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How To Enjoy More and Better Music for Less Cost

Posted 1st April 2013 by Joseph Riden

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I used to run out of music to listen to. That’s hard to believe because now my musical horizons extend to practical infinity thanks to the computer audio trend. Recent developments have created sweeping vistas of HD (high definition) listening available for under $50 US per month. That’s about the cost of 2 studio master downloads depending on where you find them. Or 4 CD’s.

A typical human lifespan is not long enough to listen to more than a fraction what’s available these days. To put this in perspective, I’ll be 100 years old before my streaming music costs match what I spent on my previous (and last) media-dependent hi-fi system.

However, many listeners who are accustomed to downloading iTunes songs may be unaware of what they are missing. Some behave like that’s all there is to know when there are now so many other appealing ways to access digital music. Truth be known, you simply don’t have to download everything you listen to any more or pay $1 or more per track. Typical iTunes tracks don’t compare well to HD anyway. It’s like comparing HD video to older, low resolutions. Once you catch on to higher quality and broader choices for a fraction of the cost, you want that all the time.

You can have it all the time -- by simply “renting” tens of millions of tracks instead of ripping CDs and downloading so many purchased music files that must be cataloged and stored. Now you can listen to a stream of music data and not so much to your personal music database. Music has escaped and it wants to meet you personally.

Streaming digital services are now the leading edge of music distribution. Earlier on, streaming simply emulated radio. Up-to-date sources offer many varied ways to enjoy musical files, even offline. If you haven’t tried one or more of them and you love music, you owe it to yourself to add streaming sources to your mix. In this article, I give only a couple examples but you can easily find the streams you prefer, whatever your preferences, by sampling the many popular sources here on DreamStreaming. I listen mostly to two music streams but you may need or want more or different ones.

MOG.com has a very large collection spanning all genres. It has a simple, easy interface. MOG offers great player apps for portable devices and an excellent browser-based player. It is excellent for finding a lot of new music I love so I’m constantly adding new artists to my favorites. This stream barely makes it into the lower end of the HD category with 320 Kbps CBR Mp3 files.* On quality playback systems, they sound far superior to typical, lower bit rate Mp3 iTunes downloads. MOG costs only $9.00 USD per month for all the bells and whistles.

There’s a bonus – save some MOG music on your mobile devices for offline and on-the-go listening. You can play your iPad’s saved music, for example, even through your home music system, when your web connection is too busy to play without breaks.

Qobuz.com, from France, is more regionalized yet the selection is excellent and it also finds new music. This service makes higher fidelity lossless files available for streaming, starting at 16/44.1 true CD quality.** It offers a large number of upper HD resolution files that sound like live performances on great gear. Although I don’t have the bandwidth to stream 16/44.1 files without breaks, I can purchase and download higher quality files from this source and conveniently save them to my computer, even as I sleep, or during breaks from music listening.

A Qobuz subscription will give you access to download higher quality music files and enable you to listen constantly all month for not much more than the cost of just one downloaded HD album. OK, so the site is all in French language. Don’t get all Nationalist on me, now. Just use Google Translate to make a cheat sheet. Or check my web site in a couple weeks for a free one iHi-Fi.com.)

This service can also save your HD stream on your computer’s hard drive as you play music. You can set the disk space limit. There’s no purchase-based “downloading” in the save mode. As long as you’re subscribed, you have a growing collection of music you like stored for times when your web connection is too crowded to stream without breaks or when you want to take your music on the road. When you can save a stream that’s being played, downloading (in the iTunes sense of the word) becomes far less attractive, though avoiding broken-up music is certainly an argument in favor of buying some downloads.

If you haven’t given HD streaming a try why not test-drive it for free? Linn Music offers three interesting channels of radio streaming on their web site to showcase their large selection of HD downloads. You can listen to their unlimited radio stream at 320 Kbps CBR.* Downloads are higher-res up to studio master quality (24/192.)**

HD streaming audio has revolutionized music listening. All things considered, my own pleasure factor in music listening has tripled in the last 3 years. I’ve lost some undesirable things as much improvement has been gained -- less cost, less effort, less fiddling around, less equipment, but greater listening pleasure and more time for listening. I’m continually discovering more great new music. I have less desire or need for paid downloading. I collect less but enjoy listening more. Music that I no longer enjoy doesn’t hang around on my hard drives.

I can’t recommend tryouts of streaming sources and computer audio enough. Even though traditional downloading still remains an important part of the sourcing mix, both radio-style and on-demand*** listening are powerful additions to your musical world.

I’m listening to Andrea Bocelli even now as I complete this writing. The power of a full orchestra still awes and inspires me. The gold is still there in his voice. As usual with Bocelli, my tears are also streaming along with the music. But it’s the good kind of tears.

Reference Notes on music Quality and Streaming vs. Downloading:

* “320 Kbps CBR Mp3” is a music file quality designation. It means “320,000 bits per second, continuous bit rate, in media player three format.” Mp3 is a “lossy” format that cuts off all data that lies above or below the theoretical limits of human auditory perception.

Even discerning listeners consider this quality level the lower edge of HD or true high fidelity. For many typical Internet connections (1 Mb DSL, for example,) this is about the limit of file quality for streaming in real time. However, you can purchase-download any higher quality that’s available.

** “16/44.1” means 16 bit data at 44.1 kHz. This is the CD-quality music format designation. It reflects a resolution and a level of HD quality a step above any Mp3. As the numbers rise from here, the sound resolution of HD increases accordingly and so does the cost. The maximum quality these days is 24/192 or 24 bit data at 192 kHz. That’s “reference grade” and the resolution of typical studio masters.

The wider data word (24 bits) and the higher frequencies (like 96 or 192 KHz) lend finer the granularity to the musical recording to impart higher quality. Higher resolutions mean generally more realistic sound but streaming higher HD resolution is impossible without a blazing Internet hookup. The trade-off between speed and quality means many listeners must download higher quality HD files to enjoy superb sound.

If your hearing is in average or better shape, you will definitely notice the HD difference. If you’re an audiophile (someone who loves superb musical sound reproduction) you will prefer and seek the more realistic sound experience and possibly shun lesser HD resolutions and low to mid-fidelity gear.

*** On-demand means you hear what you request if they have it. Streaming in the strictest sense means you get what the station serves up. Many sources these days are mixed and combine downloading with the other two.

© 2013 Joseph Riden. All Rights reserved worldwide.

Contact Joseph at http://iHi-Fi.com/

Posted in: Guest Bloggers

Comments

On 1st Apr 2013, said:

Good job, Rowan and Michael. Thanks for posting my article. I look forward to providing more like this and I invite listeners and readers to come by my blog -- http://iHi-Fi.com/

I have another key article about computer audio hardware posted there and one linked that provides insights about music appreciation and the hottest new trend in the audiophile world --computer audio.

Musically Yours,

Joseph Riden

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