An mp3 Is An mp3 Is An mp3?

Cognitive Daily is carrying out an online poll to determine just how audible the fluctuation in quality is between mp3′s that have different encodings:

I created three different versions of two song clips — 64, 128, and 256 kbps MP3 format. Then I re-encoded all of them at 256 kbps so the files are all the same size. Can you identify which recording sounds better? Is there a difference between the listening skills of “audiophiles” and ordinary listeners? Now we’ll find out.

There have been numerous mp3-vs-lossless debates here and elsewhere, so I’m quite curious to see the results of this test. To participate, keep your ears and headset at the ready and click here. The results should be posted at Cognitive Daily next Friday, November 30.

Via Duncan.

24 Responses to “An mp3 Is An mp3 Is An mp3?”

  1. bernard says:

    I’m not smart enough to know. Musicians play , peope listen.
    There are – linked to music- three devices:
    - production : musical instruments et all
    - distribution: audio devices
    - probably most important is the human capacity to hear & understand music. To reproduce, to decode, etc. Good book on that is : Oliver Sacks – Musicophilia,http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15472815,
    on you tube : http://youtube.com/watch?v=vgF-Emmtd9s

  2. Balint says:

    Err… does this coment have anything to do with mp3 quality?….

  3. urbangraffito says:

    I store my music in a lossless format, but listen to it in mp3 format (I don’t know why, I just do).

  4. Roland says:

    “bernard” seems to be a kind of smart ass all over the place, Balint. He loves to give other people lessons on nearly every topic which is posted here. Probably he has nothing else to do, or he doen´t have a life anyway. Get a life, “bernard”! Your´s seems to be a pity!

  5. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    Roland Says:
    November 25th, 2007 at 9:46 am
    “bernard” seems to be a kind of smart ass all over the place, Balint. He loves to give other people lessons on nearly every topic which is posted here.

    Back in 1990, a very good friend of mine made a gift to me of two great words that have served me well, and which I have never forgotten: shut up.

  6. Harmless Ted says:

    My favourite two words: blow job :-)

  7. bernard says:

    Bernard is my real first name. Nothing to hide.
    I actually have a very good life. I have a good job, my employers higly respect me for what I’m doing. Partly because I’m a workaholic.
    On the hobby side: I’m interested in music. Since +/- 40 years. And as my 5 children now all have left the parental house” I happen to have more time for my beloved hobby. And I like FZ music very much.
    Actually I’m gathering elements for an e book on music. Might take 5 to 10 years. I don’t know yet how it might start. I’m still very puzzled. I keep reading, listening, etc.
    In case you feel like being abused, just tell me. I’ll stop commenting, right away. I have a lot of respect for musical bloggers( and autonomous radio stations) , as they will prove to be the most future oriented & forward looking. They’re announcing the shape of things to come. Good to see that when you care about people ( and your own children).
    The intention behind the upcoming book is not at all to earn some money ( it’ll be available for free, just as my first e book ). It’s about discovering new things & ideas. How can I be more honest?

  8. Tony Z says:

    I’ve always felt that 128 was obvious, 192 less so but you can still tell in the cymbals, but 256 and 320 are more or less indistinguishable.
    That said, I believe it was apparent which were the inferior mp3s in that test.
    My disclosure is that I’m a guitarist for 7 years, I’ve recorded music (though no VOC submissions, sorry, Barry! I didn’t deem it worthy enough) and I’ve listened to many, many, many mp3s. Enough to tell the difference between their encoding it would seem.

  9. Maroual says:

    Between 256 and 320 kbps, I could not tell exactly. But it seems this might depend on the codec version (especially if it’s old). For instance it was reported that a version of Lame sounded worse @256 kbps, but this bug has been fixed by now.
    Whatever I made a series of blind tests with a friend a few years ago. The results show that we could distinguish a CD and a 320 kbps mp3 in almost 100% of the cases.
    Another thing, I am not certain that a difference can be heard on every sound device. And if someone’s system is not capable of rendering mp3s properly above 128 kbps, this person will very likely declare that 128 kbps = CD quality.
    I bet that this test will probably reveal that everyday people do not hear the difference with their motherboard integrated sound device. But I could be wrong…

  10. Roland says:

    Well “urbangraffito”, why didn´t you listen to your very good friend of yours and the gift he gave to you with these two great words. Even in 2007 they will serve you well. And try to never forget them: “Shut up”.

  11. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    Roland: as the guy who runs this shack, I tell nobody to “shut up” — some “On Topic”-ness is appreciated though…

  12. scott says:

    You damn kids ALL better shut the hell up!
    Don’t make me pull this blog over!

  13. giantalbinopenguin says:

    Hehehe, I don’t see what the problems is… I got this scroll bar I use if something bores me…
    Personally, I don’t have a problem with Bernard’s diversions, if they look interesting I read ‘em, if not I don’t. Same with any other post.
    Come on, don’t scroll past me…
    Oh, you already did.
    B*****ds

  14. Roland says:

    Barry’s Imaginary Publisher: I let myself go. I´m sorry!

  15. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    Roland Says:
    November 25th, 2007 at 4:48 pm
    Well “urbangraffito”, why didn´t you listen to your very good friend of yours and the gift he gave to you with these two great words. Even in 2007 they will serve you well. And try to never forget them: “Shut up”.

    Roland, I apologize if my comment was in any way construed as directed to you or anyone at KUR. I simply meant to suggest that at times it is better to keep quiet than to talk (advice to which I haven’t always kept in the past, until that very good friend put me straight).

  16. urbangraffito says:

    I am not an audiophile, but I have long preferred anolog recordings over their digital counterparts. They just seem to be more vibrant. Perhaps I’m still stuck in the age of vinyl, but those recordings seem a lot closer to the artist’s intent than many of the subsequent CD reproductions, regardless whether 64, 128, and 256 kbps MP3 format.
    Whaddya think, bernard?

  17. Roland says:

    urbangraffito: You are absolutely right. Once again: Sorry!

  18. Duncan says:

    It took me along time to come around to CDs. They sounded far too harsh, too clinical; the technology got in the way of the music. Over the years people got better at working with the technology and they started to sound better. Alas I no longer have a vinyl copy to compare with but I like to think that the digitally remastered James Brown at the Apollo is better than the original version.
    Today engineers complain that young bands want their music mixed so that it sounds best on an iPod as an mp3.
    In a few years this will be the norm for a generation and all that old fashioned CD/Vinyl stuff will sound all wrong to them.
    http://allensblog.typepad.com/allensblog/2007/05/fidelity-vs-con.html

  19. bernard says:

    Urban, I prefer CDs. I keep buying CDs in record shops. Very good sound quality.
    However 1,5 year ago I bought an i Pod. The reason for that? Many ( young & other) artists put their ( very good ) music availalable via downloads ( for free or after you’ve payed). If you do not have mp3 technology to listen to music, you miss a lot nowadays.

  20. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    bernard Says:
    November 26th, 2007 at 12:21 pm
    Urban, I prefer CDs. I keep buying CDs in record shops. Very good sound quality.
    However 1,5 year ago I bought an i Pod. The reason for that? Many ( young & other) artists put their ( very good ) music availalable via downloads ( for free or after you’ve payed). If you do not have mp3 technology to listen to music, you miss a lot nowadays.

    I have a very large library of CDs (they are a great storage medium for music as compared to vinyl) and have also witnessed their development in sound quality since their inception. I also listen to much of my music in mp3 format (though I have to wonder if it is the artists’ intent to have their music listened to via an mp3 player and those ear-tight earphones as opposed to speakers). Yet when it comes to Frank Zappa’s music, especially the 70s era, and the original Mothers of Invention recordings, modern mp3s just don’t stand up to the original vinyl recordings (both for their vibrancy of sound and for their musical intent), at least in my opinion.

  21. Roland says:

    The CD dynamic range has a limitation anyway, everyone knows that. And the MP3 compression is as old as the birth of the CD (Fraunhofer Institute, Germany).
    My ears think: from 160 kbps onwards the quality seems to be alright for occasional listening of “undynamic” music – like Pop or Rock music. But “dynamic” music, like Jazz or Classical music for instance, needs definetely a higher kbps – rate, say 192 kbps up to 320 kbps, for the sake of fragile solo instruments.
    And as mentioned above, it strongly depends on the algorithm which created the MP3 files – and it strongly depends on the hardware, you play them on!
    When the CD became the data storage device for music, it didn´t sound very good at all for my ears – as mentionend by Duncan before – harsh and clinical. Especially when there was the direct comparison between the same record on vinyl and CD. Vinyl always won in the beginning. Very often the releases of music were just 1:1 copies of the vinyl onto CD – without any mastering etc. to the limitations of a CD. But this became better and better every year – the industry, the producers learned their studio lessons, maserting lessons and from a certain point on, I prefered the CD: easier to handle, no audible hiss, no possible scratches etc.!
    But compare – for example – “Sheik Yerbouti” or “You Are What You Is” on Vinyl / CD and the Vinyl still wins! But listen to a copy of “Sheik Yerbouti” on the EMI label or the remixed version of “You Are What You Is”, or a AU 20 version of “One Size Fits All” or “Apostrophe”. The CD sounds as good as vinyl or even better. So what I want to say is: it depends.
    What I still miss in the CD age are the large LP record covers. It was nice to sit down and listen to the music, while having the LP cover in your hand, looking at the pictures, looking at the lyrics. Kind of a meditation, just concentrating to the artist. That´s different with the tiny CD booklet

  22. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    Roland Says:
    November 28th, 2007 at 2:22 pm
    What I still miss in the CD age are the large LP record covers. It was nice to sit down and listen to the music, while having the LP cover in your hand, looking at the pictures, looking at the lyrics. Kind of a meditation, just concentrating to the artist. That´s different with the tiny CD booklet

    Couldn’t agree with you more. There was nothing like the feeling one got when one brought home the LP copies of such titles as One Size Fits All or Joe’s Garage Act I with all of the wonderful artwork on the record covers. Or how about the smell of the record sleeves from Sheik Yerbouti? No CD or mp3 will ever supply this sort of concurrent experience. Even though my son bops around town listening to his iPod for the most part, more and more often I’ve noticed him purchasing his favourite albums (pre-CD) in their original vinyl format. He says he just likes the idea of holding the artist’s original intent in his hands (and hearing the album the way it was initially meant to be heard).

  23. Roland says:

    When “Joe´s Garage” was first released, I met a couple of friends, listened to the record, had some beer and put the cover up with 2 candles to the left and right of it and celebrated the latest release of our idol. It was our altar – no kidding !
    We listenend to it the whole Friday night – again and again. Those we´re the days. Nowadays, you wouldn´t get small candles to do the same with a CD cover …
    Pure nostalgia – for the old folks !

  24. urbangraffito says:

    Light a candle for me…