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128 kb Multiformat listening test..., ...based on classical music samples ONLY
guruboolez
post Dec 13 2003, 15:04
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Still interested by performance of lossy encoders at mid/small bitrate with my favorite music genre, I've decided to launch a new personnal listening test, based on classical music ONLY. My previous test was flawed due to some mistakes :
- bad (old) nero encoder was used
- faac was used without any knowledge of the encoder, and of the average output bitrate (excessively low last time)
- vorbis GT3b1 was used
This time I tried to be more prudent, and more organised too. I also decided to refocuss the test on hardware playback possibilities. Exit MPC (more than interesting at this bitrate, but probably rarely used at --radio profile) and WMA PRO (more than good with classical at this bitrate : clear champion last time!). Therefore, I decided to test four lossy format: mp3, wma, vorbis and aac/mp4, on a friendly bitrate for flash memory players.


CHOICE OF ENCODERS

The choice of format is easy, but the choice of encoder is really problematic, and the choice of setting is finally subject to big critisicm. I'll try to explain the reason of choice I made for this test.
• MP3: I took lame, because output quality is nice, still in progress, and seems to be the best. I used latest stable version (3.93.1)
• WMA: I took last encoder, WMA9, because I guess that latest is the best
• Vorbis: I had choice between official encoder (1.01) and the Garf tuned encoder, based on 1.00 library and tuned for -b5 [180 kbps on average, less for classical] and above. I prefered the official one: newer, and with no countraindication *possible* for the setting I used. [Nota: GT3b2 wasn't release when I performed the test; but at -q4, 1.01 and GT3b1 should be identical, or very close]
• AAC: Here, I have choice between plenty of encoders. Nero, QuickTime/iTunes, Faac, Compaact, Winamp, PsyTEL, Fraunhofer! This abundance is very exciting, but for testing, it is problematic. All encoders have some of the following qualities: free, open-source, CLI, fast, good reputation, fast evolution... so it's difficult to oust one of them. Here are the choices I made :
- QuickTime AAC: very good at 128 kbps (best AAC encoder on my previous test, and best AAC CBR encoder on Roberto's public test) one. I used iTunes software, sharing the same engine, but with a more handy interface, and a slightly inferior (and theoretical) quality.
- Nero AAC: very complete, with VBR abilities, High Efficiency profile, usable with a very large amount of input format and software, old enough to be considered as mature and still in heavy development.
- Faac AAC: CLI encoder (and therefore easy to use), fast and of course open-source project. Quality isn't good reputated, but progress are fast, and the encoder seem to be mainly tuned for mid-bitrate. Last but not least, I didn't help faac reputation with my previous test, and I had to be forgiven.


CHOICE OF SETTINGS

The following rule : VBR>ABR>CBR is a fair basis for the choice of different settings. Fair, but slightly abusive...

• MP3: VBR encoding for ~128~ kbps encoding is possible, but according to a common opinion, not recommanded AT ALL. At this bitrate, ABR superiority is an accepted fact, especially with -alt-preset tuning. ABR is reliable on size, but with classical, output bitrate is *systematically* 6-7 kbps inferior to the requested value. Therefore, I did myself the small correction, exactly the same I used to make for my portable player, and used --alt-preset 134 setting. It works: for the 15 entire tracks I've selected for this test, average bitrate was slightly superior to 127 kbps.

• WMA9: VBR is possible with WMA v.9, but limited to 6 fixed presets. It wasn't possible to use VBR and being in the same time close to 128 kbps. Therefore, I used ABR 128 (called VBR 2-pass) rather than CBR.

• Vorbis: I was tempted to use the kind of correction than for lame ABR. -b 4.25 instead of -b4.00 was even used for Roberto's test, following a public request of bitrate calculation. But there was some changes with 1.01 Vorbis encoder, and this correction value may not work anymore. I decided to test before beginning the test, and I have encoded all tracks with 4.00 and 4.25 kbps: the first setting was slightly inferior to 128 kbps, whereas the second gave me an excessive average bitrate. Still acceptable, but not really justified. Therefore, I used the most immediate and popular setting for Vorbis 128 output files : -b4.

• iTunes AAC: no problem here. This encoder is CBR only, witout tweaking possible.

• faac AAC: I was discouradged to use VBR. First, because there are no real presets or explicit bitrate scale for faac. Second, because I had to perform some preliminary tests before finding a setting close to ~128 kbps~ for the 15 tracks I've used during this test, and this setting might not work with another samples suit... I didn't used VBR, following some recommandation in THIS DISCUSSION. There's a new ABR mode in faac, and it seems to be more reliable, if not the best setting for classical stuff. I used -a 64 setting, and manually fixed a lowpass at 17000 kbps (16000 is sometime shoking on direct ABX comparison, and 18000 may surpass my earing abilities).

• Nero AAC: As WMA, Nero encoder has a limited step VBR mode. As WMA, it's not always possible to find a preset that will be close to the targeted bitrate. But contrary to WMA, Nero AAC is popular: therefore, you can't use CBR without being criticized by some people for not using VBR (considered as superior); you can't use a VBR setting that produce inferior bitrate files without being flamed for this difference (at least if Nero is badly ranked at the end); and of course, using a large VBR setting will make all Nero's fans happy, but certainly not (and for good reason) Vorbis and Lame users (if course Nero AAC will appear to be better than the other formats)...

Fortunately, this WILL NOT happen! A VBR setting of Nero produces, on the 15 full tracks (1h45'), a bitrate very very close to 128 kbps (127,6). The situation would be ideal, if there wasn't a last problem: the profile name was... "internet", and not the expected "streaming" one. I suppose that "internet" profile wouldn't produce encoding close to 128 kbps with other musical stuff (especially loud recording, when dynamic is heavily compressed on mastering), and I suppose that some people won't be happy if I compare Nero -internet to others competitor. As solution of the problem, I couldn't decently opt for -streaming profile: with my 15 tracks, average bitrate is 152 kbps (+19% compared to 128 kbps, but -5% only compared to 160 kbps), and last but not least, other people listening to non-classical music noticed an average bitrate superior to 128 kbps with -streaming profile and newer Nero encoder.
Therefore, in order to avoid all kind of complaint, I decided to include in the same test Nero CBR 128 and Nero VBR internet.
P.S.: ABR 128 produces identical audio stream as CBR 128 kbps.


CHOICE OF SAMPLES

I decided to leave the samples I used last time, and to compose a more equilibrated suit. I based the choice on a sample CD bundled with the magazine "Diapason", special issue, still available in France and released in newspaper kiosk. This CD include 14 tracks of best recording (technical and artistic point of vue) discs released during the last year. I drew on this disc 11 tracks (I left three [one piano, and two baroque instrumental pieces], redundant with others tracks), and filled some artistic gaps with four last samples of my own (choral, full-orchestra, male voice, and electronic). Therefore, the ensemble is divided into the follow way:

- medieval: 1 tracks
- baroque: 8 tracks
- classical/romantism: 5 tracks
- contempory: 1 track
or
- orchestral: 3 tracks (2 modern orchestra & one baroque instrumental ensemble)
- Lyrical: 2 tracks (opera: one male and one female voice)
- Choral: 2 tracks (one full choral and one female plainchant)
- Solo instrument: 4 tracks (piano / harpischord /lute / organ)
- Chamber music : 3 tracks (flute & harpsichord / violin and pianoforte / cello and Continuo)
- Electronic : 1 track

Total length is 105 minutes. I used 30 seconds samples for each tracks. I've generally selected the first 30 seconds (and I removed the existing silent beginning); for some tracks, I've selected other parts, more interesting (especially for lyrical moments, rarely present during the 30 first seconds of the track).


BITRATE AND SIZE

Mixing CBR, ABR and VBR encodings in the same test generally gives rise to endless dicussions. Here are my opinions:

1/ forcing each short samples to xxx kbps is IMO completely stupid, except if for some reason I can't understand, people used to listen limited parts of their favorite songs. Personnaly, I generally prefer listening full tracks or complete composition... Therefore, I'm used to encode full tracks, and if I care about average bitrate produced by a encoder/setting, I'm looking on the bitrate of the full track (or album), and not on the bitrate of short and arbitrary selected parts of these tracks.
2/ When I create a MP3 CD-R compilation, or filling my USB flash MP3 player, I never forced the encoder to match a defined value. I generally need and ask for an approximate bitrate, and therefore, I didn't worry:
- about inner variations (if a 150 kbps track is compensated by many others at 125 kbps, it suits to me)
- about slight deviations at the end. If final bitrate is 124 or 131 kbps, I'll not lose my time to encode all files again... If bitrate is slightly too high, and if I can't store the last file on my player or media, I'll probably reencode some files I don't really like, or simply remove another one).
=> in other words, for practical reason, I'm looking for the bitrate of an ENSEMBLE OF FILES, and certainly not for the size reached of a small portion of a single file. Testing is usless if it doesn't match daily behaviour. Therefore, I accepted for this test the same kind of deviation I had accept for filling a player/media.

Because I don't have in my possession the full album for most tracks used in this test, I can only calculate the bitrate for each tracks, and not for the full album. By doing this, and with iTunes encodings** considered as 128.00 kbps, I had :

CODE
AAC FAAC          79,2 Mo (83 093 385 octets)    127.27 kbps    [-0.57%]
AAC iTunes        79,6 Mo (83 567 161 octets)    128.00 kbps
AAC Nero CBR      79,3 Mo (83 154 442 octets)    127.37 kbps    [-0.49%]
AAC Nero internet 79,4 Mo (83 297 704 octets)    127.59 kbps [-0.32%]
AAC Nero streaming94,6 Mo (99 290 088 octets)    152.08 kbps [+18.81%]
MP3 ABR 134       78,6 Mo (82 451 163 octets)    126.29 kbps [-1.34%]
VORBIS b4         76,6 Mo (80 331 707 octets)    123.04 kbps    [-3.87%]
WMA ABR 128       79,2 Mo (83 118 871 octets)    127.31 kbps    [-0.54%]

** layout of iTunes MP4 encodings was first optimized with foobar, in order to gain some space and to obtain a real 128 kbps bitrate.

So, if we except Nero "streaming", the most dramatical distortion is Vorbis one, with -3.9% compared to iTunes AAC. Quality won't probably being audibly affected by this little difference. On the other side, this small difference is the risk to pay for VBR encoding mode, and superior quality... People complaining about this difference should be happy to note that for the 30 seconds samples I've tested, Vorbis average bitrate is 127,7 kbps...



Sorry for being long. I just hope that these explanations would prevent redundant and really boring discussion about "apple and oranges", or others "surprises" as bitrate variations of... VBR encoders.

Before I gave my results, short but important warnings :

• the following results ARE MINE, depending of my subjectivity and my APPRECIATION of different artifacts. I can't bear some of them, but it doesn't imply that everybody will share my disgust.
• the following results, and hierarchy, apply to 128 kbps area, not 112 kbps or 150 kbps (and of course not 64 or 220 kbps). The "winner"of this test may be crappy at 192 kbps. Carl Lewis was a legendary sprinter, but a poor marathon runner.
• the significance of these results are limited to classical; and classical only. Classical mean wide dynamic range (up to 70 dB), quiet volume, subtle instruments, non-boomy music, etc... Don't extrapolate these results to others genre: Carl Lewis wasn't good on soccer or Kung-Fu wink.gif
• results might be different with others classical samples. 15 may give an approximate idea about encoders performances, taht's all. Results are more leads for further tests than a final answer, even and especially for me!





RESULTS, and complete BITRATE TABLE, are available on the following webpage:

http://membres.lycos.fr/guruboolez/AUDIO/t...al_results.html

DESCRIPTION of all 15 tracks, with expected artifacts:

http://membres.lycos.fr/guruboolez/AUDIO/t...description.htm

Comments are welcome smile.gif

This post has been edited by guruboolez: Dec 13 2003, 15:46
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guruboolez
post Dec 13 2003, 15:30
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I've just notice that samples description is missing. I've began to type it this morning, but I've just an excel file, and I'm now far from my desktop computer. On my notebook, Excel isn't installed...

.xls file is here:
If someone want to convert it in html format and send it to me, it would be nice. Thanks :

http://membres.lycos.fr/guruboolez/AUDIO/t...description.xls

This post has been edited by guruboolez: Dec 13 2003, 15:31
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rjamorim
post Dec 13 2003, 15:31
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Very interesting. Thank-you, Guruboolez


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SacRat
post Dec 13 2003, 15:33
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Interesting...
Guruboolez, could you give us a link to samples used in this test?
I'm very interested in using some of them in my next tests.
I haven't yet been able to download any sample of your classical suite sad.gif Seems, there are some problems....


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guruboolez
post Dec 13 2003, 15:39
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33.5 MB in optimfrog format... and I'm still on a slow internet connection. I can upload some of them, but I can't host them. Maybe on HA... but I'm not sure that administrators will agree: I've upload many samples the last monthes, and if there are not useful, there are no reason that the 15 news samples will be more usefull.

Nevertheless, there's one sample where a I noticed bad and strange artifacts with faac (plainchant part), with artifacts similar to the erhu one (funny things, this artifact occurs with lame ABR on the sample!), but much louder! This may interest faac developers.

An oggpreview file is possible though, in order to give an idea of the whole suite.

This post has been edited by guruboolez: Dec 13 2003, 15:40
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nyarlathotep
post Dec 13 2003, 15:42
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QUOTE (guruboolez @ Dec 13 2003, 04:30 PM)
...
.xls file is here:
If someone want to convert it in html format and send it to me, it would be nice. Thanks :

http://membres.lycos.fr/guruboolez/AUDIO/t...description.xls

Download the html file there.

Interesting test.
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guruboolez
post Dec 13 2003, 15:44
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Thank you very much!

http://membres.lycos.fr/guruboolez/AUDIO/t...description.htm

I'll update first post.
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Gabriel
post Dec 13 2003, 16:17
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Wow, iTunes is impressive on this test
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guruboolez
post Dec 13 2003, 16:36
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QUOTE (Gabriel @ Dec 13 2003, 04:17 PM)
Wow, iTunes is impressive on this test

As usual...
Some comments on iTunes bad notes:

- Couperin [3.2/5] is a pure harpsichord piece. Lowpass is slightly agressive with QT AAC at 128 kbps. For my ears, it's rarely annoying, but with harpsichord, it's more obvious, near shoking on ABX quick-switching conditions...

- Brahms [3.5/5] is a simple but well-recorded piano. Pre-echo is surprising high with iTunes AAC. I've found lame MP3 better !

- Bayle is the less classical samples: electronic one. There were many artifacts here... But general notation for all encoders is poor. It was the most difficult sample (Nero VBR internet goes at 170 kbps !), with 2.4/5, and 3.5 for highest rating (faac).

Average notation for iTunes (3.96/5) is close to the previous one with 18 samples (3.84/5)I obtained two months ago.

This post has been edited by guruboolez: Dec 13 2003, 16:37
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JeanLuc
post Dec 13 2003, 16:37
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QUOTE (Gabriel @ Dec 13 2003, 03:17 PM)
Wow, iTunes is impressive on this test

Lame ABR gets better overall scores in that test than I would have expected ... especially when everybody tells you that Vorbis is far superior to MP3.


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guruboolez
post Dec 13 2003, 16:42
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QUOTE (JeanLuc @ Dec 13 2003, 04:37 PM)
QUOTE (Gabriel @ Dec 13 2003, 03:17 PM)
Wow, iTunes is impressive on this test

Lame ABR gets better overall scores in that test than I would have expected ... especially when everybody tells you that Vorbis is far superior to MP3.

Vorbis generated noise is probably masked with loud music, but with classical, it's more problematic. It seems that Vorbis psychoacoustic need to be seriously tuned for that kind of signal. Or does it mean that some of Vorbis encoding tools are efficient with loud music, but will affect in a negative manner quiet and (i insist) subtle instruments? I've often found vorbis playback coarse, rough, simplifying.

This post has been edited by guruboolez: Dec 13 2003, 16:59
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danchr
post Dec 13 2003, 16:56
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QUOTE (JeanLuc @ Dec 13 2003, 04:37 PM)
QUOTE (Gabriel @ Dec 13 2003, 03:17 PM)
Wow, iTunes is impressive on this test

Lame ABR gets better overall scores in that test than I would have expected ... especially when everybody tells you that Vorbis is far superior to MP3.

Another interesting twist is that FAAC is better than Nero, which is the worst overall. Perhaps this has changed with Nero 6.3 which AFAICT includes an updated AAC encoder?
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JeanLuc
post Dec 13 2003, 17:02
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QUOTE (guruboolez @ Dec 13 2003, 03:42 PM)
Vorbis generated noise is probably masked with loud music, but with classical, it's more problematic. It seems that Vorbis psychoacoustic need to be seriously tuned for that kind of signal. Or does it mean that some of Vorbis encoding tool are efficient with loud music, but will affect in a negative manner quiet and (i insist) subtle instruments? I've often found vorbis playback coarse, rough, simplifying.

That listening test is very impressive and a good piece of work ... and it will bring some Vorbis zealots back to the ground.


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rjamorim
post Dec 13 2003, 17:05
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QUOTE (danchr @ Dec 13 2003, 01:56 PM)
Another interesting twist is that FAAC is better than Nero, which is the worst overall.

I was also amazed to see Nero fail so badly.


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guruboolez
post Dec 13 2003, 17:08
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QUOTE (JeanLuc @ Dec 13 2003, 05:02 PM)
QUOTE (guruboolez @ Dec 13 2003, 03:42 PM)
Vorbis generated noise is probably masked with loud music, but with classical, it's more problematic. It seems that Vorbis psychoacoustic need to be seriously tuned for that kind of signal. Or does it mean that some of Vorbis encoding tool are efficient with loud music, but will affect in a negative manner quiet and (i insist) subtle instruments? I've often found vorbis playback coarse, rough, simplifying.

That listening test is very impressive and a good piece of work ... and it will bring some Vorbis zealots back to the ground.

It wasn't the goal of this test. Nevertheless, I'd like to see similar tests with other musical genres: I'm sure that Vorbis will perform much better. Nero AAC is in the same case. It's still bad with classical, and I obtained awful artifacts even with streaming, which mean ~150 kbps!
WMA isn't so bad, but isn't impressive. Two first harpsichord samples are giving near 10 points to this format (and only three to lame!!!). Without harpsichord, wma will be far from mp3 lame.

This post has been edited by guruboolez: Dec 13 2003, 17:09
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JeanLuc
post Dec 13 2003, 17:48
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QUOTE (guruboolez @ Dec 13 2003, 04:08 PM)
QUOTE (JeanLuc @ Dec 13 2003, 05:02 PM)
... and it will bring some Vorbis zealots back to the ground.


It wasn't the goal of this test.

Surely not, but people always tend to forget about music with a real dynamic range (combining both silent and loud parts) and proper recording (as it often is the case with sinfonic orchestral music as well as with chamber music) ...


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JohnV
post Dec 13 2003, 18:08
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QUOTE (rjamorim @ Dec 13 2003, 06:05 PM)
QUOTE (danchr @ Dec 13 2003, 01:56 PM)
Another interesting twist is that FAAC is better than Nero, which is the worst overall.

I was also amazed to see Nero fail so badly.

1. There's already a new codec. New aacenc in Nero 6.3 when used in "fast" mode should improve Nero's classical performace a lot. The "fast" mode uses the new scalefactor estimation method. Guru uses old codec/method which wasn't showing improvement for classical, and emphasis was already earlier moved to the new method.

2. The scalefactor estimation coding method will most probably become the new standard for Nero, as it's showing good results also for classical and still has lots of potential for further improvement. The old coding method just wasn't going to be very good with classical.


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guruboolez
post Dec 13 2003, 18:11
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Here's a graphical representation of the Nero paradox: mp4 is clearly worse than mp3 (1.0 vs 4.2) :

http://membres.lycos.fr/guruboolez/AUDIO/t..._03/requiem.gif

I'll upload the sample later (It's famous Mozart Requiem - Dies Irae by Eugen Jochum): 5 seconds.
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rjamorim
post Dec 13 2003, 18:16
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QUOTE (JohnV @ Dec 13 2003, 03:08 PM)
1. There's already a new codec. New aacenc in Nero 6.3 when used in "fast" mode should improve Nero's classical performace a lot. The "fast" mode uses the new scalefactor estimation method. Guru used old codec/method which wasn't showing improvement for classical, and emphasis was already earlier moved to the new method.
2. The scalefactor estimation coding method will most probably become the new standard for Nero, as it's showing good results also for classical and still has lots of potential for further improvement. The old coding method just wasn't going to be very good with classical.

Yes, but still, it's amazing to see it lose to Lame, WMA Std, Faac...

(And I used Nero HQ to encode some classical albums... dry.gif)

This post has been edited by rjamorim: Dec 13 2003, 18:18


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guruboolez
post Dec 13 2003, 18:17
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QUOTE (JohnV @ Dec 13 2003, 06:08 PM)
1. There's already a new codec. New aacenc in Nero 6.3 when used in "fast" mode should improve Nero's classical performace a lot. The "fast" mode uses the new scalefactor estimation method. Guru used old codec/method which wasn't showing improvement for classical, and emphasis was already earlier moved to the new method.

2. The scalefactor estimation coding method will most probably become the new standard for Nero, as it's showing good results also for classical and still has lots of potential for further improvement. The old coding method just wasn't going to be very good with classical.

Two months ago, I read the same kind of arguments. New tonality estimation... old family encoder... you've just performed a test four minutes before new AAC encoder. Damn! wink.gif

I'm joking: real progress were made (cf. ringing problems from biniou.wav sample, ringing on cello.wav at streaming), though bitrate known a serious inflation.
I really hope that Nero AAC will soon become competitive with all kind of music/signal.
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JohnV
post Dec 13 2003, 18:20
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QUOTE (rjamorim @ Dec 13 2003, 07:16 PM)
QUOTE (JohnV @ Dec 13 2003, 03:08 PM)
1. There's already a new codec. New aacenc in Nero 6.3 when used in "fast" mode should improve Nero's classical performace a lot. The "fast" mode uses the new scalefactor estimation method. Guru used old codec/method which wasn't showing improvement for classical, and emphasis was already earlier moved to the new method.
2. The scalefactor estimation coding method will most probably become the new standard for Nero, as it's showing good results also for classical and still has lots of potential for further improvement. The old coding method just wasn't going to be very good with classical.

Yes, but still, it's amazing to see it lose to Lame, WMA Std, Faac...

Well, that is Guru's opinion and samples, so I'm unable to comment better. I just hope that this time he used correct aacenc version unlike last time...
Anyway, I urge Guru to test the codec in 6.3 with scalefactor estimation method.


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guruboolez
post Dec 13 2003, 18:24
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QUOTE (JohnV @ Dec 13 2003, 06:20 PM)
Anyway, I urge Guru to test the codec in 6.3 with scalefactor estimation method.

Don't worry. 2.5.9.7 is what I've read in tags. I was very careful this time, and took a complete day for thinking about samples and selecting them. I didn't perform this test during a sleepless night wink.gif

I'd also like to see separate .dll encoders on the web.
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guruboolez
post Dec 13 2003, 18:33
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Short sample is available:

http://membres.lycos.fr/guruboolez/AUDIO/t...03/requiem.flac
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JohnV
post Dec 13 2003, 19:02
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QUOTE (guruboolez @ Dec 13 2003, 07:11 PM)
Here's a graphical representation of the Nero paradox: mp4 is clearly worse than mp3 (1.0 vs 4.2) :
http://membres.lycos.fr/guruboolez/AUDIO/t..._03/requiem.gif

Here's the graph from Nero 6.3 using CBR128 and SFE method (fast-option).
http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/extra/ND/requ...6-SFE(fast).jpg
QUOTE

Could you give your opinion about this compared to the original and old codec:
http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/extra/ND/requ...6-SFE(fast).mp4


--------------------
Juha Laaksonheimo
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guruboolez
post Dec 13 2003, 19:15
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I give 1/10 for 2.5.9.7 CBR 128, 2/10 for 2.5.9.7 streaming (> 150 kbps) and something between 6 and 7/10 for 2.6.0.3 CBR 128 [I'm listening on a portable that can't drive correctly my headphone].
The terrible metallic effect/ringing/flanging and I don't know what else are gone. There are still slight problems on brass instruments, but in comparison, it's heaven. I hope that these awful frequencies gap (Nero speciality on classical) are past now.
Is this new encoder faster?

This post has been edited by guruboolez: Dec 13 2003, 19:19
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