The Complete Guide for High Fidelity Music
High fidelity music is a topic very close to the hearts of audiophiles and music lovers. While average consumer audio gear produces decent sounds, for someone who wants the best of the best, high fidelity is the way to go.
These high-quality audio files, coupled with good hardware, produces some of the best music listening experience. Some say this is the way the songs are meant to be listened to.
Whether that is an absolute trust or not, is a debate for another day. There is no question; however, that high-fidelity music does sound much better than normal average music.
If you want to know everything there is to know about high fidelity music, this is the right place to be. We will give you a complete guide for high fidelity music. From music frequency, latency, headphone features, music streaming services, and much more.
So, buckle up and let us get started.
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Sound is produced through vibrations. These vibrations also have different characteristics; the frequency is one of them. It is essentially a measure of the speed of these vibrations.
The frequency is essentially the pitch of a sound is measured in Hertz. Humans can listen to a frequency range of 20Hz to 20,000Hz. Even though frequency is said to measure the pitch of a song, the pitch is more subjective.
Where frequency is more objective and can be measured, there are low-frequency music and high-frequency music. If we say frequency to be the measure something occurs, a low frequency would mean it is happening at a lower rate.
On the other hand, a high frequency would then mean something is happening at a faster rate. Also, a low frequency would mean a low pitch and a high frequency would mean high pitch.
Low and High Frequency
In simple terms, you can think of low frequency as the bass and high frequency as high notes and treble. Vocals also fall in the higher frequency spectrum.
Low and high frequency can be differentiated by how they sound. Low frequency would sound more like a thump or a rumble. High frequency, on the other hand, would be a sharp sound.
That really is the simple differentiation of low and high frequency. The lowest possible musical frequency can be around 5 to 70 Hertz. The lowest note in instruments like organs or cellos can be around this frequency.
The highest musical frequency which a human can hear will be around 20,000Hz. Do keep in mind though, the ability to hear the frequencies also deteriorates with age.
As you may have guessed, headphones also make use of frequency. Many informed audiophiles make the frequency response of headphones as a major factor when purchasing a brand-new set of headphones.
In headphones, the frequency response represents the range of the low, mid, and high tones it can produce. Essentially, how low can the bass be, how clear the mid-tones are, and how high can you go on the treble.
For bass junkies, headphones with a low-frequency response or heavy bass are the way to go. Some frequencies can go below 20Hz. However, these frequencies are more ‘felt’ than heard.
Keep in mind, though, a higher or lower frequency response does not always mean you will be getting better sound quality. There are more nuances to that. A mixture of driver quality, noise cancellation, and more factor into the sound quality of a particular headphone.
Hi-Res Vs. Non-Hi-Res Headphones
A common term you will head most audio enthusiasts talk about is hi-res audio. So, what is it, and what does it mean for your music and headphone? Hi-res headphones are high-quality headphones intended to listen to hi-res audio or music.
High-res audio is high-quality music that is capable of reproducing the full range of sounds. These audio qualities have been mastered to provide audio quality that is much better than your typical CD quality audio.
While the sampling frequency of a CD is 16-bit/44.1 kHz, hi-res audio has a sampling rate of 96Hz or even 192Khz at 24-bit. On the higher end, you can find 88.2KHz and 176 Khz as well.
In the world of audio and music, the sampling rate is the rate at which a sample is converted from a continuous to form a digital signal. In other words, it is a measure of the number of samples taken when converting analog to digital.
Hi-res headphones are therefore capable of producing high frequency that is near the 40,000Hz range. That might be an eye-brow raiser for some as we mentioned the general limit for humans is 20,000Hz.
Although that is true, headphones that can produce such upper frequencies can ensure all the details of the music is kept intact.
Hi-res headphones tend to playback higher quality music. Although, there is a big debate on can the average person distinguish between hi-res audio and normal audio.
As we mentioned, the audio sampling rate is not the only factor in music quality. Things like balance and timings are also important factors of consideration when talking about overall headphone quality. However, most hi-res headphones are generally accepted to sound very good.
If you have bought hi-res headphones with worse timings and drivers, your sound quality will still be lower than normal non-hi-res headphones that have better drivers, timings and balance.
So even though the frequency is one aspect of good headphones, they are certainly not the only one.
Usual headphones will have a frequency range of 20Hz to 20,000Hz. Headphones that are classified as hi-res needs to be at the 40,000Hz at the high end.
Driving High Fidelity Music
Something to keep in mind is, to drive high fidelity music, the headphones are a part of the puzzle. For a better listening experience, many audiophiles invest in amplifiers and DACs to listen to high fidelity music.
High-end Laptops and phone devices today come with good DACs. However, if you want the best sound possible, getting yourself an AMP or a better DAC is certainly the way to go.
Check out: Top 10 Most Comfortable Headphones In 2020
Back in the day, it was iTunes that changed the music industry. Apple gave the world a convenient way of listening to music, but the quality was somewhat average.
For most consumers, that was sufficient. But for a trained ear, the sound quality difference between MP3 and high-fidelity music files can be quite a lot. Fast forward a few years today, and now you have a myriad of music streaming services.
You can listen to music on either your phone or computer. They even give you the option to download songs for future offline listening. However, that is a premium feature for most services.
These services are convenient and easy to use, plus, services like TIDAL give consumers a way to listen to lossless high-fidelity music on the go. Let us take a deep dive into the different music services available today, starting with the industry leader Spotify.
Spotify is the biggest and most popular music streaming operating now. The company started in 2006, and since then the Swedish company has solidified its place in the upper echelon of music streaming services.
The service offers playback on both computers and mobile devices. With a collection of 50+ million songs across several genres, you can take your music anywhere.
There is also a healthy collection of Podcasts on the app. All the big names like Serial are on here.
One of Spotify’s best features is you can access the app from almost any device. You can use it with a browser or on mobile (both Android and iOS).
It also supports a computer app as well for Linux, Windows PCs, macOS and even Chromebooks. A cool feature the desktop app provides is you can use it to play your stored music files right from your computer. The app supports formats like MP3, MP4and M4P.
The combination of the usability features, the list of songs with a pretty good music suggestion algorithm makes Spotify one of the best streaming services you can find out there.
Speaking of the suggestion algorithm, the app’s Discover feature is one of the best things about it. The algorithm will curate songs and playlists based on your preference and what you have been listening to.
There is one downside, though, Spotify does not support high fidelity or lossless audio. The quality of the music is different for the free and premium versions. The free version gives you music files at 128Kbps. The premium version streams music at 320Kbps. The supported formats for premium are AAC audio and Ogg Vorbis.
The user interface of Spotify is nothing too exciting but does get the job done. You get a standard home page. The Home section shows you popular playlists and also breaks down music by genre.
If you do not want to rely on the algorithm’s music suggestions, the search bar at the top works just like you would expect it too. Click on it and search for any music that you would like to hear.
Now on to pricing, for mobile users, the experience using the free version of the software and the premium version of the software is quite different. Free users can only listen to songs on shuffle and have a limited number of skips. There are also ads.
The premium version brings in more functionality. For $9.99/month, you get higher quality music and unlimited skips and plays. You can choose which tracks you play. All restrictions of the free version are taken out – leaving you with an easy and enjoyable experience.
For users on the desktop app though, the story is completely different. The desktop app offers you all the features of the premium mobile version for free. You just need to download the app, set up an account and start using it.
If you do not need to carry your music with you, this can be a great way to save a couple of bucks. But then again, who wants to be tied to their desk all the time.
For the price and the features, it offers, Spotify is still one of the best music streaming services in the market. The easy to use interactive and the stellar algorithm makes listening and finding new music a joy. The only downside is the lack of high-fidelity music.
Apple’s music streaming service is aptly called Apply Music. The service also offers a large collection of music. Also, around 50 million songs you can listen to at any time.
Apple bought Beats back in 2014, and since then it has been using its music streaming as a part of its own. Apple has onboarded several popular DJs to the service as well.
Other than the music, there are a lot of comedy tracks you can listen to. If you need a laugh, acts like Amy Schumer, the famous Joe Rogan, Kevin Hart, Eddie Murphy and more available. You also have all the big names from Dr Dre, Taylor Swift and many more.
You can use the software on iOS devices (of course) and was also later available on Android. There is also a web version of the service you can access by visiting the Apple Music site.
Radio lovers have the option to tune into BBC Radio 1 hosted by Zane Lowe. You can even listen to live radio with a live DJ that will be playing some songs. If you want to hear something live and want a break from the pre-recorded tracks, this is a very cool feature.
The disappointing bit just as Spotify, Apple does not offer high fidelity lossless music streaming. In terms of lossless audio TIDAL and Deezer have both Apple Music and Spotify beat.
Having said that, though, the bitrate for music on Apple Music is not too bad for the average listener. The files stream at 256Kbps in AAC audio format. However, there might be some good news that could be coming out of the Cupertino tech giant.
Apple has announced, that Mastered for iTunes will be called Apple Digital Master. Does this mean the audio library will be for high-quality music files? We cannot say it as a guarantee that this means the option for a lossless audio experience, but we will just have to see.
Pricing wise, Apple does not give you a free version of the service. If you want to stream music that you do not own, you will have to pay. The rate is the standard of $9.99/month.
However, there is a 3-month free trial. After that, you can either choose to pay or cancel the subscription. It is important to note, and users can play any music they already own with Apple Music for free. All you need to do is sync your device with iTunes and start playing.
Listening to the radio is also free. It is the core music streaming service that will cost you money. For the price, Apple Music is a good contender. You, of course, can download the songs for offline listening later on.
The interface is very typical of Apple. It is clean and modern with every useful feature. When you first open the app, you will find below there is a tab with options such as the ‘Library’, ‘For You’, ‘Browse’, ‘Radio’ and also ‘Search’.
Your library is where all your songs are that you have loaded and also searched in the app and saved. The ‘For You’ page is pretty cool. Think of this as the equivalent of Spotify’s Discover feature.
From here the app will recommend you new music that it thinks you will like. All this is done through the help of algorithms and your preferences – songs you have listened to and liked.
In typical Apple UI design fashion, it makes it easier for you by creating a playlist at the top of the app.
Deezer is our first streaming service that specializes in high-quality music streaming. Unfortunately, Deezer is not a name that is everyone is familiar with. Having said that, the company offers some pretty great features.
A convenient feature for music listeners is the option to choose the quality you want to stream straight for the EQ setting. The service offers lossless FLAC music that does sound quite good.
There are around 52 million high-quality lossless tracks, and the total number of music you can listen to is just around 56 million. There are also podcasts on here. Although the music selection is pretty impressive, the podcast selection left a tad bit disappointed.
You can find the big names here, but as far as other options go, it does not quite compare to the likes of Spotify.
We loved how accessible the service is. You can use Deezer on almost every device. There is an app for both major mobile platforms – that is Android and iOS. If you are more of a desktop user, you can choose to go with the desktop app on either Mac or Windows PC.
Of course, there is the web version as well. Just hop in your browser and visit the site, and you are all good to go. Here is another major feature. If you own a smart assistant (Google Home, Amazon Alexa), you are in luck. Deezer has its features available there too. You can use Sonos speakers to listen to Deezer as well.
You might notice we did not mention Apple’s HomePod. That is because the HomePod does not play music from Deezer. Although that is more of Apple’s fault as it is very restricting with other music streaming services.
The quality of the music is somewhat tied to the subscription plan.
Alright, let’s get one thing out of the way first. Yes, you can use Deezer for free. There are some limitations, though (as you might have expected). For one, you will get ads, and also you won’t be able to download the songs on your device for offline listening.
The free version works on all platforms including iOS, Android, Mac or Windows.
With that out of the way, if you want to enjoy the high-quality music library, you have to choose a subscription. There is a total of 4 subscriptions. Deezer Premium will cost you the standard $9.99/month. There is also a Deezer HiFi, and Deezer Family is $14.99/month.
There is also an option for students. The student plan is the cheapest of all 4 and will cost just 4.99/month. If you need some time to make up your mind, you can opt for a 3-day trial.
The sound quality for the free is at 128Kbps. The paid premium version plays at a bitrate of 320Kbps. If you want to experience the high-quality lossless audio, you have to pay the higher price HiFi plan.
The HiFi plan will stream your music at 1,411Kbps. That is quite a jump in quality if ask us. If you are wondering, you, unfortunately, cannot make have high-quality audio in the family plan even though both costs the same. That is a bummer, but this is the way Deezer chose it.
The sound quality of the HiFi songs is quite impressive. Keep in mind, though, to get the full benefit of the songs; you need high-end headphones and also a phone with a quality DAC. If you are going to be listening to the songs on a computer, the same goes.
When TIDAL launched, it was positioning itself as the go-to place for audiophiles who want to stream their music. We were quite excited during testing the service. We wanted to find out, how much truth that claim holds and is it any better or even worth it? This guide for high-fidelity music will answer that once and for all.
TIDAL is probably mostly known for being the top tier music subscription for someone who wants the best quality music. There are even famous musicians who are backing it and owns equity. JayZ for one is known to be on the musicians.
You can use the app on your phone or use the desktop app for your computers. The interface is up to par with others on the list as well.
Cost-wise, TIDAL is the more expensive of all four music streaming services for the HiFi version of the subscription. But is it worth it? Let us take a deeper look.
You need to pay $19.99/month for the premium HiFi plan. The Family plan comes around costing $29.99/month. Military and first responders can enjoy the service for $11.99/month.
Tidal HiFi premium offers you lossless, high-quality music, and it sounds very crisp and full of detail. Unlike compared to the 320Kpbs of other streaming services.
The service is a tad bit expensive, but if you want to listen to music that is high quality and completely lossless, TIDAL Is the way to go.
Phone and Computer
Music play from your own devices might also require some additional hardware. To get the best music listening experience, especially high-fidelity music, you will need a DAC, AMPS, high-quality speakers and/or hi-res headphones.
DSEE LX and LDAC
Modern technology has come a long way when it comes to music listening experiences on headphones. Thankfully you can get headphones with DSEE LX what is that you ask?
You see normal lossy music is designed to save space. To achieve this, a lot of detail and information is cut away from the tracks themselves. DSEE LX is a feature that allows some recovery of those lost details.
It can take normal lossy music (MP3s) and upscale them to improve the sound quality of those tracks, instantly making them sound much better.
On the other hand, LDAC is an audio codec that allows the device to transfer high-quality music even over a Bluetooth connection. This essentially means you get the best of both worlds. You have the benefit of wireless without the downsides of worst sounding music.
That is not all though, and some headphones will need AMPs to perform at their peak. We will give you a detailed breakdown of what is DAC and an AMP in this guide for high fidelity music.
Almost all phones and computers have a DAC built-in. However, all DACs are not made equal. Due to restrictions in technology, price and space, some DACs are better than others.
If you have ever noticed, the same headphones, listening to the same audio file can sometimes sound much better on the computer than on the phone. That is because of the DAC itself.
DACs and AMPs together with some generally better-quality hi-res headphones are the perfect combos to provide audiophile-grade high-fidelity music.
In simple terms, a DAC is used to convert a digital signal to an analog one. Better DACs allow your music to sound better. That is where standalone DACs come in to play.
When music is stored in vinyl or MP3, they are in the form of a compression wave during playback. A DAC takes digitally stored data and turns it back into analog many thousands of times per second.
Better DACs are needed when the device you are listening to music on is introducing extra noise. If your device of choice is not able to output music at the bitrate of your files, then also you can use a DAC.
DACs are also needed for high-end music recording. Audio recorded for a professional application relies on an external and high-quality DAC to provide the best music recording quality.
The job of an AMP is converting the low voltage signal from your device for your headphones to convert into sound waves. The DAC essentially converts digital signals to analog which then the AMP amplifies.
Strictly speaking, most people don’t need an AMP. In the case of very high-quality headphones, an AMP can certainly change things. You need to check into impedance as well when making a purchase.
If you have bought yourself a good pair of headphones, and AMP will certainly come in handy, driving and allowing those headphones to perform at their peak.
That is when you would ideally need an AMP. To get better performance out of your high quality or hi-res headphones.
Headphones with high impedance, require AMPS to perform at their peak. Now, what is impedance? Impedance is the measure of the resistance of an electrical signal. The higher the impedance of a particular pair of headphones, the more benefits you will see using an AMP.
More powerful and high-quality headphones are known to be power-hungry with high impedance ratings. These headphones are the perfect candidate with whom you would use an AMP.
If you are looking for the best quality in music, going with a desktop AMP for your headphones is the way to go. They are bulky, though. So, you won’t be lugging them with you anywhere.
For others on the go solutions, a USB DAC can do the job just fine as well. The music industry uses high-quality headphones that require a lot of power. While consumer Bluetooth headphones might never need headphones AMP, professional headphones are a different story.
Professionals and the music industry are surely benefitted by AMPs that they can use to drive these expensive and hi-res headphones to produce high-grade music for all of us audiophiles to enjoy.
Read more: Top 10 Budget Stereo Amplifier in 2020
Vinyl and CDs
Vinyl records are a form of analog music storage. They are flat circular discs with grooves on them – literal grooves that are store music. This method of music storage was the go-to method for storing music in the 1900s.
The working mechanics of vinyl are fairly simple but effective. The minute grooves in the vinyl are read by a turntable needle. These single continuer grooves are what produce the sounds.
The records are made with a plastic polymer called Polyvinyl chloride. That is where it got its name, vinyl records. The records are known for their high-quality music. The term high fidelity music has been coined.
These records are believed to provide the best sound quality for audiophiles. There has been a drop in CDs and an increase in the purchase of vinyl records over the last couple of years.
Vinyl is used for accurate representations of LP (long play). These records have a frequency range of 7Hz to 50,000Hz. This is more than the aforementioned standard and audible range of 20Hz and 20,000Hz.
Plus, with a dynamic range of 75dB, vinyl is a great option for storing music. The dynamic range is the measure of the difference between the smallest and the largest amplitude values.
The limitations of vinyl when storing music is the actual physical limitation. The surface area of vinyl is limited.
The lower notes a track has with further spaced out grooves, the lesser you can fit on each record. Vinyl is famous for being able to produce very low hearth thumping bass.
There is a problem, though. It can go too far. You the stylus need to be tracking the grooves to playback the tracks. Very low frequencies might cause the needle to turn to other grooves on the record.
That is not all though. Very high frequencies can pose challenges for vinyl records. When mixing, percussions are advised not to be mixed too loudly. This is because any audio information that might go above 20Khz can overheat the needle.
Which, in turn, can cause a host of other problems too? Mainly you will get a lot of distortion and noise. Over the years though, musicians and mastering engineering have gotten good at their craft and have moved well past these challenges to produce some of the best sounding tunes, and with vinyl, the fidelity is just that much better.
If you want to start your vinyl experience and enjoy your music in a new way, here are some things you need to do. You would need a turntable, a pre-amp and speakers (of course).
A turntable is what reads the grooves of the vinyl and produces those sweet sounds for your ears to enjoy.
This is also where a pre-amp will come in handy. Many turntables will come with a pre-amp built, but these are most often than not pretty bad quality. The pre-amp amplifies.
Then comes the speakers. These are pretty obvious, aren’t’ they? Get yourself a good HiFi speaker system to enjoy the music at its best.
Learn more about: Top 10 Turntable Styluses in 2020
The compact disk or CD is a digital optical storage device. There are different types of CDs. First up you have what is called CD-DA, short for Compact Disk Digital Audio.
This was developed together with Phillips and Sony back in 1980. The sampling rate for these was 44.1 Khz. CDs have typically had longer playtimes compared to vinyl.
They come in about 74 minutes of playtime. Originally it was proposed that the playtime be around 60 minutes. The extra playtime allowed them to be released bonus tracks which were meant to sway customers to purchase these CDs.
Super Audio CD, abbreviated as SACD, was designed for high fidelity music. SADC was introduced in 1999 by same Sony and Phillips. Unfortunately, it was not able to replace audio CDs. The frequency range of a CD can be up to 22,000Hz with a dynamic range of 96dB.
To use a CD, you will need to use a CD player. These devices can read the CDs to display what information is on them. When looking at purchasing a CD player, make sure you get one with adequate DAC and transport. Most CD players will come with a DAC built-in. You can opt for an outboard DAC as well.
Q. Does listen to high fidelity music affect your hearing?
Ans. The general rule of thumb here is listening to loud music constantly can damage your hearing. The problem is not necessarily with high fidelity music. Even loud MP3 music may cause some hearing loss given you are using full volume.
Q. What is the difference between Hi-Res and Hi-Fi Headphones?
Ans. The main difference between hi-res headphones is hi-res headphones can produce the full range of sound. These can produce lossless audio for higher quality audio tracks.
HiFi, on the other hand, is generally referred to as stereo headphones. Music that is recorded and played in stereo are therefore called HiFi. Although, to many audiophiles, HiFi also can be classified as hi-res. However, not all agree with this sentiment.
Q. Can you tell the difference in lossy and lossless audio?
Ans. For the average person, there might not be that much of a difference. However, to the trained ears, there can be a significant amount of difference. For some who could tell the difference, the difference was very subtle.
At the end of the day, it will depend on you and what you prefer. High fidelity music with the right equipment does sound much better. You can use hi-res headphones, DACs, and AMPs to pump up your music listening experience if you are serious about it. Make sure to get lossless audio files to play through.
This has been a complete guide for high fidelity music. You should now be able to understand what is hi-res audio and what can hi-res headphones do for your music listening experience. The use and concept of a DAC, AMP, and other devices are all components in providing a good high-fidelity music experience. If you are an audiophile and want to step up your audio game, the guide should be all you need.