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Old 04-15-2013, 11:26 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default A small guide on how to listen to high quality music spending very little money.

Hi everybody, I’ve been in this forum for a few months now and I’ve been reading about how a lot of people listen to music using their laptop speakers.
From what I also understood some of these folks aren’t too happy about the sound quality of their music, but can’t do much about it, because any alternative would be an expensive investment.
This isn’t strictly true, you can listen to high quality music, or at least music that is of a much higher definition, with an investment of around $100 dollars.
I know this because I’m an electronic engineer and I’ve been working in the audio world for a few years now.
So here is my small guide to help whoever wants to hear music with good sound quality but has a very small budget.

Part 1. The three don’ts

1: Don’t listen/buy/download mp3s.
I won’t get technical on this, but simply put mp3s sound terrible. A lot of you will probably have 128 kbps mp3s on your computer and the quality of those files is miserable. If you can’t hear the difference between Cd quality and mp3s it is probably because you’re using crappy speakers or because you’re listening to music with a cell phone. From now on it is best that you focus on lossless codecs.
Lossless codecs keeps the quality of the music intact.
The most famous lossless codec is called Flac. You can find songs and albums encoded to Flac very easily on the internet.
The only downside is that Flac files are big, but memory is cheap nowadays, so the size shouldn’t concern you.
Sometimes you will also find very big flac files labeled as “24/96” or Flacs from a vinyl source, they are not necessary, a regular cd quality flac file will do.Speaking of cds I also recommend you to rip your cds to flac in case you need portability.

2: Don’t listen/buy /download remastered albums.
Again I won’t get to technical, but suffice to say that most remastered albums are sonically sabotaged to try to make them sound good on crappy equipment like laptops or compact stereos. Everything sounds so loud and sometimes unwanted distortion is present, it’s a disgrace.
There are no dynamics on remastered albums, because without quiet you can’t appreciate loud. As I said, there are some exceptions like for very old records or for jazz and classical music, but when we are dealing with rock/pop/rap and albums recorded in the last 25 years it’s best to get the original editions.

3: Don’t follow the crowd on audio equipment.
Following fashion trends in audio equipment is a terrible, terrible idea, you pay a lot of cash and in return get junk. They might look good, they might be nice to hold in your hand but sound wise these products are essentially a waste of wires and components. Here are some quick examples.
IPods are garbage.
Skullcandy headphones are garbage.
Beats by Dr Dre is garbage.
This is not an opinion, it’s a technical fact.

Part 2
Spending the $100 dollars.
So now that you have your Flacs that you got from unremasterd albums we need some decent equipment. If you keep listening to music on your laptop, even with high quality files you won’t hear much of a difference. With only 100 dollars here’s what you could do.
Memory Card:
$25 dollars are needed for a 32 GB microSD memory card. Flac files are big, therefore you need adequate memory.
Headphones:
$45 dollars are needed to buy The Klipsch S4 headphones.
Now if you ask me if these are the best headphones available, my answer will be: Hell No! Not even close! However for our budget they are great and they are far better than anything from Dr Dre or Skullcandy. Gone is the artificial bass that overwhelms everything like when listening to cheaper headphones. You will hear instead a more realistic reproduction, with highs, mids and bass in a better proportion. This is fundamental for a pleasurable listening experience.
The portable Media player.
You will need $30 dollars to purchase the Sandisk Sansa Clip+.
Without being too technical I must say the sound quality of this small player is exceptional for the price, far better than any product by Apple. Nothing sounds too flat or exaggerated when using this device. I would have a hard time recommending a better portable player for even three times the price of a Sandisk. It also has an expandable memory (for your 32 GB memory card) and most important it can read Flacs which is fundamental.

Part 3: Final Note.
So there you go, listening to lossless audio with the S4s and the Sansa Clip will give you a quality experience far superior to what most people will get by listening to music on their laptop speakers or with their cheap compact stereos.
It’s a far stretch from an audiophile system, but after a couple of weeks of listening to music with your $100 system, switch back for a second and listen to some 128kbps mp3s on your laptop speakers and you will be surprised regarding the difference of quality .

P.S.
I already know that audiophiles will scoff at my advice, but as I previously stated , I wrote this guide mainly for teenagers or people with a very small budget. It would have been ridiculous to recommend McIntosh tube amps or Sonus Faber speakers to my target audience.
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Last edited by edwardc77; 04-15-2013 at 11:31 AM.
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Old 04-15-2013, 08:01 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Nice to see someone else trying to steer todays kids and "trendy" individuals in a reasonable musical direction! I would however put FLAC up a bit higher in the audiophile range and would suggest baby steps, run MOG through a better set up or system than BPC From wal-mart, hit the used market for say a Cowan player or alt source for player unit (Alot of people like myself and some friends that use the Sansa dont particularly care to interface with it when being used to Smartphones, touchscreens etc) I would spend the money on a reasonable DAC if using laptop, etc etc
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Old 04-15-2013, 09:02 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by XtremeEclectic View Post
Nice to see someone else trying to steer todays kids and "trendy" individuals in a reasonable musical direction! I would however put FLAC up a bit higher in the audiophile range and would suggest baby steps, run MOG through a better set up or system than BPC From wal-mart, hit the used market for say a Cowan player or alt source for player unit (Alot of people like myself and some friends that use the Sansa dont particularly care to interface with it when being used to Smartphones, touchscreens etc) I would spend the money on a reasonable DAC if using laptop, etc etc
All good ideas... I wanted to keep the budget very low at 100 dollars as an incentive to try my little experiment. By using up $45 for the headphones I really didn't have a lot of choices left. With a bigger budget I would've surely recommended a used DAC.
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Old 04-15-2013, 09:06 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Wait, why are Ipods bad? The earbuds are horrid but it doesn't mean the device itself is bad.
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Old 04-15-2013, 09:21 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Unfortunately Ipods use cheap internal components,the Dac (a fundamental part that defines the player's quality) isn't that great. It can't read Flac,although it can read Alac which is apple's lossless format. It is way overpriced in any case.
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Old 04-15-2013, 09:45 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by edwardc77 View Post
Unfortunately Ipods use cheap internal components,the Dac (a fundamental part that defines the player's quality) isn't that great. It can't read Flac,although it can read Alac which is apple's lossless format. It is way overpriced in any case.
What Apple product isn't? lol.

I have an iPhone, and all the files on it are Apple lossless and I have duplicates of those on my external drive which are FLACs. I'm not a huge audiophile though, so minute differences in audio quality don't really bother me.

The iPod/iPhone does so much more than play music though (just like any other smartphone), so I guess that's a redeeming quality.
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Old 04-15-2013, 09:53 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Well yes,you can do a lot of nice things with an iPhone,it's just not that great for music!
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Old 04-15-2013, 09:58 PM   #8 (permalink)
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It's fine for me. To each their own!
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Old 04-15-2013, 10:25 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by edwardc77 View Post
Hi everybody, Iíve been in this forum for a few months now and Iíve been reading about how a lot of people listen to music using their laptop speakers.
From what I also understood some of these folks arenít too happy about the sound quality of their music, but canít do much about it, because any alternative would be an expensive investment.
This isnít strictly true, you can listen to high quality music, or at least music that is of a much higher definition, with an investment of around $100 dollars.
I know this because Iím an electronic engineer and Iíve been working in the audio world for a few years now.
So here is my small guide to help whoever wants to hear music with good sound quality but has a very small budget.

Part 1. The three doníts

1: Donít listen/buy/download mp3s.
I wonít get technical on this, but simply put mp3s sound terrible. A lot of you will probably have 128 kbps mp3s on your computer and the quality of those files is miserable. If you canít hear the difference between Cd quality and mp3s it is probably because youíre using crappy speakers or because youíre listening to music with a cell phone. From now on it is best that you focus on lossless codecs.
Lossless codecs keeps the quality of the music intact.
The most famous lossless codec is called Flac. You can find songs and albums encoded to Flac very easily on the internet.
The only downside is that Flac files are big, but memory is cheap nowadays, so the size shouldnít concern you.
Sometimes you will also find very big flac files labeled as ď24/96Ē or Flacs from a vinyl source, they are not necessary, a regular cd quality flac file will do.Speaking of cds I also recommend you to rip your cds to flac in case you need portability.

2: Donít listen/buy /download remastered albums.
Again I wonít get to technical, but suffice to say that most remastered albums are sonically sabotaged to try to make them sound good on crappy equipment like laptops or compact stereos. Everything sounds so loud and sometimes unwanted distortion is present, itís a disgrace.
There are no dynamics on remastered albums, because without quiet you canít appreciate loud. As I said, there are some exceptions like for very old records or for jazz and classical music, but when we are dealing with rock/pop/rap and albums recorded in the last 25 years itís best to get the original editions.

3: Donít follow the crowd on audio equipment.
Following fashion trends in audio equipment is a terrible, terrible idea, you pay a lot of cash and in return get junk. They might look good, they might be nice to hold in your hand but sound wise these products are essentially a waste of wires and components. Here are some quick examples.
IPods are garbage.
Skullcandy headphones are garbage.
Beats by Dr Dre is garbage.
This is not an opinion, itís a technical fact.

Part 2
Spending the $100 dollars.
So now that you have your Flacs that you got from unremasterd albums we need some decent equipment. If you keep listening to music on your laptop, even with high quality files you wonít hear much of a difference. With only 100 dollars hereís what you could do.
Memory Card:
$25 dollars are needed for a 32 GB microSD memory card. Flac files are big, therefore you need adequate memory.
Headphones:
$45 dollars are needed to buy The Klipsch S4 headphones.
Now if you ask me if these are the best headphones available, my answer will be: Hell No! Not even close! However for our budget they are great and they are far better than anything from Dr Dre or Skullcandy. Gone is the artificial bass that overwhelms everything like when listening to cheaper headphones. You will hear instead a more realistic reproduction, with highs, mids and bass in a better proportion. This is fundamental for a pleasurable listening experience.
The portable Media player.
You will need $30 dollars to purchase the Sandisk Sansa Clip+.
Without being too technical I must say the sound quality of this small player is exceptional for the price, far better than any product by Apple. Nothing sounds too flat or exaggerated when using this device. I would have a hard time recommending a better portable player for even three times the price of a Sandisk. It also has an expandable memory (for your 32 GB memory card) and most important it can read Flacs which is fundamental.

Part 3: Final Note.
So there you go, listening to lossless audio with the S4s and the Sansa Clip will give you a quality experience far superior to what most people will get by listening to music on their laptop speakers or with their cheap compact stereos.
Itís a far stretch from an audiophile system, but after a couple of weeks of listening to music with your $100 system, switch back for a second and listen to some 128kbps mp3s on your laptop speakers and you will be surprised regarding the difference of quality .

P.S.
I already know that audiophiles will scoff at my advice, but as I previously stated , I wrote this guide mainly for teenagers or people with a very small budget. It would have been ridiculous to recommend McIntosh tube amps or Sonus Faber speakers to my target audience.
Hmmm...

Ok.

First off, no matter the bitrate of their MP3s or otherwise, if they're listening on laptop speakers, they'll still be highly limited by the range of frequencies those speakers can produce. If listening solely via that method, bitrate is not really going to matter much... so I guess the rest of this will be assuming that the listener has listening equipment that can accurately translate what's going on in their audio.

1. You're assuming that everyone buying MP3s are buying 128 kbps versions. This would be a colossal mistake. 320 kbps is generally the bitrate any digital download is now offering for sale. While there is a measure of compression involved in any MP3 compression, I challenge you to offer up a 320 kbps vs. WAV format of the same material in a blind test and see if anyone can tell the difference. If you can, I challenge you to be challenged to the same test where you don't know the outcome.
I also challenge you to coming up with a self-test that compares a flac version of an original WAV file compared to a 320 kbps MP3 file and tell the difference over multiple iterations. Please let us know how that works out for you.

2. While you may be correct in some cases, you are not correct in all. And until you can provide evidence that you've heard every remastered album ever existing, I will assume your statement is based on the bad experience you've perceived yourself to have, while completely disregarding any positive experiences you've chosen to forget. Not to mention all the experiences you've never had.

3. While I agree that consumer-level listening equipment tends to be over-hyped, sonically inflated garbage, I think it's more than fallacious to assume that because your listening goals are your own, that everyone else's should be the same. Some folks just like to hear their music extra bassy and extra screechy. If that wasn't the case, every listening solution out there would present a dead flat response. The job as audio engineers is not to put them down for their preferences. The job is to make the audio they listen to translate well no matter what their preferences.

Part 2:

I don't know why you're recommending flash memory cards. There is a such thing as hard drives. This is completely capable of storing audio files no matter what format or bitrate, and probably has more capacity than a flash card. The memory card recommendation you made is completely asinine.

Secondly, you mention a certain pair of headphones as situationally optimum. If you knew anything about stereo field and true reproduction of such, you wouldn't be recommending headphones at all. But since you're obviously talking about a portable solution, I will let this slide, even though your solution is largely dictated by your own preference, since if you were the authoritative individual on the subject, I'd probably have read your publication, or you would have posted it.

Finally, you mention a specific player to obtain optimal results for this portable solution, but I've yet to see any evidence provided by you that one player can translate a standard audio file better than the next. When you're ready with that dissertation, let me know.

Part 3:

You basically provided an arbitrary, expensive solution to listening to music on laptop speakers. If anyone follows your advice, they will notice an increase in sound quality via the mere fact that they are no longer listening to the music on laptop speakers. I could probably achieve the same effect, unnoticable by them to any degree, simply offering a headphone solution plugged straight into their laptop.
What you THINK you're doing, is incorrect.
And I THINK that if you're unwilling to acknowledge that fact, then you should keep your absurd and unnecessary directives to yourself, so you don't have people making unnecessary purchases just to adhere to your perspective of how audio should be enjoyed.

Thanks, and have a nice day.
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Old 04-16-2013, 12:45 AM   #10 (permalink)
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I would suggest avoiding Apple headphones, they're not good quality. How ever if you pop into JBHiFi there are plenty of good quality headphones out there.
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