Does Bit Rate Matter? Test Yourself! [Audio Examples]

Bit Rate
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If you have looked into audio or video files a bit more in-depth, you surely stumbled over the term bit rate. When you are creating or converting video and audio files, the bit rate plays a crucial role when it comes to the audio quality of your respective voice recording, music piece, movie, or video clip. Thus, we at decided to wrap up some information that you should know about bit rate!

At the end of the article, you will also find two examples to listen to. Because, yes, bit rate does matter!


What Is Bit Rate?

Before we dive into the reasons why bit rate is important to consider when working with audio or video files, lets first have a look at what bit rate is.

Do not get confused as bit rate is a term used for general data transmission, e.g. in your internet connection, as well. It simply states how much data (bits) are transferred in a certain amount of time. This is also true for audio data contained in music, voice recording, or video files. However, what you should be interested in is what the bit rate affects in an audio file; namely quality.

It is comparable to the resolution of an image. The higher the bit rate, the better the quality of your audio or video file. For example, the sound of an MP3 file with a bit rate of 192 kbps will be much better and clearer as of a file that only uses 32 kbps. The image quality of a video is also dependent of the bit rate.

The reason of this is that more data is transmitted during playback when a higher bit rate was chosen. With a slower bit rate, naturally, less data is transferred. Thus, sound and image quality are reduced.

It is commonly measured using bits per second (bps), kilobits per second (kbps) or megabits per second (mbps).


Here, the rule of thumb is: The higher the bit rate the better the quality of an audio or video!


Can I Hear The Difference?

No we settled that the bit rate chosen changes the quality of our audio and video files. Yet, is this difference even noticeable? Can you hear the difference between different bit rates?

The simple answer is: yes; but when is something really easy? Of course the changes in quality are both audible and visible across different bit rates, however the difference between a low and high bit rate is naturally easier to find than between a high and even higher bit rate.

But listen to yourself! Below, you will find different MP3 files that were all converted to MP3 by the same method, but using a different bit rate.


Example: MP3

Here’s the audible proof that you can hear the difference in bit rate throughout an audio file.

We have taken a WAV file (find it here) and converted it to MP3 using an online MP3 converter.  During conversion, we applied no other changes than the bit rate. Play each file to see (or rather hear) if you can notice the difference.

32 kbps  192 kbps  320 kbps

The difference between the first and second track is striking. There was certainly a loss in quality when converting the original WAV file to a 32 kbps MP3. You surely wouldn’t want to listen to music with such a low bit rate.

Depending on the headphones or speakers you use, however, you will not hear a difference between the later two tracks. It seems like, quality-wise, recordings with 192 kbps sound just as good as 320 kbps. It is not only a matter of gear though, whether you hear the difference or not. Your ears may also play a role in this. Some people are unable to hear the difference in similar bit rates.


Which Bit Rate Should You Use?

So, does bit rate matter or not? When you listened to our examples, you can surely agree with us: yes, bit rate matters! The difference in quality, especially between low and high bit rates is undoubtedly there. However, you would have to be an audiophile with high end gear to hear differences in higher bit rates — or just naturally very good ears.


Thus, when ripping a CD or converting a lossless audio file to a lossy format, what bit rate should be used?

It’s assumed that 256 kbps is the most commonly used high-quality bit rate for audio files like MP3 or AAC. Lossless audio files usually have a bit rate between 400 and 1.411 kbps.

It differs quite a lot more when it comes to video files: YouTube allows for 6.8 mbps videos while 8 to 15 mbps are in the HDTV quality range. Videos on Blu-ray discs, for example, can have a maximum bit rate of 40 mbps.


For personal usage, there is another factor you should consider: file size. Take the three examples from above. If we compare the file size between these MP3 files we get the following results:

  • 32 kbps — 144 KB
  • 192 kbps — 848 KB
  • 320 kbps — 1.37 MB

As expected, the file size increases the higher the bit rate is. Quality surely comes with a price. What does that mean for the casual music lover? Find the perfect balance between quality and file size. If you don’t hear much of a difference between the 192 kbps and 320 kbps file, you can easily grab the smaller file and put it onto your MP3 player or phone.