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Jim Tavegia
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MP3 vs.RedBook

After having been to the dark side this weekend and spending my first real time listening to mp3 files some may find my comments surprising. I have enjoyed my time listening to them and some of the Compaxx files from streams.

I have been using from NCH Swift Sound their Switch file conversion program after trying others that I have had here with my other recording software and found Switch to sound excellent to me. I have heard differences in truncation programs going from High Bit Rate files back to Red Book and would agree with JA's assessment that doing synchronous conversion does sound best...to me. I really like going from 88.2 to RedBook.

I have found excellent RedBook files I have compared to the MP3 reduced file and find the differences in reduced air, detail, and 3D(if you will) very similar to the differences we all hear in different speakers, amps, CD players, and even ADCs and DACs.

If any of you know of a great sounding file conversion program I would love to hear of it. For now NCH Swift Sound Switch is it for me. Switch is a $20 download.

I will also say the Mini Disc recordings for comparison seem to loose another level of detail, but if all I had to listen to was that I could live with it. Knowing that DSD is out there makes it harder, but when you reconsider the file size...yes, size DOES matter here. I will not take that any further.

I am currently going over some new Compaxx files Tuvia sent me and am trying to discern their differences and come up with some discriptive info that can be of some help to him. Just as Dolby helped the cassette reach hifi status and then the improvement with Dolby C and S, and for the recording industry Dolby A, anything that can help the enjoyment of musis I am for. If it isn't, then I will say so and put my 1 1/2 cent in. I have plenty of music here at the house in LP and CD format that does not sound as good as the excellent RedBook files that I converted to MP3 for this audition. Even my wife agreed and she has no axe to grind about this. She thinks we take this audio stuff to the extreme anyway, but it does keep me out of bars and chasing wild women.

Once you start processing audio files care must be taken as it is easy at reduced file and digital content size to add a "graininess" to the sound that on cheap computer speakers can make the sound almost unbearable. I will tell you that in reality if I play back the MP3 file on my Jolida JD 100 Cd player and the RedBook in my cheaper Sony 755 CD/DVD/SACD player and switching back and forth the MP3 shortcomings sound less so.

There is no doubt to me that any digital file on a lousy system will be just that, and it is the level of gear that members of this forum own and use that can make any file tpye sound as good as it can. I would bet that any MP3 file, converted well, would sound pretty magical on JA's He-Man Rig system and would even trump mine system playing back the RedBook verion.

Regards,

g_man
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Re: MP3 vs.RedBook

Hi,

I really agree with your thoughts on "making the best of it" if I can sum it up like that. I hear too many people putting down less then redbook bit and sample rate material as "non-listenable". It seems to me this falls into the extreme of the source first arguement. My system makes 128Kbps radio streams sound pretty good, and I do not feel the need to compare with redbook or better sources!


Quote:
I really like going from 88.2 to RedBook.


I am a little bit confused here...are you saying you take compressed music and use software to go back up to redbook standards??

Jim Tavegia
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Re: MP3 vs.RedBook

When I have done recording projects for amateur performers I have recorded some at RedBook (16/44.1) and then recorded some tracks at 24/88.2, truncating that back to RedBook. Using Synchronous conversion (multiples of 44.1) works very well and to my ears sound better than just the RedBook tracks.

What ones has to decide is it worth the effort for the slight improvement. For the high quality work that JA does it makes great sense, for my clients, probably not. If they are going to convert them to MP3 I definately would not record at 24/88.2.

I have also done 24/96 and do not hear any difference between that and 24/88.2, maybe even less. This is the case where you let your ears decided.

As I said I wish some of my lps and some cassettes that I still have and listen to on occasion sounded as good as some MP3 converted files. I just take it on a file by file basis and enjoy what I can.

I am a big fan of DSD/SACD. I am all for hearing more, but it is the music that matters.

Regards,

jazzfan
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Re: MP3 vs.RedBook

Hi Jim,

At the risk of getting a bit repetitive I'll run through this this lossy compression stuff again. I won't say "one last time" because I'm quite sure this won't be the last.

A lot of what you write about the sound of some well made compressed digital audio files sounding surprisingly good when played back on a decent, i.e. high end, audio system are true. I'm not really sure that anyone who has done any serious listening to compressed audio files could give you much of an argument on that point. The problems with compressed audio files lie elsewhere.

For me there are two main areas of concern. The first is the type of compression used and the second is the general public's false belief that anything "digital" is perfect. Real serious problems arise when one combines bad compression with the false belief in the perfection of digital, as I'll explain in a moment.

Currently there are at least 4 major types of lossy audio compression codecs available (mp3, wma, real audio and apple) and at least another 4 or 5 lesser known ones available (ogg, mp3pro, etc.) and each one these codecs allows one to encode at a variety of bit rates, fixed or variable, but the one thing they all seem to have in common is that they are all optimized to yield the smallest file size, not the best sounding file. Is it any wonder why audiophiles don't like them?

Part B of the compression area of concern is that a wave file compressed to a 96K fixed bit rate MP3 file will not sound as good as the same wave file compressed to a 96K variable bit rate MP3 file. Nor will it sound anywhere near as good as the same wave file compressed to a 192K variable bit rate MP3 file. And then there's the subject of the program used to do the compression. Not to mention the subject of digital rights management. Man, my head is starting to hurt.

Second area of concern. Anything digital must be good. Pure marketing BS. Anything bought from iTunes or through Windows Media Player is not only compressed (where you have no control over how it was compressed, i.e. bit rate and codec used) but the file is copy protected, so your ability to use the file is severly limited.

Now we get to the good part. Joe buys some songs from iTunes in the Apple lossy compression format. Joe burns these songs to an audio CD, which one is allowed to do. Joe lends the CD to his friend Fred, who happens to dislike Apple and iTunes, so Fred rips the CD onto his computer using Windows Media Player. Window Media Player rips audio CDs into the lossy wma format by default, so Fred now has the songs on his computer as wma files. Fred then makes an audio CD to give to his brother Bob. Bob uses Winamp and likes MP3 files, so he rips the CD into MP3 files on his computer.

The sad part is that both Fred and Bob thought that since they were ripping from an aduio CD they were getting high quality files. Wrong. What they were getting were files filled with all sorts of digital artifacts created as the result of the various encoding and decoding steps. In fact what they have on their computers is no better than those fourth or fifth generation cassette tape copies Deadheads used to collect, but at least the Deadheads kept track of the generations!

Jim, a word of caution. Apple and many others are making a killing selling very low (audio) quality music and the audiophile community should in no way shape or form support their efforts. I hope this post has helped to educate you to how a some fancy marketing can be used to hide an obvious lack of concern for the rights of the consumer.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: MP3 vs.RedBook

Jazzfan,

Thanks for the info. I have been trying to understand the mp3 process to some degree, but only in the context of the Compaxx process and what it is doing to the files. I do not consider MP3 or MiniDisc to to audiophile quality. Once we have gone to DSD it is hard to go back.

If something is enjoyalble and it is the only format I have at my disposal that is fine. I was intrigued by the Compaxx "better than CD" statements and I am trying to understand the process. For audiophiles it is relatively easy to discern (listen) and decide what sound better or worse. It is the same process someone uses when trying to decide whether LCD or Plasma in HDTV land rocks their world.

I ran aross this old web site:
Compression Codecs
Nothing has been added since 2002. I guess they perfected it?

This is probably old news, but to me it continued to blow holes in this "perfect sound forever" ideal just because it is digital. I still stand my my statement that it is hard to get more from less. Unfortunately, that is what the formulators of mp3 want to claim: lossless compression. With the exception of FLAC is there another format?

It reminds me of the old DBX device that was touted as better then Dolby and then the pumping and breathing part started and Carman Electra was not even in the room. Back them I guess it was Raquel Welch.

After reading all the clains off the Fraunhofer website they continue this trend. I just want to understand what I am hearing of the Compaxx streams that is so different from what I want to hear. I do find them enjoyable, accept for the one Beethoven Emperor piece that has too much reverb in it. I stand by my enjoyment of the other files and will listen to the 192 files this week. I have run my wife's computer (she has the DSL line) card to my Pioneer Elite and have Triangles hooked up to that now. My Freshman year at MP3 Tech should be interesting. I think I may try out for the football team...at 59...NOT! I'm sure I will be looking into a real sound card for her HP.

More later.
Regards,
Jim

RGibran
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Re: MP3 vs.RedBook


Quote:
With the exception of FLAC is there another format?

Of course...a simple click of tools/options/rip music in Windows Media Player 10 and you can change the default setting to WMA Lossless.

RG

Jim Tavegia
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Re: MP3 vs.RedBook

Rgibran,

Thanks. I am running WMP 10 in my Dell and my wife's HP. I tried the beta version 11 in hers and dumped it ASAP.

I just finished loading some excellent cd redbook files and converting them with NCH Switch and listening hard. I am mightly impressed with what a I hear considering the file size reduction. I have done a short track from Bill Joel's Fantasies and Delusions with a excellent classical piano sound; Laverne Butler from from the MaxxJazz label and the track of go Away Little Boy: excellent recording of jazz vocal and piano; Murray Parahia from a great Sony recording.

Each one has a slight (and I do mean slight) reduction in air and detail, but are eminently listenable. It does help if you start with a great redbook recording. I am listening on my Grados to get as close to the music as I can.

My comment is this conversion is like a step down from redbook like DSD is a step up from redbook...if this makes any sense.

I have redbook recordings that are not as good as the converted Laverne Butler MP3 and it has to be due to the lesser recording engineering effort, or the mastering as something is less.

All of the ITunes I downloaded (3 with 2 of them free) are not anywhere near as good as the Butler file. That is just my take on it, being the old fart that I am.

I look forward to more from Tuvia @ Compaxx as my classes continue at MP3 Technical University.

Regards,

g_man
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Re: MP3 vs.RedBook


Quote:
With the exception of FLAC is there another format?

And Apple Lossless of course...

jazzfan
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Re: MP3 vs.RedBook

Good Morning Jim,

I hadn't realized that you wanted to go to school on the subject of MP3s and compressed digital audio but if that's what you want then sit up straight, put away that comic book, stop chewing that gum and take out your notebook 'cause school's about to begin.

Lesson One: Various types of lossy and lossless compression codecs available.

From Wikipedia: "A Codec is a device or program capable of performing encoding and decoding on a digital data stream or signal. The word "codec" is a portmanteau of any of the following: 'Compressor-Decompressor', 'Coder-Decoder', or 'Compression/Decompression algorithm'."

Use this link to see some well organized tables of the various audio codecs available: Wikipedia Codec Comparsion Tables

What all of this boils down to is this. MP3 is the most widely used lossy format and the most widely supported format. In other words, an MP3 file will play in almost any device or by any music playback software. Most of the other lossy file formats cannot make this claim. As an added bonus, MP3 files have no DRM schemes attached. For more on DRM see this link: Wikipedia DRM


Quote:
I ran aross this old web site:
Compression Codecs
Nothing has been added since 2002. I guess they perfected it?

The problem with this link is basically what I stated in my previous post, it goes on and on about how to get the best sounding and smallest file size. That's great if you have a 128MB flash MP3 player but for a 40 or 60GB iPod I'm really not all that concerned about saving 2MB of memory. That's why as audiophiles we need to look at this issue from a different perspective.

Here's what I've found out through my own research, listening, testing and experience. A well made MP3 file, as in I encode the file from a CD or wave file using Exact Audio Copy with the LAME MP3 encoder with a setting of "--alt-preset extreme", sounds almost indistinguishable from the same file encoded using iTunes into Apple lossless format when played back on my third generation iPod with Etymotic ER-4 earphones. Plus besides being a somewhat smaller files, the MP3 files do not skip or cause the iPod to crash as the Apple lossless files often do.

Okay, a few words about that "Exact Audio Copy with the LAME MP3 encoder with a setting of "--alt-preset extreme"" I threw in that last paragraph, since this is MP3 101. Exact Audio Copy (EAC) is the gold standard of CD copying and ripping (ripping is the term used to denote the copying of the CD audio files onto a computer's hard drive) programs. The truly great thing about EAC is that it is freeware. I'm not even going to give you a link, Google it. LAME (LAME Ain't an MP3 Encoder) is, in fact, an MP3 encoder and like EAC is also freeware. The problem with both EAC and LAME is that they both do not have brain dead user friendly front ends and require some thinking, know how and guidance to properly set and use, but once set up properly they can't be beat by any commercially available software, period. LAME is command line driven program and the "--alt-preset extreme" is a setting one places in EAC to pass along to LAME to tell LAME how what settings to use to encode the MP3 files. There are several presets in the MP3 encoding algorithm and "--alt-preset extreme" is the penultimate one, with "--alt-preset insane" being the top. Anyway, the preset yields a variable bitrate file of about 224 to 256KB, optimized for audio playback.

Some more thoughts on MP3s.

Variable bit rates usually sound better than fixed bit rates - for a given bit rate. In other words a VBR 128kb file will sound better than a fixed bit rate 128kb file. However, the difference is less apparent a higher bit rates, i.e. 256kb and there is no difference at all at 320kb since 320 is the highest bit rate allowed.

Anything below 160kb (fixed rate) is pretty much garbage. If you don't believe me, just do some encoding and listening tests for yourself.

I've yet to hear a computer based audio playback system with anywhere near the bottom end response of a stand alone CD player. Sorry, but the bass just doesn't have the weight and authority that a good CD player, let alone a good turntable, seems to provide.

Tomorrow's lesson: the other lossy formats.

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