In order to get closer to the sound of the live performance these higher bit rates can be desirable.
In MP3 encoding, as well as with other lossy compression formats, musical information is lost in proportion to the degree of compression.
A preamplifier selects among several audio inputs, amplifies source-level signals (such as those from a turntable), and allows the listener to adjust the sound with volume and tone controls, switchable filters, etc. A power amplifier takes the “line-level” audio signal from the preamplifier and drives the loudspeakers; typically the only control on a power amplifier, if one exists at all, is a gain (level) control.
Audiophile amplifiers are available based on solid-state (semiconductor) technology, vacuum-tube (valve) technology, or hybrid technology—semiconductors and vacuum tubes.
Dedicated amplifiers are also commonly used by audiophiles to drive headphones, especially those with high impedance and/or low sensitivity, or electrostatic headphones
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The cabinet of the loudspeaker is known as the enclosure. There is a wide variety of loudspeaker enclosure designs, including sealed (acoustic suspension), ported (bass-reflex), transmission line, infinite baffle, horn loaded, and aperiodic. The enclosure plays a major role in the sound of the loudspeaker.
The drivers are the actual sound-producing elements, referred to as tweeters, midranges, woofers, and subwoofers. Driver designs include dynamic, electrostatic, plasma, ribbon, planar, ionic, and servo-actuated. Drivers are made from various materials, including paper pulp, polypropylene, kevlar, aluminum, magnesium, beryllium, and vapor-deposited diamond.
The direction and intensity of the output of a loudspeaker, called dispersion or polar response, has a large effect on its sound. Various methods are employed to control the dispersion. These methods include monopolar, bipolar, dipolar, 360 degree, horn, waveguide, and line source. These terms refer to the configuration and arrangement of the various drivers in the enclosure.
The positioning of loudspeakers in the room and of the optimum listening position (referred to as the “sweet spot”) is of great importance in producing optimum sound. Loudspeaker output is influenced by interaction with room boundaries, particularly bass response, and high frequency transducers are directional, or “beaming.”
Audiophiles use a wide variety of accessories and fine-tuning techniques, otherwise known as “tweaks,” to improve the sound of their systems. These tweaks include: filters to clean the electricity; equipment racks to isolate components from floor vibrations; specialty power cables, interconnect cables (e.g., between preamplifier and power amplifier), and loudspeaker cables; loudspeaker stands (and footers to isolate them from the stands); and room treatments – to name but a few.
Room treatments consist of several types. One type is sound-absorbing materials which are placed strategically within a listening room to reduce the amplitude of early reflections, and to deal with resonance modes. Another type is called diffusion which is designed to reflect the sound in a scattered fashion. Room treatments can be expensive and difficult to optimize—as acoustics is considered to be both an art and a science.
Audiophiles may use headphones as a high quality output for their music.
Audiophile-standard headphones retail in the region of $60–$1,700, although it is possible to spend upwards of $14,000 (e.g. the Sennheiser HE-90). Headphones marketed to audiophiles are a tiny fraction of the cost of comparable speaker systems and do not require any room adjustment for music enjoyment. Running afoul of community noise regulations or even disturbing roommates can be avoided. Newer canal-phones, while as expensive as their larger counterparts, can be driven by less powerful outputs like portable devices.
Headphones are also often used by audiophiles in environments that wouldn’t accommodate a full audio system, such as the workplace or an unsuitable room at home. Some audiophiles[who?] claim that there are headphones that can surpass the quality of any entry level Hi-Fi speaker set.
Audiophiles are split into three schools of thought regarding testing. Objectivists believe that audio system measurements and double blind testing is of the greatest importance. Subjectivists believe that measured performance can not account for all discernible differences in sound quality and thus they rely on extended listening tests to form an opinion. Audiophiles in the third group choose to combine both approaches by performing objective technical tests in combination with extended subjective listening tests.
Given that each step in capturing, storing, and playing back music may degrade it, especially due to the fact that circuitry is prone to electromagnetic interference and electronic noise, many audiophiles agree that the fewer and simpler the stages, the better. Many audiophile components, for example, lack tone control circuits, since it is felt that these may degrade the audio quality while moving the sound away from the ideal.
The minimalist subjectivist assertion is that music contains elements which cannot be measured by electronic instruments, so the less one alters the original signal, the more likely it is that this unmeasurable quality is preserved. Conversely, corrections for imperfections in the equipment cannot be adjusted, nor can effects of the specific room that is in use.
Objectivists, however, want to reasonably quantify and specify the effects of input source, amplifier set-up, system power, speaker configuration, etc. on the listening experience. This desire is complementary to purely subjective preferences in quantifying the perceptible effects of different equipment set-ups.
Analog sound vs. digital sound reproduction
Audiophiles differ in opinion over the relative value and performance of digital and analog media. Pro-digital audiophiles believe that digital technology’s absence of clicks, pops, wow, flutter, acoustic feedback, and rumble make it superior to records. They also assert that digital technology has a higher signal-to-noise ratio, has a wider dynamic range, has less total harmonic distortion, and has a flatter and more extended frequency response. Pro-analog audiophiles believe that analog sound lacks the deleterious effects caused by the analog to digital conversion necessary to produce CDs and therefore analog music reproduction from records played on a properly configured turntable/tonearm setup is superior to digital music reproduction from CDs played on CD players. Additionally, pro-analog audiophiles often find the coloration of the music in analog formats to be desirable.
In the high-fidelity debate, some prefer vacuum-tube electronics over solid-state electronics, because despite inferior measured performance, some claim a warmer or more musical sound. Vacuum-tube amplifiers are often attacked as inferior because, in addition to their substantially higher total harmonic distortion, they require rebiasing, are less reliable, generate more heat, are less powerful, and are often more expensive.
Some have long believed that sound quality was degraded by large levels of negative feedback in amplifiers. Poorly-designed feedback systems can produce poor sound quality. Thus the association of feedback with poor sound quality is likely a reflection of poorly-designed power amplifiers that use feedback incorrectly. Feedback impacts the harmonic balance of the distortion spectra.