Gizmodo's Great MP3 Bitrate Test
Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.
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In the test, Gizmodo, the Gadget Blog, provided three selections encoded at eight different bitrates. There were seven different versions of MP3, ranging from 64kbps to 320kbps, and a WAV file of the song for comparison. People were invited to download the files, listen to them on their own audio systems, and decide for themselves which bitrate sounded the best.
Recently, Gizmodo published the results of the test. As with any test involving subjective judgments, there wasn't a single winner, but there were some interesting trends -- and some conclusions that are definitely in line with our Hi-Fi 2.0 initiative.
First, on average, most people seemed to prefer the songs ripped above 218.68kbps -- in other words, 256kbps. That's double the bitrate of most MP3s. A simple way to improve the quality of your music is to simply up the bitrate as the Gizmodo participants seem to confirm.
But there's more. As Mark Wilson writes, "our most interesting finding was a statistically significant correlation between the amount a listener spent on their audio equipment and the maximum bitrate they could detect. In other words, the more expensive a participant's stereo, the higher the bitrate they preferred."
While there can be a number of factors at work here, here's how we see it. In general (although not always), higher-performance gear carries a higher price tag. So chances are those participants with the "more expensive" systems had components that were delivering cleaner sound over a wider sound spectrum with more accurate reproduction of the source material than the others in the test.
That's not to say everyone needs an expensive system to really enjoy their music. But it's pretty safe to conclude that the more you invest in your system, the more detail you'll hear -- and the more deeply you'll enjoy your music.