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Is my computer totally faulty or is WMA just so horrible?
Neuron
post Jan 14 2013, 14:03
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I decided, for fun and curiousity, to rip an old CD containing an 80s mix (original, pressed CD) to the Microsoft's WMA format, in Windows Media Player 11. I already knew the "64 kbps = CD quality or even 64 kbps wma = 128 kbps mp3" claim is nonsense and so is the "96 kbps wma = 160 kbps mp3" one. However, I still thought that many people here bash WMA too much because, hey, it is a modern transform codec, it can't be all bad can it? I was wrong. Either my computer produces messed up wma files, or the wma format is irredeemably bad.

Here are my ABX results for the first track.
QUOTE
foo_abx 1.3.4 report
foobar2000 v1.1.16
2013/01/14 13:18:55

File A: C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator.MISO-33497FE14F.000\My Documents\My Music\Verschiedene Interpreten\Feel the Fever of the 80's\01 Feel the Fever of the 80's.wma
File B: D:\Verschiedene Interpreten\Feel the Fever of the 80's\01 Feel the Fever of the 80's.wma

13:18:55 : Test started.
13:19:15 : 01/01 50.0%
13:19:29 : 02/02 25.0%
13:19:58 : 03/03 12.5%
13:20:29 : 04/04 6.3%
13:20:42 : 04/05 18.8%
13:20:55 : 05/06 10.9%
13:21:30 : 05/07 22.7%
13:21:49 : 06/08 14.5%
13:22:03 : 07/09 9.0%
13:22:13 : 08/10 5.5%
13:22:46 : 09/11 3.3%
13:22:58 : 10/12 1.9%
13:23:17 : 11/13 1.1%
13:23:32 : 12/14 0.6%
13:23:47 : 13/15 0.4%
13:23:58 : 14/16 0.2%
13:24:23 : 15/17 0.1%
13:24:54 : 16/18 0.1%
13:25:29 : 17/19 0.0%
13:25:57 : 18/20 0.0%
13:26:16 : 19/21 0.0%
13:26:18 : Test finished.

----------
Total: 19/21 (0.0%)


This was at 128 kbps. I normally find LAME mp3s hard to ABX at 128 kbps. But the artifacting on the highs and drums on this track was so bad, I haven't heard it even on old Xing or Blade encodes. And this is WMA9, not the old versions.

EDIT - Yes, foobar reports both files as WMA, but I have ABXed it against WMA lossless (as this is the only lossless format WMP 11 supports). I thought using an EAC rip wouldn't be fair to the codec.

This post has been edited by Neuron: Jan 14 2013, 14:05
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Neuron
post Jan 14 2013, 14:27
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ABX result for another 2 tracks...

QUOTE
foo_abx 1.3.4 report
foobar2000 v1.1.16
2013/01/14 14:06:53

File A: C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator.MISO-33497FE14F.000\My Documents\My Music\Verschiedene Interpreten\Feel the Fever of the 80's\02 Let the Music Play.wma
File B: D:\Verschiedene Interpreten\Feel the Fever of the 80's\02 Let the Music Play.wma

14:06:53 : Test started.
14:07:15 : 01/01 50.0%
14:07:46 : 02/02 25.0%
14:07:54 : 03/03 12.5%
14:08:26 : 04/04 6.3%
14:08:49 : 04/05 18.8%
14:09:04 : 05/06 10.9%
14:09:41 : 06/07 6.3%
14:09:58 : 07/08 3.5%
14:10:26 : 08/09 2.0%
14:10:45 : 09/10 1.1%
14:11:21 : 10/11 0.6%
14:11:34 : 11/12 0.3%
14:13:56 : 12/13 0.2%
14:14:37 : 13/14 0.1%
14:14:52 : 14/15 0.0%
14:16:02 : 15/16 0.0%
14:16:31 : 16/17 0.0%
14:17:01 : 17/18 0.0%
14:17:20 : 18/19 0.0%
14:17:30 : 19/20 0.0%
14:17:40 : 20/21 0.0%
14:17:42 : Test finished.

----------
Total: 20/21 (0.0%)


QUOTE
foo_abx 1.3.4 report
foobar2000 v1.1.16
2013/01/14 14:19:21

File A: C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator.MISO-33497FE14F.000\My Documents\My Music\Verschiedene Interpreten\Feel the Fever of the 80's\04 Words.wma
File B: D:\Verschiedene Interpreten\Feel the Fever of the 80's\04 Words.wma

14:19:21 : Test started.
14:19:42 : 01/01 50.0%
14:19:56 : 02/02 25.0%
14:20:04 : 03/03 12.5%
14:20:12 : 04/04 6.3%
14:20:20 : 05/05 3.1%
14:20:29 : 06/06 1.6%
14:20:43 : 07/07 0.8%
14:20:49 : 08/08 0.4%
14:20:59 : 09/09 0.2%
14:21:08 : 10/10 0.1%
14:21:28 : 11/11 0.0%
14:21:36 : 12/12 0.0%
14:21:50 : 13/13 0.0%
14:21:58 : 14/14 0.0%
14:22:06 : 15/15 0.0%
14:22:14 : 16/16 0.0%
14:22:23 : 17/17 0.0%
14:22:31 : 18/18 0.0%
14:22:39 : 19/19 0.0%
14:22:46 : 20/20 0.0%
14:22:52 : 21/21 0.0%
14:22:54 : Test finished.

----------
Total: 21/21 (0.0%)


I understand that it is not that unusual for an encoder to not be transparent at 128 kbps however WMA is just so "un-transparent" it is funny. The artifacting kind of reminds me of wow and flutter on cassette tapes, with some parts sounding unnaturally bright and other unnaturally dull. I can provide samples if you want.
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pdq
post Jan 14 2013, 14:33
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Based on years of listening tests, WMA Standard does pretty well at 64 kbps and below, especially compared to mp3 at those bitrates, but I would never use it at higher bitrates. WMA Pro, on the other hand, does quite well at higher bitrates, but seems to have been ignored/abandoned by MS.
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Neuron
post Jan 14 2013, 14:42
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QUOTE (pdq @ Jan 14 2013, 14:33) *
Based on years of listening tests, WMA Standard does pretty well at 64 kbps and below, especially compared to mp3 at those bitrates, but I would never use it at higher bitrates. WMA Pro, on the other hand, does quite well at higher bitrates, but seems to have been ignored/abandoned by MS.


But how can a codec that screws up even 128 kbps do low bitrates really well? Is WMA designed kind of like the QDesign RaveSound codec (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QDesign), with agressive compression enabling relatively OK low bitrates but the heavy artifacting still remaining at 128 kbps and higher?

Anyways, to me, a 64 kbps mono mp3 sounds a lot better than 64 kbps wma stereo, through obviously stereo vs. mono is an unfair comparision.
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pdq
post Jan 14 2013, 15:31
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You are probably right, that the tricks that they have to pull to improve low bitrate performance make it more difficult/impossible to do really well at high bitrates.
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Mach-X
post Jan 14 2013, 15:32
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What difference would it make abxing against a track ripped with eac? lossless is lossless. When it first came out, wma standard was quite competitive with other codecs at the time. However microsoft abandoned it in favour of windows media professional, a codec more modern and advanced. Remember there was a time during the audiograbber and xing days that an mp3 was rather unacceptable at sub 192 levels, but it's since been refined and tuned by the lame folks that we take it for granted. Had msoft released a command line encoder/source code, it's quite likely wma standard would be at least equivalent to what lame is today. Try doing the same abx against wma pro, you might be surprised.
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Neuron
post Jan 14 2013, 15:43
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QUOTE (Mach-X @ Jan 14 2013, 15:32) *
What difference would it make abxing against a track ripped with eac? lossless is lossless. When it first came out, wma standard was quite competitive with other codecs at the time. However microsoft abandoned it in favour of windows media professional, a codec more modern and advanced. Remember there was a time during the audiograbber and xing days that an mp3 was rather unacceptable at sub 192 levels, but it's since been refined and tuned by the lame folks that we take it for granted. Had msoft released a command line encoder/source code, it's quite likely wma standard would be at least equivalent to what lame is today. Try doing the same abx against wma pro, you might be surprised.


I know lossless is lossless, but the CD is rather old (in good condition through) and WMP may not have the same error correction as EAC, so I used WMP as I didn't want to mistake potential ripping errors for wma artifacts. I know about Blade and Xing days, but Xing 1.5 from 1999 was actually quite competetive even in 2004 http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/index....=18378&st=0 . I have a lot of old Xing and ever a few Blade encodes on my computer, but none of the Xing encodes scream "hey this sounds bad" like the WMA encodes do. Most of them actually sound quite good as long as I don't listen to them next to the lossless file. By comparision, the 128 kbps wma encodes sounded bad to me even before I compared them to the lossless original.

This post has been edited by Neuron: Jan 14 2013, 15:44
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greynol
post Jan 14 2013, 15:54
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QUOTE (Neuron @ Jan 14 2013, 05:42) *
Anyways, to me, a 64 kbps mono mp3 sounds a lot better than 64 kbps wma stereo, through obviously stereo vs. mono is an unfair comparision.

64 Kbps spent all on one channel vs. 64 Kbps spent on two channels; yeah just a little unfair.


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saratoga
post Jan 14 2013, 17:37
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QUOTE (pdq @ Jan 14 2013, 09:31) *
You are probably right, that the tricks that they have to pull to improve low bitrate performance make it more difficult/impossible to do really well at high bitrates.


All the low bitrate stuff in WMA is completely optional, and the MS encoder does not use anything special above 32kbps. WMA is basically a textbook transform codec with nothing particularly special about it. If it doesn't work at least as well as mp3 at a given bitrate, its probably just a lack of polish on the encoder side. The fact that MS effectively abandoned the format years ago probably doesn't help.
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