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  1. #1
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    mp3, Are less bits really worse?

    Last week while charging my mp3 player, just a 1 gig shuffle style, I downloaded a firmware update. When I turned it on I noticed the playlist started over so I began to arrow backward to find where I left off. The player eventually jammed for some reason and quit. Reset didn't help. I ran the mp3 rescue thing and of course it reformat my player. So I proceeded to download the songs from my library which is less than 200. Although not many songs there were always some that didn't fit because of the settings I had my files set to. I wanted the best sound possible so it was on the largest setting. Well, when my download was complete I noticed I had 266 MB left. What? The only thing I can figure out is maybe either the rescue program or the firmware update some how changed my settings back to whatever factory was. It was late so I figure instead of trying to reset everything and downloading again I'll just listen like it is until I get more time.

    I expected to turn on the player and be horrified but instead what I found was a trade off. When the music files were large I got a sense of everything being close together and congested. The smaller files sounded wider and more open. The only thing I can figure is it's an illusion because so much is gone or possibly some EQ done to the small files because they were very balanced in response. Now, the smaller files had much less bass. On songs I'm familiar with there is definitely a noticeable lack of detail. Like on a certain Smashing Pumpkins song the distorted guitar almost sounds like a wall of distortion, this is scaled down quite a bit on the smaller file. On Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Aeroplane toward the end when the children come in it's a pretty big part of the song but on the smaller file the kids were in the background more and it sounded like there were less participants. Also, on the smaller files everything has what I can only describe as a fragile or hollow feel to it. It's really wild, it's like you hear an instrument but you only get part of the picture.

    So the trade off: smaller file more songs, sense of a more open sound stage but songs can sound different from the original and not have the wide range of frequency response and impact vs. larger files less songs, more info and wider fuller frequency response but everything sounds squeezed into a small space.

    I think I tend to like the larger files better but being this is just for commuting being able to fit more songs tipped the scales to leaving things the way they are. I could live with the lesser frequency response because it does relieve that sense of everything being squeezed but it is going to be hard getting used to songs sounding different from the original. Hearing this I am certain at least one radio station uses mp3. When the format changed from Jazz to whatever they are now the sound quality changed and I could never figure out why but the characteristics is just the same as I experienced on my mp3 player.

    Could it be the smaller files need less compression, so maybe that's why they don't sound as squeezed into a small space? Anyway if anyone has heard different size files I'd be interested in getting your thoughts.

  2. #2
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Peabody
    Are fewer bits really worse?
    To these ears, yes. The top end of low rate MP3s always sound "swishy" to me. Although I am now in the process of re-ripping my digital collection to full sized WAV, I previously captured it to 320 kb MP3. Anything less was audible.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Peabody
    The only thing I can figure out is maybe either the rescue program or the firmware update some how changed my settings back to whatever factory was.
    That is very likely the case and might have reverted the sampling back to some low rate like 128 kb. On the other hand, there may be other settings changed where your original was less than optimal.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Peabody
    When the music files were large I got a sense of everything being close together and congested. The smaller files sounded wider and more open. The only thing I can figure is it's an illusion because so much is gone or possibly some EQ done to the small files because they were very balanced in response.
    .
    That's where you lost me. File size is determined by sample rate and song duration. For a given song, a smaller file will necessarily have a lesser sample rate. Along with compromised high frequency performance and dynamics.

    rw

  3. #3
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    Sherman here, Mister Peabody. By any chance do you know if the firmware update changed the mp3 encoder used by your hardware? Different encoders have different "signatures" if you will. Once upon a time, the Fraunhofer engine was THE way to go, but they actually wanted to collect licensing fees on their product, so open source encoders such as LAME came into being. LAME has steadily gotten better with each release, and I wonder if your gizmo now has better software.

    Some info concerning encoders:
    http://arstechnica.com/wankerdesk/1q00/mp3/mp3-1.html

  4. #4
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    Hey Sherman, the roles are being reversed here, aren't they Interesting article though and a viable explanation. I used Windows Media Player and my mp3 player is from Creative Labs. I'll have to do some more digging.

  5. #5
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Huh???

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Peabody
    ...
    The only thing I can figure out is maybe either the rescue program or the firmware update some how changed my settings back to whatever factory was. It was late so I figure instead of trying to reset everything and downloading again I'll just listen like it is until I get more time.

    I expected to turn on the player and be horrified but instead what I found was a trade off. When the music files were large I got a sense of everything being close together and congested. The smaller files sounded wider and more open. ...
    Certainly for me high compression results in the opposite if I understand what you're saying. All sense of air and depth are lost as the compression ratio goes up. Like you said in another thread, there is a huge difference anyone can hear, certainly for 128kbps.

    One question: did the reset change the EQ setting on your player. On my iPod Mini I noticed a huge improvement when I selected the "Classical" EQ setting. Regardless of compression, music sounded fatiguing on whatever the earlier setting had been.

    All my ripped music is Apple Lossess (ALAC). On my equipment and with my ears, I can't hear a difference from WAV. I copy ALAC to my iPod though of course I can't got very many piece onto my 4GB player. This is fine with me for commuting purposes, since I get several days-worth for my 1 hour total daily commute time.

  6. #6
    Loving This kexodusc's Avatar
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    My sentiments are pretty much a carbon copy of Feanor's. I can't tolerate mp3's below a variable bit-rate of approx 160 kbps. I like it higher if at all possible. I lose soundstage, it's like listening to radio. Yuck. Acceptable for headphone listening if you're going to the gym, maybe but that's it. 128 kpbs at constant bit rate sounds "swishy"...

    On the flipside, I don't notice much improvement going from approx 192 kbps vbr to anything higher. So improvements seem to be marginalized. I think that's close to the sweet spot for sound quality/size.

    I rip all my CD's to FLAC (same idea as ALAC, just not proprietary). I can hear no difference between this and WAV at all on my system. Just wish more devices supported FLAC, maybe we'll see that as storage capacities grow.

  7. #7
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    I checked the settings on WMP and my settings went down, it looks like my version only goes to 192 kbs.

    My mp3 player does not have an EQ. I don't know if it can be tweaked by anything on the computer. My player is only a shuffle. A possible new encoding seems plausible but I'm not sure how to find out. I'll have to poke around on Creative's website.

    The sound quality of the smaller file is definitely degraded, to the point that a familiar song can sometimes sound strange, different, like it is a different version or something. I'm not sure why the smaller file sounds like more space between instruments unless it's just my perception because so much information is lost. Especially in the lower frequencies.

  8. #8
    Loving This kexodusc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Peabody
    I checked the settings on WMP and my settings went down, it looks like my version only goes to 192 kbs.

    My mp3 player does not have an EQ. I don't know if it can be tweaked by anything on the computer. My player is only a shuffle. A possible new encoding seems plausible but I'm not sure how to find out. I'll have to poke around on Creative's website.

    The sound quality of the smaller file is definitely degraded, to the point that a familiar song can sometimes sound strange, different, like it is a different version or something. I'm not sure why the smaller file sounds like more space between instruments unless it's just my perception because so much information is lost. Especially in the lower frequencies.
    Another consideration...I do believe WMP defaults to WMA files, not mp3's, and WMA's are limited to 192 kbps at constant bitrate (why does anyone still use cbr?).

    Also, in my experience, different encoders will yield different quality levels. WMP's probably isn't the best for encoding to the mp3 format, unless it's the latest LAME encoder or whatever.

  9. #9
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    I saw a setting for "variable bit rate" should I be using that?

    There is also a "mp3" option I could select instead of "wma". When I first got my mp3 I got the impression that WMA was a better format than typical mp3.

  10. #10
    Loving This kexodusc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Peabody
    I saw a setting for "variable bit rate" should I be using that?

    There is also a "mp3" option I could select instead of "wma". When I first got my mp3 I got the impression that WMA was a better format than typical mp3.
    If you are using your music files on a portable device, or in a car or something, you might want to check to see if variable bit rate (vbr) is supported. If it is (probably if made in the last 2 years) I would highly recommend ripping your music in that form...better sound per unit of file size, IMO.

    Variable bit rate takes the busiest, most information packed portions of the waveform and allocates more bits to it, while allocating fewer bits to less busy portions of a song (ie, dead air, not much musical information). Ie, at one setting, it could swing from a low of 135 kb to high of 215 kb accordingly. It's just a much more efficient way of achieving the balance between quality and file size. I use it whenever I can.
    Constant bit rate always keeps the bitrate at the size you choose, say 128 kbps whether the whole symphony is playing, or there's dead air, it allocates 128 kbps to reproduce that. File size is more predictable and older devices work, but quality is sacrificed.

    WMA's around 128-192 kbps are not really better anymore, at lower bit rates though WMA's are considerably better. Depends on the encoder of course, around 192 kbps, I can't hear a difference anymore between wma's and mp3's. If you're really anal about quality, mp3's can achieve bitrates up to 320 (wma's only 192)...it's a tiny bit better, but you're sacrificing file size.

    I tend to support non Microsoft proprietary formats out of principle, but I would preach to you which one you should use, go with whatever's easiest for ya. Mp3 is still usuable in more devices, but you're only worried about the ones you actually own so that's moot.

  11. #11
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    I thought mp3 was universally recognised as a non-audiophile format that SUCKS. Why is there discussion about it?

  12. #12
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    Thanks for the info. I didn't think WMA was proprietary, I was under the impression that it was almost as versatile as typical mp3. I just used WMP because it was easier than the other programs I already have on my computer and I didn't want to download anything else just for mp3.

  13. #13
    Loving This kexodusc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Peabody
    Thanks for the info. I didn't think WMA was proprietary, I was under the impression that it was almost as versatile as typical mp3. I just used WMP because it was easier than the other programs I already have on my computer and I didn't want to download anything else just for mp3.
    Yeah...anytime a product, software or otherwise has the word "Windows" incorporated in its name (even the "W" should raise a flag), chances are it's proprietary. Same goes for Apple. Good rule of thumb anyway.

    It's almost as versatile I guess - pretty much any computer can play it, and maybe 1/2 of all devices out there can, with more and more each year. I think most people use it again because of Microsoft's ability to embed WMP into the operating system and do everything but force it on us. Most people just start using it, then never bother to learn another program and go through the growing pains again. I used it for a few years on my old PC for the same reason - didn't want the bother of using another program.

    I've run into problems though - my cell phone won't play wma's and the 1 year old panasonic cd player in my car struggles with vbr WMA's for some reason.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by audio amateur
    I thought mp3 was universally recognised as a non-audiophile format that SUCKS. Why is there discussion about it?
    I think it has something to do with mp3s being universally recognized. Love 'em or hate 'em, they are everywhere, and show little sign of going away as of this writing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by oaqm
    I think it has something to do with mp3s being universally recognized. Love 'em or hate 'em, they are everywhere, and show little sign of going away as of this writing.
    Just messing about i've got mp3's in my library.

  16. #16
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    As kex pointed out, not all MP3s are created equal. Even using an identical bitrate and file format, the quality of the audio file can vary considerably depending on the encoder that you use. At low bitrates (closer to 128k), I've actually had the best luck using the Real Player. At higher bitrates around 192k, I've not noticed quite as big a difference between different encoders, although I still like the files encoded thru Real Player a little better than the MP3s encoded using iTunes (which seems to work best encoding AAC files). I've also noticed that as others have pointed out, using a variable bit rate does make a difference in making the sound more coherent.

    Quote Originally Posted by audio amateur
    I thought mp3 was universally recognised as a non-audiophile format that SUCKS. Why is there discussion about it?
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  17. #17
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    What brought about my submission to mp3 was I got tired of listening to FM while riding the bus. I tried portable satelite radio but it failed miserably. The thought of carrying a CD player and discs really didn't appeal to me. Hence, let's take a stab at mp3 and see how bad it really is. In portable use it's tolerable. It would be better if I had a megabit storage and larger files. I'd love to do that but I can't see well enough to navigate the menus. A friend of mine told me about a program called Rockbox that gives speech to the menus but it only works with certain players. I'm not all that great with computers I'm afraid of laying out the money for the specific player and not being able to get the program to work. So for now it's the simple shuffle with no menus and small storage. We all have our crosses to bare

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Peabody
    What brought about my submission to mp3 was I got tired of listening to FM while riding the bus.
    My job involves a good bit of air travel so I wanted a way to listen to tunes and block the noise. I just added a player app to my Palm phone along with a 4 GB SD card and Shure E3c earbuds. Works great for that without having to buy another box. I can always increase the storage if I want.

    My surprise is how many folks buy the music in this format rather than ripping from a higher quality source.

    rw

  19. #19
    Forum Regular flippo's Avatar
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    From what I have read in the different formats, a 64 bit wma is the equal to 128 bit mp3 and so on. Now I haven't really tested this out at all so don't know if this is true or not. I ripped all my CDs to 192 bit WMA and are very good. I also am a member of yahoo music so I can download all I want. I know, the dreaded DRM but for the price of 1 cd a month I can download as many as I want so it is worth it to me. Most of the music I could not afford to buy all the CDs in the first place.

  20. #20
    Forum Regular hermanv's Avatar
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    IMHO any purchased music should be stored (on your home computer?) in a format as least as good as CD Redbook. Imagine 25 years from now if you win the lottery and buy a no holds bared system and all your music, (which is no longer available,) is in 132Kbits.

    You can always compress for your portable player, not to mention that compression algorithms are still improving, so having a first class music file source makes the most sense to me.

    I remember thinking how great VHS was when it first became available, now if I watch a VHS movie I keep wondering whats wrong with my player or TV set.
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  21. #21
    Loving This kexodusc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flippo
    From what I have read in the different formats, a 64 bit wma is the equal to 128 bit mp3 and so on. Now I haven't really tested this out at all so don't know if this is true or not.
    Yeah, Microsoft published those findings based on test they did - think there was a bit of bias in that exercise? We tested our own codec and found it to be way better than the other one.

    Truth is, 64 kbps wma isn't as good as 128 kbps mp3, but it's pretty close - I'd say 92 kpbs is definitely as good as 128 kbps for all music but classical.

    Where wma really kills mp3 is in voice recordings at lower bitrates, ie 32 kbps or even 62 kbps. I record meetings all the time and I've found wma to be far superior at the lower bitrates than mp3. Voice alone isn't very demanding so you wouldn't think the difference would be that much, but it is.

    What Microsoft doesn't tell you is that mp3 becomes relatively more effective at higher bit rates, and wma becomes relatively less effective at higher bitrates. Around 192 kbps, the two are said to be indistinguishable. In my unprofessional testing, I still found WMA's to have the edge on mp3's at 160 kbps, and can only hear a difference on the way cymbals ring. By 192, that's gone and they're both about equal. Mp3's can go higher which might yield some audible improvement, but IMO it's not worth it for the file size/time.
    Mp3 can be customized a bit more for advanced users when using vbr, which can yield some improvements.

    Quote Originally Posted by flippo
    I ripped all my CDs to 192 bit WMA and are very good. I also am a member of yahoo music so I can download all I want. I know, the dreaded DRM but for the price of 1 cd a month I can download as many as I want so it is worth it to me. Most of the music I could not afford to buy all the CDs in the first place.
    192 bit WMA's are pretty good. A lot of times the audiphile types are quick to dismiss how good compressed digital music can sound. They might be basing their opinions on experience with older versions of the codec which were less effective, but regardless. At least you're buying music. Good on ya.

  22. #22
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Blah, yawda

    Quote Originally Posted by kexodusc
    ...
    192 bit WMA's are pretty good. A lot of times the audiphile types are quick to dismiss how good compressed digital music can sound. They might be basing their opinions on experience with older versions of the codec which were less effective, but regardless. At least you're buying music. Good on ya.
    Why lossy compressed? To save storage space, ya dummy. OK fine, but where's the problem with space? It's only a problem is you want to store your entire "song" collection on a 2GB Nano. For that matter I'm content storing a mere week's worth of lossless on my 4GB mini.

    Apart from cramming your wimpy portable player, it is a waste of time to rip CD to anything but a lossless format. In the first place, rips are faster to lossless than to a more compressed format. Secondly, storage space is cheap today. My daughter just bought a 320GB external drive for C$80 plus tax. I have my entire classical collection, 600 CDs, stored on a 250GB external that cost me $100 a couple of months ago, and backed up on a second, 320GB external that I paid $150 a year ago. This is dirt cheap in audiophile terms of reference.

    BTW, I don't see a need to store in WAV format. First, I personally can't hear the difference from lossless (ALAC) in critical listening -- in fact there is no difference: my DAC recognizes and decodes HDCD as usual. If I need WAV, e.g. to burn a CD for someone, bit-perfect WAV files can be created from the stored lossless.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Feanor
    Why lossy compressed? To save storage space, ya dummy. OK fine, but where's the problem with space? It's only a problem is you want to store your entire "song" collection on a 2GB Nano. For that matter I'm content storing a mere week's worth of lossless on my 4GB mini.
    Hey, you won't get an argument from me on the merits of lossless, but I have plenty o' storage space. You still can't buy FLAC/ALAC/WMA-Lossless from most services though, so lossy is necesary sometimes.

    For the non-audiophile type, can see the problem though. My sister has a ton of videos on her hard drive, and saving storage space is a more attractive option than forking out $100 or whatever for another hard drive. Don't necessarily agree with her priorities, but what can I do?

  24. #24
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Downloads

    Quote Originally Posted by kexodusc
    Hey, you won't get an argument from me on the merits of lossless, but I have plenty o' storage space. You still can't buy FLAC/ALAC/WMA-Lossless from most services though, so lossy is necesary sometimes.
    ...
    Yeah, it's a pity that we can't download lossless. As a mainly classical listener, I'm usually interested in downloading an entire CD. I absolutely refuse to pay as much for 192kbps downloads as I would for the physical CD.

    $1.30 per "song" for higher-rez (but still very lossy) format is a scam perpetrated by the music distributors given the relative cost of distributing a physical CD. Consumers need to stop being such suckers. A valid cost per song is probably about 15 or 20 cents. To boot, at that rate piracy would be neglible or relatively so.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Feanor
    Yeah, it's a pity that we can't download lossless. As a mainly classical listener, I'm usually interested in downloading an entire CD. I absolutely refuse to pay as much for 192kbps downloads as I would for the physical CD.

    $1.30 per "song" for higher-rez (but still very lossy) format is a scam perpetrated by the music distributors given the relative cost of distributing a physical CD. Consumers need to stop being such suckers. A valid cost per song is probably about 15 or 20 cents. To boot, at that rate piracy would be neglible or relatively so.
    Totally agreed

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