FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHAT IS A CODEC (OR WHY DO MP3S SUCK)?
Codec stands for coder-decoder, or less commonly, compressor/decompressor. Codecs exist to shrink a movie or music files down to a more manageable size. For example, a best quality, uncompressed version of the trailer for The Amazing Spiderman comes in at 500 gigabytes. A Bluray disc holds roughly 50 gigabytes, and this needs to contain the entire film. We need something, a codec, to crunch the several terabytes of the entire film down to something more manageable. For bluray, the codec used is MPEG-4.
Broadly, there are two kinds of codecs, lossy and lossless. A lossy codec means some of the data is thrown away in the file shrinking process. In a lossless codec, nothing is thrown away, the data is simply packed tighter, so it’s in a smaller package. A computer zip file works this way, compressing a file in a way that it can be opened or unpacked back into the original file. DTS Master HD and Dolby HD, the soundtrack codecs of choice on bluray discs are lossless -- a decoder in either your bluray player or receiver/processor uncompresses and plays them without any loss of quality from the original file.
This begs the question, why not use lossless compression for everything? The answer lies in the amount of compression available with lossless schemes. Lossy MPEG-4 can cut the file size by a factor of 60 or more. This massive compression is what allows an entire feature film to be stored on a 50 gigabyte bluray disc. Lossless codecs, like DTS Master HD or .flac (Free Lossless Audio Codec) typically cut the file size only in half -- enough for music and its smaller files sizes, but inadequate for video.
Which brings us to why MP3s and low rate AAC (Apple Audio Codec used in iTunes) files suck. The venerable CD stores music digitally, that is as a stream of 1s and Os, also known as ‘bits’. A typical song comes in at 3 megabytes or so. A typically MP3 is roughly a tenth that size. How do you reduce the size of a song by the massive factor of 10? It’s complicated, but a chunk of it is simply throwing away bits. 5 out of 6 bits quite often. That’s throwing away a lot of music, and you can hear the difference on any decent system. More to the point, your gut knows, because engagement factor drops by a factor of say, 10, as well. Let us show you what you’re missing, and also how to setup iTunes or whatever you use to maximize sound quality.
WHAT IS A DAC?
A DAC is a Digital-to-Analog-Converter. Sound travels in waves and is simply vibrations in the air that our ear receives and our brain decodes into our spouses voice or Miles Davis’ trumpet. An analog recording turns these vibrations into an electrical representation (or analog) of the original sound waves. Note that the only remaining analog playback medium, vinyl records, depends on a vibrating needle in a groove to work.
A digital recording, be it a CD, MP3, iTunes file, whatever; is a series of 1s and 0s, aka ‘bits’. But we don’t hear bits (not yet anyway), we hear the sound waves, vibrations in the air -- this is an analog phenomenon. A DAC converts the digital bits into the analog waveforms that we ultimately hear. Somewhere in every computer, phone, car stereo, home theater, boombox, etc.; there is a DAC doing this work. The quality of the DAC in a component is important determinant of its sound quality. A good DAC is a great thing.
HOW DO I START WITH BUILDING A MUSIC AND/OR HOME THEATER AUDIO SYSTEM?
There is a lot of debate about this, but here is the right answer ~:) -- first you find the speakers you like, then you find the right amp or receiver to drive them, then the preamp (if necessary), then the source, be it a DAC, CD player, Bluray player or whatever.
If you compare a couple of good $1000 amplifiers, you will find subtle differences in their sound, but it may take some time to hear them. If you compare couple of good $1000 speakers, the difference in their sound will be obvious from moment one. No other component can sound as different at similar price points than speakers. The speakers you choose then does more to define the sound of your system than any other components.
Trust your ears. And trust us to give you solid advice, set up valid comparisons to help you decide, and leave you with system that turns you on every time you hit
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THE BRANDS YOU CARRY AND WILL YOU EXPAND YOUR LINEUP?
Put simply, we carry stuff we think is great and represents great value. If it doesn’t get our toes tapping, forget it. We also look at build quality and reliability. We can all live without another service call.
Yes, we are adding to our lineup, but carefully. We trust our eyes and ears, and what we sell we know inside and out. Our goal is not to offer 8000 choices -- we strive, however, to offer a few great flavors to you at each price point.
WHAT DEFINES OUTREACH A/V?
Integrity. Lack of BS. Listening to the client. Passionate desire to spread the good times of great music and home theaters.