I found this article from Lifehacker while browsing around (read checking out Head-Fi’s homepage for some reason). On the whole I agree with the article. While I myself am new to this hobby, I do understand a little bit regarding this.
For starters, every computer, be it a desktop one or a laptop, has a DAC. It’s function is to convert all the 1s and 0s of data of your music or anything into am analog signal that your headphones can understand, to simplify it. But it may not be such a good quality one. As quoted:
The DAC converts the audio from a digital signal to an analog one (obviously), and the amplifier is what sends it to your headphones. The problem is, most devices don’t have very good DACs or amps built in. So, if you get a nice high-end pair of headphones, you may still be getting relatively crappy sound from your computer or MP3 player.
even if you bought yourself a nice headphone (which coincidentally is as low as $60 if you’re willing to research and shop online), you won’t get even 30% (number pulled out of my ass) benefit of it.
But there is still another important aspect of upgrading your sound quality, and that is high quality music files themselves. Namely bitrate of a given music file. If you’re guilty of just Googling your music files and download it off of there (which I am guilty of too, back then) then a separate, better performing DAC won’t help you, but in fact, may also make you hear the terribleness of highly compressed music files.
IMO, and from what I read around, the bit rate of the current songs downloaded form iTunes, clocking at 256kbps, is acceptable enough. Preferably, if you still buys CD, it’s better to rip them into FLAC, which will ensure no loss of data even when compressed, which means preserved details of the song. If you’re worried for hard disc space, as FLAC are still pretty big in size even compressed compared, say to .wav (which is uncompressed), mp3 at 320kbps is more than acceptable. And this will ensure almost universal compatibality on most digital audio player (DAP), while for FLAC, not all DAP are capable to play it. At least on the software side,for the computer, the ever popular WinAmp and MediaMonkey, as well as Foobar2000 are the choice players to play FLAC. On Android, one app that kept popping up is the PowerAmp app; though I don’t know more as I am not using any Android device at the moment.
As the ultimate minimum, a common consensus amongst members of Head-Fi agreed that 192kbps is barely enough. While I myself still can’t here any difference between FLAC and 320kbps mp3 files, I do hear the difference between 320kbps mp3 and <192kbps mp3 (this is from my legacy during the pirating days). Mostly the lower quality files sounds less clear, more crackly or distorted. But it helps to keep your songs in the utmost highest quality ever, just in case.
So bottom line, I agree with the linked article from Lifehacker, but there is a hidden aspect to consider when you’re wanting more out of your music instead of yet the same dreary flat sound coming from your mediocre built-in laptop or computer DAC and from your low quality music files. Just remember this, if your music files are shit quality, no matter how high your equipment is it will still be shit (and they will punish you too by shoving it into your face that it’s shit).
P.S.: I myself have the Fiio E10 like the author of the article.