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Crave Talk: What does your bit rate say about you?

Peering into our digital crystal ball of technological stereotypes, we ask the question, "Does your choice of music compression reveal too much about your digital lifestlye?"

What kind of a digital music user are you? Were you part of the original Napster revolution? Maybe you're in your 50s and prefer huge audio files in order to preserve the clarity and feeling of Mark Knopfler's fret-fondling.

Whatever bit rate you choose, you might not be able to help what your choice says about you. Let's dive in at the shallow end.

You probably don't know the bit rate at which your music is encoded -- this is the default iTunes rate and it seems good to you. You're probably happy with the headphones that came with your MP3 player. But you may have started downloading free music back when Napster was in its original illegal P2P form, and you may currently be a Limewire user, having never heard of or felt the need to understand BitTorrent. You don't see the advantage in hard-disk-based MP3 players and wouldn't know what to listen out for if offered an album encoded in lossless format. You're perfectly happy with having a 2GB MP3 player or an iPod Shuffle. You're unlikely to own a large library of CDs.

You're likely to have jumped on the bandwagon of the original illegal version of Napster, but have since realised that higher bit rates are noticeable, perhaps by utilising free MP3 encoding tools. You own an average number of CDs and may have spent up to £25 on a pair of headphones, realising that superior hardware can enhance your music-listening experience as much as a higher bit rate. You're possibly a musician or you may have done a music course. As a drummer, for example, you may notice the brightness of cymbals is greater at 192kbps, but you can't see the point in using a bit rate that pushes the average file size over 6MB per track.

If you listen to 256kbps (which variable bit rate often averages at), you're a reserved or closet audiophile and you would rather spend more money on a hard-disk-based MP3 player than have either low-quality music or carry only a portion of your music with you. You're likely to own a large collection of CDs but you're the most likely to use BitTorrent to acquire the majority of your albums. You don't have many miscellaneous tracks hanging around in your music library and you owned an iPod mini or 1-4GB MP3 player in the past. You're excited to hear brighter guitars, deeper bass and more defined audible complexities. You don't listen to much classical music.

However, you wouldn't purchase a CD of an album you've already downloaded from BitTorrent just to hear music at a higher quality unless you pro-actively decide to support the band you love. You won't re-rip the CD you buy, deciding instead to leave it untouched in your CD rack. You also ensure your music's ID3 tags are complete, though you don't much care about details such as year of release.

You thrive on high-quality music and you actively listen out for the tell-tale signs of high bit rates. You are likely to have downloaded some music from BitTorrent but you mainly buy CDs and rip them yourself. You don't use Limewire for downloading music. You may well have your PC plugged into a hi-fi, or you own an iPod and use a good quality dock to connect it to your sound system. You know what lossless music is, but you possibly can't justify re-ripping your music library due to the storage constraints of lossless audio. You're quite likely to be a Mac user and have considered using Linux on a secondary computer. Your headphones cost at least £50 and you own or are considering owning an HDTV. Your laptop cost at least £1,000. You don't buy music from iTunes because you are aware of how low quality the music is. You are likely to use eMusic and you like mostly rock music. You subscribe to at least two technology podcasts and you were born after 1978.

Lossless (FLAC or Apple Lossless)
You are most likely to be born before 1978. You are the most likely group to be a Mac user and your headphones cost in excess of £60, possibly made by Shure, Sennheiser or Ultimate Ears. You own a fifth-gen video iPod and an HDTV. Your laptop cost at least £1,000 and you consider yourself a cinema fan. You are the least likely to download music illegally, instead preferring to own a huge CD library. You're highly likely to be a musician and own at least one book about either quantum mechanics, philosophy or psychology. Your mobile phone bill is considerably higher than average and you may work in the technology industry.

You're depressed when you see people on the train using their MP3 player's bundled headphones and you probably listen to technology podcasts. You may well know the bit rate your podcasts are encoded at. You used Napster back in the day, but you never stopped buying CDs. You use Limewire or BitTorrent to occasionally sample an album, but you always buy the CD if you like what you hear.

Conclusion or Confusion?
Maybe you've just found yourself falling into the chasm of predictability, a victim of bit rate cliche. Or perhaps you've been left with a feeling of dissatisfaction, reading that your freakish or implacable choices of music compression (or lack of) are too erratic to earn yourself placement in such a pigeon-hole.

Whatever your situation, let us know in the comments below what your choice of bit rate says about you, and was our crystal ball too cloudy? -Nate Lanxon