The Naxos label has a blog and recently they discussed how to find the right bit rate for you when purchasing or ripping classical music to digital for your iPod/streaming needs. The main point of their article was that you should find the bit rate that sounds the best to you on the main device you “consume” your audio on. For example, there is a limit to how well you can tell apart different bit rate qualities on your iPod headphones vs. your laptop vs. your TV vs. your hi-fi system. Is it practical to carry around a ton of 320kbps or higher music if you can’t really tell the difference? Probably not…unless you have awesome headphones or plug your mobile device into your car’s stereo.
A fun way to test whether you can really hear the difference is in this blog…where it shows the difference between a high bit-rate section of Debussy’s “La Mer” with a low one…so you get the big contrast. Then, it takes another excerpt and plays it at increasing bitrates (16kbps, 32, 64, 128, 256 and 320) and you get to find out at what rate you stop hearing a real difference. The main point is, you don’t need a ton of lossless audio that take up tons of space if the 256kbps version sounds the same on the speakers you’re using.
Enjoy testing out your speakers, and have fun!