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ALAC vs. FLAC

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by jonasras, Mar 5, 2013.
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  1. Peter Hyatt
    I have a few ALAC downloads here that are wonderful...listening with Mojo and Beyerdynamic T1 or T8ie.   I am using iTunes for the downloads.  
     
    There is another alternative:  ALAC HD for a few dollars more.  
     
    I cannot find any info on the difference between ALAC and ALAC HD...
     
    Is there a significant difference?  Thanks!  
     
    Link:    http://live.brucespringsteen.net/live-music/0,14781/Bruce-Springsteen---The-E-Street-Band-mp3-flac-download-9-7-2016-Citizens-Bank-Park-Philadelphia--PA.html
     
     
    The choices are given in the drop down menu and pricing....is ALAC HD better than ALAC?
     
  2. Roseval
    Both FLAC and ALAC files sound identical to the original source (44.1 kHz, 16 bit stereo). The hi-fi Lossless files are much larger files and will take longer to download. These files are for audiophiles who want better sound quality. For those interested in higher-than-CD-quality sound, we also offer HD formats in 24 bit resolution. These files are FLAC-HD and ALAC-HD, which are made from the master 24 bit digital recordings of each show. The sample rate may vary depending on the source (for example the 2014 High Hopes tour was recorded at 24 bit / 48 KHz). Archive releases are 24 bit / 192 kHz whenever possible. Note that 192 kHz HD files will not transfer onto iOS devices.
     
    https://brucehelp.nugs.net/support/solutions/articles/6000045328-what-s-the-difference-between-mp3-lossless-and-hd-formats-
     
  3. Peter Hyatt
    I had read that but my question is a bit more practical:
     
    do head-fi hear a difference between ALAC and ALAC HD?
     
  4. RRod
    ALAC and FLAC both readily support HD formats, so it would seem "ALAC-HD" and "FLAC-HD" are just lingo to mean "containing HD content instead of Redbook". As far as audibility, if the masters are the same I sure can't hear any difference in my listening environment. If the masters are different then, well, the masters are different.
     
  5. gregorio
     
    Tough, because in practise there is nothing higher-than-CD-quality! Of course, that doesn't stop marketing depts implying that there is and instructing engineering depts to create products which fulfil this spurious demand.
     
     
    That's an impossible question to answer. It's trivially easy to hear a significant difference where there is absolutely no difference whatsoever. So adding the letters "HD" to the name is more than enough for many audiophiles to perceive a difference. Any perceived differences vanish with a double blind test though, so the practical answer to your question would be "no".
     
    G
     
  6. Roseval
     
    You mean when Sony and Philips finally came to an agreement late 70’s about what bit depth and sample rate to be used for the audio CD, this compromise is the definitive answer to all quality issues?
    Any progress impossible?
     
    To the OP
    Of course you should experiment a little and try some Hires on your system.
    Personally I won’t pay almost the double for a Hires  recording.
     
  7. gregorio
     
    How exactly was CD audio a "compromise"?
     
    At the time, progress was of course possible. Clocking wasn't hugely accurate, anti-alias and reconstruction filters weren't great, etc. However that progress has since been made, so as far as a consumer stereo distribution format is concerned; audible progress of quality is indeed impossible, as 16bit/44.1 already exceeds the limitations of human hearing. That's not the definitive answer to all quality issues of course, there are audible quality issues in other areas, transducers for example.
     
    G
     
  8. GRUMPYOLDGUY
     
    CD audio is not the same as the source recording... There is compression, downsampling, and probably other processing involved. It is by definition a compromise. You can debate until the cows come home as to whether or not that compromise is audible, but it is a compromise nonetheless.  
     
  9. castleofargh Contributor

    everything is a compromise. at any given step in the production or playback, more could have been done. what's relevant is where the final compression stands relatively to everything else and the actual data that is music and needs to be kept. I agree with the fact you're stating, but I'm so very afraid how it could be misunderstood by the "moaaar is bettererer" people who look at the audio chain 1 element at a time and miss how pointless some apparent improvements are once you follow the signal from A to Z.
     
    anyway back on topic, flac and alac are both lossless, if they end up making an audible difference, what was used to convert the files or what is used to replay them is responsible. not the format itself.
     
  10. GRUMPYOLDGUY
     
    Agreed. Transparency is always the goal.
     
  11. gregorio
     
    1. Yes it is, or if it's not, that's by choice not because it's a limitation of 16/44.1.
     
    2. Yes, usually there is but again, that's purely by choice. There's no limitation, requirement or necessity for 16/44.1 to be any more or any less compressed than any HD format. The dynamic range of 16/44.1 exceeds the limitations of human hearing. Any compromise, if it can be called a compromise, is to accommodate the limitations of human hearing not the limitations of 16/44.1!
     
    3. That's irrelevant, downsampling is audibly transparent and most commercial recordings have numerous up and down sampling processes.
     
    4. Again, how is it a compromise of 16/44.1? There are many compromises when recording, editing, mixing and mastering audio, 16/44.1 as the distribution format is not one of them!
     
    5. Sure, you can debate anything, whether the moon is made of cheese for example but if we're going to have a sensible debate then no, it's not audible, unless of course it's been deliberately applied to specifically be audible (as is the case with audio compression for example).
     
    G
     
  12. GRUMPYOLDGUY

    Man... My post was like two sentences, and somehow it got a 5 paragraph response?

    16/44.1 is inherently a compromise. The source was recorded at 24/192 for example. So 16/44.1 is a compromise to save space.

    And downsampling isn't necessarily transparent... Audibly sure, but spectrally the digital filtering before the decimate stage can cause an increased noise floor and unwanted spurs.
     
  13. RRod
     
    I guess my view on it is that once CDs are completely dead we can just forget 16/44.1 as a format and have a dual universe of studio masters for those who want lossless copies and lossy versions made directly from those that actual real people will listen to with no audible issues. At least for my own part, I like to hammer the audible transparency of 16/44.1 as a warning sign in front of the slippery slope of "more is better", which leads to weird things like DSD512. I'll add that it would be nice if we were charged for audibility and not spectrograms; these $30 tags for hi-res albums are ridiculous.
     
  14. sonitus mirus
     
    I think, and hope, that reasonable folks will be safe.  The greedy, short-sighted conglomerates will isolate their distribution to a few major players and abandon any small players in the market.  This is what happened to video.  In the end, the major labels will only be available to purchase on sites like Amazon, Apple Store, Google Music, and a few other online giants.  Very few people would purchase a $30 album; and with such a small but powerful number of sellers, the giants will control pricing.  If multiple versions of the same music are distributed and priced at varying rates, if the cheaper version of the files are truly inferior in sound quality, the discrepancy between the better quality sounding files will not cost that much more.  Think SD quality video rentals compared to HD quality rentals.  If the HD version of Star Wars cost $30 to rent compared to the $2 SD version, the consumers would almost never purchase the HD versions.  The music industry will face a similar fate.  They might want to sell their products at an outrageous markup, but they will foolishly limit their influence by making short term deals with major distributors while ignoring any opportunities to allow smaller sellers to compete.  In the end, we might have a "SD" quality and an "HD" quality, but they should be reasonably priced.  Maybe we will get lucky and the "SD" versions will actually be the same, audibly, or at least very close to the same for most of us.  Kinda like lossy streaming services now.  I feel like I am getting away with something, as the sound quality is damn good with nearly all of the enormous library of music that is available.
     
  15. gregorio
    1. Even the most dynamic of commercial recordings virtually never exceed a 60dB dynamic range, that's the equivalent of 10bits. So with a 16bit distribution format the last 6 or so LSBs are just noise or digital silence. A 24bit release therefore just has another 8bits worth of noise (or digital silence). Providing those additional 8 LSBs of random noise (or digital silence) can be removed transparently, which has been easily achievable for well over a decade, how can loosing them in any way be described as a compromise? And as for loosing a band of inaudible ultrasonic frequencies is concerned, how is that a compromise? On the contrary, it's actually a potential fidelity improvement as it removes the likelihood of any downstream IMD compromising the sound quality! And finally, a 192kHz sampling rate is itself already compromise compared to lower sample rates. 192k is not higher quality because it's more data, it's lower quality!
     
    2. Of course 24/192 is spectrally different, there's another 8bits of noise plus a far larger band of inaudible, ultrasonic freqs in there. And yes, you do increase the digital noise floor; from roughly 14bits below the recording's noise floor, to only 6bits below it! And sure, it's maybe possible to foul up a downsampling/dithering process to the point that it's not audibly transparent but that would take fairly severe incompetence and exceptionally poor quality tools, for which there's no excuse as transparency was achievable many years ago even with free tools!
     
     
    The cheaper version (to buy) is commonly the more expensive version to actually make! Typically, we record and mix the highest quality we can, given the constraints of budget and time. That mix is then tweaked during mastering to produce a high quality master. To produce a lower quality master then requires additional steps to be taken, costing more time and therefore money. It's usually not feasible or often even possible to take a low quality mix (or master) and turn it into a high quality master but the other way around is of course far easier.
     
    Also, we have to be careful about what we mean when we say "an inferior version". A version which would sound "truly inferior" when listening with good equipment in our critical listening environment may actually be "truly superior" in a different situation. For example, I'm currently mastering an album for a talented guitarist, which was recorded at 24/96, even though spectral analysis shows there's virtually nothing above about 20kHz; an acoustic guitar produces very little above 20k to start with, it looks like standard studio mics were used which roll-off at about 20k anyway and the dynamic range of an acoustic guitar is relatively small. As part of my mastering I'm applying fairly heavy compression because the artist will distribute on YouTube and wants the recordings to sound good on a variety of playback equipment including laptops, tablets and even mobile phones. Although this compression compromises the SQ of the recording when listening with decent equipment/environments, the artist feels this compromise to be relatively minor compared to the fact that the recording would be un-listenable in those other situations which are important to him. So why record, mix and master in a (so called) HD format to start with, especially as there's virtually nothing there which could make even a theoretical difference, let alone an audible one? It's simply as a future proofing measure. The artist may enter a relationship with a label or his circumstances may change in some other way which may require a HD release version. A task which will now be trivial but would probably have required him to spend weeks completely re-recording the whole album if he hadn't recorded and mixed it at 24/96 to start with. This HD version would sound significantly better to the critical listener than the current version, purely due to the fact that I could significantly dial down the amount of compression. If it were up to me and if/when such a HD version were required, I would release this HD version at 16/44.1 because there would be absolutely no audible difference between this version being distributed in a HD format or at 16/44.1. Unfortunately, the world of music marketing doesn't currently work that way and it's virtually certain a HD version would have to be distributed in a HD format.
     
    Lastly, while analogies with visual images can often be very handy, they can also quite often be entirely misleading. SD and HD video in this case is an example of the latter. Even the higher resolution limits of HD video is well within the ability of the human eye and additionally the move from SD to HD involved a fundamental change to the replay technology (bigger plasma or LED screens rather than CRT), all this added up to a very obvious and noticeable difference between SD and HD. With audio, even the resolution limits of (so called) SD audio is beyond the ability of the human ear and additionally, there has been no fundamental change in the replay technology (speakers are essentially the same tech as before even SD digital audio).
     
    G
     
    cjl and ExtremeGamerBR like this.
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