Good quality sound can make a lot difference to the music you are hearing. Best sound quality does not simply depend on the file format you are using. It highly depends on the audio system whether it is able to reproduce the high quality sound. Even your headphones play a vital role in this transmission of quality to your ears.
What Determines Quality?
Speaking from a technical perspective, the best possible quality of an audio file recorded in a CD is at a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz. Anything above this can in turn make the quality lower, so ripping it to 48 KHz is useless.
Music studios record their music at a digital sampling rate of 24 bits or 124 Khz. This is termed as high resolution audio. This is important for people in the music industry because quality is a big concern when recording music. They spend thousands of dollars on equipment that ensure greater quality.
These so called high resolution audios are very big in size and an album can be as large as 2 GB. And to hear this sound you will need an appropriate DAC (Digital to Audio Convertor).
FYI: Sample Rates are number of samples recorded per second while converting analog waves to digital signals.
File Formats & Quality of Sound
Let’s look at some formats of music files and the impact they have on quality. For music quality to be retained fully you will need a lossless format.
- Lossless Formats
- AIFF & WAV: Both of these formats are uncompressed. This means they are exact copies of the original music file. These two are basically of the same quality but the way of storing data is different. AIFF was designed by Apple and is more common in Apple’s own devices. WAV is more commonplace. They do take up a lot of space because they are uncompressed. These are better when you are a music editor.
- FLAC: Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) is very popular choice in the world of music. The thing that distinguishes FLAC from WAV and AIFF is that it is compressed. Since it is a lossless format, it helps retain the original quality of the sound despite the compression. It is basically more space efficient and thus is better for ordinary use where quality is still desirable. It is also free to use so anyone can use it. It is not supported by iOS though.
- Apple Lossless: It is also termed as ALAC and is pretty similar to FLAC. It is lossless yet compressed, probably Apple’s answer to FLAC. However, the compression is not as efficient in reducing space as FLAC. It is supported by iTunes and iOS. If you use iTunes, ALAC can serve you with high quality music.
- APE: It is a highly compressed file which is most space efficient of all. You will find that despite the compression it retains quality just as good as FLAC or ALAC. But the problem is it is not compatible with many players as other types of files. Since they are highly compressed, the processor needs to work even harder to decode these files. They are not the recommended format but if you are low on space, this might work for you.
- Lossy Formats
Regular listeners often use this format and this helps in saving your space but in return quality is compromised. Some of the most common formats are:
- MP3: MPEG Audio Layer III or MP3 is probably the most commonly used format. It has become synonymous with the music we download. It is the most compatible format but lacks quality but it more than makes up for it with space efficiency.
- AAC: Advanced Audio Coding is similar to Mp3 but a tad bit efficient. These files take even lesser space but deliver the same kind of quality as an mp3 audio. Apple’s iTunes made these popular and helped them get widely compatible.
- WMA: Windows Media Audio is the audio format by Microsoft, very much like Mp3 or AAC. It is not well supported by some devices and does not have any marked advantages over other kind of formats.
- Ogg Vorbis: This format is an open source format. It can serve as an alternative to Mp3 or AAC but its drawback is that it is not constrained by patents. Since it is not as popular as MP3 or AAC, not many players will support it.
What Difference Does Sound quality Make?
Theoretically, two sounds one with higher quality and the other will lower quality will be different. But in reality the difference is quite subtle. You will only notice it on hearing with great attention. That being said, the need for quality is still necessary especially in cases of production. The music producers need to understand the music and each and every component of it in order to edit it and make it better.
Such high resolution audios are generally quite pricey. But if you acquire the taste for it you will find it worth the money. And to receive this high precision, you will also need high-end speakers or best headphones capable of bringing out the true quality. You can even play high resolution audio with your regular computer by using an external digital convertor.
The best quality of music is determined by a lot of factors.
- First and foremost the original recording needs to be of high quality. If the quality was bad to begin with, there is no way you can make it better in further stages.
- Then the file formats can impact the quality. Lossless formats like FLAC or WAV are good if you want to retain quality. Also these formats are recommended if you will be converting the file to other files. Converting it from lossy format to another lossy format will bring down the quality.
- Your sound system needs the capability to deliver this quality. If your system is incapable of producing high resolution sound, then the sound will never be of high definition. Good quality music can make a difference.
And to understand that you first need to hear high quality music in order to distinguish it from typical run of the mill audios.