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Does it always have to be lossless?

Phil Bishop

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I haver taken the plunge recently into a Mac based system driving ADM9s. I suppose I am probably in the "play safe" brigade and thought "well I want the best possible sound and storage is now cheap" so I have pretty well always imported as lossless, AIFF or Apple lossless.


However, Ashley (owner of AVI who market the ADM9s - now 9.1s) has a very open mind about things and always encouraged me to experiment with compression - see what I liked best.


So I have done a bit of preliminary experimentation and, do you know what? It is at a very preliminary stage, but I am finding it very difficult on the tracks I have played around with so far to tell the difference between lossless and AAC.


There is obviously a lot more to this than my preliminary dabblings - certain music, for example, may not compress well. But simple stuff certainly does - sixties music, spoken word, etc.


On the subject of spoken word, I was recently reminded of Woody Allen's Moose sketch and searched it out on Amazon - see http://www.amazon.com/Standup-Comic-Woody-Allen/dp/B00000IMSB


If you have a sense of humour, you must buy this - 40 years old but fresh and it will have you rolling in the aisles. No point in importing it lossless either - AAC will do fine!


Anyone else have any observations on compression - can you tell the difference?




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I use EAC to make flac files. It can, however, also make MP3s, and i find it very hard to tell the difference between an EAC encoded MP3 (as long as it is 320kbps or high VBR) and an EAC encoded FLAC file. The same would not be true if i used a wmp encoded mp3, regardless of bitrate - they sound awful to me, probably due to a lack of error correction.


As having a lossless archive i so cheap and easy, i would alwys choose to have one, but compression does have its place. if i had a portable player, for instance, id put eac ripped mp3s on it (assuming thats possible - i dont do portable). Come to think of it, i may convert my flacs to high quality mp3s at soekm point, so i have both - you never know when having a copy compressed, in a widely used format, might come in handy.


Panasonic PXP 42 V20; Panasonic DMP BD35; Sky+ HD Box. [br]Optical out from Asus P7H55-M into AVI ADM 9.1 speakers. [br]\"Music will provide the light you cannot resist\"[br]

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Thanks Al, glad I am not alone. I did a quick experiment this afternoon using itunes (with error correction enabled - I always use this on Chris's advice) and ripping a track (folk instrumental with a lot of fine detail) in 4 formats - AIFF, lossless, AAC (128 kbps) and MP3. Listening carefully, I think I just preferred the lossless formats, but it was not a blind test. The differences were incredibly subtle if indeed I could pick them out at all - in a blind test I may not have been able to tell the difference between formats.


I do use ipods with a headphone amp and Grado phones to compliment my home system and would agree that lossless is not necessary here, although I am sure there are those who would disagree.


I agree that with external storage so cheap it is probably best to still rip in uncompressed formats - keeps one's options open. But I must say I am surprised at how good the lossy formats I have tried are.




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I really thought about this issue too, Phil. Before I committed to spending money on this whole project, I downloaded some songs of various genre's from Amazon with their slightly higher bit rate, songs that I already had on CD. One night over a couple of glasses of wine, my wife and I spent a few hours doing A-B tests of the different formats against each other on the big stereo. I wanted to see if this whole thing was worth it to me, because I enjoy a really good hi-fi setup but I am very far from being a true audiophile and have no clue what terms like soundstage and headroom mean, nor do I care to.


Result? Yep, we could tell the difference. It was on the music with a lot of "information" that we could really tell the difference - well produced techno or modern rock like Bjork or Beck or Garbage. It was just cleaner and clearer and more "exciting" coming from the CD than the compressed files. You could also hear it some on folk, classical, etc. but more noticable on the denser stuff.


Of course, the final, final, final word is this site's mantra - if it sounds good to you, it is good. And the best way to do that is by your own A-B testing.


Thanks for the link to the Woody Allen, I will check it out. Big fan. I'm "mature" enough to remember seeing him doing his standup routines way back on TV.





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I did some comparative tests a while ago, and reached similar conclusions.


Using 128k MP3, there was some noticeable 'splashyness' to the treble, but it still sounded quite reasonable. Switching to 128k AAC gave a huge improvement, and I had to really struggle to tell the difference from lossless. AAC at 256k (iTunes Plus format) sounded perfect, and I couldn't tell any difference from lossless no matter how hard I listened.




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Thanks Guys for your findings and very interesting. Totally agree with you Tim on this Site's Mantra - spot on. On original CD, some music sounds great, some not so great anyway - all down to production I guess. Some of the older recordings sound better than the new in my view - I use Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" from late 60's (or early 70's) as one of my references to benchmark systems I listen too - a wonderful clean recording....and it sounds good in compressed format.


I have been considering what I think is a digital analogy. Like computer audio and the world of ipods, a year or two back I took the plunge into digital photography. I bought a good Fuji camera. I took a few photos and was surprised to find I was getting just a few photos on a card! I then realised I had the camera on the highest resolution setting with a huge amount of pixels! So I reduced the setting (dramatically reducing the number of pixels) and to my eye the standard pictures looked just as good, if not better! Of course, if the photos were blown up or for macro work the higher pixel count photos may show their worth, but for standard photography one can tell little or no difference.


Is the same true for music, i.e., for the majority of tracks under normal listening conditions you will be hard pressed to tell the difference between a good AAC (or MP3) and a lossless format?


BTW, you won't regret buying the Woody Allen Tim if you are a fan - a good one for a car journey or similar. I put it on my ipod and walk round laughing out loud like an idiot!




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It's great to see people with an open mind on compression, I think most people agree that white noise doesn't compress and neither does music that bears a striking similarity to it! However most music can be compressed and, if you have a good enough system, without the treble splashiness.


A friend suggested and analogy. If you watch sport on a very large screen (it's compressed digital too) moving people may blur but come clear when they are stationary. We think much the same sort of thing happens with transients in music. Compression makes the treble splashy in them but at an extremely low level and you don't necessarily hear it. However some hi fi systems don't have sufficient headroom and may clip simultaneously. In passive loudspeakers, the treble is accentuated because the tweeter cannot be attenuated quickly enough below the crossover point and so is audible through the bass driver. You must also consider digital hash and RFI from the DACs and how well the rest of the systems copes with it.


In our opinion there's a lot more mileage than people realise in intelligently used compression. Obviously 24/96 is a must have for an audiophile for the best recordings and performances, but does that still apply older ones made with inferior technology, or for streaming radio etc?







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I must be the minority as I find MP3's to be noticeably lacking in bass and the treble decay often sounds abrupt. I find that the sound stage and spacing amongst instruments and other such nuances that a nice system reproduce are also lost.


I have noticed that music recorded prior to the 70's that seems to have less resolution in general is less noticeable. Yet I have also listened to NPR radio podcasts that also seemed to suffer similar compression issues such as having the bass truncated and the highs clipped.


For me the thought of missing in anything in the music is not a worthwhile comprise for the convenience that MP3's offer.





Malahki Thorn[br]Founder / Lead Editor[br]Heathen Harvest Magazine[br]www.heathenharvest.com

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This sort of discussion is great. It prompts you to go off and try it for yourself.


AAC downloads from I-Tunes are a pretty mixed bag in my opinion - some sound good but some seem a little empty. I guess that has more to do with the original recording than anything but without going into my musical tastes I can provide examples.


After comparing some AIFF's to AAC I have to say the difference is far more subtle than I thought it would be. But, I don't know, maybe it's in my head - is there more depth to the full fat AIFF ? - I think so in some cases - it seems to vary depending on the type of music or - nope - the song ... individual tracks seem to produce different results.


I'm about to try some 24/96 downloads Ashley per your recommendation. I'll let you know my thoughts.


Some of the best sounding files I have were recorded to hard disk from my Clearaudio record deck a couple of years ago. They seem to have maintained that vinyl warmth and open sound.




HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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Interesting feedback chaps. As you say Matt, you have to go and experiment yourself and hopefully more folk will do so. BTW it was Ashley that encouraged me to experiment so I can't take any credit. To date, I am struggling to discern differences, but I have only tried simple tracks, acoustic, reggae, etc. On the whole, I have been surprised with how good itunes downloads sound.


Far more important than compression seem to be other issues such as room acoustics, etc.


...or maybe my ears are actually not that good! I know the sound I like and I guess that is all that matters!




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No, it does not always have to be lossless. But lossless usually sounds better to the ears and reasons better to the mind. The sonic differences range from subtle to significant. I’m no audio snob and I enjoy music from many different sources and forms including FM radio, satellite radio, Redbook CD, DVD-A, SACD, computer audio, vinyl, and of course live music. Needless to say, live music often provides the greatest range of music extremes from simply heavenly to amplified hell. By contrast the extremes of radio are relatively narrow, generally acceptable or not, kind of lukewarm in taste. The masses are satisfied with MP3 resolutions and why not, it can sound pretty good. No, not like vinyl or SACD or live music, but better than radio and almost approaching Redbook CDs. To put this in video terms: for a part of my life I enjoyed B&W TV, then color TV, then VCR videos, then cable TV, then DVDs and soon HDTV and Blu-ray. The classic movies from the forties that kept me spellbound in the fifties are just as exciting regardless of the format. So too for music, I look forward to the goose bumps, emotions, and pleasure.


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Thanks for the link - Excellent article.


I think the key result is that AAC at 320kb/s is essentially as good as lossless, except above 16kHz. But most people (me included) cannot hear anything above 16kHz !




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I could not agree more. This came home to me when I had spent a morning fiddling with cables on my home system and worrying about it not sounding right. Then I got in the car and heard a Nils Lofgren track on the radio and found myself enjoying the music, rather than worrying about was I getting the best possible sound, etc.


My take on the debate so far is the differences are subtle and maybe most of us can't tell the difference between 320kb/s AAC and lossless. What is needed is a well-controlled blind test - very difficult to conduct on one's own.


I also agree about the live music aspect. I have read many "audiophiles" state that their ultimate aim is to create a "live" sound with their home systems. I can remember some concerts where the sound was just awful (70's rock concerts) - I would not want that in my sitting room thanks! In fairness, what they are probably saying is they are after a live studio sound, but such a concept probably does not exist in reality anyway.


My ideal is to have a system which I can live with, is convenient and sounds good with all types of music, etc. I feel I am getting there with a Mac driving ADM9s. However, I still have a large vinyl collection and am debating how best to deal with this in the future - buy another record deck or digitise the LPs? One for another Forum post at some stage I think.




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My personal mindf**k is that I'm pretty sure I couldn't tell a difference between >256kbps AAC/MP3 and lossless on my generally preferred music (classical, jazz) in a double blind A/B test, but because I KNOW what I ripped it to originally, I'm never really going to be listening blind. Thus, I always go for lossless so that if it sounds crappy I know it's for some other reason than compression.


Yes, that's warped and twisted, I know.


MacBook Pro -> AppleTV ->Rotel RSP-1570 -> Martin Logan Electromotion[br]MacBook Pro -> Icon HDP -> AKG K701[br]Apple Lossless all the way

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You know, to import anything my experience is that Lossless is the best of both worlds, so far. The Quality is up to date for most audio material and it doesn`t need much space. In my opinion 256kbs AAC (Itunes Plus) is all you need for analogue recordings. I cannot believe sometimes how good some Internet Radio Stations can sound at 128kbs!!


White Macbook - Apple Airport Express - AVI ADM 9.1[br]AVI ADM 9 Owners Club

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Very interesting debate. In the (good?) old days, when one could just put on a Pink Floyd LP and light the josticks, there were immediate and obvious differences between formats (showing my age here). I mean there were only really two readily accessible formats - LP and tape (cassette). When committing records to normal cassette tape, there was an obvious "dulling" of the sound. Chrome tapes were better and metal tapes almost as good as the original, but there was always hiss.


The differences between these computer formats is far, far more subtle and I guess we should rejoice in that fact!




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