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Can you hear the difference between mp3 and wav?
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mostapha
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#1
10th May 2012
Old 10th May 2012
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Can you hear the difference between mp3 and wav?

A little while ago, an mp3 vs. wav debate cropped up on DJTechTools forum. A lot of people saying wav was the only way to go…others saying that no one could hear a difference…others saying it didn't matter at club volumes. You get the idea.

So, I got bored and compiled an ABX test and put it up as an audio file. Had a few people respond so far, and the results are interesting. Most of the songs are modern(ish) dance leaning towards house and techno because that's what I had available in lossless formats. If you're interested, read on.

Okay, so the test is online at http://www.prism.gatech.edu/~gtg054r/soundtest.wav. It's a ~500MB wav file, so bear that in mind if you have to pay for bandwidth. I'll probably create a FLAC or ALAC copy as well (which will be the same, but .flac or .m4a instead of .wav) if people ask for it.

It's about 45 minutes long. You'll be listening to 140 audio clips, plus some explanation of what's going on (yay…i found an sm58 on the floor…don't judge the crappy recording), plus a section of pink noise to set your volume to a comfortable level. Please avoid changing your volume during the test (certainly only even think about changing it between songs, not between individual trials). Every clip was normalized to the same volume and played with just a bit of headroom. So you shouldn't have to touch your volume control after you start.

After a citation (artist, title, etc.) you hear 4 audio clips in this order: wav, mp3, wav, mp3 to orient you to what you're hearing. Some of them are introduced, others aren't. I just forgot to copypasta all the regions and was too lazy to fix it. If it bothers anyone, I'll fix it.

And no, they're not full songs. They're 15-second clips. If I used full songs, the test would take around 12 hours to complete.

Please format your responses thusly:

Song[tab]Trial[tab][USERNAME]
1[tab]1[tab][guess, m for mp3, w for wav]
1[tab]2[tab][guess, m for mp3, w for wav]
1[tab]3[tab][guess, m for mp3, w for wav]
1[tab]4[tab][guess, m for mp3, w for wav]

2[tab]1[tab][guess, m for mp3, w for wav]
2[tab]1[tab][guess, m for mp3, w for wav]



Doing so means I can easily use a spreadsheet to do the analysis instead of doing it by hand and potentially making a transcription/computation error. Any text editor will work (or you could use google docs or excel or numbers…whatever) just make sure that you send me just that text and not other formatting information if you can.

Please PM me your results. I'll do the analysis and keep the actual answers secret (though I'll respond to you with them once you've done it) to avoid people cheating. After a few people have done it, I'll post a description of the results (without revealing anyone's identity…so there's no potential for embarassment if your ears aren't as good as you think they are……except for me……'cuz I'm a boss…and like to be proven wrong). I'll be publishing my results right after I get enough results to make me happy.

I know it's hard to trust, but I assure you that the test is double-blind. I created wav and mp3 versions (then converted the mp3 back to a wav) and in addition to naming them 1wav.wav and 1mp3.wav, they were copied to 1A.wav and 1B.wav…then, using a shell script, I gave each file a crap ton of chances to switch names (back and forth) based on random number generation…and kept track of it in a text file that I didn't read. So, when I was flipping coins to decide whether each trial was going to be the A file or B file, I didn't know which was the wav and which was the mp3 (they were both referred to wavs inside Logic). And yes, I know how to swap things (using a temp file) so they're not the same file. If my results are different, it's likely more so because the songs came out of my collection than golden ears or anything like that. I've heard the lossless versions on the same headphones I used for the test (HD-25s) dozens of times, at least.

I look forward to seeing the results and hope I didn't waste all that time.

In addition to thinking this is interesting, a few questions have come up about some weird results I'm getting. If people think this is interesting, I'll happily discuss them as well. Hopefully they don't show some glaring fault in the test.

Edit: oh yeah…if you've done the test or are going to, please let me know whether or not you think you know what to listen for (regardless of whether or not you think you did well) and what you did the test on (what headphones/monitors/etc.) so I can play with statistics some more.

I like statistics.
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10th May 2012
Old 10th May 2012
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Awesome effort put fourth. I hope a lot of people try. I honestly can't tell a difference on most things (but at the same time, I'm still relatively young in critical listening). I also don't hear much of a difference on wavs and mp3s on Rokits, but I've certainly heard the differences playing them on a loud club system. While you say in your post that most say you can't hear the difference, I feel like that is exactly where you hear a difference (IMO, of course)

Good luck with the test. I've listened to the first 15 minutes of your test, and I can't tell the difference between any of them, haha.
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10th May 2012
Old 10th May 2012
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sorry.. dont take it personal.. but another test..


To make it short..

mp3 or not only really matters on club/stage levels



That many club sound systems are set up so badly that you dont get the difference anymore dont says that there is none..

And when you dont get a difference at home listening levels dont says that there is none over a >10KW pa, either.

Far from it..as bigger the system as bigger the difference
As shittier the processing chain as smaller the difference.

The chain is only as strong as the weakest link...
when you want to be that weakest link, use mp3´s
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10th May 2012
Old 10th May 2012
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even withouth trying i know i cant tell the difference.
there was a good video about this on Slices (Electronic Beats) - they blind tested some djs, producers and promoters in WATERGATE Berlin, and noone could tell the difference.
unfortunatly that video is not on youtube anyomre.
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10th May 2012
Old 10th May 2012
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Hi mostapha, interesting test, what bitrate were the mp3's ripped at?
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10th May 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by audioconsult View Post
...(the) bigger the system as bigger the difference
this.




.
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10th May 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bal5000 View Post
even withouth trying i know i cant tell the difference.
there was a good video about this on Slices (Electronic Beats) - they blind tested some djs, producers and promoters in WATERGATE Berlin, and noone could tell the difference.
unfortunatly that video is not on youtube anyomre.
that video was a living wiener test.. over itunes into a pioneer digi dj mixer thru a digital controler... and the test persons only amateurs and half deff dj´s... All conducted by slices that are sponsored by the german telecom, that sponsors the Frauenhofer institut, that invented mp3, too.

Dont believe everything you see on tv !!

that slices test was a good example of the shittiest processing chain phenomenon and no justification to do it all with mp´3s
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10th May 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by audioconsult View Post
mp3 or not only really matters on club/stage levels
I disagree, high-end headphones matched to quality headphone amps are very revealing for these kinds of tests as well.
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10th May 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by audioconsult View Post
that video was a living wiener test.. over itunes into a pioneer digi dj mixer thru a digital controler... and the test persons only amateurs and half deff dj´s... All conducted by slices that are sponsored by the german telecom, that sponsors the Frauenhofer institut, that invented mp3, too.

Dont believe everything you see on tv !!

that slices test was a good example of the shittiest processing chain phenomenon and no justification to do it all with mp´3s
you might be right.
but i know one thing.
you've gotta be a rocket scientist to be able to tell the difference between a 320kbps mp3 and a wav.
i dont think anyone can do that. not on a big system, not on some superb ultra high end speakers.
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10th May 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ausgeno View Post
I disagree, high-end headphones matched to quality headphone amps are very revealing for these kinds of tests as well.
thats quite similar to the club sound level..but without the physical aspects in the low end.. and that is easier to get than the mp3 byte on your eardrums in the highs..

I said i wanted to make it short..of cause there are many if´s and then´s..

But its important to dont cloud the truth here..

mp3s reduce the customer satisfaction
at least on club level

any arguing and wiener tests against that are false info.
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10th May 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by audioconsult View Post

But its important to dont cloud the truth here..

mp3s reduce the customer satisfaction

any arguing and wiener tests against that are false info.
Not so simple unfortunately...

Young People Prefer "Sizzle Sounds" of MP3 Format - Slashdot

Quote:
Jonathan Berger, a professor of music at Stanford, tests his incoming students each year by having them listen to a variety of recordings which use different formats from MP3 to ones of much higher quality, and he reports that each year the preference for music in MP3 format rises. Berger says that young people seemed to prefer 'sizzle sounds' that MP3s bring to music because it is a sound they are familiar with.
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10th May 2012
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I don't really notice much difference between wav and 320 kpbs mp3.
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10th May 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bal5000 View Post
you might be right.
but i know one thing.
you've gotta be a rocket scientist to be able to tell the difference between a 320kbps mp3 and a wav.
i dont think anyone can do that. not on a big system, not on some superb ultra high end speakers.
no.. the trousers shake.. or the trousers dont shake. can be one of the differences anybody can experience in the given situation.

Thats really just the same kind of wiener audio myth that get spread in the internet like the one that no one can hear timing differences of 5ms..

Quality has nothing to do with ideal case scenarios. When the quality is high it survives more damage down the road. But when you start with a low quality at the source.. it cant get better from there.
And mp3´s are low quality audio files.
Its a bit funny to deny that fact.
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10th May 2012
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It matters if you're a DJ publishing a mix for promo too...

Mixed mp3, mixed down again into an 100MB file for downloads, starts to break up on the top end.
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10th May 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ausgeno View Post

12 hours on the dancefloor at 110 db? they wont prefer it there...

And even when young dumbots dont mind to get their eardrums pierced..
They prefer the better lowend of the wavs any day.
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10th May 2012
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i can hear a difference in the highs from WAV to mp3. They is more space on the WAVs because they are uncompressed....

I used to think I could not tell the difference but now i can tell.




he talks about mp3s around 6:40....but the whole video is very informative about high quality PA systems....most of the clubs here in Vegas use Funktion Ones or Fulcrums and sound amazing at 105db. the highs are so clean and clear. you dont get ringing in the ears and the systems just sound relaxed.
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10th May 2012
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MP3 compression and its artifacts, have to do with with the frequency content and dynamics. Usually, the difference is more obvious in high frequencies, but that depends on the kind of music too because of masking frequencies and perception of levels at various frequency regions (psychoacoustics).

Mp3 might just "work" for many people, but it isn't the correct way of using our brain for audio "decoding". It's like someone who wants to work inside a mine and he decides to cut his legs because he is too tall for the job...we do something similar to our brain by continuously listening to mp3 files. The greatest ability of our senses is the "adaptation" of our perception. This is a defensive mechanism against the odds of nature but not against an artificial environment. At the end we all should be able to hear, but we won't be able to hear in the same way as we did many years before we started listening to mp3s. It changes our perception of sound and it gradually makes our brain to use less of its power to decode sound.

It doesn't matter if you can't hear any difference...it's that adaptation to the degraded signal characteristics that makes our brains to gradually abandon quality listening.

In my experience I can hear the difference in almost everything that it's encoded at a lower bitrate than 192Kbps. Above that personal limit, a still hear some strange details but the biggest difference is inside the stereo image and the "blending" of sound.

I have a general rule about mp3. Use it only when it's absolutely necessary. It's not something that came to improve audio quality. It's something that filled some gaps in modern technology by lowering the need for extra digital storage / extra network bandwidth and that's all.
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10th May 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spectral Climax View Post

It doesn't matter if you can't hear any difference...it's that adaptation to the degraded signal characteristics that makes our brains to gradually abandon quality listening.
thats a sad view on the topic but i fear you might be wright.. A bit like polluting the water supply.. long gone the days of warm tapedeck sounds and delicate vinyl..

everything comes with a price.. and the price of the digital revolution is a loss of sensuality..

Btw.

I am a Function One/Tony Andrews fan.. They did delicious work on theire room tuning for the berghain.. never was as good as the days after the initial setup.. Independend from the quality of the speakers that was a masters work. Definitely a guy with the good sensibility.
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10th May 2012
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lol....funny thread. Indeed, listening to Spotify and getting gradually more annoyed with the whole 'music in a plastic bag' sound experience one could be forgiven for getting ideas about cutting one's legs off....but at least it somewhat soothes the guilt that I can listen to all and sundry's records for free like that......if it was WAV's it would be all over.

The most worrying thing is this to me: The difference on a proper sounding record (i.e. one that is engineered to make a detailed spatial expression which is partially lost as mp3) is a difference I value, but sometimes you go get the full fat file of something recent and realise, fukk, the WAV sounds as plastic.........in short, the real problem here is the pollution of the bottom line of 'what sounds acceptable', and people used to the plastic sound making plastic sounding productions on purpose, as if using mp3's for reference.......but hey, now I guess I just sound old......
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Quote:
Originally Posted by masaski View Post
It matters if you're a DJ publishing a mix for promo too...

Mixed mp3, mixed down again into an 100MB file for downloads, starts to break up on the top end.
The mp3s also tend to break up more when pitch or tempo shifted.
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I aint listened to the tests, but ive done some of my own in the past, and the conclusion i came to was that i could hear more diferances in the build ups ect, where theres a lot going on, bandwidth if you will..? where as some sections of track sounded exactaly the same.

just from a listening point of view, no visual tests or any fancy test equipment.

imo.
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there seems to be this recurring argument that:

oh it doesn't matter about small differences between mp3 and lossless formats.
oh it doesn't matter about the small differences between the vsti and the analogue synth
oh it doesn't matter about the small differences between budget monitors and pro monitors.

a couple of points about this kind of wrong thinking:

1) what is a small difference? genetically there's only a small difference between a human and a banana.

person A's 2% difference in sound is person B's 100%

2) eat at a 3 star restaurant. the next morning, take a shit. eat at McDonalds. the next morning, take a shit. it all ends up the same.
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10th May 2012
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Something tells me this about someone saying its ok to DJ from MP3's and someone else saying its not.

The major issue with mpdj's is that a proportion of the stuff isn't 320kbps from a good source, it's 320 or 160 ripped off youtube or someone thinking they can turn 160 to 320 by reencoding, because they can't get that tune etc.

This song sums it up..



Why even use MP3 when you can use FLAC or Wav? Hmm? If you own the source or buy from the right places there's no need. It was designed for portable media players, not club PA's.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Karloff70 View Post
making plastic sounding productions on purpose, as if using mp3's for reference......
^This. Certainly a big part of the problem.
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10th May 2012
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Thanks for the sig, golden beers!!
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10th May 2012
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In a final mix not really. But as stems in an ongoing sample based production? Definitely.
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Depends on the bitrate. 320 kbps i don't think so,96 kbps most definitely.
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I agree that a high end headset can reveal them when monitors will not. It's a slight boxed in like compression of frequency, dynamics and stereo spread.

Maybe I'll make an automated test application in Max MSP to prove this to myself once and for all.
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said time and time again, but on a huge system or anything that pushes air enough where even a deaf person is massively feeling the bass yes the mp3s even at 320 are going to fall very short in comparison to a straight wav file or cd...even my crappy stock car stereo it's possible to tell if you play anything with a huge amount of sub bass

the you tube video to 320k encoding reminds me of how we'd stream real audio 3 mixes at 33.6k to a tape deck, years later we took some of those tapes and dumped them to 320k, lol if it wasn't for the songs and mixes being so awesome man that horrid sounding mess would've been binned
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