Harder, better, faster, stronger.

Daft Punk's classic line expresses one of the fun aspects of the human spirit. Living in the internet age, we're all aware of the progression of technology, since we've seen it advance very rapidly in our time.

Last week I wrote a bit about vinyl, and explained how it is different from digital music in that it is a continuous, analog music source. Digital music gets chopped up into "samples," and the number of samples corresponds to the quality of playback. It's much like how video used to work in that you can look at an individual frame, but if the frames speed by your eyes fast enough, they look continuous.

Taylor
Taylor

Well if you've been paying attention to music streaming services the last couple years, you've likely noticed an attempt to get better and faster when it comes to the sample rate and bit rate of their digital music libraries.

Spotify notably upped its rate from low-quality MP3 to higher-rate MP3 and even Ogg Vorbis files. Ogg Vorbis is another compression method similar to MP3, with slightly better quality at similar or lower-size files.

But streaming service Tidal really changed the game last year when it introduced CD-quality streaming to its subscription model. It's pretty easy to hear the difference between the standard feed and the hi-fi feed. CD quality describes music that has been sliced up 44,100 times per second and has a bit-rate of 1411.2 kilobits per second (16 bits per sample, times 2 channels, times 44,100 samples per second, divided by 1000 kilobits per bit) whereas MP3 quality can be anywhere from 128 kilobits per second to 320. So, far below what we get with CD quality.


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Number of bits determines the available volume bandwidth for a file, and this is a different factor than how many slices have been taken, but equally important. High-resolution audio fans note that you can hear a bigger sound quality increase by listening to 24-bit files than files with merely a higher sample rate.

If you've purchased an album recently, you've likely noticed the options available for download. FLAC files are supposedly "lossless," but I know quite a few sound hounds that swear WAV files sound better.

Download either and you'll notice the file sizes are pretty massive. WAV files are the biggest, but FLAC size is not too far behind.

Having actual music saved to your phone or computer isn't the most modern approach, so most people put up with the "lossy" compression of streaming music services for the sake of convenience.

But now there is a new kid on the block, and his acronym isn't MP3, FLAC, Ogg or WAV. It's called MQA -- or Master Quality Authenticated -- and it's supposed to be better sounding than CD, but small enough of a file size to be streamed over a smartphone.

The electronics industry is abuzz about it, and we're still waiting for recording studios to adopt the idea. In the meantime, Tidal announced this year support for streaming MQA files very soon.

Next week I'll go into greater detail about MQA, how it works and the potential ramifications if it does develop into our new favorite digital music file format.

Read more Taylor: coloradodaily.com/columnists.