Audio Codecs – Enjoying Music vs The Audiophile Argument

In lossy compression formats, like mp3, aac, aac+, ogg, etc., everyone always tries a new format and listens extremely closely for audible quality problems. The problem here is how you listen to music normally and how you analyze music in detail.Everyone listens to music for enjoyment, not paying much attention to quality. But when it comes to thinking about an encoding format, everyone immediately becomes an audiophile and won’t let go of their high bit rate files.

In lossy compression formats, like mp3, aac, aac+, ogg, etc., everyone always tries a new format and listens extremely closely for audible quality problems. The problem here is how you listen to music normally and how you analyze music in detail. Everyone listens to music for enjoyment, not paying much attention to quality. But when it comes to thinking about an encoding format, everyone immediately becomes an audiophile and won’t let go of their high bit rate files.

The problem is that, yes, the average person can pick out subtle differences in sound quality if they listen extremely intently and repeatedly to a short portion of a song. But take that same music to your headphones as you’re walking down the road or in your car as you drive down the road and there’s no way you’re going to pick out the subtle differences, which may actually sound better or worse, subjectively speaking.

In real life listening scenarios, you don’t care about the little, barely audible quality differences. You’re just enjoying the music.

A few posts back I commented about AAC+. It’s an extension to AAC that provides some further data to enhance the main bands. A 32kbit clip matches the quality of one of my 192kbps oggs. At six times the space savings, that’s a game changing win.

It got me thinking and now, after a few weeks, I’ve re-ripped all of my CDs to lossless FLAC format and from those I generate any lossy format I want so I can put them onto small devices that don’t have a lot of space.

I chose 64kbit mp3s encoded with lame using its modern vbr algorithm. I would have gone AAC+ if it was supported on ipods. Anyway, I put the mp3s on my ipod and, in my car where I mostly listen to my ipod, it’s perfect. Two thousand songs on a tiny stubby ipod with great quality and, in the car, I’ll never be able to spot the differences.

So, next time you think about what format you’ll encode your music in, consider digitizing your music to a lossless format like FLAC and then trying out different bit rate formats. Just try listening to lower bit rate MP3s or AACs and I think you’ll learn to love your digital music collection again.

And, hey, if you do have a great listening space that requires quality, you have your FLAC files so go nuts!

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