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Readers Respond: What's Better: AAC vs. MP3

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The question of whether to use MP3 or AAC as an encoding format for music stirs strong passions on both sides of the debate. It's time to weigh in. Let us know which codec you prefer for your music and why. But remember, be polite!

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320 clarification

So to Dave and others, you don't have good headphones unless you have electrostatic headphones. Most headphones are limited to about 150 Kbps worth of clearity. Even though your Audio Technicas sound better than Beats by Dre, they still don't compare at all to $10,000 electrostatic headphones. Only with $1,000-$10,000 headphones or speakers can you really tell the difference. Yeah, better headphones matter way more. Lie to yourself and others, but you can't hear 22,000 hrtz any more than you can hear these differences, so no, these differences matter less than the headphones, which matter less than the equipment playing it. So hustle on, so someday you can afford to hear the difference.
—Guest Ben 1468

AAC vs MP3

Firstly, MP3 can be made using many different encoders. Encoding 192kbps Constant Bitrate with an old XING encoder (common 10 years ago) will sound so much worse than using latest Lame Variable Bitrate at 192kbps. Lame VBR@192kbps is in most cases impossible to distinguish from a CD original. It takes good gear to be able to do it. Good equipment as well as good ears, that is. If you are 50+ any higher bitrate is a total waste. If you go to 256 VBR, 99% of the population cannot hear the difference. And most of the 1% who say they can will be lying. @320kbps they are all lying. Secondly, AAC is nothing but MP4, i.e. it is one generation ahead of MP3. AAC can compress more, i.e. lose less for same bitrate. That being said, the decade of tuning the best MP3 encoders means they are probably still better at discarding the non-essentials. I.E. it may take a while for MP4/AAC to catch up in that respect.
—Guest GodsEar

Look at these formats on a oscope

Look at these formats on a oscope, and you will see with your own eyes FLAC IS by far better, however MP3 @ 48khz 320kbits damn good. As far as audio equipment changing the sound, purchase Yamaha. The high-end audio equipment is touched by the right hand of God, so to say. Again, get yourself a good oscope and look for yourself. The whole idea to getting digital audio to sound like analog is a high enough sample rate to get rid of the jaggies in the audio wave form.
—Guest hjhamm

MP3 rules!

People, you are stupid, AAC is just new, it is NOT better! It is dumber though.
—Guest guest faryies

Lossless the best by a small margin

Personally, I found lossless (flac/alac) the best, but by a tiny margin (I guess my Westone 4r helps me to differentiate better). They just sound more roomy/airy and better spaced and nothing much else, depending on the type of music of course. I have an entensive collection of MP3s @320 kbps, some of them ripped from flacs and they don't sound bad at all, just not as good as lossless. It's a matter of preference I guess. It's also a matter of principle. I refuse to pay iTunes for "almost CD quality sound". For my money I want lossless quality and I can mod it to suit my preference. Therefore, I prefer buying lossless music from Bandcamp, often paying more than their minimum price to match iTunes pricing to prove a point.
—Guest Guest Shekhar

AAC vs MP3

Apple Store mostly has AAC 256 kbps. I compared purchases to their MP3 192 kbps counterparts, and there is really a clear difference with a decent headphone and amp! The AAC's have a wider soundscape, more detailed highs, and are similar in file size as well.
—Guest Paul

AAC 192kbps vs FLAC

So FLAC is obviously the superior format (being lossless and all), however AAC 192kbps comes pretty close. Try comparing a FLAC track against an AAC version of the same track with the phase inverted: what your left with is the part of the audio signal that is "lost". I tried this with some of my favorite "full spectrum" tracks - all that is "lost" is a small amount of high-end frequencies. I was quite astonished how little was actually lost! Pretty good trade off given the amount of space you will save.
—Guest BigFriendlyJiant

320kbps MP3 and AAC vs FLAC

SORRY —Guest 86123maxxi, I love for being an audiophile ... but I'm not. I have a US$25 in-earphone ... I hear the difference between 320 kbps MP3 or ACC vs FLAC ... my ears is a gift from God, maybe. But I hear the difference. Regarding to MP3 and AAC and FLAC, please make it straight, both MP3 and AAC is a LOSSY ... so, it's not wise for making a comparison to LOSSLESS. For LOSSY is a LOSSY and it's not a RIVAL for LOSSLESS. But if I required to answer, to me at least (based from my experience off course): FLAC is much more better than 320kbps LOSSY. While AAC is better than MP3 in the same bitrate (all bitrate).
—Guest czgirb

Yeah

Like Rani, also a musician. Any stereo or recorded music is a lie compared to what any instrument sounds like live with an actual person playing it. This should be the starting concept for any audiophile per se. This means that any equipment whether portable or expensive hifi colors the audio according to its own capabilities. Nothing in all of personal audio is therefore authentic. However, the closest you can come to natural sound is through analog materials. It is because the physical properties of the equipment most naturally reflect what real music sounds like. Playing an acoustic guitar in my room to myself can never be replicated exactly as it sounds in a recording. In digital music I have found that lossless formats are very important because they mimic better the spaciousness of natural music. Compressed music is bad from an audiophile standpoint if you like. Not because of what you are hearing or not, but because the compression alters the vibrations or sensations.
—Guest Dave

256kbps+ MP3/AAC equivalent to lossless

Being an audiophile myself, I have tested the various codecs, both lossy codecs like MP3 and AAC and lossless codecs like FLAC or WAV. Generally, if you encode your music at above 256kbps in either MP3 or AAC format, the result is indistinguishable from WAV or FLAC with most headphones and speaker systems. Unless you have a 5-digit speaker system I doubt that you would even be able to pickup the difference between a 320k MP3 file and a FLAC file. And mind you, I tested these formats on neutral sounding headphones i.e Sony MDR-V6 and the Sennheiser HD 600.
—Guest 86123maxxi

MP3 For Me

I'm staying with MP3 for now, compatibility wise. I have good hearing and have always noticed compression artifacts in 128kbps & in some 160kbps MP3s. 192kbps has always been my choice for best quality/small file size. I haven't noticed any difference with bit-rates higher than 192kbps, however, I used to rip my music with Windows Media Player but found that the iTunes encoder produces cleaner, crisper MP3s at the same bit-rate. After some testing, I found that AAC is better with bit-rates under 160kbps. You don't get the echo/ringing artifacts from high frequencies like you do with MP3. If quality is important but space is an issue, the default iTunes 128kbps AAC setting should be fine.
—Guest Brian

Invalid testing/comparison...

ACC and MP3 are lossy file formats, which means that they remove bits not heard by the human ear, and they also remove bits for tones that are so similar that the human ear cannot distinguish them if both played at same time. The key issue with your test, is that you took an ACC file and converted it to MP3. They both have different algorithms for how they compress and remove bits of the audio track, so when you convert one lossey file to another you are going to end up with a lower quality file. When you convert, it needs to be from a lossless format like the original CD, FLAC, or some other format that does not remove sound bits from the file. If you are purchasing music, I'd recommend going with MP3 because it is the universal format that works on everything. Nothing wrong with AAC format, if you plan to always use an Apple audio player. So to do a fair test, you need to compare an audio track extracted and converted to each format from the same source material. [AAC is also a universal format, not a proprietary Apple format, and it is supported widely. - Sam]
—Guest KungfuMonkey

For Car : MP3 @ 320 KBPS

For listening to music in my car, I always use MP3 that is at 320 KBPS. The quality is pretty decent for car, and for the space I don't worry because I have a 4 GB USB stick.
—Guest Dan

None of them is good enough

Any lossy compressed audio format is inferior to lossless audio formats WAVE or AIFF. For easy music, pop, rock, etc. it doesn't matter, but for concert music it makes a difference. Listen to the same piece of music played on the harpsichord once in WAVE or AIFF format, then in MP3 or AAC format, and you'll hear the difference. But nothing, no vinyl, digital music comes close to listening to live music in a concert hall. Even in the case of a stereo equipment worth over a hundred thousand dollars!
—Guest George

Guest D.A.

Vinyl is inferior to digital. It is the absolute truth.
—Guest Anon

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What's Better: AAC vs. MP3

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