Midnight Oil

[Powderworks] Re: NMOC: MP3/WMA Technical Quesitons (fwd)

Maurice R. Kelly mkelly at deadheart.org.uk
Tue Mar 16 07:40:38 MST 2004

On Mar 15, Miron Mizrahi wrote:

> >
> > Since my old cd player is dying a slow death I have decided to
> > replace it with an MP3 player.  After doing a little research I
> > have a few questions regarding type/brand (anyone willing to share
> > a story regarding their experiences?) and the difference between
> > MP3 format and WMA format.  I use Roxio and it looks like I can
> > code MP3 up to 320 kbps but WMA only up to 128 kbps.  About all I
> > know is that more is better sound but also more space.  If anyone
> > has any technical advise they woul be willing to share I would
> > appreciate it greatly (off list reply is ok).
> both mp3 and wma are audio compression schemes. they are lossy so
> under no circumstances should they be used in a trade.

Arse to that. I don't mean to troll but I get a little bored of the whole
"MP3 is not good enough for trade" line. If MP3s are a decent enough
quality (me, I'm generally happy with 160kbps or higher) I'm happy to
trade MP3s. Considering I MP3 all CDs I own anyway, trading MP3s saves me
ripping and encoding. I only listen to CDs in the car now so I really
don't care about a single generation loss of quality when I make a CD from
the traded MP3s.

I do draw the line at people trading CDs made from MP3s - successive
generations of CD -> MP3 -> CD -> MP3 is bad.

> mp3 is the de facto standard for lossy compression. microsoft came
> up with wma (which stands for windows media audio) in its usual bid
> to try and use its size to dominate yet another market someone else
> thought of. mp3 is public domain while wma is a proprietary
> microsoft technology.

Whilst MP3s are essentially public domain, that isn't necessarily always
going to be the case. In fact I read recently that the Fraunhofer
Institute (who seem to be one of the primary contributors to the MP3
standard) had brought out a DRM solution for MP3s which means that MP3s
could soon be as restrictive as WMA files.

I also believe that the Frauhofer Institute have patents on technologies
in MP3 and they may try to enforce those in the future (if they haven't
already done so.)

If you want freedom - look at Ogg Vorbis. http://www.xiph.org/ogg/vorbis/
Of course it's not so good for hardware like DVD players and portable
devices - but that may change. Personally I'm not changing my 5000+ MP3s
in the near future!

> this is enough (for me at least) to opt for
> mp3 over wma. if this is not enough then the prevailing opinion is
> that mp3 is better than wma and results in better sound. the only
> situation I know wma to be superior is when using low bitrates
> (below 64k). this is since wma was originally designed for streaming
> over the internet to which the majority of users still connect using
> a slow dialup. since you intend to use it at home there is no reason
> I can think of to use wma. note that I used the phrase "prevailing
> opinion". at the end of the day it is not about scientific proof but
> about what sounds better to you. in addition if you use mp3 you can
> easily use/share elsewhere since there are many more appliances
> supporting mp3 than wma.

I can't argue with this.

> as far as compression ratio, the higher the better but in case you
> do choose wma, 128k is absolutely fine for a normal studio recorded
> cd.

If you choose MP3 I would go for 160 - I could tell the difference through
both earphones and speakers between 128k and the original CD. As I was
encoding all my CDs for adding to a custom made jukebox as my primary audio
source, I needed a reasonable quality. Your mileage may vary.

> as far as brands it will depend on what you intend to buy. there are
> 3 types of appliances that can play mp3/wma
> 1. dvd - good since you can play a lot of other stuff too and
> connect it to an av receiver and surround speakers (if you have
> them). bad since it is not portable and does not operate on
> batteries

You also need to check that you can comfortably play the MP3s from the DVD
player using the remote control and with the television off - I've seen
some players that have nice interfaces but you can't tell what you're
doing unless you use the display on the TV.

> 2. cd based portable player - this plays regular cds as well as mp3
> cds. you can use that on the go or in the car (using a cassette
> adapter) but not as part of a home sound system (well you can, it
> just won't sound nice).

I use my Sony CD player a lot - fantastic little device. Great battery
life. Plays MP3 CDs, as well as SOny's ATRAC/ATRAC3 formats.

> 3. solid state portable player - this is the small, keyring style
> player with usually 128MB of memory (fits about 1 CD at 128k). they
> are really unobtrusive and more comfortable to use due to small
> size. they do, however, contain only about an hour's worth of music
> and you need a PC to download songs to them. they are perfect for
> things like jogging since they contain no moving parts (thus no
> skips) and you usually don't jog for more than an hour. marathon
> runners, tri athletes and people with more stamina than me excluded.

Solid state players are cool, but you're forgetting another category, and
that's hard-disk based devices. My experience with an iPod has been
amazing. I've got about 28Gigs of music on it at the minute. It's easy to
use, seems reliable enough (aside from this battery malarkey that I've yet
to encounter,) and it switches between a portable device and a component
to your hifi seamlessly. (E.g. last week I came into the flat while
listening to a particularly good track by Underworld. WHilst still
listening through the headphones, I dropped the iPod into the dock which
was plugged into my amplifier. The sound instantly came out of the amp
while still playing in my ears. I could then take the earpohones out
without having missed a beat.)

In case you haven't gathered I'm an iPod fan now. And this is after less
than 2 months of using it.

> note that if you intend to listen to boot cds I have not been able
> to avoid the gap between songs and it it reeeeealy annoying. the gap
> occurs since the switching from one mp3 track to the next involves
> closing and opening files which is a much lengthier operation than
> moving on to the next audio track.

Rip the entire CD as one MP3 file. I know some people like random access
to tracks and so on - I personally like listening to a CD from start to
finish so this method works for me.

Apologies to everyone for the non-Oils content. But it is relevant to
enjoyment of Oils - does that count? ;-)

Maurice R. Kelly
mkelly at deadheart.org.uk