Ninety percent of ReadyToPlay’s customer’s start with the phrase ‘I’d like to download my CDs to Mp3’. We generally talk them out of MP3 as a starting format and choose instead ‘lossless’ or a full fidelity format. Why? Lossless files are full fidelity versions of the CD, they sound as good as the CD. Mp3 or AAC is a compressed format where fidelity is stripped away in order to reduce the file sizes. Lossless files are about 2.5 times larger than Mp3 but still a typical CD is only 350MB in lossless, 150MB in Mp3. The Lossless files are true archive quality versions of the CD, enabling you to confidently get rid of the CDs. The Apple lossless format will work on ANY apple mobile product (ipods, itunes, ipads etc) except for the ‘Shuffle’.
Bit rates for lossless follow the fidelity of the CD. Bit rates can run from 0 to 1411 for sake of simplicity. Radio is generally 96Kbps, iTunes purchased tracks are 256Kbps, maximum Mp3 is 320kbps and lossless runs between 1000 and 1411kbps. Mp3 clearly strips fidelity from the music files and outside of the small space savings it isn’t what we recommend for a collection rip initially. Mp3 is good when a) you don’t care about fidelity b) you want to stream the files using Airplay or c) you want to take your whole collection with you on a portable device.
Who creates the perception that MP3 is ‘CD quality’? Look no further than the settings in iTunes (under preferences, import settings. Apple iTunes says MP3/AAC bit rates of 128kbps are ‘good’, 160kbps (High) and 192kbps (higher). Clearly with lossless bit rates running up to 1411kbps, this isn’t ‘good’ by ReadyToPlay’s definition. I believe Apple does this so you can rip/compress your files and meet their marketing promise of their portable devices holding X number of songs. Apple has changed its capacity capabilities to strictly the GB of storage per device and has eliminated the song count paradigm as a measurement. If you are going to rip your CDs yourself, remember to change the settings in iTunes so that you are ripping in AAC/Mp3 320 at a minimum or Apple Lossless!
When clients first call ReadyToPlay most start with “I want to get my music ripped” or “I want to put my music on an iPod”. This is a starting point and converting CDs to lossless format is a service that ReadyToPlay provides, but we always steer customers into a bigger discussion about how to use digital music on portable devices (which is a given) AND in the home. So the question now becomes: “How do I play digital music in my home?”
Deploying digital music in your home depends on your home and your vision for music in your home. Everyone should start with the following considerations when deciding to take digital music throughout the house:
- How large is your house? Do you have multi-story, multi room house or are you in a two bedroom apartment in New York City? This translates into the difference between a multi-zone installation or a single zone installation.
- If you have a ‘larger house’ is it built of brick, split level, on a beach or hillside? Why does this matter? Because we all know that certain architectures and constructions have an easier or harder time transmitting wi-fi signals consistently throughout the home.
- Do you have a dedicated listening room to play your music? If so, you are what I’d call an audiophile, and have a different level of expectation in terms of sound quality and stereo implementation than your average listener.
- Do you share music with a TV in one room as the primary ‘entertainment center’? This would lead us to how can I see and play my music in conjunction with the TV.
- Do you already have a whole house audio system? If so, do you have touch panels in each room or a programmed tablet to control or a central rack for AV equipment? If so, then you need to discuss how digital products will compliment or replace existing installations.
As you can see, it is a given that you can get your music on a portable device like an iPod but for the whole home, it takes a bit more thought on what to do. Converting CDs to MP3 format is the first step to enjoying digital and lossless music, knowing how to seamlessly play digital music throughout your home is the next step; See part two in this series for what happens next once you’ve thought about your house configuration.