nuances, details and music as the recording artist intended is not heard when listening via compressed audio files. We passionately hear the sound difference via headphones & audio devices every day. We test our handcrafted dragon audio cables daily via headphones and once you HEAR the hi res sound difference, you can't go back.

Have your cd's on itunes?   Don't want to carry CD's with you?

We HEAR you. Optimizing headphone sound via hi res portable dacs, amps & media players is our specialty at Moon Audio. The quality of your audio sound always leads back to the music source, cables & devices paired with your headphones too.

Best Listening Experience

Rip or Download in Hi Res.

RIP your CD to a high quality digital music software such as JRiver, Media Monkey, or Audirvana and catalog it in one of the LOSSLESS audio formats. Our favorite lossless audio formats for optimal sound quality include: WAV, FLAC, or AIFF.

There are a multitude of hi res music download websites these days. A few solely operate in the United States but a few of the smaller, hi res download sites, like Blue Coast Records, do have rights to sell outside the U.S. HD Tracks is another choice and they recently just received distribution rights outside of the U.S. too.  We also like to buy from Beatport (great for DJ tracks & harder to find tracks), iTrax (natively recorded music), Acoustic Sounds and many more.

Save Audio Files in Lossless.

Remember, first control the source or it will control your listening quality.

1. WAV -  The best lossless format for sound quality closest to the original recording and the most common WAV audio format is uncompressed audio in the linear pulse code modulation (LPCM) format.

  • Wav is a perfect copy of a cd audio file.
  • Always our 1st choice when ripping a CD to a digital catalog.

2. FLAC - Flac has slight compression and the ability to tag with metadata and album cover art.

  • An identical copy of the original audio recording with slight compression.
  • It is a lossless compressed audio file. 
  • We do not recommend FLAC as we prefer the WAV lossless format.

3. AIFF - is "an uncompressed or lossless audio file format standard used for storing sound data developed by Apple Inc. in 1988." 

  • AIFF is not our preference in sound quality.
  • We don't use it in our personal digital music collection.  
  • Many people do like AIFF on their Mac or Apple computers.

4. Don't use lossy audio formats when you download such as MP3, AAC, WMA if you want best sound quality.  

Wikipedia says "MP3, Vorbis, Musepack, AAC, ATRAC, WMA lossy are all considered lossy audio file formats." b

 

Organize Your Music with Digital Catalog Software.

Organizing your music with a high quality Digital Catalog Software helps optimize your music file management & provides great options for storage, downloading, sharing & streaming.

JRiver Media Center

JRiver Media Center is our top choice for many reasons including the ease of adding your cd's to the software, the superb sound quality and high quality graphic interface.  Find, sort, add & organize your music collection by Artist, Album, Files, Genres, Panes, 3D Albums, and Connected Media Partner Sites plus play videos all in one software.  

Customer support is excellent too for JRiver. In online forums, the CEO & executives answer questions directly on updates or changes needed or recently added to the software. We've added some Pros & Cons below.

Pros:

  • Simple, Intuitive User Interface (for basic use)
  • Excellent Graphics, includes Album Artwork
  • Bit Perfect Sound Quality
  • Comptabile with Mac & Windows
  • Sorting by Artist, Album, Files, Genres, & more
  • Can Bitstream DSD to high end DACs
  • Includes optional audiophile-grade crossfeed for headphones
  • Metadata can be edited
  • Real Time DSD output conversion
  • Links to HD Tracks (one of their Connected Media Partners)

Cons:

  • Cannot connect to directly to Apple idevices
  • Disabling unused features can be a little tricky
  • Advanced settings difficult for average user
  • Learning Curve for software is a bit involved
  • Cannot rip CD's on Mac yet

A JRiver interface screen looks like this.  The albums are sorted by Genre.

Image JRiver Screen Shot Genres


Media Monkey 

Media Monkey is another software option for organizing & storage of your digital media collection.  It has an intuitive user interface with friendly graphics, navigations and a windows style format. However, it does depend on iTunes as its core processor so it can experience technical issues with each iTunes software update.  With multiple iTunes updates per year, there can be a lag time on fixing the issues in Media Monkey which can lead to some frustration (when syncing with Apple idevices only). Unless you can stand to live without syncing your music on your Apple idevices for a few days, you might want to use another software in addition to Media Monkey.

Pros:

  • Intuitive, User Interface
  • Easy to rip & catalog your music
  • Works with Apple idevices
  • Album Artwork

Cons:

  • Uses iTunes as its core processor
  • Cannot process DSD or AIFF files

Audirvana 

Audirvana is our choice for software when using on our Macbook or Apple computers. The sound quality is superior and the interface is intuitive, simple to add to, organize & it includes album art too. However, we do not rip CD's on our Macs.  We rip our CD's in Windows (as the only way to rip cd's on a Mac is with iTunes.  iTunes will only sync with Apple idevices so if you want to load music to your Astell & Kern or Calyx M media players, this is not an option. JRiver should be an option in the future for Macs but it is working out the kinks on ripping right now.

Pros:

  • Great sound quality
  • Customization is not possible in a cataloging format

Cons:

  • Interface is too basic
  • Album Artwork is only on the display screen

iTunes 

You cannot tag album artwork to WAV files in iTunes unless that album is sold by iTunes.  Honestly, the newer the download of iTunes software you are using, the least amount of flexibility you have.  iTunes continuously wants to drag you into Apple's world, they strongarm you into their software limitations, etc.  Dragging & dropping music to your idevices is no longer. You can only choose Playlists or an Artist's Entire Collection without creating a complex playlist to do this.  Therefore, we do not use iTunes for adding CD's to our digital music collection since we prefer WAV format. iTunes will also not add album artwork to the digital file and the interface is limited. There are plenty of bugs in the software and with each new release there are kinks to be worked through which causes pain & suffering for those who use it.

Pros:

  • Connect your Apple idevices directly
  • One stop shop for buying & listening to Music & Movies

Cons:

  • Constant updates to the software
  • Bugs with each software release
  • Album Artwork cannot be tagged unless sold on iTunes

In summary, we experience our music collection the most when we can see it, view it, and touch it virtually just like anything we love to feel. We enjoy and like to flip through our digital music catalog with our senses so if we scroll through our music collection with none of the album artwork, it's not the same experience.

In addition, when we see the album artwork, the artist's face or band imagery, it adds to our experience. Let's face it, record companies don't spend thousands of dollars on photographers, artwork, photo shoots, models and clothing without good reason. It enlivens our senses and our emotional experience which is after all, why we are passionate about music and why we LISTEN, isn't it?

Music is so relational, emotional, and it allows us to experience life through our emotions, the nostalgic memories of our first kiss, date, or dance, or the emotions that each song appeals to at the time they capture our heart & wallet. What captures our heart is most important in life, isn't it?  We certainly believe so!

 Bottom Line: Best Digital Music Catalog Choices

1. PC's - JRiver Media Center or Media Monkey.

2. Macs  - JRiver Media Center or Audirvana.

4. Add a High Quality Digital Music or Media Player.

Image High Quality Digital Media Players

Not all Digital Players sound the same.  They have different core engines resulting in different sound qualities. There are many choices on the market today including:

Desktop

Astell & Kern

April Music

Aurender

Bryston

BMC Audio

Calyx

HiFiMan

PS Audio

Portable

Astell & Kern

April Music

Aurender

Bryston

BMC Audio

Calyx

HiFiMan

PS Audio


 

Optimize your Full Size Headphones


1. Buy a high quality headphone.

2. Add a high quality headphone cable.

3. Use a reputable company to Hack your headphone with lots of expertise.

4. See our Hack Your Headphone guide to determine if you need a CUSTOM or DIY HACK.


Custom HACK option is done in Cary, NC by Moon Audio with one of our in house skilled headphone mavens.  

DIY HACK is available with our detachable upgrade headphone cables on many well known headphone brands. 


a "Audio Interchange File Format." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Aug. 2014. Web. 04 Sept. 2014.

b "Audio File Format." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 09 Apr. 2014. Web. 17 Sept. 2014.

"High-Efficiency Advanced Audio Coding." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Sept. 2014. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.


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