Golden Ears

Whenever I hear someone proclaim that they can hear the difference between MP3 and uncompressed audio, I ask them whether they did an ABX (so-called “double blind”) test. When they reply “a what?” I have my answer. ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you’re curious about your own ear’s abilities to discern different audio qualities, have a look at this page from npr.org: “How Well Can You Hear Audio Quality?

Yes, it’s tricky – because you don’t know which is which. And that’s the whole point of an ABX test.

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6 Comments

  1. I used to be able to hear a difference between 128 and 160kbps mp3 files I encoded myself from CD when I tested this 10 years ago. I did the above test and went 1/6 with the same equipment I used back then. Maybe encoding on compressed files has improved? Maybe my hearing has just degraded! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. I have a somewhat sensitive hearing, or maybe I’m just more aware of “defects” from the years when I made music myself. In the test, I was able to determine the higher quality 5 out of 6 times (ie. I picked the 320kbps mp3 or the wav). I picked the 128kbit mp3 once (for the a capella version of Tom’s Diner – I was glad when I read that it was THE reference track for the creators of the encoder). I think it is VERY difficult if not impossible to discern the 320kbps mp3 from the uncompressed wav – in most double blind tests, the 320kbps mp3s come out as transparent, ie. they can’t be reliably kept apart from the wavs.

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      1. I might try doing this again a week or so from now when I’ve forgotten the answers. I had things at a low volume, which wouldn’t have helped. I’ll dig out my broken but much better set of headphones too. Even if the results are the same for me (maybe I’ll do worse!), there are definitely 128s that I’ve purchased that are just obviously subpar even to my ears.

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      2. I think they definitely shuffle the entire list (when I first did it Tom’s Diner was #6, when I looked again today it was #1), and most likely also which is which for each track.

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  2. I did this one a while ago and couldn’t pick out the “best” beyond what I guess is just chance on good studio monitors attached to my computer at home which is kind of disturbing. These encodings are really quite good I think. Much better than the 128 kbs encodings we got when mp3s first started getting in vogue 2 decades ago.

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    1. Good point, Jao. The physical models behind the encoders have surely been improved a lot over the years, and a 128kbit encoded file from today may sound better than one from 20 years ago. It would be interesting to test that! It should be possible to find an old old version of LAME for sure…

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