The Auditory Pissing Match – Your Hearing Is Probably Fine

With iTunes on the verge of offering 256kbps AAC files, audiophiles have been coming out of the woodwork saying “FINALLY! No more piss poor 128k!” PC World currently has up a 128k vs. 256k listening test.

The thing about this that bothers me is that it always ends up in an auditory pissing match. It seems like for every one person that goes “128k AAC sucks!” there’s another that says “256k? Why not lossless!?” And the result is a bunch of audio geeks (or not even audio geeks) beating their chests claiming how much better their hearing is compared to yours because “the difference is obvious. Something must be wrong with you.”

In reality I think most of these people convince themselves that they can hear a difference. Meanwhile some of the most highly regarded people in the recording industry proclaim 160 kbps MP3 “is CD quality. Not near CD quality, but CD quality!” Seriously. Check out page 286 on the 5th edition of “Modern Recording Techniques”. You can do it right in Google Book Search.

Years ago I tried my own listening test with a variety of material and found that 128kbps AAC is fine for me. I couldn’t hear any difference between 128kbps AAC and the original source, no matter how hard I tried or wanted to.

So don’t let self-righteous audio nerds convince you that your hearing is bad. Be honest with yourself when determining what bit rate and codec you should rip your CDs with.

5 thoughts on “The Auditory Pissing Match – Your Hearing Is Probably Fine”

  1. It’s funny that you’re writing about this b/c I was going to show you that exact same article and see if you could tell a differnce. B/c I know that I couldn’t. The most funny part of that article were the comments. “I can most certainly hear a differnce and if you can’t then you have hearing problems!” Just like you said, audio geeks beating their chests.

  2. The thing that bothers me is when people generalize others and use false information to make a point. There isn’t ALWAYS a ‘pissing match’. As an audiophile, I’ve never told anyone something is wrong with their hearing. <br/><br/>128 does not suck (it’s definitely better than radio), but 256 sounds better. Unless you ripped a cd of something with shoddy quality to begin with, naturally. If you’re using crappy headphones (such as the bundled iPod set) or speakers it doesn’t make much difference anyway. <br/><br/>I listened to the samples in the PC World article and I couldn’t tell much difference in the classical pieces. The R.E.M. song is a different story entirely…the 128 was lacking a lot of overtones.<br/><br/>It’s a matter of perception. For sure it doesn’t mean something is wrong with anyone’s ears! I could drink a glass of wine that’s fine with me and some afficionado could say ‘that stuffs only so-so’, only to hand me another glass that tastes the same. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with my tongue.<br/><br/>I will say, if you’re ripping for iPod go with 128 because it takes up less space! Less space = More Tunes :)

  3. I could tell a “very” slight difference with the REM song but nothing on the Classical. <br/><br/>The only thing I think 128k will suffer from is “ambience” of certain songs that have a lot of long reverb tales. I fill comfortable that 256k AAC is about as high as I need to go. I don’t want to give up twice the space for lossless.

  4. For me the sense of offering lossless downloads has more to do with “future-proofing” than hard drive space. I’d burn lossless files as audio to CD and rip from that at whatever format I like at the time.

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