I wouldn't worry about being at 256 Kbps. Few humans can tell 256 Kbps apart from a wav file.
It's entirely down to the mastering.
I would however for test purposes try ripping an album using the latest lame encoder. It's come on leaps and bounds and I am uncertain that WMP does the best job.
Grab a copy of EAC or CDex and the Lame plugin and test.
If you wish to ABX the 2 different rips, then download Foobar and the ABX comparitor plugin.
But as has already been mentioned, the quality of the 3.5mm headphone sockets on PCs varies wildly too.
“Out beyond ideas of wrong and right, there is a field.
I'll meet you there."
When I re-rip my music I will try a different ripping software and opt for the best VBR setting, that way I should be getting the best MP3s.
Then hopefully rip to Single-File FLAC and play those through VLC or something similar as Windows Media Player will not play FLAC.
Using the headphone jack does not sound like a good plan.
I'm with Ben. The headphone jack on my Dell sounds appalling. Buy a DAC.
Hi-Fi: Arcam A85, P85, CD192. B&W 602S3, PV1, Grado SR125, Atlas Titan, Hyper 2.0.
A/V: Sony KDL-V40A12U, BDP-S760, Humax Youview, Onkyo TX-SR875, B&W MT30 7.1, QED HDMI-P, S.A XT
Maybe a Filo E7 for £69 would be the answer.
256kbps is absolutely fine for playback. You'll get a lot of advice about how nothing less than 320kbps will do. I ripped a load of CDs across to an external hard drive a couple of years back, a mix of 128, 192, 320 and WAV. I was amazed some months later, long after I'd copied the discs that the 128kbps ones sounded great through the stereo. Couldn't tell the 192 files apart form the WAV ones and these were on albums that had great mastering jobs done on them.
And therein lies your answer. Get good masterings of the music you like and you're done. a great mastering on 128kbps will comfortably outperform a duff one at hi-res.
Onkyo TX-NR818 / Tannoy DC4 speakers / Marantz UD-7007
AVI Lab Series CD player / various cables
When you are listening to music, should you be able to hear every single quiet sound on the track or are things just designed like that, and should there be lots of bass action in the sound or will boosting sounds via effects and EQ improve the sound at all.
When I have every single effect and EQ disabled the sound is fine but find it is lacking some guts in certain areas especially where the rumbles and synths are.
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