Do you think the masses can tell the difference between CD standard fidelity and a “lossy” compressed MP3 file at 320 kbps? Or that they care? Do you think that you can tell the difference? It is becoming obvious that downloaded or streaming music is going to max out at CD quality. And that’s OK with me. We can talk all day long about 16-bits vs. 24-bits and the benefits of ultrasonic frequencies on DVD-Audio or Blu-ray Pure Audio discs, but the reality is that Sonos, Pono, WMiP, Tidal, and Deezer have adopted standard resolution CD “Redbook” spec as their fidelity of choice. I applaud them all for moving us away from the decidedly “reduced resolution” of HD Radio, 128 kbps MP3s, and other compromised audio delivery formats. And maybe they’ve got it right…from a business point of view.
But how do you think a very high bitrate MP3 files would fare against a CD track?
My recordings and the iTrax.com download site opted to sell real HD-Audio in 2007 and I’ve maintained that standard ever since. Others have decided to redefine the meaning of high-resolution so that 35 million tracks can be reclassified as HD and sold again in an uncompressed format. But in reality, are the masses going to flock to files that are much larger and more expensive when there is very little difference between a CD spec audio file and a well-recorded MP3 at 320 kbps? I don’t think so.
I’ve taken my award-winning track “Mosaic” and placed it in a folder on the FTP (you can get access to the FTP credentials by clicking here) as an MP3 file at 320 kbps and in standard CD resolution. You can download them and see if you can tell the difference. Survey your friends and see if they notice a difference. My guess is that they won’t be able to. Certainly not through ear buds or even a cheap set of phones.
Here’s “Mosaic” in both formats by the numbers:
Figure 1 – The numbers for “Mosaic” [Click to enlarge]
The MP3 file is less than a quarter the size of the uncompressed CD spec version. And the only specification change is the loss of the extreme high-end frequency response in the MP3 file. The MP3 extends to 18 kHz before dropping dramatically while the CD version maxes out at the Nyquist Frequency. The dynamic range dips slightly as well.
Here’s the spectrogram for both of the versions:
Figure 2 – The spectra of the 320 kbps MP3 version of “Mosaic” [Click to enlarge]
Figure 3 – The spectra of the Redbook CD version of “Mosaic” [Click to enlarge]
As much of an advocate for real high-resolution audio as I am, I have to admit that sitting here at my desk with the air conditioning running and the cooling fans of my hard drives whirring in the background…I can’t tell them apart. They both sound great! And remember, I haven’t even included the real HD-Audio version…the one at 96 kHz/24-bits (which is also on the FTP site for those that haven’t yet heard it).
Maybe Apple is right. I can imagine a meeting between Tim Cook and Tomlinson Holman in Tom’s lab at Apple where they do this very comparison. If you were the CEO of Apple, would you add high-resolution audio capabilities to the new iPhones?