Lion of the Blogosphere

A technical explanation of audio files

Compression is a way to store data using less storage space. The music data on audio CDs is not compressed because back in the 1980s when the standard was introduced, the computing power necessary to decompress data on the fly just didn’t exist.

The data is truncated, however, because the music is sampled at a certain rate and limited to a range of frequencies. However, the people who created the standard had the goal of leaving enough data so that no human would be able to tell the difference between an audio CD and digital audio recorded with a higher sample rate and greater frequency range.

MP3s take up a lot less storage space because (1) they use data compression; and (2) they use “lossy compression” which means they remove some of the data. I think it’s better to think of it as smart truncation. The MP3 encoding algorithm is removing data that the algorithm determines is unimportant for humans.

MP3s vary in quality based on (1) the bit rate (lower being worse); and (2) the quality of the encoder. There is also such a thing as variable bit rate (VBR) encoding which maintains a target listening quality and varies the bitrate based on what’s needed for a particular moment in the audio stream to have the targeted quality level.

The maximum size of an MP3 file is 320 kbps CBR (continue bit rate), and the vast majority of humans cannot tell the difference between CD-quality audio and a 320 kpbs MP3 encoded with a quality encoder, even if they are listening on the highest-end audio equipment in a completely quiet room.

Amazon currently uses “variable bit rates aiming at an average of 256 kilobits per second (kbps)” which seems similar to the “Extreme” setting on the Lame encoder (and maybe that’s exactly what Amazon is using). Even though this is a little bit lower in quality than 320 kbps CBR, this is still a quality level where the vast majority of humans can’t tell the difference between that and a less truncated file even under optimal listening conditions.

In the past, when bandwidth and storage were at more of a premium, purchased MP3 files often had lower quality than that. But based on current Amazon quality standards, it seems to me that you can confidently buy Amazon MP3s.

* * *

My first MP3 player was a Sony with only 2GB of memory, and it stored the music in a proprietary Sony format that was only 64 kbps. Sony claimed it was superior quality to MP3, and I am sure they were right because it’s well known that MP3 doesn’t have the best quality compared to some other formats, especially at lower bit rates, but it was still a pretty heavily compressed file and probably had quality somewhat below 128 kbps MP3s which are considered low quality by audiophiles. Yet I was immensely pleased by how great the music sounded on that device.

* * *

I also notice that standalone MP3 players have become much less popular items because everyone is listening to music on their smartphones. But Apple charges a lot of money for memory on their iPhones, so if you buy a dedicated MP3 player that accepts micro-SD cards, you could carry around a much larger collection of music at a much lower price.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

May 26, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Posted in Technology

65 Responses

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  1. “…so if you buy a dedicated MP3 player that accepts micro-SD cards, you could carry around a much larger collection of music at a much lower price.”

    If you switch to an LG G4 you can store up to 512GB on a micro SD card and skip the extra mp3 player entirely. (The phone can actually handle up to 2TB.)
    Plus you get a great camera and can swap out the battery yourself.

    Nedd Ludd

    May 26, 2016 at 1:47 pm

  2. I have an MP3 player because a smartphone strapped to my arm or bouncing in my pocket is a pain when exercising.


    May 26, 2016 at 1:53 pm

  3. Or you could not buy an apple phone (my Galaxy SIII has a microSD slot for extra storage… I can’t imagine later models don’t have one as well)

    Marc KS

    May 26, 2016 at 2:58 pm

  4. Good post, useful info. Not as good as the rat post, but good nonetheless. If you have more scoop on the rats, share it with us.


    May 26, 2016 at 3:05 pm

  5. I can remember the bad old days in graduate school when I’d secretly install Napster at the computer lab where it took a whopping 6+ hours to download only 40-50 songs onto Iomega 250MB Zip disks. Thankfully Napster did list the bit rate of the MP3 before you decided to download.


    May 26, 2016 at 4:02 pm

  6. I’m still using my ten-year-old Zune, and love it.

    Samson J.

    May 26, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    • Listening to music on a smartphone in public, as with the other melody players in the past, signifies proledom.


      May 27, 2016 at 9:29 am

      • No, it does not. SWPLs love listening to music, especially if the music is being played on an Apple product.

      • Yes, it is prole, because listening to music in public, demonstrates lower prudence and discretion. Women who do, are at risk of being assaulted in areas, where there is a concern.


        May 27, 2016 at 12:09 pm

      • @ JS: you meant listening to MP3s on a smartphone in public is prole. Listening to Spotify on you iPhone in public = hip.


        May 27, 2016 at 11:48 am

      • JS is right – it’s prole and stupid. Like you have nothing serious to think about? You just walk around for hours with someone singing in you ears? Prole or not – you are and idiot, sir! What, I’m just gonna switch off my mind and hand it over to Beach Boys or Spice Girls or 50 cents? If this isn’t stupid, what is? No wonder they are unemployed and can’t get a job. Once I had a worker and he was hooked up to a gadget. Lasted precisely one day.


        May 27, 2016 at 3:32 pm

      • Right or wrong, America is now a place of deraign individuals, that transcends all classes and races.


        May 27, 2016 at 7:07 pm

  7. But as far as bit rate goes, I don’t think the human ear can tell much difference beyond around 192 BPS, right? Yes, you lose a lot for “purist” concerns, but so what – the difference in quality is negligible but going to 256 or 300+ makes a huuuuge difference in storage size if you have a large volume of files.


    May 26, 2016 at 4:08 pm

  8. I bought a 64 GB card to put music and other stuff on, thinking that the default 16 GB in my Android wouldn’t be enough. Turns out I don’t really need the space. I’m glad I only spent whatever this card costs and didn’t pay the huge extra-built-in-memory tax.


    May 26, 2016 at 4:13 pm

  9. MP3s vary in quality based on (1) the bit rate (lower being worse); and (2) the quality of the encoder. There is also such a thing as variable bit rate (VBR) encoding which maintains a target listening quality and varies the bitrate based on what’s needed for a particular moment in the audio stream to have the targeted quality level.

    If at >=660 PPI screen pixels become invisible to humans with 20-20 eyesight no matter how near the screen is held to the eyes what is the level of audio quality equivalent to PPI where well-trained musicians can’t tell the difference between a compressed file and a high quality original recording?

    The Undiscovered Jew

    May 26, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    • The idea is not to max out the frequency response of the human year. That is between 20hz-20kHz. The idea is to max out the quality of your equipment. If you have nice reference headphones or expensive ribbon speakers, that quality cannot be heard on “lossed” compressed files.


      May 27, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    • The idea is to max out the quality of your equipment. If you have nice reference headphones or expensive ribbon speakers, that quality cannot be heard on “lossed” compressed files.

      Even if the best equipment can capture the finest differences in audio quality at some point doesn’t equipment no long matter if the differences are outside of the range of human hearing?

      The Undiscovered Jew

      May 27, 2016 at 4:27 pm

  10. I have a phone I bought for $20 that I use a $20 microSD card in. This gives me the same storage as a $750 iPhone 6S (64 GB). Also, if I damage this phone while working out (dropped it a few times so far) it’s easily replaced. I might splurge for a bigger SD card at the end of the year because my music collection is outgrowing this space, but it’s nice to have all of my music available on a card the size of a fingernail.

    Panther of the Blogocube

    May 26, 2016 at 5:18 pm

  11. The data track on an audio CD is the opposite of compressed. In theory you’re supposed to be able to drill some 2mm holes in the disk and play without skipping.


    May 26, 2016 at 6:11 pm

  12. Why download music to your flash drive or .mp3 player when you can stream it?

    If I want to listen to music, i look it up on youtube or play it through pandora.

    The future is the CLOUD


    May 26, 2016 at 6:19 pm

  13. I recently switched to Spotify’s paid plan for $10/mo. and now can stream most everything I might want to listen to in either album or playlist format. I don’t think I’ll go back to purchasing MP3 files or transferring music from CDs.


    May 26, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    • 1. Data caps.
      2. Coverage range.
      3. Battery life.

      I have my music collection uploaded to the cloud, but with a 128 GB micro SD card in my phone, I never have to resort to it. This is helpful in the Keys where signal strength reduces to the point where buffering pauses kick in many places and coverage disappears entirely just a short distance offshore. Micro SD works on a plane, at sea, in the mountains, or anyplace else coverage sucks. You can use it in airplane mode to conserve your battery. And it doesn’t eat up your data plan. If Cloud is the future, the future is vastly inferior in nearly every way.


      May 27, 2016 at 1:36 am

      • The cloud is there so that corporations can make you pay a subscription fee to your own life.

        Panther of the Blogocube

        May 27, 2016 at 2:38 pm

  14. “The MP3 encoding algorithm is removing data that the algorithm determines is unimportant for humans.”

    This exemplifies exactly what I said before about scientism. The human being who created the algorithm decided that such and such is unimportant to humans because he had peeled off and discarded all those unimportant things humans used to cherish, like quality and excellence and perfection. The minimum quality that he as a scientist decided to use should be enough for all you people down there.

    If you can’t hear any difference between a mp3 file and a lowly 16/44.1 uncompressed FLAC file (to say nothing of a 24/192 or a DSD or a MQA file) on a good stereo system, please don’t write anything about sound and sound quality.


    May 26, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    • FLAC is compressed. It’s just lossless compression compared to mp3s which are lossy compression


      May 27, 2016 at 2:30 am

      • That’s not true. You can setup FLAC as to have no compression. In fact, that’s what the most advanced server manufacturers use instead of WAV.


        May 27, 2016 at 2:26 pm

      • “That’s not true. You can setup FLAC as to have no compression.”

        Um, FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec.


        May 28, 2016 at 11:47 am

    • hard9bf, ripping to uncompressed FLAC has been available at least since 2011:


      May 28, 2016 at 5:34 pm

  15. So how does “middle out” compression work?

    Dirty Randy

    May 26, 2016 at 10:00 pm

  16. Lion, here’s a picture of Trump celebrating clinching the nomination on his plane with a McDonald’s meal of a Big Mac, large fries, and a Diet Coke:


    May 26, 2016 at 10:26 pm

    • Bill Clinton also liked McDonalds. Back when he was the first black president, before he became SWPL.

      • McDonalds is inherently American, and its food is being consumed by every class of people. I’m quite sure SWPL parents bring their kids to McDonalds on the Upper East/West Sides, during the weekends. The McDonald restaurants in these neighborhoods would draw the least amount of NAMs (excluding the employees).


        May 27, 2016 at 9:17 am

      • They don’t. They bring their kids to Shake Shack. McDonalds is only for the NAM children.

      • NAMs aren’t found in large numbers in Yorkville – the UES, with a large concentration of high income residents and their families.

        How does a McDonald’s stay in business, if NAMs are eating there in large numbers, and SWPLs in the neighborhood aren’t patronizing it?

        I found this picture of a young “SWPL” kid, eating his McDonald’s fare on the UES.


        May 27, 2016 at 12:00 pm

      • There are doormen and many other blue-collar workers who need to eat lunch. Seriously.

      • Shake Shack will succumb to NAMs in a few years, just like any ubiquitous SWPL establishment in NYC.


        May 27, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    • Rifleman

      May 27, 2016 at 8:20 am

      • It’s actually not a good picture of Trump and I’m surprised Trump published it. Not because he’s eating McDonald’s, which is fine. But because he looks like an exhausted, sad, tired old man in the picture. Obviously he is a tired old man, exhausted from the campaigning, but that’s generally not the image he likes to project.


        May 27, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    • Mayor Washington of Chicago used to scarf down cheeseburgers in his limousine; his obesity led to an early death by heart attack.


      May 27, 2016 at 8:21 am

    • Next time, get Chik-fil-A for takeout. Maximize signal strength.


      May 27, 2016 at 2:56 pm

  17. If you buy digital music from snooty labels like Deutsche Grammophon you can download your albums in the FLAC format (lossless compression).


    May 26, 2016 at 10:47 pm

  18. what’s the deal with the Trump Bernie debate.

    Liberals think that Warren is “destroying” Trump on twitter. These people are so delusional I can’t even believe it.

    Otis the Sweaty

    May 26, 2016 at 11:46 pm

  19. Most new phones lack a micro sd slot. No expansion. Buy a cheap mp3 player if you can find one. The Ipid quiff sadly requires Itunes.


    May 26, 2016 at 11:55 pm

    • Samsung did away with the micro sd slot in their last flagship phone (the S6) but brought it back with the just released S7. Motorola’s flagship line (the X) which I have never got rid of it. Apple are the ones that never provided a slot and that is because they charge a $200 premium for the highest internal memory version of their phone and since it only costs Apple $50 that adds up to $150 of pure profit, per phone, just on memory alone.


      May 27, 2016 at 1:50 pm

  20. If you buy your music from really snooty labels like Linn (the ones who also still make expensive turntables) you can download “studio quality” supposedly better/higher resolution than SACD…

    There are a few audiophiles for all kinds of things, including both SACD and Vinyl. (I perfectly understand collecting LPs for both covers and nostalgia (and would probably do it myself if I had more money and more shelf space), not quite for the sound.)

    Neither is going to become a huge market but apparently enough to keep it as a niche. And CDs will stay around for while as well. One trivial reason is that hardly anybody wants to give lame cards with download credits as a present. Someone told be that some vendors (or even labels) ran out of stock before last Xmas because they had seriously underestimated how many CDs would still be bought as gifts.


    May 27, 2016 at 4:49 am

  21. None of this stuff matters if you are married to a woman who insists on singing along with your music, making up her own nonsensical lyrics as she goes along, including during instrumentals.


    May 27, 2016 at 7:15 am

  22. The nerd is very, very strong up in here. LOL.

    Odds are very high that no female will post on this issue.


    May 27, 2016 at 8:23 am

    • Because females don’t care if recorded music sounds slightly less than perfect?

      • Actually it’s an HBD issue. Women are less likely to be interested in all forms of engineering and various technical fields. I don’t believe that an almost complete absence of female aerospace engineers, chemical engineers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, diesel mechanics, etc. is due entirely to discrimination.

        Lewis Medlock

        May 27, 2016 at 11:25 am

      • Independent bookstores reveal the intellectual interests of women vs men. Women gravitate towards popular titles, contemporary fiction that sort of thing, more so than men who gravitate towards more academic oriented subjects, like philosophy, science and history.


        May 27, 2016 at 12:12 pm

      • The Strand Book Store (which I don’t really like) has its love and relationship section next to the philosophy books. Only in America, where one finds this sort of cognitive dissonance, and women are always ignoring the shelves, that precede their books on love interest, and vice versa for men.


        May 27, 2016 at 12:15 pm

      • They care about the results – the sounds. Not so much the technology.

        They get turned on by the singers and musicians who create the sounds. Not so much by the tech guys, sound engineers and inventors.

        And this is news to you?


        May 27, 2016 at 12:30 pm

      • The value is in portable, on-demand usage.


        May 27, 2016 at 12:31 pm

      • Women also like history — biographies of serial killers.

        It’s strange how few are interested in other great and powerful men, like Churchill, Napoleon, Caesar, etc. Perhaps the fascination can only be endured insofar as the immediate experience of life is shared. Biographies of some power hungry sociopath like Ted Manson or Cruz can be mapped easily to the modern woman’s experience, but the behavior of Ghengis Khan is too foreign to relate to.

        Panther of the Blogocube

        May 27, 2016 at 6:13 pm

      • Women in bookstores tend to peruse anything contemporary, whether it’s fiction or history. They show scant interest in subjects like philosophy, classical studies, STEM, but are intrigued with Psychology and Sociology.

        However, I’ve met women on the other side of the Atlantic, who are booksellers, and they were dealing with old manuscripts, on subjects like the Enlightenment, Early Modern Spain and the Italian Renaissance.

        So why are Anglosphere women low brow or prole? This entire blog with its comments sums up the reasons. Furthermore, the Manosphere is the Anglosphere.


        May 27, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      • I’ve never known a woman who cared about audio quality — they just like the pretty songs. Every audiophile I’ve known is a man, zero exceptions.


        May 28, 2016 at 11:54 am

      • There are female DJs who mess with sound. But most of them are not from America or the English speaking nations.


        May 28, 2016 at 12:48 pm

  23. MicroSD cards are a LOT cheaper if you buy a generic brand through Amazon or at a wholesaler like MicroCenter. If you just go to Best Buy and pick up whatever 64GB MicroSD card you see on the shelf from PNY or Sony you will pay (literally) double what you should pay.


    May 27, 2016 at 10:50 am

    • Of course. I would never buy a memory card at Best Buy.

    • Wow, 128 GB for $30 on Amazon. Or less. There’s even a 200 GB card for $80. It would be onerous to fill that one with just music. OK, maybe it’s time for an Android phone next.


      May 27, 2016 at 3:03 pm

  24. The whole Sony proprietary ATRAC format was sad. It didn’t take Sony engineers long at all to build an “mp3” player that was superior to the Ipod. But Sony Entertainment butt in and forced the engineers to require the use of a proprietary DRM format that nobody in the world used. So for years they had these awesome music players that nobody bought because it required tedious (and for the average dummy technically challenging) conversion of their collection from either mp3 or aac to Sony’s ATRAC. It took years for management to reverse course, and by that time Apple had a complete stranglehold on the market (and the Iphone was just around the corner anyway making nearly all dedicated music players obsolete). I remember Sony even made a great stupid little miniature player called the “Bean” that totally blew away Apple’s Ipod Mini product. But it was saddled with ATRAC so nobody bought it.


    May 27, 2016 at 2:01 pm

  25. Guido audiophile Frank Maiake praises the superiority of the new audio format called Comapct Disc over vinyl records back in 1985. Frankie says of CDs, “It’s clean. There’s no noise. The only detectable noise you have is taped hiss from the original recording. Otherwise you don’t have the disturbing surface noise, pops, clicks, distortions.” What frauds most audiophiles are.


    May 28, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    • The average person looked much better in the 80s. Even the fat prole factory workers look better.


      May 29, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    • All vinyl LPs produce clicks and pops, but with sophisticated engineering of exquisite turntables, that run you in the thousands, their effect as noise would be minimal. Yes, it snobbery and it rubs some people the wrong way, but it’s emulates the smooth analog sounds, as if you were recording it in the studio, during a time when digital signaling was not in existence.


      May 29, 2016 at 9:15 pm

  26. The only lossless digital audio format available to the consumer is CD. If you’re an audiophile, musician, or true music lover MP3s or any other lossy compressed format sounds like crap, simply put.

    Michael, Ph.D., P.E., musician (organ, bass guitar), Consulting Communications Engineer


    May 29, 2016 at 7:56 pm

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