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1/3 of People Can't Tell 48Kbps Audio From 160Kbps

timothy posted about 5 years ago | from the might-include-yours-truly dept.

Media 567

An anonymous reader writes "Results of a blind listening test show that a third of people can't tell the difference between music encoded at 48Kbps and the same music encoded at 160Kbps. The test was conducted by CNet to find out whether streaming music service Spotify sounded better than new rival Sky Songs. Spotify uses 160Kbps OGG compression for its free service, whereas Sky Songs uses 48Kbps AAC+ compression. Over a third of participants thought the lower bit rate sounded better."

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Did they use the mosquito sound? (1, Funny)

charleste (537078) | about 5 years ago | (#29796171)

If they used the "mosquito" - then lots of people would just randomly pick something :-) Or just say things like "Hey! What's that ringing in my ear!"

Re:Did they use the mosquito sound? (4, Interesting)

ByOhTek (1181381) | about 5 years ago | (#29796251)

You blame the sound, I blame the people.

I think they should see if there is a correlation to the preferred quality, and how much auto-tuned "music" the people listen to.

Re:Did they use the mosquito sound? (5, Insightful)

beelsebob (529313) | about 5 years ago | (#29796489)

No, just the headline is massively misleading.

The article actually states that people (a) could hear the difference (b) thought the lower bit rate stuff sounded better.

The key being that the two were encoded with two totally different codecs.

Are these the same people... (4, Informative)

N3Roaster (888781) | about 5 years ago | (#29796187)

Are these the same people who prefer MP3 Sizzle [] ?

Re:Are these the same people... (2, Interesting)

vertinox (846076) | about 5 years ago | (#29796231)

Actually... IMO some electronic music sounds better with lossy compression.

As it sounds more crunchy or crisp.

Or maybe it seems just louder [] . ;)

Re:Are these the same people... (5, Informative)

-kevin- (90281) | about 5 years ago | (#29796313)

Or maybe it seems just louder [] . ;)

fyi, dynamics compression is independent of data compression

Re:Are these the same people... (1)

tepples (727027) | about 5 years ago | (#29796519)

fyi, dynamics compression is independent of data compression

Unless one of your audio codec's artifacts is some amount of level compression. For example, I can imagine using a form of level compression to hide pre-echo.

Re:Are these the same people... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796641)

That would be expansion -- lowering the noise floor. Compression would make it more audible. Expansion reduces the volume of all inputs *below* a threshold, while compression reduces the volume of all inputs *above* a threshold.

Also talking of that I wouldn't be too surprised if you're right (in what you meant) and that OGG employs a slight expansion to try and control its pre-echo. I like OGG better than MP3, though my iPod forces me to use AAC or MP3, but I believe it is plagued with pre-echo at lower bitrates.

I've conducted my own blind tests... (4, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#29796191)

(although not as low as 46kbps) and reached the same conclusion. Most people vastly overestimate their ability to distinguish tracks encoded at different bitrates. And I've seen study after study that backs this up. This includes self-professed audiophiles, the original authors of particular tracks of music, and so forth.

Re:I've conducted my own blind tests... (4, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#29796319)

To elaborate: in my testing, I took a couple of random tracks (two Coulton rock tracks and two classical Christmas tracks, both FLAC), and encoded them at 96k, 128k, 160k, and 192k ogg vorbis, then played them each into their own wav file, then distributed the re-encoded wav files and a wav generated straight from the flac (all with randomized filenames) to the people who wanted to take part in the test. There was a statistically significant (although not universal) recognition that the 96k was the worst. There was a correlation on the 128k track, but not a statistically significant one (I may want to do this again with a larger sample size). And the 160k, 192k, and original tracks were as good as random.

Most people hear 128k and think, "How can a person possibly not get *that*?" But that's really a stereotype from the olden days. There's a huge difference between a 128kbps fixed-bitrate mp3 and a 128kbps VBR ogg. VBR makes a *huge* difference.

Re:I've conducted my own blind tests... (5, Informative)

godrik (1287354) | about 5 years ago | (#29796647)

I think it really depends on your audio setup as well. I used to have crappy speaker and could not make the difference between FLAC and low rate MP3 (I think it was fixed 128kbps).

When I switched to better speakers then I could actually make the difference. Despite that, I am sure I won't make the difference between 192 VBR and FLAC.

BTW, since hard drive is cheap this days, I go for FLAC for everything.

Re:I've conducted my own blind tests... (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 5 years ago | (#29796707)

Ogg makes a huge difference too. A 128kbps VBR ogg sounds about as good as a 160-192k VBR MP3.

I have perfect codex... (4, Interesting)

TiggertheMad (556308) | about 5 years ago | (#29796325)

Thats strange, I find it trivial to identify differing qualities of compression when listening to my music files.

You look down at the UI, and it tells you what the bitrate is.

(Joking aside, I have advocated 128 kbps for years, not because of sound quality issues, but rather because most people own cheap computer speakers and/or headphones. You only get quality as good as the weakest link in the system.)

Re:I have perfect codex... (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 5 years ago | (#29796425)

While, as you say, most people have crap speakers/headphones, so anything above 128kbps is largely a waste, there is one major reason to do it anyway.

If you ever upgrade your hardware, dealing with all your old, low-quality, tracks is a pain. You can re-rip, or suffer through, or throw them all away and get new ones; but it is a hassle. With storage so cheap these days, you might just want to include a little extra, in case you upgrade later.

Re:I have perfect codex... (5, Informative)

Cowclops (630818) | about 5 years ago | (#29796439)

And I've been telling people for years that the "weakest link" concept in audio reproduction is an oversimplification and therefore wrong.

There are orthagonal distortion components introduced by various devices. An MP3's digital distortion (sizzle sounds, to borrow from another article somebody linked to) would be IN ADDITION TO poor frequency response and mechanical distortion. It isn't "masked" by it. And it doesn't take significantly more bitrate to go from "crappy" to "great." 128kbps CBR MP3 is pretty crappy, but 160kbps VBR MP3 is indistinguishable from the source "even on great systems." I don't intend to argue what bitrate you consider "sufficient," just that "Listen to a low bitrate because you have crappy speaker" implies that crappy speakers mask MP3 compression artifacts.

If I were to go out on a limb, I'd say its possible for crappy speakers to distort even more with overcompressed MP3s than good speakers do.

Re:I have perfect codex... (1)

i_ate_god (899684) | about 5 years ago | (#29796577)

And I've been telling people for years that the "weakest link" concept in audio reproduction is an oversimplification and therefore wrong.

There are orthagonal distortion components introduced by various devices. An MP3's digital distortion (sizzle sounds, to borrow from another article somebody linked to) would be IN ADDITION TO poor frequency response and mechanical distortion. It isn't "masked" by it. And it doesn't take significantly more bitrate to go from "crappy" to "great." 128kbps CBR MP3 is pretty crappy, but 160kbps VBR MP3 is indistinguishable from the source "even on great systems." I don't intend to argue what bitrate you consider "sufficient," just that "Listen to a low bitrate because you have crappy speaker" implies that crappy speakers mask MP3 compression artifacts.

If I were to go out on a limb, I'd say its possible for crappy speakers to distort even more with overcompressed MP3s than good speakers do.

I completely agree. MP3 compression removes frequencies. Speakers, cables, amps, won't replace those frequencies, and the modifications done to the signal can only be done to the frequencies that are left behind.

Re:I have perfect codex... (3, Informative)

beelsebob (529313) | about 5 years ago | (#29796629)

Except that most of the compression gained from mp3 is gained by removing frequencies we can't hear anyway, speakers with poor frequency response absolutely 100% do mask this.

It's the cheapo speaker syndrome (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796579)

Through the '80's, people bought stereo components and understood good sound. Starting in the '90's people went for packaged systems that didn't have the ability to produce accurate sound. Now the majority is used to crappy headphones and earbuds that have more peaks and valleys than the Himalayas, and people are used to overequalized processing. I'll bet you that real stereophiles can tell the difference, but they're a dying breed.

Re:I have perfect codex... (3, Interesting)

diamondsw (685967) | about 5 years ago | (#29796685)

Whereas I advocate the opposite, as disk space is cheap, and you really don't want to go to the hassle of ripping all of those CD's again. But to each their own.

Re:I've conducted my own blind tests... (1)

b0bby (201198) | about 5 years ago | (#29796557)

I've done that too, with similar results. I've listened to a CD and 128kbps mp3 made by myself using EAC & the best headphones I had around, and couldn't tell the difference. (Admittedly, through a Soundblaster soundcard.) I've played a CD through a good component CD player, then the 128kbps mp3 version through a dvd player hooked to the same amp & speakers (pretty good NAD amp & B&W speakers). I still couldn't tell the difference, neither could my wife, so since then (this was 6+ years ago) I haven't worried about it. I rip my CDs at 196 or so and get on with listening to them. With improved codecs I can see that you could get listenable quality out of 48kbps.

Re:I've conducted my own blind tests... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796729)

"-m j -q 2 -V 2" in lame will net you around 160-190kbps average and sound entirely indistinguishable from the originals with all but the most contrived audio samples.

CBR at 128 is great, but there are artifacts on real life music. I wouldn't go below 160 on CBR myself.

Have to be so careful... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796581)

The tests have to be very carefully set up: double blind, very carefully calibrated audio levels.

Even a 1/3 db difference makes the louder signal sound sharper / higher quality. It's difficult to run a test that won't run into criticism about how it is conducted.

Many technical considerations for this kind of testing but also is the question "Is the difference in quality perceivable?" or is it "Given how people listen, does any difference between the two matter?"

Re:I've conducted my own blind tests... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796653)

Are you listening on quality equipment? I don't mean some overpriced audiophile setup with oxygen free cables, but at least a decent set of speakers or headphones and a good DAC?
When I switched from ipod ear buds to Sennheiser cx300's anything under 128kbps sounded terrible, and even 192kbps mp3 has some noticable artifacts. These are $30 ear buds, not anything excessive, but they sound a lot better than the cheap ones that come with iPods.

Re:I've conducted my own blind tests... (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | about 5 years ago | (#29796699)

I remember speaking to a professional studio engineer, and he told me about the frequency responses of the microphones they use.. basically its not so great. I'm not surprised good compression would make next to no difference to the resulting sound, especially if the majority of the compression took out the very high and low frequencies.

and besides, I do most of my listening on teeny little in-ear headphones, or in the car, so it wouldn't matter if compression did screw most of the frequencies away.

I suspect that depends (3, Interesting)

overshoot (39700) | about 5 years ago | (#29796197)

on how long they've been cranking their music up to 11.

Headphones/Speakers/Monitors (1)

msimm (580077) | about 5 years ago | (#29796599)

I realize the article mentioned they used high quality headphones and audio hardware, but for the rest of us audio kit is still the main limiting factor. I recently picked up a set of M-Audio (they make music gear) desktop monitors and gained a new appreciation for much of my existing music (specifically, my FLAC recordings).

Of course 1/3 is also a pretty significant group of people and given more time and a more comfortable setting this number would probably be somewhat higher. Good sound still sounds good and with decent headphones/monitors/etc you can pick out individual sounds much easier and the music gains layers and presence.

Can != want to (1)

Krakadoom (1407635) | about 5 years ago | (#29796201)

More likely 1/3 are either somewhat deaf, or just dont care enough about music quality to be able to tell the difference.

I really doubt it's a functional issue, more that they just can't be bothered.

OR 1/3 of people are functional retards :P

Re:Can != want to (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796293)

When my audiophile friends ask me how great their $5000 stereo sounds, I think to myself it sounds about as good as my cheap car stereo. I can't tell the difference.

Re:Can != want to (1)

Broken scope (973885) | about 5 years ago | (#29796431)

Aye, I have to wonder if they controlled for the subjects hearing damage.

Your official guide to the Jigaboo presidency (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796203)

Congratulations on your purchase of a brand new nigger! If handled properly, your apeman will give years of valuable, if reluctant, service.

You should install your nigger differently according to whether you have purchased the field or house model. Field niggers work best in a serial configuration, i.e. chained together. Chain your nigger to another nigger immediately after unpacking it, and don't even think about taking that chain off, ever. Many niggers start singing as soon as you put a chain on them. This habit can usually be thrashed out of them if nipped in the bud. House niggers work best as standalone units, but should be hobbled or hamstrung to prevent attempts at escape. At this stage, your nigger can also be given a name. Most owners use the same names over and over, since niggers become confused by too much data. Rufus, Rastus, Remus, Toby, Carslisle, Carlton, Hey-You!-Yes-you!, Yeller, Blackstar, and Sambo are all effective names for your new buck nigger. If your nigger is a ho, it should be called Latrelle, L'Tanya, or Jemima. Some owners call their nigger hoes Latrine for a joke. Pearl, Blossom, and Ivory are also righteous names for nigger hoes. These names go straight over your nigger's head, by the way.

Owing to a design error, your nigger comes equipped with a tongue and vocal chords. Most niggers can master only a few basic human phrases with this apparatus - "muh dick" being the most popular. However, others make barking, yelping, yapping noises and appear to be in some pain, so you should probably call a vet and have him remove your nigger's tongue. Once de-tongued your nigger will be a lot happier - at least, you won't hear it complaining anywhere near as much. Niggers have nothing interesting to say, anyway. Many owners also castrate their niggers for health reasons (yours, mine, and that of women, not the nigger's). This is strongly recommended, and frankly, it's a mystery why this is not done on the boat

Your nigger can be accommodated in cages with stout iron bars. Make sure, however, that the bars are wide enough to push pieces of nigger food through. The rule of thumb is, four niggers per square yard of cage. So a fifteen foot by thirty foot nigger cage can accommodate two hundred niggers. You can site a nigger cage anywhere, even on soft ground. Don't worry about your nigger fashioning makeshift shovels out of odd pieces of wood and digging an escape tunnel under the bars of the cage. Niggers never invented the shovel before and they're not about to now. In any case, your nigger is certainly too lazy to attempt escape. As long as the free food holds out, your nigger is living better than it did in Africa, so it will stay put. Buck niggers and hoe niggers can be safely accommodated in the same cage, as bucks never attempt sex with black hoes.

Your Nigger likes fried chicken, corn bread, and watermelon. You should therefore give it none of these things because its lazy ass almost certainly doesn't deserve it. Instead, feed it on porridge with salt, and creek water. Your nigger will supplement its diet with whatever it finds in the fields, other niggers, etc. Experienced nigger owners sometimes push watermelon slices through the bars of the nigger cage at the end of the day as a treat, but only if all niggers have worked well and nothing has been stolen that day. Mike of the Old Ranch Plantation reports that this last one is a killer, since all niggers steal something almost every single day of their lives. He reports he doesn't have to spend much on free watermelon for his niggers as a result. You should never allow your nigger meal breaks while at work, since if it stops work for more than ten minutes it will need to be retrained. You would be surprised how long it takes to teach a nigger to pick cotton. You really would. Coffee beans? Don't ask. You have no idea.

Niggers are very, very averse to work of any kind. The nigger's most prominent anatomical feature, after all, its oversized buttocks, which have evolved to make it more comfortable for your nigger to sit around all day doing nothing for its entire life. Niggers are often good runners, too, to enable them to sprint quickly in the opposite direction if they see work heading their way. The solution to this is to *dupe* your nigger into working. After installation, encourage it towards the cotton field with blows of a wooden club, fence post, baseball bat, etc., and then tell it that all that cotton belongs to a white man, who won't be back until tomorrow. Your nigger will then frantically compete with the other field niggers to steal as much of that cotton as it can before the white man returns. At the end of the day, return your nigger to its cage and laugh at its stupidity, then repeat the same trick every day indefinitely. Your nigger comes equipped with the standard nigger IQ of 75 and a memory to match, so it will forget this trick overnight. Niggers can start work at around 5am. You should then return to bed and come back at around 10am. Your niggers can then work through until around 10pm or whenever the light fades.

Your nigger enjoys play, like most animals, so you should play with it regularly. A happy smiling nigger works best. Games niggers enjoy include: 1) A good thrashing: every few days, take your nigger's pants down, hang it up by its heels, and have some of your other niggers thrash it with a club or whip. Your nigger will signal its intense enjoyment by shrieking and sobbing. 2) Lynch the nigger: niggers are cheap and there are millions more where yours came from. So every now and then, push the boat out a bit and lynch a nigger.

Lynchings are best done with a rope over the branch of a tree, and niggers just love to be lynched. It makes them feel special. Make your other niggers watch. They'll be so grateful, they'll work harder for a day or two (and then you can lynch another one). 3) Nigger dragging: Tie your nigger by one wrist to the tow bar on the back of suitable vehicle, then drive away at approximately 50mph. Your nigger's shrieks of enjoyment will be heard for miles. It will shriek until it falls apart. To prolong the fun for the nigger, do *NOT* drag him by his feet, as his head comes off too soon. This is painless for the nigger, but spoils the fun. Always wear a seatbelt and never exceed the speed limit. 4) Playing on the PNL: a variation on (2), except you can lynch your nigger out in the fields, thus saving work time. Niggers enjoy this game best if the PNL is operated by a man in a tall white hood. 5) Hunt the nigger: a variation of Hunt the Slipper, but played outdoors, with Dobermans. WARNING: do not let your Dobermans bite a nigger, as they are highly toxic.

Niggers die on average at around 40, which some might say is 40 years too late, but there you go. Most people prefer their niggers dead, in fact. When yours dies, report the license number of the car that did the drive-by shooting of your nigger. The police will collect the nigger and dispose of it for you.

Have it put down, for god's sake. Who needs an uppity nigger? What are we, short of niggers or something?

They all do this. Shorten your nigger's chain so it can't reach any white women, and arm heavily any white women who might go near it.

Not unless it outnumbers you 20 to 1, and even then, it's not likely. If niggers successfully overthrew their owners, they'd have to sort out their own food. This is probably why nigger uprisings were nonexistent (until some fool gave them rights).

Yeah, well, it would. Tell it to shut the fuck up.

A nigger's skin is actually more or less transparent. That brown color you can see is the shit your nigger is full of. This is why some models of nigger are sold as "The Shitskin".

What you have there is a "wigger". Rough crowd. WOW!

They're as common as dog shit and about as valuable. In fact, one of them was President between 1992 and 2000. Put your wigger in a cage with a few hundred genuine niggers and you'll soon find it stops acting like a nigger. However, leave it in the cage and let the niggers dispose of it. The best thing for any wigger is a dose of TNB.

And you were expecting what?

When you came in here, did you see a sign that said "Dead nigger storage"? .That's because there ain't no goddamn sign.

Anonymous Coward (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796207)

Did you have to close your eyes during the test. Why is it called a blind listening test?

Re:Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796659)

Yeah. You're right. It would have made a lot more sense for it to be a deaf listening test.

wut? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796217)

I herd you like mudkips.

In other news (4, Informative)

Etrias (1121031) | about 5 years ago | (#29796223)

So, 1/3 of people eh? Hardly a damning assessment when your sampling size is 16 people. Besides, most people I know including myself have some sort of hearing damage from the past or don't really know what to listen for when presented with different types of sound.

Re:In other news (2, Insightful)

BESTouff (531293) | about 5 years ago | (#29796537)

Moreover their math is false: if 1/3 of participants gave the wrong anwser, it means 2/3 of participants couldn't tell the difference and choosed randomly.

... given a sufficient sample size, as you noted of course.

There just deaf from blasting their ipods... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796225)

I don't care if 99% of the population cant tell the difference between the two, I can and I want all my audio to be 320Kbps

Re:There just deaf from blasting their ipods... (2, Insightful)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about 5 years ago | (#29796309)

I'd pay for it if I got to watch you do a blind listening test.

Re:There just deaf from blasting their ipods... (2, Interesting)

oldspewey (1303305) | about 5 years ago | (#29796399)

Considering I can buy a 1TB drive for less than $100, I don't particularly care which percentile I might inhabit ... I see absolutely no reason to rip CD's at anything less than 320.

Follow the money, fuckwits! (1)

ringbarer (545020) | about 5 years ago | (#29796227)

CNET - Owned by Rupert Murdoch.
Sky - Owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Impartial Journalism - Not on this Internet.

Re:Follow the money, fuckwits! (2, Informative)

Curmudgeonlyoldbloke (850482) | about 5 years ago | (#29796467)

CNET - Owned by Rupert Murdoch.
Sky - Owned by Rupert Murdoch.

CBS, actually: []

If it'd been a Myspace survey or something from the Times, the Courier-Mail or the WSJ, you'd have had a point.

bad comparison? (4, Insightful)

MacColossus (932054) | about 5 years ago | (#29796233)

I would be more impressed if the same encoding format was used. I think both samples should have been ogg or aac and not a mix. If comparing aac at 48 and 160 are the results different? Same goes for ogg at 48 and 160?

Re:bad comparison? (1)

-kevin- (90281) | about 5 years ago | (#29796269)

I agree, I'm not sold on OGG's quality, while AAC is proven to perform well at low bitrates...For a real comparsion, it should be at the same bitrate!

Re:bad comparison? (1)

loftwyr (36717) | about 5 years ago | (#29796415)

Exactly, the summary makes it sounds like their comparing bitrates when it's codecs they're comparing. So, in effect, by mixing codecs and bitrates, the test proves exactly nothing.

Re:bad comparison? (1)

Malc (1751) | about 5 years ago | (#29796453)

Isn't AAC @ 48kbs the same as OGG at 128kbs?

Very dumb comparison.

The number should be doubled. (3, Insightful)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about 5 years ago | (#29796237)

People who can't tell the difference have a 50-50 chance of getting it right. Therefore we can deduce that over *two-thirds* of the population can't tell the difference, by adding in the inferred members who couldn't tell, but guessed right.

Re:The number should be doubled. (1)

TheSpoom (715771) | about 5 years ago | (#29796683)

I'd hate to think what would happen if over 50% couldn't tell.

Bad Math (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796243)

If 1/3 thought the lower quality was superior, but 1/2 of people who can't tell still guess correctly, then that means 2/3 of people can't tell

Apples and Oranges (4, Insightful)

Shag (3737) | about 5 years ago | (#29796247)

Do it with 48kbps AAC vs. 160kbps AAC, or 48kbps OGG vs. 160kbps OGG, and you might have something meaningful.

Or, 48kbps AAC vs. 48kbps OGG, and 160kbps AAC vs. 160kbps OGG, if you want a flamewar...

Re:Apples and Oranges (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796349)

Exactly. This is a stupid comparison because they are using two different codecs. Maybe 48 Kbps AAC is almost as good as 160 Kbps OGG because AAC is a better codec.

Re:Apples and Oranges (1)

alop (67204) | about 5 years ago | (#29796495)

I was going to post the same thing...

Yes but.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796543)

Do it with 48kbps AAC vs. 160kbps AAC, or 48kbps OGG vs. 160kbps OGG, and you might have something meaningful.

Or, 48kbps AAC vs. 48kbps OGG, and 160kbps AAC vs. 160kbps OGG, if you want a flamewar...

Tthe point of TFA was to compare two services, one of which is actually using 48kbps AAC, while the other is actually using 160kbps Ogg. Using any other codecs or bitrates would indeed be inciting a flamewar.

Re:Apples and Oranges (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 5 years ago | (#29796651)

In my experience, most people will notice a difference if you point out the audio artifacts.
Of course, this only works when you have a decent quality sound system, be it headphones or a stereo.

I'd like to see a test that "primes" listeners by first playing for them just cymbals at the same compression levels as the main test.
My theory being that, once primed, they'll notice the way that strong compression murders the high end sounds.

/also, 16 people is not a statistically significant sample size.

Even worse (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796253)

In a deaf listening test, 100% couldn't tell the difference between a 160Kbps OGG file and a cannon. Though 3% noted the smell of gunpowder.

Obviously, the test was flawed (4, Insightful)

Chairboy (88841) | about 5 years ago | (#29796255)

If the higher compression audio had simply used this $500 Denon ethernet cable, the results would have been different: []

But seriously, can you make a sweeping statement like "People can't tell 48k audio from 160k" if you're also switching compression technologies? OGG vs. AAC is a whole article on it's own, you just muddy the waters by making this about the compression rate.

This is just a new version of the old megahertz myth of the CPU wars. Two different 2GHZ processors from different manufacturers are not equal, we all finally figured that out for the most part, right? Now we've moved onwards... to the Kbps myth?

As long as the sound is clean (1, Interesting)

SilverJets (131916) | about 5 years ago | (#29796259)

As long as the sound is clean and there is no static, no pops, crackles, or hissing, I could care less what it is encoded at. To my ear there really is no difference.

I can (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796265)

You better bet I can hear the difference.

This is why I laughed at the Sirius rep who tried to get me to sign up for the Satellite radio in my Ford Fusion a couple years back. The sound quality is TERRIBLE. Why have a decent sound system and a tingy-slingy crap sound source?

I can't even stand 128kbps mp3. Now that's a little apples-to-oranges for this article (different codecs), but still.

Some people have no eye, or ear, for quality.

And in other news... (1)

tverbeek (457094) | about 5 years ago | (#29796277) turns out that at least 1/3 of all people are over the age of 25.

Yeah, but they weren't listening through Monster.. (3, Funny)

irchs (752829) | about 5 years ago | (#29796281)

Yeah, but they weren't listening through Monster Cable, you can't tell the difference between anything without Monster equipment...

bad title (2, Insightful)

mbuimbui (1130065) | about 5 years ago | (#29796291)

>> 1/3 of People Can't Tell 48Kbps Audio From 160Kbps

Correction: Over a third of participants thought the lower bit rate sounded better.

Those are not the same thing. To find out how many people thought they sounded exactly the same, I would have to RTFA.

Some other factors (2, Insightful)

arugulatarsus (1167251) | about 5 years ago | (#29796295)

There are a lot of things to mention in this article. They are using VERY high end hardware that can interpolate the sound and cause sound clipping (which makes things sound metallic) to be minimized. They also didn't mention what songs were chosen. A lot of music is mastered to sound good on poor quality speakers and thus the 48 Kbps may actually not be the limiting factor.
At least there going to be a new reason to sell audio snake oil now.

Relevant ? (2, Interesting)

Jerome H (990344) | about 5 years ago | (#29796299)

From the article: "We dragged 16 people", I'm no stats engineer but isn't that far too low ?

Re:Relevant ? (2, Funny)

Curmudgeonlyoldbloke (850482) | about 5 years ago | (#29796487)

It depends. Were they dragged by the ears?

apples oranges... (1)

ArchieBunker (132337) | about 5 years ago | (#29796301)

They are using two completely different codecs. Try 48kbps mp3 vs 160kbps mp3 and see.

OGG vs CNET (1)

janeuner (815461) | about 5 years ago | (#29796305)

OGG isn't a audio codec.
CNET isn't a tech news site.

It's a figure of speech (1)

tepples (727027) | about 5 years ago | (#29796663)

OGG isn't a audio codec.

Nor is "Washington" the U.S. government. Anyone who knows the difference between Ogg and Vorbis would understand that while "Ogg" is a container, it is also related to the codecs designed for use in the container. The article uses a figure of speech called metonymy [] : "Ogg" in the context of lossy music encoding refers to the Ogg project's lossy music codec, and that's Vorbis.

Quantity is the... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796317)

new Quality. What we want is cheap crap, and lots of it. For reference: Wal-Mart, current fast-food portion sizes, mini-mansions filled with Ikea furniture.

Apples vs. Oranges (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796333)

They're entirely different compression schemes, the numbers may as well be different units. "Participants couldn't tell the difference between of 10 miles per hour and 50,000 feet per hour!"

Summary misleading (4, Insightful)

spinkham (56603) | about 5 years ago | (#29796341)

The summary is quite misleading.
It sounds like 100% of the participants could tell the difference between the two encodings, just 1/3 of the people thought the more simple, clean, highly compressed version sounded better. 2/3 of people thought the high bitrate version sounded better.

When choosing compression, the better way to go is to shoot for transparency [] versus the uncompressed source, not which audio sounds better to your ears.

That's why ABX [] is the industry standard for compression comparison, not a simple AB test as in this experiment.

compared to what ? (3, Informative)

Brigadier (12956) | about 5 years ago | (#29796343)

I say the only valid comparison is listening to the live music, vs the digital format. This way you compare to the original and your not just saying which sounds better (which is subjective). I once worked with a audio system designer and everything was tested using analogue formats with various types of music preferably classical because of it's range in sound.

Of the 16 people tested (3, Informative)

mapkinase (958129) | about 5 years ago | (#29796347)

"Of the 16 people tested"


Re:Of the 16 people tested (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | about 5 years ago | (#29796417)

Everybody knows you need at least 128 people for blind audio tests.

2/3rds can (3, Interesting)

Galestar (1473827) | about 5 years ago | (#29796351)

Title of article should be: 2/3 of people CAN tell the difference...

sound quality / music quality (1)

sous_rature (969750) | about 5 years ago | (#29796353)

One reason lower quality playback often sounds better is it smooths out some of the shortcomings in the original recording. A lot of people prefer lo-def for casual listening because the most authentic sound isn't always the easiest on the ears. NYT article on this a while back, but couldn't find it immediately...

data reported is misleading (1)

rwv (1636355) | about 5 years ago | (#29796357)

Based on TFS, 33% answered that the 48kbps sounded better than 160kbps. I have a assume that some percentage of the people who said that the 160kbps were guessing and got lucky to pick the "right" answer.

Also, it may be because they are using a music sample that actually sounds pretty good with 48kbps instead of (for example) spoken word which makes a bigger difference when you compress the hell out of it.

There is no magic bullet... for many people lower bitrates are just as good as high-fidelity.

Age Dependent? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796361)

All of the people I know that appreciate the quality of their music and acknowledge when I play a good quality flac recording of a particular song for them are over 30. I think it could be an age dependent thing, with regards to the mix quality of music put out today and how young people listen to it. In my personal opinion, the advent of limewire and such have supported the spreading of lower quality mp3s, and teens these days seem to accept that as the "standard" of music quality. As a little anecdotal evidence supporting my theory, my 17 year old sister is constantly downloading and playing low quality music and throwing it on her iPod. She doesn't seem to care about the quality, as long as she can listen to her hits and what ever volume she cares (even if I can hear it coming from her headphones from all the way across the room.).

Re:Age Dependent? (1)

SolarStorm (991940) | about 5 years ago | (#29796499)

I would agree with the desensitizing of some of the younger listeners. I have 2 daughters 16 and 18 and I always laugh when they come to me with some "new" music they heard. The last was some Iron Maiden. My 18 yr olds comment was how come my old LP's sounded so good played on my "old" turn table (yes I still have one that I jealously guard) When she compares what she plays on her iPod vs the LP, even she notices the difference.

not particularly surprising (1)

NiteShaed (315799) | about 5 years ago | (#29796369)

Most people only really have broad demands on how their music sounds. Give them fairly deep bass, no obvious crackle at the high end, and they'll pretty much be happy with anything in between. If they're used to a "lower-end" listening experience to begin with (cheap headphones, laptop speakers, low-end stereos), then they'll be even less picky overall.

It also wouldn't surprise me if a fair number of the participants just picked one arbitrarily, just for the sake of giving an answer.

Re:not particularly surprising (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 5 years ago | (#29796521)

It could also be, depending on the age of their sample, that they genuinely prefer the low-end sound.

In terms of choice of bands/genres, the world is full of people who just love whatever music was current when they were a mid teens to young adult. Some sort of nostalgia process fixes them there. It wouldn't be completely surprising if people develop strong nostalgic associations with the style of sound reproduction from their past as well. In the case of current young adult sample sets, that is increasingly likely to be lowish bit rate digital on lousy speakers.

OGG SUCKS (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796373)


let's be clear (5, Insightful)

Vorpix (60341) | about 5 years ago | (#29796401)

this summary is misleading. they were asked to choose which they thought sounded better. the listeners DID notice a difference between the two, and for some reason 1/3 of the participants enjoyed the lower bitrate version better. perhaps it had less harsh high tones or something about it was more pleasurable to them... that doesn't mean that the higher bitrate didn't honestly sound more accurate to the source material. Perhaps uncompressed audio should have also been incorporated into the test. If they still choose the lower bitrate over uncompressed, then it's clear that some listeners prefer the song with the changes inherent to compression.

this was a very unscientific study, with a very small sample size, and really shouldn't be front page on slashdot.

shut up you fool! (1)

nimbius (983462) | about 5 years ago | (#29796403)

i just felt sandvine stock go up!

besides cancustomers afford to have their connection become anymore comcastic than it already is!?

And you point is? (1)

kurt555gs (309278) | about 5 years ago | (#29796411)

One third of the US population cant tell "shit from shineola".

Error: Test not ABX. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796413)

This wasn't a proper repeated ABX double-blind listening test, nor an ABC-HR, but just a single-trial single-blind AB for each person, with one track and no hidden reference. Pathetic and unscientific, and definitely shouldn't be presented as a valid listening test, given how susceptible audio research is to error.

Dear C|Net: If you're going to do a listening test, please don't just do something that'd get you laughed at on (then banned from) Hydrogenaudio. It's easy to do it properly - Hydrogenaudio have been doing it for years, and that's how the encoders are tuned. Doing it wrong tells you nothing of value.

Previous, proper ABX double-blind listening tests have proved that Vorbis -q5 (using AoTuV b5.5), which is what Spotify use, is perceptually transparent on almost all listeners on almost all audio. Meanwhile, 48kbps AAC-HE+SBR with a good encoder is best-in-class for its bitrate at the moment, but is very poor at some sounds which spectral band replication tends to make too prominent or artificial; electronic music encodes well, but classical most certainly does not. It almost always is distinguishable in ABX, although it ranks moderately highly in ABC-HR, especially for its bitrate, on untrained listeners. It's not even remotely a competitor to Vorbis -q5, though (or LAME 3.98 -V2 for that matter).

Want research sources? Hydrogenaudio listening tests, and/or peer-reviewed papers conducted using similar/the same methodologies. Want to contradict those? Do your tests properly first.

Preferences (4, Insightful)

gorfie (700458) | about 5 years ago | (#29796435)

I used to sell audio equipment as a teenager and I recall different people had different ideas about what constituted quality audio. Some people liked deep muddy base, other people liked loud midranges, etc.. I think the study's conclusion is all wrong... it's not that people can't tell the difference, it's that people sometimes prefer the lower quality bitrate. Personally, I just want things to sound representative of the real-life equivalent. :)

I've noticed this myself (1)

solid_liq (720160) | about 5 years ago | (#29796457)

This is why I only ask musicians who are good at what they do for advice on audio equipment. If you want to know what's good, you have to ask a musician who's passionate about music. Musicians know what the music is supposed to sound like because they've spent countless hours learning songs and practicing their craft. By listening to them, I have a setup that's so good it's made me turn and look behind me more than a few times because I swore the noise was made by something in the room.

KRK Rokit Studio monitors with a BBE Sonic Maximizer, in case you're wondering.

Speakers (1)

Talavis (906015) | about 5 years ago | (#29796483)

I think it's quite a bit about the quality of your speakers. I couldn't hear any difference between the qualities until I got my $200+ speakers.

It depends on what you're used to hearing (4, Insightful)

whyde (123448) | about 5 years ago | (#29796501)

Today's low-bitrate MP3/AAC will be tomorrow's vinyl.

I firmly believe that you prefer what you're accustomed to hearing in the first place. Most kids today have grown up hearing nothing better than highly-compressed FM or low-bitrate MP3 music. They don't know anything better, and given the option of hearing better music, perhaps even uncompressed, with a much larger dynamic range and noise floor, they'll gravitate to what their ears and brain have been trained to appreciate.

Tomorrow's world will have "128Kbps MP3 Afficionado" publications extolling the virtues, "warmth", and "naturalness" of the low-bitrate MP3. And audiophiles will pay top-dollar for crippled hardware and overcompressed, undersampled music tracks.

OGG v AAC+ compression (1)

viralMeme (1461143) | about 5 years ago | (#29796509)

"Spotify uses 160Kbps OGG compression for its free service, whereas Sky Songs uses 48Kbps AAC+ compression"

HOW do the compression efficiency of both compare and what royalties patent rights apply to either.

Big deal! (1)

daem0n1x (748565) | about 5 years ago | (#29796515)

What's the big deal? Two thirds of the people can't even tell decent music from out of tune shit.

Personally, I'm holding out for (0, Redundant)

mandark1967 (630856) | about 5 years ago | (#29796539)

the dupe of the article, titled, "2/3 of People Can Tell 48Kps Audio From 160Kps"

That's because 1/3 the population is tone deaf (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796541)

My guess is this 1/3 is the same ones that listen to Dave Mathews and and Alice in Chains.

in other news (1)

SafeMode (11547) | about 5 years ago | (#29796545)

Some people hear things differently than others. Also in the 5 o'clock hour we'll talk about how some people see better than other people. And dont miss this week's special report on the varying ability of people to grasp sarcasm.

1/3? (1)

sbeckstead (555647) | about 5 years ago | (#29796549)

That means that 2/3 can tell. What's the problem, those 3rd are the ones that still like their little AM radio.

Is that all? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796551)

Remember American Idol and Dancing With The Stars are top rated shows. Most people have no sense of quality programing in any form. It's like Laserdisk and Blu-Ray, quality will only appeal to a select few. I just hope they don't drop their standards to compete. I got very excited when I first heard about Digital TV until I found out they didn't mean HD just digital. Most of the higher quality formats didn't fail because they were inferior it was because the average person either couldn't tell the difference or didn't care.

I stopped at (3, Insightful)

obarthelemy (160321) | about 5 years ago | (#29796571)

"we tested with Billie Jean"

I don't hate that song.. but as a testing ground for music hardware/software, it sucks. And you should always test with different types of music.

Also, small sample size (16), only 1 song in 2 versions, presumably always in the same order, on hardware that has nothing to do with what everybody uses (does that lessen or worsen compression characteristics ?), no control group (wanna bet that with 2 exact same versions, song A or song B consistently comes out on top ? Coke and Pepsi worked that one out long ago). No indication how responses were collected (group ? interviewer ? biased ?).

made me chuckle. amateurs.

If 1/3 got the answer wrong, then.. (1)

jayme0227 (1558821) | about 5 years ago | (#29796605)

Wouldn't the number who can't tell the difference actually be higher?

If you have two choices, and you don't know the answer, you randomly choose between the two. That means that in a random sample, the number of people who don't know the answer should split evenly between the right and wrong answer. This would mean that as many as 2/3 of the sample couldn't tell the difference between the two services.

Of course, it wouldn't be that high because some people honestly prefer a lower quality sound. There are people who still prefer the sound of vinyl records to the sound of digitally "perfect" CDs, but even so, a substantial portion of the listening public cannot tell the difference. I'd also be willing to bet that a substantial number of the ones who can tell the difference wouldn't care all that much.

To me this suggests that it would be a better business plan to stream at the lower cost, lower bit rate and put your money into other features.

Blind? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29796609)

How does this affect people that are only partially blind?

It's worse than that. (1)

argent (18001) | about 5 years ago | (#29796617)

Over a third of the people tested thought the lower bit rate audio sounded BETTER.

size does matter (1)

tehfly (1129653) | about 5 years ago | (#29796677)

I always conduct my tests on subject groups as large as 20 people. I find that group size large enough to speak for the entire population. Also, I happen to be related to 14 of these 20 people. So basically, I've just proven that I'm related to 70% of the worlds population. My research is undisputable. Also, this post might a partial lie.
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