Can You Even Tell a High-Definition Audio File From a Regular MP3?

When I was in elementary school, I took saxophone lessons once a week. My instructor would always record our lessons, and then play them back at the end so I could hear myself. The problem was he recorded me using a large, prehistoric device, so the audio always sounded garbage. I could have been John Coltrane or a three-year-old blowing into a tuba, we wouldn’t have known the difference. Although the purpose of meeting Lupa once a week was to learn how to play saxophone, I really learned about audio quality.

Since my elementary school days, we have come up with millions of ways to listen, record and compress music that are much more efficient than Lupa’s ancient apparatus. Through all of this, companies have stressed the importance of audio quality. Three-hundred-dollar headphones marketed to help you hear the snare drum better. Speakers sold because they’re not too heavy on bass. Most recently, Jay Z’s streaming service, Tidal, stressed as its differentiator from Spotify its high-definition listening option, for $19.99 (the “premium” Tidal costs $9.99).

But at a certain point, can the average listener really hear the difference? NPR Music decided to put together a test to see if people actually notice the difference between a high-definition audio file and an Mp3. There are six songs, all from different eras and genres, with three different samples. NPR Music asks you to choose which one is the highest quality. Trust, it’s much harder than it sounds.

I’m not going to reveal my score because it’s embarrassing. However, I do urge you to take the test. …The results could save you $10.

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