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Comparison: mp3, RealAudio, WindowsMedia
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Which sounds better?
wma - Windows Media
50%
 50%  [ 1 ]
mp3 - MP3 Fraunhoffer encoder
50%
 50%  [ 1 ]
rm - Real Audio
0%
 0%  [ 0 ]
All sound the same to me
0%
 0%  [ 0 ]
Total Votes : 2

Author Message
mosc
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 15, 2003 12:51 pm    Post subject: Comparison: mp3, RealAudio, WindowsMedia Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Discussions on another topic led me to run some tests of the various compression technologies most people use for posting audio on the web, and for ripping (stealing) from CDs. We are still considering what to use for downloadable and streaming audio from electro-music.com.

I compressed a small piece I composed back in 1992 called 2andFro. This is jazzy type thing, with some dynamic range and good stereo action. It's pretty good for this kind of test, but I'm going to devise a track specifically for testing. Anyhow, here are three versions, mp3, rm, and wma, all encoded at about 32 kbs, suitable for download from good dialup connections. The encoders I used were bundled into Sonar version 2.2. The mp3 encoder is from Fraunhoffer, supposed to be the best in the world. I paid a preium price for this. Here are the file sizes:

mp3: 640,290 (LAME)
mp3: 634,000 (Fraunhoffer)
real: 2,067000
wma: 667,000

Note: New mp3 version added 3.25.03 Based on input from Aeon (see below), I installed a LAME mp3 encoder. This seems to be much better than the Fraunhoffer; better fidelity and MUCH faster encoding. I've added a 32 kbs LAME mp3 version of 2andFro to this post. I'm leaving the Fraunhoffer version FYI. I suggest we use the LAME version for the comparison.

Notice how much bigger the Real Audio file is? When I play it, my RealPlayer says it is 32.5 kbs but the file is much bigger than the other two formats. The download takes significantly longer.

Notice how the wma file automatically streams. For me it does this on both Winamp 3, and Windows Media Player 7.

I can hear significant differences, but I won't state them now. I don't want to pollute the validity of this scientific poll. Wink

Please listen to them very carefully and vote in the poll. Comments to this topic are welcome. What do you think? Do you get similar results when encoding audio? Am I doing something wrong? Is this a fair test?

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Last edited by mosc on Tue Mar 25, 2003 8:48 am; edited 2 times in total
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aeon



Joined: Mar 24, 2003
Posts: 2

PostPosted: Mon Mar 24, 2003 11:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Quote:
mosc said:
Notice how the wma file automatically streams.


I wish I could say the same. Windows Media Player 7 here, and it fails, saying the playlist format is not supported. I have no way to comment on the quality of the .wma, but I will say that I think using a proprietary audio format is a poor idea.

Quote:
mosc said:
The mp3 encoder is from Fraunhoffer, supposed to be the best in the world.


This was true in years past, but many people think that the open-source, free LAME encoder is much better in terms of fidelity.

Quote:
mosc said:
What do you think? Do you get similar results when encoding audio? Am I doing something wrong? Is this a fair test?


I think a 32kbit encode rate is far too low, regardless of the speed of one’s connection. I also think that using a truly universal file format as a standard is a good idea. I also think the test would be most fair if you were using the best encoder for each format, and as far as the mp3 file is concerned, you are not.

Sorry to sound so critical in my first post to these forums, but I know I value an honest opinion (if stated somewhat articulately!) Wink

I chose not to vote since I could not hear all the test files.


cheers,
aeon
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mosc
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 25, 2003 6:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Aeon,

Thanks for taking the time to comment. Very good comments indeed. I don't know why you would have problems hearing the wma file. Suggest you download the latest player, or a new winamp or something. I hope other people post comments if they can't hear any of the formats. Universality of playback is very important, perhaps it's the most important criteria for an audio format.

As for proprietary audio being a poor idea, I agree with you. I'm a big devote of open source. However, as a musician, I'm more interested in the fidelity. In any case, the Big M, has released encoders for free and their playback code is out there for use by independent players, like WinAmp. If its a significantly better format, then we should use it appropriately.

Quote:
mosc said:
The mp3 encoder is from Fraunhoffer, supposed to be the best in the world.

This was true in years past, but many people think that the open-source, free LAME encoder is much better in terms of fidelity.]


I have not heard of this. I'll find a copy and give it a go. If it beats the Fraunhoffer, great! Fraunhoffer takes a very long time to encode anyway.

Quote:
think a 32kbit encode rate is far too low, regardless of the speed of one’s connection.


You are quite right. It is too low for serious listening. We are exploring compressed/streaming audio for this site. Some feedback has come in from people with dialup links urging not to forget about them. So, finding the best low bitrate coder is very important. No compressed audio format, even 128 kbs, is a substitute for the full range music. We don't want to go the mp3.com route and provide hours of free bad fidelity music. We want to offer samples so people can get a pretty good idea of what the music sounds like so as to be informed and buy the artists' CDs. This provides the best sound and supports the artists.

Quote:
I chose not to vote since I could not hear all the test files.


I hope you do what you can to hear wma. I'll go find the LAME encoder and, assuming I can get it to work, I'll upload hopefully a better mp3 example.

Again, thanks for the post.

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mosc
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 25, 2003 9:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Aeon is right, the LAME encoder is significantly better than the Fraunhoffer. I added a LAME mp3 to the first posting of this topic.
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Last edited by mosc on Tue Mar 25, 2003 9:53 am; edited 1 time in total
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aeon



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PostPosted: Tue Mar 25, 2003 9:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Quote:
mosc said:
I don't know why you would have problems hearing the wma file.


My guess is it has something to do with MS’s poor WMP7 implementation for my system.

Quote:
mosc said:
Suggest you download the latest player, or a new winamp or something.


Ah, but I reinstalled the latest player when I had problems here, just so I could eliminate that as a possibility. As for WinAmp, said program does not run on a Macintosh. Wink

Quote:
mosc said:
In any case, the Big M, has released encoders for free and their playback code is out there for use by independent players...


Is this actually the case, such that the encoder is free, but not open, but the player code is open? Do you have a link where I may read about these details? Searches at MS did not yield any information on this.
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mosc
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 25, 2003 10:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Quote:
Is this actually the case, such that the encoder is free, but not open, but the player code is open? Do you have a link where I may read about these details? Searches at MS did not yield any information on this.


There is a lot of information there, but this link seems to be the root of the tree. I haven't used the SDK myself, but I assume that's what WinAmp uses.

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/

I downloaded the latest version of the encoder which won't run on my ME system. I was then pointed to an older version which does.

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e-sin



Joined: Apr 29, 2003
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 29, 2003 3:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

i've been doing electronic music pretty heavily for the past three years...i didn't download the compressed files (and thusly didn't vote) being as i've done a lot of testing on this subject myself over the years, and just wanted to share some of my own pros and cons.

mp3:
mp3s are pretty universal. at this point, you'll be hard pressed to find a computer out there that isn't equipped with the software necessary to play them. setting up streaming audio is simple using the .m3u format, and the compression:distortion ratio is pretty decent.

wma:
wma has grown on me a lot in recent times, especially for when i want to send out clips of works in progress. why? that compression:distortion ratio. i encode my wmas at 80kbps (not intended for streaming) and can't tell a significant difference in the sound quality, although the file size is roughly half of a 128kbps mp3. this works out beautifully for me on my 56k connection. however, when mastered versions of my songs go to my site, it's always in mp3 format.

real audio:
i hate real audio. for starters, it's proprietary. that's really annoying. why should i need a special player just to listen to music or watch a video stream? secondly, downloading their player is annoying. i don't know if it's still like this, but way back when, you used to have to hunt all over that page to find the free download link. after one particular install where it stole my winamp associations and refused to let them go, i promptly uninstalled it and have never bothered with it since. i know quite a few people who have their own grievances with the format and the player. i can't say much about the quality since i haven't heard a RM stream since that day.

on my site, everything is in mp3. the streams are in 24kbps mono for lofi, and 128kbps stereo for hifi, with downloads in 128kbps. it's just simpler for me, and i'm assured that nobody's going to have to go get something special just to hear my songs - this is important to me. but wma is maybe the way to go for streaming, given that it's smaller and the sound quality, at least at higher bitrates, is better for the size. i've not experimented with wma much for streaming, as i'm just not very keen on using non-standard formats because i want anyone who wants to listen to be able to with as little hassle as possible, so i can't say for sure about files encoded at lower bitrates, but i don't see why they would sound any worse than mp3s if encoded at the same bitrate.

my summation: if you want compatibility, mp3 is for you. if your main focus is size and quality, wma might be worth investigating. as for 32kbps being too low, well...if that's what people were supposed to download and listen to every day, of course! but for a one time "hey i wonder what this guy's like..." i think 32kbps is more than adequate. as i said, i went for 24kbps, just to ensure that everyone could hear, even those who may have 56k modems but crap isps, or noisy lines. (i am one of those people ;)

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elektro80
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 29, 2003 4:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

That is pretty much my conclusion too. I agree. BTW: I have recently started some testing of the AAC format.. which is the audio layer in MPEG4. Pretty promising. I have just tested the latest version of QT ( QT 6.2) and iTunes 4. Nice. So this will probably be the preferred format for mac users.
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mosc
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 29, 2003 7:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

e-sin wrote:
i've been doing electronic music pretty heavily for the past three years...i didn't download the compressed files (and thusly didn't vote) being as i've done a lot of testing on this subject myself over the years, and just wanted to share some of my own pros and cons.


Great comments. Thanks for posting 'em. I pretty much agree. I think we'll use mp3 when we start putting up music on this site; mainly for the universality aspects.

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e-sin



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PostPosted: Tue Apr 29, 2003 2:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

sure thing. Smile
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