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Poll: Audible Difference between FLAC and 320kbps MP3?

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by el_doug, Aug 10, 2009.
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  1. anetode
    The USB version of the new Beatles box set includes both 24bit/44.1khz flac & 320kbps lame 3.98 cbr. So, while going through and re-tagging the mp3 files, I was listening to their flac counterparts. Throughout Revolver I was hearing details I've never noticed, even recording errors. Wow, I thought, the new mixes really do take advantage of the expanded dynamic range. After Revolver I was about to put the next album on when I noticed that I had accidentally queued up the mp3 version instead of the flac one.

    So, yes, I've been able to hear small differences, mainly vocal distortion, between lossless and mp3, but even in serious listening I wasn't able to tell the difference with the Beatles. Although these are forty-year-old recordings originally mixed in mono with "kid at the candy store"-style gusto and limited dynamic range.
     
  2. Patrick82
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by krmathis /img/forum/go_quote.gif
    So the consumed cpu power is more important than the data bits it decode? [​IMG]



    Yes, FLAC playback or upsampling makes it worse. This is the reason why my dCS Elgar Plus DAC and dCS Verdi Encore sounded so bad. It's because they upsample to 2.8224Mhz. The upsampling itself makes it crazy silky smooth but it adds edginess/harshness on top of the signal because of extra wattage = more AC noise. I could not fix this problem in any way. I found that using EMU0404 USB with an undervolted Asrock 330 nettop gave purer and better sound. However, the EMU isn't shielded (plastic case) nor grounded and it's very light and sensitive to vibrations, so I need to use tweaks to compensate for those flaws. I use RGC-24 Ground Conditioners, Magix levitation feet and power conditioning. Overall it's better than dCS and cheaper as well.
     
  3. leeperry
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Patrick82 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
    I found that using EMU0404 USB with an undervolted Asrock 330 nettop gave purer and better sound. However, the EMU isn't shielded (plastic case) nor grounded and it's very light and sensitive to vibrations, so I need to use tweaks to compensate for those flaws. I use RGC-24 Ground Conditioners, Magix levitation feet and power conditioning. Overall it's better than dCS and cheaper as well.



    wow, great advices here! thanks Patrick [​IMG]
     
  4. eruditass
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by jawang /img/forum/go_quote.gif
    It completely depends on the song, as well as the quality of the encoding

    On fast songs with very high vocals and lots of instruments playing (the best example would be jpop songs) it is often extremely easy to tell, as there is a usually very noticable clipping on vocals. A popular example would be "float on" by modest mouse, if you listen to an mp3 recording (even if it is 320kbs) you will hear breakup in the singer's voice during the chorus, but it doesn't occur on my cd recording or on my .flac copy

    And btw, the main reason why I prefer .flac over mp3s is because it is a "safer" bet. Many many many "320 kb/s" mp3s have had terrible quality in my experience (worse than 320kb/s quality), especially those encoded with a VBR. FLAC files from reliable sources have never given me any trouble




    I'm curious as to the clipping occurs when you run the files through MP3GAIN. Usually when it runs out of bits it doesn't clip (typical manual clipping actually requires more high frequency components and bits.) but rather removing the high frequency overtones and components

    And yeah, if you get a bad encoder, 320 Kbps can be notably worse! This is why I tend to go with VBR as it is usually a good LAME encode. Do you know which encoder gave you terrible quality with VBR (you can find a program that reads that info if it was saved)
     
  5. Patrick82
    I forgot ERS Paper! But with ERS Paper the improvements become bigger the more you wrap in your system. If you wrap only the EMU the improvement will be subtle (I just tried it). But if you have already wrapped everything else, the improvement will be huge. It's the same thing with Magix, the last component you levitate will give the biggest improvement because it was a bottleneck. I have done this experiment many times, it's always the last thing you tweak which gives the craziest improvement. With Magix and ERS Paper, it's everything or nothing. I used 100+ sheets of ERS Paper to cover everything.
     
  6. DanD
    For me it's between I can't tell the difference and FLAC sounded superior. It's all down to the encoder and the type of music IMO. There is type of music that the encoder just suck at even at 320kbps, eg the classical genre. If the enconder did it's job properly I can't tell the difference, if it didn't I ussually can tell straight away once I listen to the original.

    That's just the problem with lossy compression, sometimes it worked, sometimes it doesn't. Lossy video compression is the same.
     
  7. donovansmith Contributor
    I find well encoded MP3s and AAC files to be quite difficult to distinguish from the uncompressed or lossless compressed source. AAC in general seems to be more transparent than MP3 in general, especially given that pre-echo is less of an issue with AAC. The LAME project has done an excellent job trying to tackle MP3's issues though and made it a quite close competitor to AAC. For me, 256Kbps AAC is more than good enough and I think it'd still be just fine even if I had audio equipment that was much higher-end than what I have now.
     
  8. donovansmith Contributor
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by anetode /img/forum/go_quote.gif
    The USB version of the new Beatles box set includes both 24bit/44.1khz flac & 320kbps lame 3.98 cbr. So, while going through and re-tagging the mp3 files, I was listening to their flac counterparts. Throughout Revolver I was hearing details I've never noticed, even recording errors. Wow, I thought, the new mixes really do take advantage of the expanded dynamic range. After Revolver I was about to put the next album on when I noticed that I had accidentally queued up the mp3 version instead of the flac one.

    So, yes, I've been able to hear small differences, mainly vocal distortion, between lossless and mp3, but even in serious listening I wasn't able to tell the difference with the Beatles. Although these are forty-year-old recordings originally mixed in mono with "kid at the candy store"-style gusto and limited dynamic range.




    I noticed that you noted that the FLACs were 24-bit. That's a significantly higher resolution than MP3, which is supposed to have a dynamic range and resolution equivalent to 16-bits. I'd be curious as to the results if you converted the FLACs into 16-bit files and compared again. I imagine the 16-bit versions would be much closer to the MP3s, if not indistinguishable.
     
  9. leeperry
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Patrick82 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
    I forgot ERS Paper!



    riiight [​IMG]
     
  10. Patrick82
  11. tmars78
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by swbf2cheater /img/forum/go_quote.gif
    It really depends on how the song was made in the studio. Some songs just sound awesome regardless of which you use, some don't. IMO nothing beats lossless WMA :\
    Why bother use flac at all? Idk really. Im too lazy to find a freeware and actually use it to rip or convert my music to FLAC. Im just fine with lossless or the highest quality WMA I can get.




    I am in the same boat as you. Maybe we're the same people. I use WMA lossless, and I cannot hear a difference between that and listening to the cd. I have plenty of hdd space, so how large the files are really isn't a problem.

    And I did that test on that one link where they asked to tell the difference between 320 and 128 and I got it right. I do not have the best setup, but I easily could tell the difference.
     
  12. Stoin
    I cannot tell a difference 99% of the time.

    That's because there isn't too much of a difference between them for a lot of music, and much of the time I'm not listening that closely. However it's that 1% that means I keep all my music lossless.

    A difference I notice a lot more easily is CD to High-res. Those 24-bit 96kHz/192kHz files instantly sound better with certain recordings (Neil Young live, acoustic recordings; well recorded classical...)
     
  13. EddieE
    I've only ever done a close comparison with WAV and LAME VBR MP3, and I really couldn't tell the difference. Maybe my ears aren't as good as some others here.

    I'd been listening to an album quite regularly in WAV for over a month and knew it pretty well then got around to ripping LAME MP3 and it sounded 100% identical first time, going back and forth between the two versions, still identical.

    If there's a difference, it's too subtle for me to hear. I only have lossless now of CDs I lend to people, in case they never come back to me.
     
  14. mabus627
    depending on what im listening to i can distinguish between the two fairly well, but this only occurred when listening to Yoko Kanno's GITS:SAC:2nd GIG OST
     
  15. PiSkyHiFi
    I am in the "I can only pick 'em at 192 or lower" category and I find it a little disconcerting that some want the maximum linearity you get with FLAC/WAV anyway.

    The linearity present is due to the way we want preserve the signal, without realising that this is an interpretation of the original sound in the first place.

    If the original sound is a live acoustic environment, the placement of the mic is what is represented by ultra-linearity. Stereo micing is an attempt to capture a "I am in the room" experience to bring to your ears, so spatial positioning is important, however much can go wrong here in terms of getting the signal to perfectly match someone sitting in the room sitting perfectly still in exactly one spot - only when the recording has those properties covered does the question of ultra-linearity become important. Some may be aware that losing linearity is not necessarily a less true reproduction of the original, but they just like it linear anyway.

    I don't like ultra linear, I know if I was in the room, I wouldn't be sitting perfectly still, I would be getting different ambient reflections whenever I moved from the unique objects that fill the space and locations of sound sources - I do not want to reproduce all of this linearly, it would not be a true representation of my desired sound experience.

    So, I am saying that FLAC is ultra-linear, but that is not the way I want my sound experience anyway - its too artificial. Encoding to high rate MP3 may drop some information, but if this information is not a true representation of that original sound, then you are losing information that came with a high degree of uncertainty anyway.

    Basically, maybe losing some ultralinear properties could place you in a more approximate location in the room for acoustic recordings, which maybe considered a more accurate representation of the original sound.

    Its true that if you have a few mics set up and you use math to convert to the frequency without compression, you could wear a VR headphone headset that reproduces a linear signal from the carefully combined frequencies of all sources. You can't do this without a frequency domain interpretation, since it is arguably a more representative format of sound.

    The linear interpretation is the aberration to an acoustic recording, unless you intend that no objects in the room move at all.

    So, I quite like the interpretation high rate MP3 gives to some recordings, and would consider it a more accurate representation of the original environment given spatial uncertainty maybe desirable.

    As for electronic recordings and artificially created stereo spaces, well, its just how I feel about it that matters, not how linear the signal is.

    High rate mp3s - the frequencies you can possibly hear are all there, its not as if just because the file size is so much smaller, its somehow less true - as if making the linear filesizes bigger would continually gain more information about the original source.

    end rant - give me full spectrum sound with accurate voicing and some spatial sense with a little uncertainty to it and I'm there!
     
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