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Can You Really Hear the Difference Between Lossless, Lossy Audio?

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the not-on-these-terrible-speakers dept.

Music 749

CWmike writes "Lossless audio formats that retain the sound quality of original recordings while also offering some compression for data storage are being championed by musicians like Neil Young and Dave Grohl, who say compressed formats like the MP3s being sold on iTunes rob listeners of the artist's intent. By Young's estimation, CDs can only offer about 15% of the data that was in a master sound track, and when you compress that CD into a lossy MP3 or AAC file format, you lose even more of the depth and quality of a recording. Audiophiles, who have long remained loyal to vinyl albums, are also adopting the lossless formats, some of the most popular of which are FLAC and AIFF, and in some cases can build up terabyte-sized album collections as the formats are still about five times the size of compressed audio files. Even so, digital music sites like HDtracks claim about three hundred thousand people visit each month to purchase hi-def music. And for music purists, some of whom are convinced there's a significant difference in sound quality, listening to lossy file formats in place of lossless is like settling for a Volkswagen instead of a Ferrari."

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749 comments

Better question (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248231)

How many posts before someone thinks they're being original and links us to "Betteridge's law of headlines" on wikipedia?

Re:Better question (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248339)

No?

Re:Better question (5, Funny)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about a year ago | (#43248575)

it doesn't matter how lossy or lossless the file is if you're listening with shitty white earbuds.

Depends on the bitrate (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248237)

Usually if the bitrate is above 256kb/s, i dont notice any difference.
Ofcourse it still effects some songs (especially the percussion parts).

A lengthy, thorough, and well-explained discussion (5, Funny)

EmagGeek (574360) | about a year ago | (#43248247)

There is a long discussion among very qualified individuals on this subject. You can read it here [slashdot.org]

Re:A lengthy, thorough, and well-explained discuss (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248645)

You can also read a good one here [bit.ly]

Depends on the source (5, Insightful)

Stentapp (19941) | about a year ago | (#43248249)

I am quite sure I prefer a lossy compressed version of a 24 bit, 96 kHz track than a lossless compressed version of a 16 bit, 44.1 kHz track.

Re:Depends on the source (0)

EmagGeek (574360) | about a year ago | (#43248271)

Indeed, starting with better ingredients usually results in better outcome after everything is cooked down.

Re:Depends on the source (5, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#43248351)

44.1hkz 16bit audio is completely transparent to the human ear. No one has ever been able to detect when a 16bit DAC ADC pair has been placed in a 24/96 audio path.

Your preference for 24/96 audio as a listener is entirely due to the placebo effect. There are good reasons to master audio in high res, but for listening 16 bit 44.1khz audio is as good as anything.

Re:Depends on the source (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248547)

44.1hkz 16bit audio is completely transparent to the human ear. No one has ever been able to detect when a 16bit DAC ADC pair has been placed in a 24/96 audio path.

Your preference for 24/96 audio as a listener is entirely due to the placebo effect. There are good reasons to master audio in high res, but for listening 16 bit 44.1khz audio is as good as anything.

This man says the truth.

Re:Depends on the source (5, Informative)

QRDeNameland (873957) | about a year ago | (#43248701)

Your preference for 24/96 audio as a listener is entirely due to the placebo effect.

Well, in all fairness, listeners may actually hear perceptible differences between 24/96 and 16/44.1 audio sources due to different mastering, but of course that says nothing about whether they can actually tell the difference between the two bitrates when everything else is equal.

This article [xiph.org] is a pretty good explanation of why 16/44.1 is as good as anyone needs for playback.

Re:Depends on the source (5, Informative)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43248713)

You sure can hear the difference if you stick a 44.1kHz DAQ in a 96kHz signal chain before filtering out ultrasonic high frequency components (if there are enough to make a difference). The advantage of 96kHz recording isn't that it can capture any more human-audible frequencies than 44kHz can, but that you have a lot more leeway to prevent aliasing of signals above the Nyquist limit down into the audible range (a 25kHz tone sampled at 44kHz results in a spurious, highly audible (25-44/2)=3kHz aliasing signal).

It's pretty much impossible to build analog frequency filters with a sharp cutoff (e.g. everything below 20kHz and below gets through, everything above 22kHz is -60dB attenuated), so recording at 44.1kHz sampling requires either being absolutely certain the original sound source has minimal high-frequency harmonics, or heavy analog filtering that cuts well into the audible high frequency range. With 96kHz sampling, it's much easier to build an analog filter that gradually rolls off high frequencies between 20kHz and 40kHz (...producing a >40kHz sound is tricky in the first place), preventing aliasing without the filter cutting into the audible range. Once digitized, it's trivial to make a *digital* filter with a perfect frequency cutoff to downsample the 96kHz to aliasing-free 44.1kHz.

Re:Depends on the source (4, Interesting)

fa2k (881632) | about a year ago | (#43248483)

Depends on how good the sound engineers are. A lot can be gained by higher resolution and sample rate in the mastering stage, but by using a good low pass filter and dithering (and dithering is not really necessary, http://developers.slashdot.org/story/13/02/27/1547244/xiph-episode-2-digital-show-tell [slashdot.org] ) basically all audible information is captured in 44.1kHz / 16. Your speakers probably don't go much above 20 kHz anyway, so anything beyond 44.1kHz will only cause distortion (aliasing), see post by MetalliQaZ "Debunked" below.

Re:Depends on the source (2, Insightful)

Rougement (975188) | about a year ago | (#43248697)

Mine are flat up to 50kHz. The problem with 44.1kHz is that the highest frequency possible is 22.5kHz, dangerously close to the upper range of human hearing of around 20kHz. Add to that possible DAC high pass filtering artifacts, etc and there's a good argument for moving to a sample rate of 48kHz or higher.

Re:Depends on the source (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248623)

It's especially noticeable over the airwaves when stations run low MP3s. The music sounds wet. It's like tubes add that warm aural presence, MP3 dampens the sound. Yes it makes a difference what is used to reproduce the sound but in most cases I can tell. If it aint on OGG or FLAK I don't want to hear it. People keep talking about sample rates and bits lets talk resonance and harmonics where the error gets amplified and results in damp music. Sometimes theory is good enough but real world compressing air to make bones in the ear rattle the fluids in your precision audio neurons can sense it.

Re:Depends on the source (4, Insightful)

fatphil (181876) | about a year ago | (#43248691)

> I am quite sure ...

In other words, you've never done an ABX test and are just spouting ill-informed supposition. The ABX is the gold standard, get back to us once you can distinguish those sources that way with a 95% confidence level.

One word: YES. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248259)

Caveat: You have to have decent headphones (not Apple earbud BS), and/or good speakers, but that's about it. The difference is negligible once you hit ~320Kbps MP3, in my opinion, but anything under 256Kbps, regardless of lossy format, you can *clearly* hear cymbal hits turning to an underwater splooshy mess.

Re:One word: YES. (1)

gabereiser (1662967) | about a year ago | (#43248337)

I would tend to agree, it's the highs that get muddy with bitrates below 256kbps Lossy audio. However, it really depends on the clarity of the original recording. Some are not as good as others on defining the highs and lows with clean tone.

No (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248261)

next question

First! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248269)

The quality of this comment will be lost in attempt for first post!

I grew up listening to music on the radio (3, Insightful)

BenSchuarmer (922752) | about a year ago | (#43248283)

... and scratchy/poppy vinyl records. MP3s on my cheap ear buds are good enough most of the time.

Re:I grew up listening to music on the radio (2)

dugjohnson (920519) | about a year ago | (#43248627)

I grew up with the same thing (AM radio, no less) and I've lost most of my highs in both ears and a lot of everything in my right ear at this point, so mono works fine for me...in fact, listening to some OLD recordings from the sixties and seventies when they really thought that separating the voices into different tracks was cool makes listening on headphones nearly impossible...I get left track only. Although a great take on the backup singers sometimes, depending on the mix. Frankly, if you stand behind me with a drum and a bass, I'm pretty much set for rest of my life.

No (5, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#43248299)

No you can't. Not with any reasonably modern encoder and bitrates above 256. Anyone who tells you otherwise is experiencing the placbo effect. BTW, you can't tell the difference between 16bit/44.1khz audio and 24/96 audio either. And vinyl might sound "better" than digital to you, but digital is objectively more accurate.

Audiophilia is saturated with woo. This is the same market that brought us $500 ethernet cables [cnet.com].

Re:No (1)

router (28432) | about a year ago | (#43248393)

I can't tell the difference between 128kbit mp3s and CD most of the time. Fiona Apple or other strong vocal artists are degraded at 128, but at 256kbit I can't tell the difference. I would still rip at FLAC now, since storage is cheap, but I haven't gone back and re-ripped my 256kbit rips....

andy

the answer is obvious, isn't it? (3, Insightful)

v1 (525388) | about a year ago | (#43248401)

No you can't. Not with any reasonably modern encoder and bitrates above 256.

And there's the rub of course. That general of a question can't be answered yes/no. It depends on a variety of factors, most notably the content, the codec, the bitrate, and the playback.

I don't even know why this article submission got accepted. It's like asking "can you win a race against a Toyoda?" where do you even start with that....?

Re:the answer is obvious, isn't it? (5, Funny)

rudy_wayne (414635) | about a year ago | (#43248557)

It's like asking "can you win a race against a Toyoda?" where do you even start with that....?

Since Akio Toyoda is 30 years older than me, I'm pretty sure I could beat him in a race.

Re:No (1, Funny)

Reverand Dave (1959652) | about a year ago | (#43248425)

Agreed, if anyone is really such a purist that they think a file format is superior over another, they should either skip the argument and go see the band live, or kill themselves to save everyone else the hassle.

Re:No (4, Insightful)

Spy Handler (822350) | about a year ago | (#43248449)

Doesn't matter, the audiophile market is not rational (kind of like the wine market). After a certain quality threshold, say 256kbps mp3 or $100 bottle of wine, nobody can tell the difference in a blind test. Yet suckers keep paying money for $500 speaker cables and $1000 bottles of wine. Just stoking ego at that point.

Re:No (2)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about a year ago | (#43248707)

dude, my approach is, so what? somebody worked hard to get a little pot of money, and wants to use the money on something that makes him happy. audiophile stuff makes him feel happy. it wouldn't make me feel happy for the price, but who am i to tell him otherwise? Life got a lot easier once i let people be their own people.

Re:No (5, Insightful)

rudy_wayne (414635) | about a year ago | (#43248503)

In medical tests, people are given a placebo and yet claim to feel better or feel the same effects as people who are given the real medication. These must be the same people who rail against mp3s.

Just because Neil young and Dave Grohl are famous musicians, it doesn't mean that they actually know what they are talking about. 40 years of exposure to loud music has probably damaged their hearing enough that they really don't know what they are hearing.

Saying that A sounds better than B is completely subjective and affected by many things. Not just how the music was encoded, but the quality of the DAC used for playback and the quality of the speakers/headphones used.

Re:No (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248549)

there is some placebo effect, but there is an perceivable improvement in audio quality as well.
it is important to remember that digital is an approximation of sound collected at intervals
with a high sample rate you will hear more detail in the high frequencies. the higher the frequency, the shorter the wave length, the less amount of samples per second
with high bit rate audio quality over large dynamic range will be better... this won't matter with modern mastered music because everything is compressed so heavily

Re:No (1)

fa2k (881632) | about a year ago | (#43248661)

Depends of how you define "hear the difference". If you gave me two files encoded at 320 with the Fraunhofer codec, and one lossless file, and unlimited time, I could tell the lossless one from the others. Granted Frau isn't quite modern, but its certainly possible

You can Sometimes Hear the Difference... But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248683)

I grew up with a dad who had a big hi-fi system and listened to Classical, Jazz, & lots of "Audiofile' albums most of the time, so I have pretty high standards for sound fidelity. I will say that while I certainly can tell the difference between listening to a Supertramp album on a good hi-fi system, and listening via my iPhone, I am actually surprised that the "quality gap" doesn't bug me more than it does. Basically, if you are in a car or jogging, or just have music on in the background in any situation, standard compressed audio formats provide perfectly acceptible sound (as long as the original recording doesn't blow, which is another issue entirely). Supertramp sounds great through my iPhone in these situations.

Most people don't spend a lot of time doing focussed listening in a quite environment anymore, so for these people lossless formats are not really necessary in any context. For those of us who do still enjoy sitting in front of the big speakers with no distractions for some serious immersion, you need a system dedicated to the task anyway, and that's going to include a CD player or even a turntable. Once the CD is really dead, I'm sure high quality recortings will still be offered in some other higher def format than iTunes/MP3, so those with a desire to get them should be OK. I just buy those types of recordings on CD, then rip into iTunes for more casual listening.

So, should iTunes convert it's entire library to lossless formats just so the rest of the world can hear what Neil Youg thinks they are missing? probably not!

Absolutely... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248303)

But it is a function of how much of an asshole you are.

I usually can, but I rarely care. (5, Insightful)

Clueless Moron (548336) | about a year ago | (#43248305)

I'm listening to a performance, not some audio benchmark. If a bit of loss bothers you, it must be some pretty damned uninspiring music you're listening to.

And if you're listening on some random mp3 player with bud headphones while walking around doing stuff, compression loss is the least of your worries.

In traffic, a VW will get me someplace (4, Insightful)

wiredog (43288) | about a year ago | (#43248313)

as fast as a Ferrari.

Since I do most of my listening in a car, and am almost 48, I can't hear the difference between an mp3 and a vinyl album, or a cd, most of the time. Well, except for the lack of skipping. Ever try to listen to an LP in a moving car? But I digress. Sure, people who are younger and $pend lot$ of dollar$ on the Finest Audiophile equipment areound can tell. Me in my Chevy? Not so much.

Audiophiles might. (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#43248315)

Everyone else listening on the little earphones that came with their cellphone can't.

Now, in grand slashdot tradition, could we please have a debate about the use of 192KHz sample rates between those people who know what they are talking about and those who belive 'fourier' is just a word you say to sound smart?

Re:Audiophiles might. (1)

rudy_wayne (414635) | about a year ago | (#43248587)

Everyone else listening on the little earphones that came with their cellphone can't.

Now, in grand slashdot tradition, could we please have a debate about the use of 192KHz sample rates between those people who know what they are talking about

Saying that A sounds better than B is purely subjective and has absolutely nothing to do with "knowing what you are talking about".

44.1khz ought to be enough for anyone... (5, Informative)

scorp1us (235526) | about a year ago | (#43248317)

We recently discovered [arstechnica.com] that human hearing beats the linear response assumptions used in lossy codecs. So yes, their criticisms are scientifically founded.

Re:44.1khz ought to be enough for anyone... (5, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#43248383)

Unless you have people that can ABX the difference, no their criticisms are not scientifically founded. An actual blind test beats any theoretical reasoning any day.

Re:44.1khz ought to be enough for anyone... (2)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#43248715)

In particular, nobody claims that lossy codecs use a perfectly accurate model of human hearing; they don't need to. The goal is to have a psychoacoustic model that captures enough of the general mechanics of hearing, to enable a bunch of constants to be tuned empirically. If the model doesn't come anywhere near to capturing anything important, that would be a problem, because you'd never be able to tune the constants. But once it captures the general outlines, much of the real work on lossy encoders over the past 10-15 years is on tuning a billion constants with listening tests. The goal is empirical transparency (people cannot distinguish the compressed version), not a scientifically valid model of human hearing. Pointing out that there are all sorts of slightly wrong things about the internal model isn't really important if you can't show that they produce audible differences in the end result.

Debunked (4, Informative)

MetalliQaZ (539913) | about a year ago | (#43248319)

The concept of improving consumer listening experience using studio quality recording has been thoroughly debunked, right here on Slashdot...
Why Distributing Music As 24-bit/192kHz Downloads Is Pointless [slashdot.org]

Re:Debunked (1)

fa2k (881632) | about a year ago | (#43248405)

I really wanted to mod this up because it's a great resource.

But: it's actually off topic. The question here is about using psychoacoustic compression like MP3 and AAC, not about sample rate or bit depth.

Re:Debunked (1)

QuietLagoon (813062) | about a year ago | (#43248647)

has been thoroughly debunked

Not really. Lots of pseudo-science and opinions expressed as facts in that thread. But debunking? ummmm.... no.

yes and i don't care (1)

alen (225700) | about a year ago | (#43248321)

years ago i had music ripped in lossless and yes you can hear the difference
  these days its all MP3 or AAC. and i don't care. only time i listen to my music is while running or sometimes on the train to and from work. most times my iphone doesn't have any music on it and i listen to spotify or pandora for 20 minutes while driving home

some people probably care about the best sound quality, most dont
i like blu rays. my wife will watch TV on the non-HD channels most times and she can't tell the difference in quality

It doesn't matter (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248323)

The reason people use lossless compression for audio (i.e. FLAC or SHN) is not because they can tell the difference. Maybe you think you can, maybe you think you can't, but that's irrelevant anyway. The reason people choose lossless is that lossless is the only suitable solution for archiving. If you want to preserve your CD audio exactly as it appears on the CD, the only possible solution is lossless compression. If you choose lossy, you aren't making an archive or the original, but rather an approximation of the original.

That's all there is to it.

Re:It doesn't matter (3, Interesting)

xorsyst (1279232) | about a year ago | (#43248543)

Oh, for mod points.

While I can't (mostly) tell the difference between the original CD and a ~140Kbs VBR MP3, I _can_ tell the difference between a 140Kbs VBR MB3 made from the CD source, and a 140Kbs VBR MP3 made from a 256Kbs VBR MP3.

Lossless isn't for listening to, it's for archiving. And make sure you get the cuesheet, pregaps, etc. right when you're archiving too :)

Re:It doesn't matter (5, Insightful)

tuffy (10202) | about a year ago | (#43248709)

And you never have to re-rip physical discs. 128kb/s CBR MP3 used to be the standard. Then 192 VBR. Then AAC. And so on and so forth. So by keeping a lossless archive, one will always be able to transcode to the latest-and-greatest lossy codec without a lot of hassle.

Audiophile reasoning (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248333)

When it's low cost and convenient then it must be bad, expensive and impractical is the best!

Any good studies? (4, Interesting)

Experiment 626 (698257) | about a year ago | (#43248341)

Anyone know of any good double-blind studies comparing people's ability to tell FLAC from 320kbps MP3? Googling just turns up people debating in forums whether you would be able to tell the difference rather than any serious academic research.

Common misconception (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248349)

People: lossy audio compression depends on speakers having a perfectly flat frequency response to be inaudible. If not flat, a masker could land on a notch in the frequency response and not therefore provide the masking effect intended. Highly quantised/noisy frequency ranges would then be audible when not expected to be, and could even be accentuated if they lie on a response peak.

Thus, the *correct* way to appraise say mp3 is with very good speakers in a treated listening room. This will give you the best "illusion" of quality. Inferior speakers will give away the use of mp3 sooner. Much the same applies to other lossy formats.

Re:Common misconception (1)

EvanED (569694) | about a year ago | (#43248651)

Thus, the *correct* way to appraise say mp3 is with very good speakers in a treated listening room

No it isn't. At least most of the time it isn't, though that result would be interesting.

If I'm trying to decide whether to archive my CDs to MP3 or FLAC, I don't give a rat's ass what it sounds like with great monitors in a treated listening room, because that's not where I listen to music. If my speakers give a non-linear result that amplifies the distortions from compression, that's what matters; not what it sounds like in an ideal situation.

Yes and No. (1, Interesting)

nospam007 (722110) | about a year ago | (#43248353)

People with normal, standard hearing cannot detect a difference, that' s the point of the compression.

If you are hearing a difference, it's because you have a hearing defect. If you can hear something that you don't hear after compression, it's because you're deaf to the sounds that's overlaying it (and killed it in the compression)
You were hearing the original differently in the first place, than anybody else with normal hearing.

Re:Yes and No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248477)

Agreed, a friend of mine can effortlessly distinguish lossless compression from lossy compression, since he has a hearing defect that prevents him from hearing certain higher frequencies that normal people hear without problems. So for him, it always feels like the lossy compressed song has gaps in between where the compression algorithm decided that something isn't needed.

There is a difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248357)

With mp3 encoded at 320kbps the difference is negligible, but with storage as cheap as it is and internet speeds as fast as they are, why would anybody feel a need to have their music run through lossy compression, no matter how small the tradeoff?

Re:There is a difference (1)

xorsyst (1279232) | about a year ago | (#43248561)

To listen to on a player with limited storage. Sure, that's not your only copy, you keep lossless too.

Better yes, but how much better? (1)

deathsquirrel (956752) | about a year ago | (#43248359)

I listened to the sample tracks hdtracks.com offers for some albums I own & have ripped to 256kbps MP3s and without question the lossless tracks did sound better. The question that I then had to ask was did they sound $20/album better and nope, not even close for me.

mp3 vs wav (2)

Jonathan P. Bennett (2872425) | about a year ago | (#43248365)

Yes, I can hear the difference. When working in a small sound recording studio, I trained my ears to pick up on fine details. There was one day in particular I remember listening to a track, and wondering what the strange noise in the background of it was. I realized that I was hearing the audio artifacts from the mp3 compression. Not sure how Mr. Young figures that a CD is only 15% of the master, though. A CD is pure uncompressed audio. If you recorded and mixed in 44.1k audio, then your cd is an exact copy of your master.

Difference is not in the listening. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248367)

The difference is the ability to transcode to different bitrates and formats without losing anything from the original source.

Some lossy sound better than other lossy. (1)

jslarve (1193417) | about a year ago | (#43248369)

Not saying that lossy is ever better than non-lossy, but with good "dithering", it can really make a big difference. Probably better for artists to provide their own mp3 (or whatever file type) than leaving it up to a vendor to do it. This Izotope video is pretty informative, despite being kind of an ad. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVNzylf9sGo [youtube.com]

Never been able to tell the difference (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248373)

I've been listening to digital audio since the '90s and have switched back and forth between lossy and lossless a few times. I've even tried to compare formats to see if I could tell the difference. Personally I can't, but maybe that's because I blew out my ears at loud concerts. I certainly can't hear like I used to.

Maybe some people can tell the difference and if they want to devote the time, money and space to lossless audio formats power to them, but it means little to me.

I can, but it's not worth the file size (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248377)

Get an audio interface, a pair of "good" headphones or studio monitors, sit down on a quiet room, relax and pay attention to mid-high frequencies in your songs (hint: bright cymbals, violin lines, guitar solos).
You will hear "more" presence in that area, but we all listen music in noisy environments most of the time, so those details are hardly percieved and it just not worth the 40MB flac/wav file in your Portable Media Player compared to your 8MB of your V0 MP3 file.

Also depends on age ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248379)

I'm nearing 50 and I already feel I'm reaching for the volume control more. 'True' 'audiophiles' will say anything to justify their beliefs. Same goes for 'true' 's elsewhere

I may, of course, be very very very wrong

Oh, it all goes to shit when you have kids too :-)

The sustain, listen to it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248399)

I don't hear anything.
Well you would though, if it were playing.

The real magic happens in the 22kHz band, just ask my dog he can tell you.

Yes ... but not always (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248411)

1) It depends on the quality of the encoder
2) bps
3) The music itself
4) Good environment (no external noises)

This is what bugs me for a few online streaming services...

Sure, you can tell. (3, Insightful)

jtownatpunk.net (245670) | about a year ago | (#43248445)

If you've got decent equipment and a quiet environment. With cheapo earbuds, I don't notice the difference. With my good headphones, the difference is obvious. When I'm driving down the highway, I can't tell. In my living room, I can tell.

With storage so cheap and bandwidth so plentiful, there's really no reason not to use lossless audio. My $40 Clip+ with a $25 miscrosd card can hold 40 gigs of content and can play FLAC. There's no reason to use a lossy format.

By my estimation... (3, Funny)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about a year ago | (#43248455)

By Young's estimation, CDs can only offer about 15% of the data that was in a master sound track...

... Neil Young is neither a Mathematician or Audio Engineer.

[ -- insert appropriate Neil Young lyric for satirical effect here -- ]

Nope, normally. (3, Insightful)

BLToday (1777712) | about a year ago | (#43248457)

Nope. Not if the quality is high enough, I can't tell the difference 99% of the times. There are some musical instruments (harpsichord) and singers (Tori Amos) where compression is very obvious. The lossy version becomes almost unlistenable once you've heard the lossless version.

On "normal" speakers I can rarely tell the difference, but on reference monitors the difference is noticeable on many tracks. Not terrible distracting but still noticeable.

Can only speak for myself (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248459)

The problem is not lossy compression per se. In badly encoded mp3 files (plenty of them out there!) drum cymbals sound "watery"- there's somewhat of a flanger-like effect to them as an artefact of the compression. In ogg vorbis files encoded at the same rate I don't notice the same issue.

Also... there's indeed a difference in whether you're listening to the audio in your car over shitty speakers over the noise of a roaring engine, at home in your average living room with decent speakers or in a studio setting with box-in-a-box isolated walls and on the high end studio equipment under the conditions on which the audio was actually mixed.

Otherwise, it's a bit of a mundane audiophile discussion, really. Most audiophiles fail to account for the fact that their mere presence in the room and what they wear makes far more of an impact to the audio quality than the extra money they throw at the problem (for the best listening experience, they should probably leave the room in which the audio is being played).

There are other reasons to choose lossless compression over lossy though- in audio material that underwent lossy compression, some frequency bands are simply no longer present. It is conceivable that this has some impact over how much control you have over the frequency response of the material on playback. You may find that that fancy graphic equalizer of yours won't work as well on lossy audio as it would on lossless audio.

Not that it matters. Stepping away from the intentions of the original audio engineer is blasphemy, anyway.

Speakers or headphones? (0)

badzilla (50355) | about a year ago | (#43248471)

What I see almost every day are DJs with headphones plugged into their laptop and it sounds fine to them. The same track out there on the dancefloor sounds like a horrific wall of distortion. As I understand it lossy compression depends on a "psychoacoustic" trick - maybe this doesn't work if you can hear both stereo channels with both ears. Or something. All I know it sounds truly dreadful and I am no audiophile.

Funny (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248473)

I find audiophiles funny people, especially when they reach age 40 and over. Loss of eyesight can be denied, because it too obvious, but with enough woo you can keep claiming you will hear the slight nuance difference in sound, this of course will forever stay on the pinnacle of hearing, yeah right!

They're kidding themselves. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248481)

I've tested the ability of audio professionals to discern differences between high quality MP3's and WAV files in a sound booth. They can't consistently identify which file is playing when going back and forth between the files, even though they often convince themselves that they are hearing distinguishing characteristics. Certainly with lower bit rates people can hear differences, but not with high quality compression settings.

You do much better to spend your money on high quality headphones or speakers than on "hi def" audio recordings or the disk space to store them.

It's the soul, stupid (1)

deanklear (2529024) | about a year ago | (#43248505)

For most people, the connection they have is about the lyrics and the memories associated with the song anyway. There's magic in lo-fi recording like this rehearsal [youtube.com], and zero magic in some perfectly recorded crud step (though I do enjoy many electronic artists.) I think the main thing is the yearning in the recording itself.

I'd check out Grohl's keynote at SxSW in any event. He makes some very good points about artists who wouldn't survive American Idol that are a hell of a lot better than anyone who wins it. Music is about expression, about documenting loss and love and joy, and the "karaoke dictatorship" of talent shows that rob people of their voice and replace it with meaningless corporate pablum designed to sell products... well, it's horrible and empty and it doesn't matter what the bit rate is because it's not worth wasting time for.

It's not about hearing the difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248507)

With lossless audio formats you are GUARANTEED to have the perfect replication of the CD audio data while with lossy audio formats, whether you can hear it or not, you have a crippled and imperfect replication. With lossy audio, the quality of the encoding *might* differ based on where you purchase it, and that's not good. When I purchase a digital recording, I want it to be perfect, I want it to be lossless.
We have the means to do it, storage is cheap, bandwith is cheap, there is absolutely NO reason to not use lossless audio formats.

Lossy audio is like a book with "unimportant" or "superfluous" words removed from it : the meaning is there, you can still perfectly read it, you lose next to nothing, but still it would be nice if all the words were here.

It's not about hearing the difference, it's about chosing the best option.

Trends (2)

mpol (719243) | about a year ago | (#43248523)

There have been more posts on Slashdot in the last 14 years on Slashdot about this topic. What I recall of them, is that people have been tested with blind and double-blind tests. And about ten years ago you could hear a difference between lossless audio and low-bitrate mp3's. The latter has less high and low, and mostly a certain "Hiss" sound through it. The preference was with the lossless audio then.
What struck me in later tests, was that people seemed to favour mp3's above lossless audio. I reckon it has to do with getting used to the Hiss-sound in mp3's, and therefore having it as a preference. A big factor in music taste is how much you are used to hearing similar music and sounds, and the hiss-sound does make a usual sound.

To be fair, I do think that mp3's in a high bitrate like 320 kbit are almost as good as lossless audio. Even though I prefer the lossless audio, just to be sure.

Depends on listener and device (1)

PseudoCoder (1642383) | about a year ago | (#43248525)

I remember having to make the excruciating decision of which format to rip my entire CD collection when I was building my HTPC back in 2007. I listened carefully through high-quality studio headphones at the difference and concluding that lossless was going to be the better format for my setup. If I could tell the difference through the headphones, then I figured there would be even more of a difference through my Pioneer Elite receiver and Mirage DefTech speakers.

When I hooked it up, it paid off big time. Sounds heavenly. When I sync from my HTPC to my library and play it through my Samsung Galaxy S3, I convert down to 160 or 192kbps and it sounds as good as I can expect it in a mobile format.

Point is it depends on the setup as a whole. Like any performance chain, your worst component will determine the overall system performance. Furthermore, it depends on the listener. My wife couldn't care if it's coming from my system or from her Coby boom box (WTF?), and I'm the one who's hard of hearing. Big whoop to her.

I can't here the difference, but still want it (1)

Omnifarious (11933) | about a year ago | (#43248539)

The reason I because I want audio I can recompress to the format I like without progressive degradation. Better lossy formats might be created in the future, and I want to be able to re-encode in those formats without suffering the losses due to lossy compression twice.

Yes, I can. (1)

Nyder (754090) | about a year ago | (#43248541)

I don't have the greatest hearing anymore, because most my life I had headphones plugged in my ear. But I can tell the difference between MP3 files and Flac files. Not only that, I can hear the difference been CD quality Flac files and 24bit/96khz Flac files.

My music collection demands I download at least CD quality (16bit/44khz), and prefers I got up a step. At worse, I will try to find 320kbps MP3's, but I like a bunch of older 80's music that I can only find in lower rates.

Sure, I could survive on 320kbps MP3's, after all, that what I have to listen to in my mp3 player. Shit, i survived on Cassette tapes for a couple of decades, and most that music was copied from friends.

There is another part to this story though. Not everyone know how to rip MP3's decent. So when I have a flac of the CD, then I can rip it how I like, the best quality possible.

Does my opinion matter? Fuck no. I'm the same about Video. I can see the imperfections in various codecs that others can't see. And I'm not down with that shit. for example, HDTV via Cable (Comcast) is crap, and I notice it. My dad? He won't notice it, shit, he doesn't even noticed with normal cable gets a bit overworked and gets a little blocky.

Also, I tend to like older music. Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, etc. And you'll find all sort of bad copies of their music. You don't know what the source is, LP, Cassette, 8-Track (joke), that the MP3 was pulled from, so getting flacs of the various CD's is best.

Then worse, you have the volume levels, or compression levels, or whatever they started doing in the 2000+ are a lot higher then previous CD releases. So while you might have a MP3 of Black Dog that is sort of quiet, the latest CD rip would be a lot louder. So now there are a few different sounding MP3 releases around.

Am I a normal consumer? Hell no. I don't buy music anymore, fuck that. I spent enough money on music in the 1980's and 1990's. I'm not making the Record Companies any more money on purpose, they do NOT deserve it.

I'm assuming to most people MP3's are enough, but then I have never followed what "most" people do, I like being myself.

Neil Young and the Placebo effect. (1)

guidryp (702488) | about a year ago | (#43248567)

Neil Young is an aging rocker with hearing damage. There is no way he can tell the difference except in his own mind.

Even among people good hearing, only a minority can detect a difference between lossless and properly encoded higher bit rate (~200K+) lossy.

The hubbub over this is almost all placebo effect and snobbery.

Remember the context (1)

zuki (845560) | about a year ago | (#43248573)

While I agree that for most consumers it's really a bit of a moot point, the following may need to be kept in mind:

The difference in audio quality may not really be apparent when something is played back on earbuds or tiny computer speakers, rather than on a concert hall-sized system. These differences are very hard to pick out - even in an audiophile home situation - but become far more obvious once these same recordings are played on a 25,000-watt sound rig in a large auditorium.

Like taking a jpg logo you just lifted from a web site and blowing it up to a large billboard on the side of the road. Pixelation will occur, but won't be noticeable until you scale up to those large sizes. And yes, before someone dismisses this as irrelevant, do not forget the thousands of professionals who play recorded music for millions across the planet every week on those large sound installations. (granted, most of whom do not care one bit about audio quality)

But the difference is there, it's just a shame that no one wants to take the time to actually do these listening tests in large-scale environments with proper acoustics (clubs, concert halls, auditoriums). It should be added that if the venue in question has horrendous acoustics and tons of reflections, none of this will obviously matter.

These perceptual compression algorithms do in fact strip out the very essence of what bind the sounds together, the inner dynamics (so to speak) and it's truly a shame that by now it's become the new 'normal'. Even though vinyl is far more imperfect, on large-scale installation it has a much smoother presentation and the bass really comes out in ways that the castrated digital files do not seem capable of generating. The human ear is extremely sensitive to a lot of this once these details become noticeable due to the size of the room.

The big problem isn't the format (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248577)

If the quality of the recording and mastering is crap, no format will help.

The Right Equipment & Good ear (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248601)

If you have the right equipment for high-quality playback, and a good ear, you can really hear the spatial differences between a 320kbps MP3 and a Lossless FLAC copy. Many of my friends have said they can't hear the difference, but I definitely can hear a big difference.

TDM

Some probably can... (1)

luckymutt (996573) | about a year ago | (#43248611)

...but for me, after years of attending concerts my hearing is shot just enough to not really tell a difference. This includes shows by both David Grohl and Neil Young. I don't mind the hearing loss too much, but don't lecture me now on the best file formats, thanks.

What kind of music? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248613)

For pop, mainstream rock, goth, synthpop, RnB - no, I can't.

For Jazz, Blues, Classical Music, Opera, Art Rock, Rythm and Blues, very technical music - yes, in some parts of it.

However, the difference is usually smaller than that from whatever equipment you are listening on, so unless your equipment can handle the music you listen to it doesn't matter in most of the cases....

Let a professional optimize things (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43248619)

Leave it up to the sound engineer to create "optimal" versions using various codecs and compression rates, and let him recommend which versions are "good enough to sell" as a retail full track. Allow sub-optimal versions for thing like ring tones, analog AM radio broadcast, and other places where nobody cares about "perfect" sound.

Audio processing is better for lossless (1)

Dwedit (232252) | about a year ago | (#43248641)

If you're trying to cancel the left and right channels by subtracting them, you will get significantly different results depending on whether the files are lossless or not.
When they are lossless, it will work properly. Otherwise, it will have artifacts.

How does that work, exactly? (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | about a year ago | (#43248657)

By Young's estimation, CDs can only offer about 15% of the data that was in a master sound track

Where does that figure come from? A CD is a perfect reproduction of the analogue master.

Will hi-def be mastered properly? (4, Insightful)

steveha (103154) | about a year ago | (#43248687)

I would pay more for audio tracks that are mastered properly.

Far too much of the music released these days is mastered to sound "loud". A sound-level compressor removes the dynamic range, and then the music is gained up about as high as possible, or sometimes higher than that (gained so high there is hard-clipping).

In the best case, the dynamic range is gone and the music loses some of the drama and impact it should have had. In the worst case, the sine waves are hard-clipped into square waves, which sounds terrible. Hard-clipping adds unpleasant harmonics and distortion and you definitely can hear this.

I promise you that a properly mastered track at 16-bit/44.1 kHz will sound dramatically better than a poorly mastered one at 24-bit/96 kHz. Mastering trumps format.

So if they are going to the trouble to make 24-bit/96 kHz tracks, I'm hoping that they will let the mastering engineers do their jobs properly! If they do, I would pay the extra money and bandwidth to buy the music in the higher-quality format.

The music industry is convinced that most of their customers are idiots, unconcerned about sound quality, who can be distracted by shiny things or loud noises; so they try to make every album as loud as possible. But maybe, just maybe, they will be willing to try something different with the high-quality downloads.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war [wikipedia.org]

A comparison (0)

ByOhTek (1181381) | about a year ago | (#43248693)

Audiophiles, who have long remained loyal to vinyl albums, are also adopting the lossless formats, some of the most popular of which are FLAC and AIFF, and in some cases can build up terabyte-sized album collections as the formats are still about five times the size of compressed audio files.

Software users, who have long remained loyal to physical media, are also adopting the lossless formats, some of the most popular of which are ZIP and TGZ, and in some cases can build up terabyte-sized collections as the formats are still about five times the size of compressed data files.

Reads about as sensibly. Seriously, I could be wrong about AIFF, but I know FLAC is compressed. Maybe not lossy, but is a subset of compression, not the whole show.

Nope (1)

Mathness (145187) | about a year ago | (#43248699)

I know I can not hear the difference. But for me, the few times I go for lossless, it is simply to have something as close to the original as possible, as I find it worth it to have.

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