Adding Streaming to your HiFi System

Netflix has 60 million subscribers and 23% of the adult U.S. population stream every day. For music, a huge collection of very good sound quality tracks are available to stream from Tidal, Deezer and now Qobuz and an increasing number of sites offer high resolution downloads for purchase. Easy to use affordable products make streaming very straight forward. What's stopping you from exploring music through these online services or building your own library of studio quality versions of your favorite music?

Online Streaming Services

Subscription based online music services are becoming an integral part of the music business following in the footsteps of the TV. In combining distribution with promotion - many new releases are exclusive to a streaming servce - they are a great way to keep up with what's new in music. Playlists assemble togther tracks with common overall themes of mood, genre, time period and it is not difficult to imagine how much more elaborate these could become over time especially as artifical intelligence tracks the music you play. These content elements add value to the cost of subscription and have helped combat against lost revenue from free downloading.

Faster internet has afforded a significant boost in sound quality that is well worth the premium subscription rate but the full value is only realized if these services are streamed on high quality audio streamers. Convenience was the initial appeal of these services, but savvy consumers have come to appreciate that better sound quality enhances the enjoyment. Audio components use different ways to bring online streaming as a source into your system and we are happy to guide you through the ones that we carry at kemela.

Streaming from Stored Digital Music Files

Are you still playing MP3 files on a portable music player? Just as the internet speeded up, the memory capacity of phones has increased and the market for audiophile portable players has blossomed. Music lovers enjoy master level studio quality sound reproduction at home as well as on the go from downloading high sample rate PCM and DSD files. With most recordings, particularly MP3 files, music is dynamically compressed to make quiet sounds louder and restrain the peak levels to make music more listenable in environments with high ambient back ground noise or simply to make the music sound bolder.

Online streaming services may use dynamically compressed versions of the music like broadcast radio and a lower bit rate to save internet bandwidth (20% of the internet's bandwidth is taken up by Netflix). The better streaming apps will display both the file type and bit rate (lower bit rates tend to be more compressed).
Playing downloaded files will make use of the full dynamic range of your system for more emotional contrasts with better listenability and engagement. But there is also another technical reason why downloaded files sound better.

Locally Stored versus Online Services

Sound quality is superior with locally stored digital music files because they are easier to play. There is more work to do with online streaming because after passing through the internet via many different routes, data packets may arrive out of sequence, duplicated, or missing (the internet is not a guaranteed delivery service) With any kind of streaming, TV or audio, playback occurs while subsequent data is still being received and there is a real posibility of stalling if packets are delayed for too long and there's no going back for another attempt. With higher resolutions more data has to be delivered in a given time and there is a greater probability of a missing piece and therefore an increased likelyhood of stalling. Greater internet speeds alone will not improve the flow of traffic if there is a bottleneck because pipe is not large enough or if the demand is greater than the servers can provide.

More expensive streamers will do a better job of mitigating disrupted data than the less expensive ones and will also separate out the music data from all the other data on your home network. But playing a locally stored file is a far easier task; you have the full set of data in the correct sequence and it only has to be read off like a CD. Of course accuracy and precision still are important as is a real time process with no second chance to get data.

Keeping digital music files organized and backed-up

It used to be that keeping music files organised and backed-up was a burden that deterred many from getting into 'computer audio'. Album art identifies the CDs and Vinyl records we want to play and how we organize them on the shelf. Digital file names can and typcially was used by early adopters but it's tricky because whatever convention we used to write out filenames there would always be exceptions. Should files be kept all in one folder or distributed across a hierachy of folders?

While CD's unfortunately don't store information about their contents, digital files contain placeholders for such information. Today manufacturers of streaming components have made better use of this 'metadata' - title, album, composer, performer, genre, mood, date recorded, album art, etc - so apps can work with servers allowing music files to be sorted and found in different ways. This is still tricky because metadata can be bare bones or fairly elaborate depending on the type of digital music file and when files are copied, sometimes this information is stripped off also the way metadata is used can vary from one playback device to another. Companies making high-end streaming products do a better job of managing this process than low budget products. They may make better use of online automatic content recognition that retrieves the cover art and or partner with other companies providing software tools that can write the missing metadata to the music file.

Maintaining back-up copies must be part of the regimen associated with ownership of digital music files, fortunately manufacturers have made this push button easy - so long as you get into the habit of pushing the button regularly! Backing up preserves the data indefinitely and there is no sound degradation over time and your collection may be passed on to someone else.

With online streaming the music is organised for you and there is no need for back up, however as you don't own the music, once you stop paying your subscription, your playlists will dissappear and you will have no access to music. There is no music collection to pass on to others.

Wireless versus Wired Networks and Multi-room Synchronized Audio

We now have at kemela products that will let you play your music in mulitple rooms simultaneously. You can broadcast the same music synchronized across multiple rooms or each room can play a different track all controlled by apps you can install on tablets or phones. The music can be high resolution digital files or even a vinyl record. These products can use wired or wireless networking and are hugely less expensive than project managed, console programmed, custom-installed distributed audio systems. More rooms can easily be added and you can take the equipment with you if you move house. They will handle higher resolution than mass-market products that have dominated this area. Today's wireless routers have powerful transmission ability that is more resilient to interference. A wired ethernet connection is still the best.

Bluetooth technology is suitable for 16-bit music and continues to improve. It has the advantage of offering lower power consumption helping prolong battery life in portable devices. Simple pairing makes connecting easier than setting up a network connection and so is great for people bringing music to parties.

What to do when your old CD player dies

We are happy to walk you through the options and make recommendations for your particular circumstances. There continues to be a steady demand for CD players and transports especially if you have a large CD collection and the latest products will make your CD's sound far better than 10 years ago narrowing the gap in sound quality between CD's and high resolution recordings. If your CD collection is more modest, ripping CDs is a way to transition into digital files and streaming in general. We've chosen to carry brands with not just great sound quality but ones that will work with your existing gear and are easy to use.

The digital world is fast moving and can be a bit overwhelming if you are not particularly technically inclined. You could spend a lot of time in forums and reading reviews only to have too narrow a focus or base your thinking on out of date information. Understanding digital audio is a bit of a Pandora's box I'm afraid.

Advice and support

kemela provides great support to get you up and running and build your confidence in being able to manage digital files.
With streaming products, having access to good support is more important than any other audio component.

 
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