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Topic: New user: AAC vs. MP3 question

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Old 06-04-2006, 06:34 PM
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New user: AAC vs. MP3 question

Hi. Ive been reading some threads to decide what format and bitrate to use. I understand that AAC is better quality at the same bit rate but is not as easily compatible as an MP3. I plan to keep all my files on my iPod. I will eventually purchase a car adapter and some device to play inside my home. But if the files are only used on my iPod then will the AAC format be sufficient? Also, any advice on what VBR to use? (medium, high, highest?)

thanks for the help,
Tommy
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Old 06-04-2006, 08:07 PM
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Hi and welcome to iLounge.

Theoretically, at 128kbps AAC is slightly better than MP3. My own testing has revealed this to be true, but only with iTunes' own MP3 encoder, which to be fair isn't really all that good.

If you're willing to encode manually using a third-party encoder based on LAME, I really doubt that you would be able to hear the difference. This would especially be true at higher bit-rates.

However, you are essentially correct that if you only intend to listen to your music through your iPod and iTunes, you would probably be okay keeping your files in AAC format.

In my case, most of my music is encoded in 128kbps AAC, as I find that format to be quite acceptable for my ears. Further, music downloaded from the iTunes Music Store will also be in the same format, so I maintain it as AAC for consistency. As an added bonus, I find that I have far fewer tagging-related issues, since the AAC tag format is more consistent.

For that, I have sacrificed compatibility, but in my case, all of my music listening is done through systems that fully support the AAC format, so I have not personally had any reason to even think about keeping them in (or converting them to) MP3.

The exact bit-rate on the other hand is highly subjective, and I would recommend ripping some of your favourite music that you would typically be listening to into the different bit-rates and comparing them for yourself in a blind test. At that point, you can use whatever bit-rate you find more satisfactory. Many people swear by 192kbps or higher, but I've found that I can't personally tell the difference, so I see no need to rip at higher bit-rates in my own case.

At any rate, I have moved this thread to the Digital Audio Formats forum, since it is more topical for that area. You may want to read through some of the other threads in this particular forum for more information.



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Old 06-04-2006, 11:17 PM
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for some reason i prefer mp3,cz i started changing all my mp3's to ACC and found out the volume was WAY lower than my other mp3s
so im staying with mp3
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Old 06-04-2006, 11:17 PM
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In tests performend at Hydrogenaudio AAC and LAME MP3 have been statistically tied for quality. This means that although AAC got a slightly higher rating, they were overall statistically tied meaning there isn't much of a difference.

Personally, I have been using AAC at 128 kbps for almost 2 years now. But, I think I'm going to be switching back to LAME MP3 in the future. In fact I've began reripping my collection now. My reasoning is because I want to have high quality backups of my music CDs on my computer. I recently hooked my PC to my stereo/TV for media center type use, and although I don't have the greatest stereo setup, the AACs tended to sounded more muddled and dull at 128 kbps. So I decided to experiment (which I think I like to do too much) and I ripped a song at -V 2 --vbr-new with the LAME 3.97 MP3 encoder and got an average bit rate of around 200 kbps. And the MP3 did sound clearer and crispers and less muddled. Although the 128 kbps wasn't terrible, I could notice a subtle difference between them and to me it was sufficient because I found the MP3 to be easier to listen to.

And I got to thinking about maintaing a high quality collection of music to serve as alternatives and backup to my audio CDs. I don't want to use lossless at this time because it would be a lot of data to manage which each album being over 300 MB. So the next best choice, in my mind, is to go with a high bit rate MP3 encoded with LAME, the best MP3 encoder available. At -V 2 quality in LAME I cannot distinguish between the original and MP3 on any equipment.

Plus I gain the extra compatibility with using MP3 so I won't encounter any issues where it wouldn't be supported. So now I'm planning on switching back to MP3. And hopefully I won't change formats again but don't hold your breath. I experiment way too much for my own good. But I think this is the best, longest lasting encoding choice I can make by going with a format that is proven compatible and has the quality to match its compatibility.

But its a personal choice, AAC is a good format and offers great quality but, as said above, LAME technically offers the same quality at the moment at bit rates of 128 kbps and above. I've been using AAC for close to 2 years now and that is the longest I've ever stuck with a codec so it can't suck, LOL. I'm only switching back because I have found an area where the quality of LAME MP3s will suit my overall needs better.



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Old 06-04-2006, 11:58 PM
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Just go with MP3, better compatibility. I did AAC @ 160kbps for about a year before I got tired of transcoding anytime I wanted to make an MP3-CD or send to a different device. Took about a week, but I eventually got around to re-ripping my entire collection using LAME. Moral of the story, just start with MP3. I recommend LAME 3.97 @ V 2
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Old 06-05-2006, 07:25 AM
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I promise that this is going to be really short. All you need to know is this:
iTunes AAC > iTunes mp3
Lame mp3 > iTunes mp3
iTunes AAC = Lame mp3

In dealing with quality, the iTunes AAC encoder and Lame mp3 encoders are tied.

Right now, the Lame mp3 format is the best route for encoding music because it still offers high quality encoding and is universally compatible with just about every portable digital audio player (DAP) out there. mpeg-4 AAC (iTunes AAC) is gaining support due to the popularity of the iPod and iTunes but it is slim to none when compared to mp3. The Lame mp3 encoder has been developed for quite some time now and it is still being worked on, just like the iTunes AAC encoder (though the iTunes AAC encoder is newer). The iTunes mp3 encoder absolutely sucks and it hasn't received a major update since 2000. Both the Lame mp3 and iTunes AAC formats are good choices in terms of quality.

As far as what bitrate/settings to use, that is completely up to you. Listening tests use the common 128kbps VBR setting. In iTunes, there aren't any medium, low, or high settings. You pick the bitrate and choose to enable the VBR option. I recomend going with either 128kbps VBR or 160kbps VBR mpeg-4 AAC (iTunes AAC). I recomend going with either -V 4 --vbr-new (~145-160kbps VBR) or -V 2 --vbr-new (~190kbps VBR) with Lame 3.97b2. I don't recomend using 192kbps VBR or higher with iTunes AAC because there is no point in doing so. The whole idea behind mpeg-4 AAC was so that you can encode your songs to lower bitrates while still retaining quality. Once you go up past 192kbps, the differences between the encoders is slim to none and once you get up past the 256kbps bitrate range, the differences between Lame mp3, iTunes AAC, and iTunes mp3 are void.

You just have to ask yourself if compatibility is going to be an issue. If you plan on sharing your music with your friends, create a mp3 CD that holds over 100 songs, have a car CD deck that plays mp3 CD's, or plan on getting other non-iPod audio devices, then Lame mp3 is the way to go. If you don't care about compatiblity with your friends, don't have a car CD deck that plays mp3 CD's, or plan on using an iPod for the rest of your life, then mpeg-4 AAC is fine (iTunes AAC).



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Old 06-05-2006, 11:45 PM
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There's plenty of devices besides iPods that support AAC. Palm PDAs, cell phones, Sony Walkmans, car stereos, etc.
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Old 06-06-2006, 04:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Galley
There's plenty of devices besides iPods that support AAC. Palm PDAs, cell phones, Sony Walkmans, car stereos, etc.
But it's still nowhere near the number that play MP3s

TOM
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Old 06-06-2006, 06:45 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tomlevens
But it's still nowhere near the number that play MP3s

TOM
Exactly. It has taken Sony years to come out with mpeg-4 AAC support with their portable digital audio players (DAPs) and they seem like the only ones who are doing it. There used to be a Philips portable DAP that played mpeg-4 AAC, it was released back when the 3G iPod was released. It died as the iPod growed in popularity.

I don't count devices like PDA's, PocketPC's, or cell phones to be portable DAPs, they are simply devices that support mpeg-4 AAC playback, their sole purpose is not for audio playback.

The same goes with car stereos, you can walk down to Best Buy and see 2 or 3 car CD decks that play mpeg-4 AAC CD's. This is great but you will see about 6 car CD decks that support wma playback and almost all of them will support mp3 playback.

The mpeg-4 AAC format is really good but it just doesn't offer the same compatibility as the mp3 format. Other companies like Sony, JVC, Kenwood, Philips, etc. all need to start supporting it more with their products. I have a fealing that mpeg-4 AAC support will drastically grow over the next 2-3 years and surpass WMA in terms of compatibility (mpeg-4 AAC already has higher quality than WMA) and it will come close to mp3 compatibility.

Still, right now (and over the next 1-2 years), the mp3 format is still a better choice concidering the Lame mp3 encoder. If Lame didn't exist then the mp3 format would really be dead and I would be using mpeg-4 AAC. Fraunhoffer stopped developing their mp3 encoder in 2000 (it is used in iTunes, Windows Media Player, MusicMatch, the free version of WinAmp, etc.) and many other mp3 encoders have dissapeared from the market. There are really only two mp3 encoders that are activley developed, the Lame mp3 encoder and the Helix mp3 encoder (used in RealPlayer). Even then, RealPlayer developers are moving focus towards their mpeg-4 AAC encoder.

Either way, you are picking a good format if you go with iTunes AAC or Lame mp3, it just depends on the type of compatiblity you want.

Edit: Spelling



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Old 06-06-2006, 04:24 PM
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AAC vs. MP3

Thank you so much for all of your advice. Its been very helpful. I think I am going to go with iTunes AAC encoder. I do believe that compatability for it will grow and for the immediate future compatability with other devices is not a huge priority. Also, since Im pretty computer illiterate the iTunes AAC encoder is the easier to use choice.
I have another question regarding which bitrate to use. How much a difference am I going to be able to tell with the different bitrates through my car stereo and home theater through 128, 192, and 256. I hear that on my iPod the differences are almost indistinguishable. But what about on better quality devices. I have 60gigs and cant fit my whole collection at 256. But if I am not going to notice any difference through any device I'd rather save the space.

thanks again,
Tommy
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Old 06-06-2006, 05:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Teqnilogik
Personally, I have been using AAC at 128 kbps for almost 2 years now. But, I think I'm going to be switching back to LAME MP3 in the future. In fact I've began reripping my collection now.
Welcome back my friend. I knew you'd be back, again.

Heh heh.

EAC/LAME... you just can't quit it.



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Old 06-06-2006, 10:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kornchild2002
There are really only two mp3 encoders that are activley developed, the Lame mp3 encoder and the Helix mp3 encoder (used in RealPlayer). Even then, RealPlayer developers are moving focus towards their mpeg-4 AAC encoder.
You are correct; RealAudio 10 is AAC, and was introduced with RealPlayer 10. RealPlayer 10.5 rips CDs as 192Kbps .m4a AAC by default. All tracks purchased from the RealPlayer Music Store are 192Kbps RealAudio 10 AAC files.
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Old 06-07-2006, 07:17 AM
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I do have to applaud Real in their efforts to continue development on a "dead" format like mp3. Granted, mp3 is not technically dead but most people either use mpeg-4 AAC (the people who have iPods) or people use WMA (they were either suckered in through Windows XP or they use online music subscription services). Even though the Helix mp3 encoder hasn't reached the quality of the current Lame mp3 encoder, it is still blazing fast and has much better quality than the Fraunhoffer mp3 encoder. I remember some Hydrogenaudio members conducting listening tests using the Helix mp3 encoder, Lame, Fraunhoffer, and a low anchor mp3 encoder back from 1998. Helix came in second but it beat everyone on encoding speeds.

As far as using iTunes AAC, it is a good format, there is no doubt about that. Honestly, I would be using iTunes AAC if I didn't have a car CD deck that played mp3 CD's. Its seemless integration with both the iPod and iTunes make it a good choice for the not so tech savy people. Still, ripping with EAC and encoding with Lame mp3 takes about 2 minutes to initially setup (if that) and takes about 5 extra seconds when adding the tracks to your iTunes library. Don't be scared by all the -V 4 --vbr-new mumbo jumbo, it is just another way of saying 160kbps VBR.

If you are using iTunes AAC, I would recomend going with 128kbps VBR AAC. Serisously, do not go above 192kbps VBR as it is just a waste of space. Also keep in mind that a good pair of headphones will beat most home theater systems (and most car stereo systems) in terms of audio quality and the ability to spot defects in lossy audio. When you listen to music through a home theater system, you are not in a sound isolated room. Sound escapes the room so you are not hearing everything. Additionally, you are a minimum of 1 foot away from the speakers, you would be able to hear the flaws of lossy audio if the speakers were right up against your ears. Also, your home theater system can be blocked out by other noises from the outside world. The same pretty much goes for car stereo systems. Unless you have a 1000 watt amp (even then, lossy is fine) with some high end speakers and you have sealed your car off with goop, then lossy 128kbps VBR mpeg-4 AAC will be just fine. 224, 256, and 320kbps mpeg-4 AAC are just a waste of space as they don't effectively use the "advantages" of the mpeg-4 AAC format. Some people will say that 192kbps is the best option for mpeg-4 AAC encoding but most of these people use the Apple stock earbuds as well. If you are using the stock Apple earbuds, then definately use 128kbps VBR mpeg-4 AAC.

I have a computer (see specs in sig) that I hook up to my Logitech Z-680 speaker system. The speakers are a little old but they are able to pump out 1000 watts of max power and 500 watts of RMS power (normal use). My notebook has a Sigmatel C-Major soundchip (one of the best brands out there) and I hook it up to my speakers using a digital coaxil cable. Even with all that quasi-serious equipment, I still can't perceive a difference between the lossless source and a 128kbps VBR mpeg-4 AAC file encoded with iTunes. Well, I can when I really turn up the music, put my face right next to all the speakers, and concentrate really hard. This is very uncomfortable, damaging to the ears, and you definately won't be listening to your music this way at all.



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Old 06-07-2006, 01:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shabbs
Welcome back my friend. I knew you'd be back, again.

Heh heh.

EAC/LAME... you just can't quit it.
LOL, yes I'm back. I'm driving my g/f nuts though since I'm switching from AAC to MP3 since she likes are music collections to be uniform with each other (we're such geeks). So now she'll have to rerip too, LOL. But I think this is my best choice, I won't need to rerip to any other format in the future because I'll have quality and compatibility taken care of. And I decided against lossless because of that fact that I don't want to deal with that mass amount of data. MP3 at -V 2 may as well be lossless to me because there is no way I'll be able to tell a difference from it and a CD.

Hearing you and Korn talk for months has swayed me back to MP3, LOL, good job.

But for what it's worth, AAC isn't a bad format to anybody considering it. You have have to decided if it suits your needs and if it does, go for it. It integrates very well with iTunes and is a breeze to use with it and the iPod.



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Old 06-07-2006, 09:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Teqnilogik
Hearing you and Korn talk for months has swayed me back to MP3, LOL, good job.
We try. Korn still needs to put up that "mother of all" sticky posts. Heh heh.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Teqnilogik
But for what it's worth, AAC isn't a bad format to anybody considering it. You have have to decided if it suits your needs and if it does, go for it. It integrates very well with iTunes and is a breeze to use with it and the iPod.
I totally agree. I remember doing some quick tests (they were not true blind ABX tests) back in the day between iTunes AAC and my LAME MP3 rips (it was the Lame 3.90.3 Dibrom build at the time) and I was very impressed. I couldn't tell the difference just listening casually between tracks encoded with iTunes AAC and tracks encoded using EAC/LAME. For me the choice was easy - I did not like iTunes and compatibility was important. MP3 is the future for me... for now.

Cheers.



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