For music lovers, living in the digital world has its advantages. Thousands of songs fit on devices smaller than your hand, high-quality stereo headphones are extremely affordable and vast libraries of streaming music are just a mouse click away. The age of information has flung open its doors open wide and the time is right for previously casual music lovers to become bona fide audiophiles.

So what is the difference between being a music lover and an audiophile? First off, you have to love listening to music. Not, just like or enjoy it, but LOVE it. If you are an audiophile, listening to music is what you live for. It's what keeps your heart beating; it's what drives you to work and back, it's better than your favorite dessert or at least pretty close.

Audiophiles go a step beyond simply enjoying music by searching for the best sound reproduction of a musician's performance. This involves using various types of stereo equipment, endlessly tweaking equalizer settings or finding that elusive recording that best captures the essence of a song. This seemingly endless pursuit often leads to empty wallets, but the reward of finding that audio sweet spot for a song is priceless.



So how do you become an audiophile in the digital age? To start you off, here are three ways to improve your digital music experience.

  1. Toss the cheap earbuds and get some real headphones.

    Headphones are essential to the music experience. Unfortunately, the earphones that come with your digital player are most likely unsuitable for effective, accurate sound reproduction. Sure, they let you listen, but are you really hearing your music as it was meant to be heard? A good set of "cans" will reveal hidden warmth and body in your music and allow your ears to discern the different instruments in the song. Consider getting a headset for listening at home and one for when you are on the go, as the environment you are in will affect the type of headphones you will need.
  2. Use higher quality song formats.

    MP3s are the standard format for digital music, but pay attention to the bitrate. The higher the bitrate, the better the sound quality. Most digital music from online retailers, such as iTunes or Rhapsody, are compressed at 128 kbps, making for fast, easy downloads. However, this bitrate is terrible for playback through stereo speakers. The digital broadcasting standard is 192 kbps, and this is a CD quality rate. But the audiophile pursues bitrates of 320 kbps to 500 kbps to start with. The file formats associated with 320 kbps are AAC, WMA and high-end MP3. At 500 kbps you have what is considered lossless audio, and the formats are FLAC, ALAC, AIFF and WMA Lossless. Don't be surprised if your current digital music collection suffers from low bitrates, but now you know what to look for going forward.
  3. Don't be afraid to experiment with stereo equipment.

As your budget allows, start building a stereo system that will unlock the potential of your digital music. Remember, being an audiophile is about the quality of the sound reproduction, not necessarily how loud you can make it. You will be surprised the difference you'll hear when you pipe music from your iPod or computer through a real stereo. By using quality, stereo equipment like full sized speakers and amplifiers, you can take your digital music experience to a completely new level.

Music is life. Music is you. As you evolve from a simple music lover to audiophile, never forget why you pursue sound perfection. Share the beauty and excitement of the sound qualities you find, and don't let anyone tell you that you are not an audiophile just because you don't listen the same way they do. Find what works for you and lets you enjoy your music the most.

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