Experimenting with Bit Rates in Ripping CDs

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In this post, I discussed my new Grado headphones. In that post, as well as this one, I mentioned that I am most definitely not an audiophile.

The new Grados were so far superior to the crappy ear buds included with the iPods that I started to question my choice of ripping all of my CDs at 96kbps. It’s a relatively low bit rate, but, it all sounded reasonably good to me, and it saved a ton on disk space (both on the laptop and the iPod). Still, I was hearing things so much more richly with the Grados, that I wondered if the sound would improve dramatically (for me) if I ripped the CDs with a higher bit rate and used the Grados.

So, it was time to experiment. What better album is there to experiment with than Joyful Sign by Girlyman? None! 😉

I already had it ripped at 96kbps, and I (obvious to anyone who’s ever read anything by me) love it. I re-ripped the CD four more times (yes, a little overkill, I know). I encoded it at 192kbps MP3, 320kbps MP3, Apple Lossless (900-1000kbps), and for good measure, WAV as well (1411kbps, which is the native CD format, I think).

I then created three playlists, one of Hold It All At Bay (all five ripped versions), one of Joyful Sign and one of Through To Sunrise (again, all five versions of each song).

I then listened a number of times to each version in a row. Eventually, I narrowed down the richest parts of each song, and just played those snippets over and over between the versions. For example, I played the last one minute of Hold It All At Bay too many times to count.

To begin with, all of the above was done just with my higher-end Grados, the SR80’s. I really wanted to hear a difference, even a dramatic one, though I would have been in a real quandary about the extra disk space. But, the truth is that I can’t say that I really distinguish any difference whatsoever, even between the 96kpbs version and the WAV version (or the Apple Lossless). For a second, I think that perhaps, the lossless versions sound a teeny tiny bit brighter, but, after another note or two, or switching back quickly to the 96kpbs version, the difference is gone.

So, while I am absolutely sure that audiophiles are snickering at me (probably rightfully so), I’m personally satisfied that 96kpbs is definitely the right setting for my tastes, and, more importantly, for my sonic capabilities!

For yucks, I listened to all of the versions (but only for one song) on both the Sony ear buds and the included iPod ear buds. Hahahahaha. While I praised the Sony’s vs the iPod buds in the Grado post, the truth is that they are barely any better (I just remembered them as being better), and the Grados are so far superior to both, that listening to ear buds (at least the ones I currently own) will continue to disappoint, though there are a number of occasions where I know I’ll use them…

To be clear, there was no difference between the 96kbps and lossless versions on the buds either!

That said, once you get past the tinniness of the buds, and start concentrating on the fact that you’re listening to Girlyman, it all sounds amazing again, since the songs just unfold and explode in your head correctly, regardless of the fidelity that you happen to be listening to them in. 😉