(cont'd from Part I) As a reminder, one of our readers, Jon P. asked one of the most frequently asked questions we hear: What's all this talk of MP3s & digital music files? Why does it matter what format my music is in?
In the prior post I talked about lossy compression schemes used for many streamed and ripped music formats out there, and I ended with the question, “Can you hear the difference?” The simple answer is, yes, if you listen carefully there’s no doubt that there’s a difference between the original recording and one ripped or transmitted using a lossy compression scheme. But there are some caveats too.
How to import music at a higher quality
What's a Bit Rate?Bit rates determine how much information gets discarded during the ripping process. Lower bit rates mean lots of discarded information but smaller files; higher bit rates mean higher fidelity but bigger files.
- Go to the “Preferences” menu
- Select “General Preferences”
- Once in the General Preference menu, you should select “Import Settings”
- FYI: Other ripping programs offer similar menus and choices.**
*To see a full video tutorial click here.
**Since I have both Apple and non-Apple music players I use Apple’s MP3 encoder set to the highest quality custom rate which is 320 kbits.
Listening to higher quality music
So, what differences will you hear between highly compressed and less compressed music files? The best way to tell is to rip two copies of a file, one at a high bit rate & one at a low bit rate and immediately compare them to each other (and the original, if possible). I'd recommend music that makes it easy to hear differences--jazz instrumentals with vocals & many Country recordings. If Classical’s more your thing, choose string quartets or other smaller groups to get the best samples for comparison. You can also rip one copy in a non-lossy format for comparison to the lossy versions.
You don’t need to be a Certified Audiophile like me (I say I’m Certified because several of my friends have told me I’m certifiable) to hear the differences. Some things to listen for when comparing low bit-rate audio & high bit-rate audio:
- there’ll be less “air” around instruments
- less harmonic richness to the sound
- sound will be more distorted & fuzzier (in the same way that non-HD video is fuzzy)
- less sense of the recording space where the performance took place
- instruments may actually start to sound different than what they sound like when played live (not recorded)
At higher bit-rates:
- you'll be able to hear the instruments as though they exist in their own space on a "stage"
- the sound will have more richness
- sound will be less distorted & clearer (in the same way that HD video is clear & crisp)
- there'll be a sense that you can visualize the performance, and
- the instruments will sound clearly & exactly as they sound when played live (not recorded)
Next Up – Choosing those headphones…