Tuesday, December 12, 2006

AAC is better than MP3, Walkman instead of iPod, and what Think Different means to me

Fun fact I learned today: AAC encoding sounds better than MP3 at the same bitrate. Seen here. Re-ripping my CDs right now.

I also bought myself a new cellphone, a Sony Ericsson W850i, and despite some concerns I had initially, the gadget is just brilliant. It has a very decent digital music player built-in (Sony markets them under its Walkman brand) and comes with a 1GB memory stick (I can plug in a bigger one, up to 4GB, and am actively considering buying one), and I can just throw music files from my iTunes library to it using Mac OS X built-in Bluetooth File Exchange app, and it'll nicely index them and add them to its own library. Plays both MP3 and AAC, and recognizes Apple's proprietary iTunes metadata. Just sweet. Guess I'll defer buying myself an iPod for now. Kriszti and me are going on a longish trip to Graz for New Year, so we'll see how it holds up against prolonged use, battery life and overall experience-wise. The phone's contact list and calendar are also syncable with Mac's Address Book and iCal using iSync (after buying a plugin online for 1.43 GBP), a critical feature for me.

As a matter of fact, I initially bought a Samsung Z560, since it's the only phone on the continent at the moment offering HSDPA (think GPRS, only at 1.5MB/s!), but had to return it to T-Mobile after an hour of use and a short frantic search on discussions.apple.com after I realized that it can't sync with Mac, and is not likely it ever will. (Why? Because apparently Samsung has several divisions producing cellphones, 
and each of them uses a different sync protocol, and all of them are proprietary...)

And this brings me to the point of that I'm slowly learning what the Apple slogan "Think Different" might mean to me. It means "shake off your Windows-user assumption that any periferial device will work with your computer". I bought a laser printer earlier this year that only works with Mac after installing some cross-compiled Linux drivers. I bought a cellphone that doesn't sync with Mac (fortunately could exchange it for another). I've learned the lesson. I'm shopping for a joystick now, but am not even looking at anything that doesn't feature "Mac compatible" on the box. There's simply no such thing as "maybe it'll work". It's either "it is supported and then Just Works(tm)", or it is "don't even try". In very rare circumstances you can find stuff that is not supported, but works with more or less effort, but it is really a question of dumb luck. Like Sony Ericsson W850i (with a 3rd party plugin - although to be perfectly honest, Apple supports all Sony Ericsson phones, W850i is just too new, and next release of iSync will probably support it out of box), or my Xerox laser printer (works if you dare install a cross-compiled inux CUPS driver). Think Different = Don't Assume It'll Work. Get Used To Doing More Research Than When You Used Windows.


Cs said...

About the music compression: you shouldn't make all your assumptions based on this simple blog entry. It is pretty suspicious anyway as (s)he didn't even write down what parameters of the encoders he used. Also, was it a double blind test? Or at least blind? What kind of music did (s)he use? (It is very important.)

I spent hours and hours on testing and reading about (sometimes contradictory) articles about doble blind tests about music compressions. Yes, AAC is better than MP3 with most bitrates. But also, even the most picky listeners can't tell difference between a "lame --preset extreme" encoded MP3 and the original CD. That yields a VBR MP3 of bitrate about 224 kbit/s, depending on music.

BTW, I found WMA to be the best for low bitrates. WMA quality based encoding at 25% is an acceptable quality for my MP3 player (small earphones, relatively noisy enironment) and it yields 60-100 kbit/s.

I hear what you say about the Mac. I am in the same boat with Linux. Except that I can't really expect anything to be actually supported, so I have to do research before the purchase to find out if I can make it work with some tricks. :)

Attila Szegedi said...

Don't worry - I did read on AAC vs. MP3 in few other places as well, it's just that the linked page provided a quite nice summary, together with a chart.

The linked article also says that iTunes MP3 encoder specifically is much worse than AAC, and that LAME MP3 encoding is much better at the same bitrate. My CD collection was originally ripped with the iTunes MP3 encoder, so this is why I decided to reencode it all again.

Also, this time I'm selectively choosing between 160 kbps VBR AAC for most of the music and 192 kbps VBR AAC for those albums that I probably listened too often, so I know them too well not to notice artifcats. There's no point in choosing higher bitrates for me unfortunately -- I have slightly damaged hearing in my left ear since I had a nasty inflammation in it last year, so I can't hear music in its very full fidelity anyway :-( (don't worry, it's still rather good, just not 100%)