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Comparing MP3 Bit Rates

A great feature about the MP3 format is that it allows you to sacrifice audio quality for disk space. You make this trade-off by choosing a number, called the "bit rate," between 8 and 384. The higher the bit rate, the better the sound quality and the bigger the file. Set it too low and you might be disappointed in the performance. Set it too high and you'll outperform the CD! This is the guide to finding your ideal bit rate balance.

Album Cover: 'Alone in IZ World,' by Israel_Kamakawiwo'ole. Photo on cover shows 'IZ' floating in water, which appears to be the ocean on a globe. price:

Sound Clip by Iz

The audio clip used throughout this topic is from a wonderful artist I discovered in Hawai‘i who has a very long name but goes by Iz for short.

You can hear more of his music by following the link.

You will hear for yourself the difference between a high quality MP3, a low quality MP3 and the levels in-between.

I also provide some interactive calculators where you can estimate how much space it will take to store your MP3 collection.

Choosing an ideal bit rate is an important decision that should be made before you begin building your MP3 collection. The decision is not one you can easily change later.

So go ahead, get those headphones out and see which bit rate best pleases both your ears and your hard drive.


MP3s are Small in Size Compared to CD Tracks

The chart below says it all. Even a "CD Quality" MP3 file is 5 times smaller than the same track on a CD. If your only requirement is that your MP3 sound quality is virtually identical to your CD, 256Kbps is your bit rate.


File Sizes: MP3 vs. Audio CD
12.3MB, Wave File, CD Bit rate.   Listen


2.2MB, 256Kbps MP3. 18% of original.  Listen


286KB, 32Kbps MP3, 3% of original.   Listen
Exact Copy


MP3 (CD Quality)


MP3 (Low Quality)
Comparing File Sizes: Original CD Track to MP3 File

This clip is one minute and 16 seconds. It is 12 megabytes as a audio CD. A very high quality MP3 file is only 2.2 megabytes. See if you can tell the difference!



Finding Your Ideal Bit rate

The chart below shows the most of the bit rates available for the MP3 format and my rating of each bit rate's suitability for storing music. Click on the "Listen" link next to each row to hear the sample. And let me stress again, you must listen to these samples in headphones to hear the subtler differences.


File Sizes: MP3 Bit rates from High to Low
2.2MB   Listen


1.7MB, 75% of CD quality.  Listen


1.4MB, 63% CD quality.   Listen


1.1MB, 50% of CD quality.   Listen


860KB, 36% of CD quality.   Listen


574KB, 25% of CD quality.   Listen


286KB, 13% of CD quality.   Listen
256Kbps (CD)


192Kbps (FM)


160Kbps (Good)


128Kbps (Fair)


96Kbps (Poor)


64Kbps (Lousy)


32Kbps (Terrible)
Comparing File Sizes: Original CD Track to MP3 File

Listen with your headphones to really appreciate the difference between each bit rate.



MP3 Disk Space Calculators

In deciding on a bit rate, you need to weigh two things:

  1. What level of sound degradation you're willing to accept (if any)
  2. How much space you have available to devote to your MP3s

The MP3 clips above should have helped you answer the first. The calculators below will help answer the second.

These are only estimates based on 60 minutes per album for the Album Calculator and 4 minutes per song for the Song Calculator.


Disk Space by Album

Enter the number of albums and your MP3 bit rate to find our how many megabytes (or gigabytes) your CD collection will consume. The calculator assumes a 60 minute CD.

Bit Rate
Click Here!


Disk Space by Songs

Estimate disk space usage by song count. It assumes 4 minutes per song.

Bit Rate
Click Here!


Originally Published:  Monday, March 20, 2006, 5:00 PM PT

Last Updated:  Wednesday, August 3, 2011, 5:59 PM PT

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