You love your music, but your listening experience may not be as great as you think it is. Messy libraries, bad players, crappy headphones, and poorly encoded files are just a few reasons that your songs may not sound their best. Here are our top 10 ways to upgrade your music from every angle.
10. Clean Up Your Music Library
It's tough to listen to your music if you can't find it. While not particularly sexy, one of the best upgrades you can perform is cleaning up and organising your music library. Mac iTunes users can benefit from Doug's AppleScripts, but for the most part this is going to be a pretty boring chore. Put a nice mix together on a separate computer or music player and enjoy your favourite songs while you strip your library of its duplicates and unwanted tracks. It won't be fun, but it'll be well worth the effort.
9. Mix It Up With Some Live Shows
You can carry around just about any song you want these days, but that's rarely better than seeing your favourite bands live. If you want to make sure you never miss an important show, Songkick is an app for iOS and Android that'll keep an eye on your music library and know when bands you like are playing. It's a free download, and a painless way to keep on top of the performances you don't want to miss.
8. Find Those Obscure Songs By Searching YouTube Comment Threads
Finding new songs via YouTube can be awesome, except when you can't actually find them. A lot of YouTube videos pick some great tunes and then completely neglect to attribute the musician. You're probably not the only one who has watched this video and found the lack of credit annoying, so your best bet is to expand all the comment threads and search through them for the name. Chances are you'll find it and be able to download the song for yourself.
7. Utilise A Streaming Music Service
You can fit a lot of music onto a portable media player, but you don't have to limit yourself if you use a streaming music service like Spotify. Not only will you have access to a ton of music you don't own, but that access also provides you with a great resource for finding new music you don't know you like yet.
6. Backup And Sync Your Collection Across Computers
Your music collection will always be difficult to maintain if it spans multiple computers. The easy solution? Syncing. If you're just syncing a bunch of folders you don't have a problem, but if you're dealing with iTunes (and some other music players) you will run into frequent conflicts. To learn how to make syncing work well, check out our guide to syncing iTunes with Dropbox.
If you just want to sync locally, you can use Cubby or MediaRover instead. The bonus of syncing online, of course, is that you can access your music collection from anywhere with an internet connection. You'll have to pay storage costs to do this, but it's worthwhile if you want constant access.
5. Unleash Your Headphones' Full Potential with a USB DAC and Amplifier
When you plug your headphones into your computer — or, especially, your portable music player — you're probably not getting the best possible audio quality. A Digital-Analog Converter (DAC) and Amplifier can correct that problem. The downside is that you have to have an additional gadget attached to your headphones, but this is mostly irrelevant if you're using a desktop computer. Smaller versions are available for portable devices, too, so they're not as obtrusive. They're not that expensive and you can read all about them here.
4. Make Some Truly Smart Playlists
Smart Playlists are a wonderful, often underused feature of iTunes and many other music players. The reason for their neglect is often a lack of ideas. One fitting option is to create a smart playlist that targets neglected tunes. Just tell it to include anything that hasn't ever been played, or has only been played a couple of times. Another great one is a "best of the year" playlist that aggregates your songs with the most plays in a given year.
An easy way to put together smart playlists fast is to tell it to look for a specific word in the comments field of any given song. Then go and add that comment to any song that's relevant and your playlist will update automatically. This might be tedious initially, but whenever you want to add a song to a playlist you can just edit the comments rather than figure out where that playlist is and drag it over.
3. Choose The Right Bit Rate For Your Music
Some people think bit rate doesn't matter, and others will only listen to lossless files. There's definitely a difference between a 128Kb/s MP3 and a FLAC-encoded tune, but that difference starts to disappear when you up the bit rate of your highly-compressed music files. In fact, most people can't tell the difference between a 320Kb/s MP3 and a lossless file (or even less), especially with most consumer-grade headphones and speakers.
You should figure out if the bit rate really makes a difference to you and your best bet for encoding your music. You want your music to sound its best, but "best" tends to average at about 192Kb/s.
2. Upgrade Your Crappy Headphones On The Cheap
Just because your headphones are cheap doesn't mean they have to sound that way. A $30 pair can become a $US300 pair, you can add noise reduction and turn them into a smartphone headset. There's nothing wrong with just buying a great pair, but if you want to save some money you can always upgrade the crappier set you already have.
1. Listen To Music Socially And Discover New Songs Through Your Friends
Ultimately, the number one upgrade to your music is twofold: finding great new songs that you love and connecting with other people through the process. Social media has spawned several ways to make this happen easily, so you can hear about new music you might like through people you like and actually know your interests. Many of the previously mentioned streaming services connect with Facebook so you can see what your friends are listening to, but that's mostly annoying.
The best way I've seen to use Facebook to find new music is simply to ask. Post on your wall that you want suggestions of new songs to check out to expand your interests and let your friends come up with a few playlists for you. That should give you plenty to explore for a while. You can also use services like Monstro, Soundshare, and Turntable.fm to discover new tunes as well.