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Five Tips for Better-Sounding Music on Your PC

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In this article, Ultimate Digital Music Guide author Michael Miller shows you five things you can do to improve the sound quality of the music you play on your computer.
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Listen to a lot of music on your computer? Tired of your computer’s lousy sound quality? Want to take some quick and easy steps to get better-sounding music on your computer? Then read on for five tips that will help you improve the fidelity of your computer audio – and make your favorite music sound that much better.

Tip #1: Download High Definition Files

Not all digital audio files are created equal. Some file formats sound better than others, and the bitrate used to encode the file makes a big difference in how high the resultant fidelity is.

In general, the higher the bitrate, the better sounding the file. So a file encoded at a 256Kbps bitrate is going to sound better than the same tune encoded at 128Kbps, and you’ll get even better sound with a 320Kbps file.

Then there’s the choice between lossy and lossless compression. All audio encoding compresses the music to create smaller-sized files; you need smaller files to fit in limited disk space and to download in a reasonable time frame. But typical compression is lossy, which means that important bits of the signal are lost during the compression process. The lower the bitrate, the more compressed the audio is, because more parts of the signal are lost.

You get much better sound from a file encoded using lossless compression. This type of compression still reduces the size of the file, but without removing any important bits. The resultant file size isn’t quite as small as with lossy compression, but the music sounds identical to the original source.

Now, if you’re downloading your music from an online music store, you may not have much of a choice in terms of file format and bitrate; you’re pretty much limited to whichever types of files your particular music store offers. Apple’s iTunes Store, for example, only sells music in the AAC file format, encoded at a 256Kbps bitrate. The Amazon MP3 Store offers only MP3-format files, encoded at a variable bitrate—which, theoretically, gives better fidelity than a fixed lower bitrate, but still isn’t true high fidelity.

That said, for best fidelity you want lossless encoding, which none of the major online music stores offers. Fortunately, there are a handful of so-called “high definition” online music stores that offer higher fidelity files for downloading. (Typically at a higher price, unfortunately.) So if you want higher bitrate or lossless files, take a look at HDTracks and iTrax, for starters. Their music definitely sounds better than that from the iTunes Store or Amazon MP3 Store.

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