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Hifi comes in different shapes and sizes. Most hifi systems allow music files (MP3s, FLACs, WAVs and more) to be played. Your music library doesn't always look the same on each system, though. Each system has different rules as to how your music library should be organized to make it look its best. These articles collect together best practice for organising music libraries for popular hifi systems.
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Hifi has been around for a long time, and it's not going away anytime soon. Developments and improvements in hifi follow wider technical, social and economic developments. Just as music distribution technology develops, from the wax cylinder to the gramaphone to vinyl CD and digital music files, hifi systems continue to evolve.
Initially, hifi was a reluctant convert to computer-based music file formats. Initially, much of the hype around computer audio was around MP3 and what that format could provide. At the time of its widespread adoption, MP3's key feature of compactness (thanks to lossy compression) was the exact opposite of what audiophiles were seeking. The loss of audio data during the encoding process meant that audio reproduction was compromised. While this was not obvious on cheaper equipment, expensive high-end audio systems were reputed to show undesirable artifacts of lossy compression.
Nevertheless, there was clearly a convenience advantage with computer audio libraries. By having the entire library on one storage device, the listener never needed to get up and change a CD or flip a vinyl record. Instead, an immersive, full colour, high resolution experience on a controller device, such as a smartphone or tablet, would allow the listener to change what they were listening to.
Eventually, computer audio technology caught up with hifi systems. Through the 2010s lossless codecs such as FLAC, WAV and ALAC were increasingly used. These formats suffered no loss in quality when transferred from the original source media. This meant hifi systems could play computer music files in the same quality as a CD, or any other media.
Nowadays, streaming has come to dominate mainstream music consumption. However, there are still reasons to have a self-stored music collection. Even though some streaming services now provide hifi quality, the upper reaches of those tiers still cannot compete with ultra high-end self-stored audio. Some music also simply isn't on streaming services, so to retain a favourite old release you have no option other than to use a self-stored copy. And, finally, some audiophiles don't want to sign up for a streaming service and would prefer to to retain control over their collection.
Generally, hifi systems prefer lossless music file formats. Here are a few of the best known.
FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is stored in the same quality as the source, for example a ripped CD, or even a studio master. It's less well supported, but where it can be played FLAC is generally the best choice for it's higher audio quality.
WAV has been around forever - since being introduced as the standard container in Windows for raw PCM data (like the data you get on a CD) it has become the de facto way of storing PCM data.
One problem with it has been that, traditionally, it has been hard to organize WAV libraries because support for embedded metadata (such as album names, years or release, even album art) was lacking. However, in the past half-decade or so this has changed, and now more high end audio systems are capable of displaying WAV metadata.
For those in the Apple ecosystem ALAC is the default lossless codec. Based around the MP4 container, but containing lossless audio data, it's a great choice for those with lots of Apple devices because all such apps should play the files without customisation.
Cranking the dial to 11; we have the DSD formats. These are especially associated with HD music. They take a different approach to how music is encoded, different to the PCM based formats above. Oftentimes these formats are not supported natively by mainstream players, but high end systems do support their playback.
Unsure which to choose? I wrote up a simple to follow guide to help you choose your ideal lossless file format.
As hifi systems introduced high resolution, full colour controllers it became more of an imperative to make sure music libraries were fully resplendent with high quality album art.
Unfortunately, and probably more than any other aspect of music library organisation, hifi controllers have restrictions on the album artwork that can be displayed. Consider:
Ultimately, organising a music collection for a hifi system, or set of components, means complying with the rules mandated by the system. This means that organising a music library has to be done with the specific requirements of the stereo system in mind.Send us an email about your hifi