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Music Media

Lossy Music Formats Compared 328

Nicholas writes: "Today's Washington Post has an article detailing the results of having a "a diverse panel of listeners: two members of the National Symphony Orchestra, a high-end stereo salesman, a record producer, a composer and two guitarists" comparing MP3Pro and Vorbis formats. The punchline: "...felt Vorbis was the least realistic, with MP3Pro sounding better and Windows Media Audio best of all -- but none of these formats achieved CD quality.""
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Lossy Music Formats Compared

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    WTF? The group decided that WMA sounds best and Vorbis sounds the worst? Don't they know that Vorbis is an open system that anyone can use, and WMA is a closed, proprietory system made by Micro$oft? Doesn't that have any bearing on their decision? Don't they know their history?

    I don't have time to be posting this stuff. I've gotta get back to helping port OpenOffice to OSX to keep Micro$oft down to only having 97% of the vital Mac market instead of 100%. Ha-ha, up yours, Micro$oft!
  • This is true. I just finished ripping all my Blue Rodeo disks onto a "definitive blue rodeo collection" to be played when I'm in a folky sorta mood.

    Maybe I should have written it as "If I could use WMA without all the license BS on my car mp3-cd player I would" :)
  • This is true, but the fact that mp3 is the most common format out there (and the one used by the car mp3-cd player) I use it anyway. I'd like to convert all my music to vorbis, but ATM it's sort of pointless. I have considered it though :)
  • by Alan ( 347 ) <<gro.seifu> <ta> <xeretcra>> on Friday July 13, 2001 @09:59AM (#86700) Homepage
    It still doesn't matter to me. If I could listen to WMA on my linux system(s) I would. If I could use WMA on my car mp3-cd player, I would.

    I can't though, so it doesn't matter. I'm not a musician by any means, nor can I detect the difference between 160 and 192 mp3 compression. So I'll continue using my inferior, yet cross platform, non-license restricted, used-everwhere, mp3 format.
  • by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @11:33PM (#86702) Homepage Journal
    This is only true for truncated 16 bit recordings, or crap that's been digitally altered so often on a low-resolution mix bus that it has no linearity left anymore.

    If you get serious with dither and error-feedback noise shaping, you can get whatever quality you like, including a characteristic very reminiscent of SACD, all from 16 bit audio CD.

    Most CDs out there DON'T have acceptable dithering and the new ones that do, are usually crap in other ways!

    I've written dithering that will literally resolve signals -156db down from CD audio, as long as they are bassy frequencies- the noise level increases with frequency like in SACD. Charts and details at ml [], the software itself is at [].

    This is not Linux software: it is Mac software written in an easier language than C. But it IS GPLed, and that's not an accident.

    CD doesn't have to mean rotten quality, and this is an analog freak saying this. CD just has _historically_ meant crap quality, just as chrysalis describes. What's being described is truncation and bad word length maintenance, particularly if it involves cheap-ass DAWs or digital mixers.

    You don't have to do that- though you're not likely to see anything but that from the major labels. They've been using cheaper and cheaper equipment for years, the latest trend is for everything to be all Pro Tools, and the poor mastering engineers are stuck trying to get a musical result out of that...

  • Even better would be the sound your computer emits as you delete the only copy of the key to that archive.

  • Yes, but the article would have then become a useful comparison. As it now stands it's no different than me rounding up a bunch of Linux users and reporting that 9 out of 10 computer experts think Windows sucks.

    A little table explaining methodology (was it a double blind test) and the bitrates for each sample would have at least been something.

  • It is nice to see some persons who appreciate music come out and explain the differences between these formats and just how much of the music you actually lose.

    Compression is convenient, but it is no replacement for the originals.
  • This is the very thing that completely dumfounded me about the whole Napster debaucle. Throughout the entire court proceding the differentiation between making a tape recording of a CD and making an MP3 was that the MP3 was an "exact digital reproduction". The very definition of the format contradicts that statement, and yet this never seened to his the spotlight.

    Sure you can download all your music from Napster and never have to pay anything, but you are _NOT_ getting CD quality audio. I used Napster to gather many songs for many reasons. Sometimes I had the songs on a media such as 33,45,or 78 vinyl, and simply didn't want to go to the trouble of recording them to disk. Other times I simply wanted to see what such and such group and/or song sounded like. If I found something that I really liked, then I went out and purchased the CD .... why? Well, I appreciate _quality_. MP3 is nice for a quick and dirty perusual of a song, but that's about it in my opinion. Well, I guess it's also good enough to play at low volumes on cheap PC speakers ...

    The Music Industry's attack on distributed file sharing is more about controlling what kind of material gets presented to the public more than about mass bootlegging, in my opinion.

    I know this is a little off topic, but I've sort of been waiting for something like this hit the "general news sites" ... I just find it funny that it didn't happen until long after Napster's demise.
  • Personally, I prefer the Ogg Vorbis sound at most bitrates.

    Personally, I can't tell the difference on the hardware on which I listen to lossy compressed music. But I can guarantee that in 10 years time, I'll still be able to to listen to my .ogg files. I have the spec for the format, and the source code for a sample implementation. I can't guarantee the same for MP3Pro, WMA, or any other proprietary format. For that reason alone, Ogg Vorbis is my preferred format, and will remain so for the forseeable future...

  • Valves closing? Is that a good thing? I can't think of a time when I said "gee, that music was pretty good, but I sure wish I could have heard the valves closing"

    Maybe if I was listening the movie Brazil. Otherwise, I can get quite a lot of enjoyment out of music without needing to hear valves closing.
  • Ah, but in this case the 'sugar content' has many other implications. Bandwidth and file size are very important with portable devices and for anyone on a slow connection. Others archiving music collections might not care as much, at higher bitrates a codec might stand out better.

    Certain codecs might work better with certain types of music or might sound better to people who prefer genres of music.

    You do have a point though, some of the test I've seen online have focused on quantifiable measures of harmonic distortion, frequency response and such from various codecs and at various bitrates. While these kinds of tests do produce hard numbers to toss around, they ignore the point I think you were hitting on, they miss the final measure of the intended destination - the human ear.

    Chris Cothrun
    Curator of Chaos

  • cool, thanks. I think I read an earlier incarnation of that article on the vbr encoding. He links to this c't [] article in German that looks like a nifty test. Problem is, I don't read (or speak) German and c't doesn't do English articles (what a shame). And of course it doesn't seem to go far enough, only comparing various bit rates with the mp3 format.

    Chris Cothrun
    Curator of Chaos
  • by crisco ( 4669 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @10:00AM (#86717) Homepage
    They obviously didn't use very rigorous testing methods, the fact that the quotes from various testers named different file formats indicates that they knew the format as they were listening to it.

    Combine that with no mention of the bitrates used and you essentially have a fluff piece.

    I've only seen one test that might be called rigorous and that was a few years back. Does anyone know of quality listening comparisons between various codecs at various bitrates? Blind testing (Double Blind?), listeners with some musical background (musicians, recording engineers, even audiophiles), a wide range of music, maybe even different sound systems? I'm curious, almost (but not quite, I'm also lazy) enough to round up some friends and do my own sorry version of the test.

    Chris Cothrun
    Curator of Chaos

  • by Glytch ( 4881 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @11:04AM (#86718)
    No, no, no. You're missing the point, and the previous poster to you was correct. To conduct a proper test for this, the test should have been set up according to the "sample a, sample b" idea. If the judges know beforehand what the format is for each sample, they can be biased against or for that format and reflect that bias in their responses. Have you ever taken a Practical Statistics class?
  • What do you mean, a commonly-used bitrate? I can bet a lot of money on that if you give me a CD with any music and let me play it to you together with the same CD encoded at 256 kbps ABR high-quality pass with LAME 3.88, on an SB Live! hooked up to a good amp and a good pair of monitor speakers (play the CD on your favorite CD player hooked up to the same amp), you would not be able to hear the difference between the CD and the mp3. If you state otherwise, you're full of shit. The audio quality difference at this bitrate, with this encoder, cannot be heard by any human ear.

    Bring it on. Some pieces I know I can hear a difference even at over 300 kbps include:

    • Any well-recorded a capella stuff (eg, The Bobs, The Persuasions), especially in the soprano / falsetto range.
    • Miles Davis "So What". The slight breathiness of tone on his first few entrances does not encode well at any bitrate.
    • any damned thing with an exposed ride cymbal part.
    • "Minimalist" contempory compositions. Phillip Glass operas in particular are extremely revealing on playback equipment.
    I have all of these on CD, and have encoded them with recent versions of LAME at 320kbps. I listened to the MP3s, then deleted them because I considered the quality unacceptable.

    If the quality is acceptable to you, that's cool. My point is that it is not the same thing as CD quality, and any music lover with a good ear can hear the difference.

  • I hereby take back what I said above. I compared the version number on my copy of LAME - I was sadly out of date. I am now re-encoding a bunch of stuff according to the r3mix specs, and will, in all likelyhood, find it to be wonderful now.

  • by jeff.paulsen ( 6195 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @11:13AM (#86725)
    The amount of data that is lost in MP3 compression is tiny, and is mostly sounds out of range of human hearing.

    Hardly. Any musician, or any music fan with a good ear can distinguish between live music, CD-quality music, and MP3 at any commonly-used bitrate. There are significant audible artifacts in MP3-encoded music, particularly in the percussion sounds. Snare drums and cymbals seem to be most affected.

    This is not like the subtle difference in sound quality that audiophiles used to claim from painting CD edges green - this is more like the difference between a well-miked drum kit and a pathologically distorted drum kit. Personally, I prefer the Ogg Vorbis sound at most bitrates. I haven't used WMA much.

    I would like to see a test done with better controls and better reporting of test conditions.

  • 7 Experts Write Off After a Journalism Test
    By Joe Sixpack
    Wurshington Past Staff Writer

    To test loosy summarization techniques, we recruited a diverse panel of readers: two linux advocates, a gamer, a cheerleader, a MBA, and two MS windows users.

    We had them read summarized versions of two articles: "MS beats Linux in Mindcraft Test" and "New Detonater 17 Drivers Released by nVidia".

    The tests were conducted in a home environment with an ordinary browser. We focused most of our attention on JohnKatz and ZDNet, the two most fanatical formats, with Tom's Hardware and MSNBC, the unbiased and more journalistically responsible formats, given more limited tests.

    Of the seven readers, two couldn't differentiate between JohnKatz and ZDNet. The other 5 agreed that JohnKatz was the least realistic, with Tom's Hardware better and MSNBC reading best of all.

    "JohnKatz just started blathering in the Mindcraft story. There was a lot of cruft about freedom and how OSS rules, but the real content was cut out completely" said Duke Fraggem, a hard-core gamer. "Tom's Hardware, on the other hand, man, you could even read the friggin' frame rate in the benchmark's section"

    Betty Bouncealot, a professional cheerleader, said "I thought it was funny that the MSNBC article cut that Demonitator thingy out completely, not even a headline. But at least it was the least confusing of the articles."

    Both of our linux advocates felt that the ZDNet article totally destroyed the readability of the "Mindcruft" article. "It seemed made-up and artificial, like they didn't even review the facts at all," said Colonel Kernel Sanders, a RedHat staffer. "I couldn't even finish reading it, it was to painful" was all Joe "OSS" Bloggs had to say about it.

    One thing that all of the readers agreed upon was that JohnKatz was the worst of the summerizing formats. Sanders said the nVidia article lost a lot of "sense." Bob and Clippy, the Windows users, blamed this on the way JohnKatz shaves off the sanity and content from articles. John Doe, who holds an MBA from Harvard, noted that the sanity of a JohnKatz article abruptly terminated, compared to ZDNet's gradual fadeout.

    On a tiny PDA screen -- the kinds of environments where many articles are read -- the loss of information would probably go unnoticed.

    But Bloggs worried about how the loss of subtle information meant less journalistic integrity overall. "Those little details give you a lot of information about what really happened."

    (C) 31337 The Wurshinton Past Company
  • by samael ( 12612 )
    I'm stealing your comment for my .sig

    Any objections, feel free to get in contact.
  • Seanasy typed: 1.Windows Media format is the Best...

    Did the reviewers have to pay for the medium? If so, the results might be different... Download a few hundred MP3 for free or pay $2 per each WMA file and then see which format is in first place.

  • If I could use WMA on my car mp3-cd player, I would.

    ...and then when you put in the MP3 compilation CD you made out of your own legally-purchased CDs, it would say, "You have inserted a CD containing copyrighted music. This is not authorized by Microsoft WMA Digital Rights Management. Access Denied."


  • ...until watermarking starts to work.


  • God forbid they actually told you ALL the aspects of the story

    The editor used compression on the story. :) You should write an article comparing the various lossy summarization techniques.


  • I don't understand, why can't you just take the various waveforms produced with each method and see how they compare to the original? Then you would see that WMA is off by x% and ogg is off by y%. Why do people focus on totally subjective listening tests?
  • by WNight ( 23683 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @03:00PM (#86743) Homepage
    When you're done, post it on

    I'd suggest doing a blind test, compress the samples with various programs and bit-rates, then convert them back to wav files. Save them with names like "Rock-Sample1", "Rock-Sample2" ... Let people post with their votes on which sounds best. At the end, post the list of which sample came from which program, and a which bit-rate. At that point, post the compressed files as well so people can verify the results.

    If you post that story (or email me for help in writing it and such) vote for it!
  • Actually, you may not be entirely correct. My fiancee and I have had quite a few discussions about high-end stereo equipment (like discrete amplified channels, speakers such as Definitive, Sonus Faber, and whoever it is that makes the filament speakers) as well as the quality of CD recordings vs. vinyl or tape or digital (DAT), etc. Now, mind you - she is an audio engineer, with a degree from one of the most reputed schools in the country (I think its in LA - I forget what its called).

    One of the things she explains to me most often is that what you hear (on your CD) is NOT what was recorded in the studio, on stage at the symphony, etc. It is what has been cleaned and processed to sound best on a variety of common setups - like an average stereo, a boombox, and a common (stock) sound system in a common type of car.

    So, while many folks believe they can hear more details than others (and admittedly, I'm sure recordings exist that still have these details in them), by and large - these details were lost on the studio post-processing floor. The goal of post-processing is apparently not to deliver the most hi-fi sound - its to deliver the music in a way that it sounds good in the most diverse environments.

    To me, this sounds like what we get on CD is truly the lowest common denominator. At that point - encoding into MP3 or Vorbis doesn't seem to make more of a difference. I personally prefer Vorbis because (a) it sounds good (b) the file sizes are small and (c) it is patent free [] - that means a lot to me. Notice I didn't make any comparisons - I don't presume to say that it is better or smaller than anything else - I don't really care. Its the only format out there that allows me to enjoy my music in a format that is smaller than .wav files and more transportable than CDs whilst knowing that the algorithms are patent free to boot. Sweet deal if you ask me.

  • by jonathan_ingram ( 30440 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @11:57AM (#86752) Homepage
    You're half correct. The release candidate for the version 1 *decoder* has been released, but the *encoder* is still at beta4. The release candidate for the encoder will be released at the end of the month, and that will be the first version supporting channel coupling. There are also several bugs in the psycho-acoustic model in beta4 that will be fixed in the release candidate.

    Basically, they released the decoder as soon as they could, so other people can include a decoder in their applications that will play all version 1 Vorbis files.

    So -- version 1 will have channel coupling, but it's not quite there yet.
  • I take it by 'subtle', you mean 'totally non existant'? ml [] for some discussion on the subject.
  • The research indicates that the 'stablizers' sold actually result in more vibration. See the cite above for details.
  • by jamesc ( 37895 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @10:35AM (#86762)
    I disagree, I think the billions and billions of money spent on research has more than paid off for Microsoft and users. Like it or not, through their research on what users wants, Microsoft makes huge advances in useability, although sometimes at the expense of stability, etc.

    "What users want"? Maybe, if you want to write to the Least Common Denominator.... Anyway, trading off stability for "usability" is a mistake. A good SW Engr. group should be able to achieve both.

    Also, why do you have to stop them? If you don't like them, don't buy their stuff and recommend that your friends do the same. I really don't see the need for a focus on stopping Microsoft. If they are as horrible as most people here think, they will stop themselves.

    Maybe you missed the reason the AOL / MSFT talks broke down: the Dark Lords of Redmond wanted to tie all A-V formats to WMF with an exclusive contract, freezing out Real, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, etc. They still want to extend their monopoly any way they can.

    The fact is that people have choices now in terms of computing. Microsoft doesn't need to be stopped. Make a better product and make it as easy to use as Windows and Microsoft's hold of computing with lessen.

    I agree with this with some exceptions. If MSFT would compete solely on the quality of their products, I'd have no problem with them. So long as they are trying to extend their turf by leveraging their existing monopolies, and trying to get new monopoly positions, I've got no use for them.

  • When I tested this, I noticed that the player I used boosted the high end on Ogg and MP3, presumably to compensate for MP3 crushing it. Since Ogg didn't crush the high end, it sounded wrong. So, they need to choose good players.
  • by brianvan ( 42539 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @09:58AM (#86764)
    Why couldn't they test it with some good music? Like Britney Spears?

    I could encode Britney's music with PGP and it would still sound just as good.

    *dreams of bouncing breasts*
  • by chrysalis ( 50680 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @10:30AM (#86771) Homepage
    Actually, "cd quality" means poor quality. Honestly, a CD has a flat sound. Every CD sounds the same. Unrealistic.
    12" vinyl records have much dynamic. More punch. If you listen to classic music on vinyl, you hear every instrument as if it was really nearby you. You don't get that feeling with a CD. Because a CD has only 16 bits of dynamic, music is overcompressed. Quiet music doesn't give anything on a CD. And when parts of the music become louder, there's a small difference of amplitude, but it has nothing to do with what real musicians played originally. Vinyl reflects this in a far better way.
    Things may change with SCD (24 bits, 96 khz) . But the CD is definitely something lame for audiophile experts (nothing to do with the original music), for electronic music (the music isn't very punchy compared to vinyl), and for DJ's (I really hate mixing on CD, and I can't imagine hip-hop DJ's with CDJs) .

    -- Pure FTP server [] - Upgrade your FTP server to something simple and secure.
  • > Even better would be the sound your computer emits as you delete the only copy of the key to that archive [of PGP-encoded Britney Spears]

    Until now, I didn't know computers could orgasm.

  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @10:25AM (#86773)
    > What the article fails to mention, or I'm too blind to find, is what bit rates these tests were run at and a quick discussion of what bit rates the various formats are considered best at.


    My suspicion - given the preference for MP3Pro over MP3 - is that it was MP3 at 64kbps vs. MP3Pro at 64kbps.

    Even makes sense, after all. Including WMA in the study at all is weird -- and if they encoded the WMA and the MP3 using MSFT's built-in MP3 encoder, they'd have gotten the shittiest-sounding 64k MP3 on the planet.

    MP3Pro is designed for streaming audio, and outperforms MP3 at extremely low bitrates (i.e. 64K).

    The part in the article where the guitarist said he could hear the valves closing on the clarinet and bassoon... is utter bullshit. He probably heard some flanging artifact and thought it was a valve closure.

    Finally - and this is another biggie - for the MP3 section, did they use Blade, LAME, Fraun, or Xing? Some rock on some forms of music, but utterly sux0r on others. And some encoders sound like dog shit on all forms of music.

    Sounds to me like a puff piece designed to get people out of (ubiquitous) MP3 and into (proprietary, Windoze-only) MP3Pro and (DRM-encumbered and proprietary) WMA, with Ogg Vorbis thrown in for a "What's that?" appeal.

    (Credit to them grokking that lossy compression in music often throws away stereo separation / spatial components, though.)

  • Since I'm a karma whore, and it seems like a lot of these replies are by people who don't know what goes on with mp3s, heres the gist:

    I'm going to assume everyone understands that an audio file (mp3 or wave) is a series of frames, where each frame has information about the decibel level of every frequency which makes up that frame (if you're thinking in terms of Amplitude-vs-Frequency). MP3 compression works because of a principle of psychoacoustics called 'frequency masking'. The basic idea is that in your frame, if your amplitude at 440hz is 80db, then that loud sound will mask all frequencies between 430hz & 450hz. (these numbers are all made up, they are only used to illustrate the basic idea).

    Now, to the original comment that said '[t]he amount of data that is lost in MP3 compression is tiny', that's full of shit. MP3s @ 128kbps compress wavs about 1:10 or 1:11. Now as for the _meaningfull_ data lost, that's a matter of opinion. Now, the bitrate of an MP3 (128/160/192/etc) is used to denote how much space is allocated the 44100 frames (1 second of music @ 44.1khz). The problem with MP3s is that encoders don't make judgements on when to stop getting rid of information based on how their frequency masks will effect sound, they simply keep cutting the most masked sounds until they get to 128kbps.

    For some songs, this makes little difference, because frequency wise, they may not be very complex (and hence not effected by the frequency masks). For some songs (esp those with a lot of range, ie classical music), this encoding turns the music from beautiful to crap.

    I'm a big proponent of Variable Bitrate Encoding (VBR) because you can set the quality you want the output file to have (low, med, high) and the encoder will make frequency masks of different sizes for each frame depending on how much space it needs. This obviously makes much more sense, as fixed bitrate encoding requires the same amount of information to convey silence as it does a crescendo.

    PS. To the person complaining that mp3s cut off frequencies above 20khz, you aren't going to get any better with cds. CDs are 16bit/44.1khz. A refresh rate of 44.1khz will only detect frequencies up to 22.05khz (which is used so that there is no clipping when you have a 20khz sound. it doesn't actually store meaningful information above 20khz). Now there are some encoders which cut off above 16khz. _Those_ are shit.

  • by Smthng ( 71777 ) <> on Friday July 13, 2001 @10:25AM (#86782)
    This study varies significantly from the study done in Heise link here [] . That study concluded that high quality mp3s were indistinguishable from CD recordings !!
    I can only conclude that one of these two sets of tests were biased or did something wrong. They can't both be right and the quality of digital recordings can't decrease with time !
  • by Jace of Fuse! ( 72042 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @11:13AM (#86784) Homepage
    And because of that, no one will ever use it. So Microsoft is effectively just burying technology.

    Actually, a lot of people use it, just not for illegal file trading as is often seen with MP3.

    The fact is -- some people actually only rip and encode their own CDs, and a good number of them people do so entirely with WMA.

    This will become more prominent in Windows XP, and seeing as how Microsoft has crippled the included MP3 Encoder (or perhaps removed it altogether) WMA will be most people's choice, except for those of us who don't mind spending the high price for Fraunhofer encoder.

    I rip and encode my own MP3s. That's a no-brainer. At the moment, MP3 is dominent.

    I remember when GIF was the most popular image format, too. Does anybody remember VOC?

    What about ARC, or LHA?

    File formats shift through time. Some come, some go, and some remain in use to small groups. But in time I suspect even JPG will be replaced.

    I don't see why MP3 is here to stay, even if WMA doesn't replace it.

    "Everything you know is wrong. (And stupid.)"
  • by Webmoth ( 75878 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @09:57AM (#86786) Homepage
    I've noticed that some players provide clearer sound than others when playing the same file, so I would think that the same would apply to encoders.

    This, of course, depends on the implementation of the algorithm used, whether a reverse-engineered algorithm is used or a native one is used, what kind of error correction is used, and so forth.

  • Impressed in comparison to.... what? Have you tried some third party video equip? Did you try Quicktime or DV equipment? Have you had any oportunity to look at an avid system?


  • by xiphmont ( 80732 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @12:03PM (#86791) Homepage

    I talked to him before the story went in the Post
    (thus the little sentance about 1.0) and he said
    it was neither blind nor structured (and I gave
    him my concerns about that on Wednesday)...

    OK, I better mail him again and see what's up.

  • In over a year of press coverage, we've gotten one relatively negative quality review... and Slashdot covers that one. OK, fine, I better say something about it.

    I spoke to the reporter who did these 'listening tests'... the tests were not structured, were not controlled, were not blind or double blind... in short, the reviewers knew exactly which codec sample they were listening to at all times. The reviewers also came into the test with already formed opinions about which codec was best and-- surprise--- the test seemed to confirm what they already 'knew'.

    In ABX blind testing, Vorbis usually surprises the tester, for example, from our happy maniac friends at r3mix [] forum (MPEGplus and Vorbis won this ABX test first and second place over mp3pro, AAC, WMA8, TwinVQ and ATRAC3):

    "Also, I must admit, both Ogg Vorbis and MPEGplus suprised me. I wasn't expecting to see them both so near the top. I've gotta say, I really had to guess alot for both the of these tests. Pretty darn close[...]

    For MPEGplus, I was guessing almost every time, but I 'knew for sure' on Vorbis."
    That is, he knew for sure... incorrectly. A brilliant example of the power of suggestion.

    In any case, after talking to the Post reporter he feels a little sheepish about the whole thing... he thought he balanced the article by mixing positive traits of the openness of the code with a critical quality review and has agreed to be more fair to the first 1.0 encoder release candidate.


  • MP3's do suck, but the article didn't compare or contrast MP3's to other formats. It compared MP3-pro. Big difference.

    That said, I haven't heard mp3 pro or wma, so I cant comment on the substance of the matter.
  • by szcx ( 81006 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @09:56AM (#86797)
    If it were really diverse, they wouldn't just have music professionals on the board. They'd have a deaf person, some giggling schoolgirls, a super-intelligent killbot, and maybe a monkey.
  • This was done over at somebodys crib... I don't think they had any controls. The testers are quoted saying things like "Vorbis was..." so it was not a blind test. They could have been just reacting to their preconcieved notions of the names of the types! This means nothing. Not news.
  • So what we really need is for some groups to start recording directly to digital formats, and releasing first to the Net, then to CD?

    Are there any professional groups using digital recording studies, releasing their songs directly into a compressed digital format, with every step from the original recording being tuned toward releasing in a digital format that isn't locked to the CD source bitrate?

  • by Nonesuch ( 90847 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @01:08PM (#86805) Homepage Journal
    Is the issue really that making the original 'rip' is an exact reproduction, or that the third, fourth, or three-hundredth generation copy sounds just as good/bad as the second generation directly off the CD?

    That always seemed to me to be the issue- If I copy a tape from a friend who copied it from another friend, each generation of copies degrades significantly. Every generation of copies of a digital file is identical to the first rip, aside from the usual Napster problem of losing the last 4 seconds of every song you download :-)

  • I have tons of MP3's that I've made from my own CD's so I will probably not convert to .wma anytime soon, but I've been working on streaming video and audio projects and I am really impressed by both Microsoft's audio and video compression schemes.

    Before you discount this as pro Microsoft retoric let me assure you that I am not a huge fan of their in the server/serving services arena, but they do make some good multimedia stuff.

  • Last time I asked, (I think) Vorbis did not support mid-side stereo encoding. That means that it couldn't take advantage of the correlation between the two channels. It would do better than MP3 on mono signals and worse on stereo. Does anyone know whether it's still the case. That could explain the results.
  • I disagree, I think the billions and billions of money spent on research has more than paid off for Microsoft and users. Like it or not, through their research on what users wants, Microsoft makes huge advances in useability, although sometimes at the expense of stability, etc.

    Also, why do you have to stop them? If you don't like them, don't buy their stuff and recommend that your friends do the same. I really don't see the need for a focus on stopping Microsoft. If they are as horrible as most people here think, they will stop themselves.

    The fact is that people have choices now in terms of computing. Microsoft doesn't need to be stopped. Make a better product and make it as easy to use as Windows and Microsoft's hold of computing with lessen.
  • Thing is, these are people who are theoretically vey sensitive and perceptive about such things. They didn't try to include John A. Consumer in the study.

    I think the experts raise some valid points in the end of the article about poor sound quality not necessarily being excusable. But then, I'm a musician, so I may have different views on the matter.

    And, wow, I had always wondered whether "Vorbis" was a Discworld reference. Cute. I thought "Ogg" might be, too, but I guess not.

  • Thank you, yes, I do know the characters (having read the whole series will do that for you). Which is why when I first heard of the format, that's what I thought of.
  • Yes, I concur. Vorbis was rather important. Villains generally are. He was also, to an extent, symbolic.
  • It, of course, depends on what you're encoding. WMA has been long known to add artifacts to certain kinds of sounds during the encoding process, such as pre-echo. Some sounds, like drums, can be quite distorted by this, although obviously in the case of the article, some of the listeners actually liked the pre-echo -- "On MP3Pro, I could hear the valves closing on the clarinet and the bassoon".
  • "What users want"? Maybe, if you want to write to the Least Common Denominator....

    That's what running a big business is all about. Mc Donalds, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart...

    You don't make much money catering to the elite.

  • I think the answer to why it should scare me should rather be that they're coupling WMA with their rights management system, backed by Passport and deployed by pressplay []. This really scares me.
  • So they make a comparisson about compression formats, get together several "experts" in the field and the writer sums up the conclusions in a few oversimplified statements for the lazy reader.

    God forbid they actually told you ALL the aspects of the story, the complete facts: what're the compression rates? which one compresses more? is there a relation between file size vs. quality (well, of course there is, but is some form of compression significan enough to justify lower quality? or the other way around?)

    We live in a time when a crackpot claims that God helped him invent the perpetual motion engine, of which he will have a prototype that actually works Real Soon Now, and a national prime-time news program on a major network will actually send reporters out and cover, and provide, at best, just one or two sound bites from actual scientists pointing out that such a thing is impossible.

    And given this, a reporter doing a listening test without proper methodology is a surprise?

  • by rob_from_ca ( 118788 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @10:52AM (#86827) Homepage
    Small or not it's quite perceptible. Play on my stereo an MP3 vs. a CD of the same song I will 100% pick out the CD as being better each time based on the sound alone, and I could point out the differences to anyone and make them see it too. Lots of people can; MP3's are simply no good for at home, pure listening purposes. For just about everything else, they're fine (computers, joggers, cars, DJ's, parties, etc...) for the most part.
  • sometimes a less true sound going to the speakers will result in you thinking you hear something more true. [...] If I were the boss of a project to design a new digital format for the Internet, the goal would not be to make it sound as much like a CD as possible. The goal would be to make it sound as good as possible.

    Interesting idea, but I think that would be a seperate project from designing a compression scheme. If there were some set of translations you could run on the audio to make it sound more realistic, sooner or later the people who print the CDs would run it on them before they print. They'd be doing essentially the same thing but not compressing, and would sound better. Compressed formats just can't beat uncompressed formats. The only thing you can really hope for is to get the two close enough together that no one can tell the difference.

  • I can't believe in this comparison they neglected one of the most unique formats of all time! I mean, this format has nearly zero compression, a limited spand, is fairly lossy in level (although it has a better frequency range), and is extremely easily corruptible and nearly impossible to repair.

    I mean, the vinyl record didn't even earn its due in this battle! Although I understand that if you're willing to take a shorter piece of music, the media can be compressed to half its original diameter.
  • You and I shouldn't have to worry about re-encoding our existing collection of songs (MP3, RM, pick the format) into new formats providing the existing collection is electronic.

    We're not talking about different mediums here as in the case when everyone changed from LP to CD. At that time, listeners were repurchasing the medium (CDs) and the delivery mechanism (CD players). In this case, the delivery mechanism is software on your PC that is upgraded at the click of a button and each click could add new support for existing and emerging formats.

    If your existing collection is in format X and better format Y comes out, each format can co-exist and be used together. The only issue is if you WANT your existing format 'upgraded'.

  • by snookerdoodle ( 123851 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @10:27AM (#86835)
    Here's an interesting web site that lets you do the comparisons:

    Also see

    for some results


    for explanation of ABX in general.

    This url: .h tm

    contains samples to compare FOR YOURSELF several codec variations.

    This url: tm

    contains some results... Apologies for not posting with html...

  • Apart from the fact that, as other posters have noted, there's no information given on the bit rates or encoders used, the article straight-out admits that "the test sessions were done in a home environment with an ordinary stereo system".

    Which, I'll warrant, means no double blinding and no level matching. Probably not even single blinding (where the testers know what's being listened to, but the testees don't). Level matching is essential; different encoding methods may play back at slightly different levels, and just turning up the volume a tad will convince a large proportion of casual or professional listeners that something's improved in the sound.

    Without a proper scientific test, psychoacoustic effects can swamp even quite large real differences in sound, and can cause people to hear quite large differences that they wouldn't hear if they didn't know when they were listening to what.

    As can trivially be demonstrated, when you look at the number of golden-eared but scientifically ignorant audiophiles who are utterly convinced that marble plinths for solid state equipment, little discs made of Mpingo ebony that you sit on top of your components, incredibly expensive special power cables and CD "demagnetisers" all make a clear and definite difference to the sound of their hi-fi system.

    If you do a proper scientific test and find an audible difference between an amplifier whose transistors have had voodoo incantations spoken over them and another otherwise identical amplifier that has not been so treated, then I'll give you my rapt attention, despite the fundamental ridiculousness of the concept. If the evidence supports your contention, then your contention has value, by definition.

    But if you don't do a proper test, your results are going to be random. From what little this article says about the test's methodology, I see no reason to believe a word of it.
  • I can't though, so it doesn't matter. I'm not a musician by any means, nor can I detect the difference between 160 and 192 mp3 compression. So I'll continue using my inferior, yet cross platform, non-license restricted, used-everwhere, mp3 format.

    Funny. Licensing issues are the single most important reason for not using MP3, at least for me. Looking for a non-license restricted format? Try Vorbis.

  • But in time I suspect even JPG will be replaced.

    It definitely will. Lossy image compression seems less and less attractive as higher bandwidth and more storage space becomes available. For any professional use, i.e. when you really need all the detail you can get, it's certainly not what you want.

    The same can obviously be said about lossy audio and video compression, but for the moment (at least when it comes to video), it is totally unpractical to use anything else. So they will stay much longer.

  • by Doomdark ( 136619 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @10:54AM (#86852) Homepage Journal
    Well... Personally, I have all my music (minus few LPs) on CD (which are, *gasp* actually purchased!), and I can (and already partially have) encode them in any new format (ogg vorbis in my case) I want. I consider mp3 files to be binaries, and originals (CD) to be the source. No one would de-compile binaries, then re-compile using a new better compiler... So why should anyone do the same with mp3 to ogg either (anyone ignorant enough to convert from lossy format to another lossy format deserves the piss-poor quality he gets). Ok, well, I know... people with tons of pirated mp3s from Napster might want to do it. Somehow I just don't feel for them, though.

    Also... you are assuming all the world's music is already here, and in MP3. There'll be new music created that can be encoded using better formats, and of course not everyone has converted music to mp3 yet in the first place. There's plenty of room for new better formats.

  • Vorbis is a minor charecter in a single discworld book. Nanny Ogg, and the Ogg family she comes from, are major players in an entire thread of the discworld series.

  • Bullshit. Most classical music and jazz recordings are not processed at all. The Trinity Session by The Cowboy Junkies was recorded live, in a church, with one stereo microphone. Ben Folds Five's Whatever and Ever, Amen was recorded in Ben Folds house, and minimal cleaning up was done to it: you can hear a telephone ring in one of the tracks with decent equipment. Hell, even The Art of Noise's music, which is totally digital (I hesitate to say synthezied), sounds far better with more detail on good audio systems.

  • Well, how is it now?

  • by Docrates ( 148350 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @10:03AM (#86865) Homepage
    So they make a comparisson about compression formats, get together several "experts" in the field and the writer sums up the conclusions in a few oversimplified statements for the lazy reader.

    God forbid they actually told you ALL the aspects of the story, the complete facts: what're the compression rates? which one compresses more? is there a relation between file size vs. quality (well, of course there is, but is some form of compression significan enough to justify lower quality? or the other way around?)

    Sorry for the ranting, but I've been trying to catch up on what's going on in the world today and the more I read the more frustrated I get with regular articles from regular sources (the CNN's and MSNBC's). And has anyone noticed that it's becoming less and less of a practice to actually link the original source of the information?

    Oh, and why is slashdot so slow today? maybe I should have named this post "A bad day...".

    I apologize again for the negative tone.
  • Ever been to an orchestra? I used to date a girl who plays the French horn, and the individuality of the concert notes in real life makes even my orchestral MP3s at 256 and higher sound poor. My CDs are a bit better, but there's little that can replace the true sounds using current CD-level recording. I look forward to new, higher-fidelity recordings to replace my existing Strauss, Holst, and Beethoven collection.
  • by Nidhogg ( 161640 ) <shr.thanatos@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday July 13, 2001 @09:58AM (#86870) Journal
    what about those people that aren't either experts in audio equipment or professional musicians?

    Are they going to notice the difference? Probably not.

    Granted this is nice information to have. But I don't see the average user caring much. The MP3 format itself was lossy but no one seemed to care.

  • by ahhhmytoes ( 161969 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @11:30AM (#86871)
    Most MP3 compression utilities filter out frequencies above 20kHz or below 20Hz; CD-quality sound can produce frequencies at 44kHz and the inverse of the length of the sound. Clearly, the data filtered out is not tiny.

    It is true that most low-grade speakers and headphones cannot produce frequencies above 20kHz or below 20Hz (check the frequency response), but higher grade equipment can. This is often the reason somebody can't tell the difference between CD sound and MP3.

    Psychoaucustics models say that few people can hear frequencies, by themselves, above 20kHz. Suppose that you can't. However, multiple frequencies above 20kHz can produce frequencies below 20kHz. Try playing a root and a fourth on a very well-tuned string instrument. It should resonate and octave below the root. Playing a root and an octave above it also produces and octave below the root. Various other combinations produce different tones.

    The frequencies above 20kHz do matter, whether you can hear them or not. These high frequencies often contribute to tone; differences in ambouchere, reed, mouthpieces, instruments for reed players, differences in strings, where the string is played, plucking/bowing style for string players.

    Another way to think about it: try to produce a square wave with only sine waves. To reproduce it exactly, you need the wave that has the same period, then period/3, then period/5, then period/7, etc. When you take away the high frequencies, the wave isn't the same.

    Higher bit rate MP3s are not CD quality sound. MP3 still distorts the original, and many find that objectionable when hearing it from quality equipment.

    For actual CD-quality sound, I suggest a lossless algorithm such as shorten (.shn).

  • Even if you have the bloated monster v7 on your system, the older, lighter player should still be there. At least it is on WinMe. Look for mplayer2.exe, and manually assign it to play MPG, AVI, etc. You may have to leave some of the newer streaming formats assigned to WMP7.

    I haven't seen WMP7 pop up in MONTHS and I am SO happy.
  • by SquadBoy ( 167263 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @09:58AM (#86873) Homepage Journal
    all of the good details. Like how they where encoded at what bit rate etc. Also why did the listeners know what they where listening to. The comments should have been sample a sounded better then sample b not about which format sounded better. Also they did not mention file size or any of the other reasons that people use lossy formats in the first place.
  • What kind of hardware were the audio's running on? The majority of MP3 listeners aren't too concerned with audio quality as their systems aren't meant to put out high quality audio anyways (As mentioned in the article, headphones and computer systems are the main components of an average MP3 users playback system).

    It is surprising, however, that Media Audio comes out on top...Not because it's a Microsoft product, but because anecdotally, I've always found it to be the worst player for my system...An intense resource hog as compared to other player/compression pairs. I guess one could say it's the more 'professional' of the three (Ogg, MP3, WMA)

    "On MP3Pro, I could hear the valves closing on the clarinet and the bassoon," said Peter Hubscher, a rock guitarist. "I couldn't on Vorbis." An interesting quote, how good were these recordings?

  • You're wrong. Here's why.

    There was a fellow back in the day, when the recording industry was beginning to become mainstream, and he designed some of the most brilliant devices and consoles, the principles of which are still in use today. He had a theory about music and recording which has pretty much been proven by modern means, and it goes something like this:

    Say you're in a small room with another person and the two of you are having a conversation. As the sound of your speaking leaves your mouth and resonates inside your chest, it generates sound waves that flow away from your body, almost like water. (Patience, I'm getting there. :) As the sound fills the room, it reflects off everything--the floor, your friend, the walls, it even comes back and reflects upon itself. Not so much, but it does. This is all fairly common knowledge, if you've had high school physics.

    Now the trick here is to place a single microphone in the room and capture all of the above discribed chaos going on. And you really need to, because this guy's theory says that the frequencies that are NOT audible to the human ear will resonate and affect the net sound of the frequencies that we can.

    This effect becomes more potent when you have an entire rock band or symphony orchestra performing a piece. Sure there are sounds that you will not be able to hear, but those inaudible sounds are what makes the difference between watching them perform live at the theatre or in a bar, and sitting at home and listening to a recording. It's just not the same.

    As if the trouble with COLLECTING all the sounds isn't enough, now we have trouble REPRODUCING these sounds. When a song is dubbed to tape, it loses an upper and lower bound of frequencies because of a limitation of the medium. When the song is pressed into vinyl, is loses another set of frequencies. By the time it makes it to CD, it's crammed down to 20Hz-20KHz (or so, I don't know what the newer CDs are capable of) instead of the (potential) 0-undef it would be if you were standing right there when the sounds were originally produced.

    The fallacy of music compression is the idea that unused (or nearly unused) frequencies can be removed without detriment to the quality of the music. This is wholly untrue, and I dare anyone who says otherwise to take a classical piece on vinyl or an older song from an LP and compare it to a 128Kbps CD-rip of the same recording.

    Now, that doesn't mean I don't enjoy being able to store every song The Beatles ever recorded on two CDs. I just wanted to make the point that while it's convenient, it sounds terrible compared to what the artist inteded you to hear from the beginning.


  • If the tests are properly conducted, this is simply not true.

  • >>>
    On the other hand, the comment about loss of spaciousness showed some insight. One of the things most of these lossy formats don't preserve is the phase information between channels.

    I've corrected this elsewhere as well:

    The format where they noticed the loss of
    spaciousness was the ONLY one that actually
    preserved all stereo information. (because it
    is not implemented yet)
    This is one of the clearest indications their
    testing methodology was completely wrong.

  • >>>
    The way I remember it, some of them could distinguish it with significant certainty, though not 100%.

    Do you have a reference for that? I just reread the article and see no such thing, but then again it is in German so it's easier to miss something.

    The maximum score was 51 points (perfect recognition), but the maximum that was actually scored was 26 points. This includes the 128Kbps
    score. 14,1 points were needed to get a non-guessing score, again including the 128Kbps samples. Considering there were 17 samples I don't see how this can imply that any were able to spot the 256Kbps with any kind of certainty, assuming that if they spot 256Kbps they will also have spot 128Kbps.

    Funny is that the best scorer actually had damaged hearing - the psychoacoustics didn't work for him :)

  • >>>
    This is so misinformed (hence the Slashdot traditional 5)

    I think that has more to do with the fact that it attempts to invalidate a test which shows something Microsoft made in a good daylight and the OS in a bad. Then again, Slashdot does moderate anything remotely sounding correct up, mostly because there is no -1 Wrong moderation.

    Lew Lipnick spent at least a decade as a hi-end audio reviewer

    He didn't set up the test. He only listened. The only way his expertise credits this test is in his listening experience, not in the test setup.

    was apparently accurate enough to clearly differentiate between codecs.

    Where do you get this? There isn't any reliable data about that whatsoever. Please read the journalists response. The test was highly flawed.

    Audio reproduction has come a long way in the last two decades and a modest home system can be very good indeed.

    Uh. An ordinary stereo system is usually budget Japanese consumer electronics. The difference between my Sennheisers and my JVC stereo makes my cry.

    Ummmm, do you think that's why they picked classical and heavy metal sellections? To highlight those differences?

    How does this invalidate the fact that only 2 samples were used?

    If anything, the tacky marketting moniker 'Pro' would bias most audio reviewers against a product. Pro audio gear has long been held in general disdain in hi-end circles as rugged but unmusical.

    Could be true. Then again for software it is usually the reverse, and it were audio codecs they were comparing.

    Rubbing my eyes in disbelief here. Accurate is good! This is what an exciter is for?!?!?

    My mistake. With exciter I'm referring to the kind of 'MP3 enhancer' products that are sold. They just increase the treble a little and boost the basses. Sometimes this makes the music sound better. It doesn't make it more accurate. MP3PRO does just this.

    Double bonk. The sensation of space is created as much by the proper reproduction of room reverberation as it is by directionality. If codecs suppress ambience, a reasonable assumption since they work by discarding low level sound, then yes a space can sound smaller.

    I still remain unconvinced. I agree the spaciousness is dependant on mutiple factors, but I still find it highly suspect they 'thought' Vorbis was worst at this, when this is directly against what would be expected.

    I have never experienced this effect in any listening test, although it is hard to compare ithout knowing the bitrate they used.

    How do you know what they've collectively read? Is it impossible they heard this artifact?

    It is not impossible. But it is much more likely
    they thought they heard this artefact, because they thoyught they knew how the codec works. It was NOT a blind test.

    Regarding the top end ringing, there's no way to say anything meaningful without knowing what the bit rates were.

    I have to agree with you here.

    I really don't give a rat's ass which codec is superior, I'm just dead tired of seeing misinformation moderated so highly.

    I do give which codes is superior, since I am archiving quite a bit of audio material.

    My choice for now is LAME (r3mix settings but
    with lower lowpass filer, I can't hear at 19Khz anyway), but when Vorbis 1.0 comes out I will do new listening tests.

  • by Skuto ( 171945 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @11:02AM (#86885) Homepage
    There is a noticable loss of sound quality with any compression technique and IMHO there is no comparison to the original.

    Yes, thats what the audiophiles in the c't test (which was correctly conducted) said.
    Unfortunately for them, they couldn't distinguish
    mp3 @ 256kbps and the cd's AT ALL.

  • by Skuto ( 171945 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @10:56AM (#86886) Homepage
    Well, besides the obvious missing details, there
    is a lot that is wrong about this:

    The test sessions were done in a home environment with an ordinary stereo system. We focused most of our attention on MP3Pro and Vorbis, the two newest formats, with Windows Audio Media and MP3, the older and more familiar formats, given more limited tests.

    Notice 'a home environment with an ordinary stereo system'. So esentially any more subtle loss in sound quality should have been lost. Great environment for listening tests eh. Note that this isn't compensated by the fact that is what most people use. The distortion between such systems varies widely, and hence what sounds good on one system doesn't necessarily sound good on another.

    We had them listen to digitally encoded versions of two songs: the opening of a recent recording of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" and the Who's "Love Ain't for Keeping."

    TWO songs? We have hundreds of music genres and they used two songs for a comparisation? Christ. Encoding Heavy Metal (very bitrate heavy) is a whole different job than encoding classical music(very sensitive for minor distortions).

    Of the seven listeners, two couldn't discern much difference between MP3Pro and Vorbis. The other five felt Vorbis was the least realistic,

    Discern difference between the codecs? The way
    this paragraph is put makes it highly unlikely
    they were doing blind A/B tests.

    More likely they actually told the test subjects
    which codes it was each time.

    This is _always_ going to favor mp3pro., just
    because of the name. Also, the point of a good
    encoder is to replicate the original music,
    not to make it sound good! That is what an
    exciter is for.

    Most thought the beta version of the Vorbis encoder poorly represented the natural sounds of the individual voices or musical instruments.
    (A few disagreed, saying certain instruments sounded more synthetic in MP3Pro.)

    This convices me even more the setup of the test was failed. As I stated in a previous post, mp3pro 'makes up' the high end of the music. This is why some people must have thought it sounded better, while the better trained ones where able to pick up the fact that the high end was artificial.

    giving higher tones a better ring.

    Yep. More ringing on the hing end. Sounds like mp3pro for sure. Nevermind that the original music doesnt have it.

    "In the compressed format it sounded as if they had all moved their chairs together," said Hubscher. He founded this especially troublesome in Vorbis.

    BONK. Vorbis is the only format that does NOT
    use any kind of joint/intensity stereo coding.
    (it will in the 1.0 release)

    Then how can it ever get a smaller stereo image??
    This isn't making any sense at all...

    Vrbsky and Lipnick blamed this on the way digital compression shaves off the beginnings and ends of notes.

    Hahaaaa. They heard something about temporal
    masking I'm sure. Too bad they don't have a clue.

    GCP (who did his own listening tests)
  • Sometimes money actually does win. Why wouldn't Microsoft be able to pay for research to make a better compression algorithm?

    And before people bark at how lousy the OS is, there's a difference: with the OS, they have a huge legacy they must support without recompiling code. With applications, they have the benefit of being able to set their own standards over and over again repeatedly (as is the general complaint from Open Source people).

    So while this has the effect of making it hard to copy, it also allows them to freely change anything they want.

    Now, I'm not much of a MS fan, however, it must be pointed out that their office software does work very well, and works well with itself. So, while you can argue that the OS is brain-dead, the software, (minus the paperclip) is of decent quality.

  • by Golias ( 176380 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @11:57AM (#86894)
    Speaking as an audiopile snob, I would rather lament that the goal of "CD quality" sound seems to be where the bar is set, when the goal for recording in any medium should be to sound as much like a real-life performance as possible (except in the case of electronic music, which often only exists on the master source).

    Transparency is great, but most people who know the contortions that a sound engineer goes through to create the illusion of stero sound will tell you, audio reproduction is still as much an art as it is a science, and sometimes a less true sound going to the speakers will result in you thinking you hear something more true. It's all smoke and mirrors.

    If I were the boss of a project to design a new digital format for the Internet, the goal would not be to make it sound as much like a CD as possible. The goal would be to make it sound as good as possible. Who knows, maybe some mad genious out there will come up with a format that uses fewer bits, yet sounds better than CD's.

    Then maybe someday people will be saying "sure that new CD format sounds okay, but it can't compete with MP8 quality, like you get from web streaming."

  • Apart from the fact that, as other posters have noted, there's no information given on the bit rates or encoders used, the article straight-out admits that "the test sessions were done in a home environment with an ordinary stereo system".

    Which, I'll warrant, means no double blinding and no level matching.

    Level matching is particularly the most important thing to achieve. The classic way an audio salesman gets you to buy the most expensive speakers is to have them just a little louder than the cheaper speakers... one or two dB is all you need to make it seem SO much better!

    volume : perceived audio quality :: salt : food

  • by IvyMike ( 178408 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @09:52AM (#86898)

    Why? Well, it's quite good; apparently the billions and billions Microsoft has spent on research has finally resulted in a payoff. And Microsoft has managed to dominate market segments with complete shit products before; now that they actually have something decent, it's going to be difficult to stop them.

  • True musicianship is Elvis at Sun records going into a 1-track tape, or Muddy Waters on the Delta going into a portable 1-track, or Blind Willie McTell in Atlanta playing into the horn of a wax cylinder recorder; or the Beatles on a three-track - and then all of these played over a tube radio in a '58 Ford - and the musicians having the ears to hear that this is their target. In the mid '70s Garcia had a private pirate radio station in Marin so he could broadcast the stuff he was working on in the studio for himself as he drove around town - playing it at low volume.

    Many guitarists prefer tube amps because they've learned to exploit and incorporate the distortion they lend, which tends to ring more than the distortion out of transistors. A good vocalist knows that all microphones distort ... differently, and works with that.

    A good musician releasing stuff in a lossy format composes for it - it's like a ballplayer hitting a ball into a crosswind - if you can't handle it, you aren't pro.

  • by Warpedcow ( 180300 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @11:51AM (#86900) Homepage Journal
    >The part in the article where the guitarist
    >said he could hear the valves closing on
    >the clarinet and bassoon... is utter bullshit.
    >He probably heard some flanging artifact and
    >thought it was a valve closure.

    Okay, if you read the article, you know that the classical piece they listened to was the beginning of Stravinsky's Firebird, which you SHOULD know begins with a BASSOON SOLO! I don't know what particular recording they listened to, but my Reference Recordings [] recording of the MN Orchestra playing this piece has very audible bassoon-key clicks at the beginning of this piece, and I imagine most other recordings would too. If you dont believe me, email me and I'll send you an MP3 of the beginning of this piece - the clicks are VERY audible, even in an MP3!

    What is most surprising is that the listener said he COULDNT hear the clicks on the compressed audio, not that he COULD on the cd... they must have used a VERY low bitrate to drown out those clicks!

  • by Jumperalex ( 185007 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @09:58AM (#86902)
    What the article fails to mention, or I'm too blind to find, is what bit rates these tests were run at and a quick discussion of what bit rates the various formats are considered best at. We all know some encoders are optimized for a given bit rate and encoding above or below that can often greatly impact quality; especially things like freq response, transient response, and spaciousness effected by those "small cues" they talk about.

    If I had to guess they used a low bit rate for MP3Pro under the assumption that everyone will shoot for the same quality they do with MP3 but with the Pro versions greater compression. Personally I plan on doing all my futere encoding at the same bit rate looking for the (hopefully) improved quality over MP3. The same comment applies for Vorbis as well.

  • by hyperstation ( 185147 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @10:05AM (#86905)
    ...because the very nature of the test is invalid. if you want to determine what is "cd quality" and what is not, you need to at least use a more scientific method than this. check out [] for better info.

    also, how did these people encode their mp3/ogg/wma files? there's no indication of bitrate, sampling frequency, encoder, encoder settings, nothing!. without this info, these results are even more invalid, and misleading to people who believe them. for example: in mp3 encoding, a file encoded at 128 kbps with a newer version of lame will sound much better than a piece encoded at the same bitrate with bladenc. why? cuz lame is much better, that's why!

    i'm not supporting one format over another, but please, please don't base anything on this crap. i don't know how this even got posted.


  • by marcop ( 205587 ) <> on Friday July 13, 2001 @10:17AM (#86911) Homepage

    As others have pointed out, the article lacks technical details. The most important detail of all... did the listeners KNOW which file format was being played? If they did then name branding could have had a play in some of the results. Can you imagine thoughts like...

    "Ogg Vorbiss, what kind of name is that? Sounds like crap too." or...

    "Microsoft, they got a lot of money for R&D. This should be good."

  • by ambit ( 208647 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @09:54AM (#86914)
    i know this is all fine and well, but who really wants to change to a different format if they have to completely re-encode their entire mp3 collection?
  • by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @10:39AM (#86937)
    I agree. A lot of people will swear by the fact that above 256 Kbit/sec, even plain-jane MP3 becomes indistinquishable from regular CD Audio, even to the most experienced audiophiles. Of course at that resolution, you're only getting about 1:5 compression in terms of filesize, but you can still fit more than 60 four minute audio tracks on a 'backup' CD-RW and be confident of having the same quality sound.
    Different codecs perform differently at different bitrates and with different types of audio. If they were trying to go for a little more impartiality here, they should have presented a little wider range of testing. Low, medium, and high bitrates, with speech, classical music, rock, and electronic music.

  • oh, wait... lossy formats... nevermind.

  • by KosovoYankee ( 310988 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @10:11AM (#86968) Homepage
    Regardless of the superior sound quality of Windows Media, or Vorbis, it is important to remember that the primary target for compressed audio is males 16-35 who don't want to pay for music before they have heard it, or perhaps not at all. A big chunk of this group have already damaged their hearing beyond repair as a result of their love for loud music, and as such, cnanot tell the difference between a flat sound, a vibrant sound, or a few hertz missing here and there.

    Additionally, the goal of compressed audio is not to replace cd's, but to aid in the dissemination of audio data, or music. Whichever technology has grassroots appeal and is more importantly free, will be embraced by the millions of people who use audio compression everyday, leaving higher-end solutions to professionals and audiophiles. This is illustrated well in the audio hardware industry: How many people have 20 000 dollar sound systems, or DVD audio collections? Not enough to be more than a niche market. This has been previously discussed on Slashdot....

  • by SuperGrut ( 452229 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @10:14AM (#86988)
    That list sounds like Bush's Cabinet.
  • by natesch ( 465385 ) on Friday July 13, 2001 @09:58AM (#87011)
    I think these guys are full of it. The amount of data that is lost in MP3 compression is tiny, and is mostly sounds out of range of human hearing. And if the files are recorded at higher bit rates CD quality sound can be achieved. I think these guys just felt they had to say something to the reporter, so as not to look like idiots. And at the end of the article, when the guy "worries" that we are losing our appreciation of music because of MP3s, I realized that this was an article about nothing, with quotes by people who knew nothing.

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