Are Apple's new higher-fidelity downloads worth their premium prices? No, says a recording engineer writing for the Sci Fi Tech
blog. Critic Leslie Shapiro downloaded 20 songs from iTunes Plus at 256 kilobits per second and compared them to 128kbps versions (both using Apple's favored AAC codec). "I bought into the idea that the difference would be drastic, or at least noticeable," Shapiro writes. "I spent hours listening, switching from 128 to 256 and back, straining to hear something--anything--different about the tracks. My critical listening skills are pretty good, but this was pushing the limit. To be fair, there were differences, but they were subtle. For example, on David Bowie's 'Space Oddity,' the high-end clarity was a bit more pronounced on the 256-kbps version, and on KT Tunstell's 'Other Side of The World,' the guitars were slightly more detailed. It would've been extremely hard to distinguish had I not been switching instantly from one format to the other." True, Shapiro might have reached different conclusions if comparing MP3s at the same data rate--or compressed files to lossless ones. But considering what Apple's charging for these higher-bit-rate downloads, the winner (at least for people who care about sound quality) may be the dear old CD. After all, you can rip it to any codec you like, and even change your mind in the future. Mmmm, my bulging CD shelves are sure lookin' good!