Headphones & Mp3 Players forum

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Help an old school audiophile into the MP3 age...

by cgrosse / February 14, 2009 2:21 AM PST

Ok I want to take the plunge into MP3 ( or maybe not! ) I have a lot of classic rock CD's that I enjoy the sound quality. What should I do? I hear that if you listen on all (?) MP3 players the sound is compressed and you lose sound quality. Is there a player that doesn't do that or one that has better sound quality? Or is such a player not out yet and I should just wait?

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Try it.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / February 14, 2009 3:12 AM PST

I played a CD on my PC then I 'ripped' it to MP3 (I used CDEX and stock settings) and it sounded fine.

A concerned person might look at 'lossless' encodings. I think it best we decide on our own and not press others to chose our way or no way.

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by cgrosse / February 14, 2009 3:16 AM PST
In reply to: Try it.

Is there a player that has better sound quality or are they basically sound alike?

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Not much of a player issue in my view.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / February 14, 2009 3:39 AM PST
In reply to: ok

I look at the earbuds and could say that the fidelity loss there alone would make one player on par with another.

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by ktreb / February 14, 2009 3:36 AM PST

When you rip CDs into mp3 format, you are compressing them. You can however, rip them into a lossless format, such as WAV, OGG Vorbis, FLAC. (I'm more familiar with WAV) But you will have huge file sizes. An average song in lossless could be upwards of around 50MB, while a compressed song would be anywhere from 3 to 7MB. Of course, this depends on song length. Compressed sizes also vary depending on how the bitrate you use - anywhere from 128kbps to 320. I've read somewhere that 320 is near cd quality.

Perhaps what you may want to do first is rip a CD into mp3 format at the highest bitrate you can get and see how that sounds. Also rip it at a lossless format (I believe most programs will support at least WAV) and see how that sounds. You might want to try listening though headphones, since if you're going to be using an mp3 player you're more than likely going to use is with headphones.

When looking for an mp3 player, you'll want to find one that supports the most audio formats. Besides mp3s you'll want something that supports at the very least WAV. Even better if it also supports FLAC and OGG Vorbis. And whatever player you end up getting, replace the stock earbuds with something better. 99% of the time the stock earbuds are crappy and will make a great sounding player sound crappy.

As I am not an audiophile, I will defer the subject of which players and earphones to get to others in this forum who are more knowledgeable.

In the meantime, here are some sources for further reading/listening:

This particular episode of the CNET's MP3 Insider podcast.


And also look at this entry on the MP3 Insider Blog:


And perhaps look around in the archives that blog.

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Some corrections
by pepoluan / February 20, 2009 10:45 AM PST
In reply to: mp3s

Ogg Vorbis (please not the lowercase g's) is *not* a lossless encoding. It's a 'lossy' encoding, just like MP3.

MP3, if encoded at a high-enough bitrate using a good encoder (such as the latest LAME binaries -- available from http://www.rarewares.org ), will sound practically the same as the original. Scientific tests (using proper double-blind listening tests) have proven this statement (see http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index.php?title=Listening_Tests ). Latest tests seem to indicate that at a CBR (Constant Bit Rate) of 128 kbps, MP3 is 'transparent' (that is, sounds just like the original) for nearly all songs.

MP3 at 320 kbps rate is way overkill for 99.9999% songs out there. Better use VBR (Variable Bit Rate) which allocates bits dynamically. The best tradeoff between size and quality seems to be VBR -V 2.

Ogg Vorbis in general provides better compression at similar transparency, or better transparency at similar compression. Problem is, not many digital audio players support Ogg Vorbis; Samsung's portable DAPs mostly support Ogg Vorbis.

WAV is not really a good format to rip into, as it does not support even the most basic tagging abilities (e.g., track title, track artist, album title). You're far better off ripping into Lossless Encodings such as the aforementioned FLAC, or the better-compressing WavPack or TAK. Lossless Encodings are in a way just like a ZIP compression performed on a WAV file: No information is lost. (Of course, because they're fine-tuned for audio data, Lossless Encodings will compress audio files far better than ZIP can ever do).

I mentioned HydrogenAudio above. It's a community of audio technology enthusiasts, many with backgrounds in DSP and audio engineering. Feel free to browse HA's wiki ( http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org ) and even join HA's forum ( http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/index.php ). I am a member there with the same callsign.

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tape to CD
by StickMaker / February 20, 2009 10:07 AM PST
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by dincz / February 20, 2009 3:20 PM PST

If it's dynamic compression you're worried about, don't worry. Lossy formats like mp3 and Ogg Vorbis employ data compression, which is a completely different thing.

Yes, some audio information is lost in the encoding process, but as pointed out by a previous poster, the (data) compression algorithms used were determined after exhaustive listening tests.

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MP3 player
by forkboy1965 / February 21, 2009 2:56 AM PST

My opinion would be to not worry about it too much.

A good pair of ear phones/buds will do more to improve the sound quality of most any MP3 player as the ones that are shipped with the player tend to suck.

It isn't very likely that you would ever notice any appreciable difference between your original CDs and any lossy format, unless you encoded at a really low bit rate.

MP3 players, after all, aren't meant to be high-end pieces of audio playing equipment. They are meant to provide the listener with audio quality that is very close to the original source, but in a much more compressed format so that you can transport far more music with you than if you had encoded in a non-lossy format.

In other words, accept them for what they are. They beat my old Sony tape-playing Walkman by a mile any day of the week!

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There's nothing actually worse. Just different.
by fbbbb / February 21, 2009 7:05 AM PST

I think it depends on your approach more than anything else. I've had conversations such as "Music sounds so compressed, unlike my ten year old CD Walkman" to which my reply is "You do realise that your CD Walkman lossily compresses the music on the fly to make the music fit into the measly antiskip buffer, don't you?"

If you've had anything portable in the last, ooh, 15 years that isn't tape (and most of them sound pretty bad), then you've been probably listening to compression that's definitely worse than anything MP3 or AAC brings to the table, often without realising it. It's the psychology more than anything else, followed by the leaner, sharper sound that's typical of current music players.

If you're moving on from older equipment which more often than not had trebles that rolls off a little and in addition bass that's slightly boosted, then the iPod and suchlike may be a 'colder' experience. Much better absolute sound quality, but just not as 'warm' - and many people confuse quality for tone.

Sony's players have a pretty 'natural' tone with a pretty basic EQ which nevertheless works very well. It's probably your best bet to recreate sounds from older players, but Sony's lossless support is pretty pathetic.

The iPod, and some other well-regarded players along with it, generally sounds cooler. The difference between the iPod and other players though is that the EQ is essentially non-functional on the Apple player. The sound without EQ is generally very decent, and the convenience and completeness of syncing is what makes the iPod an excellent music system.

Pair it with a bass-boosted, treble-rolled head/earphone and you may think "I should have moved ages ago".

As for the material, I'd say rip in Lossless, and transcode to a more portable Lossy format such as MP3. This way, if you want to rip in another codec such as AAC or Ogg, you can do so without having to re-rip the CD each time.

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re:mp3 sound quality
by dream774 / February 24, 2009 4:13 PM PST

I would say that the differences are so tiny that you won't notice them. I can't hear them. And I don't just listen to music but produce it. Who listens to the nuances of music more than that?

But like others have said, the quality of the headphones is paramount.

If you're like me, who once played 8-tracks Happy You will appreciate the many advantages the mp3 offers you.

Brilliant sound from a phone, cd/mp3 player, ipod, PDA, I would never go back. Welcome to the digital age. Which even means that you may end up with something superior at times.

Just beware of authorized mp3 drop outs. There is definitely a difference between itunes that you want to play on unauthorized players then you should get itunes plus or dream free to avoid this.

Have fun!

L L.

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sound quality
by vic5014 / February 26, 2009 10:46 AM PST

as far as I know, mp3 players themselves don't compress the music you hear. Its simply that uncompressed audio files are far too large to fit that many of them onto a portable device. Compression methods (formats/codecs really) vary and people can and do argue endlessly over which is best. Personally, I doubt there's all that much difference between the codecs themselves. What matters is the bit rate. Even then many people have trouble telling the difference between high bit-rate and lower bit-rate stuff. I have some music on my computer in lossless format (up to 1Mbps or higher) and others in regular wma ranging from 128 to 320kbps and honestly can't tell the difference between any of them. The headphones you choose probably matter more. I have the sennheiser hd280s and they're awesome. Finally, some brands have a reputation for better sound quality. Sony is supposed to be good, so are Cowon, iRiver, and samsung. I've heard the ipod actually has middling sound quality. The only caveat is that Cowon and iRiver are hard to find, particularly at places like best buy. I've never tried any of the three but have heard good things.

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CD is the best choice.
by superfanka / March 1, 2009 4:01 PM PST

I just think,if you want high quality,CD is your best choice.

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