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The
Digital Audio Format Test!

 

By Jens Adrian

 
[Test: Setting The Trap - John Williams]

  [Test: So Far Away - Dire Straits]

    Two songs were taken as reference in order to assure the best sound-quality for each of the two tested categories of music:

  1. Setting The Trap from the “Home Alone” Soundtrack, composed by John Williams, as a reference for classical music with big orchestra.
  2. So Far Away from the album “Brothers in Arms (Remastered)”, by Dire Straits. This album was bestowed several times for it’s outstanding sound-quality and it is taken here to demonstrate the quality of the audio-formats regarding modern pop-music.

Both in the tests and the comparisons, you will be able to download sound-samples of each compression. Just click on the bitrates (kbps) in each case.
All files in this test were converted at a constant bitrate to assure the best quality possible.

The individual files were converted with these programs:

  • MP3: Audio Conversion Wizard 0.97b (LAME 3.70 Encoder)
  • WMA: Audio Conversion Wizard 0.97b (Windows Media Audio 8)
  • OGG: Audio Conversion Wizard 0.97b
  • VQF: Twin VQ Encoder 2.1
  • mp3PRO: Thomson mp3PRO Encoder Demo 1.0.2

Afterwards the files were decoded to WAV with the according programs and played using the Windows Media Player 7.0.
This way it was avoided that a possible lack of quality was due to the individual players’ decoder. The source files were of course taken from the original CDs. The WAV-files had the following format: 44100 hz, 16 bit, stereo.
All ratings refer to the sound-quality in per cent of the source files (rating: 100 %).

Source files:
         John Williams - Home Alone - Setting The Trap:
             length: 2:16 size: 22.9 MB
         Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms - So Far Away:
             length: 5:11 size: 52.4 MB

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The Comparison of Digital Audio Formats:

1. John Williams - “Home Alone” - Setting The Trap

  a) MP3:
     96 kbps - Regarding the original file the first thing to strike one’s mind is the very dull sound. High frequency tones almost get lost in the mustly noise. Fine and clear tones however sound smeary and above all the bass is slightly stronger than in the source file. (rating: 40%)
     112 kbps - At the beginning of MP3 this bitrate was said to be almost lossless. By now, most users have accepted that this simply isn’t true. Still, the fine and clear tones sound smeary, you even get the feeling you are listening to a fidgety running cassette-tape. The bass sounds quite good now, crystal clear tones still seem as if they were covered with a veil of some kind. (rating: 70 %)
     128 kbps - MP3s converted with this bitrate are most common by now, who would be surprised - there’s hardly an audible difference to the original. High frequency tones sound almost too clear. Although the bass still sounds good and there is no smearing any more, the song doesn’t sound as dynamic as the source file does. (rating: 80 %)

  b) WMA:
     48 kbps - The “almost CD-quality” Microsoft promises at this bitrate turns out to be a bad joke: the smearing is unbearable and the very musty sound spoils one’s fun in listening to this in the same way the small dropouts you can hear in the background at high frequencies do. To crown it all the songs sound somewhat metallic and at some silent moments you can hear a constant background-noise that is of course missing in the original song. Above all, the song lacks the stereo-effect the source file has. (rating: 20 %)
     64 kbps - “CD-quality”, that’s how Microsoft describes the quality at 64 kbps. Unfortunately they do not mention with which CDs they have achieved it. A smearing sound all along the whole song, at silent moments you can still hear a background-noise. High frequency tones get lost in the musty noise and sound distortedly, even the metallic clattering is still there. (rating: 40 %)
     96 kbps - There is still a smearing noise when playing very clear and fine tones at 96 kbps. The metallic sound hasn’t gone completely either. Very clear tones sound slightly dull. Concerning the quality it is almost as good as an MP3 converted at 112 kbps. (rating: 65 %)
     128 kbps - On the contrary to MP3 there is really no difference audible to the source file. Clear and fine tones are played without smearing as well. The WMA seems a little more dynamic than the MP3. (rating: 95 %)

  c) OGG:
     96 kbps - OGG Vorbis really surprises here: almost no smearing at high frequencies, the bass sounds a little stronger than the original. In the big picture the 96 kbps OGG-file sounds better than an MP3-file encoded at a bitrate of 112 kbps, but still a little worse than a WMA-file at 128 kbps. Thus OGG offers best sound-quality at this bitrate. (rating: 75 %)
     128 kbps - Like the WMA-file there is no difference to the original audible whatsoever. You may say the song sounds almost too dynamic, since some background-noises are threatened to get lost. (rating: 95 %)

  d) VQF:
     80 kbps - VQF also suprises here: you can hardly hear any of the well-known smearing, on the other hand the song sounds way too dull and the bass is way too strong. (rating: 60 %)
     96 kbps - Once again at 96 kbps there’s hardly any smearing audible, but still the song sounds too mustly and seems to be covered by a veil. The bass is now just the way it should be. (rating: 65 %)

  e) mp3PRO:
     64 kbps - With the encoder-demo that is available at the time being, sound-files can only be encoded at this bitrate. By doing so, they want to interest users in the new audio-format. Unfortunately, there is also a constant smearing sound audible at high frequency tones and the song just sounds dull in general. The bass is too strong and clear, fine tones get lost and seem distorted. Maybe mp3PRO sounds like a 128 kbps WMA when encoded at 96 kbps. (rating: 50 %)

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2. Dire Straits - “Brothers In Arms” - So Far Away

  a) MP3:
     96 kbps - Like noticed with the classical song the first thing to get aware of is the constant smearing sound. It also seems dull, and clear and fine tones get “swallowed” by the background-noise. Above all, the vocals appear to be distorted. (rating: 30 %)
     112 kbps - Although there’s still a smearing-sound, the drums seem almost too clear and sterile. The bass sounds good; however the vocals sound obviously wobbly, like played under water. (rating: 45 %)
     128 kbps - At 128 kbps there’s still a slight smearing-sound audible in the singers’ voices. The drums don’t sound 100 % like the original and the bass is a little too weak. (rating: 80 %)

  b) WMA:
     48 kbps - The tones sound too heavy in general, the constant smearing and the drums’ metallic rattling disqualify this bitrate for good. (rating: 25 %)
     64 kbps - Still, the song sounds smeary and the background somewhat metallic, the quality is however audibly better than at 48 kbps. (rating: 45 %)
     96 kbps - There’s a completely different picture at 96 kbps: although the song sounds slightly dull when there are high frequency tones, it sounds dynamic and the bass seems very natural. The only thing to complain about is the slight, but noticeable smearing sound. (rating: 80 %)
     128 kbps - Unlike the MP3 there is no audible difference to the original. The drums and the singing sound clear and clean. No smearing, good dynamics and a naturally sounding bass. (rating: 95 %)

  c) OGG:
     96 kbps - OGG truly is a surprise here as well: the song sounds hardly audibly dull when playing very clear drum-tones. No smearing, good dynamics and a perfect bass. (rating: 90 %)
     128 kbps - What’s to say? It sounds like the WMA at 128 kbps: just like the original. Clear, dynamically with a bass no one has to complain about. (rating: 95 %)

  d) VQF:
     80 kbps - The same weakness VQF had with the classical song does unveil here, too: no smearing but a basically dull sound that becomes apparent when playing the drums. The dynamics generally sound a little too heavy. (rating: 70 %)
     96 kbps - At 96 kbps the song still sounds dull, but because there is no smearing audible whatsoever, it has the same quality as an MP3 converted at 128 kbps. (rating: 80 %)

  e) mp3PRO:
     64 kbps - When playing classical music the infirmities of mp3PRO became indeed quite obvious. They are however not that apparent when playing rock-/pop-songs. A slight smearing-sound occurs when drums or vocals are played. Yet there’s hardly more to complain about, except that some tones sound almost too clear. (rating: 75 %)

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Index:

  • Main
  • Audio Formats Explained
  • Audio Format Tests
  • Audio Format Comparison
  • Audio Format Test Result
  • Links

  • All opinions in the article are based on the author's personal judgment.  These opinions do not represent that of the CDBurner.ca Staff.

    Source: LitexMedia.com

     

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