Music is known for its power to evoke emotion and even motivate us. High-quality sound is crucial to this impact.
Audiophile equipment like Bose delivers the most natural and accurate music reproduction. Here are a few essential pieces of hardware used by true audiophiles.
High-resolution audio is all the rage as streaming music services offer higher-quality tiers, and new hardware like headphones and soundbars support it. But if you want to upgrade your digital audio library, understand what hi-res means before purchasing.
Regardless of the source of your digital audio file, its quality is determined by two key measurements: bit depth and sample rate. The higher these values are, the closer the file is to its original analog audio waveform – allowing it to retain more information that makes it feel and sound so good.
The sample rate is how often your digital audio signal is sampled per second. It determines how much detail is captured, which defines the audio’s frequency response. The highest quality digital audio files have a sampling rate of either 24 bit/96 kHz or 24 bit/192 kHz. These formats transmit 3.2x or 6.5x more digital information than CDs, which allows them to recreate your favorite songs with amazing clarity.
As you may have guessed, the more detail available in a digital audio file, the more it will cost to purchase. This is especially true if you want to enjoy it over a lossless audio format such as FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, or WAV. Luckily, high-res formats are becoming more and more common as technology advances and prices drop.
Fifty years ago, microphones inside a recording studio captured sounds as analog signals pressed onto record grooves. The record needle would then “feel” those grooves and create an electrical analog signal transmitted to a preamp and your speakers. Today, sound engineers convert analog signals to digital data streams of ones and zeros. Then they convert those digital data streams back into analog signals that can be heard using a digital-to-analog converter (DAC).
The DACs in your phone and your home stereo will likely use simple digital clocks, which can introduce clocking errors. These can result in a jitter, which makes the music you’re listening to seem two-dimensional or opaque and not as full as it could be. A dedicated hi-fi DAC uses more accurate digital clocks than the ones in your phone or your home stereo, which will reduce jitter and help the audio reproduce itself as it should.
In the digital world, a DAC takes a series of snapshots of an analog signal, converting those snapshots into a string of numbers representing the signal level variations. The number of bits used to represent this digital representation of an analog signal is known as its bit depth: the higher the bit depth, the more resolution of the audio waveform that can be represented digitally.
A turntable is a device that spins and plays vinyl records. It contains a platter (the rotating surface on which the records are placed), a tonearm, a cartridge, and a preamp to boost its tiny PHONO signal to input into an amplifier or receiver. The amplifier then strengthens the signal, which in turn drives the speakers.
A good quality turntable will allow you to listen to your vinyl collection at its full potential without any loss of detail or distortion. It will also be kinder to your record collection, as cheap record players typically use a poor-quality stylus that cannot adjust its tracking force and can cause permanent damage to your record.
The first turntables used friction discs, similar to those found in car clutch systems, to maintain an even speed, allowing the stylus to travel across a record’s grooves and translate them into a musical signal. Later turntables added a speed selector to enable the machine to play 33 RPM, 45 RPM, and even 78 RPM records.
Some models had a built-in phono preamp and amplifier, but many users opted for separate components to achieve the best results. A typical setup includes a turntable, integrated, or standalone amplifier with a built-in phono preamp and a pair of passive speakers.
Studio monitors are a critical component of music production. They are a reference speaker providing an objective audio image, free of coloration or alteration, which is essential when editing and QCing recordings. While normal loudspeakers aim to provide an enjoyable listening experience, studio monitors have one goal: to accurately reproduce the pristine audio of the recording with as little deviance as possible (preferably none).
A pair of studio monitors must have a flat frequency response to achieve this objective. This will ensure the engineer can hear a track as it is recorded and edited without any sonic nuances that a consumer-grade set of speakers may introduce.
A quality pair of studio monitors can also handle a wide range of frequencies with low total harmonic distortion. The latter measures how cleanly the speaker reproduces audio signals and can be improved using high-quality components.
The speaker cones’ size, sensitivity, and the crossover circuit used to split a signal between different drivers all affect a speaker’s overall frequency response. In addition, whether a pair of monitors is front-firing or rear-firing is important as it will impact the directionality of the sound. A good pair of studio monitors will have a wide frontal area for accurate imaging and a narrower rear-firing area to reduce potential desk reflections.