MP3 - what all does "lossy" mean?

HELLO - maybe this is the right forum for this elementary (I think) question - might already be here but wasn’t able to find after a little searching - anyways…

I understand that MP3 is a “lossy” audio format and I suppose that means first that it is a ‘compressed’ file format that does not contain all the audio bits of an original recording off a CD but may still sound OK - that I understand - here’s a question to maybe get some additional “down-the-line” meaning of the word “lossy” -

IF I IMPORT AN MP3 file (say preset 192kbps recorded) into audacity and then immediately export and save it again in mp3 format at the same “quality” (preset 192), is there an ADDITIONAL “loss” of musical “bits” (and downgrade of quality)? - I think that may get to the nub of what I am wondering - thanks for any answers.

Every time you do production in MP3, the loss damage goes up. MP3 is a delivery format, not a production format.

The official description of the “loss” is that the format selectively sheers off the quiet parts of the music you wouldn’t be able to hear anyway. This effect is usually on a slider so you can choose the damage while you’re making the files.

Actually, it’s much more subtle than that. If you have four people playing violins and two of the instruments are very expensive, you should have no trouble telling when the good guys are playing. As the compression goes up, you lose the ability to find the expensive violins. They all start to sound like cheap student instruments.


hello koz thanks for the quick and thorough answer - yes I think I see that the answer to my last question above must be "yes there is more “loss” -

I take it if I am working on a flac (‘compressed but lossLESS’?) file, then that does not happen - ??

I do production in the highest quality WAV files I can get or manage. WAV files are universal, stable, and good quality and have no, that I’ve been able to find, bad surprises.

Producers hate surprises.


FLAC is indeed lossless. If you convert from WAV to FLAC and back to WAV, the final file is identical to the original.

The only downside to FLAC is that it is less widely supported than WAV. If you send someone a FLAC file, they might think “what the heck is this?”. As koz puts it, a “bad surprise” for the person receiving it.

thanks steve for the additional comments -
I’m just doing (several hundred) old music cassette conversions manly for my own use - I don’t need the highest quality final result - converted tapes are good enough for my old ears (but I do like to get the hiss out - you’ve also seen (and apparently agreed with!) my comments on that!) :slight_smile:

anyway if I need to send a file to someone guess I’ll just convert it to wav or whatever they want - I’ve started archiving in flac because

  1. I understand it is ‘lossless’ -
  2. seems like it compresses more than wav (space is a consideration) - but that may be my lack of education :slight_smile:
  3. seems like I read that wav was ‘microsoft’ and flac is like ‘public domain’ or something - I tend to shy away from stuff that may be legally protected somehow -
  4. latest Audacities can deal directly with flac, and also Winamp (maybe just the purchased version, don’t recall) - I don’t think that RealPlayer or windows media player or apple itunes do.

<<<I read that wav was ‘microsoft’>>>

It is. Microsoft / IBM WAV file format at one time was the most universal sound file format in the world. It is directly supported, read and write, on Windows, Mac, Linux and probably earlier machines. Even the iPod will accept and play WAV sound files if you need it to. WAV and Mac AIFF are sisters and they’re also very close cousins of CDA, the music on your Music CDs.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an FLAC sound file.

Little known facts: MP3 (MPEG 1, Layer III) is a registered file format of Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and takes a licensing fee. It’s not public domain.