ABX Tester

abx is a program for performing software-based audio ABX testing. ABX test (Wikipedia, Hydrogenaudio) is a statistical method for assessing whether you are able to tell for audible differences between two samples. For example, one sample can be a compressed audio file, such as an OGG Vorbis file, and another one its uncompressed variant (WAV, AU, …). You can then use abx to infer whether you are able to separate the two samples due to compression artifacts.

Test overview

During the test, one of the samples is called A and the another one is called B. You choose A and B. The program chooses X, which is either A or B, but you don’t know which one. Your task is to listen carefully to all samples (A, B, and X) and then decide whether X is A or B. By guessing, your chances for the correct answer are 50/50, or probability 1/2. After repeating the process for, say, 10 times (or trials) the probability of correctly guessing X at every trial is only 1/210 = 1/1024 ≈ 0.001. This is the p-value of this particular outcome: it is the probability of observing 10 correct answers under the assumption that you are not able to separate A from B (null hypothesis).

However, if you actually get 10 correct answers out of 10 trials, it means that either you were very lucky, or you seem to be very able to tell the difference between A and B. In statistical terms, based on the observed performance, there is strong evidence against the null hypothesis. Quantitatively, we have 100 * (1 - p-value) % = 100 * (1 - 0.001) % = 99.9 % confidence in your ability to tell the difference between A and B.

Requiring 99.9 % confidence sounds a bit extreme, although on some fields of science it is justified. Conventionally, 95 % confidence level is considered the minimum acceptable level for statistical significance. This confidence level is achieved if the p-value of a test outcome is less than or equal to 1 - 0.95 = 0.05. Returning to our previous example, this means that you don’t necessarily need to get 10 correct answers. In fact, 8 correct answers is enough to reach 95 % confidence level. This is because the probability of getting 8 or more correct answers by chance (which is the p-value of the test outcome with 8 correct answers) is

i ∈ {8, 9, 10} Bpmf(i, 10, 0.5) = 0.054688 ≈ 0.05.

Here Bpmf(i, 10, 0.5) is the value of probability mass function of the binomial distribution B(10, 0.5) evaluated at i.

With abx you can perform as many trials as you want. Doing more than 25 trials is not recommended, though, due to listening fatigue. After all trials abx calculates the p-value of the test outcome.


ABX testing does not give absolute truths about fidelity. Consider at least the following:

  • Avoid multiple comparisons. By simply guessing you get a significant result on 95 % confidence level (p-value ≤ 0.05) with probability 0.05. If you repeat testing long enough you will eventually get a “significant result” purely by chance. In this case it will happen after 1 / 0.05 = 20 tests on average.
  • When using samples from lossy compression codecs (MP3, AAC, Vorbis), codec performance depends on the source signal (speech is different from music, etc.).
  • ABX tests only separation capability, not relative quality between samples.
  • You are likely to get different results with different equipment.

Also remember that there are no absolute rules: when it sounds good, it is good.


Download and extract the source code: abx-0.1.tar.gz. You will need the following libraries (and their corresponding dependencies, of course) to compile abx:

  • libsndfile for audio input
  • PortAudio V19 for audio output
  • GTK+ version 2.6 or later for the user interface (GTK 3 won’t work)

If you’re running GNU, your distribution might have separate development packages named like libgtk2.0-dev. You need to install them first.

abx uses GNU Autoconf, so simple configure, make and make install commands are usually enough to compile and install the program. See the INSTALL file for generic installation instructions.

User interface

Usage synopsis:


Specify two sample file names, SAMPLE_A and SAMPLE_B, if you want to initialise a new test from the command line. You can use any sample format that libsndfile can read (table), but the samples must have equal duration.

The available options are:

  • -n, --num-trials=N: Do N trials. You can use this to override the upper limit in the GUI, if you want.
  • -d, --audio-device=ID: Use PortAudio audio device with id number ID. By default, abx scans for the default audio output device and uses it. If the scanning does not work, or if you want to use some other device (e.g. another sound card), specify the output id here. You can use pa_devs utility (included in the PortAudio distribution) to enumerate your audio devices.
  • -l, --latency=L: Set the suggested PortAudio output latency to L milliseconds. The default suggested latency is 100 ms. Try to increase latency if you have sound playback issues, like clicking or stuttering.
  • Common GTK+ options, use --help to display them.

Main window


The main window shows some basic information about the current test or “(no test in progress)” if there is no current test. You can initialise a new test from the Test menu.

After a test has been initialised, you can listen to samples A, B and X using the play and pause buttons. The time slider shows the current playback location, and it lets you to quickly forward or rewind to any location. Markers are a special feature: a marker is simply a saved playback location where you can skip easily by double clicking on it. When a marker is selected in the marker list, the playback buttons start playback from that marker location. A marker can be deselected by clicking on it while pressing a Control key. You can add the current location into the marker list by clicking on the Add button. Markers are useful: if you hear audible differences at some particular location, you can save that location into the marker list and fast-forward to it in later trials.

After listening to all samples and making up your mind about X, click on the Decide button. Choose your answer from the dialog box. Then you can proceed to the next trial or, if all trials have been decided, the test results will be shown.

Results window


In the results window you will see the correct answers (decisions) on top of your answers. The leftmost letter corresponds to the first trial, the next one to the second trial and so on. In the above screen shot there have been 10 trials with 5 correct decisions. The corresponding p-value is about 0.62.

New test window


This is a simple dialog for setting up a new test. Use the file selectors to choose two sample files, and enter the desired number of trials. As in the command line case above, you can choose any sample files that libsndfile can read, but the samples must have equal duration.


Copyright 2010, 2016 Petteri Hintsanen

This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.

This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details.


Author: Petteri Hintsanen

Email: petterih@iki.fi

Created: 2016-12-15 to 09:32