Downloading and storing audio files can be quite complex to the average user when it comes to technicalities and how it functions.
Audio filing has grown exponentially, becoming one of the most prominent and viable ways to indulge in multimedia entertainment.
Within the digital audio industry, bitrate is a term that is used to acknowledge the amount of data being processed into an audio file.
Understanding the bitrate concept is essential when it comes to recording, producing, and distributing sound.
Sound within itself is made up of waves represented through audio files, which measure a sound’s particular distance from complete silence.
Also, the sound in an audio file is generally calculated by the number of kilobits of data per second.
The more kilobytes within a file, the higher the quality of the audio. Similar to how digital images differ in size and quality, audio can also vary in how much information is stored, how large the file is, and its unique purpose.
As for the average listener, the quality of audio depends on the depth and strength within the lower frequencies of the file in combination with the clarity and crispness of higher frequencies.
When it comes to choosing the right bitrate encoder, it all depends on what is needed and the specific mode of distribution. It also comes down to the quality of listening hardware being used to immerse within the sound.
When curating an audio project it’s recommended to record in the best quality possible which allows for a smoother conforming to modern listening technologies.
It’s important to note that there is no “best” bitrate, only the right bitrate technique to produce a particular project.
What is an MP3 V0 file?
An MP3 (MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3) is one of the most familiar audio files used today stemming from the VBR family. VBR, meaning Variable Bit Rate, allows the bit rate to be adjusted based on the audio per time during an export process.
There are different versions of VBR, all ranging from V0 to V9. The different versions of these files are to show which particular version has the highest playback quality.
V0 is the highest quality while V9 is the lowest. The MP3’s primary purpose is to reduce file sizes by using a compression algorithm.
This compressing technique allows for many types of files such as CD audio, images, or even video to decrease the amount of storage that they initially took.
The MP3 file is also commonly known as a “lossy” file since the compression technique remains irreversible and some data from the original file can be lost.
The listening quality of the file may decrease, however, it can remain mainly unnoticeable by the average listener.
This is because the compression technique strategically removes the highest and lowest sounds within the file, which are harder to detect with the human ear.
The loss of quality is due to the file’s bit rate, which again is described as the amount of audio that gets produced per second.
A bit rate is measured in kps (kilobits per second). If a file has a higher bit rate, then there will be a higher quality of sound. The Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) released the MPEG-1 for audio and video compression in 1993.
This product included three layers of audio encoding, and the third (which is the MP3) grew in popularity and commonality within a variety of computer programming.
By the early twenty-first century, the MP3 file was able to be stored and played directly from a personal computer or a digital music player.
What is a 320 kbps CBR?
CBR (Constant Bitrate) is considered a particular type of MP3 compression or encoding method that keeps the bitrate consistent throughout processing. This technique is set at a fixed value, which can range from 16 to 320 kbps.
When a person uses CBR, they are specifying the bitrate needed for a stream and the codec (a device or computer program that encodes/decodes data) will use whichever amount is needed to achieve the right compression.
Similar to the original MP3, the higher the bitrate the higher the audio quality will be.
CBR is best when it comes to encoding multimedia files, even though it is quite inflexible due to it being at a fixed rate. It is also not best when it comes to storage, as it doesn’t have enough data for more complex downloads.
Furthermore, even though CBR is set at a fixed value, the quality will not be consistent due to some content being more complex to compress.
However, an advantage to using the CBR is that audio files tend to process faster than other techniques would.
When using CBR, it’s best to set the bitrate level as high as it will allow for preserving the most quality possible.
For producers, when it comes to exporting a song in MP3 320 kbps there may not be a big difference in file size in comparison to a V0 export, especially with audios shorter than five minutes.
320kbps is usually recommended for high-quality files that are processed from CD albums due to it resulting in larger file sizes.
When it comes to longer audio such as podcasts or videos, the difference may become more noticeable. As for quality, 320 kbps is the highest that can be achieved while 16 kbps is the lowest.
MP3 V0 has a maximum quality that is equivalent to 320 kbps, which is why there is little difference noticed between both output formats.
There are many free and paid tools online that can help encode audio files into the 320 kbps format, the most popular being the MP3 Quality Modifier.
This allows an adjustment of the bitrate and increased quality of the MP3 file, making it easier to curate high-quality MP3s at 320kbps.
Similarities and Differences between MP3 V0 and 320 kbps CBR
To further break the two formats down simply, we will go into the specific similarities and differences.
Both audio formats are within the MP3 realm overall, which will allow both to be played without concern on compatible devices.
They are also both considered to be high-quality MP3 audio, while V0 is the highest for VBR and 320kbps is the highest for CBR.
Lastly, both audio formats are known as lossy formats which means they are irreversible when it comes to retrieving lost data despite their high quality.
They both will lose some data during the compression process. As for their differences, an MP3 V0 will contain a smaller file size especially when it comes to longer audio.
The MP3 V0 is more efficient in maintaining space in your storage in comparison to the 320 CBR.
Furthermore, the MP3 V0 is the preferred method for emailing and uploading files due to its ability to be stored and shared at a smaller size. Since 320 kbps is set at a fixed rate, it’s limited to that file size at its particular level of quality.
In all, MP3 V0 and 320 kbps are both equal when it comes to maintaining quality audio, and choosing between the two will come down to a producer’s or listener’s personal audio needs.
If you don’t mind a large file, it’s recommended to use the 320 kbps format to maintain quality, but if maintaining more storage is important then MP3 V0 works best.
Pros & Cons of MP3 V0
|Efficient storage space especially for longer audios||Since it’s a lossy format, this sound would not be as crisp as a lossless file|
|Higher quality with the MP3 realm without significant loss of audio fidelity|
|Very compatible with most digital players and devices|
Pros & Cons of 320 kbps CBR
|Has an amazing sound quality||The files downloaded can be quite large, which will take a lot of space within the chosen device|
|Easier to use and highly portable||Not all devices support MP3 320 kbps files, even with more modern and advanced technologies|
|This format can be burned into a CD or processed into a portable device|
Some people particularly prefer using what is called a lossless file, which is used to replicate exactly what is on the original download or CD without any loss of data.
This compression technique is used when avoiding unfavorable sound and maintaining the original is of utmost importance.
It specifically provides higher resolution to its users. After the encoding process from the original, the lossless file will convert into the same digital stream.
Commonly known lossless files are FLAC, ALAC, and WAV. The first two, FLAC and ALAC, retain data and offer compression which allows smaller file sizes to be produced.
FLAC, which stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec, can reach resolutions up to 32-bit and 96 kHz, which is higher than CD quality. This is one of the more commonly used lossless formats and was popularized around 2001.
Even though FLAC is limited within its bit-depth, it makes up for it as it’s an open-source format (not compatible with Apple products) and has smaller file sizes. ALAC, which stands for Apple Lossless Audio Codec, is typically the main choice for Apple programs such as iTunes and iOs.
However, this type of compression technique is not compatible with other formats other than Apple.
WAV, which stands for Waveform Audio File Format, however, remains entirely uncompressed which makes it take up a lot of space within the storage.
It’s commonly considered a first-generation format as it was curated by Microsoft and IBM to store audio on PCs (personal computers). This particular format is popularly used to produce and preserve professional-grade audio.
Some may question if a lossy file should be converted into a lossless file. This process will only curate a larger audio file with all of its data, and ultimately be just as good as the lossy file.
It’s also not recommended to convert lossy files into other lossy files, as more data can potentially be lost which will impact the playback.
Converting lossless to lossy files would work best to maintain more storage space without sacrificing much of the listening quality.
So, the main concern is, does bitrate matter? As mentioned previously, bitrate is not a one-size-fits-all, and quality playback fully depends on the computer program or device being used.
Due to technological advancements when it comes to digital storage, high-quality bitrate has become quite the norm.
However, most people will most likely pick up on acute differences in higher-quality speakers or headphones versus using a cheaper mode of immersion.
Earbuds are most compared to a shrunken image: imperfections are harder to notice because of the lack of range within the sound output.
Another common concern with this topic is whether to use a lossy or lossless file to produce a higher quality sound.
In truth, it’s very difficult to pick up on the subtle difference between the two with the average naked ear.
It is possible to run a test through operating high-end gear or with an extremely musically trained ear, however, most listeners suffice with 320kbps or MP3 compression.
Lossy formats are a viable producing and listening source, especially when it comes to streaming services like Spotify which continue to use 320 kbps for ample storing abilities.
In reality, due to the limitations of smartphones and tablets, the listening quality will not be as high as it would be on a luxurious Hi-Fi system.
Lossless files will ultimately sound better, but it highly depends on the equipment used in combination with a listener’s ears.
Streaming with MP3-based formatting is best for downloading on personal computers, phones, and tablets when size and compatibility are the main concerns.
Overall, it’s clear that each bitrate technique performs best in specific areas, which makes it difficult to choose one or decide which format is superior.
As said before, it’s best to pick a certain technique depending on the desired outcome of curating your project or personal listening pleasures.
This article is to break down some complex concepts and help encourage average listeners, musicians, and producers alike to continue exploring the vast world of the audio industry.
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