If you care about music, you want the best. You want to hear the best bands playing their best songs, and through a medium that allows you to truly appreciate the quality of the recording. The problem is, audiophiles who want top-end quality can easily shell out tens of thousands of dollars—or more—on gear and upgrades.
Most of us don’t have access to that kind of cash, but that doesn’t mean we’re doomed to listen to low-quality music. There are plenty of affordable music upgrades that can significantly improve your listening experience—without tapping into your life savings.
How to Upgrade Your Music Quality
Try these investments, tips, and tricks to improve the quality of your music:
- Invest in the right headphones. If you’re like most people, headphones are the primary way you experience your music, so they should be one of your first upgrades. There are dozens of high-quality wireless headphones on the market, ranging from budget options that can give you a basic upgrade over your current set to lucrative options to give you a best-in-class experience. Look over the reviews carefully; some models are priced more than others without a comparable increase in sound quality. Aim for the best-quality pair you can afford.
- Get a mid-range speaker system. You can drop tens of thousands of dollars on a high-end speaker system, but the truth is, it’s not going to provide you much more of an upgrade than a mid-range speaker system; unless your ears are ridiculously more sensitive than the average person’s, you won’t be able to distinguish much of a difference. Save your money and invest in a decent system. Again, go over the reviews to find the right balance between price and quality.
- Consider installing soundproofing. You’d be amazed what a bit of noise cancellation can do for your sound quality. Installing soundproof insulation in your car, or using sound-absorbing foam in your primary listening room can create a dramatic improvement in your overall listening experience.
- Consider a DAC and amplifier. If you’re plugging headphones into a computer or a portable listening device, you might be suffering a loss in quality immediately; headphones don’t usually have a good digital-to-analog converter built in, which means you’ll suffer some loss in translation. A dedicated DAC will take care of that conversion for you, and a corresponding amp will relay the data to your headphones. You can get these relatively inexpensively, and once you start using one, you’ll feel like you invested in a brand-new pair of headphones.
- Up the bit rate. Take a look at the bit rate you’re using for your music; this is the amount of information used per second when playing back an audio file, such as an mp3. Bit rates can range from 96 to 320 Kbps, depending on how the file was compressed, or how you’re choosing to stream the file. While a rate of 128 Kbps is fairly standard, and equivalent to radio quality, you’ll want a rate of at least 160 Kbps, or preferably higher, if you want an optimal experience. Usually, getting this higher rate means re-downloading your files or upping the quality of your streaming service in the Settings menu, so it’s an easy switch that can make a world of difference.
- Choose the right environment. Think about where you’re listening to music. If you tend to listen to music on public transportation, you won’t have an optimal experience; there’s too much background noise for even noise-cancelling headphones to entirely filter out. Instead, find a room, a place, or a time where you can listen in near-total silence.
- Clean up your library. Even the most dedicated audiophile’s music library gets cluttered from time to time. After acquiring hundreds of new artists and thousands of new albums, you’re going to end up with some files that don’t work or aren’t high-quality, some artists you don’t particularly care for, and plenty of files that don’t have the proper meta data. Take the time to clean up your library, and you’ll be left with better-quality music and data you can use to improve your listening experience further.
If you don’t have the time or money to utilize all these tips, the best place to start is wherever your listening experience is weakest. If all your files are tightly compressed mp3s, start by downloading higher-quality files. If you’re using dollar store earbuds, start by investing in a pair of nice, studio-quality headphones (or the best you can afford). Creating the perfect listening soundscape isn’t going to happen overnight, so make upgrades area by area until you’re getting the immersive sound you want.