Sound bytes

September 2, 2009

I spent a good few hours tweaking my car sound system the other day, and no matter how I tweaked it I found that something seemed to be not quite right. Originally I upped the gain on my amp and I got more separation (I define this as being able to hear individual instruments) out of my music but as a result, the tweeters were way too bright and absolutely dominated everything else. So I turned the gain down on the tweeters until everything was at the same level but then I noticed that no matter how high I turned up the volume, the sound seemed to lack clarity (clarity I define as being able to hear an instrument clearly, ie be able to distinguish similar sounds).  All my mp3s seemed to play with a more noticeable constant background interference after I tweaked my system. I didn’t really know why until I switched over to a CD. My CD seemed to play much better, with greater clarity and separation than the mp3 counterpart. It wasn’t until I read on the internet that I knew why I heard what I heard.

Basically, mp3s are lossy compressions of the original CD track. Take 1 song from a CD, remove the detail that the encoder thinks people can’t hear and thats how you get an mp3. To play back, take an mp3, insert some detail that may or may not have been removed in encoding and that is how an mp3 sounds. Basically, you are getting information removed and added in which deviates greatly from the original CD track. The noise floor is also raised in an mp3 compared to the original CD track. This is from mp3s mostly encoded at 320kbps and I was able to notice it, lets not go to any lower bitrate because I can only imagine the compression artifacts…

In effect what I have done by turning up the gain is amplify the usually inaudible noise from the mp3 to audible levels. It is true that I have also increased the dynamic range but the noise just kills the music. Another thing I have realized is that my car is probably not the best environment to listen to music due to the huge amounts of interference present. For one thing there is road noise, and then there is inadequate wiring insulation, also electrical interference from all the other devices drawing current from the battery.

I will need to go buy some CDs to compare quality between them and mp3s, but there are so many variables I need to account for that this process of converting to an audiophile will take a bloody long time and a freaking lot of money!


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