1. High-Resolution Music: What You Need To Know

High-resolution music is made by digitally sampling 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 it's upsampled, as the original information/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 (CDs)
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 know and love use our cables because they hear the music they created. Our Silver, Black, Blue, and Bronze Dragon audio cables shorten the distance from their guitars, voices, instruments, and mixing boards to your ears. Our Headphone Listening Guide shares tips, tricks, and secrets so the 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.


 

MUSIC STREAMING GUIDE

Music streaming services are the latest craze in the audio world. Why spend money on CDs, records, digital downloads or singles when you can sign up for a monthly subscription to get access to thousands upon thousands of songs and albums? Like TV and network streaming apps, there's so many out there now that it can be a little daunting trying to figure out which service is best for you.

Streaming Music is a huge opportunity to gain market share for so many companies these days that it has left the consumer with loads of new choices. These choices include Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, Beats Music, Amazon Music, BeatPort, SoundCloud and many, many more.

HiRes Audio

 

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 optimum 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 replace 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, high-resolution download or lp.

NOTE: Moon Audio does not condone the illegal downloading of copyrighted material that you do not own. FBI Anti-Piracy Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

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 are 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 CDs 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 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 a 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 for 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
  • Compatible 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 the 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
  • Only available for Windows

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 CDs 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
  • MQA Support

Cons:

  • The 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 CDs 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
  • Manual workarounds

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. Media players come in various shapes and sizes, both for portable and desktop applications. Do you enjoy sitting at home and listening to your music? Then perhaps a desktop player is right for your needs. On the road or like to listen to music when you're on the go? Portable DAPs are for you. Here at Moon Audio, we carry a large variety of media players to fit every need. Below we'll include some of our top brands and some suggestions including some very popular media players for all budgets.


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

 

 

Bryston BDP-3

The Bryston BDP-3 is a bit-perfect dedicated player for high resolution digital audio files. Employing a highly-customized Linux OS optimized to provide the highest quality audio performance, the BDP-3 will play high-resolution audio files (up to PCM 384kHz / 32 bit and DSD128) from digital storage devices without compromise.

Aurender A10

The Aurender A10 is a music server and player with a high performance DAC or digital-to-analog converter. With 4TB of internal hard disk drive and one 120GB solid-state drive cache for playback, the A10 is the perfect solution for those replacing CD Players. Enjoy 35 million lossless CD quality music tracks with the world's best sounding Music Server. 

Matrix Audio Element X

The flagship model of the element series, element X combines years of development and tuning experience with the industry-leading ESS ES9038PRO DAC chip to push the hardware to its full potential. The element series include MQA technology, which enables you to play back MQA audio files and streams, delivering the sound of the original master recording.

AK SP1000M

Constantly striving to improve the audio experience, Astell&Kern attempted to match the audio quality of the SP1000 in a new product. Determined not to compromise sound quality while making a smaller, more accessible product, they ultimately developed the second product in the A&ultima line.

Sony NW-WM1Z

Experience a symphony of detail with the Signature Series Walkman®; combining sophisticated sound technology with beautifully crafted, high-grade materials and class-leading usability. Building upon a wealth of experience in digital amp technology, Sony developed the NW-WM1Z with detailed acoustics and natural sound qualities, resulting in a unique and truly pleasurable listening experience.

AK KANN Cube

KANN CUBE is the second model of the KANN line, which focuses on high fidelity with powerful output and low noise. The newly designed powerful amplifier and audio circuitry have been strategically implemented to offer a very low noise floor, even with its massive power output, making it an Audio Powerhouse capable of driving the most power-hungry headphones.


 

Optimize your Full-Size Headphones

 

1. Buy a high-quality headphone.

The materials in high-end headphones are going to make a sonic difference and upgrade than your run-of-the-mill cheaper headphones. The general rule of thumb in the audio world is you typically get what you pay for. Materials, design, cables, and the connections will all have an impact on the fidelity of your music. 

2. Add a high-quality headphone cable.

The stock cables that come with most headphones are not that great. They are afterthoughts for most companies. They put all their effort and time into making amazing headphones for sure, but the cable is treated as a cosmetic feature rather than the integral component of sonic fidelity that it actually is. That is why it is important for you to upgrade your cable. Like your headphones, the materials used in your cable should also be premium to have excellent isolation from outside noise and quality components to make sure your music can sound the absolute best it can.

3. Use a reputable company to Hack Your Headphone with lots of expertise.

Here at Moon Audio, we specialize in creating custom cable solutions for your gear; only using the best materials and quality components and connectors. We have a multitude of options to choose from regarding cables, connectors, and more and can make any cable to your exact specifications. 

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.

5. Burn-In Time

Just like a pair of new shoes, your headphones and cables also need some time to get worn in so that they can present your music optimally. Straight out of the factory, the drivers in your headphones or in-ear monitors are a little "stiff" and usually needs some time to flex. Similarly, cables need time in order to get broken-in and sound the way it's meant to. Each of our cables has a different "break-in time" suggestion, for instance, the Silver Dragon V3 Cable has an estimated break-in time of 80 hours. See each cable product listing for the estimated break-in time. We suggest the best way to do this is to plug your headphones and/or cable to your source/streaming service at a low volume overnight (for a couple of nights in a row). After the initial break-in period, you'll be surprised at how much the overall fidelity has improved! 


 


 

Hack Your Headphones

 

HACK YOUR WAY TO BETTER PERFORMANCE

Looking to get dramatically better sound out of your old cans? Whether you go the DIY route or turn to one of our experts, hacking your headphones is a smart way to achieve the sound signature you desire.

BE CLOSER TO THE MUSIC THAN EVER BEFORE

Gear shouldn’t change the music, it should let it be. This is the thinking behind the industry's most sought after cables. Handcrafted from premium silver and copper strands, Dragon puts less in the signal path, so you can get more out of the listening experience. The result is an emotional connection to music not available — until now.


 

Connection Guide



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.

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