Audio formats, Sound Sources and Building a Playback System
Technology is always evolving. Product designers look at the different ways we listen to music and try to develop products to specifically suit those needs. We can listen to music individually on our phones with wireless ear buds or headphones while we catch the bus to work. We can take a small portable bluetooth speaker with us on holidays to share our music with friends by the pool. We can have multiple wireless speakers to fill every room in the house with sound while entertaining or enjoying music with the family. We can create a surround sound cinema room or a traditional stereo music listening room for that immersive experience. Knowing the different ways you want to listen to music guides you in choosing a sound source.
It’s important to understand the medium audio is carried on and the three key parts of an audio system. These consist of the audio format, the sound source and the playback device. Audio formats are things like records, tapes, CDs, mp3, wav, flac, etc and they are played on a sound source.
Sound sources are devices that play an audio format like record players, CD players, Tape players, Computers, Phones, Tablets, etc. A playback device is something that turns the source into sound we can hear. These consist of an amplifier and speaker configuration, which comes in 3 general combinations. They are a separate amp and speaker, an all-in-one amp and speaker, or a headphone amp and headphones.
When you have a product that does everything all-in-one it’s usually made to a price point to offer great value for money and simplicity of use. The advantage of an “all-in-one” system is that they offer a lot of features, they are usually compact and simple to use and they are cost effective. The disadvantages are the sound is average, they may not be compatible with many other products, which can limit its life span, and if one thing fails in them you have to replace the whole lot. Someone on a budget looking to down size or has little space may find this option suitable.
Some people just don’t have the appreciation for music and can’t see the value in spending more then they feel comfortable with. As long is it does the job they are happy. For the rest of us…
For someone who loves listening to music in all its glory it’s easy to see the value in quality products. When you listen to something it’s the sum of all its parts that make it sound the way it does so replacing one part will have an impact on the sound. This is where the fun journey starts testing gear. Any music system is only as good as it’s weakest link and generally speaking when you have a device that only does one thing it usually does that job very well. The initial cost of separate components is more then an all-in-one but this comes with an improvement in sound quality and listening experience, flexibility to customise the sound of each component to your specific needs and the ability to replace any component without spending money unnecessarily. It also makes upgrading and improving your system much easier, giving you more control.
I wanted to share an approach for people who love audio and music listening that may perceive it out of reach to attain the system they want because they feel they can’t afford it. My advice is to come and listen to different speaker and amp combinations to discover what you like first and foremost. Knowing what level you want to start at and take it to is an important question to ask yourself. It might only be economical to purchase one of the components to start with but the beauty of components is that you are building a system that should last you a long time. The goal should be to find out how you want to listen to music, what sound sources you will use and what level of detail you are expecting to hear. We are all working towards a system we can enjoy for years.
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