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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.

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Lo-fi audio

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.

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). Some producers argue that the sound of an overdriven, high gain analog signal has a more pleasing sound than a high gain digital signal. Also, even though digital effects such as digital reverb may be a more accurate recreation of the reverb that occurs in a cathedral or large space, analog reverb has a distinctive sound that is associated with 1970s and 1980s recordings. Examples of deliberately lo-fi-type sounds in pop music can be traced to at least the late 1960s, when a portion of the Beatles' song "Honey Pie" was intended to mimic a 78 rpm record. More recent examples include vinyl crackles on compact discs, as on Portishead's album Dummy, and telephonic vocals on Craig David's track "Fill Me In" (though these two are not regarded as "lo-fi" bands). Several prominent Hip-Hop producers, such as DJ Premier, also favour retaining the Lo-Fidelity characteristics of the records they sample in order to achieve a hard, unpolished and "uncut" sound in their own music. The lo-fi aesthetic has even contributed to musical subgenres, such as the "lo-fi" subgenre of indie rock and punky styles such as digital hardcore.

Lo-fi techniques are espoused by some genres outside the indie rock world, particularly by black metal artists, where the very low-quality of the recording has become a desirable quality, said by fans to convey a rawness and depth of feeling otherwise unattainable. Some fans deliberately seek out extremely lo-fi concert bootlegs, such as the Dawn of the Black Hearts, which are of very low quality. DIY punk is also well noted for its trend toward lo-fi sound, produced for the most part on inexpensive four-track machines such as the Tascam, and copied from tape to tape on home recording equipment, degrading the quality still further. In DIY punk lo-fi is prized mainly because it indicates a rejection of the values of commercialism. No-fi takes the lo-fi and DIY aesthetic to extremes, or at least a different location on the sound spectrum. Fusing the disheveled, DIY and loose playing punk sound and the lo-fi recording style with unconventional playing and tuning of instruments, to not only create lo-fi recordings but also "lo-fi" playing and song structures.

Other meanings

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Website or web forum

A "lo-fi" website can also be a website with very simple architecture or a website designed for users with low bandwidth connections. In general, it is a copy of the main website and often designed for people who have an old computer with/or a slower Internet connection (notably 56K connections). Users can often access the main website from a link at the bottom of the page. Usually advanced features and background images (eg. Flash, ActiveX Objects, Images, Videos) are turned off or are replaced with textual representation. This allows the page to be loaded faster with less connection made to the server to load additional items on the page.

Wireless connectivity

A "Lo-fi" wireless connection also refers to the process by which unprotected wireless (802.11) access points (AP's) are mapped and labeled for unrestricted use by anyone. A "lo-fi" site is first logged, then labeled or mapped so that another person with a (laptop) computer and a wireless network adapter can get onto the internet to retrieve websites, email, or otherwise use the provided internet connection without advance or prior authorization, and without any trace or fees. In general, access point wireless networking hardware come configured with "default" settings, and therefore are not protected against unauthorized use.

Many people install their new access points or wireless routers to their internet service provider modem, without changing these default security settings, making it possible for anyone with a properly configured system to connect to and use the provider's internet connectivity, with or without prior authorization. The name "Lo-Fi" is symbolic as an independent and "Low cost" (free except for the price of equipment) version of the "Wi-Fi" system, which was promulgated by the Wi-Fi Alliance [1], a non-profit organization with the goal of driving the adoption of a single worldwide-accepted standard for high-speed wireless local area networking.

See also


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