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Thread: MP3 versus WAV, FLAC, AIFF, or...

  1. #1
    Deez Beats! KLH's Avatar
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    MP3 versus WAV, FLAC, AIFF, or...

    Many beginners ask questions like "which is best, MP3 or [insert other file format]?" I want to give my opinion and open this up to discussion. However, to answer this question properly, you have to understand basics about digital audio and then what works with most DJ software.

    Digital Audio Basics

    Here's a quick primer on digital audio from the Wiki:
    A digital audio system starts with an ADC that converts an analog signal to a digital signal.The ADC runs at a sampling rate and converts at a known bit resolution. For example, CD audio has a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz (44,100 samples per second) and 16-bit resolution for each channel... The digital audio signal may be stored or transmitted. Digital audio storage can be on a CD, a digital audio player, a hard drive, USB flash drive, CompactFlash, or any other digital data storage device... Audio data compression techniques — such as MP3, Advanced Audio Coding, Ogg Vorbis, or FLAC — are commonly employed to reduce the file size... The last step is for digital audio to be converted back to an analog signal with a DAC.
    So there you have it, digital audio is a representation of analog audio that is limited by how the audio is represented. In the usual form of Pulse Code Modulation (aka PCM), audio is represented by a sample with fixed resolution, called bit depth (16bits for CDs), and a rate of samples, called the sample rate. Together, the sample rate and bit depth determine how accurately the original sound is captured as digital audio. At this sample rate and bit depth, stereo sound uses about 605MB per hour. (http://24bit.turtleside.com/pcm.wav.file.sizes.pdf)

    There are many files formats that contain native PCM audio - WAV (popularized on Windows) and AIFF (popularized on MacOS) are just two popular file formats. The common characteristic of PCM audio is that it is large in size. Back in the early 80s, CDs were created to store and playback PCM digital audio.

    In the mid 90s, data compression techniques became popular that to reduce the amount of data being stored in files. Keeping this simple, two major ways emerged. One was to reduce the amount of data and still ensure that ALL of the original data was recreated - called lossless. The other way was to reduce the data, but not mind so much if some of the original data was lost (reasoning that you wouldn't miss it anyway) - called lossy. Lossless would reduce the file sizes up to 50% (302 MB per hour) and sound the SAME as the original recording. Lossy methods could reduce the file sizes by 80%+... but would reduce sound quality at high compression rates.

    Through time the two coding/decoding techniques (called codecs) that became very popular were FLAC for lossless and MPeg 1 layer 3 (aka MP3) for lossy. There are many other codecs for both lossless (i.e. Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless, etc.) and lossy (WMA, M4P, Ogg, etc.).

    Skipping how it came to be, let's just cut to the chase and state that MP3 is the most popular of digital audio file formats.

    DJ Software Context

    Music exists as digital audio files in a variety of codecs - WAV, AIFF, FLAC, MP3, AAC, and more. Many DJ applications playback MP3, WAV, and FLAC. Others playback MP3, AIFF, and AAC. Others still playback MP3, FLAC, and AAC. See the pattern? MP3 is ALWAYS played back by DJ apps. For that reason, most DJs tend to use MP3 as their format of choice.

    So Which Is Best?

    In terms of recreating the original analag audio with minimal data, technically lossless is best. It has the accuracy of PCM when decompressed AND reduced data size when stored. Still, all DJ apps use MP3s as an accepted format.

    So what most DJs tend to do is use the highest data rate in the MP3 format - 320kbps Constant Bit Rate MP3. Doing so is the best compromise between file size and audio quality (assuming that the original recording is of high quality).

    So now you know... and knowing is half the battle.



    -KLH
    Last edited by KLH; 02-22-2013 at 07:09 AM.

  2. #2
    Member Atomisk's Avatar
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    Good guide. Sticky?

    flac/wav ftw. Everything should be in lossless. I see no reason why not - HD space is insanely cheap nowadays.

  3. #3
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    I buy and rip all my CDs in WAV. External HD [backups] are cheap stuff, good to have. I like to think I'm supporting better quality tracks (from a pure mixdown / mastering standpoint) if labels are noticing people are buying in higher quality. That's what I'd like to promote.

  4. #4
    The thing is, where are you guys buying your music from? For the longest time I've been buying from itunes 256 AAC. I'd like wav files, but it's expensive enough stocking a library full of music. Beatport is already more expensive than itunes, and then they charge you even more for wav files.

  5. #5
    Unless you are playing on function one level systems...you are NOT going to hear the difference between a well encoded 320 mp3 and a wav.

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    Member Atomisk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mrkleen View Post
    Unless you are playing on function one level systems...you are NOT going to hear the difference between a well encoded 320 mp3 and a wav.
    Lolwut I can hear the difference between 320 and lossless in my HDJ-2000s and those are NOT accurate headphones.

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    Member DJNR's Avatar
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    Good article! I'm waiting for Mostapha's appearance and commentary on this issue
    Equipment: CDJ 2000 Nexus, DJM 900 Nexus, Ultrasone DJ1 Pro, AiAiAi TMA-1 Fool's Gold Edition.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Atomisk View Post
    Lolwut I can hear the difference between 320 and lossless in my HDJ-2000s and those are NOT accurate headphones.
    No, you just think you can. Really mp3@320 rolls off well above most human hearing. Most people can't hear above 17 or 18KHz.

    I have a test you can use, I'll dig for it or maybe just make my own. One sec.

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    Member Hamza21's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Atomisk View Post
    Lolwut I can hear the difference between 320 and lossless in my HDJ-2000s and those are NOT accurate headphones.
    What are saying? You can hear a difference between 320 and lossless version of the same track? Anybody can do that. Or are you saying you can hear a difference an 320 track of one song and lossless track of another song? I highly doubt that! In order for that to be possible you need some frame of reference. If you never heard a song before you definitely can't tell between two different tracks. I've heard Award tour by ATCQ 1,000 of times I couldn't tell the difference between an 320 version or wav version unless played one after the other. I highly doubt you can.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by DJNR View Post
    Good article! I'm waiting for Mostapha's appearance and commentary on this issue
    Happy to oblige.

    Quote Originally Posted by NPC View Post
    No, you just think you can [hear the difference]. Really mp3@320 rolls off well above most human hearing. Most people can't hear above 17 or 18KHz.

    I have a test you can use, I'll dig for it or maybe just make my own. One sec.
    Last time I did a blind test, I correctly identified the lossless file 100% of the time for 5 tracks with a maximum of 3 listens to the first 5 seconds of each version. It wasn't purely scientific, but the worst score I've gotten was 80%, and that was only allowing 2 listens each to tracks I'd never heard before.

    Here's the thing…hard drives, flash storage, and CD-Rs are cheap. The question isn't even whether there's a perceptible difference. There is a difference, hard drives are cheap, and mp3s won't be around forever…so why bother with mp3s? They have no advantages except being supported by everything. All but the cheapest garbage supports wav or aiff as well.

    Quote Originally Posted by snoborder101 View Post
    The thing is, where are you guys buying your music from? For the longest time I've been buying from itunes 256 AAC. I'd like wav files, but it's expensive enough stocking a library full of music. Beatport is already more expensive than itunes, and then they charge you even more for wav files.
    Boo f***ing hoo. Go look at vinyl prices and come back to me. Beatport is probably the cheapest of the places I shop because most of the rest are either smaller or in the UK.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hamza21 View Post
    In order for that to be possible you need some frame of reference.
    For me to be 80-100% accurate, yes. But I'm better than random listening to other people's iPods in my car (ripped to wav and put on the iPod vs. bought at iTunes). Never really kept track of it, so IDK if it's significant.
    Last edited by mostapha; 03-06-2012 at 10:51 AM.

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