It was all the way back in 2007 when I posted about converting the very last of my remaining CD collection into digital file format. I wasn't yet as well versed in high audio file formats back then, settling for 128-192kbps quality MP3s. The rationale was the moderate compression was a fair trade-off for the modest file size, back when consumer priced hard drives were still rated for gigabytes, not terabytes of storage...
Audiocentric site Noise Addicts got me wondering whether I had made the right choice back then when I ripped those CDs to MP3s with their recent audio test and survey, which challenged readers to compare two clips of the same song, but of differing quality. One was encoded at 128kbps, and the other saved at over the twice the bitrate at 320kbps.
So how did you do? Was it clip #1 or #2 which sounded better?
I'd like to commend myself – even with my aged 38 year old ears – for being able to determine the lower quality MP3 from its higher 320kbps counterpart with only one listen using fair-to-poor quality, built-in monitor speakers (a small miracle considering my hearing range has deteriorated to middle of the pack according to this other hearing test). The giveaway between the two clips was revealed on the low end, where the bass guitar had more of a complete presence; not louder, but more fully expressed.
But otherwise, I wouldn't say the difference was magically different at casual listening volumes and without the aid of headphones to block out ambient sounds (at higher volumes and with a set of good headphones, the difference in quality was much more pronounced upon re-testing).
Amusingly, a few friends with histories of strong audiophile convictions actually chose the wrong file after I asked them to listen to the songs under normal open air conditions and without an extended period to rewind+play to nitpick apart the track, illustrating 128-192kbps might be more than sufficient for certain songs/bands/genres. But your mileage may vary depending on your age, innate hearing ability, and the type of music you normally enjoy.
And by the way, these days I purchase Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) or 320kbps MP3's when possible. Terabytes of affordable drive space makes the choice a no-brainer now.
(Image: Everett Collection/Shutterstock; screencap from NoiseAddicts.com)