Comparing Audio Formats: High-Resolution vs. Current Standards

With the introduction of PonoMusic’s Kickstarter (which at the time of writing sits at just about $5.3M in crowd-funding with almost two weeks left), high-resolution audio has been on the mind of a lot of music lovers lately.  The Neil Young-backed campaign currently has over 15,000 backers, with over 13,000 backers preordering an actual, physical PonoPlayer, which shows that there is a real demand for higher-quality audio.

But what is high-resolution audio?  The simplest answer is that high-res audio is digital music that uses larger samples at a greater frequency than standard CD “lossless” audio.  It all boils down to more data representing the audio you’re listening to.  If you’ve ever downloaded lossless audio in formats like FLAC and ALAC (both offered on Murfie), you’ve probably gotten CD-quality files that use a 16-bit sample size and 44.1 kHz sample rate.

The team behind PonoMusic looks to push the currently less popular high-res audio standards into the mainstream.  These files typically use a 24-bit sample size at a sample rate of either 96 kHz or 192 kHz.  In the past, these files were prohibitively larger, but increased network speeds and decreased storage cost has finally made them a viable option.

(Note: According to their Kickstarter FAQ, the PonoMusic store will offer files at CD-quality, not just high-res, stating that the store “has a quality spectrum, ranging from really good to really great, depending on the quality of the available master recordings.”)

Neil Young + Pono
Image Copyright CBS (via The Quietus)

The only remaining question, then, is if the difference in quality is worth the added cost.  Additionally, labels have been slow to make albums available in this quality, and many works were never recorded in a way that allows for high-res products.  I don’t want to take a position one way or the other, but I do want to give you the chance to test out some high-res music and decide on your own.

To help you decide if high-res audio is for you, we’ve enlisted the help of The Cypress String Quartet, who have generously allowed us to share a sample from their release Beethoven: The Late String Quartets.  Below, you can download a high-res test sample in 24-bit / 96 kHz FLAC (which Murfie currently offers for vinyl digitization), as well as CD-quality 16-bit / 44.1 kHz FLAC, 320 kbps MP3 and 320 kbps AAC.

Audio Format Comparison Samples (right click & “save link as”):

All formats in one zip folder

High-Res 24-bit / 96 kHz FLAC
CD-Quality 16-bit / 44.1 kHz FLAC
CD-Quality 16-bit / 44.1 kHz ALAC
320 kbps MP3
320 kbps AAC

If you need a program to play the samples, VLC media player is a free, open-source application that will do exactly that.

So, what do you think?  Take a listen to the samples, and let me know in the comments or hit us up on twitter.


Note: These samples are provided courtesy The Cypress String Quartet, who reserve all rights.  Please do not re-distribute without permission from the quartet.

Amazon FireTV

UPDATE (4/4/2014): The FireTV came in today as expected.  The office squirrels are going nuts for it: see for yourself.

In case you haven’t seen the news, Amazon dropped the bombshell that is the FireTV on April 2nd.  After a lot of speculation that Amazon would be getting deeper into the gaming industry, the FireTV focuses on streaming TV with voice search, predictive suggestions and some surprisingly good games. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos spoke to Mike Snider of USA Today about the device:

“Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price — people are going to love Fire TV. And our open approach gives you not just Amazon Instant Video and Prime Instant Video, but also Netflix, Hulu Plus and more.”

What we find most exciting about the FireTV, however, is Amazon’s commitment that the device is “Made for Music.”  Amazon has Dolby Digital Plus certification and a built-in optical audio out to back it up, too. In our ongoing efforts to help you enjoy your music collection in more places and on more devices, we’re taking a good look at the Amazon FireTV.

Ours should arrive tomorrow, and we’re excited to see what the little box has to offer!  Stay tuned, and let us know what you think of this surprise launch.

We’re fans of Pono at Murfie!

As of right now, Pono, the FLAC music player conceptualized by Neil Young, has raised over 2 million dollars in the company’s Kickstarter. Huzzah!

At Murfie, we’re so glad to see this project off the ground. Pono is meant to restore the true quality of music as it is meant to be enjoyed—in a high quality, rich format that represents the sound musicians want to convey. Over time, compressing music in digital formats like mp3 with the intent to make it more portable resulted in a decrease in sound quality, which many people don’t even realize.

Such widespread interest in Pono further confirms our belief that there really is a strong demand for quality listening out there. At Murfie, FLAC is the core format that we use to store your music. We’ve provided FLAC downloads of members CDs to them from the very beginning. This year, we are thrilled to provide lossless FLAC streaming via Sonos, as well as FLAC downloads and streaming of members’ vinyl records.

We’re also fans of how Pono is positioned on collecting music. Based on recent reports, their FLAC catalog is expanding. At our headquarters, we quite possibly have the biggest FLAC catalog that can be listened to on Pono. We’ve turned the content on your CDs and vinyl into a high quality modern format, and we’re excited that Murfie members will have another device capable of playing their collections in a way that keeps listening standards high.

Check out these articles about FLAC music on the Murfie blog!
  –
Listen to your collection in FLAC!
Send CDs to Murfie
Vinyl requests > email info@murfie.com

Xconomy’s Curt Woodward has a point…

Curt Woodward reviewed Murfie for Xconomy, and found some areas we need to work on.

First of all, I want to thank Curt for his review. It’s a thorough, fair, and objective take on Murfie from fresh eyes. Good stuff. Some bits of it make me cringe, but we find that sort of thing motivating – we’re obsessed with getting better.

This post is a reaction to and apology for the part of the piece that makes me cringe, and in coming days I’ll also write up some good news for Curt and anyone considering Murfie. Things already in the pipeline address some of his other points – we’re giving greater ease and flexibility for sending in discs, and improving our music player interfaces.

On to Curt’s experience. Anyone can shop at Murfie and buy new discs, customer accounts are free. That said, our core service for music collectors involves importing their existing CD collections and hosting them in Murfie’s cloud. That is a service members pay for. Curt’s review of Murfie therefore included trying that out by sending in a 25 CD kit, with which we gave out an automatic Gold Membership, and that’s where the trouble started.

Curt’s kit experience was far from ideal, and had one key frustration – he didn’t know yet if he wanted an ongoing membership at all, and yet he couldn’t opt out of the one we include with a kit. Since our memberships auto-renew by default and we handle subscription changes via our support desk, this constituted in Curt’s review an “insistence on getting me locked into an annual membership” with “no way to turn off the auto-renew on the Murfie website.”

OK. Yeah. Hmmm. I can’t disagree with that, and it does suck. It makes me feel bad that Curt found our service dodgy in this way, and he’s right to find it overly aggressive. We got this wrong. We should not ‘force’ an auto-renewing membership on someone who sends in a kit, or in fact at all. It’s also not reasonable at this stage in Murfie’s growth to have this be something customers can’t manage on the website.

Therefore, I apologize to Curt and every Murfie member for the lack of control on this up til now, and we’re going to do a few things to fix it:

1. We’ll clarify what paid membership is required for, and how many discs you can send in for free with one

2. We’ll make any membership that comes with a package or kit something you can decline

3. We’ll switch auto-renewal to an opt in anywhere a member buys or accepts a membership, add controls on the website for changing that setting, and keep the current warnings of upcoming renewal

We got here because our member collection hosting products are high touch and often involve some discussion with our customer. As we’ve grown we’ve always handled a lot of things via our support desk, because we have the greatest flexibility and agility that way, where we do our damnedest to satisfy each customer on any request. In this case that and our desire to make subscribing the default to help us grow led us astray. We should have added more user-control to subscription renewal a while ago, and we’ll do it now. I’ll let you and Curt know when it’s done.

Thanks,
Preston – Murfie Co-Founder

photo credit: hannah k

CDs and Fruitcake

CDs include a variety of content, last forever, and many of us have received them as gifts. Some we love to listen to, and others we hate. They are also all inedible—entirely unsuited for human consumption.

This makes CDs we hate much like Fruitcake. In fact, unless we throw away a lot of fruitcake, we would probably all have as much or more of it than we have CDs we don’t like. We’re certainly never going to eat the CDs, or the fruitcake.

The CEO of International Fruitcake Machines once said, “I think there is a world market for maybe 5 fruitcakes”—and he was probably wildly optimistic.

There’s nothing to be done about the massive fruitcake surplus, it’s just one of the many traditions that makes the holiday such a boost to the economy. But for the CDs, there is a solution: Murfie.

CDs you don’t like are unlike fruitcake in one very important respect: Somebody likes your CD, even if you don’t. This gives you a great alternative to throwing them away (or, heaven forbid, eating them).

So here is a refresher on sending discs* to Murfie, where you can keep the discs you love, and sell, trade, or even just give away the less palatable ones to folks who find them more to their taste.

sendcds

*Sorry, due to weak fruitcake demand Murfie does not offer fruitcake kits at this time.
Special thanks to Preston Austin for the article idea :)

Murfie Vinyl is Coming!

Pro-Ject Audio RPM 5.1
Photo courtesy Pro-Ject Audio.

Meet the RPM 5.1 by Pro-Ject Audio. The RPM 5.1 features a newly upgraded low-resonance MDF main platter; a completely decoupled motor with a finely tuned two-step pulley drive; a single piece carbon-fibre tonearm and headshell assembly; adjustable azimuth, counterweight and anti-skate weights; and more. This turntable is solid, and it sounds great!

This is the turntable that will be used to rip your records when they arrive at Murfie HQ in Madison, Wisconsin.  After hearing requests from our members again and again, we are happy to say that a fully functional Murfie vinyl service is on its way.

Your feedback is very important to us. For that reason, we’ve built this service from the ground up with constant member contact. Before writing a single line of code, we surveyed hundreds of members and spoke one-on-one with dozens of real people interested in getting their vinyl records on Murfie.

With beta testers sending their records in as we speak, I’m glad to finally spill the beans about the Murfie vinyl service. We’ve been hard at work for the last few months learning from our members and building a service that both suits their needs and offers a competitive price for vinyl digitization – plus all the benefits of cloud access. 

Stay tuned for more information about the Murfie vinyl service. I can’t wait to share more details with you in the weeks to come!

“Are you paying more for digital songs and albums than you need to?” Murfie says yes.

According to a recent comparison made by Mark Harris, buyers of digital music online save a significant amount of money when they purchase music from an alternate source than iTunes—like Amazon, for example.

How significant are those savings? We have some data that blows both iTunes and Amazon out of the water. When comparing the prices of 50 popular albums from a variety of genres on iTunes, Amazon, and murfie.com, and breaking it down by individual track price as well, Murfie has the lowest prices across the board.

For the following chart, we pulled the lowest album price from each of the three services, whether it was new or used: [View Price Comparison Chart Here]

You’d save $305.53 if you bought these 50 albums on Murfie over iTunes, and $159.87 and $246.48 if you chose Murfie over Amazon for physical albums and mp3 downloads, respectively. That’s 172% more you’re spending on 50 iTunes albums than Murfie albums, 90% more on Amazon CDs, and 138% more on Amazon mp3 albums.

An important thing to note is that when you buy an album on Murfie, you’re buying a real, physical CD stored at Murfie headquarters. From there, the innovative Murfie platform allows you to instantly access the music on your CD anyway you’d like: as downloads in your choice of formats (mp3, aac, FLAC, ALAC), via unlimited streaming (320kbps mp3 via website, iOS app, Android app, Sonos, VOCO), via delivery of the physical disc, or a combination of all of these.

As noted on the chart, some artists don’t even have downloads for sale on iTunes or Amazon. Since every album purchase on Murfie is backed by a real CD, you can download and stream music by these artists.

So what can you do with such significant savings? Buy more great music!

At the average cost of $3.56 per album on Murfie, you could get 85 more albums if you chose Murfie over iTunes, 44 more albums if you chose Murfie over Amazon CDs, and 69 more albums if you chose Murfie over Amazon mp3s.

If you don’t think Murfie’s prices can get any lower, think again. With a Murfie Gold or Murfie HiFi membership, you can save an extra $1 per album in the Murfie marketplace.

Albums come and go quickly at Murfie, and these prices were noted on 11/5/13. Visit murfie.com to buy CDs online and get unlimited streaming and downloads of your collection.