What its about:

One of the main things we choose iphones and ipods is for listening music. The ipod brand is synonymous to mp3 players and Apple claimed that iphones are the best ipods they've created so we expect to get the best quality audio experience. But how come some people are not happy with the sound quality? In this article I am going to discuss how you could make your iphone, ipod, or other mp3 players sound better.

I <3 Ralph...

Before we go on, I want you to understand basic terms about audio files:
  • Bit rate - Put simply, this is the number of bytes used per second hence the kbps (KiloByte Per Second) unit. The more kbps we use, the more details of the sound can be stored so the output sound will be better. If the kbps is low, there is not enough room for the sound data to be recorded resulting to inferior sound quality. The higher the bit rate, the bigger the file will be. Usually, bit rates from 96kbps (FM quality) to 320kbps (CD quality) are used by most people. 
  • Sampling Rate/Frequency - This is the number of signal per second (in kHz - kilohertz) taken from a continuous signal. Common sampling rates are 44100 Hz (44.1 kHz) used by audio Cds and 48000 Hz (48 kHz) used by professional digital video equipment (tape recorders, video servers, etc). 44.1 kHz is advisable for it produces a maximum frequency of 20 kHz which is the highest frequency humans can hear. Moreover, as you grow older, the frequencies you can hear gets lower (many older people cannot hear above 14.5kHz) so going over this is not so practical.
  • Lossless/Lossy Compression - Describes whether or not, in the compression of a file, all original data can be recovered when the file is uncompressed. Lossless means every single bit of data that was originally in the file remains after the file is uncompressed so this is the best format you can have for audio quality. Examples of lossless formats are FLAC, Apple lossless, and Lossless WAV. The downside of this is that the file sizes are HUGE and the processing needed to play them takes a lot more. Lossy compression reduces a file by permanently eliminating certain information, especially redundant information. When the file is uncompressed, only a part of the original information is still there (although the user may not notice it). They are more common as they are smaller in size and are compatible with more devices (mp3, aac, wma, ogg, etc). 

Audio quality rank from - Ipods are not at the top :(

First thing we want is a good audio format. Ipods and Iphones are limited to the following choices: 
  • AAC (Advanced Audio Coding)/Protected AAC/HE-AAC (8 to 320 Kbps) - Better than MP3 at low bit rates (typically less than 128 kilobits per second) thus producing same quality sound in smaller file size. The higher the bit rate, the less advantage it has over mp3 and it is not as flexible or as popular. Protected AAC has restrictions such as can only be played in up to 5 PCs simultaneously, cannot be copied to another ipod with tracks coming from 5 different itunes account, etc. HE-AAC (High Efficiency Advanced Audio Coding) is optimized for low-bitrate applications such as streaming audio.
  • WAV - Lossless format, high quality, compatible with most players but big in size. Can be compressed using different codecs but not as popular and as efficient as other lossless formats. Limited to 4GB in size. Cannot carry song details such as artist, cover art, genre, etc.
  • Apple Lossless (ALAC) - Apple claims that audio files compressed with its lossless codec will use up "about half the storage space" that the uncompressed data would require. Limited compatibility with devices other than ipods. 
  • AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format) - An audio file format standard used for storing sound data for personal computers and other electronic audio devices. Being lossless and uncompressed, it uses much more disk space than MP3—about 10MB for one minute of stereo audio.
  • Audible Enhanced Audio Format (aax, aax+) - Another not so popular format used mainly for audio books.
  • MP3 CBR/VBR- Most common audio format for consumer media players. Very flexible (bit rate, sampling rate, tags, etc can be edited) and compatible with almost any player. Can contain tags such as artist, cover, art, album year, etc.  VBR (Variable Bite Rate) MP3s is a type of MP3 where the bit rate is allowed to vary (meaning it automatically adjusts the bit rate for parts of the song that needs more detail/space) for more consistent quality as opposed to CBR (Constant Bit Rate) where the bit rate is the same through out the song even at the parts where it is not needed (like silent parts).


So what format should I choose?
  • I want to save space more more songs - Use AAC format at 96kbps or higher
  • I want the best quality sound in smaller size - Use Apple Lossless
  • I want the best quality that will play anywhere - Use WAV
  • I want the song to be compatible with other devices - Use Mp3 CBR at 128 kbps or higher
  • I want everything! - Use a rope to hang yourself or choose a priority (size, quality, compatibility)
I personally recommend MP3 CBR (Constant bit rate) as it is the most popular format and will play in other devices should you feel the need. If you want to have a consistent listening experience and save space at the same time, I recommend converting your songs before syncing it to your iphone/ipod touch. It will take time but it will give you full control of what goes on with the track. You can do this by using a free converter from Freemake which supports both video and audio. Click here to download

Most users will be satisfied with 128 kbps at 44100 Hz stereo.

Please bear in mind that once you convert a song to a lower bit rate, you CANNOT convert it back to a higher bit rate and expect better sound. Check the properties of the original file to see the bit rate and do not go over that number when you convert (i.e. if the bit rate of the original is 64kbps, don't convert it to 320 kbps) because it will just result in a bigger file without any benefits. If you are ripping songs from a CD, it is advisable to use lossless formats such as WAV or FLAC to get the best quality sound for back-up to your PC and then convert copies of the songs to MP3 or AAC for your iphone/ipod. 

If you are having trouble with the volume (i.e. some songs are too soft and other are too loud) you might want to normalize the volume of the songs using a free app called MP3gain (Click here to download). This will allow you to dictate how many decibels you want for every song and is completely reversible.

Make all your songs have the same volume.

If you are somewhat obsessive compulsive like me, you might get annoyed with the different formatting of titles, artists name, etc and the lack of album art of some songs. To remedy this, you can use a free tag editor called Mp3tag for your songs: Click here to download

I hate it when there's numbering on the track titles... X(

My files are now okay but the sound still sucks! Well, the other thing that affects sound quality aside from bad song files are the earphones/headphones you use with your device. Experts say that it is a must to use earphones other than the one provided with your iphone/ipod because of its inferior sound quality. Here is a list of highly recommended earphones up to 100 GBP (155 USD/6900 PHP)from What Hi-Fi: Click here to see full list

Stay away from the stock earphones. Poor sound quality :(

Always remember that you can always turn the bit rate up if you are not satisfied with 96 kbps (AAC) or 128 kbps (MP3) with the consequence of a bigger file. Different genres of music (rock, acoustic, ballad, etc) can benefit with more space for sound detail. Just make sure that the original files is of high quality and free from errors. With file quality and earphones/headphones checked, you can now enjoy the most from your music player of choice. Happy sound tripping!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

sir i wll also add,
you can download an equalizer app like the equ which obviously equalizes the sound of your mp3s. i am using it and it is far better than the default ipod music app if sound quality is concerned

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