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Sound Different – About Bitrate

June 1, 2007

Recently, I started to get along with FLAC files. I must admit that I didn’t care about converting CDs into lossless-format files before. I preferred CD. But things changed when I tried to decode FLAC track files into a wave image & a cue sheet and to burn a CD. And one thing led to another. Now I may backup my CD collections into FLAC image files with MP3 tracks.

New York Times happened to give a story on this matter, “Where’s the Other Half od Your Music File?” on May 31. The story, for the general readers, was inspired by the recent news that Apple iTune store began selling music without any restriction for copying for a hight price, $1.29, but with a higher bitrate, 256 kbps instead of 128 kbps. The author, along with two people, ran a test on music files of MP3 and AAC from 64 kbps to 320 kbps via iPod in an audio system of a certain quality: a Harman Kardon AVR 147 receiver ($449) and two JBL L880 speakers ($1,400 a pair), and a Harman Kardon Bridge adapter for iPod ($70). And the result was

The difference between 64 and 128 kbps was stark. All three of us picked up on it. As bitrates climbed above 128 kbps, however, our guesses became increasingly haphazard; none of us could determine the difference between 320 kbps and lossless. One unexpected result was that we all thought low-bitrate AAC files sounded better than low-bitrate MP3s.

Maybe after some level, bitrate isn’t the important factor but the psychological feeling is. Wait! Maybe it’s iPod’s audio chip. 😉

Update: Oops. “Anger over DRM-free iTunes tracks” (BBC News) Apple hasn’t commented on this yet.

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