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Public AAC Listening Test @ ~96 Kbps [July 2011].

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the listening-for-artifacts dept.

Media 277

The folks at the Hydrogen Audio Forums have for years been benefiting the world with their patience, technical skills, and hyper-focus on sound quality, by comparing the real-world sound of various codecs and bit-rates for audio encoding. Under the scope for the latest public listening test (slated to run until July 27) are the following AAC encoders: Nero 1.5.4; Apple QuickTime 7.6.9 true VBR; Apple QuickTime 7.6.9 constrained VBR; Fraunhofer (Winamp 5.62); Coding Technologies (Winamp 5.61); and ffmpeg's AAC (low anchor).

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Lame (4, Funny)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#36865840)

What, no comparison with LAME? How lame.

Re:Lame (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36865870)

Isn't LAME just Fraunhaufer?

Re:Lame (1)

maeka (518272) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866030)

Isn't LAME just Fraunhaufer?

Far from it.

Re:Lame (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36865878)

LAME doesn't encode AAC. This test is specifically for that codec, not trying to compare with other codecs.

Re:Lame (-1, Troll)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#36865904)

Yes, I know that. But I would have loved to see one of the best MP3 encoders thrown into the mix.

Re:Lame (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36865928)

When you and your buddies are having a cum-guzzling contest, do you love it when somebody throws a nice fat turd into the mix?

Re:Lame (1)

Skarecrow77 (1714214) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866418)

Why? Hydrogen Audio has run many many tests in the past that include LAME MP3. go reference some of em.

What? (-1, Troll)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 2 years ago | (#36865846)

Good grief, one wonders what exactly Slashdot "editors" are paid to do? Certainly it can not be "editing" the summaries...

Re:What? (1)

Trilkin (2042026) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866026)

Slashdot editors are paid...?

Re:What? (0)

starkat2k (2353628) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866110)

I've got bad karma from 'questionable' comments. Yet crap like this article keep showing up on /. Too bad there's not a karma system for article posting, then I wouldn't feel so bad for speaking my mind!

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36866182)

Maybe if you'd post some actual insight instead of hating on an article without explanation, you'd get modded up. This is an area of technology I personally am very interested in, as there haven't been any large scale listening tests done on AAC since around 2009, if I remember right.

Re:What? (2)

starkat2k (2353628) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866382)

Most audiophiles generally are not interested in low bitrate audio, regardless of the format - this especially applies to lossy formats such as AAC. 96kbps falls into this category, and both TFA and the associated forum thread on that website offers no insight as to why that bitrate was chosen, or why anybody should care. Since I'm left to draw my own conclusions, I think it's possible that as AAC is the default audio format for Apple devices, this might be of interest to a great many people. However, once again, no explanation is given. Being an audiophile myself, there's little advantage to encoding music in 96kbps AAC as disk space hasn't been an issue since the early part of the century: FLAC is used for the better listening experience.

Re:What? (3, Interesting)

Skarecrow77 (1714214) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866606)

I too had this same question awhile back. Why doesn't HA test commonly used codecs at, say, 192kbps or 256kbps?

The answer? the tests fail because nobody can tell the difference. they make for very boring results.

they run the test at 96kbps because they get usable results. people over a wide range of sound systems and hearing conditions can provide usable responses.

What would you do with that data? hard to say. you can't really extrapolate that, say, if codec A is better than codec B at 96kbps, the same will hold true at 192kbps. In fact, I've seen the direct opposite of that in past HA tests, where various codecs trade the lead depending on bitrate.

So "who is 96kbps for?" I don't know. but "why test 96kbps?" that's easy.

Re:What? (1)

Lazareth (1756336) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866854)

streaming.

And the point of this is? (1)

rudy_wayne (414635) | more than 2 years ago | (#36865932)

So some people will say Codec A sounds best. Some will say Codec B sounds best. Some will say that Codecs A and B suck donkey shit and Codec C sounds best. What exactly does this prove?

Re:And the point of this is? (1)

GrahamCox (741991) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866018)

Well, maybe if enough people do that and a clear winner emerges, that would prove something? Or don't you believe in statistical effects?

Re:And the point of this is? (1)

Calos (2281322) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866022)

It doesn't seek to prove anything. But given enough people, it is possible to form on a statistical basis which encoding methods and encoders more people are likely to enjoy.

I would find the results interesting, especially if I was about to go re-rip a bunch of my CDs - not like I'm going to listen to each one as I rip it, multiple times for different codecs, to decide which I like best. But this way, I could get suggestions based on type of music, desired bitrate, etc.

Re:And the point of this is? (2)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866268)

I agree that the results are interesting, but in an age of 3TB hard drives and 8GB low-end MP3 players, I'm sure as hell not ripping to 96kbps! :)

I have to assume this is for streaming...

Also game soundtracks (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866632)

I have to assume this is for streaming

Good guess, especially given 5 GB/mo Internet plans. Also the soundtracks for downloadable video games that have to fit into the platform's 40 MB install package limit.

Re:Also game soundtracks (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866968)

That tone won't get you in any faster :)

Good point on the 5GB/mo internet - this would, I suppose, let you stream your home collection. I seriously doubt the hydrogen audio guys are doing the comparison to help the video game developer community, but I'll fully accept that I could be wrong there.

Re:And the point of this is? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36866970)

I agree that the results are interesting, but in an age of 3TB hard drives and 8GB low-end MP3 players, I'm sure as hell not ripping to 96kbps! :)

I have to assume this is for streaming...

Actually, if you only have 8GB in your mp3 player, you sure better be ripping at something small like 96 kbps, unless you don't have much music.

Or you can do what I did. Buy a 4GB Rockboxable mp3 player with a microSDHC slot (like Sansa Clip+) for $40 and put a 16GB (or even 32GB) microSDHC card in it. Voila!

Re:And the point of this is? (2)

multiben (1916126) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866040)

For you, probably nothing. But some people have inquiring minds. They are the reason we don't all live in caves banging rocks together.

Re:And the point of this is? (4, Funny)

martinX (672498) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866212)

They are the reason we don't all live in caves banging rocks together.

The rock-bangers created Ogg.

Re:And the point of this is? (5, Informative)

GrievousMistake (880829) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866254)

The Hydrogen Audio Forums tests have traditionally used a sound methodology, it would probably be worth reading up on it [hydrogenaudio.org] before you comment, lest you make a fool out of yourself.

They will not be trying to measure how 'good' each codec sounds, they are trying to measure how close it is to the source material, with a 'perfect score' being statistically indistinguishable.

Re:And the point of this is? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36866272)

So some people will say Codec A sounds best. Some will say Codec B sounds best. Some will say that Codecs A and B suck donkey shit and Codec C sounds best. What exactly does this prove?

You're commenting on something you have no knowledge about.

This is a blind ABX listening test. You can go read about what that is here [hydrogenaudio.org] .

This [ff123.net] is the program being used in this test.

It proves whether or not a statistically significant difference in perceived audio quality can be found between the various codecs by the group of testers. It is valid and scientific. If it wasn't, you wouldn't see the Hydrogen Audio forum associated with it, because they're actually interested in the real deal, and it's against their forum rules to make claims without evidence. (See here [hydrogenaudio.org] . Rule #8.) That would also be why many encoder and codec designers/developers are active in the forum, because it's where they get real empirical feedback.

Re:And the point of this is? (1)

milkmage (795746) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866536)

maybe the point isn't to prove anything but provide a common reference point and place to discuss these encoders.

so.. those who prefer codec A go that way,
those who prefer codec B use that one, and
those who have an affinity for donkey shit go with C.

this isn't called the Hydorgen Audio Contest, it's called the Hydrogen Audio Test..

what is the objective of running tests? gethering data.

Re:And the point of this is? (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866650)

So some people will say Codec A sounds best. Some will say Codec B sounds best. Some will say that Codecs A and B suck donkey shit and Codec C sounds best. What exactly does this prove?

That people who think an inferior codec sounds better have no judgment?

FLAC (2, Interesting)

ThePhilips (752041) | more than 2 years ago | (#36865968)

I'm staying mostly with FLACs. Works for me. The difference between AAC/MP3 and FLAC (and CD player *) my hi-fi allows to hear quite clearly.

(*) Source for AAC/MP3/FLAC is the Squeezebox Touch (via DacMagic) and when compared to the CD player, the difference of sound quality is noticeable. Not out right bad (that would be Squeezebox w/o DacMagic), in fact quite OK, but still far from the proper hi-fi CD player.

Re:FLAC (5, Insightful)

maeka (518272) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866012)

The difference between AAC/MP3 and FLAC (and CD player *) my hi-fi allows to hear quite clearly.

If you really can easily distinguish well-encoded AAC or MP3 from FLAC you should lend us at HA your golden ears!

I rather strongly suspect once subjected to rigorous double-blinding you might not come back speaking so boldly.

Re:FLAC (1)

ThePhilips (752041) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866200)

If you really can easily distinguish well-encoded AAC or MP3 from FLAC you should lend us at HA your golden ears!

FLAC sound clearer to me. Even when compared to AAC @ 192kbps or MP3 @ 320kbps. AAC or Vorbis @ 192kbps is how I archived my music before I had hi-fi - now it is FLAC. Some of my friends use MP3 @ 320kbps. And yes, I hear the difference on both jazz and classics. More on the former - less on the latter, unless this is a piano/pianissimo piece. Quiet parts suffer most from lossy compression.

Yes, I have absolute pitch, if that plays any role. In past I have tuned guitars though never learned to play them.

I do not understand why people get up in arms when somebody says they her the difference: be glad that you do not. Otherwise, you as me would become a slave of hi-fi component producers.

Re:FLAC (5, Informative)

maeka (518272) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866248)

FLAC sound clearer to me.

That is not a description of the type of artifact one is likely to find in AAC or MP3. Try again.

Yes, I have absolute pitch, if that plays any role.

Nope, that isn't where lossy codecs fail either.

I do not understand why people get up in arms when somebody says they her the difference: be glad that you do not.

Up in arms? No. It was an honest inquiry. If you are truly able to distinguish AAC/MP3 from FLAC on a general basis you would be most valuable.

Ya see, lossy codecs tend to fail in particular ways on specific types of samples. If someone was able to readily distinguish lossless from lossy across a wide (or even moderate) collection of samples they would be damn near unique and quite useful as a tester of dev changes.

Alas lots of people talk and few actually prove they're swinging the big dick they brag about once subjected to double-blind testing.

Re:FLAC (1)

Skarecrow77 (1714214) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866532)

I wish you luck.

In my experience, almost nobody in the "I can hear the difference between Mp3 at 320kbps and source" people will ever EVER get around to doing an ABX test.

In fact, I can only remember one... and amazingly enough, that guy actually was able to produce something like a 13/16 test result on 320kbps mp3 he made himself using the latest release of LAME. of course that was only on one sample, and when I asked him to explain what differences he heard between the mp3 and the source, he couldn't.

Re:FLAC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36867004)

I know three people who can hear the difference between MP3s and the source. Two are professional musicians who cultivated their ears. However, they cannot tell all music apart from encoded sources. There are two specific types of artifacts that MP3s produce and given the right circumstances, they can spot it. The third is myself, but that only happened once after they pointed out a sort of tinny sound and missing overtones in one of the MP3s and that was only for that particular section of the particular song.

Re:FLAC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36867086)

I should also have mentioned that this is on their professional equipment only and is only on songs with particular features, like overtones. Additionally, if you increase the sample rate from 44k the ability vanishes.

Re:FLAC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36867078)

I too can hear the differences. It just sounds more 'muffled', which makes sense as most encoders clip off the highs and lows. HOWEVER, that is only if I listen to the oringal source then the encoded file within a small time frame. Outside of that time frame I can not remember it and can no longer tell. Which is why all of my stuff is mp3 and ripped at a decent rate. If you are familar with the orignal source you can tell. If I had a better memory I would be able to tell more often. But I would have to have heard the original source first. Otherwise I would not be able to tell.

Re:FLAC (1)

stewartjm (608296) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866432)

At those bitrates, with a decent encoder, you should not be able to hear a difference in the vast majority of tracks, even with golden ears.

The only way to know for sure that you can hear a difference, is with a blind ABX test of volume normalized samples. One easy way to perform such a test, is with foobar2k and it's foo_abx plugin.

Re:FLAC (1)

nzac (1822298) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866538)

Some of my friends use MP3 @ 320kbps. And yes, I hear the difference on both jazz and classics.

You need to sound like a much bigger dick to come up with something creditable. You would have to authenticate that you friends actually knew what they were doing when the rips were made are the latest lame ripped with EAC with at lest the -h option and maybe some other stuff or was it some shitty program that ripped as fast as possible 8 years ago (i got some terrible rips from lame due to trusting a flacon last month). Its not a remotely blind test and 'clearer' is a very subjective term for some music. MP3s can store single frequencies far more accurately than any human can.

Re:FLAC (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866204)

Indeed, I rip to FLAC mainly for a back up, but I tend to listen to 196kbps VBR MP3s most of the time because I can't hear the difference. Well, when I'm not on the computer with my backups.

LOL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36866772)

I rather strongly suspect once subjected to rigorous double-blinding you might not come back speaking so boldly.

You think /.ers did evidence before make bold claims? You must be new here.

Re:FLAC (1)

b4dc0d3r (1268512) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866880)

Do you have a handy test available? I imagine a simple set of say 4 pages, which has 2 WAV or FLAC files, and you have to listen and decide which is the original and which is the encoded/decoded one. After 4 you have 75% accuracy. So an initial self test should be easy to set up, you just need to randomize the filenames and whether the uncompressed one is on the right or left.

I've always had problems with MP3, mostly the bass drum in pop rock (usually a drum machine, not a real drum set). It sounds thin and occasionally "cooked" for those of you who remember uncook.exe. But I haven't done a good a/b test in a while, and that was probably a terrible 128k encoder.

I'm curious about AAC, but not curious enough to try to set up my own test.

Re:FLAC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36866090)

FLAC is lossless, so it is exactly the same as the CD. AAC and MP3 are lossy. This listening test is to compare how well the different encoders work for that one codec.

Re:FLAC (1)

KugelKurt (908765) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866576)

CDs are also lossy.
There is a reason why people download the last Metallica album as rip from Guitar Hero instead of buying the CD or downloading a CD rip: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Death_Magnetic#Criticism_regarding_production [wikimedia.org]

Re:FLAC (1)

Skarecrow77 (1714214) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866640)

CDs are also lossy.

I think a more accurate version would be "the mixing engineer's ears are lossy".

If I buy my nephew a guitar, and he leaves it out of tune and plays nothing but a buzzy D chord, I don't blame the guitar. Similarly, you can't blame CDs for the crap work of the mixing engineers.

Re:FLAC (1)

Divebus (860563) | more than 3 years ago | (#36867044)

...you can't blame CDs for the crap work of the mixing engineers

If you've ever listened to an audio master at 192khz 24 bit, you'll hear the difference between that and the 44.1khz 16 bit from a CD. It's like someone cleaned your ears out. CDs relatively suck.

Many claim so and most a quite wrong. (5, Informative)

guidryp (702488) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866170)

Almost no one can hear a difference between loss-less and any of the codecs at high bit rates (256K+).

Though many think they can, until actually blind tested.

If you can reliably tell the difference in proper blind testing, you are likely have better hearing/perception than 99.9999 % of the population.

I think I have great hearing, but when I did some ABX testing, my ability to distinguish drops off completely by 160 K VBR on MP3s and that is in quiet room with quality headphones straining to ID any difference.

I am skeptical of any golden eared claims these days pooh-poohing modern codecs.

Re:Many claim so and most a quite wrong. (2)

AikonMGB (1013995) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866398)

You're right, I can't tell the difference between a CD-ripped FLAC and a high-quality MP3/Vorbis/AAC at high bit-rate encoded from the same source. However, why would I bother with losing any information at all? If I keep the FLACs and CUE sheet, I have an exact duplicate of the original disc, for maybe twice the storage of a high-quality lossy file. I also use fewer resources decoding that audio. I also have the benefit of Vorbis-style comments.

Hard drives are available at 3TB for wouldn't choose a lossless format these days. If your only reason is portable players that don't support it, then A) get a player that does, or B) encode on the fly. Incidentally, the more people purchase players that play FLAC, the more players will play it by default.

Aikon-

Re:Many claim so and most a quite wrong. (1)

Skarecrow77 (1714214) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866552)

originally the argument was battery life on portables mostly, although I don't know that it matters nearly as much in the age of large flash-based storage. It mattered a few years ago because the only players large enough to store more than two dozen FLACs had hard drives, not flash storage.

But on a home pc? I agree that there is no reason not to use FLACs, if only for future transcoding purposes.

Re:Many claim so and most a quite wrong. (2)

AikonMGB (1013995) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866642)

I have a 5th-gen iPod Video, with a spinning hard drive. I installed Rockbox on it so that I wouldn't have to encode my FLACs. In the beginning, battery life was horrible, until they figured out how to use the on-board hardware MP3 decoder. Then battery life was pretty comparable between running Rockbox or the stock firmware. FLAC files, however, have always been better on battery life than either of the other two. The efficiency gains in the CPU must have outweighed the added hard drive access.

Aikon-

Re:Many claim so and most a quite wrong. (1)

Skarecrow77 (1714214) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866792)

last time I tested, I got about 2 hours better on mp3 than I did on vorbis, specifically because vorbis couldn't use the internal mp3 decoder hardware... so if they figured out how to get FLAC to use that, it doesn't surprise me that it gets good battery life now. That said, they must buffer a lot of flac, because it used to spin up and spin down the HD a whole lot (thus the source of the bad battery life hit with flac, as it needed to spin up and spin down more often).

Re:Many claim so and most a quite wrong. (2, Informative)

ThePhilips (752041) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866422)

Though many think they can, until actually blind tested.

I listen mostly classics and jazz. MP3@320kbps sounds different from the FLAC. More I can't tell you. Test wasn't scientific and only partially blind: I accidentally picked from my friend's library a copy of my own CD in MP3 and played it. It sounded differently to what used to hear. Upon checking I found that those were not my FLACs, but my friend's MP3s instead.

But yeah, I will likely fail at a proper blind test: it is simply extremely tiring to listen to all the samples and maintain a concentration for that long. MP3/AAC artifacts they are like cracks and snaps of the vinyl: they do not bother you until you notice them first time. That's why I simply decided to encode in FLACs.

Re:Many claim so and most a quite wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36866490)

Spoken like a true "audiophile". When given a perfect opportunity to demonstrate just what they claim to be so concerned about, it suddenly becomes "extremely tiring" to take quite literally 3 minutes of their time.

Re:Many claim so and most a quite wrong. (1)

guidryp (702488) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866786)

Though many think they can, until actually blind tested.

I listen mostly classics and jazz. MP3@320kbps sounds different from the FLAC. More I can't tell you. Test wasn't scientific and only partially blind: I accidentally picked from my friend's library a copy of my own CD in MP3 and played it. It sounded differently to what used to hear. Upon checking I found that those were not my FLACs, but my friend's MP3s instead.

Chances are your friend messed up the encode or disc ripping. I have heard a great many terrible MP3 encodes from friends/net etc... I am not sure how some people mess them up, but they do.

Any encodes I have done myself have never had these problems.

Re:Many claim so and most a quite wrong. (1)

Skarecrow77 (1714214) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866860)

I concur. on normal music (i.e. non-"known problem samples"), I have problems ABXing LAME even at VBR ~128kbps (v6 i think?) nowadays.

Re:Many claim so and most a quite wrong. (1)

godrik (1287354) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866454)

I agree with you. I definitely can not hear the difference between flac and badly encoded MP3. Still I keep on using FLAC. Because the space difference between highly encoded mp3 and FLAC is not so significant. When I will have to reencode for some reason, I might start hearing the difference. Lately, I needed to encode for a portable player which did not have so much memory. Coming from FLAC allows me to reencode the original soundtrack. So I do not accumulate imprecision. I always have a high quality source.

Re:Many claim so and most a quite wrong. (1)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866764)

I use high-bitrate MP3 so that I never, ever have to re-encode anything to begin with: It quite simply already plays everywhere, on every bit of audio kit that I have, from my cars to my living room to the various widgets I carry in my pocket. FLAC, on the other hand, only plays natively on my PC(s) and my Android phone, and is something I'd need to convert to some other format in order to use.

It's not about space, as storage is plentiful and cheap. And it's not about quality, as LAME @320kbps is quite awesome. For me, at least, it's about convenience: It's hard enough to keep a large and well-organized library of music without having to tailor portions of it for select devices.

Re:Many claim so and most a quite wrong. (1)

guidryp (702488) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866846)

Someone beat me to it, but it is already in high quality MP3, that sounds perfectly equivalent to me (I did ABX testing) and plays everywhere. I have no need to re-encode because size is already small and again it plays everywhere.

I have no problem if you want Flacs for whatever reason if you are trying to preserve your original disks or something, but there really is no sonic reason not to use MP3.

Re:Many claim so and most a quite wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36866804)

The reason I use FLAC is so if I ever have to re-encode for a different player, I don't get the artifacts from double-encoding -- you definitely don't need a golden ear to hear those.

Re:Many claim so and most a quite wrong. (1)

Goaway (82658) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866958)

Did you find a player that can't play MP3 yet?

Re:FLAC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36866228)

ABX results or it didn't happen.

Re:FLAC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36866262)

I highly suggest you download the test file and all the samples and give it a go. I've just spent the past 10 minutes trying my hand at a few of them, and while some samples clearly stand out, there are others where I'd be very hard-pressed to tell the difference. The test setup is very nicely done (it's a true blind test with instantaneous switching of the various encodes). And FWIW, I'm listening on a pair of Grado 325s on a NuForce uDAC-2.

Re:FLAC (0)

evilviper (135110) | more than 3 years ago | (#36867054)

The difference between AAC/MP3 and FLAC (and CD player *) my hi-fi allows to hear quite clearly.

Both MP3 and AAC are frequency-domain codecs, which have known issues which will always prevent them from providing true transparency (so that you can't hear the difference).

The alternative to frequency-domain is time-domain. In that camp are MPEG-1 Layer 2 (MP2) and MusePack (MPC). With a stereo MP2 encoding (via TwoLame) at about 192kbps, you'll very rarely find a sample distinguishable from the original. MPC can make the same claim, except at even lower bitrates.

If you want something more mainstream, AC-3 is a hybrid frequency/time domain codec, so it at least holds the potential for transparency as well, though that is much more highly dependent on the particular encoder doing the right thing, all the time.

And as for hardware support, MP2 gets a free-ride thanks to the popularity of MP3. Many MP3 player handle MP2 audio files as well. MPC support is rare, but Rockbox includes it, so you can flash the firmware on your iPod and get MPC support.

But it's a new world... There are a couple music apps for Android phones/tablet that will allow you to play MPC, like AMPlayer, but sadly Winamp and DoubleTwist do not.

FFmpeg's AAC encoder is not finished (4, Informative)

Cigaes (714444) | more than 2 years ago | (#36865976)

FFmpeg's AAC encoder is not finished (yet?), and flagged as experimental. Including it in such a test is rather a dubious idea: it is likely to give a bad impression of the whole project.

Having the new vo-aacenc [sourceforge.net] as contender for the Free Software community would IMHO have been more relevant.

Re:FFmpeg's AAC encoder is not finished (1)

Calos (2281322) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866028)

Then again, it would be nice to know how it's doing.

Just prefacing the results with a disclaimer should be enough for those who would care.

Re:FFmpeg's AAC encoder is not finished (1)

Shrubbman (3807) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866064)

FFmpeg's AAC encoder is not finished (yet?), and flagged as experimental. Including it in such a test is rather a dubious idea: it is likely to give a bad impression of the whole project.

Having the new vo-aacenc [sourceforge.net] as contender for the Free Software community would IMHO have been more relevant.

Well they ARE using it as the low anchor, i.e. they know full well it's gonna sound bad so if people wind up rating it higher than any of the other options that's an indication that something odd and/or wrong has happened, plus it's helpful just to see a worst case scenario option on the list.

Re:FFmpeg's AAC encoder is not finished (1)

guruevi (827432) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866444)

I think the FFmpeg encoder is more widely used however even for AAC. It is bundled (or a dependency) in a lot of open source software.

Re:FFmpeg's AAC encoder is not finished (1)

PhrostyMcByte (589271) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866780)

FFmpeg is made of developers, not PR hounds. They're going to care more about data---seeing how close they are in quality---than random people deciding FFmpeg sucks.

What's the point? (2)

ronocdh (906309) | more than 2 years ago | (#36865978)

I'm no audiophile, though I do take the time (and space) to rip everything I buy to FLAC. What's the intended application of encoding around 96kbps? Most audio streams online passed that mark many years ago. All in all, this seems like a question best answered years ago. Can anyone point me to what I'm missing here?

Re:What's the point? (1)

Calos (2281322) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866038)

Well, in this case, it's a 96 kbps average, but all the encoders use VBR. So, they could get up to over 200kbps if they wanted, depending on the input.

Also, bitrate isn't everything. It's possible to encode at 320 kbps with a crappy encoder and get better results at a lower bitrate with a good encoder.

Re:What's the point? (1)

rts008 (812749) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866074)

I think that is referring to the sampling rate it was recorded at, not the playback bit rate of the recording.

Re:What's the point? (1)

Pf0tzenpfritz (1402005) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866334)

No. That would be 96kHz, not kbit/s-

Re:What's the point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36866378)

I think that is referring to the sampling rate it was recorded at, not the playback bit rate of the recording.

If that's intended as an honest answer, then I suggest you not say anything more in this thread - it's clear that you are completely and totally out of your depth.

Re:What's the point? (3, Informative)

progkeys (253222) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866144)

Have you ever done game programming? Here's one example: multimedia iOs apps, like games and enhanced books are severely memory constrained. Every kB saved can make a difference. Even in a large console game, memory becomes an issue. Most AAA games have hours of prerecorded music, sound effects and voiceover. If console developers can squeeze their audio by an extra 5%, without degrading the audio too much, that makes a big difference to the the memory footprint (or the amount of audio). I do audio at a flash development company that works with giant media corporations and 48kbps mp3 audio embedded in flash swfs is more common than you might think, due to the desire to keep loading times down.

Also, one of the biggest uses of AAC is within mp4 and quicktime movies and video streams. I'm betting that the average 360p youtube video is probably encoded at 96kbps aac. Another use might be high participant video/audio conferencing where one has to download multiple simultaneous streams over the same connection.

Another example might be streaming to remote locations in developing nations. I'm sure there are countless other applications.

MS shills (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36865990)

Can I take the test even if I am not running Microsoft Windows?

[...]and then call "C:\Program Files\Java\jre1.5.0_15\bin\java.exe -jar abchr.jar"[...]

Suuure

Re:MS shills (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36866130)

Obviously they meant /usr/bin/java -jar abchr.jar

Re:MS shills (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36866158)

MS shills

Seriously?

Re:MS shills (2)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866658)

"Shill" is not a synonym for "people I don't like".

mac users shouldn't waste their time (0)

burris (122191) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866154)

buried in the readme you'll find

OS X users are asked to handle decoding of samples themselves (sorry).

You wanted me to donate some of my valuable time, right?

Re:mac users shouldn't waste their time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36866940)

I just did these two commands on my osx terminal and converted all the samples:

for dir in Sample??;do for x in $dir/*.m4a;do faad $x;done;done;

for dir in Sample??;do for x in $dir/*.flac;do flac -d $x;done;done;

Subjective audio comparisons are useless (2)

HonkyLips (654494) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866178)

It is impossible to judge audio codecs through subjective tests.
Companies that manufacture loudspeakers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on audio quality research- not in order to make their speakers better, but to understand the psychology behind the sounds that make people choose speaker A over speaker B in a showroom. They have discovered all sorts of quirks in human psychology and perception that they exploit to boost their sales, and they have little to do with overall 'quality'. Decades of expensive, meticulous, scientifically valid studies are responsible for the range of speakers you find at the average hifi shop, and even when several identical speakers are demonstrated (but the listener is told they are all different) most people will say that speaker number 2 sounds the best.
The same applies to audio codecs. Even if you eliminate all sorts of hardware variables, then just listening to clip A, then B, then C and subjectively deciding which one sounds 'best' is totally unreliable. The results of this type of testing are completely useless. At the very least you would need to set up a triangle test, and to do this properly with 6 codecs in a controlled environment would take a very long time and the results still wouldn't correlate with true 'quality' unless it was repeated many times with different hardware setups.
Ignoring the psychological weaknesses in these types of tests, the playback hardware would colour the sound enough as to make the underlying test - the codec - invalid. The choice of music, the amplifier, the speakers or headphones, and the volume used for playback will all contribute their own distinctive characteristics to the audio so that person A will not be hearing the same test as person B.
Forget codec wars. Just buy a decent pair of earphones.

Re:Subjective audio comparisons are useless (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866230)

The point is that if they're that close then it doesn't really matter. One can then choose the codec that delivers the desired quality in the fewest bits or possibly that costs the least amount of money.

Re:Subjective audio comparisons are useless (1)

Pf0tzenpfritz (1402005) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866256)

Just buy a decent pair of earphones.

Yes, but you forget that the average listener will be rather disappointed by a pair of -say- AKG-K271. They don't boost basses that just aren't there, they won't do anything to "improve" the sound from potentially lousy audio players. Unless you are into mixing or even mastering, they won't be of much use for you. And they are not quite cheap, too.

Re:Subjective audio comparisons are useless (2)

RoFLKOPTr (1294290) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866390)

It is impossible to judge audio codecs through subjective tests. Companies that manufacture loudspeakers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on audio quality research- not in order to make their speakers better, but to understand the psychology behind the sounds that make people choose speaker A over speaker B in a showroom. They have discovered all sorts of quirks in human psychology and perception that they exploit to boost their sales, and they have little to do with overall 'quality'. Decades of expensive, meticulous, scientifically valid studies are responsible for the range of speakers you find at the average hifi shop, and even when several identical speakers are demonstrated (but the listener is told they are all different) most people will say that speaker number 2 sounds the best. The same applies to audio codecs. Even if you eliminate all sorts of hardware variables, then just listening to clip A, then B, then C and subjectively deciding which one sounds 'best' is totally unreliable. The results of this type of testing are completely useless. At the very least you would need to set up a triangle test, and to do this properly with 6 codecs in a controlled environment would take a very long time and the results still wouldn't correlate with true 'quality' unless it was repeated many times with different hardware setups. Ignoring the psychological weaknesses in these types of tests, the playback hardware would colour the sound enough as to make the underlying test - the codec - invalid. The choice of music, the amplifier, the speakers or headphones, and the volume used for playback will all contribute their own distinctive characteristics to the audio so that person A will not be hearing the same test as person B. Forget codec wars. Just buy a decent pair of earphones.

You're completely missing the point. This test is a comparison between the lossless reference samples and the codecs. You have 3 Play buttons. One is the reference file (and it TELLS you it's the reference file), the other two are randomly assigned to be the identical reference file or the lossy encode and it DOESN'T tell you which. You are supposed to choose which one is the encode and how poor it sounds compared to the reference. It's an objective test that has nothing to do with your hardware because you aren't choosing which one you like best, you are choosing which one is exactly the same as the reference. Most of them I seriously couldn't tell the difference (using a Creative Audio card and Sennheiser HD555s).

They are forgetting the most important codec (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36866190)

Why aren't they testing to see how things sound encoded in WAV?

That has been my go-to codec for the last 2 decades. MP3 and AAC are inferior in every way. I'll stake my entire bitcoin collection on that claim.

WAV at 96 kbps (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866810)

The article is about 96 kbps operation. When you encode WAV at 96 kbps, do you mean downsample the whole thing to 12000 Hz mono 8-bit LPCM? Or do you mean 24000 Hz IMA ADPCM like some DS games use?

PROBLEM IS TESTERS HAVE CRAP GEAR !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36866194)

Any schmo can participate. Many - most would not surprise me - have admittedly inferior audio gear, not the least of which being cheap headphone (nevermind loudspeakers). All in all, I say this is a GRAND WASTE OF TIME. Not that I care. It gives them SOMETHING to do. I remember back in the day ... Ahead would always say "wait for our next version" and of course it was buggy as all and still was bad. listening test or not !!

Re:PROBLEM IS TESTERS HAVE CRAP GEAR !! (1)

Pf0tzenpfritz (1402005) | more than 2 years ago | (#36866214)

Exactly. Crappy headphones, crappy results. Unfortunately those with the cheap in-ears also have the rating points. Here as well as in any public listening contest.

Re:PROBLEM IS TESTERS HAVE CRAP GEAR !! (1)

brim4brim (2343300) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866354)

But that is completely relevant for the purposes of the test as many people also have those kinds of systems and what performs best on crap speaker systems is still useful information.

Re:PROBLEM IS TESTERS HAVE CRAP GEAR !! (3, Insightful)

Skarecrow77 (1714214) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866580)

in my experience, the equipment attached to your skull is more important than the equipment you purchased.

I've seen people with complete CRAP gear ABX at higher bitrates than I can, and I've got a pretty stout rig.

Re:PROBLEM IS TESTERS HAVE CRAP GEAR !! (2)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866612)

Ah the audiophile mindset, if someone can't hear the invisible differences I hear then the problem is with them or their gear, because they differences are there I swear it. First of, you've got more than a passing interest if you sit around ABX testing audio codecs for any length of time, people with crap equipment might try it out a round or two but will have left long before they become more than statistical noise. The other good reason is that they tested this, long ago as MP3s were becoming popular. Top people, top equipment, around 256 kbps MP3 they couldn't tell it apart from the CD. Since then we've had better formats (AAC) and better encoders, plenty of edge cases ironed out... if you seriously think you can tell a 256 kbps AAC from iTunes and the CD apart, I'd pay to see you do it under controlled conditions. On a no cure, no pay basis of course - because I seriously doubt you could.

Re:PROBLEM IS TESTERS HAVE CRAP GEAR !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36866744)

A simple proof that demonstates how stupid this is.

1. Take cheap headphones
2. Meaure high peak at 1kHz
3. Run test, decoder has low peak at 1kHz

Result: no problem

However, the no problem exists ONLY FOR THAT ONE CHEAP HEADPHONE. To everything else the decoder is obviously flawed.

This is a simple - yes, contrived - example, but it CLEARY SHOWS the absurdity of Crap Disguised as Science (CDS).

No iTunes? (1)

BitterOak (537666) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866266)

I'm surprised iTunes wasn't in the list. Isn't it one of the more popular encoders?

Re:No iTunes? (2)

Haifen (14404) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866330)

iTunes uses QuickTime components, which are in the list.

Re:No iTunes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36866654)

The QuickTime and iTunes encoders are one in the same.

kbps never Kbps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36866314)

http://physics.nist.gov/cuu/Units/prefixes.html [nist.gov]
k is legal, K is ad hoc.

YUO FAIL IT (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36866374)

are She hAd taken dyi8g' crowd -

How is a public test (1)

fat_mike (71855) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866476)

If the public doesn't care?

Hydrogen Audio ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36866492)

Hydrogen? Wouldn't that make it sound really high pitched, like helium?

BTW hydrogen is inflammable - don't try this at home folks

Great Summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36866636)

I have no idea what is even being summarized.

Self Proclaimed Golden ears should really step up. (4, Insightful)

guidryp (702488) | more than 3 years ago | (#36866920)

Rather than typical net snobbery against lossy encoders, the self proclaimed golden ears should really help out, they are the ones that can spot encodes a mile away, they should be able help find really good/bad encodes here.

I found myself humbled when I attempted to help out before. I had a hard time distinguishing anything but the poor encode used as control.

Really guys this is a chance to help out, or recalibrate your preconceptions about how good/bad modern encoders are.

Or would you rather just keep up with the unjustified snobbery?

Re:Self Proclaimed Golden ears should really step (1)

Divebus (860563) | more than 3 years ago | (#36867074)

I've got the perfect two guys with absolute golden ears. They could hear the difference between a digital music master and a perfect copy of that music recorded to another audio workstation. They said the image was "smeared". The rest of us engineers couldn't hear any difference at all. Turns out they were hearing clock jitter from the AES signal system. We did a data copy and that solved it.

Both guys are legally blind, but they can mix audio.

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