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Can I hear the difference between 320kbps & Lossless?

post #1 of 46
Thread Starter 
I know a lot of you are going to say "no duh" to this thread, but I post it only because I have heard the following statement a bunch of times; "no one can tell the difference between 256kbps (or put a bitrate there) and lossless."

I finally got off my arse and did some ABX testing to see if *I* could hear the difference. I used a MacBook Pro, and MacABX. I was using the DAC on a RSA predator to a set of AKG K701s as well as Sony MDR-7506s. I used a few tracks, but the one I spent the most time with was the Brazilian from the 2007 remaster of Genesis' Invisible Touch.

I did ABX testing with the following bitrates of MP3s: 128, 160, 192, 256, 320. The baseline was an Apple Lossless encoded version of the same track.

The results were clear, and surprised the heck out of me. I could hear the difference between a 128, 160, 192, and 256 kbps mp3 from lossless 100% of the time. This was using the methodology described on wikipedia about ABX testing. Using 10 samples per round, then letting my ears rest, etc.

Even more amazing (to me) was that I was able to differentiate the difference between a 320kpbs mp3 and the lossless file over 82% of the time. MacABX reported a less than a 1.9% chance that I was guessing.

This has really changed the way I view my encoding, and I will probably never use anything less than 320, but probably start using Apple Lossless or FLAC only!

p.s. My father who is 58 years old, and suffers from known hearing loss was able to discern 256 from lossless 100% of the time too. When he reach the 320 vs lossless tests, he scored less than 50% correct, and MacABX reported that he was guessing 100%.
post #2 of 46
Out of interest, what mp3 encoder are you using?
post #3 of 46
With my hearing lossless and 320kpbs can be different, not too much though, but just enough that I feel more satisified with flac than 320kbps. It might seem less apparent with lower end equipment but as soon as you reach mid or top tier there should be a significant difference. At least that is from what I heard.
post #4 of 46
Lossy files are for portable use. There's no reason to use them with "top tier" equipment. I wouldn't put WAV files on my iPod, and I wouldn't use a lossy file as a master.

See ya
Steve
post #5 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheule View Post
I know a lot of you are going to say "no duh" to this thread, but I post it only because I have heard the following statement a bunch of times; "no one can tell the difference between 256kbps (or put a bitrate there) and lossless."
That quoted statement should be "most people cannot tell the difference between a well encoded MP3 and a lossless copy most of the time".

When I took an ABX of VBR V0 MP3 vs FLAC, I too found I could tell the difference during an ABX. What I also found was that the difference was so paltry and insignificant as to never be missed in normal listening (meaning, I can't tell the difference outside of an ABX), especially with my mid-fi setup. If I want to listen to lossless, I'd rather listen to it at home (in my comfy bed, I'd add ), from my CDs, and it sounds great. My iPod is for MP3s, and it too sounds great.
post #6 of 46
It depends a lot on the mastering of the original piece. On some CD's the Flac really stands out from the 320 kbs MP3. Also with a good DACX and amp the MP3 flaws become more apperant. With 1/2 TB hardrives selling for $60, there is no reason to use MP3's.
post #7 of 46
Thread Starter 
Vegaman, I was using the iTunes encorder (iTunes version 7, Fraunhofer). I believe a lot of people feel that LAME is better, but when I started this experiment, I didn't expect to hear the difference at 320.

Bigshot, the way my setup works I use my iTunes library as the cornerstone of my music. It is then streamed to my media center for speak play, and synced to my iPod and iPhone for mobility. So in my case, since I can hear a difference, I would rather just get a large iPod (160GB) and use 320 or lossless. It's just not worth it to me to micromanage two separate music libraries, one for home use and one for the iPod.

Oya, I'm telling you--I've heard very outlandish statements like that! Usually in person, with people that aren't in the know, but still it's something I've heard quite a few times. (example, the urban-hipster doofus that works at the Apple store.)

And even if you alter the statement to be more diplomatic, as you did, I still think it's basically wrong. As I said, my father is nearly 60, has documented hearing loss, and could still hear 256 from lossless.
post #8 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by regal View Post
It depends a lot on the mastering of the original piece. On some CD's the Flac really stands out from the 320 kbs MP3. Also with a good DACX and amp the MP3 flaws become more apperant. With 1/2 TB hardrives selling for $60, there is no reason to use MP3's.
I couldn't agree more; with the luxury of plenty of hard drive space I'm re-ripping my entire collection to Direct Stream Digital Interchange File Format (DSDIFF). The files are 1 bit, 5.6 Mhz, and are essentially the file format used to produce SACD. This is only available due to cheap, reliable storage. Each CD translates to about 3 GB of file storage in DSDIFF.
post #9 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheule View Post
Oya, I'm telling you--I've heard very outlandish statements like that! Usually in person, with people that aren't in the know, but still it's something I've heard quite a few times. (example, the urban-hipster doofus that works at the Apple store.)

And even if you alter the statement to be more diplomatic, as you did, I still think it's basically wrong. As I said, my father is nearly 60, has documented hearing loss, and could still hear 256 from lossless.
I certainly don't doubt that there's people who'd say things like that (remember how 128 kbps used to be promoted as 'CD quality'?).

By the way, I do believe that your dad can tell the difference in an ABX; most people should be able to. The point I was putting forward is that you shouldn't be able to tell that you're listening to a (well-encoded) MP3 when you're listening to it outside of an ABX situation (when you're not directly comparing it to a lossless file).
post #10 of 46
Well, only you can tell if you can hear a difference between lossless and 320kbps lossy. We can't, since we don't have your ears.
So I suggest you encode a couple of test tracks and perform an ABX test.
post #11 of 46
Thread Starter 
Krmathis, if that was directed at me, I think you read the title only and not my post :P
post #12 of 46
Congratulations. And to your father too. That's quite impressive if he can tell 256kbps from lossless at 60, with hearing loss. In my experience, one can still detect encoding flaws even if one can't hear very high frequencies. It takes strong concentration. An exceptional ear that can hear very high frequencies helps though, because they are attenuated even in a 320kbps MP3 encoding.

I suspect that the part of your brains allocated to processing sound is more developed than most people, and that this is a genetic trait, because most people cant tell the difference between -v2 and lossless.
post #13 of 46
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by b0dhi View Post
I suspect that the part of your brains allocated to processing sound is more developed than most people, and that this is a genetic trait, because most people cant tell the difference between -v2 and lossless.
You know, you might be on to something, as we are both musicians. I know that when I first became interested in amateur astronomy, I could not tell the difference between high end optics and mediocre optics. But after 10 years in the hobby, it's now quite plain to me. Things like chromatic aberrations jump right out of the eyepiece.

I bet there's a similar thing going on here with our ears. My father and I probably have some prior auditory skill set that lends itself to hearing compression artifacts, even though neither of us has tried to do it previously. I think this probably means that most anyone can hear the difference if they trained their ears to do so.
post #14 of 46
I'd be interested to see if you can also ABX some stuff encoded with LAME, if you have the time and are interested anyway. Might give you a smaller option for your portable.

I haven't done any tests for a while, my new Singlepower PPX3 seems to be much more transparent than my Headfive though, so it could be fun.
post #15 of 46
Thread Starter 
A good idea. As well I'd like to do the same ABXing with a lot more different types of music, as well as using AAC encoding.
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