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Customer Discussions > Music forum

Digital Music: MP3's, Compression, Bitrates, FLAC, etc.

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Showing 1-25 of 25 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 3, 2010 12:03:12 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2010 12:03:43 PM PST
I looked over several pages of threads here and didn't find one on this topic. I wanted to ask what other listeners' experiences have been with different bitrates, including Amazon's 256kbps.

A few years ago I ripped a number of CD's onto my computer at 128 kbps and transferred them to my iPod. I did not like the results.

I'm currently in the process of ripping all of my jazz CD's onto a hard drive in FLAC (library is in Media Monkey). Just to run a test, however, I tried comparing 256 to higher bitrates, including lossless. I didn't think I could tell the difference, played over my computer, using headphones. I do not have a digital music server, so to compare the sound on my stereo I copied lossless and 256 onto a CD and compared the tracks. I also could not tell a difference there. (The track I used was Tom Petty's "Straight Into Darkness," from his recent live anthology.)

For anyone who has tried to assess what their own ears can hear or not hear, what has your experience been?

I am going to continue to use FLAC to store my CD collection, as at some point in the future I may play them back on an improved system in which the difference becomes audible. But I'd like to get others' thoughts on the matter, including on the issue of Amazon's 256kbps MP3 files. How have you liked them?

Posted on Jan 3, 2010 12:22:10 PM PST
For listening on the IPod, 256kbps works just fine for me. But if I want to rip songs from different sources and then create a CD-R that I am going to listen to on my stereo or in the car, I have to have WAV files. Granted FLAC works just as well for sound quality, but I usually like to play around with crossfading using the Roxio Music Editor format, and FLAC files when crossfading will skip a bit; WAV is the only lossless format that will not do that.

Posted on Jan 3, 2010 5:52:39 PM PST
Greg says:
I'm a little confused as to why you're ripping your CDs into an obscure format? Is it strictly to free up physical storage space so you don't have to store your CDs in a bookshelf? Can you use that format in an iPod or other portable player?

Audiophiles may disagree, but to my ears, MP3 256 or better is indistinguishable between a CD, given the conditions I usually listen to music. 128 is a big step down, in my opinion. I rip my CDs in mp3 format, with a constant bit rate of 320.

Here's a great article just done by NPR that talks about music quality:

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2010 6:02:03 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2010 6:04:07 PM PST
Jason V. says:
FLAC is good for archiving purposes. I do think high bitrate MP3 is indistinguishable from CD quality to the vast majority of people, in most listening circumstances, but the fact is that it does discard data. So, it's good to have FLAC back-ups of CDs, in case something should happen to them, you have them in their original quality, in a format that can be easily transcoded to MP3 or any other format that may come along.

There are a number of MP3 players that support FLAC. In fact, I think other than Microsoft and Apple, the other noteworthy DAP makers have at least one player in their line-up that supports it. With that said, even in quiet conditions most people don't have the equipment or expertise to pick out FLAC from high bitrate MP3, so on the go in possibly noisy location it would be futile, making FLAC on a portable player not very necessary. Some people prefer it though.

Personally, I have FLAC files archived on an external hard drive, but my day to day listening is high bitrate VBR MP3, encoded with LAME.

Posted on Jan 3, 2010 6:42:11 PM PST
KBIC says:
I have a very good stereo. I encode all my CDs to MP3 at 320 bit rate and I am also in the process of encoding my vinyl collection to MP3 at 320 as well. I have some albums on vinyl, CD and MP3 (at various bit rates, not usually below 256). I choose not to use FLAC. If I was doing this just to back up the music files it would be as WAV files.

In my listening it is a little harder on the ears listening to MP3 than it is listening to CD or Vinyl. The music sounds fine but something about the way the music is played back on MP3 it is just a little bit hars to my ears. Using the right equipment a CD can sound almost as good as a record. I still prefer the sound of the record. Also, a vinyl recording converted to Mp3 actually takes the edge off the harshness of the MP3 format. For me, it is easier to listen to a vinyl converted MP3 than say an Amazon purchased MP3 or a free download MP3 from and LP purchase at 320.

This is all just my opinion of course. All my music is also backed up on an external hard drive.

Posted on Jan 3, 2010 7:03:53 PM PST
I might not be a pure audiophile but I appeciate and can hear differences in sound compression. If you really want to hear a difference, burn some MP3's to a CD, and play them through your home system, most DVD set top players will play those files. Then put on the actual CD of the songs you ripped. The MP3's sound boxy and compressed, crappy in my opinion. However, on the PC or the iPod, they are fine, at least for the intended purpose. I use CDex with Lame HQ VBR.
Except for my Beatles rips, they are all Lossless :-)

Posted on Jan 3, 2010 7:18:02 PM PST
Like other posters have mentioned, most users will not see a difference in audio quality between FLAC, MP3, ACC and WAV or other formats. This is because said users do not have the trained ears or the proper equipment to notice a difference in the sound quality. If you compared Stero to analog or digital, people are more likely to notice a difference, but between MP3, ACC or FLAC, little difference is noticed.

Additionally, most of the younger music listeners like myself were raised during the rise of CD's and later the online music stores, and thus have only limited experience with records. Those born in the 1980's onwards just compare everything to the original CD and look for whatever file format makes the CD files sound the best. A CD is oviously inferior to the sound quality of a record, but most people just accept CD audio and ignore records.

CD's are easy to mass produce, take less space on store shelves and far less likely to break if dropped. Combine that with their portability and ability to interface with a computer, and its easy to see why the CD replaced the record. Again, CD's have inferior audio quality, even with SACD, but most consumers gladly purchased the CD's in mass quantities.

My music collection consists of regular CD's and iTunes downloads. All my CD's and SACD (mostly Classical and some U2) are ripped into the ACC file format and played using iTunes. The sound quality is good enough for me, even on old Mono recordings from the 1950's, but then again I am not a big audiophile.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2010 7:28:38 PM PST
Greg, thanks for the reply. It is in fact based on storage considerations. I don't have the space to put them up on shelves or racks. My jazz CD's have been sitting in boxes in my closet, and I've missed them. My apartment is basically being hogged up by classical CD's, which are much harder to rip, IMHO, because the database information is all screwed up, and I'm not going to type it in myself.

That said, why do you think FLAC is obscure? iTunes does not play FLAC, nor does an iPod with its standard software, but there is apparently an override called Rockbox. I haven't tried it yet though as I'm not a big iPod guy. Apple lossless is not a good alternative in my view because I do not want to use a proprietary codec.

Thanks for the link.

Posted on Jan 3, 2010 7:39:22 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2010 7:43:04 PM PST
Flac took a while to catch on, and it is mainly because the file sizes are bigger. But now a lot of mainstream artists, including the Beatles, are embracing the format. With it's ability to support 24 bits, and now very large HD's the norm, you will see this becoming more common.

The app Songbird, which is a lot like iTunes will play this as well as the Apple Lossless format. Among others.

Where are some of you getting the idea that CD's aren't as good as vinyl? A well mastered CD, with it's higher resolution and lack of pops and clicks, and the fact that more songs can be put on a disk, leaves vinyl in the dust. And I grew up in the vinyl generation.

Posted on Jan 3, 2010 7:50:35 PM PST
It's interesting that many posters have said they can't really tell the difference between 256 or 320 and CD. Believe me, I'd love it if my ears and equipment were good enough so that I could, but I don't think I can. I'd love to see blindfold test results with some top audio engineers or other "big ears" of our time.

Posted on Jan 3, 2010 7:55:21 PM PST
To Aggressive Arms: You said it about "database information"! Many classical discs don't have even the most rudimentary track listings. I have not even thought of transferring my opera albums for that reason. The classical buff more than others must rely on amateurs, and for the most part they show five-star incompetence. I could go into a tirade on WMP's listings across the board but will leave it to others.

To everyone else: It is annoying to have to encounter, what is it? Four or five different formats? for ripping CDs. Best to convert them to 320 mp3s as they're most flexible. But music downloads complicate matters because they come in all flavors. Also a few high-end music blogs have gone to FLAC, and though I understand the reasoning why add an extra step (or two steps) in creating music files? (I know FLAC or AAC conversions to mp3s supposedly defeat their purpose but as more than one person has said, here and elsewhere, how many can tell the difference?) Unfortunately this format war shows know signs of ending, and I'm resigned to keeping WMP, iTunes, FLAC Frontend, VLC, 7Zip and Audacity on my computer to do the job one program should do.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2010 7:59:44 PM PST
KBIC, why would you back up only in WAV? Any specific reason? Is it just a concern that at some point some other format might be supported?

Posted on Jan 3, 2010 10:30:18 PM PST
M. Hanna says:
I just did a back to back listening of a couple tunes in FLAC and 320 kbps. I'm using my computer's Soundblaster X-FI sound-card and Sennheiser HD-595 Headphones.
"Jammin'" - Bob Marley
Most notable differences were: more depth of sound, notably in the background vocals. In the 320 version the wailers sound compressed, like a stifled echo, but the FLAC version gave their voices body.

"Moby Dick" - Led Zeppelin
Differences were hugely apparent in the snare drums which sounded more tinny in the 320 version. The bass drums also saw some improvement in the FLAC version, but not as substantially.

"Girl from Guatemala" - David Chesky
The singer's voice is clear and crisp in the FLAC version, and the clapping sounds like clapping. In the 320 the singer's voice gets some crackling at the highest end and the snapping sounds can't be distinguished from the clapping.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2010 10:36:13 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2010 10:38:16 PM PST
Hey Gene, I don't really think there is a format "war" per se going on. BluRay and HDDVD. That was a war. VHS and Beta, that was a war. You have ALAC/AAC, well that is because of the Mac. That's not going away. Then you have FLAC/MP3/AAC, but these work on both OS'es. Actually they all do now. I suggest trying foobar2000, it will convert just about anything to anything. So any file you run across, can be converted to Mp3/320 if that is your choice of format.

M Hanna: I agree a lossless format will always blow away anything thats lossy. And my ears aren't perfect, but still pretty good from all my Rock and Roll years.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 4, 2010 12:47:27 AM PST
KBIC says:

You can get any better sound quality than what the original source was in and WAV is accepted in just about all file readers.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 4, 2010 3:30:42 PM PST
Music Luver and Gene: I would agree there isn't a format war in the same sense that there was between VHS and Beta, for example. But there pretty clearly is some pushing and shoving going on with respect to software applications and proprietary lossless codecs. iTunes has its own lossless format and doesn't support FLAC. I believe, though am not sure, that Windows Media Player is the same way. It would be a piece of cake for either of these companies to support FLAC, but they chose not to, which frankly ticks me off. I am not a fan of Apple and iTunes and I do not want my music stuck in their proprietary lossless codec.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 4, 2010 3:35:18 PM PST
M. Hanna, very interesting results. Apparently drum sounds are among the toughest to compress accurately. Perhaps that is why you didn't get all of John Bonham in your 320 file. Chesky Records are also usually very good on sound -- good test choice.

Sennheiser phones are awesome. I had a pair once and had to return them (because they "bled" sound), but they sounded great. I'm still using Bose noise-reducing headphones which I don't like very much.

I wish I could figure out how to gauge the merits of my computer's sound card. Any tips? It's pretty new and the optical drive supports Blu-ray, so it ought to be decent, but I can't figure out where the specs are.

Posted on Jan 4, 2010 3:35:43 PM PST
P.S. Thanks everybody for your thoughts on this topic.

Posted on Jan 4, 2010 3:42:08 PM PST
Actually, its proprietary in a sense, but really Windows supports it and if you check out foobar you might just like it. If you haven't used Songbird, that would be your answer to FLAC, it is a lot like iTunes but any format plays on it. There is a plugin for WMP that will use FLAC and one for Apple Lossless. Admitedly I would prefer FLAC, but I like the Ipod sound, so I had to use Apple. I looked at that Rock box app for it, but it requires you to dual boot the iPod, and i did not want to mess with it. There is a push on for Apple to get into FLAC, but I don't see them doing it in the near future.
To KBIC: FLAC and WAV sound identical, that is the whole point of lossless. I have done some serious listening comparisons and found them to be the same.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 4, 2010 3:42:33 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 4, 2010 3:42:46 PM PST
Jason V. says:
Did you do a blind comparison? Were the levels matched?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 4, 2010 5:18:41 PM PST
Hey Music Luver. I went with Media Monkey, mainly because HDTracks suggested it, and I wanted to try one of their 96/24 FLAC downloads. (Note to Amazon: Sorry to mention the competition -- please just take it as encouragement to offer lossless downloads, which I would gobble up if you had them.) I probably should have done some "comparison shopping" first and checked out Songbird; from your description it sounds similar. Foobar looks cool and similar to MM in coverage. Funny name -- you know what the military's acronym (FUBAR) stands for, right? :)

I have an iPod I don't care about and at some point I'll probably try Rockbox on it.

Posted on Mar 13, 2012 7:10:08 AM PDT
Most of my digital music is AAC from iTunes. A few are mp3s from My collection is small enough to fit on a USB stick.

The thing I've noticed when I listen to them, is that some songs are louder than others.

Posted on Mar 16, 2012 2:00:51 PM PDT
a lot of people been going around and around about lossless & mp3 and bit rates. what is sample rate?? i noticed in the preferences in itunes, when you select a bit rate, there is also a sample rate. the default setting is "auto." but you can select various ones between 8 kHz to 48 kHz. i'm assuming higher is better. how does this affect the file size? is 48 worth it vs. say 44.1? i've been importing at 320, but ignoring the sample rate. i read something on wiki, but it says 44.1 & 48 are the most common, but i got nothing out of it as far as why you would choose one rate over another. just curious. i posted my question in the classical forum, but they are arguing so much about storage and back-up, i don't think anyone noticed my question. :-)

FYI: there's much debate going on in the classical forum on the issues in this thread.

Posted on Mar 16, 2012 3:47:04 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 16, 2012 3:53:58 PM PDT
Sample rate. The higher the number the better, however your ears can decide if it is worth it. Yes, it results in a larger file size.

Most MP3 players do not support higher than 48 kHZ.
To give you an analogy:

Think of VHS tape. "Standard" and the HQ tape. Then think of recording speed. SP vs. EP/SLP.
The faster you record, and the HQ tape are going to give the best video quality. The Sample rate 44.1 up to 192 kHz would be the recording "speed"
The bit rate is the saturation of the tape. So 128 kbps could be thought of as "standard" and 320 kbps as the HQ tape. But then don't forget 16 bit vs. 24 bit "depth" also play into the saturation. More bits per sample. Most mp3 players do not support 24 bit or higher than 48 kHz.
The higher numbers mean there is more information being stored, so this would mean higher quality of sound in the digital world.
If your ears can hear the difference, then it is worth ripping at higher rates.

FLAC compresses like a ZIP file. About half the size of the WAV file with no loss in sound quality. And FLAC supports 192/24. Most of the classic bands master tapes are archived at this rate for storage.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 16, 2012 3:56:27 PM PDT
Amy it is the way they were mastered, it doesn' t have anything to do with the file type itself.
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Discussion in:  Music forum
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Initial post:  Jan 3, 2010
Latest post:  Mar 16, 2012

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