What does classical music sound like on an iPod ?

May 4, 2012 at 10:15 PM · What does classical music sound like on an iPod or any other MP3 player ? I am still using CD's. I have never actually used an iPod and I am thinking of buying one but I am not sure what classical music such as solo guitar or solo violin sounds like on these devices. Some people say that it is not good and that the sound quality does not much that of a CD.

Replies (82)

May 4, 2012 at 11:28 PM · Although my experience is not vast, I would say that yes, you lose a lot. If you're talking about solo violin or guitar, though, there's certainly less to lose. The denser the music, the more you lose. Trying to pick out the third horn line in a Mahler symphony on an iPod is just not what it's made for. Channeling Justin Bieber hits straight into your cranium, live it up.

Also, for a serious musician, the use of ear buds worries me. Seems like it would be awfully easy to damage the inner ear.

May 4, 2012 at 11:45 PM · People still use CDs? WOW.

Just kidding. ;)

As long as your MP3s are at a high enough bitrate, greater than say 192 kilobits give or take (that's debatable), the loss in sound quality while still measurable by the most sensitive of recording equipment, will be so subtle as to be totally unnoticeable by the human ear. Many audiophile snobs will swear up and down and every other way on their very lives that they can still hear the sound loss, but in blind listening tests, they simply cannot.

When I listen to Sibelius or Ralph Vaughan Williams on my iPhone through my neodymium headphones, the sound quality is so stunningly clear that any bad talk about MP3s becomes utterly laughable. The only time I do detect any degraded sound quality is with my car's crappy speakers which always distort at any volume over moderate levels, and that distortion has nothing to do with MP3s anyway.

And Lisa, don't kid yourself. If you dock your iPod into a system like this (http://i618.photobucket.com/albums/tt266/NY1PR2009/DSC01853.jpg) loaded with really high quality MP3s, trust me, you could hear a gnat fart in a Mahler symphony. Not that one NEEDS a home audio system like that to hear such detail, since I can hear that third horn line just fine through my $120 headphones.

May 5, 2012 at 01:18 AM · Mp3 is a lossy format, meaning that every time you re-save an Mp3 you lose some of the information that was stored in the file. If you want actually quality digital music you need .flac files, they are lossless and will maintain their original quality indefinitely unlike other file types.

May 5, 2012 at 01:28 AM · I agree with Ron. I always rip my CDs at the highest bit rate possible with the software (320). It also matter what type of headphones you are using. Some have a more restricted frequency range than others that can impact how well you're hearing the music. I wonder how long it will be before we can rip SACDs into a format for mobile devices without losing anything. That would be nice.

May 5, 2012 at 02:35 AM · I've checked my facts Lyndon, and they're still called facts, but evidently you want to be argumentative. I swear, it's like some people want to argue over whether the Sun is hot. There CAN be a noticeable difference in sound quality between a lossless CDA and an MP3, particularly if the MP3 is of such a low bitrate such as 64kbps with it's frequency cutoff of just 11kHz. Listen to that same CDA file and compare it with a wide-spectrum 1411kbps MP3 and you will not, I'll say it again, NOT hear a difference. Swear that you will, but no, you won't.

I'm stepping out of this thread now because it's just going to go downhill from here. Some posters don't seem to know any better anyway, and there's no use in arguing with them since in their little worlds they can never be wrong about their factually baseless claims.

May 5, 2012 at 03:57 AM · Brian, do you use a portable CD player? what kind of headphones do you use? I believe the headphones you use will make more of a difference on how the music sounds than the format its on, as long as it is high quality/ bitrate. 128kbps is what you'll see most often when it comes to mp3's. It's kinda middle of the road, it doesn't take up too much hard drive space (about 1 megabyte per minute of music) and sounds very good.

I try to get mp3's at 192kbps, or 320kbps if I want to hear it as it was intended. I can be a little picky about sound quality on stuff that deserves it. classical music, for example. But I listen to a lot of different music. I don't need to hear O.D.B's Brooklyn Zoo at 320 kbps.

But yea, I take it you already have a good pair of headphones if you're worried about quality. Get your Ipod, make sure you rip your CDs at the highest possible bit rate, and you'll be happy.

If you don't have a good pair of headphones, get some, they can cost more than the iPod itself, but then you'll -really- be happy.

May 5, 2012 at 04:33 AM · As Wayne, Ron, and Juan point out, low bit rates don't work. That's how most of the MP3s you buy will be encoded, and why MP3s have such a bad reputation, so learn how to do your own directly from CDs, or find a source that will sell you high quality MP3s. It makes a huge difference. As much of my music as I can manage is ripped at 320kbps.

I've got a system based on an iPod where you can, literally, hear the musicians move their feet, the page turns, and feel the sub-audible rumble of trucks passing outside. Close your eyes, and if someone in the hall makes an unexpected noise, you'll think you're sitting right there in the hall. I'll give you a hint: it's not based on a pair of $200 designer-crap headphones from the Apple store.

If I were going to suggest one single thing you could do to maximize what comes out of your iPod, it would be to attack the real shortcomings of the system, worst first, which isn't the MP3 standard, it's the headphones. Spend some real money on headphones, then next, some real money on an amp. When you have those, you'll realize that good MP3s aren't that bad, and you'll also discover that often the problem isn't MP3s, it's a crummy original recording.

If you really wanted to get into this, you'd have to really get into it, or get some help from someone who already has been through it. For instance, you can spend $300 on phones that sound great straight from the iPod, and better through an accessory amp, but you can also buy really great $300 phones that the iPod can't possibly drive and the result will sound worse than the buds that came with the iPod.

A lot of people will tell you to start by buying a set of Grado SR80i headphones (an easy $100 investment that you won't regret--they sound great right out of the iPod directly--they're one of the few quality headphones that don't need an accessory amp, though a good amp will make them sound that much better), and if you like that, keep right on going until you run out of money. :-) Then, when you're sitting there with your $1500 phones, listening through your $1000 amp, take comfort that while it may not be perfect, it's going to sound better than the average $10,000 sound system built on CDs and speakers.

Geek central for headphone-based systems: http://www.head-fi.org/ First, I spent about a year there reading everything everyone said about everything, then I spent a whole lot of moola and built a system that I don't regret having.

People who haven't heard a good system shouldn't talk about what they don't know about.

May 5, 2012 at 04:35 AM · From my experience, it normally sounds pretty bad... The mp3 format might be ok if the bitrate is high, but I think ipod isn't a very good source in the first place.

That said, from time to time, I do find certain pieces/instruments sound more pleasant on my phone than on my CD player. With CDs, the sound always has better clarity, but sometimes it can sound harsher. I think it's a little like the difference between sitting in the back and sitting in the front of a concert hall. At a distance, the sound is normally sweeter but "muddier"; if you are close to the performer, you hear more nuances, but it can also sound dry sometimes.

If you don't mind losing some clarity, than I think it's worth a try. But I would say don't expect too much.

May 5, 2012 at 04:57 AM · Lyndon, hardcore audiophiles will tell you that a $10,000 system isn't audiophile, either. So let's bring this back to the real world, which is about best bang for buck, not what someone with unlimited cash can accomplish.

No one here is going to put $50,000+ into a system to tap out the audiophilability of CDs, so why are you even talking about audiophile quality level?

You haven't heard my system, have you? Best not to speak, then.

May 5, 2012 at 09:49 AM · one true thing taylor said: You want a good quality buy yourself an good record player. Its not that expensive and it is a total different sound than CD and mp3. Obviously the system behind that is as if not even more important: Preamp, Amp, speakers/headphones etc.

Comparing CD to mp3 I think 320 kbs is quite close to cd-quality and pretty much enough. if you want good live sound go to a concert.

And speaking about I pod. Are you serious? Whats the need of that? if you are outside you have disturbing noises anyways. if you are at home, why bother with this good looking design stuff. Better look for good hardware somewhere else then.

May 5, 2012 at 10:31 AM · Hi,

So there's been great talk about the quality of mp3 vs uncompressed format as far as I see.

It's like comparing a .jpeg image to an uncompressed .tif 100 time bigger, you lose things yes. Will you notice? Compare the .tif to the real world, you lose thing too.

Now audio quality depend on 2 things (I haven't seen a poorly encoded mp3 since more than 10years):

- the quality of you're mp3 device

- the quality of you're headset(i think it's the English name) or audio system.

The same thing doesn't sound the same everywhere, you must aim for a system that can render low and high frequency. Most bundled handset can't. If you want to listen music on the move, aim for a good handset that'll soundproof you of the outside world. If you want to list music at home. A computer with good speaker is more than enough.

But don't get me wrong, you'll still be far from a live performance. You could spend millions of $ on a sound set up and play uncompressed format, you'll still be far from a live performance.

May 5, 2012 at 12:56 PM · Simon, some of us live in more than one room, go places, work, go to the library, coffee houses, etc. That's why an iPod. Many of those places are great listening spots, with the right headphones. Also, my iPod is pushing 10,000 cuts on it now--that's about 1000 CDs I don't have to store, carry with me, load and unload, etc.

The implied but unmentioned thing through this thread has been, by the way, headphones, not speakers, give the most sound for the dollar by a huge margin, and pair well with the iPod in flexiblily, and get the most out of it's inherent quality. These days, any good headphone amp, even portable ones, will take output from a CD player or computer USB (with MP3s, FLACs, or CDs as source), should you choose to take one of those paths.

May 5, 2012 at 01:52 PM · Anyone wanting to save on storage space with the mp3 format but still wanting the best possible quality (for an mp3) could use Variable Bit Rate MP3 (VBR). The bit rate fluctuates depending on the complexity of the audio signal and typically operates around 220-240 kbps - I've hardly ever seen it go much over 250 kbps, certainly nowhere near 320 kbps.

If you want to see how that works in action, download VLC Media Player (freeware), create a VBR MP3 then look in the Media Information -> Statistics window while the mp3 is playing. I use LAME codec from a DAW to create VBR MP3, but I think it's possible using iTunes fiddling around with the preferences.

May 5, 2012 at 01:55 PM · It just occurred to me that there's a very easy answer to this question: an iPod will sound no worse, and probably better, than your computer playing the same material through the same amp and phones. If you're online, you have a computer, so do the test, yourself. Start with a good quality MP3 encoded at a high bitrate (preferably by you, directly from a CD using a free high-quality program like Exact Audio Copy), and whatever headphones you already have plugged into the computer's jack, knowing that better ones will improve the sound more than anything else you do. Good enough? The iPod can easily beat that particular combo.

May 5, 2012 at 03:17 PM · Are we overthinking this?

I prefer the CD format itself too (for reasons other than sound quality)...but I have a new iPod Nano with mostly classical on it...one little iPod holds a LOT of music. I also opted for larger headphones...less background noise, less irritating than the ear buds...

I'd say the sound quality...for my needs...is better than what I got with my portable CD player...

At home I still use my old 'boom box' style CD player (not the computer) and no headphones...but I won't go back to a CD player for when I'm out and about...

BTW...wondering when CDs and CD players are going to be totally obsolete...went to buy some blanks...and there was no selection...

May 5, 2012 at 04:43 PM · I plan to do quite a bit of overseas travelling later this year and I did not want to carry a lot of CD's with me. This is why I am asking about iPods and MP3 recordings.

The point is noted that whatever system is used, the speaker or headphones will have a major influence on the final result.

If I was going to spend $10,000 on something musical then it would be a good violin with a bow to match !

May 5, 2012 at 05:07 PM · I agree that the headphones make a huge difference in sound quality. I have a lot of music on my Zune mp3 player. When I hook the mp3 player to my home stereo it sounds phenomenal and I cannot tell the difference between the mp3 and the CD, but in my car it does lose some quality. This effect is entirely due to the speakers being used in each situation.

Just get a good quality mp3 player and invest a little extra money on some nice headphones.

May 5, 2012 at 06:37 PM · Also, consider that your device can probably play a couple different formats, not just MP3. While that is certainly the most popular, Apple's devices play back AAC, which usually sounds better than MP3 at equivalent bitrates. There are devices out there that can play an excellent patent-free and license-free format called Ogg Vorbis (OGG) which also is a significant sound improvement over MP3.

As storage space increases (and the cost of it decreases), and the processing power to decode the audio increases over time, the portability of devices that allow us to listen to music continue to improve. At some point, there won't be any significant distinction between the audio generated by portable vs. wired devices.

As others have mentioned, it will be the quality of the speakers (or headphones) used that make the biggest difference.

I currently use a set of Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors, and they are absolutely fantastic!

May 5, 2012 at 08:17 PM · Lyndon: What if the people who think there's a difference are only hearing what they want to hear? ;)

May 5, 2012 at 08:51 PM · Michael: I don't like listening music with headphones too much. Maybe at home and in a library, but many people use their ipods during every trip in the bus, train.. even when they go out to run!

This seems so silly to be because I like to hear what is around me. Especially when I go running, I enjoy the nature noises in the parks much more than every music.

Maybe its a different "lifestyle", maybe my head is so full of music anyways that I need a break more than constant input.

I agree that an ipod for storage is quite practical though...

May 5, 2012 at 09:30 PM · Simon, my headphone usage is mostly utilitarian, to not bother people around me, or when I really want to hear something in detail. My actual consumption of music goes radically up and down over time, though---I don't think my iPod has been on in several weeks. I'm not advocating cutting out life all the time, but when I decide to hear the music, that's all I want to be hearing, and I want to hear it done well.

There's the added bonus sometimes that I really don't want to hear what my favorite coffee place puts on their system, or the noise in an airplane. My portable phones happen to make great earplugs, too, with or without music. :-)

May 5, 2012 at 10:00 PM · I guess the people who can't tell the difference between a Strad and a modern violin are the same people that can't the difference between fine and cheap wines


or spring water or tap water


May 5, 2012 at 11:06 PM · Someone said way back in this thread that if MP3s were as good as CDs then CDs would use MP3 format. That fact that they don't is, I would suggest, for a much more mundane reason - profit. You can get 5 hours or more of high quality MP3 on a CD. What record manufacturer would do that when he can make much more money using the current format?

Incidentally, I heard once that the size of the CD was chosen so that the whole of Beethoven's 9th could fit on it.

May 5, 2012 at 11:33 PM · Brian:

From CD ripped to MP3 and played through the same sound system I find some deterioration of quality in the MP3. But to listen to anything through cheap little speakers the sound is terrible.

Just as the quality of the violin influences what you hear, the quality of the interfaces from air to electronics and back have the greatest effect. Within the electronic production and recording there are compressions and decompressions, Fletcher Munson curves (loudness compensation) rebalancing, psychoacoustics, digitizing and many other choices that the recording engineer introduces.

The item that you can control, in my opinion, it is the quality of the device that changes the electronic signal back to sound. That is the speaker systems or earphones as many above have stated. Manufacturing of the speakers or earphones are the most skilled and labor intensive processes, therefore they are the most costly of all of the components at any quality level. Electronic assembly is highly automated therefore reasonably priced for mass market amplifiers and other components. They are very good to process your music.

When, where and why you are listening will determine what you want to spend on the system and input source. The speakers will have the greatest effect on the quality of sound therefore not the place to save money.


May 6, 2012 at 07:11 AM · Of course CD (16 bit 44.1 Khz) is better than MP3 but you need good equipment to hear the noticeable difference.

I record at 24 bits and 44.1 Khz although occasionally at 96 Khz. Twenty four bits gives noticeably better sound than even 16 bits and wonderful headroom when recording. I edit on computer and then produce 16 bit CD's which sound very fine on good Hi-Fi equipment. This is the method whch I use to make the odd commercial CD, but most CD's are for private consumption.

With huge hard drives of 500 GB to several T-bytes who has a space problem these days? Faster computers mean that editing programs such as Pro - Tools and the wonderful new Reaper just produce the goods with the minimum of hard work and trouble.

Why use an inferior format such as MP3 just to save a bit of hard drive space. (OK, on the move you may have to put up with inferior sound, but I listen in comfort these days).

May 6, 2012 at 04:00 PM · OK, I've thought long and hard about commenting on this one. As an Electrical Engineer, I've been drawn into the flame of this thread.

Seems to be a lot of position taking here, which really boils down to personal preferences. Maybe this can help explain some of the abbreviation-mania and reasons behind people's choices.

Let's face it: there is no such thing as a "perfect" recording. Any recording format or equipment involves complex trade-offs. The end consumer picks a favorite, based on other trade-offs -- like availability, cost, convenience, sound, etc.

Michael did a pretty good job of summing up his trade-off selection, when he mentioned his constraints of portability and non-interference with others in public. He also touched on a very important point: minimizing the downside of your selected delivery selection. For his choice of listening location(s), a high-end turntable with direct-to-vinyl pressings would be a very bad choice. :-)


Yes, analog still has adherents! I myself love the sound of a fresh vinyl pressing played through a good tube amp, with excellent, high-efficiency speakers. However, analog (whether vinyl or mag tape) has some very real problems. One of the biggest is that analog storage media are susceptible to degradation.

Every time you make a copy of a recording in the analog realm, you will lose at least 3 dB signal-to-noise ratio. Period. You will also introduce a change in the frequency spectrum peculiar to the equipment used in the copy. That's how EQs started out -- to compensate for equipment-based changes in frequency response.

Then there is "longevity." If you have a killer-quality mag tape master, there will eventually be Print-Through, where the magnetic domains from one layer magnetize the neighboring layers (and vice-versa). Every time you play a vinyl, there is a small amount of wear on the grooves (and the stylus -- you have to replace even diamond styli occasionally).

So in the analog realm, the 2nd law of thermodynamics lurks at every step, introducing random degradation. It may not be enough to bother you. And some actually embrace that degradation, thinking it adds character (pop! click!). :-)


With the introduction of CDs, music (and video) became 1's and 0's. For this to happen required using DSP (Digital Signal Processing), which introduced its own set of problems -- mainly artifacts in the Analog-to-Digital conversion (ADC), Digital-to-Analog (DAC), or in the DSP algorithms themselves.

This thread has mainly focused on the DSP storage algorithms themselves: specifically, mp3 vs. CD format.

The big difference between the file formats is that MP3 is a lossy format, while CDs are stored in a lossless format. You see the same thing in jpeg vs. RAW formats in high-end cameras.

Each kind of format introduces digital artifacts on initial digitization. However, as long you stay with a lossless algorithm, you can convert and edit the files without introducing additional artifacts.

CDs use still use the original 44.1 kHz CD-DA (Compact Disc - Digital Audio) developed by Phillips and Sony in the 80s. The most popular computer-based lossless format is WAV or WMA.

Rip a CD to WMA on Windows at 44.1 kHz, and you have (essentially) an exact copy of the CD. However, Apple -- iPods included -- doesn't play window's tune (pun intended). FLAC provides a free lossless codec (coder-decoder). Apple provides AIFF or ALAC.

Although lossless algorithms are snifty-doodle in terms of sound, the files are huge. Enter MP3.

MP3 is a format that stores music in a compressed format, which allows you to put TONS more music on your device. However, it's a lossy format. Which means there is an inherent loss in quality every time you mess with it -- from the initial rip from CD to each time you edit in (say) Audacity.

Now comes the big question: what is the tradeoff point? Here's where Michael hit the nail on the head -- he can live with MP3's lossy format, by minimizing the lossy artifacts. Use the highest sample rate you can afford. If doing live recordings, save the mp3 conversion until the very last step.

I've heard a lot of mp3 that have been ripped, converted, edited, and reconverted until the sound is absolute garbage. Some people don't mind (with heavy metal, you probably could not notice the difference: GIGO).

When I record a rehearsal on my Zoom H2, I use 44.1 khz WMA. I do all the editing in WMA, keeping the Audacity project. Only when I'm done, do I export to MP3, to move to my IPod. It's not studio quality, but I can live with it, for a rehearsal recording -- and it's affordable.

So with all the position-taking on this thread, it all boils down to what you and your ears can live with. So the iPod is really popular, because when handled well, it produces reasonable quality audio for listening. So what if it's not digital-master quality? You are going to listen to it, not produce commercial CDs.

And it fits in your pocket. Try that with a turntable and a tube amp!

May 6, 2012 at 08:04 PM · Apple (Itunes) is coming up with a new audio format that will be 24bit/96Khz.


I think this is a step in the right direction, maybe in 4-5 years we will be listening to 24/96 audio on everything, everywhere. Converting files is silly with today's speeds and space.

May 8, 2012 at 09:00 AM · There is a lot of wrong information here. I study computer science and I build speakers, therefore I am pretty well-equipped to answer this and I'll make it very simple:

The iPods and the iPhone 4 are one of the best mp3-players in terms of sound quality. This quality is not the only one that is relevant. Why is that? Simple: Your headphones decide how it will sound.

If you have 10$ earphones, the quality of your mp3-player does not matter as the earphones are really really bad. Because they make the sound you need to get good headphones. I use In-Ear-headphones, because they reduce noise when I am outside and they sound as great as big ones. Those are Westone UM2 for about 320 dollars (or 250 Euros because I live in Europe). They fit to the sound quality of my Sansa Fuze player that costs about 50$, it sounds the same. Westone is also the best manufacturer in terms of comfort. You do not even notice the in-ears in your ear (you forget about them). Of course there are a lot of other manufacturers making great in-ears as well.

You want to listen to it at home? Then I recommend open earphones, the big ones. AKG701 for example are not expensive and sound great, I believe they will be just fine for classical music. Now you have to be careful: On mp3-players those big earphones won't sound good or at least you won't be able to turn up the volume at all. You should have a hi-fi system for that.

I guess you want to use that outside. A mobile player at home would not make sense anyway. Therefore I suggest you look into In-Ears. I bought my Westone UM2 about five years ago and they still are in the best condition possible - I might use them for the rest of my life. Look at it this way and the price does not look that high anymore.

You can copy ("rip") your CDs onto your computer by using Exact Audio Copy (EAC). There are tutorials on how to configure it correctly. If you do that, it checks that the copy is a 1:1 copy without any errors. You can use a lossless format such as FLAC, but unless you have very expensive headphones you won't notice a difference to MP3.

I suggest using MP3, lame encoder, with variable bitrate settings, setting V0 (the best MP3 quality). This does not say much, but if you read a tutorial on how to configure EAC, you will figure it out.


1) Make sure your audio CD has a good quality in the first place.

2) Copy this CD onto your computer by using EAC. Save it as MP3 V0 (lame encoder), EAC does this for you (follow a tutorial).

3) Copy this on a mp3-player. Any iPod will do fine, but you can use another player as well, there is not too much difference.

4) Use medium-to-high-quality headphones (300 dollars upwards). If you want to listen to it outside I recommend In-Ears.

If you need any help or recommendations just ask.

May 8, 2012 at 11:52 AM · No, it would not. Ripping this exact CD with MP3 V0 using the lame-encoder it will sound exactly the same. There is a slight difference on piano pieces when using my UE reference monitors - but they are worth about 1400 dollars and the difference is only barely noticable.

However: If you do not follow my recommendations and just rip it to some format with an old encoder and a bad ripping program you really might end up with bad quality. That is why I wrote exactly what programs and settings to use.

I just read your answers here and you certainly do not understand MP3. MP3 is not MP3, there are different algorithms to create a MP3 and simply saying that reduced size makes quality worse is wrong. It is also wrong to say that the cutoff cuts out music. As you can see in the following link, it only cuts off everything above 19kHz at V0: http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index.php?title=LAME#Technical_information

Open this link to check how high this is: http://www.noiseaddicts.com/2009/03/can-you-hear-this-hearing-test/

Can you hear anything above 19kHz? Can you even hear 19kHz?

May 8, 2012 at 01:39 PM · simply saying that reduced size makes quality worse is wrong

I didn't see anybody say that. What I said was that using a lossy filter introduces artifacts, which is an actual fact. If you can produce an MP3 with a lossless filter, that would be good.

Please read carefully, before throwing out accusations. You are taking a position for your personal preference, and that's OK. But saying that someone is wrong, when they are not, is bad form. Not to mention rude.

You are correct that current iPods are among the best MP3 players. That's why I have one.

My point was NOT that mp3 is bad, but that it's important to know the format's limitations and minimize artifacts. Any good tool, carelessly used, can degrade quality (put a Strad in the hands of a beginner and see how things turn out). :-)

So I was actually making the case for using MP3s on an iPod, not challenging anyone's strongly-held belief system. If you go back and carefully read, you will find I was making your case for you.

May 8, 2012 at 02:19 PM · the original question is really one of relativity. cds are straight pulse code modulation at a 44khz sampling rate, using 16 bits, which divdes the signal amplitude into 64 k steps if you will. mp3s are a fraction of the amount of data, but there are algorithms that decide what should be sampled/digitized and what shouldn't, based on what the human ear/brain hear. For portable use, audio quality is quite good. i use my ipod in my car, all my cds are ripped at 192 kbps, variable bit rate, and the audiio quality is better than fm radio in the car, but worse than cds, even in the car. again for portable audio, its a wonderful system. what disturbs me is that mp3s are more popular than cds. convenience is more important to many people than audio quality. i dread the date when music is released only on mp3.

May 8, 2012 at 03:09 PM · Thanks Kristian...good post...

May 8, 2012 at 05:51 PM · Hate to interrupt, but...

Getting back to the original poster's question:

In its range, an iPod is probably close to the best buy you can find. Just be careful with mucking too much with MP3 edits and/or low sample rates, and you will probably find it a good buy.

May 8, 2012 at 06:09 PM · "What does classical music sound like on an iPod or any other MP3 player?"

Not as good as on CD, but infinitely better than on the radio. Leave all the Hz and bits to the techies. Import your CD's at high quality and you will be wondering where this ipod has been all your life.

BTW: All this talk about mp3's-that's just a figure of speach right? We're using that the way we Xerox something on a Cannon copier? I've been using AAC for years. My understanding was that it was supposed to give better quality at the same bitrate.

May 8, 2012 at 06:21 PM · The individual's hearing reponse must be a relevant factor when choosing audio equipment, and is often age-related. For example, I'm sure I cannot hear frequencies above 10KHz - and that's being optimistic - and there must be many people here who do have some age-related frequency loss.

May 8, 2012 at 09:02 PM · John Pierce, I wasn't responding to you specifically.

What bothers me is that a lot of people here simply state that MP3 does not sound as great as a CD does. There is no explaination at all. There have been (and there still are) tests to check whether anybody really hears a difference - done with very expensive equipment. Maybe somebody really hears a minimal difference, even though I do not believe it - even then, the difference is very, very minimal. To state that mp3 sounds worse than CD quality is plainly wrong.

Here is an example of what really happens:

>all my cds are ripped at 192 kbps, variable bit rate, and the audiio quality is better than fm radio in the car, but worse than cds, even in the car.

You state that the quality is worse than with CDs in the car, and you state that you use mp3 (once again, encoder-settings are relevant). This does not automatically mean that mp3 is the cause of the bad quality. You are probably using the headphones output of your iPod - try the line-output with the dock-connector (FiiO L3 adapter for example) which is better suited.

You can't just compare your cd-player to your iPod. When you compare different audio sources it is necessary to have them on the same volume levels. That needs to be adjusted beforehand.

See what I mean? In this case Arnie comes to the conclusion that mp3 sounds worse than CD quality even though this is probably not related to mp3 at all.

May 9, 2012 at 01:05 AM · Kristian, et al...

Basically I was pointing out that every recording method has many trade-offs. What is not good enough for one person, is just fine for another. And cost is a big part of that. Convenience is another.

Even though I went into EE to become a recording engineer, I'm just not interested in the big-buck stuff any more. I'd rather spend that money (if I had it) on a new instrument or some such.

Most people in this forum aren't techies. Come to think of it, I value their knowledge on violin, so people's stance on audio equipment don't even figure into it for me. If somebody chooses something that I would not pick, it works for them, and we're all good here.

But hey -- if someone has an opinion, just say that's what it is, rather than saying something like "you have to have the WhizMaster 2000 or you're no good." For crying out loud, it's just a piece of electronics that will be obsolete in 5 years. There are fine people and musicians in this discussion group. I want to publicly acknowledge the high quality of the camaraderie here.

And now, I beg indulgence -- I need to practice for this weekend's concert...

May 9, 2012 at 01:11 AM · I don't have an iPod or iPhone, but I do have an iPad, and I must say I am very impressed with the quality of the sound on decent headphones (or in-the-ear phones). It's well ahead of any other mp3 player I've ever used. Several of my CDs are now backed-up on the iPad as 320kbps mp3 files. I used iTunes to do the conversion. The iPad is also ideal for storing and viewing PDFs of music scores (downloaded from a well-known source).

May 9, 2012 at 01:32 AM · "a piece of electronics that will be obsolete in 5 years"

I can relate vividly to that. Yesterday, I inserted 3 new AA batteries into a 20-year portable FM radio that has always given quality reliable service. I listened to it for about an hour, and turned it off. A little while later my wife reported hearing an odd noise from that room. A visual inspection revealed nothing so we concluded the noise was from outside. A while later I turned the radio on to hear the news - no sound. It was then I noticed a gooey mess underneath it. The new batteries (a very well-known and reliable make) had burst and flooded the radio with their chemical contents. The goo didn't do the table top any good, either. Needless to say, I binned the radio.

I discussed it with a friend who is a retired electronics engineer. He said a possibility is that the 20-year old circuit board had developed a fault and caused the batteries to short out.

May 9, 2012 at 05:15 AM · I'm with Kristian. In blind tests I doubt any of us could detect the difference between the sound produced by a CD and one produced by a properly made MP3. You're just fooling yourself if you think you'd be the one.

May 9, 2012 at 08:17 AM · John Pierce, I do not question what you wrote - I value the knowledge of the forum members here too.

Lyndon, I have participated in them an in others. A friend of mine is a speaker-manufacturer and until 2010 or so he made a few tests every year. This did only prove what we expected: Besides from MP3/CD, there also isn't any difference between cables, between amplifiers etc.

There are few 'official' tests also, done for example by the magazine c't in the year 2000, link here (german): http://www.heise.de/ct/artikel/Kreuzverhoertest-287592.html

A mp3-player isn't necessarely obsolete after few years. I now have the same player and earphones for a few years and will keep them as long as they work. New devices won't do the task of playing music better, that is already fully developed. It is necessary to change the battery though.

I won't discuss the quality of mp3 anymore, there is no point in that, I have said what I wanted to. The recording itself and the actual speaker (then including the acoustics of the room!) or headphones is where the big difference is at. Unless this is well-chosen discussing about such little differences when it comes to file formats leads nowhere. I wonder why I didn't just write that in the first place.

May 9, 2012 at 04:38 PM · Kristien, and all

I beg to differ, in a previous life i spent signifiicant time and money at a local high end audio store in the chicago area. i would compare loudspeakers, power amplifiers, preamplifiers, and cd players...via an a/b method. I also went to the consumer electronics show, whihc used to be in the chicago area in the summer, where i spent numerous hours comparing speakers and electronic gear. yes, there does exist the loudness phenomenon, where louder is percieved as better. generally this is understood and compensated for when auditioning equipment.Given the appropriate system, almost anyone will hear differences, especially between loudspeakers, and power amplifiers. differences between cd players and preamplifiers exist, but are much more subtle. for what its worth, in the next couple of days, i will compare a cd and mp3 type recording, at 192k, using my system, which consists of thiel 2.4 speakers, bryston 2b power amp, threshold preamp, and a revox cd player, and report what i hear.

May 9, 2012 at 07:21 PM · Even though I have a hearing loss, I can still detect nuanced differences in equipment. The ear can be trained to hear technical issues, as well as musical ones. That said, I have trained my spoiled ears to enjoy the music on affordable gear. In some ways, I think the folks who don't see a difference have a leg up on us ego-ridden audio elitists. For one thing, they can be halfway normal. :-)

I can (still) tell the difference between a CD and an MP3, but I still MP3s on my iPod. Now my cheesy old brand X MP3 player still works, but the iPod sounds SO much better, even with the exact same files.

When you boil it down, it's all about the music.

May 9, 2012 at 07:48 PM · John you are 100% correct, it is all about the music. But something about human nature causes many people to fuss over often small differences in quality, be it an endless pursuit of the perfect violin string, bow, or in the high end audio world there are people that spend thousands of dollars on audio interconnect cables. its almost like we are never really happy.I'm easily as guilty of this as anyone else. So why do we do it........I think its simply because many people find it fun.

May 10, 2012 at 03:38 AM · @Lyndon, actually you're right that I have not conducted these blind tests myself. I'm basing my assertions on what I've read. There would be little point for me to test your audiophile equipment as I am older than 25 years of age (so my frequency response is intrinsically limited) and I have constant ringing in my ears.

@Arnie I remember being in an audiophile shop many years ago when a decent CD player was $300 and those made by Kyocera and ReVox were closer to $3000. I had good ears in those days and there was absolutely no difference in their sound. The salesman tried all of his tricks, playing one of them through better speakers (speakers actually have moving parts and still actually matter) and playing one of them the slightest bit louder, etc. All the while smoking his pipe right in the store next to all that high-end gear. Their best "amplifier" that they had on sale was some kind of thing that looked like a glowing miniature ziggurat that sat on the floor in the middle of the room. During those days there was also a renaissance of tube amplifiers, which people insisted sounded "warmer" (simply because "warm" is what they associated with the orange glow of the vacuum tubes -- the only reason why a vacuum tube amplifier would sound "warmer" is by having a higher level of harmonic distortion).

Funny that the argument over phonograph styli has become an argument over digital sound storage. But everyone has to have a hobby.

May 10, 2012 at 06:24 PM · Paul,

I guess we are deviating from the original post.....

from your description you were certainly in an audiophile store. Appropriate comment on the power amps. The "class A" amps make wonderful space heaters also. they should do alot for 10K.

I don't doubt your opinion and perspective, however when I was in my late 20's, single, and doing quite a bit of audio gear shopping, I always heard differences in CD players, given "decent" equipment (ie B and W/ Thiel/martin logan/magna planer speakers, and appropriate amps)and decent room acoustics. The differences were subtle, and I did have to go back and forth quite a bit to be certain. even 2 years ago (with 50+ year old ears) I could hear a difference between a 600.00 Rotel Cd player, and a 1200.00 arcam CD player. Again, not dramatic. Generally the differences are in some amount of clarity and "imaging"...how the soundstage presents itself to your ears. The more obvious differences (bass, treble) are generally non-existent.

May 10, 2012 at 08:45 PM · One way you can get an idea of the quality loss involved in MP3 encoding is to make a series of mp3 files at increasing bit rates: say from 64 kbps up to 320 kbps, and then play them through good equipment. Doing that, I found 64 kbps pretty ugly, and 320 kbps very enjoyable. For equal bit rates, I found Ogg-Vorbis files better than mp3.

My ears are 57 years old, so don't take my word for it. It's easy to do the test. If you have a helper, you can make it a blind test.

Have fun,


May 10, 2012 at 09:27 PM · Regarding Class A amps: They don't have any advantages, but some disadvantages. Amps usually have two modes, one for lower volumes with a lower distortion factor. At some point they switch to a different mode where the distortion factor is higher. With class A amps this crossover happens later, they stay in this low-distortion-mode longer.

Now the thing is: This distortion factor is so very very low, it does not even matter. Every speaker has a 100-1000 times higher dist.factor (!). In the end those class A amps use more power, get hotter, therefore they stress the components more. So much about those amps. But written on the paper it looks better, that is all.

Arnie, some years ago there were differences between cd-players and other devices, simply because their D/A-converter (it changes the digital signal into analog signals for the speakers) were not equally good. Nowadays all the players (besides the very cheap ones) use converters where there simply isn't any difference. The difference is however found when looking at the build quality and looks of the device.

You could however really have heard differences, but you cannot be certain. It might have been real, but it could have been an illusion too. It does not matter anyway, because you know that the difference you heard is never worth the money. Instead of buying a more expensive cd-player, simply put the money to new speakers and there will be an undeniable difference.

Please do not take my posts here as if I am a know-it-all (is that how you say that in english?). I simply want to clarify what this fuss is all about when it comes to hifi equipment and related stuff. I see a lot of people wasting money on hifi, buying unnecessary equipment and believing stuff they get told in stores or even online. There is a lot of misinformation (on purpose) out there.

May 11, 2012 at 04:32 AM · Well, all that information has been extremely helpful and I will go ahead and buy some type of iPod/MP3 player.

Which software do people recommend for ripping CDs and then converting to MP3 or WAV files ? Are any of the free programs worth downloading ?

May 11, 2012 at 07:01 AM · iTunes is great. It's convenient, and the quality of the audio files is excellent.

Of course Apple aka Big Brother want's your money, but you don't need to use the iTunes store.

The program is free and even works with windows.

May 11, 2012 at 07:38 AM · Hello Brian, I was wondering if you are still here. For ripping CDs I recommend EAC, Exact Audio Copy. You can add formats to convert to, so you only need this program. Tell me which formats you want to add and I'll look for a tutorial for you.

It is not so easy to set up but you only need to do this once - the program will be configured to make a copy that has no errors whatsoever (given that the disc itself is alright and not too badly scratched).

You can use FLAC for CD quality, this ensures that you could burn the files onto a CD and get the same exact quality that was on the original disc (if you happen to loose it).

If you just want to use this on your mobile player, use MP3 only, it is supported with every player. You can combine FLAC and MP3, if you want both.

In case you want an iPod you could use Apple Lossless instead of FLAC. It has the same CD quality (lossless), but iTunes can read this format and even the iPod can.

I would not use iTunes for converting, if you do not own an iPod. But if you do, it would be a valid alternative to EAC (even though EAC still is more convinient because you really know if your CDs were ripped without errors). iTunes is nice to sort your library, I do not have an iPod but I use iTunes because it works really well.

Regarding the choice of the player: Do not forget that for audio quality the headphones are very important. Tell me what player you are looking for, what headphones you are looking for and how much money you want to spend altogether. Based on this I can suggest some good players to you, if you want me to.

Lyndon: I am sorry, but hifi-magazines are really really bad. At least where I live, there is not one single magazine that isn't "bought" by certain manufacturers. Their tests and suggestions are misleading and are one more reason why we can't have nice things. Even though I am tired of answering, I will do it nevertheless here:

>you dont seem to have a clue about the difference between class a and class ab amps(class a have measurably lower distortion)

Ahm, well, that is exactly what I wrote, the thing with the lower distortion. English might not be my first language but I think what I wrote was pretty easy to understand.

>your idea that all the cd players, cheap or expensive, use the same exact components, is not based in reality

No, I never wrote that they use the same components. I wrote that they use D/A-converters that produce the same high quality results and I specifically wrote that the very cheap players are not recommended. If you want to correct what I said, please do so - but at least read what I write first.

May 11, 2012 at 09:40 AM · You have to be kidding me. Amplifiers should amplifiy the signal, that's it. If they do change the output signal, something is wrong.

Switching occurs when going from a positive to a negative signal? What does this even mean? (The ouput is alternating current by the way.) The switching occurs when turning up the volume, as I said before, I was not incorrect. I did however simplify it: To be exact, the switching with normal amps occurs between 1 and (maximum) 3 watts of output power. With Class A amps this switching occurs later (at higher output power). However this point can be set with a control on the PCB of the amp and there are so-called Pure-A-amps which stay in the lower distortion mode at all times.

Nevertheless this is not relevant at all, and I already wrote why, because every speaker has a distortion factor that is 100 to 1000 times higher. Now I end this discussion here, because you clearly just want to "launch counter-attacks" without even reading what I write.

I will help Brian with selecting a good audio equipment and I really like to explain electronic-related stuff to interested people. I am however not interested in tiring conversations.

May 11, 2012 at 08:18 PM · Lyndon, you are exactly correct on amplifier class operation. This was taught junior year while i was earniing a bachelors degree in electrical engineering at Illinois instutute of technology......in 81. In case i lose my engineering job, would you hire me?....:)

May 11, 2012 at 11:35 PM · Bart's post leads me to suggest the experiment of playing each quality of mp3 and recording them individually at CD quality in WAV format, and then looking at a spectrogram of each wave file. I think you should be able to see what frequency bands are reduced or deleted as you go from 320kbps mp3 to 64kbps.

May 12, 2012 at 09:41 AM · >i suggest you use your computer training to research a bit before you speak, your ideas of 100% perfect copies of cds being made in other formats is ludicrous as well, even a cd copy of a cd is never 100%, maybe 99.9% but not 100%, any of these formats youre talking about loose 75-90% of the signal from a cd, completely gone, no way to recover it.

And I suggest you read more carefully. You seem to be desperately trying to prove that I am wrong, but I developed amps myself and I know what I am talking about. Once again you prove that you do not know what you are writing about. Do you know that a CD is a digital medium? It stores information as ones and zeros. You can read this information error-free. It does not matter if it is your hard disk drive in your computer, your USB-stick, your favorite movie on DVD, and so on. If this was unreliable as you claim, we would not be able to use computers at all. This is one big advantage of digital systems compared to analogue systems, there is no corruption occuring (and endless algorithms to guarantee that!).

Questioning this fact shows your ignorance outstandingly.

>jumping to inane conclusions about amplifiers, im not even an engineer and even i understand the basics of how amplifiers work, they use a push pull setup, in class b one side handles the positive signals one the negative, google it or something

You are mixing things up - not all amps use a push-pull-setup. We were talking about Class A vs. Class AB, not about Class B. Class B uses this push-pull-method all the time, but Class A and Class AB do not. Class B is rarely used, but for example the McIntosh Unity tube-amps use that.

I'll explain the three classes, maybe you will understand now:

Switching in this push-pull-mode as you call it is only necessary above standby current (this is important!). Class B has no standby current and therefore uses this mode all the time.

Class A uses a high standby current (that is why it gets hot), this means that it does not need to use this push-pull-mode for a long time (but as I wrote: at some point the output power gets high enough to force the amp to switch to this push-pull-mode) but the components are always stressed because of this high standby current.

Class AB uses a low standby current, which means that it stays in Class A until the output power gets above 1-3 watts and then it switches to the push-pull mode.

May 14, 2012 at 01:00 AM · a couple comments.....

class b operation creates what is commonly called crossover distortiion, which is what lyndon is referring to.This occurs as the opposite driver takes over the amplification of the signal when it changes from positive to negative and vice versa. audiophiles prefer class a as it avoids the additional distortion, which is relatively minor compared to speaker distortion.

push pull operation can be a biased as class a, push pull and class b operation are not necessarily the same thing.

Digital signals do get errors, it isnt perfect, that is why there are various error correction algorithms used. and Kristian, i have not imagined audible differences in cd players. As I stated, they are minor, much less dramatic than sonic differences in loudspeakers, and power amps. However when you reach a certain quality and price point with speakers and amps, a high quality cd player and the audible improvements it brings make alot of sense.

May 14, 2012 at 05:52 PM · So although this is a bit off topic, the discussion did prompt me to compare CD to Ipod (192K VBR encoding). To address Brians original concern, all music sounds quite good on an IPOD, and the convenience it brings is simply phenomonal. In my opinion it is one of the greatest inventions ever.

the comparison isn't exactly fair, beside using a medium that has several times the data of the MP3 equivelent, the D/A converter and electronics on the CD player I used are certainly of better quality that what is on the IPOD. Regardless, I listened to two disks - Regina Carter's "reverse thread", and Harnoncourts Beethoven #7. In both disks what I heard was that the CD had better dynamics. You could hear the attack of the typmanis, and the plucking of the standup bass (reverse thread) quite clearly on the CD, where as on the IPOD it wasn't nearly as dramatic. Also the high frequency response was not as good. The IPOD sounded a bit "muffled" in comparison. Also the "soundstage" was not as formed. on the CDs you can localize the location of the instruments, both across the width of the soundstage but also the depth (ie some instruments sound closer or farther). The soundstage on the IPOD wasn't nearly as defined. In the "audiophile" world this is called "imaging". In many respects this is an apples to oranges comparison. The fact that I can put 700 cds on a device, carry it in my pocket, listen to it in the gym, airplane, etc, and it sounds quite good is amazing. I can't do that with my cd player, preamp, power amp, speakers, and 700 CDs.

May 14, 2012 at 08:05 PM · Just to make clear - the iPod is no invention at all. It's just another slick MP3-Player with a great marketing power behind. The merit of Apple is to make a lot of money with an existing product in a way nobody could do before.

In fact the iPod is worse than all others in an important detail: try to copy a file via usb to the iPod and play it - nope. You have to use iTunes. ANY cheap mp3-player can do it, but not the Apple iPod. Discovering that was the moment I changed from a longtime Apple fan to a critic.

May 14, 2012 at 09:33 PM · Tobias, correct. I used a brand name to describe a product (ie coke, kleenex).

May 15, 2012 at 07:38 AM · Arnie, did you compare the CD-Player and the iPod with the same headphones? Or rephrased: How did you compare them?

May 15, 2012 at 12:35 PM · Kristian,

the common equipment was a threshold fet 9 preamp, bryston 2b power amp, thiel 2.4 floor standing speakers. The output volume on the revox signature cd player was higher, so i had to change the volume everytime i switched. I didn't try just using headphones. I suspect the impedance/load the headphones bring would have put more stress on the output amp section of the ipod and cd player, which must be beefier on the cd player.

May 15, 2012 at 03:46 PM · Most of the audiophiles I know read the magazines religiously hoping to learn tidbits that they can use to convince themselves (and more importantly, their friends) that they haven't just thrown away thousands upon thousands of dollars on overpriced hardware. Such a person can be counted on always to describe his equipment with all the brand names and model numbers.

Oh, and it's not a real sound test unless your connectors are all solid gold and your speaker wires are made from 60-ampere industrial cable. Because everyone knows that "sounds better."

May 15, 2012 at 05:17 PM · If the volume between two sound sources isn't +exactly+ the same (you need to adjust it using a proper level meter and a constant 0dB sound file) the test is meaningless.

May 15, 2012 at 05:17 PM · Brian,

For the sake of simplicity and reliability, I use iTunes to manage my iPod. It is free, it works, and has a very well designed user interface. Reading all of the replies... well not all truthfully because it's getting ridiculous I'm amazed at the assertions that you MUST use FLAC or EAC or WAV or whatever. This is (for 99% of the public) nonsense.

You'd get similar results if you went to a cyclists forum and asked, "Would a Schwinn be a good bike ride around my neighborhood?" The floodgates would open with recommendations for $500-$1500 bicycles.

That's it for me. I've said my piece and I'll leave it to the "experts" to argue with each other about who is correct.

May 15, 2012 at 06:38 PM · Not sure what all of the negative responses about. My classical music sounds a lot better on my iPod then it does from a cd.

May 15, 2012 at 06:54 PM · Tim, Brian, I couldn't agree more. The IPOD/Itunes combination is quite good. You will probably find that you want to get aftermarket headphones/earbuds though. A good set of earbuds can make a world of difference. Poke around online, there are alot of reviews on earbuds.

I use my ipod all the time for all kinds of music (I'm sorry to say I use it much more than the home stereo), and it is simply wonderful. For portable audio, you can't go wrong with it.

Tobias, My listening test was fine for its intent. I simply subjectively assessed two different sources, and formed my own opinion. The differences I heard are not bound by the need that the average amplitude of the two different sources be within 0.2db of each other.

Feel free to do your own subjective comparison.

In many respects this is similar to the people on this forum that compare violins, bows, strings for audible differences. Yes, some are louder than others, however we do the best we can to compensate for the differences such that an opinion can be formed on other aspects of the sound.

May 16, 2012 at 06:11 AM · Arnie, if you do not bother using a multimeter (AC selected) and a sound generator you do not even need to do this test, nothing useful comes out of this.

>Tobias, My listening test was fine for its intent

You intended to find out if there is any noticeable difference - without measuring you cannot do this test. There is no need to do the test properly for you, am I right? Because your way of doing it got the results you wanted to hear...

> I'm amazed at the assertions that you MUST use FLAC or EAC or WAV or whatever

It is not necessary to use EAC with FLAC as I suggested. It is simply a convenient way to make sure you get the exact same quality that's on the audio disc. Nobody implied that one must use a specific format or program.

>In many respects this is similar to the people on this forum that compare violins, bows, strings for audible differences

No. There are violins that sound "squeaking", there are cheaper ones which will be hard to use for advanced techniques (flageolet etc) and so on. Those are definately differences which cannot be denied. You are mixing up hearing the "character" of the sound with hearing very small details on a recording, that is a whole different story.

May 16, 2012 at 01:50 PM · Kristien,

the goal of the test is not to measure gain, distortion, linearity , or frequency response. I used my hearing and judgement and perspective which I have formed over years of listening to high quality cds on high quality sound reproduction systems. My results are subjective, and based on my personal perspective. There is nothing incorrect about any ones opinion and perspective. If you don't agree with what i did then perform your own listening tests. additionally there are few objective measurements that do correlate to all apsects of audio quality. if you walk into any reputable high end audio shop, and ask for technial data, you will be provided with it, but you will also be advised to listen and compare, and not make decisions on numbers.

May 16, 2012 at 02:51 PM · Paul,

i agree partially with your conclusion on audiophiles. They are are group of people that spend alot of money in the pusuit of what they beleive to be perfection. and often money is spent completely unneceesarily. However, given you have high quality components and good acoustics, there are subtle differences in just about every component. is it worth the money? that depends on how much money you have to spend. the same analogy can be applied comparing a 4 to5k bow to a 20k bow. or comparing strings, bridges, rosins. Do any of these provide an audible difference? and is it worth the money? probably depends on other factors in the equation( violin, room acoustics, bow speed, etc), how notceable the differences are to a particular person, talent/ability/technique of the performer, and how much money you want to spend.

May 16, 2012 at 09:29 PM · an MP3 file is typically 16 bit format just like a CD, as a result the dynamic range (theoretically 96DB) should be the same. MP3 as a standard really refers to the algorithms used to decide what information to store and what to throw away. As a result, the frequency response, dynamic range between an MP3 and CD should be comparable. The loss of information will then show up as unwanted audio artifacts, or some loss of other audio information that may only be detected under certain listening conditions. There are a host of audio tests that could be done utlizing audio analyzers (impluse response, various forms of distortion, etc), that may or may not be audible. Simply using a tone generator and voltmeter won't say much. The voltmeter doesn't know the difference between a square wave and a sine wave.

May 17, 2012 at 01:41 AM · thanks Lyndon, that section takes a bit more reading, however the following statement:

Time resolution can be too low for highly transient signals and may cause smearing of percussive sounds

may explain why I noticed the pluck of a standup bass string and whack of the typmani drum wasn't as dramatic on the ipod, as that of the CD.

still trying to figure out this "joint stereo" comment though...

May 19, 2012 at 03:17 AM · Arnie, seems to me there is a big difference between judging different stereo components and judging different violins. A hand made violin is supposed to produce a unique, rich, complex sound. It does NOT just increase the magnitude of the intrinsic vibrations of the strings. A hi-fi amplifier is supposed to take a signal from a source (such as a phonograph needle) and make it bigger WITHOUT changing it in any way. If you notice different sound from two different amplifiers, then one or both of them must be flawed in some way (distortion or frequency response). If one is flawed, and you like that one, then you're flawed too. It sounds cold but it's really that simple. If it's frequency response that's offending, in principle that can be solved by equalization. Thus the goal of hi-FI (high FIDELITY) equipment is to report the recorded vibrations to the listener with as little intrusion into or alteration of the vibrations (that is, as FAITHFULLY) as possible -- except for their overall amplitude. These days it's not rocket science to build an amplifier with flat frequency response and low distortion, whereas it's still damned hard to make a violin that sounds good.

I'll just never forget the pipe-smoking guy in the store. I asked him how Macintosh (I think that was the brand) justified the prices on its astronomically expensive vacuum-tube power amplifiers and he took a long puff on his pipe and said, "Quality."

May 19, 2012 at 12:39 PM · Lyndon,

Yes, of course, once you think of it. Violins and such are more like impedance transformers. This applies to really loud brass instruments as well. The electric guitar would be an exception.


May 20, 2012 at 01:03 AM · Bart, doesn't your violin go up to 11? LOL

January 7, 2015 at 06:25 PM · I invested in some Beats headphones and frankly, WOW. Classical music sounds amazing on an iPod, like I'm right in the orchestra. And I know how that sounds!

January 8, 2015 at 12:24 AM · I can't say that I like the sound of Beats -- kind of boomy in the bass, and not really the right sound for classical -- but to each their own.

I use a pair of Audak Phoneo PFE-232s. They're IEMs with very clean sound reproduction, excellent clarity, and superb soundstage. If you're going to listen to classical or jazz, they're a great choice.

There's a definite difference between SACD sound and the sound of a CD. Just try Hilary Hahn's recordings for a clear example -- you'll hear how much richness the violin loses with the CD. The MP3s are even worse. I find non-SACD digital recordings these days often make the violin too thin and shrill.

However, if you expect to store a library of any real size on a portable device, you have no choice but to compress your music. I have a Spotify subscription, and the convenience of a huge library available to stream has ended up outweighing audiophile quality for me.

January 8, 2015 at 08:52 AM · "What does classical music sound like on an iPod ?"

Like classical music?

January 8, 2015 at 02:22 PM · Yes, I remember this contentuous thread well. I remember providing a subjective opinion, and being clear about it, and being told my subjectiveness/perception didn't count for squat.

Someone didn't realize that our perceptions by default are always true.....they key is to state how you arrive at the perception, to enable a reasonably intelligent conversation.

Anyways, Lydia, your comments are interesting....

you spend 500 on headphones, and I assume you spend 30 to maybe 60 US dollars or equivelent on SACDs......and your comments clearly state you care and have an ear for audio quality. Yet then you also say you prioritize quantity/convenience over audio quality.....

I have a very high quality audio system (i dont have an sacd player...would like one, but I don't see the the business case for music publishers to create a large library of sacds), and i have an ipod that I use in the car, which probably gets 20x more listening time then the home system. I appreciate the attributes of convenience as well as the high quality aspect. Unfortunately the general public likes the convenience aspect much more, so that will continue to be the future of source material..........unfortunately.

January 8, 2015 at 04:08 PM · I am definitely an audiophile, although my depth of indulgence is limited by my income. :-)

I own two sets of speakers in my home -- Sonus-Faber GPs and Linn Majiks, which I would consider to be audiophile-quality equipment although they're the entry-level of high-end lines. I also own a Linn digital audio player, which is designed to store lossless-format music and to play it back at very high fidelity.

The Sonus-Fabers in particular reproduce string tone marvelously. They're always a joy to listen to. But using them requires being in a particular room, putting in CDs, etc. I've been meaning to have my entire collection of CDs (several thousand discs) ripped to lossless format, but have ended up procrastinating on doing so.

Practically speaking, though, I tend to use my laptop's built-in speakers when I stream music from Spotify throughout the day; I work from home and tend to wander around the house, taking my laptop with me, and so when I get a few minutes to turn on music (I'm often on the phone with clients so have silence then) it's usually via the laptop. Ditto when I'm reading in bed or the like. That's background music more than music I am really listening to.

When I'm away from home (I travel a lot for business), I have an iPhone loaded up with Spotify in offline mode. I keep my tracks at the highest audio quality they offer but it has to be compressed in order to give me the quantity of music that I want. I end up listening to music on planes via the IEMs (which have the added bonus of drowning out screaming babies and talkative passengers). Usually on planes I'm really listening to the music as one of the primary things occupying my attention, and if I'm studying a work, I will often be listening with the score. The detail provided by the IEMs is really helpful there; I care about the quality in that case. But 320 kbps MP3 is good enough to hear detail. What you lose is some of the bloom on the sound.

I have found that high-end sound reproduction makes more of a difference than lossless encoding. In other words, until your speakers or headphones are good enough to really reproduce what's there well, the difference between 320 kbps MP3 and a lossless codec is going to be fairly minimal. Once you're in audiophile-land for speakers or headphones, the difference between MP3, a lossless codec at CD quality, and SACD quality is going to be apparent. Off my laptop speakers for background music, the reproduction quality is mediocre and lossy compression is therefore not a big deal, so convenience entirely wins there.

January 8, 2015 at 04:49 PM · Everybody has his or her own balance point on the quality-vs-convenience scale, which might depend on what (s)he is doing at the time, whether at home, in the car, exercising, or whatever. I mostly listen to streaming audio from Rhapsody or from jazzradio.com, usually into a cheap stereo or bluetooth speaker while I'm doing other stuff. It's just more important to me to have some music most of the time than it is to have really high quality sound in one room of my house. If I'm going to sit in a chair for two hours and listen to music, I figure that might as well be live music.

I think a lot of the high-end audiophile stuff is kind of hilarious. For $90,000 you can have a really amazing set of speaker wires (yes, just the wires), or one of your kids can have a decent college education.

Full disclosure, though, as I have said before, my preferences are constrained by the fact that my hearing is somewhat compromised (slight loss in sensitivity, constant ringing, etc.). Still ... $90,000 for wires?

I just read a review, on audioreview.com, of the speakers that Lydia mentioned (I might be in the market, and her opinion is one that I've come to respect very much, and I agree with her that speakers come first), and besides the excellent review I notice that they were tested using a $20 set of cables... someone missed the memo about needing to spend way more than that on wires.

January 8, 2015 at 08:42 PM · In the end we should remember that all opinions about Hi-Fi equipment and various things like CD's, LP's, NP3's etc ARE ALL SUBJECTIVE.

I find CD's excellent and do not think they are harsh or make violins sound brittle. (If a good recording is made). I find 24 bit audio files a little better sounding, but there is not much in it. (24 bit is good for recording and editing - it has a low noise floor and you can allow a lot of headroom so there is less chance of accidental distortion - i e going into the red).

NP3's are Ok at 190 + bit rate.

Some Hi-Fi equipemt is over rated in my opinion. I had an expensive CD player that was no better and less reliable than one that cost one tenth of its price. (I no longer buy British equipment as its pretty poor these days, unless you pay a lot over the odds, and even then it's less relaible)

I do use a good pre-amp for recording along with good mics and recorder as you need at source a clean recording.

You could have a set up costing £10,000 alongside another of the same price, and in blind tests some people might say one was excellent and the other poor, and another group might say the opposite.

So it is ALL subjective.

AND someone said about a Strad being better than a modern fiddle, and that some people could not hear that the Strad was far superior. This is rubbish and again entirely subjective - although if they know one was a Strad they might expect that it sounds better.

January 8, 2015 at 10:54 PM · Try this: Get Hilary Hahn's Mendelssohn/Shostakovich or Brahms/Stravinsky pairing, in both its CD and SACD form, played back using a good SACD set-up including decent speakers. It will be particularly obvious on the Mendelssohn -- the violin tone is very different. Something about the recording process and the transfer to CD has stripped the sound of its warmth, in a way that is not true of the SACD. Unless your ears are fairly compromised, you will be able to hear the difference. (You can hear the unfortunate quality of the CD sound on a cheap car CD player, or in a radio broadcast of the CD, too.)

Note that her earlier recordings, made for Sony rather than DG, do *not* have issues with the violin tone -- she sounds perfectly lovely in the Barber concerto, for instance. So this is definitely an artifact of the recording and transfer process.

Amps make much more of a difference than the media players, although there are subtle differences in players, too. I have an all-Denon set-up with my Sonus-Fabers that's very satisfactory at a reasonable price.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning
Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases



Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins


Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine