Here’s a neat image of a record and a stylus at 1000x magnification. It’s pretty incredible to see the etched grooves on the record up close and how they interact with the needle. I’ve always known how record players worked, but seeing the process magnified like this is way cool.
This is an article by Whitson Gordon I read the other day on LifeHacker. Contains some really useful information about audio quality. Worth a view.
Q: Dear Lifehacker, I hear a lot of arguing about “lossless” and “lossy” music these days, but I’m having a hard time getting straight answers. Does bitrate really matter? Can most people tell the difference between high and low bitrate music files?
A: We understand your frustration. While you may have some idea about what bitrate is, the “can audiophiles really tell the difference” argument has raged on for quite some time, and it’s hard to get people to drop their egos and actually explain what these things mean and whether they really matter. Here’s a bit of information on bitrate and how it applies to our practical music listening experience.
What Is Bitrate?
You’ve probably heard the term “bitrate” before, and you probably have a general idea of what it means, but just as a refresher, it’s probably a good idea to get acquainted with its official definition so you know how all this stuff works. Bitrate refers to the number of bits—or the amount of data—that are processed over a certain amount of time. In audio, this usually means kilobits per second. For example, the music you buy on iTunes is 256 kilobits per second, meaning there are 256 kilobits of data stored in every second of a song.
The higher the bitrate of a track, the more space it will take up on your computer. Generally, an audio CD will actually take up quite a bit of space, which is why it’s become common practice to compress those files down so you can fit more on your hard drive (or iPod, or Dropbox, or whatever). It is here where the argument over “lossless” and “lossy” audio comes in.
Lossless and Lossy Formats
When we say “lossless”, we mean that we haven’t really altered the original file. That is, we’ve ripped a track from a CD to our hard drive, but haven’t compressed it to the point where we’ve lost any data. It is, for all intents and purposes, the same as the original CD track.
More often than not, however, you probably rip your music as “lossy”. That is, you’ve taken a CD, ripped it to your hard drive, and compressed the tracks down so they don’t take up as much space. A typical MP3 or AAC album probably takes up 100MB or so. That same album in lossless format, though—such as FLAC or ALAC (also known as Apple Lossless) would take up closer to 300MB, so it’s become common practice to use lossy formats for faster downloading and more hard drive savings.
The problem is that when you compress a file to save space, you’re deleting chunks of data. Just like when you take a PNG screenshot of your computer screen, and compress it to a JPEG, your computer is taking the original data and “cheating” on certain parts of the image, making it mostly the same but with some loss of clarity and quality. Take the two images below as an example: the one on the right has clearly been compressed, and it’s quality has diminished as a result. (You’ll probably want to expand the image for a closer look to see the differences—look at the fox’s ears and nose).
Remember, of course, that you’re still reaping the benefits of hard drive space with lossy music (which can make a big difference on a 32 GB iPhone), it’s just the tradeoff you make. There are different levels of lossiness, as well: 128kbps, for example, takes up very little space, but will also be lower quality than a larger 320kbps file, which is lower quality than an even larger 1,411 kbps file (which is considered lossless). However, there’s a lot of argument as to whether most people can even hear the difference between different bitrates.
Does It Really Matter?
Since storage has become so cheap, listening to higher-bitrate audio is starting to become a more popular (and practical) practice. But is it worth the time, effort, and space? I always hate answering questions this way, but unfortunately the answer is: it depends.
Part of the equation is the gear you use. If you’re using a quality pair of headphonesor speakers, you’re privy to a large range of sound. As such, you’re more likely to notice certain imperfections that come with compressing music into lower bitrate files. You may notice that a certain level of detail is missing in low-quality MP3s; subtle background tracks might be more difficult to hear, the highs and lows won’t be as dynamic, or you might just plain hear a bit of distortion. In these cases, you might want to get a higher bitrate track.
If you’re listening to your music with a pair of crappy earbuds on your iPod, however, you probably aren’t going to notice a difference between a 128 kbps file and a 320 kbps file, let alone a 320 kbps file and a lossless 1,411 kbps file. Remember when I showed you the image a few paragraphs up, and noted that you probably had to enlarge it to see the imperfections? Your earbuds are like the shrunken-down version of the image: they’re going to make those imperfections harder to notice, since they won’t put out as big a range of sound.
The other part of the equation, of course, is your own ears. Some people may just not care enough, or may just not have the more attuned listening skills to tell the difference between two different bitrates. This is something you can develop over time, of course, but if you haven’t yet, then it doesn’t particularly matter what bitrate you use, does it? As with all things, go with what works best for you.
So how high of a bitrate should you use? Is 320kbps okay, or do you need to go lossless? The fact of the matter is that it’s very difficult to hear the difference between a lossless file and a 320kbps MP3 (though you can run this test to find out if you can hear the difference). You’d need some serious high-end gear, a very trained ear, and a certain type of music (like classical or jazz) to hear the difference. For the vast majority of people, 320kbps is more than adequate for listening. You don’t need to pain yourself with finding lossless copies of all your favorite songs. Photo by Marcin Wichary.
Other Things to Consider
All that said, lossless file types do have their place. Lossless files are more futureproof, in the sense that you can always compress music down to a lossier format, but you can’t take lossy files back to lossless unless you re-rip the CD entirely. This is, again, one of the fundamental issues with online music stores: if you’ve built up a huge library of iTunes music and one day decide that you’d like it in a higher bitrate, you’ll have to buy it again, this time in CD form. You can’t just put data back where it’s been deleted. When possible, I always buy or rip in lossless just for backup purposes, but I’m a little overly obsessive—MP3 is a great standard, and it isn’t likely to change anytime soon, so unless you plan on converting your music at a later date, you’re probably fine just ripping or buying in MP3 format. Photo by Charlotte L.
All of this is merely scratching the surface of the audiophile’s challenge. There is of course a lot more to talk about, like variable bitrate and coding efficiency, but this should provide a simple introduction for the uninitiated. As I said before, it all depends on you, your hearing, and the gear you have at your disposal, so give it a shot. Compare two tracks side by side, try out some different audio formats for awhile, and see what it does for you. At the worst, you’ve spent a few hours listening to some of your favorite music—and isn’t that what this is all about anyway? Enjoy it!
P.S. Many of you undoubtedly have your own views on the subject, whether you’re a bitrate-hungry audiophile or if you belong to the “if I can hear it, it works for me” philosophy. Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments.
This is the second assignment for the Audio Post module that I will be doing some foley for. Basically, we have been given a video and we are required to use all of our previous knowledge on how professionals work and our skills on post to “dress” the video with sound. We have only the video and some background music audio files to work with. The rest is up to us. Sounds-effects placement, layering etc, Editing, audio manipulation in general, Mixing volume pan EQ compression etc.
So this is the clip we have been given I hope you are going to enjoy this more than we did when we first saw it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it provides some excellent opportunities to really use our creativity, but the animation it self in terms of production is not good.
Right, I don’t want to say much, and I definitely don’t want you to form an opinion before you even have a chance to see it for your selves. So, here it is.
P.S. There are let’s say some hidden elements, I’ll call them “easter eggs”, which are hilarious. I do not intend to mention anything to the tutors just yet, maybe after the hand-in date for the assignments. If they knew this ” easter egg” was there I suspect they would never give that video to students anymore. Not that hard to notice btw.
By all means, don’t try to go for the tree and miss the forest here.
We booked the studio, and on Monday we are going to record some foley! This is going to be awesome! We need to record several everyday objects, such as glass break, a bike pedal etc. for the Post Production project and foley can be really fun! I am really looking forward about this!
I will try to shoot a video and upload it as well! Will do my best to keep that promise!
“A funny thing happened to us on the way to the future. The internet went from being something exotic to being boring utility, like mains electricity or running water – and we never really noticed. So we wound up being totally dependent on a system about which we are terminally incurious. You think I exaggerate about the dependence? Well, just ask Estonia, one of the most internet-dependent countries on the planet, which in 2007 was more or less shut down for two weeks by a sustained attack on its network infrastructure. Or imagine what it would be like if, one day, you suddenly found yourself unable to book flights, transfer funds from your bank account, check bus timetables, send email, search Google, call your family using Skype, buy music from Apple or books from Amazon, buy or sell stuff on eBay, watch clips on YouTube or BBC programmes on the iPlayer – or do the 1,001 other things that have become as natural as breathing.
The internet has quietly infiltrated our lives, and yet we seem to be remarkably unreflective about it.”
I read this article being part of a home assignment and to be completely honest, I neither agree or disagree. Let’s say that I rather have a more balanced opinion on the World Wide Web matter, I keep my mind open with all influencing ideas – projects. They certainly do have advantages and disadvantages. What caught my eye though, was the last sentence I quote it above. “The internet has quietly infiltrated our lives, and yet we seem to be remarkably unreflective about it.” But all this reminded me of a video I saw a couple of years ago regarding our based on the internet everyday life. It’s worth a view.
What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains
And A funny one:
MTS 3G PLUS internet advertisement BORN FOR THE INTERNET BABY
Alright. So, I have this module, it’s all about the internet and how to use it constructively in order to gain from it. Gain knowledge, gain connections, gain an online presence among peers and industry professionals. One of the assignments for the module is a 5000 word report (yes 5000 word, you heard me) that – wait for it – counts only for 50% of the module. I’m not going to complain any more, it is what it is. I had this idea, that since I’m interested in Post Production, I should like take this opportunity and learn more about past and current techniques. So I thought I should demonstrate the differences and the progression of sound design by comparing two films. Preferably remakes. Such as King Kong (1933) and King Kong (2005) or maybe even Tron (1982) and Tron (2010). I should like do some search online, find out how they manage to create all those magnificent (for that past era) sound effects etc.
Hello all, I am already on my second week of classes at the Uni preparing for my Masters degree and I can’t stop thinking from early on a subject for my dissertation. I really want to be ready for when the time comes, but this has proven to be much more difficult than I expected. “It can’t be that hard” I said to myself when I first applied, and I can definitely progress my Bachelor dissertation after all. Bad news everyone. Im kinda stuck between new ideas that lead nowhere, and ideas that just don’t fit that well on my bachelor thesis. I will try to explain to you all about my thesis and ideas later on on this blog as well as my reason for creating it.
Thank you for being here with me on this journey (that is how I see it). I am excited to start hearing from you guys and sharing your opinions and ideas with me on this.
Sound engineering, music production, sound post production