Are MP3 files just not as bad as I've been led to believe? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 68 Old 03-02-2008, 02:13 PM - Thread Starter
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I've only been downloading MP3 files off iTunes or Amazon when I don't really like an album enough to buy the whole thing, but also because everyone and their mother keeps warning me of the dreaded "compressed, lossy files". Maybe I'm crazy, but some of these tracks sound REALLY good on my rig! I'm not saying they sound as good as my Apple Lossless files, but now that I've added a *real* preamp, it really allows things to shine - even imperfect MP3 files.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

If anyone wants to try it out, go on iTunes and download Robin Thicke's "Lost Without U" and tell me it doesn't sound awesome. There are other examples, but that's the one that really impresses me.


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post #2 of 68 Old 03-02-2008, 02:42 PM
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The folks who tell you they hear night-and-day differences between compressed and uncompressed files are probably letting their own biases affect their hearing. In a blind, level-matched comparison between CD and 128kbps files, it's not easy to tell them apart unless you know exactly what to listen for. They don't sound the same, and you can learn to tell the differences, but modern perceptual codecs are remarkably good.

Here's a piece by a former recording engineer who had the same experience you did.

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post #3 of 68 Old 03-02-2008, 02:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Summa View Post

I've only been downloading MP3 files off iTunes or Amazon when I don't really like an album enough to buy the whole thing, but also because everyone and their mother keeps warning me of the dreaded "compressed, lossy files". Maybe I'm crazy, but some of these tracks sound REALLY good on my rig! I'm not saying they sound as good as my Apple Lossless files, but now that I've added a *real* preamp, it really allows things to shine - even imperfect MP3 files.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

If anyone wants to try it out, go on iTunes and download Robin Thicke's "Lost Without U" and tell me it doesn't sound awesome. There are other examples, but that's the one that really impresses me.

Well, here is food for thought: your MP3 downloads are presumably 128kbps while a CD has a data rate of around 1.35Mbps i.e. your MP3 file has 1/10 the information when compared to a CD. That makes it really difficult to compare the one with the other.

The CD uses a 16-bits while the audiophiles prefer 20/24-bits (SACD or DVD Audio) which is an even larger file at 4.49Mbps when compared to CD. My point being: for better sound you need more information, not less.

On my stereo system the difference in sound between an MP3 file played on my iPod vs a CD is quite noticeable. So, I listen to CDs when I use my stereo system and I use my iPod for the car.
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post #4 of 68 Old 03-02-2008, 03:02 PM
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Amazon typically encodes at 256 kbps constant or 256 kbps variable average.

Other than those with "golden ears" (you know, the guys who are religious about anything analog), it's difficult--if not impossible--to tell the difference between a 256 kbps rip and a redbook CD.

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post #5 of 68 Old 03-02-2008, 03:10 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by mcnarus View Post

The folks who tell you they hear night-and-day differences between compressed and uncompressed files are probably letting their own biases affect their hearing. In a blind, level-matched comparison between CD and 128kbps files, it's not easy to tell them apart unless you know exactly what to listen for. They don't sound the same, and you can learn to tell the differences, but modern perceptual codecs are remarkably good.

Here's a piece by a former recording engineer who had the same experience you did.

Oh no, not this again....lmao

Seriously, thanks for the link


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post #6 of 68 Old 03-02-2008, 03:13 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by biffva View Post

Amazon typically encodes at 256 kbps constant or 256 kbps variable average.

Other than those with "golden ears" (you know, the guys who are religious about anything analog), it's difficult--if not impossible--to tell the difference between a 256 kbps rip and a redbook CD.

Yep, honestly I'm having a hard time myself. I've ripped my entire collection to iTunes in apple lossless, and those files really don't sound much, if at all, better than my MP3 downloads. To listen to some folks, you'd think I was committing a cardinal sin by even thinking of listening to MP3s on my rig (which is the low end of high end), but to me they sound pretty damn good!


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post #7 of 68 Old 03-02-2008, 03:18 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Kruginator View Post

Well, here is food for thought: your MP3 downloads are presumably 128kbps while a CD has a data rate of around 1.35Mbps i.e. your MP3 file has 1/10 the information when compared to a CD. That makes it really difficult to compare the one with the other.

The CD uses a 16-bits while the audiophiles prefer 20/24-bits (SACD or DVD Audio) which is an even larger file at 4.49Mbps when compared to CD. My point being: for better sound you need more information, not less.

On my stereo system the difference in sound between an MP3 file played on my iPod vs a CD is quite noticeable. So, I listen to CDs when I use my stereo system and I use my iPod for the car.

I haven't actually compared the same track in both formats, so maybe that will be the difference. All I know is that for tracks I relegate to mp3 duty, they are very listenable. But I'm not going to stop ripping CDs in lossless because of it. It's just nice to know I have another option, if for no reason other than enjoying some "one hit wonder" bands for 89 cents lol


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post #8 of 68 Old 03-02-2008, 03:26 PM
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Oh no, not this again....lmao

What's your problem? Somebody mentions a blind test and you start to get nervous? How do you think they developed MP3s in the first place?

If you can't explain how it works, you can't say it doesn't.—The High-End Creed

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post #9 of 68 Old 03-02-2008, 03:30 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by mcnarus View Post

What's your problem? Somebody mentions a blind test and you start to get nervous? How do you think they developed MP3s in the first place?

Do you know what "lmao" means?


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post #10 of 68 Old 03-02-2008, 03:57 PM
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The system used for playback has a lot to do with hearing a difference.

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post #11 of 68 Old 03-02-2008, 04:27 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Comp.Audiophile View Post

The system used for playback has a lot to do with hearing a difference.

I agree. My speakers are known to be a great match with tubes, and now that I have a tube preamp I've noticed that even regular tv shows sound pretty damn good.


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post #12 of 68 Old 03-02-2008, 04:40 PM
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Lot depends on the codec used too.

I'm not here to say 128 Mp3 are the way to go, but there are some really bad ones and some that are tolerable.

Just because there is a knob doesn't mean you should turn it.
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post #13 of 68 Old 03-02-2008, 09:03 PM
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The question is stupid to begin with. I mean, what exactly are you asking? You're trying to justify mp3's as a 'relevant' source of music quality. I'm not disagreeing with mp3's, I'm just disagreeing with the lowering of standards this sort of question allows for. I'm pissed that even producers nowadays don't even give a crap about SQ. They say they do, but it's like learning to clap with one hand; it's as if producers model songs after iTunes (which I despise). A nice shot of analog really wouldn't hurt; maybe they'd learn how to master an LP and understand the difference between reference quality and high bitrate.
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post #14 of 68 Old 03-02-2008, 09:21 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Lazonby View Post

The question is stupid to begin with. I mean, what exactly are you asking? You're trying to justify mp3's as a 'relevant' source of music quality. I'm not disagreeing with mp3's, I'm just disagreeing with the lowering of standards this sort of question allows for. I'm pissed that even producers nowadays don't even give a crap about SQ. They say they do, but it's like learning to clap with one hand; it's as if producers model songs after iTunes (which I despise). A nice shot of analog really wouldn't hurt; maybe they'd learn how to master an LP and understand the difference between reference quality and high bitrate.

What the hell are you talking about? I simply asked if anyone else had downloaded an MP3 file that they found to be better in terms of sound quality than they expected, or that they had been led to believe. I'm not trying to "justify" anything, I'm asking if others have had the same experience as I have lately. Got it?


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post #15 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 03:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Lazonby View Post

The question is stupid to begin with. I mean, what exactly are you asking? You're trying to justify mp3's as a 'relevant' source of music quality. I'm not disagreeing with mp3's, I'm just disagreeing with the lowering of standards this sort of question allows for. I'm pissed that even producers nowadays don't even give a crap about SQ. They say they do, but it's like learning to clap with one hand; it's as if producers model songs after iTunes (which I despise). A nice shot of analog really wouldn't hurt; maybe they'd learn how to master an LP and understand the difference between reference quality and high bitrate.

You're got MP3 bitrate, compression, and listening devices all jumbled together.

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post #16 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 04:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Summa View Post

I haven't actually compared the same track in both formats, so maybe that will be the difference. All I know is that for tracks I relegate to mp3 duty, they are very listenable. But I'm not going to stop ripping CDs in lossless because of it. It's just nice to know I have another option, if for no reason other than enjoying some "one hit wonder" bands for 89 cents lol

Do the comparison of a CD (using a good player) and the same song(s) in MP3 file format (encoded at 128 or 256) both played over a decent stereo system and you will hear the difference.

For my ears, because of the compression and significantly lower bitrate, the MP3 music sounds flatter, the sound stage not as accurate and "air" between instruments is just not there. I can certainly hear the difference.

As an aside, when playing a CD, my DVD player has awful sound compared to my CD player and there is no conversion/compression of audio data to MP3 format.

I read the link earlier of the audio engineer's experience. I will challenge him to a blind test of CD vs MP3 and he will change his tune, I am sure.

This discussion is similar to the cable argument: digital is digital, so why would a $1000 cable sound or look (in the video context) better than a $100 cable? I mean bits are bits? Yeah whatever! Until you try these different cables out in a system that helps you hear/see the difference. You then enter the realm of do you care to pay the big $$ for the marginal improvement in sound/video? That's another discussion altogether.

My ultimate point being: in my opinion there is a difference between CD/MP3, it's simply a case of do you care? MP3 works fine for me in a car environment, but when I want to "listen" to music, why would I use a compromised format (for the reasons given above) and denigrate my listening experience when I have paid mucho $$ to improve my sound quality.
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post #17 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 05:22 AM
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Summa, this is the perfect place for you to get involved in a bias controlled test. Rip a CD as a wav and as a 256 mp3. Have someone else select the two files randomly back and forth. There is no need for level matching. Couldn't be easier.
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post #18 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 05:32 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by FMW View Post

Summa, this is the perfect place for you to get involved in a bias controlled test. Rip a CD as a wav and as a 256 mp3. Have someone else select the two files randomly back and forth. There is no need for level matching. Couldn't be easier.

I will do that...unfortunately my only source - a little iPod nano - died on me last night. I have a Squeezebox Duet on the way, so I'll teach my brother how to operate it and then have him do as you suggested.

Allow me to clarify, though...I'm not trying to dispute that a lossless file sounds as good as a lossy mp3. I'm just surprised that some of the mp3s I've downloaded sound as good as they do. I ripped my whole audio collection in Apple Lossless, and will continue to do so. I just like having the option of an mp3 from time to time when it's convenient and when $.89 sounds better than twelve bucks for one song.


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post #19 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 05:33 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Kruginator View Post

Do the comparison of a CD (using a good player) and the same song(s) in MP3 file format (encoded at 128 or 256) both played over a decent stereo system and you will hear the difference.

For my ears, because of the compression and significantly lower bitrate, the MP3 music sounds flatter, the sound stage not as accurate and "air" between instruments is just not there. I can certainly hear the difference.

As an aside, when playing a CD, my DVD player has awful sound compared to my CD player and there is no conversion/compression of audio data to MP3 format.

I read the link earlier of the audio engineer's experience. I will challenge him to a blind test of CD vs MP3 and he will change his tune, I am sure.

This discussion is similar to the cable argument: digital is digital, so why would a $1000 cable sound or look (in the video context) better than a $100 cable? I mean bits are bits? Yeah whatever! Until you try these different cables out in a system that helps you hear/see the difference. You then enter the realm of do you care to pay the big $$ for the marginal improvement in sound/video? That's another discussion altogether.

My ultimate point being: in my opinion there is a difference between CD/MP3, it's simply a case of do you care? MP3 works fine for me in a car environment, but when I want to "listen" to music, why would I use a compromised format (for the reasons given above) and denigrate my listening experience when I have paid mucho $$ to improve my sound quality.

That's the same thing I'm experiencing. I have a Toshiba A30 HD-DVD player, and I was not happy at all with how my music was sounding from its analog outs. My little iPod nano was sounding better with the exact same tracks.

And I agree, I have no interest in ripping my CDs in anything less than a lossless format. I have them in Apple Lossless, but I can convert them to FLAC pretty easily. I won't rip them in a lossy format.


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post #20 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 06:25 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Summa View Post

I will do that...unfortunately my only source - a little iPod nano - died on me last night. I have a Squeezebox Duet on the way, so I'll teach my brother how to operate it and then have him do as you suggested.

Allow me to clarify, though...I'm not trying to dispute that a lossless file sounds as good as a lossy mp3. I'm just surprised that some of the mp3s I've downloaded sound as good as they do. I ripped my whole audio collection in Apple Lossless, and will continue to do so. I just like having the option of an mp3 from time to time when it's convenient and when $.89 sounds better than twelve bucks for one song.

I agree with you. I don't download music files, personally, but my guess is they are probably more compressed than I would do with my own CD's. They probably sound great but there is likely an audible difference between them and a lossless file.

I rip my CD's to 320 MP3. I can't tell the difference between them and WAV or FLAC files. I could probably compress even more without hurting anything audibly but I have the same trepidation that I'll miss something that everyone else has.

I'm sure you will like the Squeezebox. They are super products.
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post #21 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 06:28 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by FMW View Post


I'm sure you will like the Squeezebox. They are super products.

I'm very excited to get it...the Duet is supposed to ship this week, so I'll report back on my experience. I know it prefers to have files ripped in FLAC, but I've grown quite fond of iTunes (the software, not the store, per se), and I prefer to keep using it. Hopefully it will operate as smoothly as I've heard. It's a nice feeling to have all my music in one place and not have to mess with disc changes and such.


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post #22 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 06:36 AM
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The vast majority of audio we hear these days has undergone lossy compression. Virtually all audio for radio and tv has been through lossy compression, often multiple encode/decode cycles. Recordings are routinely made with musicians in different studios, sending work through digital lines in a lossy format. ALL motion pictures in theaters use lossy compression (Dolby Digital, DTS, etc are lossy codecs). And ya' know what? WE ALL BENEFIT FROM LOSSY COMPRESSION! Bandwidth is a limited commodity. Do we really want satellite radio (or tv) with four channels, or internet radio stations that can only handle two simultaneous streams (listeners)?

Lossy compression is largely benign for a couple of reasons. Yes it's true that compression rates are often as severe as 5:1 or even 10:1. Does that mean that only one fifth of the "information" is recorded? OF COURSE NOT! Not unless the source was WHITE NOISE, because that is the only source which REQUIRES the bandwidth of 16 bit 44.1khz to be transparent.

Linear PCM at 16/44.1 is capable of reproducing sound at EVERY frequency from 0hz to 20khz simultaneously, which lossy codecs can't do. Entirely meaningless, as the above is a description of white noise! MUSIC, on the other hand, has a few dozen (at most) fundamental tones, with harmonically related overtones for a few octaves beyond them...a few hundred discreet tones at any instant...well within the capability of lossy codecs. As well it should be...they are, after all, designed to take into account HOW WE ACTUALLY HEAR...hence the proper term for them "perceptual coding".

People here (and elsewhere) like to rail about how lossy compression damages music. They say this with confidence that there's no way to prove them wrong. Well, I'm about to make 'em quake in their boots, because it is possible to prove OBJECTIVELY exactly what is (or isn't) removed by lossy compression. Rip a cd to your hard deive in linear PCM at 16 bit 44.1khz. Load it into an editor like Adobe Audition. Save the .wav file. Now invert the polarity of the file (both channels) save the same file in mp3 (or another lossy) format (choose at least 192kbps, preferably higher).

In multitrack view, open both the original, unaltered file on one "track", and the compressed/inverted file on another. Time align them (drag them all the way to the left), and hit play. If the tracks are perfectly time aligned, all that will emerge from your speakers is what was removed from the original file by the lossy codec. You may have to crank the speakers VERY LOUD to hear anything at all. What's left will be a whispery, phasey artifact, often not clearly identifiable. Hardly "9/10ths" of the original audio, now is it? Were I to give it an (average guess) score, I'd estimate that perhaps 1/100th, or 1/200th (depending upon codec, bitrate, and complexity of source audio) is actually removed...insignificant when one factors in the well known "masking effect" of human hearing.
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post #23 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 07:42 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike Walker View Post

The vast majority of audio we hear these days has undergone lossy compression. Virtually all audio for radio and tv has been through lossy compression, often multiple encode/decode cycles. Recordings are routinely made with musicians in different studios, sending work through digital lines in a lossy format. ALL motion pictures in theaters use lossy compression (Dolby Digital, DTS, etc are lossy codecs). And ya' know what? WE ALL BENEFIT FROM LOSSY COMPRESSION! Bandwidth is a limited commodity. Do we really want satellite radio (or tv) with four channels, or internet radio stations that can only handle two simultaneous streams (listeners)?

Lossy compression is largely benign for a couple of reasons. Yes it's true that compression rates are often as severe as 5:1 or even 10:1. Does that mean that only one fifth of the "information" is recorded? OF COURSE NOT! Not unless the source was WHITE NOISE, because that is the only source which REQUIRES the bandwidth of 16 bit 44.1khz to be transparent.

Linear PCM at 16/44.1 is capable of reproducing sound at EVERY frequency from 0hz to 20khz simultaneously, which lossy codecs can't do. Entirely meaningless, as the above is a description of white noise! MUSIC, on the other hand, has a few dozen (at most) fundamental tones, with harmonically related overtones for a few octaves beyond them...a few hundred discreet tones at any instant...well within the capability of lossy codecs. As well it should be...they are, after all, designed to take into account HOW WE ACTUALLY HEAR...hence the proper term for them "perceptual coding".

People here (and elsewhere) like to rail about how lossy compression damages music. They say this with confidence that there's no way to prove them wrong. Well, I'm about to make 'em quake in their boots, because it is possible to prove OBJECTIVELY exactly what is (or isn't) removed by lossy compression. Rip a cd to your hard deive in linear PCM at 16 bit 44.1khz. Load it into an editor like Adobe Audition. Save the .wav file. Now invert the polarity of the file (both channels) save the same file in mp3 (or another lossy) format (choose at least 192kbps, preferably higher).

In multitrack view, open both the original, unaltered file on one "track", and the compressed/inverted file on another. Time align them (drag them all the way to the left), and hit play. If the tracks are perfectly time aligned, all that will emerge from your speakers is what was removed from the original file by the lossy codec. You may have to crank the speakers VERY LOUD to hear anything at all. What's left will be a whispery, phasey artifact, often not clearly identifiable. Hardly "9/10ths" of the original audio, now is it? Were I to give it an (average guess) score, I'd estimate that perhaps 1/100th, or 1/200th (depending upon codec, bitrate, and complexity of source audio) is actually removed...insignificant when one factors in the well known "masking effect" of human hearing.

That's a good and interesting post.

I am fairly new into audio and still trying to figure things out and how best to listen to my music, but in my short time of experimenting, the quality of the recording itself makes WAY more of a difference in sound quality than the compression (at least to my ears). I'll keep expirementing, but it seems my time may be better spent looking for good recordings than worrying about compression. Of course I'll still go lossless when I can, but will not avoid mp3 by any means.
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post #24 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 09:00 AM
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post #25 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 09:49 AM
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Summa,

I have to agree with you about the HD DVD players. I have the XA2 and that player also played cds very poorly. That led me to get a new cd player (Marnatz SA-8001) but before I did that I did some investigating and if you to the cd link you will find people literally ready to fight over the argument if there is a difference in sound quality between cd players. So I say whatever sounds best to you use as your source. Except for HD DVDs. They play movies in awesome quality but leave cds with something more to be desired.
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post #26 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 01:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Summa View Post

I'm very excited to get it...the Duet is supposed to ship this week, so I'll report back on my experience. I know it prefers to have files ripped in FLAC, but I've grown quite fond of iTunes (the software, not the store, per se), and I prefer to keep using it. Hopefully it will operate as smoothly as I've heard. It's a nice feeling to have all my music in one place and not have to mess with disc changes and such.

That's the truth. I haven't used a CD player since I got my first Squeezebox. New CD's go straight to the DVD RW in my computer and get ripped to hard drive. No loading or unloading CD's, no storage issues. The entire collection of recordings is instantly available with a few clicks of the remote. Super technology.
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post #27 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 01:41 PM - Thread Starter
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Summa,

I have to agree with you about the HD DVD players. I have the XA2 and that player also played cds very poorly. That led me to get a new cd player (Marnatz SA-8001) but before I did that I did some investigating and if you to the cd link you will find people literally ready to fight over the argument if there is a difference in sound quality between cd players. So I say whatever sounds best to you use as your source. Except for HD DVDs. They play movies in awesome quality but leave cds with something more to be desired.

I was really disappointed, cause my Denon 2900 universal player did everything really well. Unfortunately it stopped reading CDs a few weeks back, and I haven't decided if I want to fix it yet. It'll cost about $200, so I'll have to think about it. But something is just not right with the 2-channel abilities of the HD-DVD players. I can't put my finger on it, cause DD and DTS sound great (I don't have high rez capabilities yet)...but my little iPod sounds much better to me. I do have a cable (FMW would flip if I told him what I spent on it LOL) that allows me to bypass the little headphone output of the iPod, which is supposedly a piece of crap. You're right about movies, though...I've only had this thing about a month...I bought it just before Toshiba threw in the towel and Netflix decided to go BD exclusively, so I felt kinda screwed. But the few movies I've seen in HD glory were amazing. American Gangster was a very nice transfer, and Transformers is just SICK!

I love Marantz players...I spent some time with one back when I had Paradigm gear, cause my local dealer felt the two companies had a nice synergy. I have to say I was in agreement.


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post #28 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 01:43 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by FMW View Post

That's the truth. I haven't used a CD player since I got my first Squeezebox. New CD's go straight to the DVD RW in my computer and get ripped to hard drive. No loading or unloading CD's, no storage issues. The entire collection of recordings is instantly available with a few clicks of the remote. Super technology.

I have to admit I was a bit reluctant to even consider such a product, but the more I read about it, the more intrigued I became. Everyone I know who has one just raves about it. And the guys at Logitek/Slim Devices are awesome. They have a very strong online presence and their customer service is tremendous. Their website is also very comprehensive. When you factor in the very reasonable price, it made this decision a no-brainer.


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post #29 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 04:11 PM
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Personally, I enjoy listening to mp3s as long as they are above 128kbps. They aren't as bad as some people say they are as long as they are not overly compressed, especially for casual listening. I certainly cannot tell the difference in sq between a 320 and a flaq, i dont think many people could pass a db abx comparision either (which is easy to setup in foobar2k).

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I've only been downloading MP3 files off iTunes or Amazon when I don't really like an album enough to buy the whole thing, but also because everyone and their mother keeps warning me of the dreaded "compressed, lossy files". Maybe I'm crazy, but some of these tracks sound REALLY good on my rig! I'm not saying they sound as good as my Apple Lossless files, but now that I've added a *real* preamp, it really allows things to shine - even imperfect MP3 files.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

If anyone wants to try it out, go on iTunes and download Robin Thicke's "Lost Without U" and tell me it doesn't sound awesome. There are other examples, but that's the one that really impresses me.

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post #30 of 68 Old 03-03-2008, 04:34 PM
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Anything below 320kbps does sound worse and the loss of info is noticeable. I have stopped using mp3's and went back to cd. However the larger Ipod classics with all that space I could just listen to everything in Apple Lossless.
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