Is hi-res audio worth the price?

As Onkyo plans to expand its hi-res music store to the US, it’s time to decide if hi-res downloads are worth paying more for than CD-quality files.

In recent times, we’ve seen more focus on the quality of music files online. For music lovers who enjoy digital music, this is a welcome change. Folks like musician Neil Young are taking a stance against the low-quality downloads that consumers are used to getting from online stores like iTunes.

“We live in the digital age, and unfortunately it’s degrading our music, not improving,” said Young.

To combat crappy digital music, Young launched his Pono device and its corresponding hi-res audio store online. Now, Japanese consumer electronics company Onkyo is planning to expand its hi-res audio store, e-Onkyo Music, to the US, and hopefully tap into the same audiophile market that prefers purchasing higher quality files.

CD-quality audio is better than low-quality files, and hi-res audio is considered to be even better than CD-quality audio in terms of bandwidth and dynamic rage. But when the two are compared in listening tests, even to high-bitrate mp3s, a lot of people can’t hear the difference. For this reason, the question of whether hi-res is truly “better” for listeners than CD-quality is still under debate. (Try comparing them for yourself!)

So how much do places like Onkyo and Pono charge for a hi-res album in FLAC format? Here’s an example, compared to the price on murfie.com for CD-quality FLAC.

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Pono eOnkyo Murfie
quality 48kHz/24bit 48kHz/24bit 44.1kHz/16bit
price $22.99 ~$31.00 $16.00

The Diana Krall album is a new release. How about building your back catalogue with an old favorite?

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Pono eOnkyo Murfie
quality 192.0kHz/24bit 192kHz/24bit 44.1kHz/16bit
price  $24.79  ~$30.00  $3.00

High-quality music is great, but it would be outrageous to pay for a hi-res album if you can’t hear the difference between that and CD-quality audio, which is already high. Some have even claimed that the hi-res movement is profitable trickery aimed at elitists and audiophiles.

Ultimately the choice is up to you, the listener. Find out what you can hear—and can’t hear—and make the choice that makes sense for you. When you choose to buy an album from Murfie, you’re buying a real CD that you can download (FLAC, ALAC, mp3, aac) and stream on different devices (320kbps mp3 or FLAC). Then choose to store the physical disc with us, or have it shipped to you.

For us, quality is key, along with providing access to your music that isn’t limited by any brand or device. Since everything released on CD can be ripped and downloaded in FLAC, Murfie just might be the largest source of high-quality FLAC music online. See for yourself!

Cloud streaming FLAC – Possible, Practical, Awesome

Our friends at @Bliss_audio retweeted this post from @audiophilestyleCloud Storage & High Resolution Streaming – Possible? Practical? Pricey?  It’s a very thorough write-up on streaming your personal music from a cloud storage service, and you totally should go read it right now if you’re serious about high-quality audio (as you can imagine, we’ve done a lot of that math ourselves :)

We reached the same conclusions as well, that streaming lossless music from the cloud is not only possible, but it is also practical and awesome!

When Murfie first offered a streaming music service we insisted on using 320k MP3 as our lowest-quality format.  Most of the experts thought this was unnecessary at the time and most other streaming services used much lower quality.  We disagreed, did our homework and found that we could reliably stream 320k to all the devices we support.  We felt that our members, who were used to downloading high-quality formats (including lossless FLAC) from high-quality sources wouldn’t be satisfied with the low-quality bitrates offered elsewhere.  So we made the investment and the technology to deliver a higher-quality stream regardless of what everyone else was doing.

Not long after our original streaming service went live we were already looking for a way to provide something better.  After more R&D we successfully demonstrated lossless streaming of FLAC over the Internet in our labs, and began to figure out how we could offer this as a premium service to our members who demand the highest quality available from their CD’s with the convenience of streaming from the Internet.  One of the biggest challenges to this project was finding playback devices that could handle streams of this quality but over time these became available, and we released our first lossless streaming service on the Voco music device.

Since that time we’ve been adding more devices to the list of players that can handle our lossless streaming service (we call it “HiFi“), and of course clever hackers can always use our public API to access the service using their own home-grown solutions.

It was very exciting to run across @audiophilestyle’s post this morning and know that there are other music fans out there who care this much about the convenience of streaming without compromising the quality of their recordings.  Paired with the large amount of lossless recordings available in the Murfie Marketplace, we think our lossless streaming service is pretty awesome, but that doesn’t mean we’re not already working on making it awesome-er :)

 

Interview with Thorsten Loesch of iFi (Makers of the iPhono Preamplifier)

Recently, we introduced you to the Pro-Ject Audio RPM 5.1 – the turntable that will be driving Murfie’s (currently-in-beta) vinyl service. Today, I’d like to introduce the iFi iPhono Preamplifier. The iPhono is a versatile phono preamp that is helping us accurately reproduce the audio on your LPs as it was originally intended.

For those who don’t know, when vinyl records are pressed, an equalizer is first applied to the audio in order to compensate for some of the physical qualities of vinyl. For example, pressing un-equalized audio into vinyl with no manipulation to the lower range could cause grooves that are too wide for the stylus. To make up for this, different companies have applied different EQ curves before masters have been created. To get accurate audio reproduction, you must then apply a equalization to the raw signal from the record you are playing.

In the process of doing that, you also have to worry about amplifying the signal to line level without adding noise or distortion. There’s also an added complication in that you have to accommodate the myriad EQ curves used over the years.

The iFi iPhono Preamplifier helps us tackle these issues with a simple and robust setup. I sat down for a chat with Thorsten Loesch (Chief Designer at Abbingdon Music Research and iFi) to discuss iFi, the iPhono, music and more.

John: First of all, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. Tell me a bit about iFi. On your site, I see that iFi is a company striving to be green. Can you tell me what that means to iFi, and what steps you’ve taken to make audio gear green?

Thorsten: Thank you. First and foremost, being majority-owned by Abbingdon Music Research, a maker of ultra-fi audio products, we are upheld to a high, corporate standard. Here in England, as part of the EU, we have to adhere to the EU regulations, and from 1st Jan 2013, the Standby law meant that all electronic products must consume <0.5W when in standby. We went down the other route, which is to not have a Standby option. So the iFi unit is either on or off!

Even when in use, our products only consume 9v. We also use as few plastics as possible – for obvious reasons. We endeavor to make our product range to offer as much long-term enjoyment as possible, so that the user does not have to change any iFi product, or if they do, then they can pass onto friends or family.

Our packaging is 100% cardboard so it can be recycled. These small initiatives give you a snapshot into how we try our best to be environmentally-friendly while still making really, really great sounding products.

John: You guys seem to have been quite busy lately. You were recently at the Guangzhou Show, and you’re headed to CES in January, correct?

Thorsten: Yes. We are going to showcase the nano iDSD and iCAN series at CES. These are palm-sized products aimed at the broader market for audio on the move, but executed to a very high-quality.

The nano iDSD is a ‘Digital-to-Audio Converter’ so with suitable Computer/Smart Device, one can send the highest quality (lossless as opposed to lossy) files and enjoy them direct on in-ear monitors. The nano iCAN is a Headphone Amplifier that has 10x the power of a normal iPhone to ensure aftermarket headphones perform to their full potential.

John: The piece of equipment we’re excited about here at Murfie is the iPhono preamp. Can you talk about about the design of that device?
Continue reading Interview with Thorsten Loesch of iFi (Makers of the iPhono Preamplifier)

JPLAY: The solution for playing perfect lossless files

At Murfie, we’re big fans of lossless music. We are pleased as punch to recommend JPLAY, the solution for playing lossless files right from your computer.

JPLAY is software that ensures a properly-timed feed of audio files—meaning it minimizes buffering and latency issues for perfect-sounding audio to match perfect lossless files.

Due to its general-purpose nature PC may not always ensure precise timing of audio tracks. If you’re using your computer as a playback source for audio files, and you’re feeding those files into expensive components, JPLAY will ensure the audio feed is very properly timed. The beauty of this software extends by listening to external DACs connected via USB. With JPLAY’s time-sensitive parameters, the music sets the pace and not the PC or the CD spinning.

JPLAY is for PCs (and Mac-Boot Camp), and it matches perfectly with all kinds of hardware.

See for yourself! JPLAY 5.2 has just been launched, and you can download the free trial version by clicking this link: www.jplay.eu/trial/JPLAY5.2_TRIAL_Version.zip.

Special deal for Murfie customers (through 12/31/13):
For a limited time, the price for a JPLAY single license for Murfie customers is $121. It includes a 32 and 64-bit installer in one package, free lifetime upgrades and personal support directly from the authors. JPLAY will provide Murfie customers with the fully working player shortly after payment using www.jplay.eu/murfie/.

Here’s to the audiophiles out there!

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!

What Makes a CD Collectible, Part 2

Before we begin, there’s something key to point out here: any CD can be collectible, in the sense that it can be a part of your beloved Bob Dylan collection or your neighbor’s endless collection of ‘80s dance music. What we’re really talking about here is what makes a CD valuable. Although someone may be highly impressed by that ‘80s dance music collection, they’re unlikely to pay top dollar for it. We dug up what makes CDs the most valuable when being sold, traded and archived.

In the internet age, music aficionados have noticed a troubling trend: with so many CDs being sold online, it’s become increasingly easy to slap a “collectible” label on a CD and jack up the price. While there are lots of questionably valuable CDs floating around on the internet, there are four tried-and-true criteria that guarantee that that CD you have your eye on is the real deal.

1. Artist signature or inscription

If the CD is signed by the creator his/herself, you’re looking at a valuable, collectible CD. Just make sure the signature is authenticated!

2. Limited edition packaging/pressing

Occasionally, artists will release copies of a disc with rare, limited-edition packaging in just a select few copies. This is especially common with anniversary releases, like a “40th Anniversary Edition”. Verifying that the artwork matches that limited edition release is another surefire way to know you have a collectible.

3. CDs originally released on vinyl/other formats with limited release on CD

Many albums were originally released on vinyl, and had only a limited release in CD form. As a result, the few CDs available are considered collectible! One example is the album Love, Love by Julian Priester, which was only released in CD form in Germany.

4. Import-only albums

A CD that can only be imported into the US, rather than released here, is considered a collectible. For example, Japan-exclusive editions of albums—often including bonus tracks on major label releases—are common.

What does this mean for me?

If you’ve identified any of these types of valuable CDs in your collection, that’s awesome. That’s also where we at Murfie can help you out. When you send your CD collection to be ripped for downloading and streaming, we keep your same physical copy of your disc in our warehouse. That means that if you send us a collectible, you don’t lose that signed disc or other feature that makes it valuable (unless you decide to sell it in our marketplace!). It’s yours to keep, sell or trade as you choose. Happy collecting!

Special shout-out to John Kruse for his help with this blog post!

Stream The Beatles on Murfie

If you love to stream good music, then rest easy knowing that you can stream The Beatles on Murfie.

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It’s no secret that not all music is available for streaming on the internet. In many of these cases, the artist or record label will choose to keep that music off the cloud and push sales of physical discs instead.

Luckily, our business model here at Murfie offers you the best types of access to music from physical discs that you truly own. When you buy an album on Murfie, you have the freedom to stream it at 320 kbps with our Web Player, with any Sonos home listening device, and on the go with our iOS and Android apps. You also have the freedom to download that music in any format—even multiple formats if you want (after all, it’s your music)! At Murfie, you can download albums in mp3 and AAC, and lossless formats FLAC and Apple Lossless (ALAC).

Since purchases are backed by physical CDs that are stored at our warehouse, Murfie allows you to instantly stream The Beatles over HTTP at 320 kbps—so we’ve got real bragging rights! Real ownership lets you listen to your music collection—and any other music you buy—however you want.

See for yourself!