128 kbps MP3 vs. 256 kbps AAC (iTunes Music)

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by 212rikanmofo, Oct 17, 2018.

  1. 212rikanmofo macrumors 68000

    Jan 31, 2003
    I was wondering if there's much of a difference in audible quality between these 2 formats. I have some old mp3 files that are 128 kbps, and I have purchased a few songs off the iTunes store and see that they're encoded at 256kbps AAC.

    I listen to my music mostly on my iPhone using the built in speaker and the earpods, and also on my iMac, MacBook as well. Also have a few bluetooth speakers around the house that I stream to.

    I am considering repurchasing my music on iTunes if it makes a big difference.
  2. Muttznuttz macrumors member


    May 21, 2014
    Why not purchase a copy of one track you 'know' well from iTunes and then compare it to your 128 copy?
    I would probably not notice any difference using built-in phone speakers, but any half decent set of headphones, even earbuds should reveal that the 128 copy will sound like it's being played down a telephone line. Of course, everybody hears differently and it is all subjective. Do what works for you in your circumstances.
    I had a load of music ripped from my CD's back in the early 2000's into 128 format then gave the CDs away as I moved overseas (storage was a bit more expensive back then). I regretted doing that.
  3. BadgerRivFan macrumors member

    Oct 6, 2013
    Check out Apple’s “iTunes Match” service if you want to upgrade your 128 files to 256. The cost is just $24.99 for one year.

    This may be less expensive than repurchasing music that you already own.
  4. JCCL macrumors 6502a

    Apr 3, 2010
    I second this. The difference is massive between 128 kbps and 256 kbps, but with this option, you get upgraded at a reasonable price
  5. zhenya macrumors 603


    Jan 6, 2005
    If your primary listening sources are the iPhone speaker, included ear buds, and assorted bluetooth speakers, it's not going to make any difference worth spending money on.
  6. T'hain Esh Kelch macrumors 601

    T'hain Esh Kelch

    Aug 5, 2001
    The difference is really big. The audio quality of 128kbps MP3s is horrible by todays standards - I can't believe we could stand listening to it, even non-audiophiles.
  7. D.T. macrumors G3


    Sep 15, 2011
    Vilano Beach, FL
    Right, while there's diminishing returns on the SQ vs. size - that's also greatly impacted by the listening gear - there are also huge differences between some quality points that are apparent even with iPhone + Earpods. I'd also add, that's still subjective, and might not be a big deal, if you're not listening where you can be very critical, or just queuing up a disposable pop tune to kill some time.

    Definitely read and consider post #3 :)
  8. Lioness~ macrumors 65816

    Apr 26, 2017
    Not sure you notice much difference if listening to only small speakers/iPhone/iPad.
    But you don't want to listen to 128kbps on larger speakers.

    Even though the bought music from iTunes is 256kbps, and are generally totally ok. I much rather prefer 320kbps when I stream to my stereo.
  9. ericwn macrumors 68020

    Apr 24, 2016
    The higher the Bitrate the more information is retained. Not sure you’d be able to figure this out just with the cheapest set of included earphones or computer speakers, but more decent equipment would reveal the difference.
    Hearing is a bit personal, so maybe best to just experiment with a few songs you think could benefit from enhanced sound quality and then decide for yourself.
  10. cbautis2 macrumors 6502a

    Aug 17, 2013
    If you run the two on a spectrum, visually, you can see a huge difference. Whether your ears are sensitive enough to hear the difference is a different matter.

    Here they are visually: You can see that AAC LC 256 Kbps is almost exactly as the Apple Lossless version while the 128 kbps has a cut-off at 17KHz

  11. 212rikanmofo thread starter macrumors 68000

    Jan 31, 2003
    Wow that is amazing to see the results like that visually. Seems like the 128kbps mp3 has the high frequencies cut off in, but its difficult to hear those high frequencies for the average human. 256kbps AAC looks very impressive.

    Could you do a comparison between 256kbps AAC vs 320kbps MP3 using the same method above? Thanks for doing this.
  12. cbautis2 macrumors 6502a

    Aug 17, 2013
    You're welcome.

    BTW, here are the 128 kbps mp3 spectrum. You can see the 20 KHz limitation of the 320 kbps mp3 (Google Play, 256 Kbps mp3 for Amazon Music) compared to AAC LC 256 kbps (Apple Music format) and Apple Lossless format Capture.PNG
  13. 212rikanmofo thread starter macrumors 68000

    Jan 31, 2003
    Wow, even the 320kbps mp3 looks worse when compared to AAC 256kbps. You can clearly see it gets cut off above 20kHz freq like you mentioned.

    These charts clearly shows everything. That is an awesome way to analyze and compare the difference. Thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it. :)
  14. cbautis2 macrumors 6502a

    Aug 17, 2013
    No problem! Hence me preferring Apple Music for most of my music purchases and if I really love an album, I usually buy the physical CD or from HDTracks (Hi-Res ALAC format)

    BTW, you can also use this tool to check for "Fake" FLACs/ALACs (usually from illegal download sites) where it's only a converted mp3 to FLAC/ALAC. The worst case would be something like from YouTube to FLAC since YouTube's audio track is NOT lossless
  15. 212rikanmofo thread starter macrumors 68000

    Jan 31, 2003
    Could you please link me to where i can vet that app that you’re using. Sometimes I can’t find the song anywhere but youtube and have to use a 3rd party site that will convert the youtube source to a 320kbps mp3. I would like to check the converted file with that app to see what frequencies are getting dropped.

    Is there a macOS compatible version of the app?
  16. peterpayne macrumors member

    Apr 3, 2017
    Huge difference. 256 kbps AAC is similar to 320 kbps MP3.

    Also, in my experience, Apple products are somehow "optimized" for their iTunes/Apple Music 256 kbps AAC audio standard.
  17. cbautis2 macrumors 6502a

    Aug 17, 2013
    There’s an OS X version: http://spek.cc/

    Keep in mind that YouTube’s quality is dependent on the uploader and that audio file has been converted twice before it goes to you
  18. 212rikanmofo thread starter macrumors 68000

    Jan 31, 2003
    Thanks, you're right, that would mean by the time I get it, it would've been encoded 3x. :( geez.
    --- Post Merged, Oct 24, 2018 ---
    Spek doesn't work on macOS Mojave, every time I launch the app it crashes. :(
  19. mudrnudl macrumors newbie


    Jul 2, 2011
  20. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    Yes but very few humans can hear a 20KHz tone.

    There is an argument that the sound might even be better if the highest frequency is cut lower. We are talking about COMPRESSED audio. Given that the bit rate is fixed what you have is a zero-sum game. In other words, if you put one thing in the file then something else has to be removed because the table number of bits is fixed.

    So in order to put in a few KHz of bandwidth what did they remove? Did they remove a dynamic range in the bass? We don't know.

    So the logic goes that it is reasonable to remove something you can't possibly hear if it allows room to add more of what you can hear. And we can be sure you are NOT able to hear above 20KHz.

    All that said the AAC generally sounds better because they use better compression and can fit more in.

    Also if you are listening using the built-in speakers and Bluetooth and so on it hardly matters. You'd need some high-end equipment, to notice But "high end" need not cost a lot. Using just a pair of $125 AKG K240 headphones plugged into a MacBook Pro is reasonably high end and if you add a good quality external audio interface you have "studio quality."

    Pro-audio gear is generally less expensive than high-end consumer gear -- consumers are gullible, professional engineers aren't. So if you want to take advantage of higher quality audio files, it wil not cost of an arm and a legto buy pro level gear

    Again, I just wanted to make the point that higher upper bandwidth might even make a compressed recording soubd worse. With compression is always a trade off, what to keep and what to toss out. The compression software tries to keep the part of the sound we notice the most and chuck-out what we will not miss.
    --- Post Merged, Oct 28, 2018 ---
    People no longer care about audio quality. What they care most about now is the physical size of the equipment and there is a trend to worse and worse audio gear.

    Go back to the 1950's and look at was considered "good", not "over the top" just "good" and it will completely blow away a cell phone. In those days popular music was still jazz and the recording might be a piano, string bass, sax, horns or some other acoustic instrument and the goal of the music playback was to make it soud as if the musicians were actually in the living room. In the 50's all the parts were separate. the most important part was a speaker and they were typically 3 feet tall at least and floor standing. The speaker would be powered by a vacuum tube amplifier and they'd be playing vinyl. What made it sound real was the very low "loading" of the speakers. The physical size vs the power was large.

    Over the years the power goes up and the size goes down and today there is no way on earth that a person listening to an iPhone would be fooled for a second that the musicians were actually in the living room.

    But of course, you can still buy some very nice stereo equipment if you know how to shop and set it up. Today's high-end is actually better than it was in 1960 but not by much.

    So don't say "my today's standards" to mean something good. Standards have been in a decline for at least the last 50 years. We are trading quality for convinance and price.
  21. cbautis2 macrumors 6502a

    Aug 17, 2013
    I see the opposite these times though. At least in Asia market, high end audio is still a thing and has just transitioned from crazy expensive stereo speaker setup to crazy expensive portable audio setup. Sony has just recently released a $8500 MP3 player which shows that there is still market for that in "today's standards" Sony also has $2300 earphones to match their $8500 mp3 player


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20 October 17, 2018