Home of the Squeezebox™ & Transporter® network music players.
Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 28
  1. #1
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Location
    Wake Forest, NC
    Posts
    133

    FLAC vs. VBR MP3: should I hear a difference?

    Hey Folks,

    Before I knew anything about FLAC, I ripped my CDs to MP3 (VBR, 160kbps min). Since then, I've read on and on how much FLAC is used here and in other forums. So I thought I would give it an audition before spending all that time to re-rip everything.

    I loaded dBpowerAmp (faster and easier than EAC w/FLAC) and ripped just one album: The Cars Greatest Hits.

    I was just like a little kid at Christmas, all ready to experience the difference that 4.5x the bitrate (and storage) was going to yield. What a letdown. I went back and forth, back and forth, over a bunch of songs (mainly the beginning of the songs to make it easier to compare side by side), and could not hear any differences!

    Maybe you can enlighten me:

    -- What kinds of music will benefit most from FLAC vs. VBR MP3? Was this album a poor choice?

    -- What frequencies benefit the most (low/mid/high)?

    -- Honest now: if I played the two side by side, how hard would it be for you to pick the FLAC version consistently?

    -- Anything else?

    Kind of bummed. - Dave

  2. #2
    Senior Member pfarrell's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Wayne, PA
    Posts
    4,251

    FLAC vs. VBR MP3: should I hear adifference?

    On Mon, 2005-09-19 at 19:26 -0700, Dave D wrote:
    > Before I knew anything about FLAC, I ripped my CDs to MP3 (VBR, 160kbps
    > min). Since then, I've read on and on how much FLAC is used here and in
    > other forums. So I thought I would give it an audition before spending
    > all that time to re-rip everything.


    Good idea.

    > What a letdown. I went back and forth, back and forth, over a bunch of
    > songs (mainly the beginning of the songs to make it easier to compare
    > side by side), and could not hear any differences!


    Well, it depends on a lot of things. Including the quality of the rest
    of your system.

    > -- What kinds of music will benefit most from FLAC vs. VBR MP3? Was
    > this album a poor choice?


    I'm not familiar with that particular album, but lots of
    rock was recorded with very low fidelity equipment -- early
    Beatles and Stones stuff only had to sound good on car AM
    radios. The classic guitar amps, AC30s, Marshals, etc.
    were huge distortion machines and had very low
    frequency bandwidth. This is nothing in the high frequencies
    or very low frequencies in electric rock guitars.

    I use acoustic or acoustic and vocal music for testing.
    A jazz trio, or a jazz vocalist, classical chamber music,
    natural bluegrass, etc.

    The key thing is that you have to like the music, and it
    has to have quality itself.


    > -- What frequencies benefit the most (low/mid/high)?


    midrange is there all the action is. There is nothing
    down low. High frequencies are critical for reverb
    and spacious realism.

    > -- Honest now: if I played the two side by side, how hard would it be
    > for you to pick the FLAC version consistently?


    This gets into the serious theological issues of blind testing.
    The reality is that blind testing of good audio systems is
    very hard.

    If you can't tell, then there is no difference.

    But if you can't tell and it is easy, maybe you want to do it
    so you don't have to rerip all your files later.
    It is trivial to generate MP3 or OggVorbis
    from the FLAC files, it is impossible to go
    the other way.

    And some day, you might get a better system and will
    be able to tell.

    --
    Pat
    http://www.pfarrell.com/music/slimse...msoftware.html



  3. #3
    Gadfly, Former Founder Slim Devices dean's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    San Francisco, CA
    Posts
    4,427

    FLAC vs. VBR MP3: should I hear adifference?

    On Sep 19, 2005, at 7:57 PM, Pat Farrell wrote:

    > And some day, you might get a better system and will
    > be able to tell.


    Of course, your ears aren't going to get any better over time. Enjoy
    your hearing while you have it!



  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Location
    Wake Forest, NC
    Posts
    133
    Thanks Pat.

    I'm listening through my Labtec headphones, since they sound better than my old Advent speakers (might get new speakers later this year). Maybe that makes a difference. The amplifier is an Onkyo TX-860, which was pretty good when I bought it in 1989. Probably far out-performs the speakers.

    I just ripped a more recent album, with plenty of piano and vocals: Joshua Kadison - Painted Desert Serenade. I went through each song again (beginning only) and I swear I just can't hear any difference.

    It is a bit depressing. Feel like I'm missing out; didn't think my hearing was _that_ bad.

  5. #5
    Senior Member pfarrell's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Wayne, PA
    Posts
    4,251

    FLAC vs. VBR MP3: should I hear adifference?

    On Mon, 2005-09-19 at 20:10 -0700, dean blackketter wrote:
    > On Sep 19, 2005, at 7:57 PM, Pat Farrell wrote:
    > > And some day, you might get a better system and will
    > > be able to tell.

    > Of course, your ears aren't going to get any better over time. Enjoy
    > your hearing while you have it!


    I've seen several credible reports that iPods and the like
    combined with high efficiency headphones is causing (enabling?)
    folks to seriously damage their hearing.

    And it is usually permanent. Take care of your hearing. Turn it down.

    It is interesting that most (or at least a huge number of) audiophiles
    are middle aged men, most of whom have listened to too much loud
    rock and have hurt their hearing.

    You can learn to listen, and can learn to pick up subtle things
    that make the difference between codecs, or amps, or even speakers.



    --
    Pat
    http://www.pfarrell.com/music/slimse...msoftware.html



  6. #6
    Senior Member pfarrell's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Wayne, PA
    Posts
    4,251

    Re: FLAC vs. VBR MP3: should I heara difference?

    On Mon, 2005-09-19 at 20:17 -0700, Dave D wrote:
    > I'm listening through my Labtec headphones,


    Be warned, headphones have all sorts of non-linearities.

    > since they sound better
    > than my old Advent speakers (might get new speakers later this year).


    Large Advents? I had four of them. Still have two. Altho they were kinda
    like my gradfather's ax, in that I replaced the tweeters and the woofers
    in each. I bought the first ones in 1971 or so.

    Large Advents have a serious problem with linearity. They sound great
    when played fairly loud with an amplifier that delivers a lot of watts.
    But they do not sound good at low levels. You need to crank them
    up to near live sound levels.

    And you have to deliver at least 100 real watts per channel to them.
    A lot of receivers are rated 70 or so watts, but can't deliver it
    continually, and the Advents have to have it constantly.
    Advents sound a lot better with 200 or more watts per channel,
    which is a bit weird, as you rarely listen to more than about 5 to 10
    watts at normal listening levels. But the transient stuff with
    Advents are brutal loads.

    I retired mine because my wife was tired of looking at them.
    She was actually tired of looking at them a decade before I
    replaced them.

    > It is a bit depressing. Feel like I'm missing out; didn't think my
    > hearing was _that_ bad.


    Try this, re-encode them at something far lower fidelity, like 120 CBR.
    See if you can tell then. Or even worse.

    For a lot of music, moderate VBR can sound pretty decent.

    What you need to listen to are subtle things like the sense
    of acoustic space, the way that the piano sounds decay slowly,
    or the snap and sizzle of hit hats. Or brushes on a snare in a
    jazz trio.

    When it is right, it sounds more real.

    --
    Pat
    http://www.pfarrell.com/music/slimse...msoftware.html



  7. #7
    Senior Member bernt's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Sweden, Kalmar
    Posts
    628
    Don't forget that FLAC also is a very good backup of your cd.

  8. #8
    Founder, Slim Devices seanadams's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Posts
    2,880
    YEMV but as far as I can tell, recordings with more distortion/noise reveal MP3's artifacts most readily. This is assuming of course that you know the CD *very* well, otherwise you can't tell what's from the source vs the compression. I heard this for myself before I knew much about how MP3 works, but it makes even more sense now.

    It's analogous to video compression really. On a DVD, when the image is static and simple, it looks very crisp and detailed. However during a big explosion and/or when the camera is panning over a complex scene, that is when you will see the artifacts.

    Ignoring for a moment how the mp3 encoding process decides what to keep and what to discard, the file itself is at the end of the day a small number of frequency components representing each tiny unit of time (a frame). A really clean studio recording will have simpler waveforms that can be more accurately reconstructed from a small set of frequency components.

    However when you add background noise, audience noise, disortion from tubes and guitar amps etc you get an extremely complex signal. Also drums and cymbals especially can have a wide freuency content and fast transitions which mp3 has trouble with. You generally won't hear the most artifacts in the main, loudest element of the program, because that's where mp3's psychoacoustic model can get the most perceived quality per bit.

    The best example I can think of is on one of the DMB live albums (sorry forget which one) during the into to "two step". They're getting into the intro and the audience is clapping in unison. On each clap, with mp3 the clapping sounds like an "envelope" of noise but on the CD it actually sounds like lots of hands coming together. The thing is you'd have to really be familiar with the CD in order to know that you're missing something. But this one example where I can repeatably tell the difference blind (at 160K anyway).

    A good experiment would be to make a few encodings starting at a very low bit rate, say 32kbps. What the artifacts sound like and what kind of complexity causes them will then be obvious. From there work up to higher bit rates. Above 128kbps it will be get tougher quickly, especially with VBR, as this allows any complex section to use the max 320kbps when needed.

    Also frankly, don't overlook the bit between your ears either. Knowing that you're getting all the data is important too! Sucks to be listening to something that you only have in mp3 and wonddering if it might sound better otherwise.

  9. #9
    Robin Bowes
    Guest

    FLAC vs. VBR MP3: should I hear adifference?

    Dave D wrote:
    >
    > -- Anything else?
    >


    Dave,

    Don't overlook the fact that your equipment might not be good enough to
    show the difference.

    I tried a few external DACs with my SB1 and, when I first tried, I
    couldn't hear any difference between the SB1 internal DAC, an Arcam
    Delta, and Art DI/O, and a Perpetual Technologies P3-A plus P1-A
    correction engine.

    I identified that it was my amp that wasn't good enough (a Rotel RA820A)
    so, being that way inclined, I got the soldering iron out and made a few
    mods - upgraded op amps, replace coupling caps, bypass electrolytics
    with film caps, re-routed the signal away from the tone controls, etc.

    Once I'd done this, I was easily able to hear differences between DACs.

    I see from one of your later posts that you're listening with Labtec
    headphones. Well, I don't have any experience of those, but looking at
    their website I see they are primarily a computer peripheral
    manufacturer and would not expect their headphones to be very good.

    Also, your main system - Advent speakers and Onkyo TX-860. Again, I have
    no direct experience of those components, but you say yourself that you
    believe the Labtech headphones to be better.

    Anyway, I hope that's given you food for thought.

    R.
    --
    http://robinbowes.com

    If a man speaks in a forest,
    and his wife's not there,
    is he still wrong?


  10. #10
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Posts
    754
    Be warned, headphones have all sorts of non-linearities.
    I'd argue that in general, pound for pound, decent headphones will provide more linearity and fidelity than speakers. (Obviously I mean pound sterling, although the same might be true for pound weight if your neck muscles are strong enough ... )

    In support of much of what has been already said in this thread, mp3 files encoded at a decent bit-rate can sound pretty convincing through average equipment. However, FLAC versions of music with which you are familiar, played through reasonably decent equipment is significantly different (better) to my ear. I convinced myself a wee while back when, by trying to resolve a wireless networking issue by returning SlimServer to default settings, I unknowingly set FLAC files to be sent as MP3. I very quickly noticed that the life and sound-stage had been sucked from my music. It took some time to figure out why though.

    FLAC is also perfect as an archiving format too. You can easily transcode from FLAC to any format you choose, but once it's in MP3, it's in MP3 for good unless you want to lose even more detail.
    Last edited by Fifer; 2005-09-20 at 03:23.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •