Your Questions: Converting MP3s From 128kbps To 320kbps...

MP3

Go searching on the internet and there are all kinds of graphs, tables and tests to show you the difference between 128kbps and 320kbps MP3 audio quality, but the best test of all is simply to listen.

Digital DJ Tips reader Rigel Garman writes: "I've been doing a lot of research about bitrates and different types of audio files and I've come to find out that 320kbps is what I need to have when making mixes, sending out demos, doing live shows etc. All while still having enough space on my CPU hard drive.

So I want to convert all of my files over from 128 to 320kbps through iTunes. But by doing this, it creates an entire new track. The problem is that I've made a plethora of cue points and markers on my 128kbps tracks and I don't want to spend hours going through and making the new cue points on the 320 tracks unless I absolutely have to. Is there a way around this? Any help would be awesome!"

Digital DJ Tips says:

Don't do it! 128kbps files are much smaller than 320kbps files, and the reason is that they have been "compressed" much more from the original audio. While most people find it impossible to hear the difference between a 320kbps file and an original, uncompressed version, you can definitely hear the degradation in quality when you get down to 128kbps.

So far, so good - you're right to want to fix that. Trouble is, the files are smaller because the missing information is gone forever. You can't just re-output them at 320kbps. The new file will be a lot bigger, but won't contain a single byte of musical information more than the 128kbps version. Bigger file, no increase in audio quality. In other words, it's a totally pointless exercise.

The moral is: Go with the highest quality files you can to start with, and don't expect to be able to "uncompress" audio that has been compressed. Just like shrinking a digital photo then blowing it up again, you lose the quality in the compression stage, and it's impossible to reverse the damage done.

Have you ever made this mistake? What lessons did you learn? Nowadays, what type of files do you choose? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Comments

  1. I will try and be brief, but to be honest, this is knowledge that EVERY DJ NEEDS TO KNOW.

    Lossy Formats like FLAC, ALAC, WAV, etc. have not lost any information in the song. This is where you should start, if you can, to preserve your music. Some are still compressed (FLAC, ALAC) but yet again, Lossless.

    Lossy Formats like AAC, MP3 320 CBR, or 128 CBR, have Lost some of the information in the song.
    What is the difference between them? Well the higher the bitrate, the better quality, for the most part. 320 CBR is the minimum that I use. CBR stands for "constant bitrate". VBR means variable bitrate, or sometimes called average bitrate. I would recommend against these types of MP3's. Keep things simple, and constant. use CBR.

    Phil left out a huge part of this equation. When to Convert, and how to convert. Never, ever Convert a Lossy file to another lossy format. Even if you converted 320 kbps file to 128 (Opposite as Rigel Garman's case), you are still losing more information than necessary. It's that simple. If you EVER convert any of your music in your library to another format, Keep this one simple rule. Only Convert from Lossless to Lossy. Stop. Never Convert Again. (Why? Look at any MP3's Spectral, and you will see a Shelf @ 16 Khz. Even 320 CBR has lost some information)

    As Phil had said, start with the highest quality files you can find. You are a DJ. As everyone says, KNOW YOUR MUSIC. The audio formats, ARE YOUR MUSIC. Quite Literally. Take the time to learn about bitrates, types of formats, how and when to convert, etc. I would also highly recommend everybody to research spectral analysis of Audio Files. This way, you can take any track, "look" at it and tell the quality of the file. (Different bitrates have different cutoffs for kHz for the most part) LEARN THIS.

    It is shocking and depressing to me how many DJ's are not knowledgable on this subject. No Offense to Rigel Garman, but what he was trying to do is a SIN in the DJ world. But you're not the first, as I've had to teach this to people who have a residency. I could teach a class on this subject lol. This was as brief as I could possibly be, as there is much, much more that goes into it. If anybody has any questions regarding this subject, please feel free to ask me, as I could easily answer them, and or point you in the right direction of where to learn more.

    • I echo everything you said 100%. I'm horrified that this is even a question though I'm glad it's being used as a piece so that anyone else who is this naive about digital audio files will be made aware of what's going on with their music files.

  2. DJSE Hazelcut says:

    I've done the same kind of mistake in the 90's with wav files, it was my soundbank for production, all in 16bit/44000hz, but hardrive were not as big as they are now, so I "discover" that I could make some room by converting the files to 22000hz. Probably my bigest mistake in production, I still have some of this sound in my bank, and they sound like old tapes :)

    In sound quality, what as been lost can't be recover (same as in photo, video, or a lot of other domain)

  3. Ade Sands says:

    l did have this issue years ago when I first got involved in digital music. Originally started on WAV, but in those days, hard drives were much smaller storage capacity than now, and it also took ages to take the music from CD's that I had. I did go for smaller bitrates, because of file size vs storage, I've since re-ripped 'most' of my collection to the better bitrate. But nowadays, there's really no reason that any DJ should use anything less than 256x320kbps @ 44.1khz.
    There also seems to be a few saying lossy is rubbish, lossless is the way.. yea, if you use really high end gear, and have quite a discerning audiophile audience.
    Personally, it does my job well.

  4. Ian Williams says:

    I know this site isn't a big fan of iTunes for DJing music management, but can i recommend "iTunes Match".

    For £21.99 a year, you can upload all your music (including your old 128 kbps rips). Then download all the ones iTunes has matches on its servers for as 256kbps AAC (Arguably 256 AAC is comparable to 320 mp3).

    I hesitate to use the term "laundering" your low quality tracks, but it's a good way of legitimately swapping them for decent quality audio.

    Final note. This is iTunes match. Don't confuse this with an "apple music"subscription, which some people have had major problems with.

  5. What always amazes me is that people refer to laptop DJ's as digital DJ's while this who use CDJ's are somehow not digital. WTF? Just to set the record straight (pun intended) CD's are digital. All CDJ's and controllers use a digital signal and then convert that to an analogue signal to output through the speakers. If you want true analogue sound you need to get some vinyl records and a turntable. I agree with a lot of people who mention the quality of everything from the digital file to the speakers and everything in between can make a big difference to the perceived quality of the sound experience and volume you hear listening to music. Quality gear that is set-up correctly will always sound great.

    • DJ Vintage says:

      While the carrier (CD) does contain music in a digital format (in the early days of CD even AAD, meaning analog recording, analog mixing and digital transfer, so not very much digital there), the moment it comes out of the player it becomes analogue again. With the exception of some very high end CDJ-like players that can send digital information to the mixer where it is transferred to analogue and mixed analogue before being sent to the master output.

      Digital DJ-ing, at the very least in my humble opinion, means using digital tools like DJ software to handle the process of DJ-ing, music management and things like cue points, beatgrids, etx., where only the final product (i.e. the master mix) is transferred by a soundcard into a master output signal.

      As such I think there is a real difference between digital DJ-ing and DJ-ing with a digital record.

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