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Higher Quality Podcasts

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Chris Kimber Chris Kimber | 12:36 UK time, Monday, 12 May 2008

Yes, literally.

We have recently increased the sound quality of our music and drama podcasts from 64kbps to 128kbps.

When we launched the podcast service in 2007, we had only speech-based podcasts, and we felt that 64kbps mono was a nice compromise between sound quality and download time/bandwidth usage. Following deals with the royalties collection organisations in the UK (PPL and PRS/MCPS Alliance), we started to offer podcasts containing short clips (30secs) of clean music [more detail at Radio Labs] - you can browse these at the podcast directory.


We've now had a rethink about what these music-based podcasts sound like (and some of our drama and comedy podcasts which contain background music), and have decided that 128kbps stereo would better suit this type of content. So you can now enjoy the Radio 1 Mini Mix, 1Xtra Drum and Bass Top 10 and Stuart Maconie's Freak Zone - or any of the 32 music podcasts - in decent-sounding stereo. The same goes for The Archers, Silver Street and Friday Night Comedy from Radio 4.

I'd be interested to know what people think of this - has it made a difference?

That's not all. We have also introduced a number of new podcasts taken from Radio 3 output since the initial launch. So you can now subscribe to CD Review - Building a Library, Composer Of The Week and World Routes, all available - among other Radio 3 podcasts - here.

We've just conducted a review of our podcasts which included audience research, an internal quality review, and an external (and therefore possibly more objective) review of both editorial and technical standards. In the main, the results were positive, and where they weren't, we are working hard to improve things - particularly around inconsistent audio levels. The good news is that this will soon mean more choice for podcast lovers, as the total number we offer is likely to rise.

In case you're wondering, we are currently serving about 16 million downloads per month across the entire range. This is fairly impressive, but I can't help thinking that figure is just going to go up as more and more people discover the joy of having high-quality audio snacks on their MP3 player or phone.

Here's my personal list of favourite BBC podcasts:

  • Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo's Film Reviews
  • Adam & Joe
  • Zane Lowe's Hottest Records
  • iPM
  • Jazz Library
  • 1Xtra Hip Hop Top 10
  • Jonathan Ross

What are your favourites?

Chris Kimber is Managing Editor, BBC Audio & Music Interactive. Photo of Chris by Ian Fenn.


  • Comment number 1.

    As an avid listener of BBC R4 podcasts, I welcome the increase in bitrate. However I also listen to these podcasts on my mobile, therefore needs the smallest file possible.

    Please consider other formats such as AAC+ (supported on latest mobile phones such as Nokia S60)

  • Comment number 2.

    I get Russell Brand's amazing podcast every week (seriously, any Brand haters out there have to listen to his podcast, you'll soon change your mind!). I used to download From Our Own Correspondents but I found it started to become a chore to listen to them and sometimes they'd deal with mainstream issues rather than the unreported world I wanted to hear about.

  • Comment number 3.

    I enjoy Friday Night Comedy myself. Occasionally listen to Today, though that can get somewhat overwhelming. In Our Time can be very interesting too.

  • Comment number 4.

    I download Friday Night Comedy (The News Quiz or The Now show) and Look Away Now from Radio 4 and found the old 64kbps very good, so having the quality doubled should be even better.

    When will some of the classic BBC Radio 7 programmes be made available as PODCASTS ??

    I'm thinking of programmes such as "Dead Ringers", "Old Harry's Game" and "Dad's Army" for example.

    These would be good to have.

  • Comment number 5.

    Having stereo does make a big difference to The Archers, and the music programmes - I always thought they sounded strange in mono on my mp3 player.

    The actual quality now isn't great though: lots of the speech sounds raspy and lispy.

    The problem might be that you've set your mp3 encoder to "discrete stereo" mode (sometimes labelled just "stereo"). Though the labels makes it sound like it's the one to choose for high quality, at 128kbps, there aren't really enough bits to go around.

    As long as it's a recent/decent mp3 encoder, you should get far better quality at 128kbps using "joint stereo" mode. That's been the "standard" for 128kbps mp3s for years.

    Technical issues aside, I love having all this content available when I want it on my mp3 player. Apart from the news, or when one of my favourite programmes happens to be on, I find myself switching off the radio and getting my mp3 player out - to listen to more BBC radio!

    2GB mp3 players are so cheap now, and it's hard to fill them - so it's great to be able to add interest to a long journey overseas by taking a week's BBC Radio away with me in my pocket!


  • Comment number 6.

    My favourites?

    Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo's Film Reviews
    The Russell Brand Show
    Russell Howard and John Richardson
    Best of the Chris Moyles Show Podcast
    Radio1 Documentaries

    I've never really listen to any music podcasts, purely because 30-second clips aren't that useful when I can use BBC iPlayer to listen to entire programmes that include full tracks. For devotees of these podcasts, however, I think the 128kbps rate will be a welcome and noticeable improvement.

  • Comment number 7.

    Filling my Sansa Fuze Mp3 player has been a delight. Not sure about everyone else but the MP3 player does make a difference. And listening to Russell and John is absolutely wonderful. The sound quality is superb. Thanks for introducing all these great content to my stylish Fuze which I am so proud of.

    To those new to the mp3 player game who want to listen to the top BBC programs and hear Jazz at it's finest, new commentators at their finest. You ahve to download the mp3s and join in the revolutions. Preferably in a Sansa Fuze... cause I haven't found anything better than it. It even allows you to record voice and watch videos on the 1.9" screen.

    Cheers everyone and thank you BBC.


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