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MP3 sounds better than lossless. Help!

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

Hello Head-Fi community,

I have an important matter to discuss. Well important to me anyway. I moved up from standard iPod earphones (you know, the white type that come with every iPod) to a set of Koss KSC75 for 25 Euro's.

This turned out to be an immediate and complete turnaround in listening experience. I heard details I had not heard before and I was a happy man. Then the evil stepped in: with this set of earphones, I was to be able to set apart MP3's from uncompressed audio like FLAC.

So I set out on comparing some MP3's and FLAC songs of the same album: The seeds of love by Tears for Fears. It's one of my all time favourites, especially Badman's song. To get the FLAC on my iPod classic, I had to reformat it to Apple Lossless format. I used Max v. 0.9.2 by sbooth.org to do the conversion, imported it all in iTunes, synced to my iPod and started the session.

[Edit: I apologise, I must have used Max for a bunch of other songs, but not for this one. I can't find the Tears for Fears FLACs anywhere on my hard drive, so I suppose I converted directly from CD to Apple Lossles while importing the CD into iTunes]


It was torture. I decided to do it blindfolded and when I listened to song A i thought it sounded very rich and detailed, accurate and warm. Then I listened to song B and I thought it was dull and flat compared to song A. I was absolutely convinced that A was the Lossless version and B was the MP3, but I was wrong! How can this be? I've been a happy audiophile for over 25 years when it comes to high end amps, speakers, thorens turntable etc. How can I not get this right? The worst is yet to come. It is a 128 MP3. Not 320. Not 256. 128.

I need some help here. Am I doing something wrong in the conversion in Max? Anything else I overlooked?

Thanks in advance.


Edited by FlatListener - 2/4/13 at 3:15pm
post #2 of 9
Thread Starter 

OK I took another song, this time it's "The Nightly" by Donald Fagen. Track 6 (title track: "The Nightfly"). I listened to this song in a couple of different ways:

- MP3 on iPod

- Apple Lossles (AL) on iPod

- FLAC, played in VLC for Mac on a Macbook 5,1, 2008 model 2.0GHz

- FLAC, played in Adobe Audition, also on the Macbook

 

I found that the FLAC in Adobe Audition had the best sound. It was very detailed, particularly the bass. If you care to listen to it yourselves, FF to 1:50 "I got plenty a job in chesterfield king....." and listen to the bass. Then go to 2:30 and listen to "an idependent station...double-U Jay Ay Zeeeeeee..." and listen to the bass in "Zeeeee.....". It's amazing what that bass line is doing there. Very obvious in Adobe Audition. Not so much in VLC or on the iPod. Same source. Actually the difference between the Apple Lossless played on iPod and the MP3 on iPod is much smaller than between the iPod and Adobe Audition. So maybe it's also the iPod headphone output that is not that good? I'm really puzzled. Can I get my iPod to match the quality I get out of my Macbook using Adobe Audition?

 

Still how on earth can I prefer a 128 MP3 of the badman's song.....
 

post #3 of 9

There are dozens of explanations. Maybe you like the sound of the compression artifacts. Maybe the two source rips of the FLAC and MP3 were different. Maybe the decoder in your setup for MP3 is better than other formats. That's not even mentioning that I guarantee your testing had some kind of subtle bias in it. There's zero doubt that a FLAC is more accurate than an MP3 (it must be, as it's an exact duplication of the CD audio data), but it doesn't mean you have to like that accuracy more.


Edited by soundstige - 2/4/13 at 3:37pm
post #4 of 9

All these decoders would be likely different, with players set at different volume levels and possibly different EQ settings. It's in no way a test related to MP3 at this point, it's too uncontrolled. You're just driving yourself crazy, really.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by FlatListener View Post

OK I took another song, this time it's "The Nightly" by Donald Fagen. Track 6 (title track: "The Nightfly"). I listened to this song in a couple of different ways:

- MP3 on iPod

- Apple Lossles (AL) on iPod

- FLAC, played in VLC for Mac on a Macbook 5,1, 2008 model 2.0GHz

- FLAC, played in Adobe Audition, also on the Macbook

 

I found that the FLAC in Adobe Audition had the best sound. It was very detailed, particularly the bass. If you care to listen to it yourselves, FF to 1:50 "I got plenty a job in chesterfield king....." and listen to the bass. Then go to 2:30 and listen to "an idependent station...double-U Jay Ay Zeeeeeee..." and listen to the bass in "Zeeeee.....". It's amazing what that bass line is doing there. Very obvious in Adobe Audition. Not so much in VLC or on the iPod. Same source. Actually the difference between the Apple Lossless played on iPod and the MP3 on iPod is much smaller than between the iPod and Adobe Audition. So maybe it's also the iPod headphone output that is not that good? I'm really puzzled. Can I get my iPod to match the quality I get out of my Macbook using Adobe Audition?

 

Still how on earth can I prefer a 128 MP3 of the badman's song.....
 

post #5 of 9
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by soundstige View Post

All these decoders would be likely different, with players set at different volume levels and possibly different EQ settings. It's in no way a test related to MP3 at this point, it's too uncontrolled. You're just driving yourself crazy, really.

 


Maybe you're right. You probably are because you must know more about it than me. But still, I'm hearing considerably more detail in the Audition played FLAC. I set volume levels identical to my ears. I know for sure that my iPod cannot produce the same detail that my Macbook can, with the same source file. Maybe I'm in a place that all of you have been a long time ago. Maybe I need to add a portable amp to my iPod and it will reveal the details. You tell me.

post #6 of 9

Almost guaranteed. The Macbook is a professional piece of home hardware while the iPod is intended for portability. Optimum sound quality is not as much of a concern in the design of a portable player as it would be in a media-centric professional home computer. iPod sounds quite good among portable players in general, but isn't the best, and certainly shouldn't be assumed to compare to "bigger stuff".

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by FlatListener View Post

I know for sure that my iPod cannot produce the same detail that my Macbook can, with the same source file.

post #7 of 9

As soundstige suggested - there are too many variable here to actually give you an accurate answer.

 

You can't volume match by ear - it's not accurate.  This is likely to give you the single biggest possible point of difference.  Any audible volume difference will change your perception of quality.

 

I'm not sure what the Mac equivalents are - but to do this properly under a windows environment you'd need to:

 

 - rip a CD using a decent ripper like EAC or dbpoweramp - to lossless

 - re-encode the same format using the latest version of lame to the lossy bitrate you want to use (or with another encoder for aac)

 - use a program like foobar 2000 + it's abx comparison tool (with software volume matching - replaygain)

 - run 10-15 blind tests and see if you can actually tell a difference

 

If you're comparing mp3 at 320 vb0, (or aac at 256) with lossless, I'd be willing to bet that under a properly conducted blind test you won't tell the difference between lossless and lossy.  Once you realise this yourself - it's then easy to recognise placebo as a factor, and you can then just enjoy whichever container makes most sense for your environment.

 

Personally I use aac256 on my iPhone and iPod Touch, and use FLAC at home (my archive copies).  I can't tell the difference.

 

Oh - and depending on your Classic model - IMO they are extremely good players, and in no way inferior to basic set-ups like your Mac.  I know I get as much enjoyment our of my iPhone on the go (unamped with my SE535 LEs) as I do with my HD600s NFB-12 and LD MKIV.  It's a different sound - but I'd be clutching at straws to say one is massively better than the other.

 

Do the tests yourself (properly), ignore what everyone else tells you (as to which is better), and decide yourself on what you hear.  After all - it's only YOU that matter wink.gif

post #8 of 9

Most DAPs include iPods can't handle lossless files well because it require power and internal AMPs are weak on most DAPs. So if you add AMPs in chain and use lineout then soundquality will much improve and will match the desktop level soundquality, if source is iMod iPod then the difference willbe huge in term of sounquality compared to regular iPod Classic HP jack.

post #9 of 9
Thread Starter 

@Brooko: thanks for your kind words. And yes your final line makes a lot of sense. I regret so say though that I tend to disagree the volume thing. I tried different volume settings and even if I turn the volume on the Macbook slightly lower (and I'm certain it is) than on the iPod, the Macbook still reveals more detail. And once I've experienced that detail, there's no going back, I feel I'm spoilt. I find it hard to determine which is the limiting factor. It's not "just" iPod vs Macbook, because VLC-on-macbook clearly gives clearly less detail than AdobeAudition-on-Macbook. And I would even say that Lossless-on-iPod is better than VLC-on-Macbook.

@Zarim: thank you for this information. I looked up iMod but I'm not sure this is what I want. I have a standard 120GB iPod classic, bought in 2009. The best I can have is this iPod and connect it to an amp using the iPod connector at the bottom, I suppose.


@all: When I read some more topic on this forum it seems as though I need a portable amp to fully enjoy the iPod, even with the cheap Koss headphones. And if I take the step to portable amp, I'll also want a larger set of headphones that will allow me to listen at low levels (to protect my ears) and still have a good soundstage experience. I added a new topic on this.
 


Edited by FlatListener - 2/6/13 at 3:21am
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