A common question that pops up when discussing 320kbps vs FLAC is can you hear a noticeable improvement in audio quality when listening to FLAC music files vs 320kbps (320 bitrate or MP3 320kbps or just 320 MP3)?
Is FLAC better than 320 MP3?
Some people will say yes, others will say no, others will say it depends.
The truth is normally, you won’t hear a difference when listening to 320kbps vs FLAC unless you have well-trained ears and you are using high definition audio equipment. This means you would need high-end headphones/speakers and high-quality music for even an audiophile to spot the difference. However, in terms of real-world usage, FLAC will not stand out that much for most people, if any at all. In fact, in theory, an excellent recording quality in 320 can sound better than a poor quality track in FLAC.
In this article, we will take a deeper dive into 320kbps vs FLAC with a detailed comparison of all you need to know about each audio format and how they stack up against each other.
320kbps vs FLAC Comparison Table
|Support and Portability||Supported by almost all music players and platforms||Supported by most modern audio devices|
|File Size||Very Small||Small|
What is FLAC vs 320kbps?
What is the difference between FLAC and 320 bitrate?
FLAC: FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec. It is an open-source file format that offers CD-quality audio sound at half the size. In fact, it is the fastest and most widely supported lossless audio codec.
Today, it is becoming increasingly popular for audiophiles because the codec is lossless meaning there is no loss in audio quality (we will explain more below). It also means that with a FLAC file, you can recode it into any other lossless audio format without worrying about losing information.
FLAC is generally compatible with a wide range of devices including most PCs, streaming devices like Roku, smartphones, receivers, Blu-ray players, and even car stereo systems.
MP3 320kbs: MP3 stands for lossy MPEG-1 or 2 Audio Layer III format. Today, it is one of the most popular audio formats for music. The great benefit is that this format is compatible with almost all modern devices.
Moreover, the file size is relatively small due to compression. This makes MP3 a lossy audio format (we will explain more below).
Now, because, it is compressed, you will also lose some audio information that you cannot recover. Moreover, each time you convert it into another format, you will continually lose audio information.
MP3 320 kbps is a specific encoding of MP3 in 320 kbps bitrate. 320 kbps is a high-quality bitrate and so MP3 320 kbps is a high-quality MP3 format.
MP3 has existed since 1995 and since then the AAC format has been developed to replace it, though not completely successful. As such, comparing MP3 and FLAC is similar to comparing FLAC vs AAC.
Lossless vs Lossy
FLAC is lossless and MP3 320kps is lossy. What does this mean?
Lossy Compression: Lossy compression involves smaller file sizes because it is essentially throwing away parts of the audio file that you don’t necessarily need.
They use algorithms that cutaway noise and frequency and other parts that the human ear cannot hear. For example, one of the biggest things lower bitrate formats take away is the bit depth, which in turn affects the dynamic range of the music.
This means you can never revert to the original audio format with the same audio data because that lost data would have been thrown away forever.
For example, WAV is an audio format that sometimes contains lossless or lossy audio. If you take an MP3 320 and convert it into a standard WAV file, all the parts that went missing during the original MP3 compression process will still remain missing.
In fact, if you convert that file back to MP3 and then to WAV again, you will lose more audio information again.
Lossless Compression: Lossless compression can give you the original, uncompressed file in a slightly smaller size.
A simple example is a typical .zip or .rar file on your computer. These files can shrink the overall size of a folder or file without getting rid of anything in the process.
This means that lossless files can be restored to their original format fully intact. It also means that lossless audio files will maintain more audio information.
As such, if you are recording high-quality music, then lossless FLAC will beat the lossy MP3. FLAC and AIFF are good examples of lossless audio files.
In terms of the choice between lossy and lossless audio, many people won’t even consider lossy media for audio. For other people, it really doesn’t matter either way, lossy or lossless.
Can You Hear a Difference Between 320kbps and FLAC?
You won’t normally hear any difference in sound quality between 320kbps and FLAC, but you may hear a difference in some cases. It really depends on a number of things.
There are many factors to consider and so there are only some special circumstances under which you’ll likely hear a difference.
The fact is, it will take having heavily trained ears to notice very subtle differences in treble decay when it comes to lossy MP3 320kbps.
Below, we list the main things required to hear a difference in quality between 320kbps and FLAC:
Audio Gear: The audio equipment that you use is very important to determine if you can hear the difference between 320kps and FLAC. For example, if you are using some cheap headphones or one of those cheap white earbuds that Apple provides with iPhones, you probably won’t hear a difference.
Well Trained Ears: If you’re an audiophile, then you’ll have well-trained ears for discerning lossy and lossless music. Some people are avid music listeners and have an extensive music library. These people want to enjoy the highest quality music, closest to real life. However, most people’s ears are satisfied with lower quality sound and so as far as they are concerned, 320kpbs and FLAC will always sound the same.
So bottom line, if you are asking whether or not you will notice the difference between FLAC and 320kbps MP3, then the only one who can answer that question is you.
Audio Source: The source of your music is also important. For example, if you are listening to the same music in FLAC and 320kbps from say a ripped CD, it may be hard to tell the difference.
What Difference Will You Hear?
If you have the setup and so on to hear a difference, then the difference you will hear is a more full sound and instrument separation.
It’s about the musical sound definition, the more detail in the audio file, the more musical detail you will hear. The sound would be crisper, clearer, and stronger.
How To Compare 320kbps vs FLAC
So how can you determine if you can hear the difference between 320kbps and FLAC? Well just using any old MP3 320 and FLAC files on any old device is surely not the best way to go about it.
So, what’s the best way to do this 320kbps vs FLAC test?
First of all, when testing you need to do it all things being equal and you need to do it as a blind test on a pair of reference speakers or headphones of your choosing.
Actually, headphones are much better for this type of thing than speakers. This is because you will never be able to approach the detail and resolution of good headphones. Moreover, reference headphones are often less expensive.
Once you have those things, download the FLAC file and convert it to MP3, then listen to both.
A better way to go about it may be to take the original master recording, converting to FLAC, then also convert another copy from the same master but converted to 320 bit rate. when choosing audio formats, however, keep in mind that with most pop/rock, 320kbps is probably an overkill.
The Importance of Mastering and Ripping
Mastering is very important as far as music quality is concerned. If the initial recording in the studio is poorly mastered, it won’t sound good, whether you are listening in FLAC or 320 bitrate encoding.
It’s one thing for an artiste to create great songs in terms of lyrics and melody, it’s a whole different thing to actually take it a step further and spend extra time and money to master your tracks.
However, the fact is, in most cases, the difference in quality between FLAC and 320kbps compressed is inaudible when both are ripped from the same master. On the other hand, if the audio is not mastered properly, you can certainly hear the difference.
Lossy Formats Lose Quality With Ripping
Lossy compression really becomes a major factor when burning 320kbps to disc, then re-ripping. Of course, if you do this enough times, the quality will degrade.
On the other hand, with FLAC, you can burn and rip and burn and rip as many times as you would like, you will still end up with the same quality in the audio file.
Use A High-End Audio Gear and Setup
We already spoke about the importance of audio gear when it comes to listening to different audio formats. It can make a major difference and so does your actual sound system setup.
The fact is, most people will not be able to tell the difference between lossy 320kbps vs lossless FLAC, especially when given what normally passes for audio gear, like cheap headphones and bundled iPod earbuds.
This is especially true if you are using high-quality headphones of reference speakers. These high-quality devices are much less forgiving of low-quality sources since you will spot the differences quite easily.
Here’s probably the most important point regarding audio gear – unless you are using an awesome home theater or another hi-fi sound system or headphones, the differences between 320kbps and FLAC probably will probably matter and you should probably favor the lossless FLAC format.
On the other hand, if you are using regular Bluetooth speakers or in your car with stock speakers, then MP3 320 is probably perfectly fine.
Choose Your Audio Encoder Carefully
The encoding library that you use also plays an important role in audio quality. Encoding is the process of changing digital audio from one format to another.
The encoder that you use can sometimes determine quality.
For example, if you use some old buggy MP3 encoder, the resulting 320kbps file will sound pretty bad.
However, technology has advanced, and as long as you’re encoding at a fairly high bitrate like 320 kbps and with a good encoder, the sound will be very similar to the original, to the point that some or even most people won’t be able to distinguish between the 320 bitrate and FLAC.
As such, ensure that you are using excellent encoders for both file types if you are doing conversions.
Different Music Genres Will Yield Different Results
You may not have realized that the music genre you are listening to is also important for sound quality.
In other words, when talking about lossy and lossless, the perception of “loss” is very audio content dependent.
Which genres do lossless FLAC do best with? Well, with a music genre that makes use of high-quality instruments, lossless formats like FLAC do much better. For example, symphony orchestras or jazz.
On the other hand, genres that are less musically detailed will less likely tell the differences. These types of genres include pop/rock and so on.
The Origin of The Audio File Affects Quality
The origin of the audio file that you are listening to is also important in determining quality.
For example, many people will get music from torrent sites. A lot of the files on these sites are upgraded say from 128 to 320kbps. In addition, there are many fake lossless files out there!
Now, if you feed a lossy format to another lossy format, you will still end up with the quality of the original lossy format if the original was of a lower quality. In this case, upgrading 128kbps to 320kbps will still result in 128kbps quality.
Ensure that you get all your audio files from trusted sources so that you can be certain that the bit rates are correct.
Are There Differences In Audio Quality After Converting 320 MP3 to FLAC?
Some people may listen to different grades of MP3 320 and say well something doesn’t sound right.
For example, the presence and impact of several instruments may not be as strong as the equivalent FLAC.
In most of these cases, however, they are comparing lossy 320kbps MPS that has been ripped several times to FLAC.
Sometimes, they are listening FLAC created from ripped 320kbps. In such cases, the 320kpbs will certainly sound much worse (in the case of 320 converted to FLAC, it will sound like the 320 quality).
Remember, every time you rip a CD with 320kbps, you will lose quality. If you rip and burn again and then rip again, you will lose more quality.
Moroever, if you feed a lossless format with a 320kbps file, it will sound just like that 320kbps file because nothing will be lost. If you feed a lossy format a 320kbps file, you will end up with something worse than 320kbps.
Is It Important Which One You Chose FLAC vs 320kbps?
Well, as we have said, under certain conditions, most people won’t notice a difference between MP3 320 and FLAC. However, the difference can become apparent with high definition audio systems.
However, for small, portable devices, MP3 320 is better for saving space. Moreover, why do you need high def audio when you are out and about on the road anyway?
So, if saving space on your mobile device or car audio is important – go ahead and use lossy compressed files like MP3 320 bitrate. However, keep lossless FLACs around – as you may hear the difference with good speakers and excellently recorded music.
FLAC vs MP3 320 File Size
In general, MP3 320 files will be about 60% to 70% smaller than FLAC files. As an example, a typical album in MP3 320kbps will take up about 120 MB of space. On the other hand, a typical album in FLAC take up about 400 MB of space.
Take two songs, each lasting for about 5 minutes and both of sampling frequency 44.1 kHz, the 16 bit FLAC will take up about 6.69 MB while the MP3 320kbps will take up about 11.4 MB of space.
Should I Choose FLAC or 320 Bitrate?
For many people, many lossy formates are acceptable to them. For example, even 96kbps may be acceptable to most people, even though it may not be great.
However, the minimum standard is often 128kbps, especially for streaming audio.
This indicates that people will accept a wide range of formats. However, there are specific instances in which you may want to use one format or another.
When Should You Use FLAC over MP3?
FLAC: First of all, just because FLAC keeps the original audio quality by maintaining audio information, that doesn’t mean it’s always the best choice.
Here are some situations in which FLAC is the better choice:
- With high definition audio systems and headphones
- FLAC really shines is for archiving music
- When you want to maintain all the audio fidelity of your music files.
- When using high-resolution audio players
Here are some cases in which you shouldn’t use FLAC:
- FLAC contains more data than the corresponding 320kbps file, so they use more storage space. Not great for portable devices.
When you should use MP3 320 Bitrate?
In the same breath, just because MP3 320kbps will not maintain the same quality as FLAC, that doesn’t mean it can’t ever be the better choice.
In fact, here are some situations in which MP3 320 bitrate is the better choice:
- When using small portable devices with limited storage e.g your smartphone or portable music player. MP3 bitrate will save space.
On the other hand, here are instances in which you should about 320kbps:
- For archiving purposes
- When using high definition audio gear
As we have explained, FLAC is lossless and MP3 320kbps is lossy which means FLAC maintains quality, and MP3 320 bitrate gives up some audio information which degrades quality.
In general, most people won’t be able to tell a difference unless you are investing in very good audio gear, and have the well-trained ears of an audiophile.
The fact is, the difference between 320kbps and FLAC isn’t noticeable to a normal person unless you are using high-end headphones/speakers or files created from properly mastered audio.
At the end of the day, neither format is better in general, because it really depends on your specific use case. So, go for the format that best suits your purpose.