Low fidelity or lo-fi describes a sound recording which contains technical flaws such as distortion, hum, or background noise, or limited frequency response. The term "low-fidelity" is used in contrast to the audiophile term high fidelity or "hi-fi", which refers to stereo equipment that very accurately reproduces music without harmonic distortion or unwanted frequency emphasis or resonance. The ideas of lo-fi are taken to extremes by the genre or "scene" of no fidelity, or no-fi. Some lower-budget recordings from the 1970s and 1980s have a "lo-fi" sound due to the limitations of the analog recording and processing techniques, which introduced unwanted artifacts such as distortion and phase problems. In some recordings, however, high fidelity recording is purposely avoided, or the artifacts such as simulated vinyl record crackles are deliberately retained or added in for aesthetic reasons.
Some unique aural qualities are available only with "low-tech" recording methods, such as recording on tape decks, or using analog sound processors (e.g., analog compressors or reverb units). The lo-fi aesthetic has even contributed to musical subgenres, such as the "lo-fi" subgenre of indie rock and a great deal of punk rock. Lo-fi techniques are espoused by some genres outside the indie rock world, particularly by certain heavy metal bands (especially within the sludge and black metal scenes), where the very low-quality of the recording has become a desirable quality, as it is associated with authenticity, as well as a "darker" sound.
In digital audio, the term "lo-fi" usually refers to an audio file with a lower bit rate or sampling rate, and thus a lower sound quality. Such audio files may be offered on the internet because of their smaller file sizes and hence shorter download times. The term "lo-fi" has come to be used figuratively in other contexts, by analogy with lo-fi audio, usually to mean "low-tech", such as websites with very simple architecture or designed for users with low bandwidth connections; or the unauthorized use of Wi-fi wireless connections.
In general, "lo-fi" audio is any process that fails to achieve the accuracy and "transparency" that is the goal of hi-fi audio. The meaning of the term "lo-fi" has changed over time; in the 1970s vacuum tube equipment was considered the lower fidelity alternative to the new semiconductor solid state equipment, although some still consider valves the only "pure" way of listening to music. Low fidelity is often associated with cassette tape, although in reality many people simply do not notice the difference between this and CD quality, particularly with the advent of low-quality (lower quality than cassette) mp3 files. Some lower-budget recordings from the 1970s and 1980s have a "lo-fi" sound despite the best efforts of the musicians and the producers, due to the limitations of the analog recording and processing techniques, which introduced unwanted artifacts such as distortion and phase problems. In some recordings, high fidelity recording is avoided, or the artifacts are deliberately retained or added to all or part of the recording for artistic reasons. This decision is usually made by the record producer, but in some cases, band members are advocates of the "lo-fi" sound.
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