Is mp3 quality as good as minidisc?

Thanks to Derek for this question (often asked) about whether mp3 quality is as good as minidisc…

Hi Kenny,

What a site you have. I downloaded some information on various topics and took this on holiday. My wife thought I had flipped.  However I said that what I was reading would make me a better performer and earn her more money to spend on holidays. That worked.

I would now like to ask a question re Apple I Pod Touch. Currently I use minidisks and have read your article on MP3 players.  I would like to go this way. Is the I pod OK???  What about the playback quality??

Any advice would be appriciated.


Hi Derek

Hope you enjoyed your holiday.

iPod mp3 playback quality is excellent and if you play in live music venues I can gurantee that no-one will be able to tell the difference between the sound of a minidisc playing backing tracks or an iPod playing backing tracks.

I conducted a test many years ago when I first set up MP3 Backing Trax. I invited a bunch of singer/musician friends to come listen to me perform while I used a variety of different formats and asked them to give me feedback on which sounded best.

I sang the exact same song four times, each time the backing track was being played by either an mp3 player, a minidisc player, a CD player or a DAT machine.

I asked them to listen carefully and see if they could tell me which was which.

They all chose differently and had different opinions on which sounded best.

I then played the four songs again, but this time I told them which playback machine I was using as I played it.

This time I managed to get a full agreement from them all that the CD and the DAT machine were the best quality sound.

Then I revealed that I hadn’t played the backing track from different machines at all – although I had the CD player, Minidisc player and Dat machine on the stage with me (which they could see), I hadn’t actually plugged any of these in to the PA system. They had heard the same song eight times in a row played each time from the exact same mp3 player!

One or two of them were initially not too happy at having been “duped” until I sat down and explained that the purpose of the experiment was to show them that in a live music environment there are usually so many other factors going on that affect how the audience hear sound (the general burble of the audience talking and the space that the sound has to travel from the speakers to your ears etc) that it is impossible to tell any small variations in quality between formats when playing live at a gig.

For this reason, mp3 in any live music environment will sound every bit as good as any of the other music formats which are technically supposed to be superior. Audiences cannot tell the difference.

It would take a very good pair of highly trained ears to tell the difference between the sound of an mp3 and the sound of a minidisc, even if wearing high quality studio headphones.

And I bet if I challenged even the most dedicated “audiophile” to tell the difference, I could still stump him…