While the overwhelming majority of people out there familiar with the MP3 audio file format – it’s been the “gold standard” for digital audio players, iPods, smart phones, and more seemingly forever – the truth of the matter is there are literally dozens of other audio formats out there that may or may not be better suited to your specific listening style, depending upon how serious you are about audio quality and sound fidelity.

 

girl with headphonesJust like some people are serious about listening to all of their favorite music on vinyl and and vinyl alone, never even considering to pop in a CD or listen to a digital download, some serious music junkies are only going to listen to music that is “packaged” in a handful of file formats – usually AAC or FLAC.

 

Determining which file format you want to have in your own library is never simple or straightforward. MP3 might work for the sake of convenience (and to help you save quite a bit of space on your hard drive and your mobile phone or device), but it isn’t going to be able to provide you with the true fidelity that you might be expecting due to inherent compression.  If you have multiple formats and want to unify them see this post on how to convert various formats in iTunes.

 

Here are a couple of audio format alternatives you may want to check out:

 

WAV and AIFF

 

Both of these file formats are “uncompressed formats”, which means they are identical in every way to the original source audio. Both basically store file information the exact same way, providing for an precise replica of the original digital recording, though they do so in slightly different manners. AIFF is a proprietary file format created by the folks at Apple, whereas WAV is a more “open source” approach to this kind of uncompressed file format.

 

While they provide you with the same kind of audio quality that the original source audio presents, they are also gigantic file types that will eat up a lot of storage space. If you aren’t editing the source on your computer, these formats may be more cumbersome especially when we’re talking about a large library of music, podcasts or movies.

 

FLAC

 

The Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) is far and away the most popular and widespread of all the “lossless” audio file formats, and offers just a bit of compression without crippling the actual audio fidelity of the files themselves. This is after all, a lossless audio file format, which means you are going to get the same quality as the original source but without the gargantuan space commitments you need from the file formats mentioned above.

 

Apple Lossless

 

Sometimes described as ALAC, this file format is very similar to the FLAC but isn’t open source the way that that file format is.  In the spirit of stuff created by Apple, the quality is fantastic. ALAC minimizes compression to a fraction of what others produce but it isn’t quite as efficient as the open source version. Completely supported by iTunes and iOS devices, it’s a lot easier to use in a “drag and drop” kind of way compared to FLAC, and if you only use devices in the Apple landscape and Apple environment this is probably the way that you are going to want to go.

 

So are you convinced to venture out beyond MP3 now? If you’re using any other formats and find them superior to these mentioned please drop a note in the comments!

 

There is no doubt that in a new era where just about everyone is immersed in technology is changing the way humans operate. On a very basic level, it’s important to understand that human beings were never programmed with the intention of engaging with entirely artificial and digital worlds. But given the complexity and advanced intelligence we as human beings possess, it’s a testament to our ability to adapt and utilize new technologies and stimuli to our advantage.

 

This is why when we look at the modern world, so many people question whether or not technology is reducing or adding stress to people’s lives. As the University of Gothenburg proved in four separate studies recently, there is no doubt that new technologies, both those on and off the internet, are contributing to increased levels of stress. And while sure, there are certain applications that can ease our day-to-day life, overall, the expansion of this technology has opened so many new doors that otherwise present human beings with the psychological exposure that otherwise wouldn’t have been seen in previous eras when this technology didn’t even exist to begin with.

 

We obviously don’t want to belittle and bemoan all tech advances.  In another post I actually wrote about some must-have technology hacks and upgrades designed to ease your workday stress. When we’re done with work and with family and friends however, that’s where the tech should take a bit of a backseat.  Don’t be the guy screwing around with Snapchat when a live body is in front of you trying to have a conversation – that is the worst.

 

The Modernization of Isolation

Undoubtedly, one of the most depressing (literally) aspects of technology is its tendency to force human beings into isolation. And while human beings are willingly accepting this isolation, there is no doubt that by proxy, you cannot operate or utilize a lot of this technology without willingly putting yourself into those situations. For example, in order to play a single player online role-playing game, one must be alone to do so. So while it is a free choice to buy, download, and play the game, the user cannot change the way the game is played. The user has no other option than to play a game that forces them to dedicate a considerable amount of their time and energy into upgrading and improving a fake avatar rather than interacting and facing reality. And just the same, although social media applications feign the interaction with fellow human beings, it is being conducted in an artificial way. There is a screen between the two parties, versus a face-to-face interaction, which itself has become more stress for many people as younger children and adults struggle to communicate as adeptly as past generations.

 

As social creatures this means that we are naturally prone to becoming depressed and stressed out, and for many people, they don’t realize that the progenitor of their stress is their usage of this technology rather than going out for a walk or breathing fresh air. But sure, there are fair arguments to be made to reduce the stress thanks to modern technology. We can order items online rather than having to go out and get them, a mother can check on her daughter as she goes out to the movies thanks to her smartphone’s tracking app, and a myriad of other benefits these technologies can provide. But overall, as human beings continue to interact with new technologies, the growing pains and consequences of enjoying and using them will continue to rear their ugly heads from time to time.

As connected as everyone seems to be via social media, do you really feel you’re getting turned on to new music now as much as when word-of-mouth was the prominent music discovery tool?  Bands are also feeling the frustration. There are too many platforms and too much noise to cut through.  For fans, trying to find hot new acts or even older but obscure ones is more elusive than it should be.

 

Sure, the radio is always a “go to” avenue of approach for those that want to let someone else handle the tunes and steer them toward Top 40 like sheep – but since so many of us now use streaming services to play our music (even in the car) we’re somewhat left to our own devices to find new music, new artists, and new bands to fall in love with.

 

There are more than a few music discovery sites out there but the four platforms below should give you all the variety you crave.  You’re probably using at least one of them now, but despite they’re having been around for a while these remain the best.

 

Sound Cloud

 

Not only is Sound Cloud the fantastic platform for artists that are looking to share their music with the world; a wonderful tool for independent artists and bands to spread their music all over the planet with a smooth and quick upload process, but it also happens to be a great place to find new music, artists, and to get hooked on the “next big thing” before they actually break through. Check out the curated groups run by the Sound Cloud community and you won’t ever have to worry about a shortage of new music again!

 

YouTube

 

The world’s largest video sharing website on the planet, YouTube is probably the biggest “time killer” as far as online platforms are concerned with more music, more movies, and more videos than anyone could ever hope to watch or enjoy in their lifetime. On a Friday night you can often find me wrapped in my Monster headphones and falling deep, deep down a YouTube rabbit hole of discovery.

Finding new music on YouTube is easy.  Punch up something you like and check out the YouTube recommendations of similar artists – and once you land on a couple of playlists that have genres or styles you are into you should have a straight shot to new music that never runs out!

 

Bandcamp

 

It’s impossible to bring up music discovery websites without highlighting Bandcamp. Another great platform for independent artists to publish and share (and also promote) the music that they are creating, it’s really easy to find all kinds of new music on this website as a consumer – especially once you start to listen to music on the platform and it learns your tastes and your interests. The Discover section of Bandcamp is a powerful tool for finding new music as well, giving you more control over the kind of music you are most likely to stumble across on the site.

 

Pandora

 

I’ve been a big Pandora Radio fan for years, and have found all kinds of new (or at least new to me) artists and tunes as a result.  One thing you have to do though is keep creating new stations if music discovery is what you’re after.  Over time all your thumbs ups and downs narrow the artist pool for a particular station down to only a few bands.  Creating a new station based on a genre, artist or even around a particular song every so often is the way to go.  The ads in the free version are a bit pervasive if you’re trying to get in a workout or something, but there’s usually a good run of 3 songs or more between commercials.

 

All things considered, you’ll find that the platforms mentioned above are quite innovative in the new music they expose you to – probably more so than your word-of-mouth connection. Best of all, all of these platforms are 100% free, giving you the chance to listen to new music without having to spend a penny until you’re ready for premium.

Do you work from home?  Whether you’re a remote employee or in business for yourself, if you’re trying to bang out 8+ hour work days around the kitchen table, clicking away in a low-tech environment and yelling at Skype through your laptop speakers amid a constant stream of interruptions, it’s safe to say you’re never going to see peak productivity.

Act like an entrepreneur for crying out load and upgrade your tech!  We’ll talk about the ideal design from an ergonomics standpoint in another post but for now let’s get into discussing your home office AV needs.

 

Fleshing out your workstation is never as easy as a lot of us think it’s going to be, especially if you are serious about outfitting your setup with all of the audio-visual tools required to be successful in today’s ultra-competitive business environment.

 

Thankfully though, the tech just keeps getting better and better; as long as you’re willing to invest in yourself you shouldn’t have any trouble amassing the short list of must-have AV tools discussed below. This tech is going to give you the kind of competitive advantage you deserve, helping you to get the job done in a quicker and less-stressful manner.

 

Chromecast or Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

 

Having the ability to effortlessly share your screen or “throw” something that you are working on to a much larger screen – like a 55 inch television, for example – will increase your productivity significantly and this is possible courtesy of these two amazing (and ridiculously inexpensive) devices.

 

Both of these allow you to share your screen on your laptop, computer, or your phones or tablets, really extending the amount of screen real estate you have available for complex projects and collaboration. And at less than $50 apiece, you’d have to be at least a little crazy not to add them to your home office ASAP.

 

Ultrawide Displays and Monitors

 

Speaking of extra screen real estate, if you aren’t utilizing larger screens for your laptop or your computer – or (even better) dual monitor setups – you are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to boost productivity.

 

Ultrawide displays and monitors provide you with the same benefit that double monitors or dual monitors offer in a single solution, extending your screenage significantly without your having to purchase two different displays or deal with the “split” in the middle of a dual monitor setup.  Split screens are for barbarians.

 

Raspberry Pi

 

A Raspberry Pi device is a tiny, lightweight, and very efficient computer that allows you to create useful dashboards, easy visuals, and real-time updates about your business operations without having to tie up system resources on your main computer – helping you enjoy a true-to-life live updating situation and command center on a separate screen for a fraction of the cost of a complete computer to do the same tasks.

 

These amazing specialized devices are incredibly powerful, super flexible, and adaptable and (provided you’re fairly well-versed on the platform itself) give you a lot of freedom with organizational design.

 

Bluetooth Speakers

I’m assuming that by now you’re already hip to how great Bluetooth keyboards and mice are.  Take it a step further: Bluetooth speakers open up a ton of portability and flexibility when it comes to home office design. You’ll be able to connect a single set of Bluetooth speakers to ALL of your Bluetooth enabled devices, helping you save money on your speaker system while allowing all of your devices to take advantage of your new set up, without your workstation looking like a snake pit with writhing cords strewn all about.

 

Dedicated Microphones and Tripods for Cameras/Smartphones

 

Podcasting, streaming audio, and video production have become such a big part of building businesses today, and you don’t want to miss out on what both of these options have to offer. You’ve got to do it well, however – low production value can kill your credibility.

 

By investing in a dedicated microphone (like the Blue Snowball, for example) you’ll dramatically increase the quality of the sound that you are recording, and while most smart phones and tablets shoot in stunning 1080 P high definition these days a tripod will help add some professionalism to you productions.

 

I want to reemphasize that these items, and others that help you get things done, comprise an investment.  Whether you’re remote, a 1099 employee, or a budding start-up treat your work like it’s your enterprise and get the audio-visual office tools you need to be taken seriously.