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Any music sites with decent specs?

I could care less about clunky web interfaces (altough a slick interface would be nice), I just want a site where I can download 320Kbps MP3s at a decent price. Are there any sites out there that offer a good selection of current music (1980-present) in this format?

I've looked around and see only 192Kbps or WMA files. What gives?

Signed,
A reformed stereophile (reformed through marriage :-).

StickyWicket
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Claiming "I'm an audio-/stereophile" has proved to be a consistent way to (1) make people laugh at those guys' technical illiteracy, and (2) justify extraordinary needs where less would be just as appropriate.

Listen, there's just no need to go up to 320 kbps. Using a decent MP3 encoder (Fraunhofer, LAME) 256 kbps (stereo) is enough for any high end equipment. And no, it's not true that some "rare sound pieces produce distortions at anything less than 320 kbps". And yes, Ogg Vorbis at 192 kbps sounds as well, or AAC at 128 kbps.

Also, the iPod goes for 300 - 500 bucks, delivering crisp and detailed sound images. iTunes delivers songs in 128 kbps AAC. You think Apple would spoil their main products sound quality by selling songs in inferior quality?

Johnny Bravo
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

If you do a brief search on Slashdot you'll find a few comparisons of audio codecs.  No service currently offeres high-bitrate downloads, but the real question is if they are necessary.

The argument has been made that anything over 256 kb/s encoding for an MP3 is an upcoding and adds size but no new data.

Lou
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

I have found, played through a $10k stereo system, that I cannot tell the difference between the original CD and 160kbit CBR WMA files.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

I'm curious - I wonder if there's a market for "premium digital sound." Brad says he can't tell the difference between 160 bit encoding and the original CD, but I wonder if he could tell the difference between 160 bit and 320 bit if the rip was from the original studio master?

That's another area the record companies could really compete, if they'd stop suing people long enough to actually run their business.

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

If you take an average consumer soundcard like the Terratec Aureon Space or Audigy 2 and examine paramaters like linearity, resolution, sample rate, you'll find that those cards are way ahead of typical studio equipment. Sad for the companies who invested lots of money back then, good for average Joe who can afford to produce his stuff in the living room for just a few bucks now.

Johnny Bravo
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

I don't know about the other distributors, but the iTunes AAC files are reportedly ripped from the studio master, not from the pressed CD.

Lou
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

I seem to remember the quality as differentiation argument being made to folk like EMI and Sony in the past but what came back was something along the lines of 'Kylie' fans couldn't tell the difference between 64bit and 320bit and if we sold off studio quality the bootlegs would be better quality than our own CDs.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, October 21, 2003


If you were a true audiophile, shouldn't you be demanding music encoded with a lossless codec? Any lossy codec is definitionally not the same as the source material.

Bill Tomlinson
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Well I understand the original poster since I definitely can hear a huge difference -on certain material- between 192 and the higher rates for mp3 encoding.

That certain material would be finely done orchestral recordings, string quartets, and a small subgroup of electronica that has intricate positional algorithms, all of which are destroyed by mp3s.

Basically anything in which phase is important.

I can't hear any difference in vocal stuff or in rock or pop.

Yes, I'm the guy that can walk into a room and tell you instantly if you wired one of your speakers in the wrong phase.

So just since you guys are deaf from attending metal concerts doesn't mean that everyone else is deaf.

As it is, the 192 satisfies 99.5% of the possible downloaders and the additional storage capacity and bandwidth is not an acceptable tradeoff.

Those of us who want a better sound need to stick with physical CDs and DVDs, or for the few of us with their hearing intact, vinyl records on a linear tracking turntable with a $800 needle, which have the best frequency response of any format yet commercially available.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Regarding the iPod, few folks plug their iPods into their $75,000 home stereo system, 3/4 of which went to the speakers. I am sure the OP is talking about his home stereo andi not his walkman or his car stereo.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

A: "Does any one know where I can buy good caviar? The stuff at WalMart doesn't taste very fresh to me."

B: "I think the WalMart caviar tastes just fine. There is no difference between it and fresh Russian Beluga caviar."

C: "Dang, all that fish tastes the same. Why don't you just eat fried sardines and anchovies instead? That's what we eat and they taste just fine. I can't imagine this caviar stuff would be any better."

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Dear Johnny Bravo, Having been to an AES meeting (8 or so years ago) and heard all of the current codecs in A/B comparisons I can say that even I could hear the differences at low bit rates. One of Bachs organ music confuses Mpeg encoders and male voices (EBU male geman speaker) screw up minidisc encoders (Sony may fixed this by now)

I don't have golden ears and the effects were pretty gross. (And I can't hear low jitter or gold cable effects)

Peter Ibbotson
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

>"I have found, played through a $10k stereo system, that I cannot tell the difference between the original CD and 160kbit CBR WMA files."

Seems like you wasted about $9K.  Either that system isn't so good, or your ears aren't audiophilic enough to fully benefit from a $10K system.

--
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

For the things I've ripped onto 160Kbit WMA, there is no audible difference. And believe me, I have the best ears for hearing this of anybody I know. That doesn't make me deaf from metal concerts; in fact, the last time I had my ears checked, the guys was astonished and said I could "hear grass growing" if I wanted to. No, the money was not wasted.

There is a definite audible difference between CD and 2 channel DVD-A (which is 96/24 or 192/24 PCM). There is not a definite difference between CD and 160kbit WMA. Sorry, that's just how I hear it, and I _do_ hear well. However, I don't generally listen to orchestral music. :)

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Oh, and I should point out that I can _definitely_ hear the difference between MP3 and WMA. I wouldn't rip my music into MP3 if you paid me. That may be a function of the encoders I tried, but MP3 was just terrible on the high end... lots of ringing and fatigue and just awful audio artifacts above 10kHz.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Did you try LAME or BladeEnc?  Those seem to be decent with the higher frequencies, provided you use at least 192kbps.

BTW, which music service offers 192kbps or better (in any format)?

NoName
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

eMusic encodes with LAME at alt-preset standard, which is VBR and tends to average in the 180kb/s range but is in general higher quality than 192kb/s.

I believe the theory behind the alt-preset standard encoding is that it represents the level where most people, even if they can tell the difference between the encoded and the original in a double blind test, are unable to determine which sounds better.

So that should be good enough for most people.

Of course, eMusic's selection is probably a bit limited if you want popular music, and they've recently changed their pricing structure for the dramatically worse ...

I find the whole idea of needing perfect encoding a bit absurd anyway. A CD isn't lossless either! Neither is vinyl. There is no such thing as a lossless format, you're just taking varying degrees (and different kinds) of loss.

Frankly, I think people need to stop listening for problems. You're supposed to be listening to music because you enjoy the songs. If your enjoyment of the song is ruined by minor artifacts, then you probably didn't really like the song that much to start with. Or you're just anal retentive. Either way, you need to get over it, there are better things to worry about. ;)

Sum Dum Gai
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Dear Peter,
having some kind of common sense, I'm gonna tell you this story: perhaps 10 times in the last 5 years I've made a visit to some top notch "audiopile" stores, with showrooms filled up with all the latest premium lines. Everytime I told them "I have these CD(s) here and I want to test your equipment with just these CDs because that's the music I personally hear" [which ranges from Panthera to Kenny G to Massive Attack], and everytime they showed me how it sounded on a desired piece of hardware (Marantz, Harman Kardon, etc.), and everytime I was appointed by the slim difference to my old system, and then everytime the guy told me "Now wait until you hear it on our 50k$ system", and everytime it just won't make an audible difference ... and everytime they tried to convince me it was my "poorly recorded CDs" fault, "now let me show you how it sounds with a true high-fidelity recording", and pulling out a Vivaldi recording. You know, one of those huge orchestral recordings where the promised "depth" and "fidelity" and "immersion" just comes from the perception of a huge orchestra, recorded in wide halls, with 20+ instruments playing the same time.

Orchestral music to proove that one can still hear the difference when using medium abc on equipment xyz is such an old fart you won't believe it.

Bottom line is: 99% of the recordings out there are done in studios with equipment like 80dB dynamic range, 48kHz resolution, noise&distortion >0.5%, and then muxed/demuxed several times, and then compressed (like "normalize" not "reduce") several times, then muxed/demuxed again, compressed again, and finally put on a glass master. There's no way to spoil such a recording when using 192kbps MP3 or 128kbps AAC.

Johnny Bravo
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Personally, I'm only interested in lossless compression formats (flac, shorten, etc). If I spend money on some music, I want a master copy that I can encode however I want. I don't want to have to repurchase my music collection everytime an improved music codec is developed.

That's why I still only purchase CDs. When I buy a CD I  own a master copy that I can rip into any format I choose.

John Eikenberry
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Your CD is not a master copy. The CD is a lossy format too.

It's limited to 16 bit, 44KHz stereo.

That is not the exact original signal. It's close, but it's still not the same. You can never exactly reproduce music, because music is inherently analogue, so any representation is going to lose some information through errors.

Yes, in general CDs are better than mp3s in quality. But to characterise them as a "master copy" or "non-lossy" is just plain wrong.

Sum Dum Gai
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

I see people here comparing 192kbps MP3 to 128 kpbs AAC, as if they provided equivalent quality.  Is AAC really THAT much more efficient?  Do you have any links to a comparison of them?

NoName
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

http://www.codecreview.com/

Tom (a programmer)
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Emusic has very recently changed their format from $10 = 2000 downloads to $10 = 40 downloads.  I am dropping my subscription.  It's one thing to take a flyer on a band when you have functionally unlimited downloads for a reasonable price.  It is quite another to do so at 50 times the price.

K
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Thanks to Johnny for the quasi-OT slam and to everyone else that defended the reasons for my OP. I really just wanted to find out if anyone knew of a music site that catered to what I need (at least more than the least common denominator).

BTW, I have only ever used 128K, 192K and 320K. I have no idea if the 320K encoding rate includes extra information or not. All I know is that when I want to listen to the best highs and lows (especially the lows surprisingly), the highest encoding rate does the trick. This is for my home computer BTW with Audigy sound card and Klipsch speakers. I plan on moving digital music to home stereo soon and want to settle on a format so I don't have to convert/re-rip, etc.

StickyWicket
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

I read a lot of those Codec reviews. Something that's really obvious is that they're really, really old. Most of the ones that had dates were published around 2000, and the ones that didn't were pretty obviously dated.

Also, what's the obsession with tiny bitrates? Some sites were rating things from 16kbit to 64kbit. MP3 goes to 320kbit. WMA has three sub-formats now: up to 192k CBR, up to 355kbit VBR, and a 470k-940k lossless format.

I find it hard to believe that nothing has changed in any or all of these codecs in 3 years.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

"That is not the exact original signal. It's close, but it's still not the same. You can never exactly reproduce music, because music is inherently analogue, so any representation is going to lose some information through errors."

I see people say this all the time, both in print and in online forums.  I've made this point a ton of times, but here goes again.  This is not true.  You can exactly reproduce an analog signal with a digital representation.  That is because music does not have infinite bandwidth.  In fact no signals that are interesting do.  So with sufficiently high sample rate, you can exactly EXACTLY reproduce any analog signal.  For real.  See Nyquist theorem.

Roose
Friday, October 24, 2003

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