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Can We Really Tell Lossless From MP3?

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the single-blind-testing dept.

Music 849

EddieSpinola writes "Everyone knows that lossless codecs like FLAC produce better sounding music than lossy codecs like MP3. Well that's the theory anyway. The reality is that most of us can't tell the difference between MP3 and FLAC. In this quick and dirty test, a worrying preponderance of subjects rated the MP3 encodes higher than the FLAC files. Very interesting, if slightly disturbing reading!" Visiting with adblock and flashblock is highly recommended, lest you be blinded. The article is spread over 6 pages and there is no print version.

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Not Really (4, Insightful)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139020)

and certainly not in a typical house room, car, bus, or bike.

The hiss is where it hides (5, Interesting)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139094)

I'm sure I can tell 128 MP3 is not so good. it's sounds a bit hot to my ears. Oddly perhaps this happens especially when there is clipping in the music (see for example green day) or shreikin trebles ( "battle without mercy" kill bill sound track). At first this seemed counter intuitive to me since you think that adding more distortion would be the most easily hidden during distortion, right? My rationalization is that whatever the MP# psycho acoutic model is, it's best for music with harmonies and tonal trajectories in different registers (base, tenor, trebble) and not music that has all sorts of aliased frequencies randomly jumping around in volume. I dont' really know but I can hear it. With normal music you may not hear the change in intonation because it simply sounds equally good even if it is altered.

But By 192 MP3 I cannot tell the difference. 128 AAC seems to be about as good.

 

Re:The hiss is where it hides (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139308)

( "battle without mercy" kill bill sound track).

"Battle Without Honor or Humanity" - and its inspired by the series of yakuza movies [imdb.com] of a similar same name.

Re:The hiss is where it hides (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139428)

nobody cares. it's all jap-crap.

CHING CHONG CHING CHONG, ME SO SOLLY! ME JAP CHINK GOOK LOVE YOU LONG TIME.

slanted eyed little shits. you could blindfold them with a piece of dental floss.

Re:The hiss is where it hides (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139422)

Hiss? You have hiss? I wish I was hearing a little hiss. I recently made the mistake of playing a CD on a Fedora 11 box with reasonably modern motherboard, dual core CPU, builtin audio card. Oh my god, what a horribly distorted, mid-rangey sound. Come to think of it, I tried this once with Ubuntu on my Macbook. While CD playback sounds good to me under Mac OS X, and iTunes is ok unless I'm really paying attention, sound on the same hardware under Ubuntu is really really bad.

Is it possible that the Linux audio drivers are optimized for Heavy Metal?

I think that the choice of playback software or drivers can also affect fidelity of the sound.

Re:The hiss is where it hides (4, Insightful)

tech10171968 (955149) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139430)

This could also have something to do with the way a lot of albums are mixed these days. Unfortunately, it seems that many studios are compressing the hell out of the music; I guess it has more to do with music industry execs thinking that their acts need to be louder to keep from being drowned out on the radio by the competition (who are also compressing their music into oblivion). I'm no audiophile but I abhor the practice; it has the effect of making the music come out of the speakers like a 747 on full throttle.

The bandwidth "ceiling" also has the deplorable effect of not giving the tracks room to "breath"; certain otherwise audible higher frequencies can get "lost in the sauce" (listen to an older recording and you'll hear the difference). The result is often akin to the difference between quietly closing a door and slamming it.

Related (1)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139392)

"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." http://news.slashdot.org/story/09/10/19/176209/13-of-People-Cant-Tell-48Kbps-Audio-From-160Kbps?from=slashdot_itself_duh [slashdot.org]

Re:Not Really (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139434)

I rip to FLAC for the sake of speed in ripping though.

My Athlon 3500+ is way faster creating FLAC than VBR MP3s

Any good audio engineer will tell you- (4, Interesting)

FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139024)

If the mix doesn't sound good on almost any device, it wasn't mixed well. Audiophiles seem to think we don't take the fact that most people don't have high-end audio gear and lossless audio into account.

Re:Any good audio engineer will tell you- (1)

JeanBaptiste (537955) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139106)

eh, as a semi pro audio engineer i've been trying everything to get various songs to sound good on my phone. not happening. the devices definitely matter, though how much and to which people is highly variable.

Re:Any good audio engineer will tell you- (3, Insightful)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139122)

Oh, absolutely. There is no doubt that the biggest problem, by far, is the upfront engineering, not the file format. I have plenty of DDD CDs and other items where the digitization of the data involves essentially no loss - but are still terrible recordings that are painful to listen to. Only when everything else it darn near ideal does the compression method/bit rate even become detectable. And the vast, vast majority of cases, and as far as I know never for any portable device, are the conditions ideal. A crappy 128K MP3 of a good performance with good engineering can be a joy.

    The results are not at all surprising to me. And of course the "audiophile" community is "stuck on stupid" in some cases. ANYONE who thinks information recorded in tiny wiggles in groves and played through a bunch of springs (stylus, cartridge coils, tonearm, not to mention the non-trivial compliance of the record itself) and then amplified by two-three orders of magnitude is a more accurate representation than a full digital string (almost independent of bit rate) is deluding themselves.

        Brett

Re:Any good audio engineer will tell you- (4, Funny)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139274)

You forgot that they also use special tripolarity magnetic alignment cordage with tru-neg vacuum standoffs to perpendicularly align the electrons and thus properly reproduce the non-hertzian frequences.

Re:Any good audio engineer will tell you- (1, Troll)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139358)

All cyro'ed of course.

Re:Any good audio engineer will tell you- (1)

wisty (1335733) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139418)

Records might sound better than digital recordings, but only if they strip out the high frequency noise in the recording. Throwing out data in the original might be a good thing.

Re:Any good audio engineer will tell you- (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139456)

Throwing out data in the original might be a good thing.

    Certainly, that's one reason tube amps tend to sound better on poor source material - they have severe rolloff at high frequencies. And one of the big tricks to modifying tube amps is to *further* filter the input to prevent the amp from trying to play anything below about 50 hz or above 10khz, so it never gets overloaded trying to play signals it can't.

        brett

Re:Any good audio engineer will tell you- (4, Funny)

Scaba (183684) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139410)

Other things audiophiles don't take into account:

  1. they can't tell the difference between lossless and lossy at a reasonable compression, either
  2. bragging about buying $5000 speakers makes you look like someone used lossy compression on your brain
  3. the average listener can tell the difference between having a conversation with a real person about music versus listening to an insecure nerd trying to one-up everyone.

It does depend on the recording (4, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139030)

128bps is certainly not enjoyable for certain classical pieces. By the time you've hit 192, it's fine. At 320kbps I can't tell the difference. If that means I have "tin ears" I'm thankful for them. They save me thousands of dollars in high end equipment and they save me using obscure poorly supported lossless formats and then having to convert to mp3 half the time anyway.

Apart from a new survey of an old topic is there anything new here?

Re:It does depend on the recording (5, Insightful)

BobNET (119675) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139068)

They save me thousands of dollars in high end equipment

There's your problem. If you had spent more on your audio system you'd hear the differences.

Even if there weren't any...

Re:It does depend on the recording (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139184)

I did randomized A/B testing with inexpensive, quality gear (NHT Super One's, a relatively nice amp). I could reliably tell the difference between the sounds of all my media. 500 bucks of decent gear beats a thousand dollars spent at Best Buy.

Recording Bias (5, Interesting)

Afforess (1310263) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139310)

Most people are used to the slight hiss or static that comes with MP3's. In fact, we have lived with it so long, we believe it's normal. It's a form of bias, where most people are used to the sound of MP3's.

erm... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139034)

Visiting with adblock and flashblock is highly recommended, lest you be blinded. The article is spread over 6 pages and there is no print version.

Why post it then, especially since we got one of these articles avery couple of weeks?

Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (0, Offtopic)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139036)

Visiting with adblock and flashblock is highly recommended, lest you be blinded.

These statements are becoming increasingly common in story summaries, and it's sadly ironic for a site that serves ads itself. How about cutting out the snarky anti-ad commentary and just sticking to the story?

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139058)

My Slashdot has a checkbox allowing me to turn off ads. But, haven't you heard? Information wants to be less than free!

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (1)

batkiwi (137781) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139088)

That's because you've either paid, or contributed.

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139158)

I have that checkbox, they must have a very low definition of "contributed". Trolls in the comments seems to make the cut.

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (1)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139166)

Yeah, I've got the checkbox too. It's a reward for being a good contributor :).

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (0, Troll)

MouseR (3264) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139076)

No really. That site is an eye sore, even with addblock and flashblock. I opted not to read at all.

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (3, Insightful)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139132)

Hey, I get that it's not the most visually appealing thing on the Internet :). I'm just really tired of the culture of bitching about ads wherein people honestly expect to get stuff completely free of charge or ads when producing said stuff costs money.

Operating a site with good content costs money. Most good sites are run for profit. If you visit a site and don't like the content, don't visit that site again.

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (1)

MouseR (3264) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139220)

Correction: I actually run with pop-up blockers and flash block but do get regular adds.

No. (1)

TrekkieGod (627867) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139324)

Hey, I get that it's not the most visually appealing thing on the Internet :). I'm just really tired of the culture of bitching about ads wherein people honestly expect to get stuff completely free of charge or ads when producing said stuff costs money.

Remember when google wasn't the dominant search engine? You had yahoo, altavista, and the other guys filling up the search page with all sorts of ad banners. Google comes along with a very simple search page which is still there. Text ads only. A very large of information that you searched for, and only a few ads to the side.

Guess what? Most people don't bother blocking google's ads. And now they're the dominant player, because everyone would rather use them than their competitors.

It's reasonable that you want people to visit your site and get paid by supplying ads. If you make the ads so damn annoying, and divide up the information that should be in a single page into 15 pages just to get more adviews...well, don't be surprised when people try to circumvent your ads. It's your fault for losing the customer.

Your other option is to go the route Murdoch keeps saying he wants to switch to. You can charge people to visit your site. That's also fine, but don't complain when people aren't willing to pay the price. It's their choice to spend the money however they want. Bottom line: if people are complaining about your business model, your business model sucks. You can't just fill up a site with ads and expect that everyone will be happy about it because they're also benefiting from your hard work. You have to find that point that maximizes profit. It's the equilibrium point where you enough ads that you make the highest profit you can make without alienating so many people that you can't make a profit. It's the same for anything you sell, ad-supported or not. You don't think all those people selling iphone apps would like to price them at $500+? So why are so many of them around $2? Because there's more money to be made selling 10,000 copies at $2 than 5 copies at $500.

If you can't find that equilibrium point, and no matter what you do you can't make a profit...then either your business model or your product sucks. That's your problem, not mine. Obviously few people will miss your product/site.

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139462)

and I'm sick of this 'culture' where people feel entitled to turn a profit at the inconvenience/ of the consumer, from annoying ads to malware infestations. If you want to control every aspect of 'consumption', then take your crud offline and push it on television. There, you can 'maximize profit' by making your presentation as annoying as possible to your intended audience. On the net, the clients still have power. Don't like it? Leave. The net would be a better place if all the for-profit 'information' sites went offline.

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (-1, Offtopic)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139178)

Take it or leave it, but don't encourage people to:
1) Use up their bandwidth
2) Block all their advertising

That's just rude. Terrible netiquette, IMO.

If Slashdot wants to run a story about this, they can wait until a better news source carries it.

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (1)

MouseR (3264) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139264)

I wonder if it's better netiquette to just wait for another news outlet to copy the previous one?

Anyhow. If no one tells them their web site so much dilutes their content with adds that it just looks like a year-end Sears catalog, they're not going to tone down.

Which is why I politely emailed them about it.

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139348)

We could just link to a different story with the same thing. This study has been dozens of times.

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139098)

How about cutting out the snarky anti-ad commentary and just sticking to the story?

How about cutting out the crappy anti-person ads and just sticking to the story?

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (1)

Snowblindeye (1085701) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139116)

I disagree. I find the trend of many websites to split the articles into as many as 10 - 15 pages beyond annoying. My browser has a scrollbar for a reason, you don't have to paginate it for me. I know they are trying to increase ad revenue, but it makes me use those sites less. Or get an extension like auto pager.

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (1)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139180)

Making snarky comments in the story summary contributes nothing to the story itself, and does nothing about the perceived "problem." People who would use AdBlock are already using it anyhow.

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139458)

Thanks for the recommendation on autopager! Just got it and I love it already! I don't know how I didn't know about this before.

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (1, Troll)

PachmanP (881352) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139148)

These statements are becoming increasingly common in story summaries, and it's sadly ironic for a site that serves ads itself. How about cutting out the snarky anti-ad commentary and just sticking to the story?

Slashdot has ads?

*turns off adblock*

Oh. Huh.

*turns adblock back on*

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139380)

You're a fucking moron.

Re:Can we stop with the anti-ad sentiment? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139318)

because ads suck ass? maybe it's time webmasters went out and got real jobs instead of throwing up a site full of half-baked rants-as-technical articles, draping it with ads, and thinknig they're 'professionals.'

Kids prefer that cold, dry, digital sizzle. (5, Interesting)

conner_bw (120497) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139042)

Cut and paste job follows [timesonline.co.uk] :

The theory has been developed by Jonathan Berger, Professor of Music at Stanford University, California. For the past eight years his students have taken part in an experiment in which they listen to songs in a variety of different forms, including MP3s. "I found not only that MP3s were not thought of as low quality, but over time there was a rise in preference for MP3s,"

He compared the phenomenon to the continued preference of some people for music from vinyl records heard through a gramophone. "Some people prefer that needle noise -- the noise of little dust particles that create noise in the grooves," he said. "I think there's a sense of warmth and comfort in that."

All of this to say that the article isn't really testing anything. I mean, they ask seven people (five of which work for the website) to guess which tracks are what format, blindly. They admit something along the lines that Massive Attack fooled them more than other styles (Probably has more to do with the Loudness war [wikipedia.org] than anything else) And they conclude that 192 KBPS is "good enough".

Yes, and so were casettes back in day? They sounded good too. So what exactly did they test here? The ability to enjoy music? Our tolerance for advertising?

Re:Kids prefer that cold, dry, digital sizzle. (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139172)

That's largely the point. The "good enough" mark is largely dependent upon the complexity of the music more than just about anything. Some very simple music might sound very good at only 128kbps, whereas more complex music might demand to have the entire 192kbps.

I thought the conclusion going back quite a while was that 192kbps was good enough for pretty much anybody and that anymore than that was really just for specialty use.

Re:Kids prefer that cold, dry, digital sizzle. (2, Insightful)

cptdondo (59460) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139346)

I think a large part of it is also how the music is recorded. The older recordings are recorded at a much lower level, taking advantage of the full dynamic range of the medium. The newer recordings are all packed into the loudest little bit so the dynamic range is compressed.

Add to that the simple fact that most people today listen to music that's digitally encoded on tiny little earplugs.

Now expose them to a full orchestra in a well-designed sound hall. They simply have no basis for hearing the range of sounds.

As with everything else, listening to music takes practice. If all you hear is 128Kbps mp3s then your ears will not hear any of the richness of a concert hall.

Not saying one is better than the other, but practice makes perfect and listening to modern music, which is fairly limited in both dynamic range and instrumentation to begin with, compressed into a tiny bit of the bandwidth available, on tinny earphones is a poor way to develop a critical ear.

You must have an abnormal hearing to differenciate (1)

cooldfish (980233) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139356)

The german magazine c't made 2000 an test with several people, they found out that the pereson that had the worst hearing was best at differenciating between CD and mp3. That person's hearing had suffered from an explosion and he as only able to hear frequences up to 8kHz on one ear and had a Tinitus on the other ear. He could hear more of the effects from the filters that are applied to mp3 streams. Further (german) info see http://www.heise.de/ct/artikel/Kreuzverhoertest-287592.html [heise.de]

Ya this was a horrible test (4, Informative)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139390)

One problem is the simple A/B and asking which people like better. Well that is fine if you are doing something like testing two compression formats to see which has a sound people prefer. That is not fine if the question can people tell the difference between compressed and uncompressed music. For that you need an ABX test. X is a reference uncompressed sample, A and B are randomized such that one is uncompressed, one is not. People are then asked to identify the one that is the same as X. A test like that lets you tell if people can hear a difference, regardless of if they like it or not.

Also there is another angle to why people might choose to use uncompressed music and that is if there is any additional processing (like equalization) planned for later. Psychoacoustic compression schemes can have problems when processed later. Reason being that they do rely on things like masking, in that because X is happening, we can't hear Y. However when the balance of the sound is altered, well then that isn't necessarily the case anymore.

How important is that? Probably not very in a lot of cases. However how important is storage space? Last I checked 1TB was under $100. Storage is cheap. There's not really a need to milk every last bit out of a file. FLAC'd discs are in the realm of 300MB for a full CD. Big deal. I'm got space to spare, so why not go lossless?

What it really comes down to is what is "good enough" really depends on the situation. Depends on the music (some kinds cause more trouble for encoders), the listener, the environment, storage constraints and so on. I mean 64k is good enough to recognize the music. A 64k AAC or WMA is fine, FM radio quality maybe, and even a 64k MP3 is listenable. Is there distortion over what was on the CD? Sure, but maybe it is good enough in some situations (like say you need to be able to transmit stereo audio on a single DS-0 channel).

I really don't like these tests that try to give the one magic rate is that is good enough for all situations. Especially when they use bad testing methodology.

Personally, I'm a fan of lossless compression because then there's just not any additional errors. I've got the space so why not eliminate potential problems?

will someone come up with a definitive test? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139048)

Set up clips online, play them using some player. Have the listener choose which codec they thought it was, a recaptcha for keeping false choices to a minimum. and have a section where you can select the same clip with each codec back to back. I would love to see one if someone has a site like that.

Old news. (1)

Akir (878284) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139050)

Do I seriously need to look into the past articles to prove how old this news is? Seriously folks; this isn't exactly rocket science here - this is all stuff everyone knows about by now. Hey, do I even need to point to the link to the story about how people actually prefer the sound of MP3 because of the encoding artifacts, much like how people preferred records after CD's came out because of the noise/repressed frequencies?

we need more... (1)

Slurpee (4012) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139052)

Quick and dirty tests are not good enough to test this.

We need significant sample sizes, double blind testing, and appropriately rigorous scientific methodology.

Normalization could be it. (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139054)

It's of my understanding that when you rip CDs to WAV or FLAC, you don't have an option to normalize your audio like you do with MP3s. It's not that you can't, rather the option is not available on most programs.

This is no surprise (1)

BobandMax (95054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139056)

Audiophiles have known for decades that most listeners cannot discern excellent from mediocre music. Most people think that if there is lots of bass and the music is loud without obvious distortion, their system is great.

Re:This is no surprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139234)

"Computers are useless. They can only give you answers."
-- Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso is useless; he's dead.

Ugh (4, Insightful)

TrekkieGod (627867) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139424)

Audiophiles have known for decades that most listeners cannot discern excellent from mediocre music. Most people think that if there is lots of bass and the music is loud without obvious distortion, their system is great.

Most people have known for decades that audiophiles are full of crap. Every single time I've seen a double-blind test to see if they can hear the difference on what they claim they can hear, turns out they can't. Hey, good for the people selling them $1,000 audio cables.

That said, there's a good reason to go with FLAC. Want to re-encode a lower quality version for your storage-space-limited device? You can do that without additional quality loss, just like re-ripping from the cd. Want to change your collection to ogg because it sounds better at lower bitrates? Again, go ahead.

Basically, it's nice having a hard drive copy that is lossless, because you can re-encode it into the lossless codec of your choice for whatever device you want without introducing further artifacts.

I've encountered this from my friends (4, Interesting)

TheReaperD (937405) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139060)

I have found that though I can tell the difference between a FLAC and 128Kbps MP3, most of my friends can't. Most of them, if I play the same song back to back, one FLAC and one MP3, they will almost always pick the MP3. :( Thus far, except for me, the only reason I can justify ripping things to FLAC is because I can then convert the file to whatever loss compression format is needed, MP3, AAC, OOG, etc.for portable music players (yes people, the iPod is not the only music player), without the double compression loss.

Re:I've encountered this from my friends (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139174)

> I have found that though I can tell the difference between a FLAC and 128Kbps
> MP3, most of my friends can't. Most of them, if I play the same song back to
> back, one FLAC and one MP3, they will almost always pick the MP3.

Well, then, they obviously _can_ tell the difference.

Re:I've encountered this from my friends (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139320)

yes people, the iPod is not the only music player

But aside from Sansa's brand of excellent players, they're the only ones worth using.

Re:I've encountered this from my friends (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139328)

I have found that though I can tell the difference between a FLAC and 128Kbps MP3, most of my friends can't.

All TFA* (and your friends) show is that personal preference > objective measures.

*and any studies like it

Re:I've encountered this from my friends (1)

sglewis100 (916818) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139370)

Thus far, except for me, the only reason I can justify ripping things to FLAC is because I can then convert the file to whatever loss compression format is needed, MP3, AAC, OOG, etc.for portable music players (yes people, the iPod is not the only music player), without the double compression loss.

It may not be the only music player, but which one do you have that doesn't work with MP3, which also very easily syncs to an iPod?

Re:I've encountered this from my friends (1)

fluffy99 (870997) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139396)

So when you blind-test your friends they can't tell or even prefer the mp3. Did you blind-test yourself as well? I bet your results are no different than your friends.

Maybe they have a compression fetish (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139062)

Subtract the right channel from the left. (1)

Dwedit (232252) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139070)

You may not be able to tell the difference between MP3 and the original CD audio, but as soon as you subtract the right channel from the left channel, you sure can. Elements which would perfectly cancel from subtraction instead sound warbly.

I definitly can tell. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139074)

I definitely can tell the difference between MP3 and Lossless.

When you're an audiophile like myself who has invested in Monster (tm) branded cables, the actual bits are richer and reproduced more faithfully than with the gear the plebs use.

Protip: Also use Denon Link Cables [audiojunkies.com] with the built-in packet directionality device. Your TCP's wont know which way they are going without it.

Re:I definitly can tell. (2, Funny)

Tynin (634655) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139160)

A protip that doesn't suggest a wooden volume knob?! Any audiophile worth his Monster cables knows that micro vibrations created by the volume pots and knobs find their way into the delicate signal path and cause audio degradation. I imagine you knew this, but the fact you omitted it is a disservice to this great community!

It depends (2, Interesting)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139078)

It all really depends on the bit rate of the MP3, the type of music you are listening to and the equipment you are using to listen to the music with. It also depends if you know what you are listening for. For example between 128Kbps and 192Kbps MP3 I find the former flatter than the latter.

ABX Just Destroyed My Ego (3, Informative)

Snowblindeye (1085701) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139090)

Most people greatly overestimate how well they can hear these differences, but the never actually try it in ABX testing. I tried it years ago and I can't hear a difference between most codecs at reasonable bitrates and unencoded originals.

Here is an old classic from the Hydrogenaudio forums, from someone would bought expensive head phones and set up ABX testing. He was very shocked when he couldn't even tell the difference between FLAC and Vorbis at 64kb/s.

ABX Just Destroyed My Ego, My perception of my bitrate needs was greatly inflated. [hydrogenaudio.org]

Re:ABX Just Destroyed My Ego (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139386)

I've done ABX testing on a simple stereo system with some decent speakers. I was able to reliable tell the difference between the original and mp3 version. Mostly, the difference comes from changes in "depth perception" in the music. For example, if a piece is recorded with a pair of stereo microphones, the speakers can reliably play back spatial information the microphones pick up because of phase differences. Headphones can't reproduce this spatial information, which depends on your left ear hearing stuff from the right speaker, and vice-versa.

If a piece isn't recorded using a stereo pair, it is up to the producer how it sounds. No matter what, it is "fake", because it ignores the effect of space on time. Not "bad" by any means. The comparison I am trying to draw is something like realism and impressionism in art. But even stereo is "artificially fake" on headphones, because it lacks the ability to represent this spatial information (which many choose to reject anyway).

You will probably do better if you can sit in a relatively large room, in an isosceles triangle between a pair of slightly in-turned speakers, whose tweeters are mounted at ear level. Also, play something with real depth, in true stereo.

Re:ABX Just Destroyed My Ego (1)

pathological liar (659969) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139420)

It varies, I imagine. I tried it a while ago with foobar2000's ABX plugin. I don't have especially exciting headphones (~$300 studio model, no pre-amp) and I could differentiate between V0 and V2 (static bitrates? feh) but not between V0 and FLAC.

What was more interesting though was that I didn't always prefer the higher bitrate. Go figure.

I still rip to FLAC just in case I ever want to re-encode, because disk space is cheap, and because I want a backup of my music.

No different than people's attachment to LPs (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139096)

This isn't surprising at all. The so-called better sound of LPs isn't really a higher fidelity recording but an artifact of the way records are played (and amplified). That people are more emotionally attached to music with "flaws" should be kind of obvious by now. Entire genres (glitch being the most obvious but certainly not the only) have developed out of this understanding. People don't always want perfection. Sometimes they want character.

What about those who prefer this hiss of MP3s (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139104)

I'll bet that some training would make some significant differences. The person who correctly identified the cymbal differences may have spent some time listening for the differences. Just as young musicians are given tonal training early on, if you know what to listen for, I imagine the test subjects scores would have improved.

I would also wonder how each subjects personal histories impact their preferences. I have heard that blind people tend to have more sensitve hearing, perhaps those who mostly listin to MP3s already won't be as sensitive to compression distortion.

Another slashdotted story highlighted that people are growing increasingly fond of the hiss of MP3 noise (see link below). Perhaps subjects have a unconscious bias that makes it difficult assess what is better. It would have been neat if they had run test where both were MP3s or both were lossless.

http://news.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/03/11/153205

Impaired hearing from concerts and headphone (2, Insightful)

peterd11 (800684) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139108)

The conclusion of the article is significant: "The only person to get all four tracks right is someone who listens to their headphones at pitifully low volumes and hasn't attended any rock concerts. We can think of two explanations. One, the subject has particularly sensitive ears, so doesn't need to turn the volume up high. Two, the subject hasn't wrecked their hearing through years of listening to a walkman/MP3 player at high volumes and/or seeing Motorhead at the Hammersmith Odeon. Arguably, both apply." From my experience, impaired hearing from concerts or loud headphone volumes is much more likely. Also, the age of the listener matters, since it is well-known that the ability to hear high frequencies diminishes with age.

There is a reason for it... (4, Interesting)

topham (32406) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139114)

There is a reason for it, and it isn't what most people think.

It's related to how the brain handles white balance when it comes to colours. Your brain compensates for missing, or contradictory information. After a while you get used to it and don't notice it, and then when you are presented with something closer to 'perfect' you may, or may not recognize it as being all that different.

Sat Radio has relatively poor quality, but after listening to it for an hour or two the artifacts get filtered out by my brain (all but the worst ones anyway) and I don't notice it; but expose somebody to it for the first time and they will cringe.

Hmmm... (2, Insightful)

Knightman (142928) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139118)

I kinda find it funny that you need to have adblock and flashblock to visit a site named TrustedReviews so your browser doesn't go into a tailspin... It's like having Sid Fernwilter smile at you and say "Trust me!"

Anyway, 192kbps MP3's is good enough for most people so I don't really see the point with FLAC unless you are an audiophile which means you don't touch encoded/compressed music anyway.

Not very surprising. (1)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139126)

I've never been able to hear the difference but my hearing isn't great and I'm not a music person so I wasn't completely sure. But this isn't that surprising. Note how the audiophile community has so many strange ideas about what sounds better that James Randi has actually bothered to include some of their claims as acceptable for his million dollar challenge (this is a prize if you can demonstrate supernatural or paranormal abilities under controlled conditions- http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge.html [randi.org] ). See for example http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/752-get-real.html [randi.org] . However, a large part of the audiophile community has rejected digital sound as somehow innately inferior and so won't even care about TFA. It is never so surprising how irrational humans can be so much as what they choose to be irrational about.

I've been saying this for years. (4, Interesting)

Cowclops (630818) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139130)

I've been saying this for years - it is not hard to reach a point where an MP3 is indistinguishable from the uncompressed source, "even if you have top notch equipment and well-practiced hearing skills."

It is basically scale of bitrate vs odds that the recording will be indistinguishable at that bitrate.

My personal experience tells me that most songs are audibly degraded at 128kbps, some songs are audibly degraded at 160kbps, few songs are audibly degraded at 192kbps, and nothing I've yet experienced is audibly degraded at 256kbps. And this is being conservative... with a superior modern codec like LAME, MP3 may be even harder to distinguish at 128kbps than you might expect. Other codecs besides MP3 could be even better, but I don't have enough experience with other codecs, so I can't comment there. Plus, VBR makes the situation even better. You could have a lower average bitrate but still achieve a signal thats indistinguishable from the original with VBR.

Nonetheless, I just rip all my music as .wav now for archiving. To me its not even worth the effort to convert that to FLAC or other lossless codecs, because that just means an additional decoding step if I ever want to use the music for purposes besides playing it live in Winamp. An $80 1TB hard drive can hold $19,000 worth of uncompressed CDs. Sure... in flac format I could store more like $60,000 worth... but who has a $20,000 CD collection let alone a $60,000 one?

Anyway, the primary counterarguments I've heard are either from neurotic audiophiles that think "mathematically lossy" means "audibly lossy." People from that same category justify multi-thousand-dollar power cables to their amplifier and claim night and day differences, so their opinions can safely be ignored.

The other end of the fence says low bitrate stuff sounds "perfect." In my experience when presented with a reasonable comparison, even audio-ignorant people can tell the difference between a crap 128kbit mp3 and the original, but that difference might not be immediately obvious on, for example, built-in laptop speakers.

Training and bias make a difference... (1)

absent_speaker (905145) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139136)

I'll bet that some training would make some significant differences. The person who correctly identified the cymbal differences may have spent some time listening for the differences. Just as young musicians are given tonal training early on, if you know what to listen for, I imagine the test subjects scores would have improved. I would also wonder how each subjects personal histories impact their preferences. I have heard that blind people tend to have more sensitive hearing, perhaps those who mostly listen to MP3s already won't be as sensitive to compression distortion. Another slashdotted story highlighted that people are growing increasingly fond of the hiss of MP3 noise (see link below). Perhaps subjects have a unconscious bias that makes it difficult assess what is better. It would have been neat if they had run test where both were MP3s or both were lossless. http://news.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/03/11/153205 [slashdot.org]

Use them together (2, Funny)

gringer (252588) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139150)

Sure, MP3s sound better than FLAC, but if you used *both*, you'd get even better sound.

obvious explanation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139152)

Pop tracks are typically mixed in part to sound good over portable, low-res speakers, and when accompanied by road noise, etc. Many albums sound muffled and unnatural when played on high-end systems that deliver flat frequency response. This has been true for the past fifty years. Pop may account for the majority of what people listen to today, but many people like to listen to classical, jazz, and other mostly-acoustic music at least a portion of the time, and that's when superior fidelity can make a big difference.

MP3s, perceptual coding and a little test (2, Informative)

mixed_signal (976261) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139164)

MPEG 1 layer 3 (MP3) encoding was designed as a 'perceptual encoding' algorithm where less "effort" (fewer bits) is given to signals that fall below below a threshold based on the other signals present. For example, a quiet tone close in frequency to a loud tone cannot be heard by the human ear, so no effort needs to be expended on reproducing it. All we're debating is whether the engineering behind this is sufficient. Certainly at lower encoding rates the distortion characteristics get very weird, though, and not at all like degraded quantization noise or analog distortion (Try it for yourself...) A few years back I decided to perform a little test one time to see how 192kbps MP3s performed. A self-avowed audiophile friend of mine lent me a copy of one of his favorite "reference" recordings (a Diana Krall jazz CD), and decided to give him a little test. I ripped his 'reference' song to .wav, encoded to 192kbps MP3, decoded the MP3 back to a second .wav file and burned a new CD for him. He couldn't tell the difference much at all, and actually thought the one that had been through the processing sounded a little better. I couldn't tell any real difference on my studio monitors either. MP3 is certainly good enough, at least at 192kbps, for portable use and on any 'normal' home system. I'd be interested to hear of any other opinions from similar tests.

Well (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139168)

Buy a nice pair of monitors for $400 and the differences are easy to tell. I sort of wish I hadnt because my lower encoded music 256kbps sounds awful compared to 320/flac

lol (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139170)

I love how people who write articles debating the merits of lossless codec's obviously haven't listened to their sources on a decent setup, although decent audio equipment is becoming harder and harder to get too.

Still I laughed when I saw this, the difference is pretty substantial, that last bit of quality is what makes the music really pop and take on that quality that makes your skin tingle and your volume knob go to a slightly less than painfull level.

nope. (1)

pat sajak (1368465) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139192)

I can't. I just deleted a crap load of .flac files after downloading the .mp3 versions and not being able to tell the difference while listening through some pretty decent headphones. I'd rather have a few more free gigabytes. 256 and 320 bitrate are great, 128 is another story.

Music as most actually hear it is far better today (1)

Doghouse Riley (1072336) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139194)

......than it was, say, in the '60s or '70s.

All that lovely vinyl with its great warmth was in fact listened to, by most people, on $79 fold-down "stereos" from Sears with $2 ceramic styli. Or on car radios with a single 4-inch speaker in the dash.

I find it totally plausible that "the kids" today are hearing better sound, even at 192 kbps and after the loudness wars, than my big sister was when she listened to her copy of "Meet The Beatles" for the eightieth time on her tabletop "Hi-Fi".

Audio Engineer says (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139212)

ridiculous... if ignorance is bliss, its no wonder mp3 listeners are happy with their chosen format.

Misses part of the point (4, Insightful)

Leebert (1694) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139214)

A good part of the reason that people use FLAC et al is NOT to listen to, but to avoid re-ripping CDs or transcoding when switching lossy formats.

It depends on the music. (3, Interesting)

bmo (77928) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139224)

With most real music (as in not coming out of a sequencer with the highs already filtered out), yes, you can tell if your upper frequency hearing is toasted by too many rock concerts. You can tell most definitely with some specific songs that sound like crap even in the vocal range if it's lossy ("Sad To See the Season Go" by Cowboy Junkies, in particular).

Hi-hats or any other cymbal, bells, glockenspiels, etc., all sound like shit in anything below 256. I can't describe the distortion other than to say it sounds hissy. Go ahead, listen to ANY Police tunes in low bitrate. I defy you to not cringe at how MP3 ruins Stuart Copeland's percussion.

The only music that doesn't suffer badly from mp3's lossy distortion is electronica and its related genres. Erasure sounds just fine at 192.

--
BMO

Re:It depends on the music. (1)

Doghouse Riley (1072336) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139416)

Most electronica, techno, and similar genres actually sound better to me at 0 kbps than at higher bitrates.

Training and experience matter (4, Informative)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139226)

I've been exposed to people who write audio codecs for a living. They can tell because they've become sensitive to the artifacts present in MP3s. They also can pick up problems with CD's that haven't been dithered properly. They can easily pick out MP3 even at 320kbps. These are specialists. But even in this study there was one individual who had a high success rate.

At 192K and a good pair of headphones with good material I think most people could learn pretty quickly to pick up the difference - loss of stereo image at higher frequencies is pretty easy to pick up.

There are also studies available that point out the advantages of high bit rate recordings - these enable the use of sophisticated filters that eliminate some of the issues present with CD sound. If you are interested and have a mathematical bent, look up the work of Meridian's Peter Craven. Again the differences can be detected by specialists. I'm old enough so that my ears are not good enough to pick up these improvements.

I rip to FLAC and convert for my portables because of these factors.

If you want to try some testing yourself visit hydrogenaudio. They have apps set up to do abx comparisons so you can test yourself.

I get headaches from listening (4, Funny)

addikt10 (461932) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139238)

For me, it is easy. If I spend hours listening to lossy compressed music, I start to get headaches. It doesn't happen when I'm listening to lossless compression.

For me, that is end of story.

Dunno about the exact formats but... (0)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139250)

I dunno about FLAC and mp3, but to get an idea what difference the sound quality can make, try this at a both standard and high quality using a good set of headphones:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dqc8JNzniUc [youtube.com]

I don't dare speculate where the cutoff in what we can notice is, and it likely is not the same for everybody, but there's certainly some music tracks where the difference between different levels of lossy compression is quite clear.

Probably irrelevant for fans of lossless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139258)

I thought this was pretty much common knowledge, but regardless, it has no impact on what seems to be the primary argument for lossless codecs: storage space is practically free and transcoding introduces extra loss, so we should keep lossless copies so that we can use cool new codecs without quality loss. (Of course, bandwidth is definitely not practically free, so I've never agreed with this view, but it's still the pro-lossless stance I've seen the most).

Irrelevant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139284)

Some people can hear differences even between 320CBR mp3 and flac. I have myself, even when not expecting to. It can happen depending on the style of music.

But that's irrelevant.

flac is future proofed, at least to the point of cd quality audio. Additionally, flac's tagging is far and away better than mp3. Myself, it's flac for the archive and convert to mp3 for the portable player, on account of hardware acceleration, and thus battery life.

Now can we please stop treating flac users like they're crazy? Some people like it for the long term benefits. Some people like not having to wonder if they're missing anything from the otherwise cd quality level. With flac, you don't have to.

Like any compression format (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30139286)

The difference will be content dependent. It is also listener, location, and system dependent. If you are currently listening to MP3's you will become acustomed to 'tuning out' the artifacts. If you listen to predominantly lossless you will be more sensitive to the artifacts, but it still comes down to the actual content, the original mastering, and the playback system. Some material will simply compress with fewer artifacts than other material. I have an extensive collection of both MP3 and the FLAC albums that they were sourced from. Because the collections are identical, and because of the way that I use my playback environment (foobar) I don't always know which I am selecting. I grab something by album cover, close my eyes, and listen. I rarely look at the details. Sometimes it just doesn't matter, I have sat for hours listening without any knowledge of which library i am listening to, but occassionally an artifact will just jump out and 10/10 times when I check the file details I see that it is an mp3 (at 320kb VBR). My hearing is ok, but not exceptional, I do not claim to have golden ears, but I know the music I listen to. I listen to a LOT of music on both a high end stereo (> 20K$) which is driven digitally from a custom PC based system in another room to a high end DAC, and on high end headphones, as well as on my mp3 player (ipod touch), and the artifacts that I hear (typically problems with reproduction of high frequency sounds, sometimes something that is just wrong with the tone) is such an irritating thing that you cannot ignore it. Can I hear it on all recordings 100% of the time.. no way. But on the right material I will pick it out every time. But unless I am in my listening space (which is almost painfully quiet) I doubt I would even notice and I doubt most people who listen to earbuds or car audio as their primary environment could ever pick out the difference, its all a matter of what you are used to.

Who cares? (3, Insightful)

mister_playboy (1474163) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139290)

The small size of lossy audio was an important factor when storage capacity was limited. This is no longer an issue, so there's not much reason to bother with lossy music when dealing with the storage capacity of current devices. 100GB of music would be an absolutely massive collection, yet that would only occupy less than 10% of a US$100 1TB drive. The 16GB common is portable devices is enough for more FLAC than you would listen to for even a fairly lengthy journey. It's certainly still of use in streaming media, but the bar for quality isn't usually set very high in that area. Full CD quality FLAC streams should be usable on home broadband within 5 years, I would hope...

The reasons to argue against FLAC just aren't that relevant anymore. Bits are cheap, who cares if you save a few?

Simple reasoning (1)

dagamer34 (1012833) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139326)

Most people have spent so much time with iPod earbuds that they've killed their hearing, and that's why they can't tell the difference between formats. Besides, I think most audiophiles would agree that it's file format + speakers/headphones that make a difference.

Now, I'm not saying that everything should be in FLAC and you should blow your budget on $500 headphones, since most people probably won't be able to tell the difference, however, I consider it just an accomplishment if people can enjoy their music without the person next to them being able to clearly hear it because they've jacked the volume up to insane levels(a sign of poor earbud fit). That's all I really care about.

apparently we can tell (1)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139330)

If there is a statistically significant preference for MP3, then I would guess people can tell the difference. I would guess they have become so accustomed to lossy compression that they expect it, and even have grown to like it.

I can tell the difference (1)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139334)

It does depend on the recording, though. It's in the small details, like the sound of the singer breathing. You can also hear the frequency extremes better, but you need the right speakers for that.

It doesn't matter (1)

loshwomp (468955) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139382)

Many people don't know the difference between "your" and "you're" but that doesn't mean the rest of us should stop caring.

Lossy Compression reduces noise (0)

atomicstrawberry (955148) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139408)

MP3 compression is, at least as far as I know, based off the same algorithms we use for lossy image compression in schemes like JPEG. Essentially we take blocks of the data, whether it is visual or aural, and we apply a transform function to it. In JPEG this is a Discrete Cosine Transform, I'm not sure about MP3 but I imagine it's a very similar transform, adapted for sound.

The transform function changes the values of the data in the block, essentially separating them by how 'noisy' they are. Then we throw away the noisiest components of the transformed data, because these are least likely to contain 'information' content - where in the audio case, information is the actual sound. If you take too much away, you can eat away some of the information as well as the noise, which in the case of audio will introduce degradation and a loss of the richness and texture of the sound. However if you take away a smaller amount, the bulk of what you're throwing away is not interesting or useful.

FLAC by comparison is lossless compression. All that noise in the sound is preserved. However a lossy-compressed copy of the same audio may sound 'better' to our ears because some of that extra noise has been eliminated by the compression. The same phenomenon has been observed with images. Sometimes perceived image quality can actually be improved by lossy compression. It's a side-effect of the process.

Viva la difference (1)

DreadfulGrape (398188) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139446)

Well I sure-as-hell can tell the difference, but I'm almost 50, so I remember what real high fidelity is supposed to sound like.

Well, they're testing the wrong thing (1)

Minwee (522556) | more than 4 years ago | (#30139466)

Perhaps they should try ripping the same track to FLAC and MP3. And then ripping the ripped track to FLAC and MP3 again. And then again. And again. And then compare the results.
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