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No difference between 128 and 320.

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by xinze, Sep 21, 2012.
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  1. Xinze
    I want to point out beforehand that I have perfect hearing, don't listen to loud music, no history of ear problems, etc. I'm still a teenager also, so my hearing should be better for that fact.
    Anyways, I have tested this on my Computer + Asus Xonar STX and iPhone -> FiiO E11 using both the Monster Miles Davis Tribute, Monster Turbine Pro Gold, Beyer DT770, and Beyer DT990.
    I failed around half of the blind AB tests, and honestly could not find a difference. I have had multiple friends who has tried this also, and they only did slightly better, if not the same as I did. I know I don't have the best gear in the world, but certainly, shouldn't differentiating 128 and 320 in blind tests be 100% easily? I tested on several volumes, different times of the day, and even in the dark (It enhances hearing a bit, really.)
    Especially since most of the "OMG 128 is garbage" comes from people who have similar if not inferior gear to me. Even the cymbals, which some claim to be "painfully bad" on 128, can only be differentiated by playing the specific part repeatedly on both mp3 clips. My music selection was mostly Lincoln Park with some Adele, using CD Ripped 320 and online downloaded 128.
    Can someone explain this? Because this is clearly not a night and day difference, even for a couple teenagers who have perfectly fine hearing.
  2. El_Doug Contributor
    The trick is to ignore all the liars who delude themselves into "clearly telling the difference between 320kbps mp3 and FLAC."  Indeed, modern compression algorithms are very very good, and you're not supposed to hear a difference. 
    However, 128 is low enough that the potential for artifacting is great, especially in the highs - as you noted, cymbals often turn to mush, for one.  Note that Lincoln Park is notoriously poorly recorded, and even Adele's lovely voice is killed by heavy compression and limiting in the mastering process.  That is to say, a slightly grainy turd is often indistinguishable from a turd (unless you've been eating a lot of corn). 
    Still, 192 kbps is 100% transparent in 99% of cases, and I doubt anyone can reliably distinguish 256k from FLAC unless the particular recording happens to have one glaringly obvious spot where compression fails, so-called "killer tracks." 
    Props to you for running the experiment, and being honest with yourself about your results.  This kind of thinking will give you greater listening pleasure in the long run, as well as save you TONS of cash :) 
  3. Xinze
    I Lol'ed at the corn comparison [​IMG].
    Ironic thing is, in one of a test, the female vocals on the 320s were so piercing that they were almost unbearable, and the 128 calmed it down and made it a bit easier to listen to. But even trying my hardest, I can't make a difference with the soundstage, the "airiness", and "crispness" of the music at all.
    Also, I never knew about Linkin Park's bad recording. I thought that their earlier albums without most of the electronics should come in clean, but apparently not. Do you know any modern rock artists (1990+) who records without messing with the original sound?
    Would this mean that people who compare 320 to FLAC, 320 encoded by A vs encoded by B, FLAC vs ALAC, FLAC1 vs FLAC2, and that sort to be all talking from placebo? Of course, unless their $500 amp is exponentially better than my $200 STX, their $500 Dennons wipe the floor with my $200 Beyers, and their hearing is superhuman.
  4. Eisenhower
    I would say that it is possible to tell 128 apart from 320. It isn't easy (as you know), but you can. Audio engineers can tell them apart fairly consistently although it does depend on the type of music being played. They are very used to that type of critical listening however
    320 and loseless is much more difficult.
    This is interesting:
    at around 19:55 they play all the sounds that are missing from an mp3 (by subtracting the mp3 track from the CD track).
    Also a double blind study was performed on highschool students by Harmon showing that they prefer CD's over mp3:
  5. AnakChan Moderator
    That's disappointing to hear. I thought with vocals like hers hires would be awesome. Was searching high and low to see if there was a hires in HDTracks, or SACD format.
    Edit: Sorry, I didn't contribute to this thread.
    I found I had varying experiences on low bit rates vs high bitrates (not in any particular order) :-
    1. depends on original mastering
    2. depends on individual's hearing
    3. depends on audio equipment used (e.g try extremes of say earbuds vs "audiophile" headphones)
    4. depends on version of software used for ripping (I've got a separate thread going where at least to my ears, I'm hearing a difference between iTunes 4.x ripped 160kbps vs 6.x & current versions rips of 160kbps of the same CD and I think Apple's changed the ripping algorithm)
  6. Lord Voldemort
    Placebo and many categories of bias are prevalent throughout any part of the audio industry. 
  7. stv014
    "Night and day difference" is usually audiophile hyperbole, and tends to disappear under controlled conditions. It is possible to tell apart a 128 kbps MP3 file from the original uncompressed audio with many, if not most types of music, but you need to listen carefully, and know what types of artifacts to look for (such as pre-echo at sharp attacks). Do not expect easy and quick success in most blind tests. However, once you find a difference, it can easily be identified again in subsequent tests, and you may even score a 100% result.
    Of course, all the above assumes that the MP3 file was created with a good and up to date encoder that was used properly with the optimal settings. Random files downloaded from the internet may have been poorly encoded, or re-encoded multiple times (for example converted to 128 kbps, then to 320 kbps, and then back to 128 kbps, accumulating the quality degradation).
    Your sound card and the DT990 are fine for hearing MP3 artifacts.
  8. xnor
    Try different tracks, different genres and give it some time. Don't do too many trials.
    As for the equipment needed to hear artifacts: very low-end is enough once you know what to listen for. I'm talking portable player or onboard audio without dedicated amp and PX100s or even ear buds.
  9. Xinze
    So can I safely assume from the responses that this is a case where bliss from ignorance may be the best solution? I'm starting to get the idea that many people are purposely listening for the defects of a sound file, instead of listening to enjoy the quality of the song itself.
    Because you have to actually learn to tell apart the small differences, would it not be more logical to avoid this knowledge like a disease, in order to save yourself hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in equipment and higher quality music in the future? When you do learn/master the differences between the two, music would become more of a job than leisure. As you get better, more problems are found, you get higher quality music, then you blame your equipment for being unable to find the faults, so you upgrade your gear. This would loop until you run out of money, go insane, become satisfied (unlikely), or finally give up?
    I'm not seeing the purpose of the amp-upgrading, dac-upgrading, source-upgrading unless there's an obvious improvement to your music, something you don't actually have to learn to hear.
  10. Zenja
    A lot of the claims about 128kbps likely stem back to the time where 128kbps truly was terrible. Somewhere around 10 years ago I was downloading mp3s, initially without knowing much about bitrate, quality, or such. Before long I realized the 128kbps encoded mp3s were trash. Since then, compression algorithms have much improved and the difference is much less.
    eahm and joshwalnut like this.
  11. xnor
    Well I know that a rainbow is nothing more than the prismatic effect of moist air but I still find them to be beautiful and don't think about dispersion of light when I see one. Similarly I don't listen for artifacts when I listen to music.
    You should have noticed that ABX testing requires quite some concentration and uses up energy. Listening to music, for me, does the opposite. [​IMG]
    Eee Pee, El_Doug and Brooko like this.
  12. bigshot
    The problem with digital artifacting is that it isn't a natural sort of sound. I can tolerate a steady hiss or slight crackle at a much higher level than the weird whistling and outer space gurgling of digital noise.
  13. TMRaven
    Pay attention to the treble areas of a recording mostly, that's the range where you can easily hear artifacting at low bitrate.  Treble will sound like an underwater effect.  It's mostly training your ears to listen more critically.  I can get 128 vs 320 right a good amount of time, but the difference is still subtle.  320 vs lossless? 16bit vs 24bit?  Forget about it.  Hope you do not go down that road, or get involved with those types of people for the peace of your mind.
  14. adamlr
    thank you for this post, it was just what i was looking for. id like to add a related question, if i may.
    would the Impedance make any difference? i know that whether or not Impedance makes any difference at all is also a source of much debate, but still, would a higher Impedance be less "forgiving" and make the difference more apparent? would finding these small difference between bitrates be easyer with 250 ohm cans? how about 600? 
  15. Xinze
    I'm assuming that the higher ohms just resist the hissing noise more, and different ohms versions may sound different.
    But higher ohm headphones amped do sound better than lower ohm ones unamped.
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