As you might already know, Mp3 and other sound files come in all sorts of different qualities, which depend on the encoding. Users who want the best audio quality possible are usually after 320Kbps as far as Mp3 files are concerned, while they avoid files encoded in lower bitrates. The million dollar question is this, though: Do computer speakers make better audio quality stand out? And if they do, could we even notice?
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Table of Contents
- How we listen to music on PC and smartphones
- Are we able to hear all high-frequency sounds?
- The audio quality
- Can you tell the difference in audio quality?
- Could you tell the difference?
- The correct answers
- How did you do on those high frequencies?
How we listen to music on PC and smartphones
Those of you obsessed with audio quality might have bought a cutting-edge sound card or DAC and have your computer connected to a Hi-Fi set with an amplifier and speakers.
In that case, it's not uncommon for a sound system to cost more than the computer itself; especially if we're talking about 5.1 Surround.
Of course, those cases are more of an exception to the rule. Most of us use the sound card integrated to our motherboard, which is usually connected to our monitor's speakers - if it has any - or independent computer speakers that start off at about $7.
Even speakers at the range of 50, 100 or even 150$ are still inadequate since high audio quality can be a lot more costly than that.
A large percentage of users often listen to music on their cell phone, usually through the earphones that come with the device. Although some do use the phone's speaker, those are lost causes which have abandoned all hope of decent audio quality.
For those of us who refuse to listen to anything below 320Kbps when it comes to our Mp3 files, even if our sound system isn't worth a small fortune, this guide contains several sound files of variable quality.
You will be able to determine whether your ears can tell the difference or not, or whether your sound system - Hi-Fi, computer speakers, or headphones - is capable of showcasing the difference in audio quality.
Are we able to hear all high-frequency sounds?
Most of us aren't able to perceive sounds to the full capability of the human ear, as that would require the ears of a teenager. However, gradual loss of hearing with age is perfectly natural and starts happening way earlier than one might think.
Often, professional activity is another factor which compliments age progression. For example, musicians, DJs, and music producers are at higher risk of damage to their hearing.
Be that as it may, we don't necessarily have to be one of the above to be prone to noise-induced hearing loss. Listening to loud music through headphones for an extended amount of time can very well result in not so gradual damage.
We will now go ahead and do a high-frequency sound test that will help us get a general idea of how our hearing fares when it comes to high frequencies.
Before you begin, it's worth noting that it's widespread for people over the age of 30 to be unable to hear all of these frequencies, especially those also known as "Mosquito" frequencies, which means 17kHz and up.
Given that, there's no reason to feel bad if you find yourself struggling with higher frequencies.
The list below contains sounds that range from 8kHz all the way up to 22.000Hz.
Ideally, the test should be performed with the use of headphones, especially if the model has external sound canceling integrated.
Doing the test with speakers, you need to have complete silence on your environment. Thus, the sound created by your computer, among others, can cause higher frequencies to seem non-existent if there's any noise around.
The audio quality
In the name of fairness, the sound files in the following tests are available for download in all essential formats on Internet Archive.
For this test, the files that follow contain a wide variety of different sounds coming from several instruments, including percussion instruments, contrabass, and vocals.
We downloaded files of the highest quality possible, such as FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) files, as well as Mp3 files of varying bitrates (VBR) of 128 and 320 kbps.
Next, we downloaded a file using Ogg Vorbis at 96/128kbps, which is the usual format for Spotify. Additionally, it also serves as the default bitrate in the free version of the music service. That said, we subjected all of those files to spectrometric analysis.
Since FLAC files can't be played online through our browser and guide, we had to convert them to WAV. Despite that, the difference in audio quality is virtually non-existent, since WAV files contain unprocessed and usually uncompressed sound.
We used the free MediaHuman Audio Converter for the conversion process.
The spectrometric analysis
We analyzed the sound spectrum using Spek, which is a straightforward, light program that virtually anyone can easily use. Therefore, you can use it to test any files you wish so that you can make sure you haven't fallen victim to the upsampling scam.
With this in mind, you'd only need to run Spek and go to "File> Open," locating the file that you want to test somewhere on your hard drives.
For the sake of having a complete picture, the figures below are useful for approximating audio file sizes.
- 11kHz = 64Kbps
- 16kHz = 128Kbps
- 19khz = 192Kbps
- 20khz / 22khz = 256Kbps / 320Kbps
The graphs and the frequencies between 16kHz and 24kHz show that we're dealing with a sound spectrum that does confirm the high, but also the low audio qualities in the files that follow.
With this in mind, you will find the results of the spectrometric analysis below.
WAV 16-bit and 24-bit:
Ogg Vorbis 96-128Kbps:
Can you tell the difference in audio quality?
The first test is comprised of three files in total, meaning the two MP3s of 128 and 320 kbps, as well as the Ogg Vorbis.
You only need to press "Play" for the file to start playing so you can see if you can tell which is the higher quality file, which would be the MP3 320kbps.
You can also use temporary pauses to compare the files if you find it to be of any help.
As a final point, you will find the answers as to which file is of higher quality at the end of our guide. Play fair, listen carefully, and don't cheat!
1st Test: Which is the MP3 360kbps file?
2nd Test: Which is the WAV 16-bit file?
The following test contains the MP3 file at 320 kbps and the WAV 16-bit file at the higher quality of 1536kbps.
3rd Test: Which is the WAV 24-bit file?
As for the third test, we chose a different track which also has vocals. Also, we also went for the highest possible WAV quality at 24-bit, as well as an MP3 file at 320kbps.
Could you tell the difference?
Does the sound of an Mp3 128kbps file belong in the trash after all? And how different is it to the Mp3 320kbps files and the uncompressed WAV? In summary, you can find the correct answers below.
The correct answers
- Track 2 was the highest quality Mp3 and is encoded at 320kbps
- Track 1 is encoded at 128kbps
- Track 3 is an Ogg Vorbis file and is encoded at 96kbps
- Track 5 has the highest quality of audio encoding in WAV 16-bit
- Track 4 is encoded in Mp3 320kbps
- Track 6 has the highest sound quality with audio encoding in WAV.
- Track 7 is encoded in Mp3 320kbps
How did you do on those high frequencies?
If you have any questions, want to share your opinion on all things audio, or just want to let us know how you did on the tests and the "Mosquito" frequencies, feel free to leave a comment.
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