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

Responses: 99


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!

Weigh In


AAC is technically superior in nearly every way to MP3. However, I'd say the best format is the one the works for your system. If your system doesn't support AAC then MP3 is the way to go. MP3 is more compatible with a range of older hardware so that limits your choices. I'd go with AAC if you want the best and can play it, otherwise MP3 for compatibility.
—Guest Bill

Can you tell?

You can tell the difference between lossy and lossless. But there comes a point where it's indistinguishable to the human ear and it becomes one of those (thicker speaker wire makes the difference! arguments)... it's a fallacy. In reality, unless you hear them side by side you may not know you're listening to a lossy recording. That makes MP3 good enough for most people.
—Guest Matt

Which is better for iTunes?

I have 8,090 songs, but only 7,999 shows up in iTunes. Which is better: MP3, AAC, AIFF, or WAV?
—Guest Tony

Prove it to yourself with ABX

Think you can tell the difference between high bitrate lossy and lossless? You should try to test that ability with an ABX test. You might be very, very surprised at how hard it is to tell them apart once you don't already *know* which one is which.
—Guest Darren

The difference is plain to hear

The difference is plain to hear between higher between AAC and MP3. Here are 2 streams both at 128kbs, one in MP3 and one in AAC. http://www.radioparadise.com/m3u/mp3-128.m3u and http://www.radioparadise.com/m3u/aac-128.m3u Oh, and you don't need $10,000 pimpphones.
—Guest nickt1

Agree Guest Ben 1468, Equipment Counts

I have to agree with the above poster, and before I saw his post I was thinking along the same lines. I have 192kb LAME encoded MP3s on my Nokia N9. I've hooked up $1350 ultrasone headphones and thought the sound was great. Then I bought some new headphones which I liked way more (thought they were less expensive beyers, the technology and design seems to deliver a better outcome) and I concluded that the headphones made way more difference than the technicalities of the bit rate and format (within reason of course - a 68kb MP3 isn't going to sound brilliant). I've also heard my CD music on my $500 amp and a $2000 and $5000 dollar amp, same result - the better the amp, the better clarity in sound, sound stage and stereo reproduction - though more expensive doesn't necessarily mean a better sound (my headphones for example) - but it often does. If you really want to get the best sound, firstly consider your source equipment, and in the case of a portable player, the headphones.
—Guest Eric B


"MP3" is not just MP3. It might be almost anything readable within the "standard". Not only VBR or overall bitrate determine the result, but also which codec (there are good ones and very bad ones) and, for example, the level of the original file to be converted. Converting a 0dBFS PCM-file will result in a much worse result than a -3dBFS or a -7dBFS. So you cannot judge an MP3-file without knowing its surrounding parameters in making it. The whole issue is much more complicated than what I see written here above. And... MP3-coding is messing with frequencies way below the normal hearing loss of a 50 year old, not to mention distorsion easily audible for people above 100... So, it's possible - if every step in the making is carefully executed - to achieve a somewhat good result in high bitrates BUT those well-made files are rare. A good tryout for your own ears is to work with is a broadband sound recording like hmmm... ocean waves. Convert and compare with PCM - it's revealing!
—Guest Ogjort

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

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What's Better: AAC vs. MP3

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