OTHER THINGS IN THE WORLD THAN MUSIC > Computers, Internet and Technology

MP3 vs. FLAC

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drone on:
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? 

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.

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.

| broken harbour |:
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.

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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