Tag Archives: Files

The Best File Management App for Android

The Best File Management App for Android

File managers may be a dime a dozen on Android, but Solid Explorer stands out from the pack. With advanced features for managing and browsing your files, both on your phone and remotely, it’s our new favorite file manager.

Update: Recently, our previous pick ES File Explorer has started adding some shady adware to its free version. The paid version ($2.99) is reportedly still safe, but we’ve decided to update our top pick to reflect this new development.

Solid Explorer

Platform: Android
Price: $1.99 after 14-day free trial
Download Page


  • Basic file management functions: copy, paste, cut, create, delete, rename, share and send files stored on your SD card or internal memory
  • Select multiple files at once
  • Browse Collections of photos, music, and videos in one place
  • Manage, install, and uninstall apps, plus explore file structure within apps
  • Open, read, extract, and decrypt ZIP, 7ZIP, RAR and TAR files
  • Manage cloud files on Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, Google Drive, Sugarsync, Copy, Mediafire, Owncloud, and Yandex
  • Add more storage options with plugins for Amazo, Mega, and more
  • Lock access to network locations with password
  • Use root access to perform root-only actions
  • Batch rename large groups of files at once with regular expressions or variables
  • Remotely access files with FTP, SFTP, WebDav, and SMB/CIFS clients
  • Bookmark folders for quick access later
  • View images and listen to audio with built-in media player
  • Cast media to your Chromecast
  • Customize primary and accent color scheme
  • Choose between light, dark, and black background themes
  • Material Design interface

Where It Excels

Solid Explorer covers almost all of the beats you’d expect from a file manager nearly flawlessly. Collections allow you to view all of your photos, music, and videos in one place. You can connect your cloud storage accounts like Dropbox to manage your files remotely. It also has support for remote access protocols like FTP and you can even use it as a root file manager. Even for advanced users, it packs a punch.

On top of all this, it’s also gorgeous. While most file managers have a design stuck somewhere between 2009 and the stone age, Solid Explorer makes it a priority to adhere to Google’s Material Design spec. You can also customize your themes and colors and even choose between light and dark themes, because there’s really no reason a file manager should blind you.

Where It Falls Short

While we prefer to choose a free app when we can, Solid Explorer doesn’t fall into that camp. You can try it for free for two weeks, but after that, you’ll have to shell out $2 to keep using it. On top of that, the company also charges for some plugins like Mega, and even offers additional icon packs for more money. This is annoying, but most of the add-ons are either free or optional. The upside is that you at least know where Solid Explorer is getting its money from. Since our last pick was pulled for adding sketchy adware, we’ll call this a mixed blessing, rather than an outright negative.

The Competition

The free version of ES File Explorer may have lost our recommendation, but if you don’t want to say goodbye, you should at least check out ES File Explorer Pro. For $2.99, all of the embedded app “suggestions” and junkware are removed, and there are no ads. It still has all the bells and whistles we used to like, including remote file access, ZIP support, and an app manager. Of course, most of those same features are in Solid Explorer for $1 less.

FX File Explorer is also a great option for users who like ES File Explorer’s design but don’t want the junk. The free version covers the basics of local file management, while you can pay $2.99 to unlock advanced features like cloud or networked storage and an app manager. For basic users, the free version gives an edge over Solid Explorer, but advanced users will end up paying slightly more for the big guns. Though, at the time of this writing, FX File Explorer is running a sale, bringing the price down to $1.99, specifically aiming to court users of ES File Explorer.

It’s also worth pointing out that if you don’t need much from your file manager, Android N will have you covered as well. Google has started building a basic file manager into the system itself. You can copy and move files, rename files and folders, and create new folders all within the system itself. It’s a far cry from the advanced features of other apps on this list, and Android N isn’t even released yet, but if you’re one of the few running the N Preview or are reading this in the future from an Android N device, you might not need a full file manager app.

Gemini 2, the Duplicate File Finder, Cleans Up Its Interface, Improves Similar File Detection

Mac: Gemini, our favorite duplicate file finder for Mac, got a big update today that modernizes the interface and improves the file scanning algorithm so it can find more duplicate files even when they’re not named the same thing.


Gemini’s always been good enough for finding files, but it was always kind of ugly and a little difficult to use because of the interface. Now, the interface is much cleaner, and because of that, it’s easier to spot and delete duplicates, especially with photo files. More important is the new ability to find similar files. Gemini scans your hard drive and can look for similar file sizes and dates, which means it can find duplicates even if you’ve named files differently. This is great for photos especially, where you might have burst shots or multiple photos of the same thing taking up a lot of space. Once it finds those duplicates, you can easily preview those files before you delete them to make certain you’re not deleting anything you don’t want to. In my tests, Gemini 2 found a bunch more files than the original version, especially when it came to photos.

The new version does come with a price bump though. Where the original version of Gemini was $10, Gemini 2 costs $20. The good news is that it’s on sale this week for $10. Likewise, if you’re a previous user of Gemini, you can always upgrade for $10. As before, you can also check it out for free from the developer’s site.

Gemini 2 ($20/on sale for $10 this week)

Set Windows 10 to Search All File Contents With This Setting

Set Windows 10 to Search All File Contents With This Setting

With Windows 10, many options and settings have been moved around or changed entirely. If you’d like Windows’ search to examine the contents of files, as well as the names, here’s how to do that.

To turn on the file contents indexing, follow these steps:

  1. In the Start menu, search for “Indexing Options.”
  2. Click “Advanced.”
  3. Switch to the File Types tab.
  4. Under “How should this file be indexed?” select “Index Properties and File Contents.”

That’s it! While the option has existed in previous versions of Windows in a different place, the new Cortana features may make file searching much more useful.

How To Make Windows 10 Search Through File Contents | Into Windows

Dropzone Gets an Interface Update, Keyboard Shortcuts, and More

Mac: Dropzone is one of our favorite ways to handle moving around files and today an update makes it a much more seamless experience.http://lifehacker.com/5891836/how-to…

First things first, the design of Dropzone gets an overhaul to fit in with Yosemite and El Capitan, which makes it a lot nicer to look at. The update also adds keyboard shortcuts so you can move files around easier, as well as specialized actions that hook into Dropzone from OS X Services and your own Python apps. The app’s also on sale right now for half off at just $4.99. Head over to Dropzone’s site for the full update notes.

Dropzone 3 ($4.99/sale $9.99) | Mac App Store via Dropzone

Jumpshare, the Easy File Sharing App, Adds Support for Screencasts, Notes, and More

Jumpshare, the Easy File Sharing App, Adds Support for Screencasts, Notes, and More

Mac: We’re fans of Jumpshare because it makes sharing files as easy as dragging and dropping them, and today they’ve updated the Mac version of the app with a slew of new features, including support for screencasts, screenshots, notes, and a ton more. http://lifehacker.com/jumpshare-make…

Unlike something like Dropbox, Jumpshare is more about quickly sharing files without worrying worrying about linking accounts or permissions. Now, the app includes built-in tools to create screencasts, add notes, annotate screenshots, and a few other minor tweaks. The new integrations should clear up your workflow and make things a little smoother.

Jumpshare (Free) | Mac App Store

Delete Previous Versions of Files in OS X with this Menu Option

Delete Previous Versions of Files in OS X with this Menu Option

When you create files with most of Apple’s apps (and some third-party ones) it automatically saves several versions of that files so you can easily jump back to a previous version. This is great in most cases, but if you’re sharing your computer, you might not want people to have access. Six Colors points to a somewhat hidden menu to delete those files.

If you open up a file in an app like Pages or TextEdit, you can jump into the previous version screen by clicking File > Revert To > Browse All Versions. Here, you can browse through previous versions of the file, so find the one you want to delete. It will look like the menu bar is gone, but if you mouse over it, it’ll pop up and you can now access the delete menu at File > Revert To > Delete This Version. Now that versions gone forever.

Tip: Removing previous versions of files | Six Colors

The Best Duplicate File Finder for Windows

The Best Duplicate File Finder for Windows

You download too much crap. Sometimes you download the same crap multiple times. Even if you need to keep those files, you don’t need two of them. To get rid of the dupes, we recommend dupeGuru.


Platform: Windows
Price: Free
Download Page


  • “Fuzzy matching” algorithms can find files with identical or similar file names.
  • Matches across file type (i.e. matching a JPEG to an identical PNG).
  • Customizable filtering allows you to adjust the rules and strictness of matching.
  • Automatically remove empty folders during file deletion.
  • One-button selection to delete dupes.
  • Move dupes to separate folder.
  • Perform custom terminal commands on originals or dupes.
  • Specialty versions for music and picture cleanup.

Where It Excels

Of all the duplicate finders we tried out, dupeFinder was the simplest that still packed an impressive punch. To start a scan, you simply add a folder to the main window and hit “Scan.” Easy peasy. After a minute or two, you’ll get a list of all the files the app found duplicates of. The original file will be highlighted in blue, while the rest will be in black, making it easy to read the list.

Once you have your dupes, you can make quick work of them. A “Dupes Only” checkbox will only show you the secondary copies to make it a little less difficult to read. You can also see the size of the files, as well as a match percentage to quickly determine just how identical a file is. You may have files that are close enough to get caught by the app, but distinct enough that you need both, so dupeGuru gives you the tools to distinguish them.

The best feature of the app, though, is that it actually has two separate companion apps. dupeGuru Picture Edition and dupeGuru Music Edition are specially designed to clean up your photo and music collections respectively. Picture Edition scans the contents of a picture to find dupes that may have wildly different file names or even dimensions, but that are actually the same image. It also includes a picture preview window that compares the original to the

Music Edition can scan special music metadata like tags, bitrate, duration, or the content of the audio. Some of these scans can take longer, but picture and music libraries can get so out of control that they benefit from the extra attention.

Where It Falls Short

In terms of finding duplicate files, dupeGuru is hard to beat. However, it can also require up to three separate downloads to thoroughly check your library, which is annoying. While the interface is fairly clean, it’s also got a lot of advanced features that can be overwhelming to the average user.

The Picture and Music editions are also fairly slow. This isn’t necessarily bad. However, if you’ve got a big collection, you should probably start the scan and go grab a snack. Or watch a movie, if your library is really big.

The Competition

Normally, we don’t rule out applications just for including junkware (as long as you can avoid it), but with so many options for duplicate finders that do mostly the same thing, we decided to focus just on the clean ones. For that reason, CCleaner gets an automatic recommendation, since it’s already one of our favorite apps. Under the Tools sidebar, select “Duplicate Finder” to scan your system. It’s not nearly as feature packed as some of the other tools, but if you already use CCleaner, it’s the handiest option you have.

SearchMyFiles is another good option that includes some heavy filtering options and robust comparison tools. You can narrow your search by file size, date and time, specific file extensions and more. It’s less useful for super speedy cleanup, but it can give you a lot more control if you want to do the work by hand.

Duplicate Files Finder is another solid, if simplistic option. While it doesn’t have a ton of unique features (it’s not even the only app with this name), it’s easily one of the fastest. It will scan specific folders and find files that have the same size, and then compare them to see if they’re identical. Because it only compares identically sized files, it’s insanely fast. However, this also limits how effective it can be at finding more vague matches. If you just want to clear up some space, it can do it with just a couple clicks. But don’t expect your hard drive to be totally free of junk afterwards.

These are just a few of the options, though. There are roughly 2.7 billion duplicate finder applications per human on the planet (yes, we counted), so you may find others that have different advantages. These are the ones that we think are most worth your attention of the ones we explored. If you have suggestions for something different, sound off in the comments!

Air Drive Mounts Your Android Device Wirelessly as a Drive Letter

Air Drive Mounts Your Android Device Wirelessly as a Drive Letter

Android and Windows: Transferring files to an Android device is a pain. Air Drive lets you wirelessly mount your Android file system as a drive letter in Windows Explorer.

We covered all sorts of ways to move a file from Android to Windows, including over wireless networks. AirDrive shows your Android device and its SD storage as just another drive letter in Windows. You’ll need to install NetDrive on your PC and AirDrive on your Android device. Then your Android will show up as just another drive letter in Windows.

AirDrive | Google Play Store

Five Best File Encryption Tools

Five Best File Encryption Tools

Keeping your personal data safe doesn’t have to be difficult—as long as you keep the sensitive stuff encrypted and under your control. That’s why this week we’re looking at the five best file encryption tools you can use to encrypt your data locally so only you have the key.

Earlier in the week we asked you for your favorite file encryption tools, and you gave us tons of great nominations, but as always, we only have room for the top five.

For the purposes of our roundup, we’re focusing on desktop file encryption tools – the ones you use on your own computer to encrypt your own private data, not cloud services that promise to encrypt your data, or business services that say they offer encryption. The goal here is to find the best tools you can use to lock down your sensitive files—whether they’re photos, financial documents, personal backups, or anything else—and keep them locked down so only you have the key. For those unfamiliar with the topic, we have a great guide on how encryption works, and how you can use it to keep your own data safe.

With that out of the way, here are your top five, in no particular order:

VeraCrypt (Windows/OS X/Linux)

Five Best File Encryption Tools

VeraCrypt is a fork of and a successor to TrueCrypt, which ceased development last year (more on them later.) The development team claims they’ve addressed some of the issues that were raised during TrueCrypt’s initial security audit, and like the original, it’s free, with versions available for Windows, OS X, and Linux. If you’re looking for a file encryption tool that works like and reminds you of TrueCrypt but isn’t exactly TrueCrypt, this is it. VeraCrypt supports AES (the most commonly used), TwoFish, and Serpent encryption ciphers, supports the creation of hidden, encrypted volumes within other volumes. Its code is available to review, although it’s not strictly open source (because so much of its codebase came from TrueCrypt.) The tool is also under constant development, with regular security updates and an independent audit in the planning stages (according to the developers.)

Those of you who nominated VeraCrypt praised it for being an on-the-fly encryption tool, as in your files are only decrypted when they’re needed and they’re encrypted at rest at all other times, and most notably for being the spiritual (if not almost literal) successor to TrueCrypt. Many of you praised them for being a strong tool that’s simple to use and to the point, even if it’s lacking a good-looking interface or tons of bells and whistles. You also noted that VeraCrypt may not support TrueCrypt files and containers, but can convert them to its own format, which makes moving to it easy. You can read more in its nomination thread here.

AxCrypt (Windows)

Five Best File Encryption Tools

AxCrypt is a free, open source, GNU GPL-licensed encryption tool for Windows that prides itself on being simple, efficient, and easy to use. It integrates nicely with the Windows shell, so you can right-click a file to encrypt it, or even configure "timed," executable encryptions, so the file is locked down for a specific period of time and will self-decrypt later, or when its intended recipient gets it. Files with AxCrypt can be decrypted on demand or kept decrypted while they’re in use, and then automatically re-encrypted when they’re modified or closed. It’s fast, too, and allows you to select an entire folder or just a large group of files and encrypt them all with a single click. It’s entirely a file encryption tool however, meaning creating encrypted volumes or drives is out of its capabilities. It supports 128-bit AES encryption only, offers protection against brute force cracking attempts, and is exceptionally lightweight (less than 1MB.)

Those of you who nominated AxCrypt noted that it’s really easy to use and easy to integrate into your workflow, thanks to its shell support. If you’re eager for more options, it also has a ton of command line options, so you can fire up the command prompt in Windows and perform more complex actions—or multiple actions at once. It may not support the strongest or most varied encryption methods available, but if you’re looking to keep your data safe from most threats, it’s a simple tool that can lend a little security that your data—like files stored in the cloud on Dropbox or iCloud, for example—are secure and convenient to access at the same time. You can read more in this nomination thread here and here.

BitLocker (Windows)

Five Best File Encryption Tools

BitLocker is a full-disk encryption tool built in to Windows Vista and Windows 7 (Ultimate and Enterprise), and into Windows 8 (Pro and Enterprise), as well as Windows Server (2008 and later). It supports AES (128 and 256-bit) encryption, and while it’s primarily used for whole-disk encryption, it also supports encrypting other volumes or a virtual drive that can be opened and accessed like any other drive on your computer. It supports multiple authentication mechanisms, including traditional password and PINs, a USB "key," and the more controversial Trusted Platform Module (TPM) technology (that uses hardware to integrate keys into devices) that makes encryption and decryption transparent to the user but also comes with a host of its own issues. Either way, BitLocker’s integration with Windows (specifically Windows 8 Pro) makes it accessible to many people, and a viable disk encryption tool for individuals looking to protect their data if their laptop or hard drives are lost or stolen, in case their computers are compromised, or a business looking to secure data in the field.

Of course, it goes without saying that BitLocker was a contentious nomination. More than a few of you touted BitLocker’s accessibility and ease of use, and many of you even praised its encryption for being strong and difficult to crack. Many of you noted that you switched to BitLocker after the developers of TrueCrypt suggested it. Others, however, brought up the assertion made from privacy advocates that BitLocker is compromised and has backdoors in place for government security agencies (from multiple countries) to decrypt your data. While Microsoft has officially said this isn’t true and maintains there’s no backdoor in BitLocker (while simultaneously maintaining the code as closed source—but available to review by its partners, which include those agencies), the assertion is enough to make more than a few of you shy away. You can read more about the criticism and controversy at the Wikipedia link above, or in the nomination thread here.

GNU Privacy Guard (Windows/OS X/Linux)

Five Best File Encryption Tools

GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG) is actually an open-source implementation of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). While you can install the command line version on some operating systems, most people choose from the dozens of frontends and graphical interfaces for it, including the official releases that can encrypt everything from email to ordinary files to entire volumes. All GnuPG tools support multiple encryption types and ciphers, and generally are capable of encrypting individual files one at a time, disk images and volumes, or external drives and connected media. A few of you nominated specific GnuPG front-ends in various threads, like the Windows Gpg4Win, which uses Kleopatra as a certificate manager.

Those of you who nominated GnuPG praised it for being open-source and accessible through dozens of different clients and tools, all of which can offer file encryption as well as other forms of encryption, like robust email encryption for example. The key, however, is finding a front-end or a client that does what you need it to do and works well with your workflow. The screenshot above was taken using GPGTools, an all-in-one GnuPG solution that offers keychain management as well as file, email, and disk encryption for OS X. You can read more in its nomination thread here.

7-Zip (Windows/OS X/Linux)

Five Best File Encryption Tools

7-Zip is actually a lightweight file archiver—and our favorite archive utility for Windows. Even though it’s amazing at compressing and organizing files for easy storage or sending over the internet, it’s also a strong file encryption tool, and is capable of turning individual files or entire volumes into encrypted volumes that only your have the keys to. It’s completely free, even for commercial use, supports 256-bit AES encryption, and while the official download is Windows only, there are unofficial builds for Linux and OS X systems as well. Most of 7-Zip’s code is GNU LGPL licensed and open to review. Compressed and encrypted .7z (or .zip, if you prefer) archives are easily portable and secure, and can be encrypted with passwords and turned into executables that will self-decrypt when they get to their intended recipient. 7-Zip also integrates with the shell of the operating system you’re using, making it usually a click away from use. It’s also a powerful command line utility.

Those of you who nominated it noted that it may not have the most robust user interface, but it gets the job done, and many of you have it installed anyway specifically for its robust file compression and decompression capabilities. You noted it’s fast, flexible, free, and easy to use, and while it may not be the fastest file encryption tool (and it’s not capable of whole volume or disk encryption), it gets the job done—especially for encrypting files you need to send to someone else and actually have them be able to access without jumping through too many hoops. Some of you noted that 7-Zip’s encrypted volumes are flexible—perhaps too flexible, since new files added to an encrypted archive aren’t encrypted (you’d have to extract them all and make a new archive for that), but it’s otherwise a minor ding. You can read more in its nomination thread here.

Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to an all-out vote to determine the community favorite.

Honorable Mentions

We have two honorable mentions this week. First and foremost is Disk Utility (OS X), which is bundled with OS X as a disk repair and management tool. Disk Utility can also encrypt drives and volumes, and since OS X can create a compressed volume just by right-clicking a file, series of files, or a folder and selecting "Compress," Disk Utility makes encrypting anything you want extremely easy. Plus, it’s built in to OS X, so you don’t need to install anything else. You can read more about it in its nomination thread here.

Second, we should tip our hats to the venerable old TrueCrypt, our old champion, which actually earned a number of nominations in the call for contenders thread. We covered the meltdown of TrueCrypt when it happened, with the developers abruptly abandoning the project claiming that it’s no longer secure, in the middle of their independent security audit. The developers suggested switching to BitLocker, and pushed out a new version that’s widely considered compromised. However, the older version, 7.1a, is still widely regarded as safe, even though development on it has been abandoned, and the tool has been left without security updates since then. Even so, security analysts split on whether you should trust TrueCrypt or move on to another encryption utility. Many people stand by it even though it’s a dead project, others have built their own projects on top of it (see VeraCrypt, mentioned earlier), and others keep using the last safe version. We can’t recommend TrueCrypt anymore ourselves, but you can read more in its nomination thread here, and over at Steve Gibson’s page dedicated to TrueCrypt here.

Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.

The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at tips+hivefive@lifehacker.com!

Title photo by andrey_l (Shutterstock).

Does Bitrate Really Make a Difference In My Music?

Does Bitrate Really Make a Difference In My Music?

Dear Lifehacker,
I hear a lot of arguing about "lossless" and "lossy" music these days, but I’m having a hard time getting straight answers. Does bitrate really matter? Can most people tell the difference between high and low bitrate music files?

Angry Audiophile

Photo by Tess Watson.

Hey Angry,
We understand your frustration. While you may have some idea about what bitrate is, the "can audiophiles really tell the difference" argument has raged on for quite some time, and it’s hard to get people to drop their egos and actually explain what these things mean and whether they really matter. Here’s a bit of information on bitrate and how it applies to our practical music listening experience.

Blast from the past is a weekly feature at Lifehacker in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. This week, we revisit a much-needed explainer on digital music quality.

What Is Bitrate?

You’ve probably heard the term "bitrate" before, and you probably have a general idea of what it means, but just as a refresher, it’s probably a good idea to get acquainted with its official definition so you know how all this stuff works. Bitrate refers to the number of bits—or the amount of data—that are processed over a certain amount of time. In audio, this usually means kilobits per second. For example, the music you buy on iTunes is 256 kilobits per second, meaning there are 256 kilobits of data stored in every second of a song.

Does Bitrate Really Make a Difference In My Music?

The higher the bitrate of a track, the more space it will take up on your computer. Generally, an audio CD will actually take up quite a bit of space, which is why it’s become common practice to compress those files down so you can fit more on your hard drive (or iPod, or Dropbox, or whatever). It is here where the argument over "lossless" and "lossy" audio comes in.

Lossless and Lossy Formats

When we say "lossless", we mean that we haven’t really altered the original file. That is, we’ve ripped a track from a CD to our hard drive, but haven’t compressed it to the point where we’ve lost any data. It is, for all intents and purposes, the same as the original CD track.

More often than not, however, you probably rip your music as "lossy". That is, you’ve taken a CD, ripped it to your hard drive, and compressed the tracks down so they don’t take up as much space. A typical MP3 or AAC album probably takes up 100MB or so. That same album in lossless format, though—such as FLAC or ALAC (also known as Apple Lossless) would take up closer to 300MB, so it’s become common practice to use lossy formats for faster downloading and more hard drive savings.

The problem is that when you compress a file to save space, you’re deleting chunks of data. Just like when you take a PNG screenshot of your computer screen, and compress it to a JPEG, your computer is taking the original data and "cheating" on certain parts of the image, making it mostly the same but with some loss of clarity and quality. Take the two images below as an example: the one on the right has clearly been compressed, and it’s quality has diminished as a result. (You’ll probably want to expand the image for a closer look to see the differences—look at the fox’s ears and nose).

Does Bitrate Really Make a Difference In My Music?

Remember, of course, that you’re still reaping the benefits of hard drive space with lossy music (which can make a big difference on a 32 GB iPhone), it’s just the tradeoff you make. There are different levels of lossiness, as well: 128kbps, for example, takes up very little space, but will also be lower quality than a larger 320kbps file, which is lower quality than an even larger 1,411 kbps file (which is considered lossless). However, there’s a lot of argument as to whether most people can even hear the difference between different bitrates.

Does It Really Matter?

Since storage has become so cheap, listening to higher-bitrate audio is starting to become a more popular (and practical) practice. But is it worth the time, effort, and space? I always hate answering questions this way, but unfortunately the answer is: it depends.

Does Bitrate Really Make a Difference In My Music?

Part of the equation is the gear you use. If you’re using a quality pair of headphones or speakers, you’re privy to a large range of sound. As such, you’re more likely to notice certain imperfections that come with compressing music into lower bitrate files. You may notice that a certain level of detail is missing in low-quality MP3s; subtle background tracks might be more difficult to hear, the highs and lows won’t be as dynamic, or you might just plain hear a bit of distortion. In these cases, you might want to get a higher bitrate track.

If you’re listening to your music with a pair of crappy earbuds on your iPod, however, you probably aren’t going to notice a difference between a 128 kbps file and a 320 kbps file, let alone a 320 kbps file and a lossless 1,411 kbps file. Remember when I showed you the image a few paragraphs up, and noted that you probably had to enlarge it to see the imperfections? Your earbuds are like the shrunken-down version of the image: they’re going to make those imperfections harder to notice, since they won’t put out as big a range of sound.

The other part of the equation, of course, is your own ears. Some people may just not care enough, or may just not have the more attuned listening skills to tell the difference between two different bitrates. This is something you can develop over time, of course, but if you haven’t yet, then it doesn’t particularly matter what bitrate you use, does it? As with all things, go with what works best for you.

So how high of a bitrate should you use? Is 320kbps okay, or do you need to go lossless? The fact of the matter is that it’s very difficult to hear the difference between a lossless file and a 320kbps MP3 (though you can run this test to find out if you can hear the difference). You’d need some serious high-end gear, a very trained ear, and a certain type of music (like classical or jazz) to hear the difference. For the vast majority of people, 320kbps is more than adequate for listening. You don’t need to pain yourself with finding lossless copies of all your favorite songs. Photo by Marcin Wichary.

Other Things to Consider

Does Bitrate Really Make a Difference In My Music?

All that said, lossless file types do have their place. Lossless files are more futureproof, in the sense that you can always compress music down to a lossier format, but you can’t take lossy files back to lossless unless you re-rip the CD entirely. This is, again, one of the fundamental issues with online music stores: if you’ve built up a huge library of iTunes music and one day decide that you’d like it in a higher bitrate, you’ll have to buy it again, this time in CD form. You can’t just put data back where it’s been deleted. When possible, I always buy or rip in lossless just for backup purposes, but I’m a little overly obsessive—MP3 is a great standard, and it isn’t likely to change anytime soon, so unless you plan on converting your music at a later date, you’re probably fine just ripping or buying in MP3 format. Photo by Charlotte L.

All of this is merely scratching the surface of the audiophile’s challenge. There is of course a lot more to talk about, like variable bitrate and coding efficiency, but this should provide a simple introduction for the uninitiated. As I said before, it all depends on you, your hearing, and the gear you have at your disposal, so give it a shot. Compare two tracks side by side, try out some different audio formats for awhile, and see what it does for you. At the worst, you’ve spent a few hours listening to some of your favorite music—and isn’t that what this is all about anyway? Enjoy it!


P.S. Many of you undoubtedly have your own views on the subject, whether you’re a bitrate-hungry audiophile or if you belong to the "if I can hear it, it works for me" philosophy. Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments.