Understanding Sound

Jeff Valin
October 2017 04:24 PM

Formats for Best Quality

Demystifying Sound

Professional CDs are recorded uncompressed at a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz at 16 bit (64kbps/channel) and are digital recordings. They are recorded in Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) and stored on Windows computers as WAV files and as AIFF files on Macs. A WAV or AIFF file “ripped” from a CD in one of these formats will playback with the same audio information whether it is on CD or an electronic file. In both instances, there is hardware required to convert the digital information to an analogue signal. At Thunderstruck Canada, we use a high-end digital-to-audio converter (DAC) and audio interface to process music from both our computer and CD decks out to the theatre's speaker system, so you are guaranteed to get the best possible playback.

Sound Quality Explained

The quality of the sound you get from your music begins with the source. You can not take an M4A or MP3 file (most common file formats found online and used for playback devices like iPods) and use software like audacity to convert it to a WAV or AIFF and expect it sound like a professionally recorded track. Both M4A and MP3 use what is called a lossy compression. It is great if you want to pack as many songs onto our iPod and have them sound pretty good but trying to play this across a professional system there will be a significant disparity. For instance, a 4-minute track in its original WAV format would be about 50MB in size. That same file compressed to MP3 would be a 5MB. In converting that 5MB file back to WAV, you have already lost much of the information (why it is called lossy compression) to restore it back to its original form.

To ensure that have the best sounding music for your routines, you need to start with uncompressed WAV or AIFF files that have sampled at 44.1 kHz at 16 bit (64kbps/channel) or higher. When you edit and cut (or have someone do it for you) your source music to your specifications, you need to ensure that it is sampled at these levels and saved appropriately.

Why Do We Prefer Audio Files vs CDs

There is no need to burn CDs for competition anymore. We can play the same file that you burn to CD via a computer, and you will get the same quality playback. The quality is the same, and there is no risk of scratches or skipping. You also can take advantage of our new Music Manager, simple as clicking a button to upload your file. It takes care of adding the routine numbers, name and studio code. It even handles late changes!

Audio files are easier to manage for both you and Thunderstruck Canada. A lot goes into making CDs – which takes time and money, need to be labelled correctly, and then turned into our staff who then need to organise the CDs against all the other studios. Playing CDs requires a process of loading and unloading and CDs are also prone to skipping and sometimes not working at all. There is also an entire process of getting CDs sorted at the end of the competition and returned to the studio. Using the same audio, you upload or turn them in on USB. They are easy to label, queued in a playlist, and we don't have to worry about them skipping.

File Formats & Codecs

Please visit the bottom of our blog: History of Sound – Analog vs. Digital for more information on file formats and codecs.

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