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Compressed audio: can you tell?

Compressed audio: can you tell?

The quality of modern digital audio – not just the 44.1/24-bit vs higher sample rate and bit depth formats, but compressed audio formats as well – has been the subject of a lot of debate over the last few years, but can you hear a difference between compressed and uncompressed audio?

Compressed vs uncompressed audio

Compressed vs uncompressed audio: the story so far…

When online stores such as iTunes first appeared, internet speeds were a lot slower than they are now, so using smaller file sizes made a lot of sense. These days though, does that argument still fly?

The audiophile backlash against compressed audio has led to the emergence of music-download and streaming services, such as HDtracks and Neil Young’s Pono offering uncompressed audio.

Is this worth it?

Perhaps the pertinent question is whether the your file format of choice is the quality-limiting link of your music-listening chain? If you’re listening on the earbuds that came bundled with your device, or the built in speaker on your tablet, it may not be…

Those wonderful people of National Public Radio were interested as well, so they devised a little test.

Can you hear a difference with uncompressed audio?

Time to give your golden ears a chance to shine!

The NPR folks have put together this very interesting compressed audio test for you.

Try it, you might be surprised…

Can music listeners hear better quality audio?

As we’re talking about this after the test has been up for a wee while, we also have the benefit of being able to see the results.

If you really want to know whether people can hear the difference between 128 kbps mp3, 320 kbps mp3 and 44.1k 16-bit wave files, you can read all about the results – which may surprise you – here.

128 vs 320 mp3 vs wav


If you’ve tried on ear buds, why not try on your studio monitors – and vice versa. The test is set to jumble each time so you can do it as many times as you want.

Because the wonderful people at NPR have set the test up this way, it does allow you to perform an interesting experiment on yourself: can you reproducibly hear a difference between the audio formats?

Run through the test and make a note of which ones you got right, a wee tally chart would be perfect, then do it again, and again, and again. Did you get the same number right each time? Did you get the same tracks right each time?

There goes my weekend…

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Red Dog Music is the UK’s friendliest musical instrument and pro-audio dealer. Between our 5000 square foot Edinburgh shop filled with an incredible range of products, and our London showroom in Clapham specialising in high-end instruments, dj and pro-audio, Red Dog Music has you covered from north to south and from performance to playback.

About The Author

Red Dog Music

Dawsons Music is delighted to announce that the Red Dog Music brand is now part of the Dawsons family. This is an exciting opportunity to bring both communities together and create a stronger, wider network of people passionate about music gear. We both share a common heritage to support musicians throughout the UK and Dawsons want to support Red Dog Music customers in their continued musical journey.

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