Can you hear the difference between uncompressed .wav and .mp3?

maydaynyc

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
1,391
This has been posted about before, but as my hearing degrades and my tinnitus gets worse I like to occasionally test my hearing. I haven't done this test since getting new monitors and a better audio interface so I decided to take the test again. Interestingly, I could always easily identify the low quality 128kbps .mp3 but half the time I chose the uncompressed .wav file and half the higher quality 320kbps .mp3. It was much harder for me to hear the difference between the two higher quality formats on the pop and rap music, but I could hear it on the classical and more dynamic song examples.

I wonder if I would be able to distinguish between the 320 .mp3 and the oncompressed .wav in a perfect pro listening enviornment or maybe my 47 year old ears just can't hear it any more? But its also fair to assume that the engineers who created the compression algorithms knew what they were doing and its normal not to be able to hear the differences for most music.

How do you do on this test?

http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can-you-hear-audio-quality
 

Shiny_Beast

Gold Supporting Member
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11,631
half of them I couldn't tell, the half where I thought I heard something I was right.
 

maydaynyc

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
1,391
I think a lot of it has to do with listening enviornment. If you are on earbuds or computer speakers I doubt anyone could do better than random guesses. But with good studio monitors and a decent D/A converter you can hear it in the reverb tails on voices and in the spaces just before and after sounds when the music is dynamic.
 

Bigswifty

Member
Messages
63
I listened to the spaces, didn't think of the reverb tails. I used headphones that I usually track with
 

Rex Anderson

Member
Messages
5,530
Years ago, we did a lot of tests in our studios with great monitor systems and well treated rooms. No problem hearing the differences in that environment. When you get to an iPod with earbuds, who cares?
 

The1hub

Member
Messages
76
5/6 on good headphones/iPhone. The one that got me was the Neil young.

I had few issues with the test.

One, the fades on some of the tracks made it hard to compare quickly. Your ear would hear the same sound at a slightly lower level and the perceived tonal balance that happens with the lower level will influence you if you are listening quickly between the tracks. Longer listening this is not an issue.

Two, some of the tracks have artifacts from the mixing and mastering that add distortions that can make it tougher to hear just the artifacts from the mp3. This was most obvious on the Katy perry track where you hear large amounts of dynamic compression on the vocals and disgusting amounts of auto tune/ pitch correction that adds similar artifacts that MP3 compression adds.

The last is a spoiler for the test so read at your own risk


If you notice the load time of the files the wav file always took twice as long to play after pressing the button. Reloaded the page and took the test again a few times and was able to pick the wav 100% of the time.
[spoiler/]
 

wagtail

Member
Messages
90
4 out of 6 on laptop speakers. 6 out of 6 on monitors (but I did this test second, so it is biased).

The easiest example for me to determine the distinction was the classical piece.
The worse the production and more synthetic and brittle the sound (JayZ, Perry) the harder it was for me to distinguish the differences.
 

Edwood

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
827
4 out of 6 Logitech speakers into my PC. Not bad for a 64 year old!
 

soundchaser59

Thank You Great Spirit!
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
13,454
4 out of 6, was a lot tougher than I thought.
AKG K240 phones in the computer jack.
Same here, but the ones I missed I chose the 320 mp3. I think one key is don't listen to the entire clip, just the first few seconds, listen for a key detail in the sound, the compression artifacts are easier to hear in the reverb if there is any reverb.
 

stevel

Member
Messages
15,799
maybe my 47 year old ears just can't hear it any more? But its also fair to assume that the engineers who created the compression algorithms knew what they were doing and its normal not to be able to hear the differences for most music.

Well, when's the last time you listened?

Compression algorithms are consistently getting better, and, at least with modern music, a lot of people are mixing/mastering with mp3 in mind.

I remember years ago (16 or so now) listening to mp3 files students brought in to learn during their lessons and I could easily hear the "high synth arpeggiator" sound I associated with compressed audio through a cheap boombox.

But now, it's getting really hard to tell.

Furthermore, if you don't already know which version is which, sometimes we hear one and compare the other to it - rather than comparing them to each other.

Recently someone did a test and instead of asking "which one is compressed" they simply asked "which one do you prefer" and IIRC, among younger listeners there was a clear preference for the mp3s. It may have been true of older listeners too - primarily because that's the way most of us listen to music now.

Compression algorithms are based on psycho-acoustic phenomenon and they've gotten better at throwing out information we can't *perceive* anyway (the earlier ones just seemed to throw out things more randomly).

So if it's been a while since you last checked (and these are all different files) there's as much a chance the algorithms are that much better as there is your ears are just aging.

What I'm beginning to find more annoying than compression is re-mastering - taking songs I've heard one way for 30 years and re-mixing them so that guitar parts that were never there are suddenly being heard - compressed or not...
 

loudboy

Member
Messages
27,306
What I'm beginning to find more annoying than compression is re-mastering - taking songs I've heard one way for 30 years and re-mixing them so that guitar parts that were never there are suddenly being heard - compressed or not...

Remastering and remixing are two different things.
 

PhilF

Member
Messages
568
I got 4 out of 6. More importantly I actually preferred the sound of the mp3 to the wav on a couple of those.
 

ksandvik

Member
Messages
6,328
You need really good speakers such as three-way studio monitors as well as music with lots of harmonics and transients such as cymbals. Otherwise it's tough to separate 320k MP3s from WAV (or 256k AAC as well.)
 
Messages
1,362
Well, when's the last time you listened?

Compression algorithms are consistently getting better, and, at least with modern music, a lot of people are mixing/mastering with mp3 in mind.

I remember years ago (16 or so now) listening to mp3 files students brought in to learn during their lessons and I could easily hear the "high synth arpeggiator" sound I associated with compressed audio through a cheap boombox.

But now, it's getting really hard to tell.

Furthermore, if you don't already know which version is which, sometimes we hear one and compare the other to it - rather than comparing them to each other.

Recently someone did a test and instead of asking "which one is compressed" they simply asked "which one do you prefer" and IIRC, among younger listeners there was a clear preference for the mp3s. It may have been true of older listeners too - primarily because that's the way most of us listen to music now.

Compression algorithms are based on psycho-acoustic phenomenon and they've gotten better at throwing out information we can't *perceive* anyway (the earlier ones just seemed to throw out things more randomly).

So if it's been a while since you last checked (and these are all different files) there's as much a chance the algorithms are that much better as there is your ears are just aging.

What I'm beginning to find more annoying than compression is re-mastering - taking songs I've heard one way for 30 years and re-mixing them so that guitar parts that were never there are suddenly being heard - compressed or not...
I noticed the improvement in mp3 quality recently when going back and listening to some things I had downloaded on an old player several years ago. Even the 320k files from back then sounded poor, and the 128 ones were pretty much unlistenable for me.
 

GCDEF

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
29,037
Depends what you're listening on. Typical computer speakers, probably not. On my home stereo, easily.
 

Crowder

Dang Twangler
Messages
19,089
It depends so much on the playback device. Try using a MP3's as break music on your PA. You won't hear anything from the subs.
 

Teal_66

Member
Messages
3,322
Very interesting test. I think people that can spend a few hours on the Vintage King website (I'm guilty) need to do this test. The differences were really minute. It wasn't like slap-you-in-face different. So maybe that stock compressor will work just as good as the Shadow Hills?
 




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