JML Audio of St. Louis loves music. We are passionate about it. We are the kind of people who can sit and listen to a great-sounding piece of music for hours on end, whether it is live, a home audio system or in a vehicle, but if you gave us a choice of where to listen to recorded music, we would always tell you in a vehicle. There is an intimacy that happens between the driver and the vehicle, and that feeling gets better when you add in a great-sounding car audio system.
The sad reality is many people are listening to low-grade recordings on their car audio systems, so the sound quality suffers immensely. In this article, we will get you up to speed on how you can improve the sound quality of your audio system just by giving it better-sounding digital music.
Recording Quality Varies
First things first, a bad recording will always be a bad recording. Nothing can change that. What we discuss here are at least decent-grade recordings, and how to make sure you are hearing them as closely as possible to the way the sound engineer recorded them.
Let’s go back to the 1980s. The primary sources of your music were radio and cassette tapes. CDs became an option in the mid-’80s, but didn’t really take off in a big way till the ’90s. Normal analog radio is never a good choice if you want to have great-sounding music, since the quality of the musical signal is so poor.
Big Jump In Radio Audio Quality
The good news here is that HD radio – the digital version of AM and FM – sounds a lot better. Each radio station can decide how much musical signal, or bandwidth, they want to use for the main channel that you normally listen to. If they allow plenty of bandwidth, the result can sound similar to a CD in sound quality.
CDs were the dominant way to listen to music for more than two decades. They sounded good and were easy to carry around. Then, in the early 2000s, compressed music began to take off. Now, you may be asking, “What is compressed music?” Great question. It involves using a software program to reduce the digital file size of a song. The concept was to allow portable music players like iPods and MP3 players to be able to store many more songs if the file was smaller. Imagine this scenario;: A CD uses what is known as a WAV file. When that file is compressed, it can be as much as 30 times smaller, allowing lots more music to be stored. Consumers loved being able to walk around with 1,000 songs in their pocket, so it became extremely popular. Unfortunately, though, sound quality suffered.
Higher Quality Digital Music
Now, let’s move forward to 2016. A lot has changed. Storage is cheap – really cheap. A person can buy a 16 g thumb drive for, what seems, pennies and store around 500 uncompressed WAV files on it. Unfortunately, many folks don’t have much of their music library stored on CDs in WAV files. If they do, they have converted them to low-resolution MP3 files or AAC files. If this sounds like you, we highly suggest that you take the time to go back into your music collection and store your music in higher-resolution files. If you have to stay with MP3s, use the 320 kb rate. If you are an Apple person, load the music into your device using Apple Lossless. Your music will take up more space, but it will sound noticeably better.
A Look At Digital Music Streaming Services
- If you are like many people, you love listening to music streamed over the Internet or via satellite. Here is the good and bad about that: Satellite radio is wonderful from a convenience perspective, but is not the best choice for critical listening.
- Internet streaming radio now gives you many choices. On any Internet streaming music service, always select the highest sound quality setting if given a choice. While you will use more of your monthly data allowance when streaming over cellular, we feel the quality is worth it.
- Pandora was the first out of the gate and, while it is better sounding than satellite, it is still not the best choice when it comes to sound quality.
- Spotify has been gaining ground because it allows you to download music to your device for offline listening. When you select the highest sound-quality setting, it is pretty comparable to a 320kb MP3 file and sounds better than Pandora.
- Apple Radio sounds pretty similar to Spotify, so we will just leave it at that.
- Tidal is a newer company in the streaming music world, with owners who are musicians themselves. They stream their music at bit rates equal to those of CDs and allow you to store it offline. Consider it a better-sounding version of Spotify. If you are going to stream music and can afford the data requirements, it is the best bet.
- Deezer is similar to Tidal, and is just starting to make headway in this country.
- Whenever you are streaming music, the higher the bit rate, the higher the likelihood that it can skip in challenging coverage areas.
FLAC Digital Music File
As of right now, using the current technology, you’ll get the best sound quality by using music stored on a device. The two most popular formats are WAV, which we covered earlier, and FLAC. FLAC files are going to be the best-sounding, most space conscious files that we have discussed so far. You can purchase music in these formats from many online sources, with the most famous being HDtracks.com. If you search for high-resolution music online, you will see many new places popping up all the time.
How do you play FLAC files in your vehicle? Another great question. There are apps for your iPhone and Android phone to allow you to play them, and we have replacement in-dash stereo systems that can play FLAC files.
Want Better Sound? Start With Better Digital Music
In closing, let’s leave you with this one point. If changing the way you bought and streamed your music could improve the sound quality by 100% or more, would you want to do that? We thought so.