So you want to join the digital music revolution but aren’t quite sure where to start? You’ve come to the right place. We’ll tell you what kind of equipment you need–and what you can do to get rolling.
Any job is easier and more pleasurable with the proper tools. To enjoy music on your PC, the most important thing to consider is your sound card. We recommend Creative Labs‘ $100 Audigy 2 or Terratec‘s $229 DMX 6Fire LT, or a similar high-quality card.
For the best (speaker) sound, you might want to invest in a better speaker system. Your PC may have come with a pair of standard speakers, which often will render only mediocre sound. Give a critical listen–perhaps comparing the sound with your home entertainment center–and let your ears decide whether you want to upgrade. If you’re interested in games and movies as well, you should think about getting a good 5.1 Surround Sound system, such as Logitech‘s $80 Z-640. However, audiophiles will want a set of reference-quality speakers, with flat frequency response that doesn’t artificially augment the sound. A good example is Behringer‘s $400 B2031 Truth Monitors .
To render first-rate sound, you don’t need a state-of-the-art PC. Even old 166-MHz clunkers will let you play digital music. For serious recording and editing, however, we recommend at least a 1-GHz processor, a 40GB (or bigger) hard drive, and 256MB of memory–specs well below what you’ll find on an average entry-level machine.
Music Files: Compressed Versus Uncompressed
On the music front itself, there are two basic classes of digital or digitized music storage: uncompressed (raw) and compressed.
Space allowing, the raw files used on both CDs (.cda when viewed from within your operating system) and on PCs (.wav on the PC and .aiff on the Mac) are always preferable for recording and transferring from CD to CD, because there’s no loss of data involved.
Compressed audio files, such as MP3, which have data squeezed out of them, are anywhere from one-tenth to one-twentieth the size of a raw file, and are used when space is of primary concern. Case in point: A 128MB MP3 player can hold 30 to 50 compressed songs but only about 3 raw CD tracks. Compressed files don’t have quite the fidelity of raw files, but depending on the type and ratio of compression used, the quality can come very close.
So how do you record, handle, and play back digital music? Read on.