Kenny Yeo's Blog

Kenny Yeo male Senior Technology Writer

An analog man trapped in a digital world, Kenny prefers mechanical to quartz watches, buying from brick and mortar shops as opposed to online shopping and eschews fancy dual-clutch cars for good ol' stick shift ones.

So You Think You Have Golden Ears?

Contrary to extensive proof that our listening is not as good as what we would like to think, a small group of people continue to believe they have golden ears.

These are the same people who will tell you that their entire music library is encoded in nothing less than FLAC or (insert any other lossless codec) because anything of a poorer quality and their (insert exorbitantly expensive, high-end audio equipment) will reveal imperfections.

This is an excellent example of what I’m on about. A member posts his findings with regards to FLAC vs 320Kbps MP3. He does a blind test and concludes he cannot accurately determine the differences between a FLAC and 320Kbps MP3 recording. Low and and behold, a member chimes in saying that with a high-end DAC, he can pretty much tell which is which “90+%” of the time.

Personally, my view of these people who say that they can tell the difference because of their high-end audio equipment are just elitists trying their very best to find ways to justify their expensive purchases.

I’m a pretty open-minded chap, but when there’s pretty compelling proof on the Internet that man cannot hear as good as we’d like to think, it’s hard not to be skeptical. 

24/192 Music Downloads ... and why they make no sense
Concluding the Great MP3 Bitrate Experiment
ABX Test of 320Kbps vs FLAC
Results of Sound Quality Test 128 vs 320 - more people thought Clip 2 (128Kbps) sounded better

Still skeptical? Why not try these tests for yourself?

WAV vs. MP3
128Kbps vs. 320Kbps
ABX Test: 128Kbps vs 320Kbps

Could you accurately and repeatedly tell the difference?

MP3 has been around for a very long time now and today’s encoders are becoming increasingly efficient at compressing music. And since hard disk space can be had for cheap, my personal take is that 192Kbps will more than suffice. You can go higher if you wish, but since I can't accurately tell the difference and my primary computer is a notebook which makes upgrading its hard disk a real hassle, I would just be wasting hard disk space.

Anyhow, since audio is a matter of personal tastes and since no one can agree on the proper way of testing the golden ear claim, if you strongly believe yourself to have superior hearing, well, more power to you. That said, I think Jeff Atwood sums it up best in his Great MP3 Bitrate Experiment, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”.

*Update* - I've made an update in the comments stream below to further clarify and set some context to my blog piece. Thank you for reading!

All Reponses

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there are some music DVDs that are encoded with Dolby Digital 2.0 (slightly better than your 320kbps MP3) and PCM track.

Switching between the two is as easy as pressing the audio button on the remote.

Even compensating for volume if any (even if I make the Dolby digital track slightly louder than the PCM track my impression is the same), I find the PCM track better.

On proper home theatre equipment, not laptop of course.

It's interesting that you say "my view" rather than "my own testing". Please go to www.xtremeplace.com, inform them you are a journalist, one of the brothers there will be happy to hold a listening session for you. cheers.


The Great MP3 Bitrate Experiment is totally flawed. The comments in that link says it all.

And I really want to quote someone's comment from there,
'I agree that 192kbps is fine the vast majority of the time but it still makes perfect sense to rip your collection to FLAC especially if you are dumping the original media. While we can sit and argue whether 192kbps or 320kbps is better, I'm sure most would agree that re-encoding a compressed file into another compressed format is a bad idea. That means if you have any intention of encoding those songs in a different format in the future it's really in your best interest to keep a lossless copy around.

Dave on June 21, 2012 4:07 AM'

And I would like to add, 192kbps compared to 320kbps might not be much of a difference, there's an obvious difference between 128kbps and 320kbps - even between 160 and 320. Just turn up the volume and you will see.


I think the point many people miss is the fact that many of the OLD comparison that people remember is between CBR 320kbps & Lossless, which has a difference. It can be heard with semi-decent headphones. I bought some Music ages ago from iPlay by StarHub & it sounded decent but not great.

The newer version of LAME & even old version of WMAv9 encoder default to VBR which is far superior to 320kbps CBR MP3, especially if you use the 2-pass method.

A VBR MP3/WMA of around 190kbps is almost indistinguishable from Lossless. I've tried this on my Nokia Purity headset which has pretty neutral respond & my Denon AVR hooked to Kenwood Floor standing speakers, which boost the highs using their MP3 recovery algorithm.

So these days, I encode my (Audiophile) Classical & Instrumental CDs using Lossless, and Pop/Rock/Vocal with VBR. If you want an even bigger difference, try playing a well-encoded 'HDCD' CD through a HDCD compatible Receiver. The difference is quite shocking. ;)

BTW, I don't have golden ears but I pay a bit of attention to what the artist is trying to convey.


hehehe like that might as well listen to cassettes :D


Grab a good music playback device and the difference are notable. If you are merely testing with a phone Tablet or some cheapo MP3 player with lousy amplifiers. You definitely won't listen to the difference because simply those details are already lost during amplification. I own a Sony nwz 1060x and am using the stock earphones which are already resonably better than most 100 dollar owns out there. I am not sure about the highs and the mids. But the difference can be heard with the Bass. Pls get a professional listener with a wide range of good playback devices before making such articles.! Writing this is akin to swanning the audio enthusiasts in the world.


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