As pro audio equipment has evolved over the last few decades, many will argue the quality of our music listening experience has declined. In the wake of corrupted digital files, mass-produced hardware and shorter attention spans, listening to music has become more about quantity than quality.
If you are serious about the music you listen to, it’s important to get an accurate, sonically balanced and crisp representation of your favorite songs. Whether you are listening to a classic recording of a Mozart string quartet or the latest sonic assault from an experimental noise band, being aware of the shortcomings of your sound sources, sound equipment and listening environment can help bring back the magic that surrounds your favorite music. Here are five steps to improving your listening experience.
Vinyl Sound Sources
Granted, you may not own a turntable, but if you have ever listened to a vinyl record you may remember how the sound was completely richer, realer and entirely more gratifying than listening to an MP3 or CD. In actuality, most CDs and MP3s only retain 15 percent of the audio information from the original master tracks. As Neil Young has revealed, even the digital technology innovator Steve Jobs preferred listening to vinyl records over their digital counterparts. What you can do for your sound system is to either invest in a turntable, a USB turntable, or seek out direct-from-vinyl rips of the music you usually listen to in a purely digital format. While you are thinking about making this investment, keep in mind the need to keep vinyls clean. As soon as they get any sort of dirt or dust on them, the sound quality quickly deteriorates.
High Quality Headphones
Even if you are listening to high-quality sound sources with professional audio systems, it will mean nothing if you are using a sub-par pair of headphones. As most cheap headphones and inner-ear headphones cut out entire blocks from the total frequency range of your sound source, you can be missing out on entire sections of an ensemble when listening through low-quality headphones. If you invest in higher quality or even reference quality headphones, you can be assured to reach an entirely different world of sound with accurate imaging, depth-of-field, flat response and greatly enhanced sonic clarity. While high quality headphones are an investment, the investment is well worth it, as you will find once you start using the more expensive headphones. Suddenly, you will be able to hear the music and you will realize it was money well spent. In addition, you will not have to have the volume turned as high, so the good headphone could also help to preserve your hearing.
Bit Rates and Lossless Formats
When downloading digital audio, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the bit-rate of your files. The higher the sampling rate of a digital file, the better the quality. Generally, most digital files downloaded from places like iTunes or Amazon are in 256kpbs MP3 format. These formata are degraded sound formats. Although they are much larger in size, you can also find lossless audio formats such as FLAC files. By insisting on the highest bit-rates and the proper file types, you can greatly increase your overall listening experience.
Again, similar to headphones, different speakers offer vastly different frequency response rates. Listening through most laptop speakers, for instance, you will probably lose most, if not all of the low-end frequencies of songs you play. On the other hand, professional audio systems will give you the full spectrum of sound in a clear and balanced way. A quick way to find out how your speaker system stacks up against the original sound source is to look up the frequency response chart for your speakers. This will tell you what parts of the sonic spectrum are being depleted or exaggerated by your speakers and what you might need to do to balance the sound spectrum. If you want to experience your music to the fullest, you will need to invest in a good pair of speakers that allows you to hear the entire range of frequencies. A song that is supposed to be played with a lot of bass will not completely different and not as good with laptop speakers as it would with high-end speakers.
Online Music Streaming Services
Besides increasing the quality of your hardware and your sound source material, it’s also important to expand your musical horizons and expose yourself to new artists and genres. Thankfully, with the wide selection of online music databases such as Rhapsody and Spotify, you can access millions of different songs, albums and artists. These services usually offer free or trial versions so you can see if the quality and selection of the music they offer is up to your standards. Exposing yourself to a variety of music will also help improve your music experience. You could even discover your next favorite band.
Following these steps is sure to improve your overall experience listening to music. While some investments are required in order to improve the overall quality, the investment will be well worth it with the improvement in overall musical quality.