FLAC vs. 320 Mp3
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Sam L

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I sometimes do wonder why a great deal of music (especially popular stuff) sounds so poorly recorded / mixed these days. Especially if you conciser the capabilities of modern technology. Honestly, barely anything new that I know beats pink floyd from 45 years ago. A lot doesn't even sound remotely close to it. One of the main improvements I notice with modern stuff is very little or no background hiss. I don't know a great deal about the newer stuff out there, but in general, i find the popular music to sound like it has been recorded to sound sharp and clear right from phone speakers. Then when you listen to it with decent audio equipment, it sounds really badly tuned. The charts on spotify are an example of this. Admittedly, I very much dislike the style of most, but that isn't related to the way it is recorded. But I do wonder why so many artists that have so much money have them recorded in what sounds like they can't afford proper recording equipment - or the electronic sounds just sound like that in the first place.
One track that i actually happen to like the tune of is "Blinding Lights" by "The Weekend". But this is an example of what in my opinion is very badly recorded. The beatbox style drums i can accept as that may be deliberate (although not really my thing), but the synth, bass other sounds seem to have a really poor slightly muddy sound, almost like they are recorded from a tape. This may be 80s style music, but I know a large amount of bands from the 80s that had their recordings sound significantly better than this. I can accept strange recordings if music is pretty old, or clearly not that advanced yet, but so much modern stuff out there almost seems to be deliberately done like this and I just don't get why. If it was done better, it isn't like those who listen on their phones will care, and those who appreciate decent sound will actually be able to enjoy it more.
There are still a few more modern bands that i listen to, but are usually far less well known and have been heavily influenced by artists long ago. In my opinion, those are often the ones that tend to have better recordings.

Sorry for going on a rant about that! But it is an interesting topic.








Oh yea i could have worded that better. I agree it certainly will be a lot better, and that is possibly why a lot of people always use the better option, but the audible difference in a lot of situations is what is tiny.







I used to believe i could hear more differences than I actually can. It wasn't just the file size that made me put all my CDs on my FiiO x3 as 320kbps Mp3s, it was that i could hear no or little difference. With a really good CD player, listening to it direct could well have a noticeable difference with my headphones compared to an Mp3 on my X3 in that case, but I think that will be more related to the quality of the device than the format. I don't think I did thourough enough testing such as ripping a disk as a wav or flac and listening to that and the same disk as a 320kbps mp3 on my X3. I almost wonder if I would notice a difference there now.
Thank you all for your input. I'm likely going to stay with Spotify Premium. I don't think I can consistently hear the difference between lossless and Spotify's "very high" quality setting. What I previously thought was a huge difference was attributed to Spotify's "normalize volume" setting.

From what I can see with primephonic and idagio trials I started, the search feature is more accurate, given the challenge of long similar titles in classical music (as compared to Spotify's search hits. But I can live with it.)
 
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gregorio

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[1] I sometimes do wonder why a great deal of music (especially popular stuff) sounds so poorly recorded / mixed these days. Especially if you conciser the capabilities of modern technology. Honestly, barely anything new that I know beats pink floyd from 45 years ago. ....
[2] But I do wonder why so many artists that have so much money have them recorded in what sounds like they can't afford proper recording equipment -
[2a] or the electronic sounds just sound like that in the first place.
1. There's several reasons for that. Probably the most significant reason is that's what consumers have inadvertently demanded! While the demand for music recordings is higher now than it was 45 years ago, the amount of money consumers are willing to pay for them is just a tiny fraction. A lot of music is consumed for nothing at all, on YouTube for example and even when consumers do pay for it, they typically pay only a few cents to stream/download it, much of which goes to the technology industry (the streaming/download services) rather than to the music recording industry. As the revenue from recordings sales has decreased, so has the amount of money the recording industry is willing to invest in making them. It made good sense to invest $1m in making an album (and millions more to promote it), if you were going to make several tens of millions in record sales but it obviously doesn't make any sense if you're only going to get a few million in return. Floyd and other bands would spend months, as much as a year or more, in a world class studio to produce an album but world class studios are very expensive. Today, artists typically produce an album in just a few weeks or potentially longer if much of the work is done in relatively very cheap project/home studios. Today's basic recording technology is both better and far cheaper, enabling project studios to rival world class studios in this regard but NOT in regard to the wide variety of mics, high quality recording spaces or the engineering knowledge and experience to employ it all to it's best advantage. And, even when world class studios are used, the relatively tiny amount of studio time allowed forces compromises that would have been inconceivable/unacceptable to Floyd (and just about every other successful group in the '60's, '70's and '80's).

2. Because they don't have "so much money" from selling recordings. They have "so much money" from being celebrities (from celebrity product endorsements for example) and from live tours. Today, albums are effectively just the promotional material for the actual product (celebrityhood and live tours), while in Floyd's day it was the other way around, celebrityhood and live tours were the promotional material for the actual product, the albums.
2a. Going back to point #1, that's another contributing reason. The use of sounds/samples that are so highly processed they are barely recognisable started decades ago but proliferated in the later '90's with the falling revenue, the demise of the big commercial studios and the rise of the home/project studios. Genres/sub-genres evolved that were largely or almost entirely dependent on these types of sounds (EDM, hip-hop, drum & bass and others) and because these genres grew in popularity at a time when "the writing was on the wall" for the traditional recording industry, these types of sounds were inevitably subsumed by other artists and eventually, the mainstream. A good example was Amy Winehouse, effectively a traditional jazz/blues/soul singer but whose productions incorporated several stylistic elements of hip-hop production.

I used to believe i could hear more differences than I actually can. It wasn't just the file size that made me put all my CDs on my FiiO x3 as 320kbps Mp3s, it was that i could hear no or little difference. With a really good CD player, listening to it direct could well have a noticeable difference with my headphones compared to an Mp3 on my X3 in that case, but I think that will be more related to the quality of the device than the format. I don't think I did thourough enough testing such as ripping a disk as a wav or flac and listening to that and the same disk as a 320kbps mp3 on my X3. I almost wonder if I would notice a difference there now.
That's pretty much always the case, even with considerable experience and formal/professional training! We've ALL fallen into the trap of making fine adjustments we're sure we can hear, only to find out later that we couldn't hear them at all. I've certainly done that and I've never heard of any other professional sound/music engineer who hasn't. The necessity of not wasting time and many years experience doing it day in, day out, help the best engineers to avoid it most of the time. Consumers, even very serious hobbyists, really don't stand much chance but careful controlled testing (ABX for example) eliminates the issue and the more you do, the more you learn about what you can actually hear and the more you avoid the trap, but no one always avoids it, which is why science only accepts double blind testing/ABX.

G
 
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stonesfan129

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Bluetooth must just suck cause I swear I can tell a difference in the sound between files over Bluetooth and ones over a wired connection (both sources being the exact same FLAC file).
 
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bigshot

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There are different implementations of bluetooth. I can tell with older ones, but recently they've gotten a lot better.
 
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Blackwoof

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I can't tell 140kbps Opus from lossless 99.9% of the time. With modern codecs or at 192 ~ 320kbps lossy audio pretty much for all music 99.9% of the time. Which rings true with Lame MP3 at 192kbps VBR, Which can't tell either unless it a known killer sample.
 
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gimmeheadroom

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The way I look at it, storage is cheap. I ripped a ton of CDs to 128K mp3 years ago and I regretted it later as I got better gear. I can definitely hear artifacts at 128K. I am not sure about 192. I could not ten or 15 years ago but with the equipment I have now I probably could. Anyway, on general principles I'm only doing lossless rips now from now on. There is no reason not to keep the quality 100% whether you need it or not.
 
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Sam L

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The way I look at it, storage is cheap. I ripped a ton of CDs to 128K mp3 years ago and I regretted it later as I got better gear. I can definitely hear artifacts at 128K. I am not sure about 192. I could not ten or 15 years ago but with the equipment I have now I probably could. Anyway, on general principles I'm only doing lossless rips now from now on. There is no reason not to keep the quality 100% whether you need it or not.
agreed... compression artifacts are annoying. Best to go lossless from this point forward, even if I can't hear qualitative differences that easily between anything above 192 vbr
 
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Has anyone ever done this test?: https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can-you-hear-audio-quality

I've gotten 5/6, so I think there is some merit to FLAC vs 320, or maybe I just got lucky.
  1. We have no idea if its the same master. How did they create the files? They don't say.
  2. This is inherently wrong:
    Can you hear the difference? Take this quiz to find out. One hint: Turn your volume up.
    What you should be doing is playing it at your normal listening level - and seeing if you can tell a difference - not artificially raising it until you think you can.
  3. If you want to see if you can tell the difference - take a FLAC file, transcode it yourself, then set up a double blind. Instructions here:
    https://www.head-fi.org/threads/set...-guide-to-ripping-tagging-transcoding.655879/
    Its pretty old now but still holds true.
    For reference - aac192 is pretty transparent for me - but my entire library ripped at aac256, and I have the lossless files archived.
 
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gregorio

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Has anyone ever done this test?: https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can-you-hear-audio-quality
I've gotten 5/6, so I think there is some merit to FLAC vs 320, or maybe I just got lucky.
I took the test and got 3/6, so should "I think there is some merit to FLAC vs 320" half the time, or at least occasionally?

However, I just clicked randomly on the answers without even listening to the samples! :)

We have to be careful about statistics and how we interpret them, as it's all too easy to arrive at a false conclusion, which is why science has quite stringent rules about sample sizes and number of tests/samples. If I had taken the test seriously: I could have correctly eliminated the 128kbps sample sometimes, just randomly guessed between the lossless and 320, and then achieving 4/6 or even 5/6 would not have been particularly unlikely and I still wouldn't have ascertained anything useful about my ability (or lack of it) to discern FLAC vs 320.

If one wishes to rely less on luck, avoid making false assertions and be more scientific (which is certainly advisable in a sound Science forum!), there are free software tools available. Foobar with the ABX plugin for example.

G
 
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Has anyone ever done this test?: https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can-you-hear-audio-quality

I've gotten 5/6, so I think there is some merit to FLAC vs 320, or maybe I just got lucky.
I really struggle to tell which is actually the best one here. One thing I have noticed is that the background hiss seems more apparent on the higher bitrate version of "Tom's Diner", which was what made me guess it wrong. I actually selected 128 there. I'm a bit puzzled. When I got spotify premium, the bitrate of the tracks became 320kbps when they were previously on the standard version, they were 160. The difference was certainly noticeable. When my dad ripped all our CDs, i think there were first done as 128kbps oggs, then to make things more compatible with other devices as well as a sound improvement, they were done as 320kbps Mp3s. The difference here was also obvious.

I can normally quite easily tell these things apart if the bitrate is that different, so I'm wondering if my browser compresses the audio? Even on official music videos on youtube, they sound compressed compared to the same track on spotify. Nothing ever sounds that great in the browser to me which i don't think makes this test that realistic to test your ability to detect quality differences in music.
 
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Sam L

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I really struggle to tell which is actually the best one here. One thing I have noticed is that the background hiss seems more apparent on the higher bitrate version of "Tom's Diner", which was what made me guess it wrong. I actually selected 128 there. I'm a bit puzzled. When I got spotify premium, the bitrate of the tracks became 320kbps when they were previously on the standard version, they were 160. The difference was certainly noticeable. When my dad ripped all our CDs, i think there were first done as 128kbps oggs, then to make things more compatible with other devices as well as a sound improvement, they were done as 320kbps Mp3s. The difference here was also obvious.

I can normally quite easily tell these things apart if the bitrate is that different, so I'm wondering if my browser compresses the audio? Even on official music videos on youtube, they sound compressed compared to the same track on spotify. Nothing ever sounds that great in the browser to me which i don't think makes this test that realistic to test your ability to detect quality differences in music.
To be honest, I had difficulty telling the difference on any of these examples. Normally I can tell 128kbps mp3 from lossless immediately.
 
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The way I look at it, storage is cheap.
I have a very large library... at least a year and half worth of music. It's MUCH more efficient to reduce file sizes when working with a large library like that, and it makes backup simpler. I encode at AAC 256 VBR. It is audibly identical to lossless. The advantage is that I can quickly load up my phone or transfer large chunks of music without transcoding or waiting for a long time. For a smaller library, it's fine to just say to heck with it and go lossless, but that unnecessary bulk adds up when you start getting a lot of music.

The degree of artifacting depends on the music. Some music is easier to encode than others. At 128, there is a high end roll off in most encoders. That is going to be audible in the level of hiss. However at 192, I find that 99% music can be encoded cleanly. Codecs matter too. AAC > MP3 LAME > Fraunhofer MP3. You should always encode with VBR. It can only help and never hurts sound quality.

The best way to find out where the point of transparency lies is to do a controlled listening test. I have one that compares three different codecs at three different bitrates along with lossless. I'm happy to administer this test to anyone who is interested in finding out for themselves. Just PM me and let me know if you prefer FLAC or ALAC.
 
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The degree of artifacting depends on the music. Some music is easier to encode than others. At 128, there is a high end roll off in most encoders. That is going to be audible in the level of hiss. However at 192, I find that 99% music can be encoded cleanly. Codecs matter too. AAC > MP3 LAME > Fraunhofer MP3. You should always encode with VBR. It can only help and never hurts sound quality.
This why i don't see the gains with 128k with newer codecs. Lame MP3 is already transparent at 130kbps VBR, even with rock/metal/pop(on most stuff) and ambient 99% of the time. Heck their are some samples i have where AAC/Opus artifacts at 80 ~ 128kbps but V6/V5 sound fine with dark ambient.

At V0 it's 99.8% fine to my ears for anything i throw at it. But on a android phone Musepack at 200kbps is a king since it immune to tranform/mp3 artifacts, On harder to encode samples it will boost them to a average of 350 ~ 1200kbps since it has no frame limit.
 
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Hey guys my setup is a Hifiman edition X V2 and a ifi XDSD Dac. I've been using spoitfy for years as we get it free here with most phone plans. I'm trying out Tidal which costs $30 a month and I was expecting to hear a significant difference based on the file size compared to Spotify. Can anyone explain to me why there is no percievable difference?
 
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