Monday, February 9, 2009

Which Way Up? [Part 1]

I'll like to talk about 'upgrade' for portable rig this week. One thing I want to make clear first is, I am merely providing an idea of how an sensible upgrade path should be (or at least I think what I will be talking about is the most logical approach), and you should adapt it to your own situation with flexibility. My theory for finding the upgrade path is simple - it is nothing more than identifying the weakest link in your current setup.

It might seem obvious to you now when I tell you to look for the weakest link in your setup, but it is often not. I have seen many people going the wrong way when it comes to spending money on new gears trying to improve on what they have currently.

The main goal of having a portable setup is to simply enjoy high quality music on-the-go. For many, it means getting a good headphone to replace the stock earbud or IEM that comes with your digital music player - well, that is both right and wrong. Think about this, if your are listening to 128kbps of .mp3 files or 96kbps of .wma music, getting a substantially good headphone will only reveal the flaw in your music (the artifact left by the low bitrate encoding process). After all, a good headphone by definition should be revealing. It supposes to show detail that you previously missed, but sometime it can do too good of a job. So what is the more logical approach of upgrading portable rig ? I rank them in importance:

Music
Source
Headphone
Amp
Others


Chapter 1: Because in the Beginning, There is Music...
First thing first: you want to make sure you have at least 192kbps of .mp3 files in your music collection. At this point of time, low bitrate music like 128kbps .mp3 is simply not acceptable. Of course, the higher the bitrate the better, but you also want to consider:

1) The size of the music files against the capacity of your player. If you rip music in extremely high bitrate or in lossless format, you might not be able to fit as many music in your player when there is limited space.

2) The format your music is in and the format that the player will support. This is mainly about how conviniant it will be for you to store, manage, sync and play the music. If you want to store lossless format in PC (as digital archive), than convert and sync music in low bitrate, that is fine. However, you might want to consider a high lossy format so it will work well for both PC and portable playback. Of course, choosing a good software to mange the music is important too. Remember, you will replace your DAP in the future, but you won't want to rebuild the whole music library every time just becasue you change your player.

3) Whether you can differentiate between format and bitrate. If you can't tell between 256kbps from 320kbps or lossless, or maybe .mp3 and .wma sound the same to you, than you might want to pick a good enough bitrate (not too low or high) that you find good sounding, and a format more widely accepted. In this way, you ensure you can still get good music and you don't need to worry too much into compatibility on future upgrade. In that sense, I can tell you right now those low bitrate music you bought online will not likely to survive to the next decade. You will be better off with high bitrate or lossless in DRM-free format, maybe even some old good compact disc.

To Part Two.

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Important: All postings are my own personal opinion only and should not be treated as absolute truth. I do get things wrong just like everyone else. Always do your own research!

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