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Are MP3 files the weakest link in my audio system?

AndKPhoto

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Hey folks,

I just began my journey into the world of a better audio experience with a pair of AudioEngine HD3 speakers. Although I know they aren't true "audiophile" speakers, the quality difference compared to my old set almost made me cry. I quite literally heard instruments in my music tracks that I have never heard before.

I immediately started looking for other ways to improve my music experience (without spending much money). I am considering a "high res/fidelity" audio playing app for my android phone (I currently use Musicolet), and also maybe an external DAC (since the internal DAC on the HD3 only accepts 16 bit and "pads" it to 24 bit, whatever that means). I am currently using the Bluetooth APTX HD

Here is the real question! My music collection is almost entirely MP3. So would upgrading to an external DAC over APTx HD, or paying for a high-res audio player actually give me a noticeably superior experience? MP3s max out at 320kbps, APTx HD is 576kbps.

What is my weakest link?
 

tonycollinet

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Yes, your MP3 will be the weak link. Although 320kbps is going to be pretty much close to inaudibly worse than lossless, you are unlikely to get any improvement elsewhere in your chain. Anything less than 320kb/s is probably audible, though I find I'm pretty happy with 256 unless playing on my best kit.

Limit of 16 bits is not a problem, so I wouldn't use this as a reason to get a separate DAC.

Also not much point in getting a "high res" app for playing MP3.


I'd also suggest that the speakers - though not bad - are not going to benefit from better electronics than you are currently using. In other words, the built in dac is probably going to exceed the capabilities of the speakers already.
 
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AndKPhoto

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Thank you @tonycollinet that makes sense. I guess I'll focus on purchasing better-quality music in the future. You mention that the build-in DAC exceeds the speakers capabilities, do you have a favorite small bookshelf speaker?
 

digitalfrost

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No they are not. If they are properly encoded (i.e. with the LAME encoder and a good quality preset) they are perceptually transparent at 128kbps since about 2005.


See especially


Anyone who claims otherwise is welcome to prove he can hear a difference by submitting ABX results.

I do not use MP3 for my music collection for many years now, mostly because storage has become so cheap. But I still use for my phone and I encode at V3 quality for a good size/quality tradeoff.
 

tonycollinet

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Thank you @tonycollinet that makes sense. I guess I'll focus on purchasing better-quality music in the future. You mention that the build-in DAC exceeds the speakers capabilities, do you have a favorite small bookshelf speaker?
It is more an expectation than certainty - since making competent electronics is much easier than making low cost and small speakers distortion free. For example according to measurements done here, phone dongle dacs at around £10 are audibly transparent.

I personally couldn't suggest a favourite small speaker, and unless you are prepared to significantly increase your budget over the ones you have, you are unlikely to get a worthwhile improvement. Amirm has favourably reviewed similarly priced audio engine speakers here - so I suspect yours are doing a good job for the money.

If you really want to look to an upgrade, look through the speaker reviews carried out here.

As Amir did, your best improvement may be measurement and equalisation - if there is a way of doing that on a phone - I'm afraid I can't help here.
 

tonycollinet

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No they are not. If they are properly encoded (i.e. with the LAME encoder and a good quality preset) they are perceptually transparent at 128kbps since about 2005.


See especially


Anyone who claims otherwise is welcome to prove he can hear a difference by submitting ABX results.

I do not use MP3 for my music collection for many years now, mostly because storage has become so cheap. But I still use for my phone and I encode at V3 quality for a good size/quality tradeoff.

I originally ripped all my CD's at 128kbps and 256kbps using Lame. 10+ years ago I was convinced enough that these sounded poor compared with the CD that I re-ripped my entire collection to lossless FLAC. Based on what I've learned here, I'm prepared to believe I was fooling myself, however I'd love to check if there is an online ABX I can try. Do you know of one?
 

digitalfrost

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I originally ripped all my CD's at 128kbps and 256kbps using Lame. 10+ years ago I was convinced enough that these sounded poor compared with the CD that I re-ripped my entire collection to lossless FLAC. Based on what I've learned here, I'm prepared to believe I was fooling myself, however I'd love to check if there is an online ABX I can try. Do you know of one?
foobar2000 comes with an ABX module


e: Actually you have to add the ABX module from here https://www.foobar2000.org/components/view/foo_abx

Or you could use http://lacinato.com/cm/software/othersoft/abx
 

tonycollinet

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I originally ripped all my CD's at 128kbps and 256kbps using Lame. 10+ years ago I was convinced enough that these sounded poor compared with the CD that I re-ripped my entire collection to lossless FLAC. Based on what I've learned here, I'm prepared to believe I was fooling myself, however I'd love to check if there is an online ABX I can try. Do you know of one?
Never mind, I've found one.
 

tonycollinet

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foobar2000 comes with an ABX module


e: Actually you have to add the ABX module from here https://www.foobar2000.org/components/view/foo_abx

Or you could use http://lacinato.com/cm/software/othersoft/abx
I have a mac - foobar not so useful. But never mind, I've found an online test here:
 

paddycrow

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Having heard a few MP3s that were probably encoded poorly, I've stuck with WAV and FLAC rips for my library.
 

NiagaraPete

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Hey folks,

I just began my journey into the world of a better audio experience with a pair of AudioEngine HD3 speakers. Although I know they aren't true "audiophile" speakers, the quality difference compared to my old set almost made me cry. I quite literally heard instruments in my music tracks that I have never heard before.

I immediately started looking for other ways to improve my music experience (without spending much money). I am considering a "high res/fidelity" audio playing app for my android phone (I currently use Musicolet), and also maybe an external DAC (since the internal DAC on the HD3 only accepts 16 bit and "pads" it to 24 bit, whatever that means). I am currently using the Bluetooth APTX HD

Here is the real question! My music collection is almost entirely MP3. So would upgrading to an external DAC over APTx HD, or paying for a high-res audio player actually give me a noticeably superior experience? MP3s max out at 320kbps, APTx HD is 576kbps.

What is my weakest link?
The biggest thing I have found with low rez files is listening fatigue. Spotify and the original Apple Music I could only listen to for brief periods.
 

clearnfc

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Nope, your MP3 files are mostly ok. To find out, you can simply download an uncompressed wave file (or rip from cds). Listen to it yourself, after that, convert the file to MP3 and listen to it again.

I can assure that you will find they extremely similar. You may not be able to tell the difference.

You will need an extremely sensitive setup in a very well controlled environment (sound proofing etc...) to tell the difference.

To me, the main difference between CD and MP3 are the psychoacoustic effects, esp. imaging or "holographic sound". MP3 seems to sound flat rather than "3D". But again, it is very difficult. If room setup is not optimum, you cant hear any difference. If you are not sitting at "sweet spot" you may not hear it too. Too troublesome....

So, why worry such things?? Your MP3s are fine, just enjoy the music!! Yeah!
 
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