Do 320 Kbps MP3 Files Really Sound Better?

Do 320 Kbps MP3 Files Really Sound Better?

From the first moment humans figured out how to record sounds, we’ve wanted to share numerous ideas with others using this format. As modern technology has developed over the past 30 years, it’s become easier than ever to create and share audio files.

When you want to listen to music, you’ll likely listen to an MP3 file for general purposes. How do you know what the quality of the playback will be?

Knowing the audio bitrate level lets you understand how much data gets stored in the sound file you want to hear. A 320 kbps download will have 320 kilobits available for every second of audio.

Do 320 Kbps MP3 Files Really Sound Better?

Size matters when considering the audio bitrate for an MP3 file. Kbps stands for “kilobits per second.” When that number is higher, the playback sounds better on virtually all devices. The highest quality download you can create for this file type is 320 kbps, although they can be encoded as low as 96 kbps.

It’s important to remember that MP3 files are one method of many for saving music and audio files.

Since the size of an MP3 file is often smaller than other formats, it’s a convenient option for portable listening. You can transfer a favorite playlist to your phone, pop in some AirPods (or a competitive product similar to that design), and enjoy listening to those songs.

If you listen to the same song from a CD and an MP3 file through your headphones or earbuds, you’ll hear clarity and depth improvements from the physical media. That’s because Sony and Philips set the bitrate for compact discs in 1980 at 1,411 kbps at 16-bit. It became the adopted standard in 1987.

That means there is about four times the amount of information per audio second in a CD as there is in the highest-quality MP3 file.

If you take the lowest quality levels for an MP3 (96 kbps), a CD contains over 12 times the amount of information per audio second than the file.

Those differences create significant changes to the listening experience, even if you’re using headphones or speakers that upscale the audio.

If you have the space on your HDD, SSD, or portable storage, a WAV file is better to use than an MP3. It stores the same audio bitrate as CDs, although the actual amount for each file involves a formula for multiplying with sampling rate with bit depth and the number of channels used.

The kbps rating for CDs should not be confused with SACDs, which is an entirely separate product.

Why Did MP3 Files Become Popular?

MP3 files became popular during the early days of the Internet because the smaller file size made them easy to transfer. When your connection was only 56 kbps using the V90 or V92 protocols, you could still get access to some music by staying logged in for a few minutes.

That’s assuming someone didn’t call you to interrupt the download. That’s why the early 1990s often saw overnight phone line use spike. It was almost guaranteed that you could download your files while sleeping to enjoy them in the morning.

As Internet connection speeds increased, music aficionados began looking at other file types to distribute. With portable players gaining in popularity in the 2000s, it became practical to look at several different file types for one’s listening pleasure.

Even today, you can keep a lot of space free by using 320 kbps MP3 files instead of other file types. Although you won’t get a hi-fi experience with that quality, it’s still an excellent option for digital music and streaming services.

MP3 files use a compression codec that removes some frequencies while preserving as much of the original recording as possible.

What Are Kbps and kHz Rates Look Similar?

When you download an MP3 file, the best option is typically a 320 kbps 16-bit product. Although this option is considered the market standard, you can also record audio files in a 24-bit format.

To understand the differences between 16-bit and 24-bit files, you’ll need to take a closer look at the bit depth and sampling rate.

The sampling rate comes from the number of samples that get taken during a single second. A compact disc uses a 44.1 kHz sampling rate, laying the groundwork for the Nyquist-Shannon theory.

The theory determines that you can capture an accurate sample if you double the maximum frequency from an audio source.

That’s possible because human hearing for most people taps out at 20 kHz. By doubling that rate, it’s a safe assumption that nothing gets lost when reproducing the original sound – at least nothing that you’d realistically hear.

That principle hasn’t stopped people from recording at higher sampling rates. You can record double the standard CD rate, with some audiophiles going for 24-bit, 192 kHz hi-res audio when listening to music.

There are instances when higher sampling rates help improve the listening experience. If you use an analog to digital converter, the in-built low pass filter processes out the frequencies that fall outside the sampling limit. That means anything below 44.1 kHz for a CD, anything below 50% would get accurately rendered.

Anything above that would introduce fake samples where the filters would process them out. That “cleans” the file because it moves the unwanted feedback in the file outside the range of normal human hearing.

What about Bit Depth and MP3 Files?

Bit depth is a measurement of the available bits that capture sound. For each one beyond the first, the number and accuracy doubles. That makes each one a small slice of the sounds you hear when listening to an MP3 file.

When you have more bits available, it’s easier to render the subtle details in the music that might get lost when using a lower depth.

With a 16-bit audio file, there are over 65,000 possible levels available for capture. If you step up to 24-bit audio, the capacity reaches over 16.7 million levels.

Here’s an easy way to picture the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit audio. Imagine that you’ve decided to go see a movie at the theater. After settling in with your popcorn and a preferred beverage, the curtains pull back to reveal the big screen.

If you’re “watching” the movie in 24-bit, you’re getting to see all the action on the screen. When it is only 16-bit, you will get to see about 1/10th of every image.

That means you could still get an idea of what is happening in the movie, but it wouldn’t be an enjoyable experience. You’d miss out on the finer details that the camera captured.

When you compare that to audio files, your ears end up with the same issue that your eyes would in the theater example. There isn’t as much information conveyed during the playback session.

What Is the Best Bit Rate to Use for Music?

The audio bitrate for music requires a higher number for a better listening experience. Most people find that an MP3 file at 320 kbps is ideal for general listening. CD-quality songs sound better at 1,411 kbps, whereas a hi-res 24-bit, 192 kHz file offers a data rate of 9,216 kbps.

Although it’s clear to see that a 24-bit, 192 kHz file is the best option for pure listening bliss, the size requirements for that file are extensive.

That’s why storage capacity should be a consideration for everything from MP3 files to the biggest 24-bit options out there.

Here’s an overview of what you can expect for file size.

BitrateFile Size Per SecondFile Size Per MinuteFile Size Per Hour
96 kbps12 KB720 KB43.2 MB
112 kbps14 KB840 KB50.4 MB
160 kbps20 KB1.2 MB72 MB
192 kbps24 KB1.44 MB86.4 MB
256 kbps32 KB1.92 MB115.2 MB
320 kbps40 KB2.40 MB144 MB
16-bit, 44.1 kHz88.2 KB5.292 MB317.5 MB
24-bit, 96 kHz576 KB34.56 MB2.07 GB

That means you wouldn’t get to hear your entire playlist if your smartphone only delivers a 16 GB storage solution. Depending on the album, you might not even get to listen to every track.

The storage component is still the reason why MP3 files are popular. Although you’re sacrificing some sound quality, what gets missed isn’t critical to the overall experience for most people.

If you’re listening to music over hi-res, audiophile-quality speakers, it might be better to invest in portable storage options to keep your onboard storage free.

I like to use the SAMSUNG T5 Portable SSD for that purpose. You have options that go up to 2 TB, so that all your favorite songs get saved. If you don’t mind spending a little more, transfer speeds get improved dramatically with the SAMSUNG T7 Touch.

Listening to music should be a fun and relaxing experience. When you have the correct file and hardware setup, it can be every time!


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