Lovers of the lossless file format will tell you there’s no other way to listen to music, but is it necessary?
Before we begin I have to define what FLAC is, along with it’s other lossless counterparts:
FLAC = Free Lossless Audio Codec (Open Source)
FLAC is a the most popular lossless file format. The file is compressed so it will reduce the original file size, (by about half,) but the difference in sound quality is minimal. It also allows you to add metadata, (cover art, track names etc.,) which is an advantage over other lossless formats. It plays on almost all media players except for Itunes.
WAV = Waveform Audio File (Windows)
Completely uncompressed, WAV is an exact copy of the source file so it will give you the highest audio quality possible. The downside is the files are very large and they don’t support metadata. As well, WAV will play on almost all media devices.
AIFF = Audio Interchange File Format (Apple)
AIFF is similar to WAV and also has no compression. The audio quality is identical to WAV and shares the title of ‘highest audio quality possible’. Once again, the files are quite large, but AIFF allows metadata. AIFF plays on virtually all devices as well.
Note: You can use VLC to play these file formats on all devices
All formats provide superior audio quality, so why do you hear more about FLAC? Honestly, I think it’s because it’s more fun to say.
Considering lossless vs. lossy, (Mp3 etc.,) the easiest comparison to make would be with photos. When you edit a large photo file you can make changes it to it, (colour, exposure, filters etc.) without reducing the overall picture quality. If you start with a small file then the edits you make will start to degrade picture quality very quickly leaving you with an ugly mess.
The same goes for audio files. Mp3 is fine for everyday listening, but as soon as you start adding pre-amps and equalizers, you’ll find your audio is not responding the way you would like it to. As well, any form of amplification takes a toll on audio quality, so if you’re going to play your music through a PA, lossless is recommended.
(This is why a professional DJ is hesitant to play your youtube song requests – even if you promise you’ll dance to them).
There are a few other reasons to choose lossless, even for everyday listening:
- If you’re listening to a classic album from a different era. It’s more enjoyable to hear the sounds the artist actually created for additional context.
Ex. If you’re listening to Pet Sounds it should be in lossless, (and mono, but that’s a different argument).
- When you listen to music that avoids overly compressed sound as part of it’s musical style. Compression will block certain sounds together changing the soundscape, which may be the reason the album saw success in the first place.
Ex. A heavily compressed version of For Emma Forever Ago, likely would not have made it out that Wisconsin cabin to our ears.
- The production of the album is so good and interesting that replaying each song with different EQ variations can offer you endless musical experiences. Lossless will give you more space to experiment in the search for the perfect tone.
Ex. Anything by Mark Linkous.
And of course, the last, and most important reason to choose lossless is:
If you’re obsessive about music quality, constantly adjusting knobs and fiddling with the EQ, you can rest easy knowing that this version of the song is as good as it can possibly be. It’s one less thing to worry about.
Above is the haunting opener off Mount Eerie’s latest album A Crow Looked at Me. With a minimalist soundscape that seems to trap the listener in the present moment, the track makes you hyper aware of the passing of time and how long each second can last if you pay attention.
Recorded alone in the empty bedroom of songwriter Elverum’s late wife, the album offers the kind of musical experience that demands FLAC.
And yes it’s a youtube video, but please find somewhere to listen in lossless – You won’t regret it.