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Lossless Audio

(this is an old post copied from my Windows Live blog)
I’m doing an experiment this morning. My entire CD collection is ripped to my computer using WMA at 128Kbps. I ripped a CD with WMA Lossless which, in case you don’t know, simply compresses the audio data instead of encoding it into another format, like the lossy MP3, WMA, or AAC. The reason these are able to take a 50-60MB CD track and take it down to 5-6MB is that certain audio data is trimmed off. I don’t know the specifics of how WMA does this, but I do know that they trim off the frequencies that are out of human hearing (above 20KHz, below 20Hz). Since CDs are sampled at 44.1KHz, this chops off roughly half of the data. There’s probably more going on as well, but suffice it say that what you’re hearing from an MP3/WMA/AAC file is not even close to the original CD audio.

So I ripped Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle Earth to WMA Lossless and set up a playlist to play first the WMA “lossy” track followed by the WMA lossless track. I’m listening through Logitech Z-2300 speakers, which aren’t the greatest for music but are great for computer games.

Conclusion: On these speakers at least, there isn’t a big difference between the two. The Lossless tracks sound a little more “open” and definitely have tighter bass. Is it worth files being almost 10 times as big? Probably not.

So I played the tracks out on my surround sound system. It’s a Denon AVR-1610 hooked to Jamo S-413 speakers (4” drivers, 1” tweeters) and subwoofer (8” 100W peak).

Blind Guardian was definitely “better” sounding in the lossless format, but it was still a very slight difference. Bass frequencies seemed to be clearer and a little deeper. So, if you have the space, I’d say might as well go to lossless. It saved about 200MB for this album, and I suspect that would be the average figure.

It surprised me how little of a difference there was. Maybe WMA is just one of the better lossy formats. I’ll try this experiment with MP3 and report back

Okay, I ripped the second movement of Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony to WMA (128Kbps), WMA Lossless, and MP3 (128Kbps). The verdict? On my computer speakers, I can’t hear any difference in a blind test.

Categories: Music, Technology
  1. Aaron
    September 22, 2010 at 2:50 PM

    My biggest complaint with WMA,MP3,etc. is the phasing in the high end and usually muddy bass. everything sounds overly compressed. WMA lossless does sound a bit better. Ultimately though convenience and cost one out for me as I rarely have the time to sit in a room with a nice sound system and just listen. I an fit a couple hundred albums on a flash drive and have a huge collection in my car that fits conveniently in the glovebox!

    • September 22, 2010 at 3:15 PM

      I used to think that WMA sounded a little better than MP3, but in the blind test I did I routinely guessed wrong between WMA, MP3, and WMA Lossless. I’m thinking of doing another test, this time comparing lossless to straight off of the CD. Theoretically it should be exactly the same, but I wonder.

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