How To: Maximize Your iPod®/MP3 Listening Experiences

Learn how compression formats affect sound quality.

Klipsch offers several high-performance personal audio products that bring out the absolute best in your digital music, regardless of whether you own an iPod® or other MP3 player. From compact Klipsch Music Centers to our extremely comfortable and superior sounding headphones, we’ve got you covered.

However, it’s important to know that when it comes to the superior delivery of digital music, the compression format you choose to import songs makes a huge difference. The more compressed a song is the more sound quality is lost. So, if you’re listening through our headphones or one of our iPod speakers and find that the sound is thin and inaccurate, the top end sounds harsh or the dynamics aren’t great, then it’s a compression issue, rather than a product issue.

Recommended Compression Formats

In iTunes, you can select between five different compression encoders when ripping music files from your CD collection: AAC, AIFF, Apple Lossless, MP3 and WAV. But which is best?

If you’re into serious listening and want to get the full impact of our performance prowess, you’ll need to select a WAV, AIFF or Apple Lossless format for your music. While WAV and AIFF are raw audio files from CDs in computer-readable formats, Apple Lossless preserves a CD’s original quality while cutting its size in half. You might compare this lossless encoding to a zip file: smaller than the original, but with no data loss. Keep in mind that these three formats take up a lot more file space than the standard AAC and MP3 encodings; you’ll get fewer songs on your iPod, but they’ll be delivered at a much higher quality.

Another thing to consider when choosing these compression formats is that only iTunes and the iPod can support Apple Lossless files and just about every other piece of music playing software will be able to play WAV files. AIFF files are specific to Macs, so if you are planning to listen to music on a PC, WAV is better.

Because they sound pretty good and achieve the best compression out of all five formats, most iPod users choose between AAC and MP3. AAC or advanced audio coding is the standard default on iTunes. When compared to an MP3 format, AAC gives better sound at the same bit rate. However, only iTunes and the iPod can support AAC; MP3s can be played on just about every digital music player.

PC users can make their compression selection in iTunes by going to the edit drop-down box, selecting preferences and then clicking on the importing tab. For Mac users, it’s going to the iTunes drop-down box, selecting preferences and then clicking on the importing tab.

Recommended Bit Rates

The second variable to consider when trying to get the best sound performance out of your digital music files deals with the “bit rate.” Bit rate refers to the rate that data is flowing in bits per second. The greater the bit rate, the more data is played back every second.

Most often, files are compressed to 128 kbps, 160 kbps or 192 kbps. The standard bit rate default in iTunes is 128 kbps, but you can customize your rate to go as high as 320 kbps (you make your bit rate selection when choosing your compression format). Kbps means kilobits per second; the higher the number, the better the sound and the more space a music file will consume on your computer or iPod. The lower the number, the lower quality of audio and the less file space you’ll take up.

To give you an example of how bit rates works, a 4-minute song requires about 3.7 MB of iPod/hard disk space at 128 kbps and about 4.7 MB at 160 kbps. If you go to 192 kbps, you’d have a 5.6 MB file, and file sizes increase accordingly each time you move to a higher bit rate.

You may find that your music sounds fine at the 128 kbps rate, but if you want true audiophile-quality sound from your Klipsch products, you should go with either a 192 kbps or 256 kbps rate. Bit rate and file size doesn’t usually pose a problem unless you have tons of music and want to fit it all on your iPod. That’s when you have to make a choice: better sound quality and fewer songs or lower sound quality and more songs.