Ones and Zeros – Digital Audio Files

1s and 0s

Groovemachine has been spinning all the right tunes in all the right places since 1990 – yes, in the last millennium when vinyl on turntables was still the standard. CD players were starting to make a presence but it was early days for it be accepted by the DJ fraternity. Then of course those silver plastic discs became the norm, and now we have digital audio file systems. Ironically vinyl is starting to make a resurgence in the HiFi world but there aren’t a huge number of DJs that want to go back to lugging crates of records around each gig!

Digital audio files are all very well but the format used is the critical aspect. MP3s, those files beloved of iTunes, Amazon and pretty much every digital audio file download service, are great for music on the go. The problem with MP3 files is that to get the file size down a lot of the audio information is removed, so for example if there’s a loud sound that largely masks a quieter sound the information for the quieter sound is just ignored. As an unwanted by-product, the compression process also generates higher frequency noise (a kind of “sizzle” – like tin foil being played with) and distortion. For some good examples of this have a look and listen. I’ve provided a somewhat simplified description of what’s known as psychoacoustics (which is not a nutter shouting in a room) and if you really want to dig into the ins and outs take a deep breath and read what Sound On Sound have to say about MP3 and other “lossy” compression formats.

“OK, I get it, when it comes to audio quality MP3s aren’t great!” I hear you (possibly) cry. If you read either of the articles from the links above you’ll have heard about “lossless compression” this is where the audio information is kept 100% intact but the file size is significantly smaller than a CD audio file. One of these lossless formats is FLAC. Which is why Groovemachine have meticulously created and maintain FLAC files of their CD library – so gaining the advantage of not lugging 100’s (1000’s?) of CDs around but still producing CD quality sound (a true Win-Win situation).

So next time you see a laptop-toting DJ, check they’re not using iTunes as their source of music 😉


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