Amazon MP3 vs. Apple's AAC music format. Smackdown!

I have heard from reliable sources that AAC, Apple's compression algorithm for music, sounds better than MP3, the compression algorithm brought to the world by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany. Not being one to take anyone's word for much of anything, I decided to put these two formats to the test.

For my track, I selected Josie, by Steely Dan, because it's a song I know well and, like everything else in the Steely Dan catalog, it was recorded meticulously. For the AAC version, I stopped by iTunes. For the MP3 version, I cruised into Amazon.

Both files homesteaded on 8.3MB of hard drive space and are in 256K resolution. I played the AAC first. Nice! Clean, crisp, clinical, not exactly warm -- just as I would expect low resolution digital to sound. Next up, the MP3. Now, given how many times I've heard about the dismal quality of MP3s vs. AAC, I was braced for the worst: muddy highs, mushy bass, zero dynamics, muddled separation. Oops, must have accidentally hit the AAC track again because this sounds great... Give me a minute… NOPE! I was indeed listening to the MP3 and it sounded absolutely identical to the AAC. Now, in case you're wondering if maybe my playback system was a pair of cheap ear buds, guess again. I was using AKG240 Studio headphones, perhaps the most accurate headphones I have ever auditioned.

The verdict: a tie, complete and total. Seriously, try it for yourself, just make sure you're comparing apples to apples and check the bitstream rate of the tracks, as both should be 256K.