Study: Windows Media Beats MP3

A new consumer study by ZD Labs shows digital music in the Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Media Format sounds more like CD-quality audio in half the size of MP3.

In an experiment reminiscent of Coke and Pepsi taste tests, Ziff Davis’s (ZD) ZD Labs conducted
a study that compared Windows Media- and MP3-formatted content to original CD
recordings. The study found that when compared to the CD-quality originals,
nearly 90 percent of consumers tested preferred or could not tell the
difference in quality between music in the Windows Media Format and songs in
the MP3 format that were twice the size. In addition, this study revealed
that consumers overwhelmingly chose Windows Media for live streaming of audio
at 32k bps and at 64k bps over MP3.

The report stated that “the test participants chose the Windows Media
Audio codec over the RealNetworks/Xing MP3 codec in all our major test

The study tested two major consumer usage scenarios.
During the first test scenario, participants listened to a live
streaming-quality usage scenario, which included listening to Internet radio,
live music events over the Internet, and Web-based jukeboxes. Results showed
that 97.6 percent of test participants responded that the music created with
the Windows Media Audio codec sounded more like the original than the music
created with the RealNetworks/Xing MP3 codec.

For the second test scenario, consumers were asked if they thought the
Windows Media-formatted clip or the MP3 clip sounded more like the original
CD recording. Each participant was asked to listen to 15 seconds of three
clips. The first clip was, unknown to them, always the original CD music. The
second two clips were a random ordering of the same 15 seconds of the Windows
Media- and MP3-encoded files across different genres of music. Each file was
encoded at CD-quality bit rates of 64k bps for Windows Media and 128k bps for
MP3. Results from this test showed 8.9 out of 10 people either preferred
Windows Media at 64k bps over MP3 at 128k bps or could not tell which of the
two more closely resembled actual original CD clips, even though the Windows
Media Audio clips were 50 percent smaller than the MP3 clips.

“This study confirms that Windows Media offers a technological breakthrough,”
said Dave Fester, director of marketing for the Streaming Media Division at
Microsoft. “Using Windows Media, consumers can overcome the storage barriers
on music devices and double their digital music storage by getting two hours
of CD-quality music on a 64MB portable music device, compared to only one
hour using the MP3 format.”

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