16bit/44kz wave vs 256kbps/44kz mp3

Is there a big difference between the two? I cant really tell just listening on my laptop-

Well a laptop is hardly critical listening!

But 256Kbps is going to yield good results, it’s all to do with file size really.

It also depends on the intended usage.

If you’re going to burn to CD stick with WAV. If it’ll stay on your iPod, either is fine.

MP3 encoders use several masking techniques described as perceptual coding to throw away data that the theories say the human ear won’t be able to hear. (Hense ‘lossy coding’)

But nonetheless it is throwing away sonic information that is present in the wav file.

For the most part 256kb/s MP3s are pretty good and for many listening applications more than adequate. But in a critical listening environment you can tell the difference if you know what you are listening for. (although the difference isn’t as great as some would have you believe)

Things like reverb tails can be noticeably different, it is also somewhat genre specific - RAWK is pretty MP3 friendly, some complex orchestral stuff not so.

There are some telltales like a brick-wall filter at around 17KHz - Hey I’m 52, 17KHz went some years ago!!! And some artefacts you could probably train yourself to recognise.

Here’s a fun little experiment… If you take a snippet of the WAV and a snippet of the MP3, make sure the amplitudes are equal and time align the transients, then flip the phase of one of them, Cubase will sum the two tracks, and then you can hear the difference.

Very well summarized.

I can’t tell any difference, but then I’m not what you’d call a critical listener.

Check this out:

“Audiophiles are people more in love with equipment and algorithms than music. They prefer listening for artifacts over enjoying music. They, like most people, hear things based on what they expect to hear. Tell them something was data-reduced and it really will sound worse to them, even if you play them an uncompressed selection!” -- Ken Rockwell

Sounds like a blind test would be in order… just have to find some muso subjects to try it on!


To be honest for ‘normal’ listening anything from 192Khz MP3 up sounds fine to me. I’m sure if you’re really into exploring the thresholds of human hearing you’d probably spot some microscopic compression artifacts but I’m just not that obsessive :smiley:

For me a wav sounds calmer and in a way more controlled and full than an mp3.
I agree that a 256 mp3 sounds pretty good, but it is not the same on good speakers and amp.
I am not even talking expensive stuff here. Buy an entry level say Yamaha small compact thingy costing something like 300 to 400 usd…

I am 39 and getting “old” and I can’t believe that my hearing is that much better… Maybe you do not know what to listen for, maybe you do not really care :wink:

All the best, Kim

I don’t think those are the only possibilities here. For example, one other possibility is that you’re just full of sh1t – just sayin’.


The major difference is file size and mp3 distortion levels that change with different compression algos and bitrates.

If you have wav files that you want to convert to mp3, I’ve found a pretty good converter. It really does seem to give you the best of what you can hope for in the conversion process as far as output quality.

I totally agree that most of the stuff you hear on internet radio, or can download into playlists aren’t worth the 1$ you’re spending. To me they are like low quality demos. For most references I’ll convert to 192 because it’s decent and not too big to send over email. mp3’s on a cd I would greatly prefer to be 256 though.

I listen to a lot of internet radio when I’m working, and I can hear the phasey scrapy cymal hits and background noise where it sounds like someone is trying to use steel wool to clean a cheese grater from the other side of the room. Not pleasant, but the ever growing internet business has limited our options. I personally wouldn’t care if an mp3 takes a few extra seconds to cache on my local computer, if it is better quality than the cr*p I’m hearing daily.

Nothing beats burning a nice solid uncompressed wav format though.

TBH I can’t tell the difference between a 320bit mp3 and 16bit wav but then I don’t have a high end setup. I also don’t have a problem with128kbps files for casual listening. Just like the old days with vinyl at home and cassette in the car.

I did the experiment posted above of exporting and phase flipping. I exported a 16bit wav and mp3’s at 128, 192, 256 and 320kbps. When nulling the 128kbps mp3 against the wav there was a lot of garbled mush/rubbish left over. The 192kbps file was noticeably better. Noise was less and sounded less nasty. The 256kbps file was better again but the difference was not so great. There was hardly any difference between nulling the 320kbps file against the wav compared to the 256kbps file. I had to turn my volume up very high to hear it.

I didn’t null the mp3’s against each other. If I had then maybe I could’ve detected a difference. So my conclusion would be to use 256kbps where possible and at very least 192kbps. Bear in mind that these tests were done only by exporting directly from inside Cubase 6. Other conversion applications may give different results.


Yeah maybe Doug, but then again maybe I mean it when I when I say a wav sounds better than “even” a 256 kbs mp3? :question:

Kim :wink:

I think the inverting test is a distraction. Of course there’s a difference between the two files. The real question is whether you can hear a difference between the two formats with your actual ears on a good playback system. MP3 is using tricks to mask the artifacts created by encoding. We don’t have to understand how it does it, but if you do want to understand, there are resources on the internets. I would also like to point out that there are several encoding algorithms in popular use that can produce different results.

Now most of the MP3’s I have on my devices are 128kbps, but for the ones I have created from my own material using Fraunhofer at 256kbps, I can admit that I would not be able to reliably distinguish the MP3 from the source material in a blind test.

First – I think I was at that symposium, if it’s the one I attended at Sweetwater in Fort Wayne a few years ago.

Second, although GM is a GIANT in the audio industry, he’s held some widely disproved opinions in the past. First, he was a proponent of “bit-hogging” in the 16-bit days. But more telling, at one times he insisted that we needed sample rates of at least 384khz in order to capture/replicate transients accurately, an assertion NOBODY buys into anymore.

But, to address THIS video, what he’s calling “distortion” is really just the difference left behind after nulling the wav file with the mp3. It’s not “distortion” at all. And it’s not that much signal in any case.

I am no expert on this issue, but I have done a fair amount of reading about the theory that underlies lossy encoding, and the experiments/testing that has been done and is still being done with regards to perception of lossy files. I’m pretty convinced that at higher kps, not even audiophiles can reliably and consistently distinguish a lossy file and a wav

Also: I do not mean to assault GM’s integrity, but his livelihood is based on selling high-end boutique gear, like his $8000 analog EQ, so he has something of an interest in stressing audio quality, even if it is an indirect one

He does have a nice list of discography too :slight_smile: . But yeah, his personality can be a little over the top. I was in at a session of his and he opened up for questions. When someone asked a question, he responded " The real question you mean to ask is xxxxxxx" and he would create his own question and answer it! :laughing:

Anyway… lossy vs lossless… It all boils down to if the playback system will reveal the difference. To me, if it can, that matters. Whether or not a listener can consciously hear the difference, to me, doesn’t really matter because their ears are still hearing the difference unconsciously. It they draw more pleasure hearing one from the other, that matters.

In the analysis I did a few years ago, mp3s lost dynamic range, spectral content (visible in the song’s spectrogram with the telltale being a much thinner color veil) and a big loss of high frequency content.

I have Mp3s and wav files loaded on my media player and I hear the difference. Its that warbley hifreq that is a mp3’s dead giveaway. I look at it this way too: My ears are an organ and I don’t like feeding them mp3 codec distortion. It is distortion, artificial from an algorithm; bottom line. I would rather feed them damn good music. After all, that is the stuff I model my mixes toward.

My dogs don’t listen to mp3s either :mrgreen:

Can you hear that on a 256k MP3? I sure can’t. :confused:

I wasn’t aware he had produced/engineered anything in years