Does Hi-Fi Audio Matter?

Apr 23rd, 2007 | By | Category: General

Apple’s recently announced that they would sell unencrypted audio files from EMI artists in a higher-quality digital audio format – 256 kbps AAC encoding, compared to 128 kbps AAC encoding with DRM. The higher quality will come at a premium, though, as Apple plans to charge about 30% more for the higher quality tracks.

The announcement has some wondering if the extra cost is worth it. Maximum PC recently ran a test, comparing audio saved at different levels of compression.

What they found surprised them:

We all thought it would be a piece of cake, for that matter. With the finest consumer-level soundcard, ace headphones, and tracks we knew by heart, who would have thought that identifying a compressed audio track could be so difficult

With the possible exception of the USB Key that survived a washing and drying cycle, no other Maximum PC Challenge has ever surprised us as much as this one. It’s downright humiliating, in fact, that in many cases, we were unable to tell the difference between an uncompressed track and one encoded at 160Kb/s, the bit rate most of us considered the absolute minimum acceptable for even portable players.

Their results suggest that, while higher bit rate encoding offers improved audio quality, above 160kbps or so most people can’t tell the difference. For people listening to their tracks primarily on ear buds, the quality improvement offered by the higher-quality tracks is likely to be difficult to discern.

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