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How big is the sound of music?

Lucas Mearian | March 22, 2013
Music fans and major recording artists are adopting lossless audio file formats to keep copies of their music thats as close to a master recording as possible, leading to multi-terabyte-sized home music storage systems.

The lossless files that HDtracks sells can have several different sample rates. For example, HDtracks sells files in formats that include 96,000/24 bits (which refers to a 96,000-sample-per-second file and a 24-bit rate) and a premium 192,000/24 format.

HDtracks does charge a small premium for its higher quality audio files. For example, Carole King's classic album Tapestry sells for $24.98 in the highest quality lossless file format of 192KHz/24bit. On iTunes, Tapestry goes for $9.99. Other albums in lower resolution formats from HDtracks sell for $17.98.

HDtracks allows users to choose between downloading music in AIFF, FLAC, ALAC and WAV formats. The site also recommends high-resolution player software such as JRiver, Pure Music, or Decibel Audio Player. The software, which basically turns your desktop or laptop into a music server or a digital-to-analog converter, ensures there's no extraneous noise during playback, providing a higher quality listening experience, Chesky said.

Bliss buys two to three albums a week from HDtracks, but he also rips his own music from an extensive vinyl record collection using a $3,000 analog-to-digital converter (ADC). "I clean my record and the first play gets recorded. I load that on my server for convenience purposes," Bliss said.

The most popular music server among audiophiles, according to Bliss, is an Apple Mac Mini. Bliss owns two, and he has two external hard drives on which he stores his music.

Music aficionado Michael Gogesch keeps all 938 of his albums in FLAC files; he's got a 4TB networked storage system that allows him to access his music over the Internet.

Flexibility for the future

Gogesch, who frequents the readers forum of audio magazine Audioholics, agrees with Gravell that there's really no discernible difference in audio quality between an MP3 file, a WAV file and a FLAC file. For him it's all about flexibility.

"If the codec changes in the future, since mine are lossless, I can convert to whatever file format I want, the same as if I just ripped it new," Gogesch said. "To me, that's the biggest advantage. If I want to change a file to any other type of file, I don't need to rerip it, and there's no quality loss when I rip it."

Gravell said that because high-capacity hard drives have become so inexpensive, music aficionados and audiophiles have no qualms about purchasing terabytes of storage for their libraries.

That said, the MP3 format is so wildly popular that it will probably remain the de facto audio format for the foreseeable future. Apple's iTunes recently announced its one-billionth download.

But music aficionados like Gogesch say they won't touch iTunes because it's a "resource hog," meaning it requires CPU cycles to convert the compressed files for play. So Gogesch uses a mobile music player with a hard drive that's got more capacity for his larger lossless audio files.


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