Music listening at home has been the pastime of many and a serious hobby to a few. The old vinyl records of the past allows a level of realism and aural pleasures that are often obtained only from the finest sound system in the planet. That is because there have been manufacturing and design, compromises that went into them compared to mass produced consumer electronics that are often a bundle of design compromises just to bring the price tags to within reach of the masses.
The vinyls are analog, representing the sound waves as undulations in the spiral grooves tracked by a suitable needle that produce electrical signals for subsequent amplification. Analog reproduction remains the ideal for home playback systems of recorded music. But it’s manufacture leaves a lot of imperfections in sonic quality that has been addressed by the digital medium. Surface noise, rotational wobbles and tracking errors can result in distorted musical signals. The digital medium, however, had its problems during its early years and it’s only during the last decade that CDs have made near-perfect recordings. And with the coming of high resolution digital encoding, products like SACD and DVD-A as well as the new Blu-ray audio tracks, have ushered listeners to a new level of listening enjoyment without the inconveniences, mechanical errors and quality degradations inherent in analog playback systems.
Can the ordinary playback systems distinguish the sound?
For most consumer electronic home entertainment systems, the distinction is often obscured. Only the finest playback systems can deliver the sonic realism of high resolution digital music. The problem with affordable consumer electronics in the audio playback area is that they are all compromises in design and playback fidelity. Often hampered by inadequate power and high noise floors, they mask the delicate nuancescaptured in high resolution encoding. In addition, mass speaker systems are not transparent enough to reproduce those nuances. They are often impaired by poor stereophonic imaging that further obscures the details form where you are listening.
And more importantly, the room acoustics of typical homes just cannot be conducive enough to let speakers deliver the sonics as they were meant to be. More than half the sounds that reach the ear in a typical home have been altered, masked, reversed, attenuated or emphasized by first order reflections coming from the walls and boundaries you see form your listening position. These boundaries are rarely acoustically treated to ensure optimum sound wave propagation from your speakers to your ears. The result is a colored sound that was not in the source to start with.
High resolution digital music is not for everyone. The expense of owning them don’t always equate to listening enjoyment when confronted with mass-grade home playback systems that cannot adequately reveal nuances in a high resolution recording. In fact, for most home playback systems, lossy compression algorhythms in MP3 formats can be nearly indistinguishable for plain CD encoding especially when using higher bit rates in the compression like 320 mbps instead of the usual 128 mbps typically used in MP3 files.
Most people are quite content listening on their MP3 players at home and on the road using portable laptops, cell phones and other mobile gadgets. MP3 music files cost a fraction of high resolution digital disks. But they don’t necessary sound like a fraction. In many cases, you can’t distinguish between.