Author Topic: MP3 vs. FLAC  (Read 8873 times)

drone on

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MP3 vs. FLAC
« on: January 17, 2012, 11:30:24 AM »
Relunctantly I've started downloading music out of necessity (for albums unavailable on CD) and for economic reasons (can't really afford to keep up with the volume of music I enjoy @ $20 a pop in many cases by the time you pay for CD plus shipping and other fees).  My question:

Is there a huge difference between MP3 files and "lossless" FLAC files?  So far I've only downloaded MP3 tracks off iTunes and they sound fine to me.  Is the MP3/FLAC difference noticeable, or just to people with super sensitive audiophile ears? 

mgriffin

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #1 on: January 17, 2012, 11:40:08 AM »
Not all MP3s are created equal. Most people would have a very hard time telling the difference between a highest-quality MP3 encode (320k LAME for example) and a FLAC, while a plain old 128k MP3 should have more obvious compression issues.

Another way of putting it is that FLAC should sound indistinguishable from CD audio (lossless compression being indistinguishable from the raw 44.1khz 16 bit digital audio on a CD) so you can rip one of your audio CDs to various MP3 quality levels and compare them versus the original CD, and see what your own threshold is for hearing the difference.

Many people report being unable to hear even the difference between 128k MP3 and CD, which is sort of surprising to me, while others report clear and obvious differences between 320k MP3 and CD.
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APK

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2012, 12:10:45 PM »
A Flac version of a CD is of course lossless compression, so it is CD quality.
But MP3 is lossy, and comes in various qualities.

The lower the quality of the compression the smaller the resulting file (which was the original point of MP3 files). For CD similarity the range really begins at 128kbs, which is close but has differences in various frequencies with various musics. But once you get up to 196kbs it can be quite difficult to tell from a CD ... many people hear no difference. Up at 320kbs most people would certainly fail a blind test for noticing any difference between it and a CD if the compression is done properly (slowly).

Some people also sell variable bit rate MP3 tracks. This is when the depth of compression varies with the content of the music. It is neat to watch the change in compression of a VBR MP3 as it plays because you can see what aspects of the music are more difficult to compress.
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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2012, 09:07:50 PM »
To be honest I've never been able to tell the difference between a LAME Encoded Mp3 @ 320kbps and CD or Flac....  Anything lower than 320kbps and the difference is (to me) obvious, especially cymbals on a drum track.

mgriffin

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #4 on: January 18, 2012, 08:45:46 AM »
I'm pleased to hear others saying a well-encoded 320k MP3 sounds the same to them as a CD/FLAC, because that's always been the case for me, and I've doubted most of those who claim to "clearly" hear the differences.
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APK

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #5 on: January 18, 2012, 10:51:45 AM »
Yep, I can't tell the difference between 320kbs and a CD/flac version either.

The reason for a properly controlled blind test to test this is that the compared files
must be listened to at exactly the same volume, otherwise the louder one will
usually seem better quality than the quieter, because volume affects how we perceive
frequencies. And it is not so easy to set this up.

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mgriffin

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #6 on: January 18, 2012, 11:01:11 AM »
I agree, but I've seen many people argue that the differences are SO obvious that anyone who can't hear them must be completely tone-deaf.

I believe most of what is discarded in a well-encoded 320k MP3 is inaudible, either very high or very low frequency information. I don't doubt that there ARE some audio engineers with highly trained ears and esoteric playback devices who might be able to hear differences with SOME material, but I would wager a large amount of money that this is much less common (in other words, that the sonic differences in the human-audible range are less obvious) than some people claim.
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drone on

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #7 on: January 18, 2012, 11:10:13 AM »
The files on iTunes are 128k?

APK

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2012, 11:17:06 AM »
iTunes was 128kbs (equivalent) when they first started, but they increased the quality at some point to around 256kbs I believe.
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petekelly

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2012, 01:13:59 PM »
Something I find odd in these fidelity comparisons, is the nature of ambient music in comparison to say, acoustic instruments /  vocal recordings.

I can see purists having a problem with less than loss-less audio for certain types of music, but I think ambient is an odd one in that a large amount of 'electronic' sound is used in its production and while high fidelity is desirable (in my view), I'm wondering what the detrimental effects of 320 kbps mp3s might be in the case of ambient ?
Soundstage, stereo issues, high frequency distortions etc ?
« Last Edit: January 18, 2012, 01:19:58 PM by petekelly »

El culto

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #10 on: January 18, 2012, 08:07:31 PM »
Something I find odd in these fidelity comparisons, is the nature of ambient music in comparison to say, acoustic instruments /  vocal recordings.

I can see purists having a problem with less than loss-less audio for certain types of music, but I think ambient is an odd one in that a large amount of 'electronic' sound is used in its production and while high fidelity is desirable (in my view), I'm wondering what the detrimental effects of 320 kbps mp3s might be in the case of ambient ?
Soundstage, stereo issues, high frequency distortions etc ?

Iīve enjoyed reading this post  :D

Well, people enjoy to hear birds in the middle of the night!  ;D

I made a test on Cubase Forum some years ago...3 mp3 files...

3 files, titled as A, B, C while the order was mixed . No one was knowing the compressing. I used 3 compression rates (128, 192, 256)

Then i ask the people to tell me the order, starting from best quality.

The most funny thing of all was, that no one of the "big speaker" and "i definately can hear this guys" in the thread actually told their opinion...hahahahha....after some months of voting the result was a pure mix of anything. There was NO tendency for a specific file.

But you know, itīs nice to hear birds in the night, because then there is a reason to discuss and complain.....

Cheers,
Tomas
« Last Edit: January 18, 2012, 08:10:27 PM by El culto »

jdh

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #11 on: January 18, 2012, 10:17:30 PM »
Interesting.iTunes is indeed 256.I read an article in a hi fi mag that was comparing software conversation methods all to flac or wav and they could hear the difference in a blind test,this was cd to flac not cd to mp3 128, hmmnnnn.
There are many different types of mp3 conversation systems as mentioned,variable,etc..mostly at 256 which is the most common,most likely as iTunes uses it.
It also depends on what type of system you are listening to.On cheap ear pods,in the car,cheap mini home systems,very hard to hear the difference.I can hear the difference between mp3 320 and Flac but I am in the audio business.
I admit that at 320 and Wav or flac or lossless,not much of a difference.

APK

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #12 on: January 19, 2012, 06:49:28 AM »
"I read an article in a hi fi mag that was comparing software conversation methods all to flac or wav and they could hear the difference in a blind test,this was cd to flac not cd to mp3 128, hmmnnnn."

This is kinda silly given that flac compression is lossless and therefore identical to the CD audio once decompressed.
Wouldn't be the first strange claim read in hi fi mags though ;-)
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jkn

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #13 on: January 19, 2012, 09:09:41 AM »
FLAC can be converted back to an identical twin to the original CD or WAV it was made from. 

Lossless is better if you have the space. 

For portability - I prefer 320 just because - but half of my ipod is filled with 256 or less due to buying from Amazon or iTunes.   I can most definitely tell a 128 if I'm a/b ing them. 

90% of my listening is on a decent speaker dock at low volume at work... with surrounding ambient noise (especially white noise from server fans through a door and heat/air conditioning.   At this volume - it doesn't truly matter what bitrate it is...  except I still notice something missing in my 128's of some albums I need to replace.

I pretty much only buy files anymore - and only take a cd when an artist really wants me to see the packaging (which are usually promos or freebies).   
John Koch-Northrup .: jkn [AT] johei.com .: owner / artist .: http://relaxedmachinery.com .: http://twitter.com/jkn .: http://flickr.com/johei

jkn

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #14 on: January 19, 2012, 09:11:47 AM »
APK - those same hi fi magazines will also tell you that gold tipped, titanium alloy tips lovingly hand crafted in a clean room and wrapped in only the most succulent of rubber coatings will sound infinitely better than any old cable.

;-D
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Altus

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #15 on: January 19, 2012, 04:54:01 PM »
Something else to consider when purchasing music online:  Think of the future.
Ten years from now, who knows what kind of formats will exist.  If you purchase your music in a lossless codec, you can compress that to any format without any additional damage being done to the audio.. vs MP3 or AAC to another compressed format.
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Antdude

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #16 on: January 20, 2012, 11:51:13 AM »
Something else to consider when purchasing music online:  Think of the future.
Ten years from now, who knows what kind of formats will exist.  If you purchase your music in a lossless codec, you can compress that to any format without any additional damage being done to the audio.. vs MP3 or AAC to another compressed format.

I wonder about this as well, but as an artist whose work is mostly in the digital domain, how do you plan not only to protect your music, but its very existence? We see how Bach's or Mozart's work has lived on for centuries, but how do you safeguard your work that may be only a hard drive crash away from non-existence? How does it live on in the future if it has no physical manifestation, i.e. a CD?

I was just in my office and I heard a ruckus.

ffcal

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #17 on: January 20, 2012, 12:20:54 PM »
I think Antdude makes a good point.  It may be asking too much to expect every digital listener to back up their libraries as they go.  Only the technically inclined and diehard listeners would be likely to keep doing this.

If a virtual book fell in the forest, would you hear it fall?

I wouldn't be surprised if, years from now, those artists working purely in the digital domain who have a lasting influence end up reissuing old digital works in a physical format.

Forrest

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #18 on: January 20, 2012, 02:48:21 PM »
I don't think there is any good reason why digital copies should not last as long, or longer than material copies.

Backing stuff up is not only sensible, but is also becoming much more prevalent with the advent of online (cloud) copies and general archive sites (like the place many/most internet free labels use).

Bach and Mozart have lasted because of physical scores being copied and distributed. But of course lots (and I mean a LOT) of music by composers has been lost through the centuries because of those scores being lost or destroyed. And remember, its not musical performances of Bach that have survived the centuries, only the notation of how to play his music. The performances are on media from the 20th century. And in many ways digital media is the most permanent in that it does not wear out.

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ffcal

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Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
« Reply #19 on: January 20, 2012, 04:27:12 PM »
I think the means for digital media are definitely improving (cloud storage, flash media), but they don't seem to be there yet as a permanent storage medium.  What do you do if your cloud goes out of business, or if you don't want to continue making monthly patyments? I think that a manufactured CD is most robust than an LP,CDR or a digital file on the average user's iPod or iPhone, both in terms of durability and the possibility of being accidentally erased or thrown away.  It would seem to be easier to delete a digital file than to throw something physical away, though I guess if the CD pile became too large, the pendulum could swing the other way.

Forrest