High Definition Audio

I am not sure I would describe myself as an audiophile. I am a music fan. I am not a music snob. Well, maybe just a little. About a year ago something made me curious about sticking my toe into the water that is high definition audio. I treaded slowly in and have come to a handful of conclusions that may be helpful to others.

1. Lossless is good enough. Most people simply do not have the ear for anything more. It is not like moving from regular television to HDTV in my experience. And if you do not have the hardware, forget about songs with a 5,000 bit rate (kilobits per second or kbps) that cost $30 to but one album.

2. Hardware is key. Invest in an awesome pair of non trendy headphones. Buy the best pair you can afford. I bought a pair of Bowers & Wilkins P7. They are amazing. There are better pairs out there but that is the best I was willing to even consider and I agonized over spending that much money on headphones for over six months.

3. Like with breakfast cereal, you get what you pay for, but not always. I actually think that trendy headphones are sold like snake oil. Just a gut feeling. High end however is high end, with established brands sans celebrity spokespeople.

4. Invest in a digital to analog converter (DAC). Here you do not need to buy the most expensive DAC you can afford. Put that towards your headphones. But make no mistake. You DO want a DAC. It levels your experience up at least as much as the headphones do. The brand Alpen makes a few different FiiO DAC models. I chose a relatively inexpensive portable device the FiiO E17 that doubles as a amplifier. Works great with my iMac where I listen to my lossless files at a bit rate around 1,000 kbps and on my iPhone where I stream music from the Rdio application at a bit rate of 320 kbps. If you are keeping score, iTunes songs are typically 128 to 256.

In conclusion, I have listened to pieces of music a hundred times and with this setup heard instruments that I didn’t even know where in the arrangement before. That trigged one really big smile. Ear to ear, pun intended. Happy listening!


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