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!

This Week in Music History (May 21st-27th)

What’s music history got for us this week? Learn up and boogie down!

300492-large5/21- On this day in 1970, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young released the single “Ohio” in reaction to the May 4, 1970 Kent State shootings during which unarmed college students were shot by members of the Ohio National Guard.

2174-large5/22- On this day in 1965, The Beatles reached No.1 on the US singles chart with their track “Ticket to Ride”. The song was the group’s eighth No.1 hit. It was also used in the Beatles’ second film Help! and was a part of the film’s soundtrack.

375787-large5/23- On this day in 1970, Paul McCartney‘s debut solo album McCartney began a three-week run atop the US album chart. Apart from a few vocal contributions by Linda McCartney, McCartney performed and recorded the entire album as a solo project.

101405-large5/24- On this day in 1974, jazz legend, bandleader, composer and pianist Duke Ellington died of lung cancer and pneumonia at age 75. Ellington’s career spanned over 50 years; he was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 1966, and the United States Mint launched a new coin featuring his face in 2009.

32093-large5/25– On this day in 1968, Simon and Garfunkel‘s fourth studio album Bookends became the duo’s second US No.1 hit. The album was a breakthrough for the pair, launching them to superstar status. It contained their No.1 hit single “Mrs. Robinson”, which went on to win a Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

12589-large5/26- On this day in 1990, the top five positions on the US singles chart were held by female artists for the first time. Madonna was at No.1 with “Vogue”, members of Heart were at No.2, Sinead O’Connor at No.3, Wilson Phillips at No.4, and Janet Jackson at No. 5.

114141-large5/27- On this day in 1977, The Sex Pistols‘ single “God Save the Queen” was released in the United Kingdom. Although the track sold over 200,000 copies in one week and peaked at No.2 on the UK charts, it was banned by TV, radio, and stores because of its controversial lyrics.

Pick up these pieces of music history in our CD marketplace! Every album purchase comes with unlimited streaming and downloads in mp3, aac, and lossless formats FLAC and ALAC. :-)

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.

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!
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Listen to your collection in FLAC!
Send CDs to Murfie
Vinyl requests > email info@murfie.com

Interview with Everest [Podcast]

You can’t go wrong with rock music. (That’s what they say, right?)

Here’s an interview with a true rocker, Russell Pollard, who has been a member of bands like Sebadoh and Folk Implosion. Right now Russell is front man of the band Everest, and after being on the road with Neil Young, Wilco, and My Morning Jacket, he can sense the good fortune that surrounds the band as they continue doing what they really love.

300181-largeWho: Russell Pollard; interviewed by Kayla Liederbach
What: Some background about Everest, stories from the road, what it’s like meeting heroes, and sharing Taco Bell with Greg Ginn.
Where: Murfie HQ, Madison, WI
When: Monday, June 10th, 2013
How: Recorded by Kayla Liederbach
File: mp3 version

Find music by Everest in our shop.

Check out more of the band at everestband.com.

Check out some of Russell’s favorite new bands: Two Sheds, Delta Spirit, JP5

Into RSS? Follow our podcast feed via https://blog.murfie.com/category/podcasts/feed.

This Week in Music History (May 29th-June 4th)

What’s music history got for us this week? Learn up and boogie down!!

MI00018150135/29- On this day in 1969, Crosby, Stills & Nash released their self-titled debut album, (you guessed it), Crosby, Stills & Nash. Occasionally joined by Neil Young, this supergroup went on to release 7 more studio albums, and they are still active to this day.4954-large

5/30- Speaking of Neil Youngon this day in 1997, Neil cancelled his European tour, because he sliced his finger while cutting a ham sandwich. Ouchie!

23407-large5/31- On this day in 1976, The Who set a Guinness World Record for being the loudest rock band of all time. Their sound measured a whopping 126 dB, measured at a distance of 32 meters from the speakers at their concert in London. The possibility of hearing damage has been estimated to begin around 120 db. WHAT? COME AGAIN?5820-large

6/1- The Beatles released one of their enormously popular albums, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, on this day in 1967. This collection of songs was infused with a new kind of psychedelia that Beatles fans hadn’t seen so prominently in the past. Is dub your thing? You might like the 2009 Easy Star All-Stars reggae remake, Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band.

43800-large6/2- Bo Diddley, known as “The Originator” for his influence on the transition of blues to rock, passed away on this day on 2008. In addition to his influence on countless musicians, and modern genres from rock to rap, he left behind the Bo Diddley Beat, a rhythm that has been used in a surprisingly large variety and number of songs.34961-large

6/3- On this day in 1967, Jefferson Airplane performed “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” on American Bandstand. You can watch the video here!

MI00000401386/4- On this day in 1984, Bruce Springsteen released his album Born in the U.S.A. The album contained seven Top Ten hits and is noted as one of the best-selling albums of all time. Nice one, Bruce!

So you wanna own any of these albums, or hear ‘em in lossless format? Well we just so happen to have them for sale (hehe). Right now these titles start at just $1!

Shopkeep of the Week

2013_0403_featuredshop_may23Way, way back in the good old days of October 2011, Marcus decided to sign up for Murfie. Since then, he’s ordered two kits and sent about 450 discs from Massachusetts to Madison. He’s sold hundreds of them so far, and made some nice cash! Heres a little bit more about this CD-selling pro.

Murfie: How did you originally learn about Murfie?
Marcus: I heard about Murfie on NPR on the bus back to Boston from NYC and I signed up on my smartphone then and there.

Murfie: When did you purchase your first CD? What was it?
Marcus: I purchased my first CD in 1992 at Turtle Music in Atlanta, but I can’t remember what album it was.

Murfie: How many CDs do you own (or did you own at peak)?
Marcus: I owned over 500 CDs at one time.

Murfie: How tall are you?
Marcus: 5 feet 11 and a half inches, and that half is important.

Murfie: Tell us about your musical tastes.
Marcus: My musical tastes are pretty wide ranging, from Lightning Hopkins, Muddy Waters, and Miles Davis, to Neil Young, Radiohead, and The Decemberists, but it probably culminates in the Southern Blues/Rock sound. I never get tired of JJ Grey & Mofro, Whiskey Town, My Morning Jacket and Widespread Panic.

Murfie: What can folks expect to find in your store (if different than the above)?
Marcus: A little bit of everything.

Murfie: If you could meet any musician or band in person, who would it be and why?
Marcus: That is a tough one. I would probably go with Muddy Waters since he is no longer with us and there is still a chance I could meet Neil Young or the boys from Widespread Panic.

Murfie: What is your favorite album at the moment?
Marcus: Since it is spring, I really love listing to the first disc of Light Fuse, Get Away with the windows down while driving. Panic is extremely tight on this live album and the set list progression is just pure perfection.

Murfie: What do you plan to do with the millions of dollars you’re making from your Murfie shop?
Marcus: Create my own festival headlined by Panic and Neil Young so they can perform “Walk On”, “Are You Ready for the Country” and “Mr. Soul” together.

Murfie: Which Beatle was your favorite?
Marcus: I don’t have a favorite Beatle, I know it may be sacrilegious, but I’m not really a Beatles fan.

Check out Marcus’ shop on Murfie!

Shopkeep of the Week is a weekly feature that focuses on our most interesting Murfie shopkeepers. These are music lovers like you who have sold hundreds of pre-loved CDs on Murfie and have hundreds more at the ready to please your ears! If you’d like your Murfie Shop to be featured, or if you’d like to nominate a shop to be featured, please e-mail us at info@murfie.com and let us know.