Audio Quality

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We've lived with CDs since the mid-80s, and the sound has been just fine for the huge majority of us. Arguably, their vinyl predecessor had some sonic advantages, such as a smoother sound, but much of the difference might be blamed on the new, clearer medium showing up poor audio engineering. Also, the audio convertors in cheaper early CD players often sounded harsh. Even the cheapest modern players sound far smoother than the best of the first generation.

Since 2000, things have got better and worse. Both surround and stereo sound became available on DVD-type disks with a higher 'sampling rate' than CDs. This makes for a clearer sound, but needs a special player. In typical manner, there was a market-fought skirmish before Sony’s SACD, which can be played on all contemporary DVD players, came out on top. Sales are minimal, although they do sound pretty good.

CD imageAt the other quality end, mp3 files sound much muddier than CDs but are acceptable and have proliferated because they are typically a tenth of the file size and it's easy to swap and acquire them. In the late 90s, the AAC, or m4a format appeared, which has noticeably higher sound quality for the same file size. When ripping for iPods, it's best to use AAC at 256kbs, twice the typical of 128kbs, which compresses the file to about a fifth of the CD size but with a dramatic increase in clarity and punch. There's a very noticeable improvement in quality.

Around here, we recommend that you buy our music on CD, since it is often cheaper (even including shipping) than buying the equivalent download. We don't do the 'one good track sells the album' trick. However, you can buy single downloads if you prefer. See our Shopping pages for the options. Where we stream others’ proprietary audio, we use an embedded Flash player. We have to do this so that you can't download audio for which we don't have the rights to offer, or we'd get seriously yelled at. Where we own the copyright, we offer an AAC/m4a file for instant download.

After living with compressed audio for a while, CD sound can really blow you away, with more powerful bass, much crisper definition and better presence. As if the sun just came out again. If you're obsessive, you could look for the newest disks in the new formats, but around here, we are content with the sound from our CDs.  It’s worth mentioning for the technically ambitious that if you rip from your CDs at CD quality (WAV), and playback through iTunes and a good digital-to-analog converter, it sounds better than the original CD.  We think this is due to error correction now being unnecessary – you aren’t reading a file from a whirling disk on the fly, you’re transferring a computer file.

When downloading files from us, please choose the m4a option. Just about all players will cope with it. If you have trouble, go to Apple and download the player for your Windows or Macintosh computer. For site-specific details of how to enjoy and process our music, go to our Musical Options page.

Contents
In suggested reading order (links are provided between pages)

Musical Options
Audio Quality
Audio Notes: Mono and Stereo
Surround Sound: An Introduction

Home Albums Artists Contact Downloads Help Links New Shopping Words

We encourage shopping:
Why our CD prices are so low
What you get in packaging
Why CDs sound better
Why you get almost instant satisfaction: wait just three days for REAL quality
We give away HUGE chunks of music so you can REALLY check it out

Grandma's Goodbye, mixes from the track on The Contessa's Party The Shirts, Only The Dead Know Brooklyn Thorne: The Contessa's Party Lene Lovich: Shadows and Dust Sprawl
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Sprawl Albums at the Stereo Society Raven Cry Tomorrow Thorne: Dancing With B
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