Digital music is ubiquitous, but performance is making a huge comeback with the resurgence in vinyl—which inherently is higher fidelity than digital music. It seems like every retail outlet now has prime real estate devoted to selling old-school records. You can also order vinyl online at places like Amazon or The Edit. You can also now download and enjoy high-resolution digital audio tracks, which is also contributing to the renewed interest in better performing audio systems. If you want high quality digital music, check out Tidal. Ready to take your system up a notch or two and enjoy really high-quality sound? Then you’ll want to be familiar with the lingo. Here’s a quick guide to understanding some of the basic gear and terms of the audiophile world.
Amp/Amplifier – If you really want to do your music or movies a solid, invest in a separate amplifier and processor. These two pieces of gear separate out the amplification and processing functions that are normally combined in a receiver. The amplifier amplifies the signal and drives it to your speakers with gusto. You can get a two-channel amp for a stereo music system, a multichannel amp for a surround sound setup or even a headphone amp for personal listening.
Bright/Brightness – This is a term used to describe music that is usually displayed in the upper frequencies. While brightness isn’t negative, it can become unpleasant if music is overly bright.
Cables – Cables simply transfer the audio signal to your headphones or speakers. There is some controversy surrounding cables and whether or not they make a difference in the sound quality. A poorly designed cable or damaged cable, can and will affect sound reproduction.
Depth – This term refers to how far away instruments are spaced from back to front in a particular piece of music.
DAP (Digital Audio Player) – DAPs are often mobile devices like smart phones or tablets. But for the audiophile, capacity is key. Look for a DAP that is able to hold lots of files, read reviews, and try before you buy.
Digital to Analog Convertor (DAC) – This device can either be included in another component or stand on its own, and does exactly what the name implies. It takes a digital signal and converts it to analog. By converting to analog, you get a lot of the fidelity back that is missing from digital tracks. A good DAC is a must if you listen to downloaded music and want top quality.
Harsh – This is another term audiophiles use for music that has too much treble.
Headphones – The holy grail of headphones is a constant quest for the true audiophile, who often wants to enjoy music when others may not. In the audiophile world, headphones refer to over- or on-ear devices. For personal listening, a great pair of headphones is a must.
Headphone Amp – (see Amp/Amplifier)
Highs – The upper frequencies/ higher notes in a music signal.
IEM (In Ear Monitor)/ Earphone – Audiophiles take their music so seriously, they differentiate the run-of-the-mill ear buds that come with many smart phones from higher-end ‘earphones’ or ‘in-ear monitors.’ In-ear monitors or earphones extend into the ear canal, creating a seal that blocks out exterior noise. These are great for listening to music on the go in the best possible quality.
Lows – This refers to the bottom end of a musical track, like the bass notes.
Mids/Midrange – The middle frequencies (usually guitars and vocals) of an audio track.
Muddy – Basically, this is the opposite of crisp and clean sound, when it’s hard to discern the various parts of a musical track.
Punch – The impact of a particular sound/frequency on a piece of music.
Transparent – Music with a clean, open and detailed quality.
Now that you are familiar with some of the more common audiophile terms used to describe music and gear, it’s time to come in for a demo. Bring in your favorite tracks or albums or let us play some music for you on a dynamite system. You won’t believe your ears.