What is the best audio compression for ipod quality earphones?
January 10, 2011 3:15 PM   Subscribe

What is the best audio compression for ipod quality earphones?

I don't want to buy expensive earphones and I will listen to music mostly through ipod earphones or earphones of a similar quality. I want to get the best possible listening experience but have heard it said that lossless formats are wasted on low quality equipment. I would like the smallest possible file size without impacting on music quality.

Will I notice much difference if I use lossless over lossy compression? Either way, what would be an appropriate compression format, given the equipment restriction?
posted by Fluffy654 to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Myself, since the dawn of mp3, I have personally noticed the most difference between say, mp3 & ogg vs. a .wav or cd, when I am listening to orchestral or well-recorded jazz music in a fairly outside-noise-free environment. But if I'm just going walking on a gravel path outside where there's traffic and whatnot, I really can't tell the difference.

Otherwise, for quality and file-size's sake, I tend to encode all my mp3's at 320kbps, or oggs around quality 7+. Naturally a lossless .wav will be better.

But ultimately you are going to have to decide for yourself what that means. I feel that eventually, there will be a lossless file format where the file size is quite a bit smaller than a .wav, which will become popular. Or it won't matter that a song takes up 50mb, because xfer times, read/write times, will become moot due to way faster speeds than we have now. That time is not quite here, yet, though...
posted by bitterkitten at 3:26 PM on January 10, 2011

I would like the smallest possible file size without impacting on music quality.

This really depends on you. I'd recommend a blind test: compress the same song to several different formats and bit rates, then shuffle through them at random, making a note of which ones sound okay and which sound "too compressed," whatever that means to your ears. Then, of the ones you've deemed acceptable, go with whichever is the smallest file.
posted by Zozo at 3:26 PM on January 10, 2011

Completely depends on what you like.

Audiophile people who like to listen to good recordings of complex sounds on good equipment will say lossless or high-bitrate lossy (ex: 320kbps mp3)

In a blind test with your ipod and regular earbuds on regular pop music, you are unlikely to notice a difference between a well done 128kbps or 160kbps rip and the uncompressed source.

Your environment matters here, as does your intent for the files.

lossy compression for your on the go mp3 files for an ipod you might lose on the train are just fine -but archival quality music for stuff you want to keep forever and maybe someday listen to on better equipment -you might want to keep in a better format.

Then again, you can probably obtain a higher quality recording in the future should you ever need one - so maybe that's a moot point too.
posted by TravellingDen at 3:42 PM on January 10, 2011

Best answer: 320Kbps mp3 is really very good. In a sense, going lossless for quality above mp3-320 could be said to be a waste.

I tend to gravitate towards 192Kbps mp3. I listen with pretty detailed-sounding Grado headphones and prefer revealing systems that convey small transients, and neither of these are too kind on very low bitrates.

The newer codecs tend to retain quality with 10-30% less bps. Depending on what your player supports, I'd aim at 160-192Kbps MP3 or 128-160Kbps ogg or aac (or whatever it was that iTunes supports.) MP3 is always the most compatible.

If you want a bulletproof suggestion, take 192Kbps mp3. Works everywhere, compression quality never gets in the way of music enjoyment.
posted by krilli at 4:00 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're wanting to maintain smallest possible file size while at the same time maximizing quality, you'll need to use variable bit rates (VBR) rather than constant rates (CBR), regardless of codec.
posted by astrochimp at 4:31 PM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Agreed with the last comment. These days, there's no real reason not to use VBR. Any decent modern encoder will produce a VBR file that sounds as good, if not better than a similarly-sized CBR file. The only catch is that the encoding process will take a tiny bit longer.

iTunes also offers an option to transcode your music to 128kbps AAC (unless it's already 128kbps or lower) before copying onto an iPod. I do this for my iPod shuffle, since it's got a low capacity, and I'm more likely than not going to use shitty headphones with it while I work out. I've never had complaints about the audio quality of my workout music, and appreciate an extra little bit of variety.

Depending on how picky you are, you can get away with something as low as a 96kbps AAC file. Mono if you're feeling really adventurous.
posted by schmod at 5:54 PM on January 10, 2011

I found that AAC sounds better than MP3 at equivalent bit rates, especially in the low end.
posted by j03 at 11:27 PM on January 10, 2011

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