MP3 v. WMA
April 22, 2005 11:32 AM   Subscribe

Comparing MP3 to WMA, when ripping cds, what format and kbsp results in the highest audio quality when file size is not a consideration?
posted by lola to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
See for yourself...
posted by trinarian at 11:43 AM on April 22, 2005


WMA has a lossless option, i.e. no loss of quality from the CD. They say one CD takes up about 400 MiB, but if you're looking for the highest quality you can't really get better than mathematically lossless.
posted by joshuaconner at 11:48 AM on April 22, 2005


If filesize is not a consideration, why not just go FLAC and be done with it?

Seriously though, there's not much difference between codecs in when the bit rates can be large (256 and up). Unless you are guaranteed to always have a Windows or WMA-enabled device nearby, sheer utility demands MP3.
posted by unixrat at 11:50 AM on April 22, 2005


The best compression you'll get with lossless encoding is basically 2:1. A lot of self-proclaimed audiophiles use the FLAC format for this purpose. When comparing lossy formats, it involves a lot of subjective opinions, because each format has a different psychoacoustics model. MP3 is getting to be a pretty old format, so I'd put my money on WMA or OGG as being better at higher bitrates. (I know they are better at lower bitrates.)

But you said... "size is not a consideration", so why are you using lossy formats at all? Definitely go lossless.
posted by knave at 11:51 AM on April 22, 2005


If you can't afford lossless: If compatibility is a concern at all for you, MP3 encoded with LAME is probably a good bet for higher bitrates. OGG Vorbis does very well at both high and low bitrates. Vorbis hardware player support isn't as widespread, but is growing. WMA is really tuned for low bitrates, and even at medium bitrates like 128kbps, LAME MP3 fares better. Some of the people at HydrogenAudio conducted a 128kbps listening test which gives some insight into the major format competitors. There has been talk about doing a high-bitrate listening test but nothing official has happened.
posted by zsazsa at 12:27 PM on April 22, 2005


I failed to mention that there is a WMA Pro that probably does better than standard WMA at high bitrates, but it hasnot been subjected to a listening test. I'm not certain about hardware support.
posted by zsazsa at 12:37 PM on April 22, 2005


There's also MP3Pro which is particularly good at retaining some of the higher (>16khz) frequencies, producing a noticably more alive sound.
posted by Jimbob at 7:54 PM on April 22, 2005


erm, for that matter, if file size is not an issue, why not just pull down the whole AIFF?
posted by nanojath at 11:58 PM on April 22, 2005


I spent some time looking around hydrogen audio a month or two ago and got the clear sense that at ~200 kbps variable bit rate and up, most implementations of most "living" lossless codecs are indistinguishable from the uncompressed source by most people on good equipment. Yes, there are a lot of qualifications there, but if you assume a bitrate of 256-320kbps VBR, then it means that you are probably safe with most of the obvious choices from a quality point of view.

That leaves you to focus on other priorities, like breadth of support, etc.

If filesize really isn't an issue, then uncompressed AIFF or WAV is probably your best bet. They are easily interconverted into other formats and should be supported natively by a wide range of software and devices.

If filesize is a consideration, but fidelity is still extremely important, then go with one of the lossless options. ALE is good if you are in the Mac world and/or have an iPod. WMA lossless is fine in the windows world and may be supported on WMA supporting portable devices (I'm too lazy to check). FLAC is good if portable device support isn't a big consideration, its probably your best bet if you might want to convert to another lossless format later.

If filesize matters enough that you need to look to a lossy format, MP3 encoded with LAME is going to be the most widely supported for playback. It may be an old format, but that means that there are extremely polished encoders available that get the maximum performance from the technology.

If you do go with a lossy format, don't go with a super high bitrate simply because you can. As I noted at the start, its probably not necessary, and it has downsides. Diskspace and bandwidth may be cheap, but they aren't free. Most importantly though, big files hurt battery life on disk based portable players like the iPod. These players save power by only spinning the disks long enough to load the next set of tracks into memory. Big files mean fewer files fit in memory, which means more hard disk activity and shorter battery life.
posted by Good Brain at 9:39 AM on April 23, 2005


Something else to consider is that if you go with a lossless format, you can somewhere down the road convert from one lossless format to another without loss of quality. Flac into Apple Lossless into WMA lossless, back into AIFF in an unending cycle. I rip classical music lossless. But if you go with a lossy format, converting one into another usually means lost sound quality.

I stick with the standards of the MPEG group myself, and for right now that means AAC. I would only go with MP3 if you really need to maintain compatibility with some old players or something. Both AAC and WMA are significantly better than MP3. I know people that still create MP3s when they don't have to and it drives me nuts; you get a bigger file and a lower sound quality.

For philosophical reasons I avoid WMA. For practical reasons, too- WMAs won't play on the iPod or through iTunes.
posted by yesno at 9:13 PM on April 23, 2005


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