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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!

Kenny Yeo / 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.

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