Inside a small apartment complex in Moti Nagar lives J. Madhusudan Sarma known as a man with a vast collection of vintage vinyl recordings in all languages. But it is not the collection that is astounding but his ear for music. He is not dismissive of the digital music revolution but it doesn't come up to his standard. ?LP records are the best for creating live music. I find a certain loss of quality in CDs and a greater loss in my iPod,? says Sharma. Never mind the occasional hiss or crackle of the cassette player or LP recordings, they still are a cut above the digital music formats currently popular, he says.

Spoilt for choice

Step into a teenager's room and hear Beyonce's Irreplaceable or Pitbull's I know you want me and your ears can handle only so much of the high pitched sounds and only for so long.

Step into a showroom or a mall where they sell an assorted collection of speakers and amplifiers and you may feel that you are spoilt for choice.

The 5.1 or 7.1 speakers appear as if they pack in a punch (the sound output is quantified in dodgy PMPO and not in technically correct RMS), but in reality pack in a gong. Listen carefully and the speakers appear good at reproducing higher sound frequencies but the mid-range and lows are what go amiss.

They are more expensive to reproduce. In a world of atomised music listeners where a generation's only sources of music is iPods, cellphones and other digital players live sound is only the fancy of a few or the discerning and the number is declining.

A Stanford University music professor devised a simple test and reached the conclusion that more and more younger people find the compressed music formats better than live recordings. Roman Rudntysky, who plays and teaches piano, says: ?I can play on a Steinway Grand or a Clavinova. I prefer live performances to recordings. Nothing can match a live performance certainly not the small players which make a lot of compromises.?

Do you strain to hear the raspy whispered sounds in your home theatre system and you still cannot hear even by raising the volume?

You can blame your system and not your hearing. In a different world is the showroom in Banjara Hills that sells higher-end speakers.

Pratap, an audiophile, takes us into a room where he points out the AC ducts as the reason for the room being not perfect. On the screen come alive the antics of Scrat and his acorn from Ice Age.

As Scrat rolls on the ice, each note is brought alive by the speakers and it is difficult to place where the sound is coming from.

?The key in spatial creation of sound are the centre speakers. Get it right and you have succeeded to a great extent,? he says. Do I need to invest in a Blu-Ray player to get this sound?

?Not really, the sound quality is really not different between a DVD player and the Blu-Ray player,? he informs.

Outside, he plays a track on Jamo speakers' 601 system teamed with a Marantz amplifier and even without the subwoofers and at low volume the sound creates its own space and there is a sensation of immersion of being blissfully surrounded by sound.

To grasp the difference in the quality of sound you have to listen to a 78 rpm record played a Garrard turntable acquired from Madurai, connected to a Nakamich Amp and pumped out of a pair of Jamu speakers and you know what another audiophile is talking about. ?The depth of sound in LP is very good, there is force in the notes across the spectrum of sound 20 to 20,000 Hertz.

With audio CDs there is a loss but not much, with MP3 CDs there is a big compromise.

A higher wattage amplifier (upwards of 100 RMS) helps produce the full range of sounds. Match them with good speakers and you know what you are missing,? says Sarma giving his recipe for enjoying good music.

Why the loss

l The pirated MP3 CD with 150 Mohammed Rafi songs is no match for the CD with 20 songs.

l The most popular MP3 format for music is a compressed file that is about 11 times smaller than a CD recording.

l Most of the commercially successful music systems focus on reproducing the higher frequency sounds creating a tinny effect.

l The mind gets used to having a certain auditory experience (autodrivers are very comfortable with the music system in their autos).

The best option

l Converting an audio CD into MP3 file? Choose a higher bit-rate for lower losses in quality.

l Invest in higher end speakers and higher wattage amplifier.

l Audio CDs not MP3 CDs nearly match the live recording experience.

l PMPO is no index of power of speakers, RMS is.