The science of making the most out of your audio experience isn't simple, but there are some clear choices you should avoid when trying to optimize your music collection. In order to be sure you get good sound out of all your listening devices, avoid these items at all costs.
1. Shower CD player
By all means, listen to your music in the shower. But don't spend your money on gimmicks that aren't designed to provide a proper listening experience. There are plenty of ways to put together a setup that lets you rock out in the bathtub without sacrificing anything other than your dignity.
2. Cheap iPhone dock
Even the most dedicated audiophile can't avoid carrying around some music in MP3 format these days, but when it comes to filling a room with your latest Spotify playlist, a cheap iPhone dock won't do the trick. The compressed format alone involves sacrificing quality for convenience. Sending that sound through a sub-par system will make things even worse. For the most part, the all-in-one docks are going to disappoint, but with the right hi-fi system you can get decent results.
3. Complicated equalizer
As a general rule, you should probably try to limit the amount of tinkering you do with equalizers. With the right equipment, the record should sound as close to the producer's vision as possible. Excessive use of an equalizer will interfere with that. If you spend more time preparing to listen to an album than you do actually listening to it, you're starting to obsess in a way that even an audiophile would find excessive.
4. Album digital download
If you've picked up a special edition LP that comes with a download code, sure, put those tunes on your iDevice of choice. But don't ever settle solely for that type of digital download for one of your favorite albums. They typically sound like someone snuck into a concert with an outdated tape recorder and held it in the air like a lighter all night, then sold you the results.
We're not knocking digital downloads entirely. Services like HD Tracks offer music in high-quality formats, and contrary to what some believe, the files available via iTunes are actually very good. You can enjoy your music without a turntable. You just don't want a recording to sound like something a spy smuggled out of a fascist dictatorship.
5. Lightweight turntable
Making the transition to vinyl is a fantastic way to get the most out of your music, but an LP is only as good as the equipment it is played on. A cheap turntable with a light platter will add a ringing to your record due to vibrations. On top of that, novelty turntables with ceramic cartridges often track heavier than more reliable models, damaging your records over time. No, those scratches and pops aren't charming when they make your classical piano record sound like dubstep.
6. Overpriced cables
Audiophiles already get a bad rap for supposedly wasting money on pointless products. Don't feed into the stereotype by shelling out thousands of dollars on luxury cables. To a degree, higher-quality products deliver a superior listening experience, but after a certain price point, they're a waste of cash that could be spent on equipment that actually makes a difference.
Plus you'll sleep better at night knowing you didn't drop a rent check on a purchase meant to bring out the "warmth" in Appetite for Destruction.
7. Generic earbuds
Those of us trying to maximize the audio quality of our iTunes collection often opt to listen to music on a lossless format. Unfortunately, cheap earbuds aren't made to deliver the benefits of that decision. And no, that does not mean you should be grabbing trendy bass-heavy buds. They might appeal to impressionable teenagers, but many agree that they distort the sound.
Which, if you're an impressionable teenager, might not be noticeable.
8. Snake oil products
Getting the best sound possible is a process that, quite simply, can get confusing. As such, budding audio enthusiasts often fall for snake oil salesmen who toss around enough jargon to convince you that you need their product. Like these guys, they're trying to make a buck with magic crystals which, they claim, will take your listening experience to the next level by interacting with the sound frequencies or some nonsense.
As with anything, do your research before you send someone money for a bag of colorful rocks.
9. CD wallet
Granted, this is something you shouldn't own after graduating middle school, but if you want to protect your CDs, don't stick them in something that Internet-illiterate kids used to hide their porn DVDs. The possibility of scratching them up aside, you're also discarding the packaging and liner notes that tend to complement the album experience we love so much.
10. Strictly MP3 digital collection
Though we'll never give up our dedication to the LP, there's no denying that a digital collection is an efficient way to store your music. And no, when it comes to computer-based options, there's not much noticeable difference in how they sound.
FLAC, however, is the superior digital format when it comes to keeping your music preserved. You've already admitted that you care a little too much about music. Why hide the fact that you want to take care of it the way your mom takes care of the family photo album?
11. Vinyl-to-MP3 turntable
If you feel the need to preserve your LP collection in a digital format, you can do it yourself. A novelty turntable designed specifically for getting an LP onto your iPod won't let you customize the process, so you'll be stuck with a product that may not suit your needs.
But please, please don't abandon your records once those songs are on your computer. If you let them sit in their sleeves without being used, you might as well be collecting action figures.
12. Non-USB iPhone-to-car connection
Getting high-quality audio in your car is never an easy or cheap task, especially so when you're hooking up your iPhone to your stereo. That said, until Apple launches an iCar (which could easily happen), your best bet is to opt for a USB connection, which will deliver stronger results than an aux or bluetooth connection.
Until we get turntables for our cars (probably shouldn't happen), it's a reasonably not-too-disappointing way to avoid bland radio station programming. Even if you like classic rock, you can only listen to "Hotel California" so many times.
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