The mp3 digital music format has liberated music in a way that would be totally unthinkable to a previous generation. The Walkman made music portable and the CD digitised music but the revolution came as the mp3 format compressed music to fit into a fraction of its true size. Instead of music collections stretching from floor to ceiling, they could fit into a small box. However, audiophiles claim that this freedom has come at the price of sound quality, gradually eroding in the transition from vinyl to CD and finally to compressed digital, with serious deficiences in the sound output from mp3 music.
Are you one of the audiophiles or do you think that mp3 sounds just as good as vinyl? (C’mon, seriously?!) Do you want to put your hi-fi hearing to the test? If you do, the Philips Golden Ears Challenge is right up your street.
Philips has created a self-testing website that lets you find out “how good your ears are”. The Golden Ears sites educates you in everything anyone could ever need to know about sound, and helps to deepen the everyday listening experience, defining your own superior audio experience and understanding in what goes into creating quality sound equipment.
The site takes the listener (you) through a number of challenges starting at basic then working up through bronze and silver before achieving Golden Ears!
Each step explains the terminology and related effect before letting you hear the differences. For example, “Spectral Balance is the relative balance between the low and the high frequencies. A bright sound has more high frequency content, whereas a dark sound contains more of the low frequencies.”
After training, you then take a test to see if you can pick out the modified audio track from the original. The changes get progressively smaller over six samples to see how good you really are. It gets pretty tricky when there are only a few dB differences. It really helps if you have decent headphones or speakers on your PC – I wouldn’t recommend doing the tests with a Bluetooth headset!
It does take a little while to work through the exercises but it is educational and rewarding to understand the complexity of audio reproduction. You could easily spend a couple of hours going through it to get “Golden Ears” but the site remembers your progress so you can leave and return as you have time. It’s very satisfying too when you correctly select all the distorted tracks in a test. The Basic Level will take about an hour.
If you think that mp3 sounds as good as a CD or that bundled headphones sound as good as those costing $100, then take the Golden Ears Challenge and you’ll be both educated and surprised!