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FLAC vs. 320 Mp3

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by icedup, Sep 7, 2011.
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  1. sonitus mirus
    My CD collection started back in the mid 80's.  At that time, I may have been using a "high speed" 900 baud modem to connect to a few BBS to chat about Dungeons and Dragons or how to hack the public pay phones. [​IMG]
    The problem with FLAC is that I am not able to consistently stream to any device across a wide range of different performing internet connections or mobile services.  So, while FLAC is perfect for archiving, I still have to convert to a lossy format so that I can stream my music collection away from home.  And while storage may be relatively inexpensive, and the ripping time has improved over the years, it's still far from free, and it takes more time and effort than I would like.  
    Since I have never been able to hear a difference between any lossless format and a properly encoded mp3 file, I decided to skip the step of archiving in a lossless format and simply use the CD itself  as the archived data.
    Now I can spend the money on storage and a reliable backup system on other things, including additional music.  The format I have chosen allows me to upload my music to Google Music, without having to worry about Google transcoding my files.  The files appear exactly as I had ripped them.  And using Google Music has an advantage over iTunes in that I am able to play all of my collection on either an iOS or Android device, as well as any computer with access to the internet.
    Another benefit of the self-discovery with regards to lossy formats is that I'm now able to thoroughly enjoy music subscription services with confidence, such as MOG or Spotify that use higher quality streaming formats on all of my devices. This effectively increased my music collection by leaps and bounds.  Now I only purchase CDs when I cannot find the music on a subscription service, such as artists that are holding out on joining the modern era or certain versions like the Beatles' mono collection.
    In the beginning, I would challenge any anomaly I heard in my mp3 files.  Over time, and probably what has been hundreds of false alarms, I've finally settled on the premise that I simply am unable to distinguish any difference at all.  On some rare occasions I have found a poorly encoded track or album on Spotify or MOG, but for the most part, if I can hear it in the lossy format, it is basically how it was recorded or mastered, and I'll hear the same thing on the CD.
  2. waynes world
    ^ Thanks for sharing those thoughts.
  3. bigshot
    I'm talking about sound. I'm not talking about you. If you want to discuss audio, discuss audio.
    Artifacting is NOT subtle. Stereo imaging can be subtly affected by using Joint Stereo. However, it can't be affected when you are using a modern codec like LAME or MP4 at a decent bitrate.
  4. bigshot
    Thirty plus years of collecting... And it's not just CDs. It's LPs, 78s, DVDs and blurays too. With all my records, my friends refuse to help me move any more, so I have to stay put.
  5. bigshot
    I have almost 30 TB in my media server right now with all of my music and movies. It's already running out of space. I like having all my music on a single drive though. I have it on random shuffle 24/7 and if there are multiple iTunes libraries split across drives, it can't all be available at once.
    My stereo system kicks ass. Come on by and hear how good can AAC 256 VBR sound some time.
  6. bigshot
    Joint stereo doesn't make the stereo file from two separate mono files. It compresses the two channels together to save space. A lot of the time, it works fine. But not always. It can sometimes make the stereo image flicker in and out when it mooshes the two channels together.
  7. bigshot
    Exactly my experience and approach.
    Interestingly enough, I took an AAC 256 VBR file of very well recorded music and encoded it back to AIFF then back to AAC 256 VBR ten times... Ten levels of transcoding. Guess what? It still sounded good. I think I may be the only person in the world who has tried this when I read the internet forums.
  8. xnor
    You missed a pretty important audio forum. Google "Nine different codecs 100-pass recompression test" or "Short re-encoding blind listening test, wavpack - mp3 - mpc - aac - vorbis". [​IMG]
  9. chewy4
    Well that sure seems to beat the hell out of my test, I think the files are down for the 9 different codecs one though.
    In my testing I found that the only difference in high bit-rate AAC(nero) transcoding was a change in the volume of different frequencies. And yes I did ABX, with volume matching.
  10. Dillan

    It sounds like the top of your priority is not sound quality, but compatibility and ease of use. Its just.. I guess I am a little ocd about my music, but why not revolve everything on sound quality and go from there. Everyone always says they can't tell a difference. When you are talking about thousands and thousands of songs, how can the possibility of sound differences, no matter how small, not exist. Why not just avoid any possibility and just decide to be sure without doubt?
  11. bigshot
    For me, sound quality is VERY important. But only sound quality that I can hear. I learned long ago that numbers don't always tell the whole story. Salesmen at Pacific Stereo would pull out spec sheets and show me numbers and I had no idea what those numbers represented. I just went for whatever number looked the best. Then I made the effort to find out for myself how those numbers related to the thresholds of human hearing. That improved the sound quality of my system immensely, because it told me what aspects needed my attention and what didn't. Too many people don't understand enough about sound to be able to troubleshoot problems. They just throw numbers randomly at the problem and solve nothing. I think it's an experience thing. When you've been in the hobby a while you have more perspective.
  12. sonitus mirus
    I do care about sound quality, but I try to remain within the realistic realms of my financial capabilities.  I did not reach the conclusion that the lossy format I use is good enough.  I found that the format I use is equally as good, in every regard, as a lossless version.
    First, I read that a well-encoded lossy file should be audibly transparent to a lossless file from the same source.  Having only my own pair of ears, I can say with certainty that I absolutely cannot tell a difference.  The format I chose, LAME encoded 320 kbps mp3, is NOT the ideal format that I would like to use as a lossy format.  That would be AAC, as it seems to be technically superior (not audibly better), but this format currently has limitations with the equipment I am currently using.  (namely my Android devices, Google Music, and my Logitech Squeezebox Touch device with my NAS)
    In the beginning, I did go lossless.  First I used Monkey's Audio before I discovered FLAC.  It was only with the more recent improvements in network performance and mobile services that I even considered the possibility of maintaining my own library that could be accessed from practically any location.  Not too long ago, I was copying lossless files to a portable player or a netbook and using Rhapsody music service only for the radio to discover new music.
    Then MOG music service became available and I spent more time researching the differences in audio quality between lossy and lossless formats. It was only at this point that I began making an earnest effort to prove to myself that FLAC was significantly superior to any lossy format.  I was certain that it should be.  I mean, I had $150 4" interconnects and behemoth linear power supplies rocking my setups to help squeeze every last ounce of sonic goodness from my music. I wasn't about to waste all of that on some lossy format from the Napster days.  
    I tested, retested, and simply could not believe my ears at first. (I even had my hearing checked)  I purchased some high-quality music that I was very familiar with from HD Tracks. This music had a modest dynamic range and that most considered to be well mastered.  Nada.  Zip.  I could not reliably identify the difference between the original and the lossy copy.  I do have about 2000 FLAC songs on my server that I will listen to with my Squeezebox when I am at home, but I've since stopped ripping new CDs to FLAC.   Like I stated earlier, there were numerous times when a song sounded "off" or there was a glitch or odd echo that I would hear.  I'd grab the CD, listen to it and hear the same thing.  In every case, what I was hearing in the mp3 file was recreated exactly with the CD.  This was a frequent event, initially, that has faded significantly over time.  
    I'm still open to the idea that lossless is superior, but I just can't find any proof of this to date.  And I can still rip those CDs to FLAC or any new format that might come about later.  Right now I need to use mp3 to be able to listen to my music almost everywhere I go, and the sound quality is every bit as good as the original CD.  Although, I do not know if I would have gone this direction if I was not able to convince myself that I would not be sacrificing audio quality.
  13. Dillan
    But none of that matters. Literally its a black and white topic. Experience, wisdom, maybe, if, possibly... No excuses, nothing.. It comes down to concrete scientific proof and facts. Sure this person just puts on headphones, even to test for hours or days or weeks, says they "Can't seem to tell a difference" "I (hopefully) can't distinguish the two". Nobody can extensively test a well collected multi-terabyte collection of music, which is what a lot of serious "audiophiles" have. You just can't. The only downfall to FLAC is storage, even then its designed to take up less storage than other things like WAV. That's the only downfall, nothing else. If that is why someone would choose to use lossy, then so bit it, whose to look down on them for that. Just dont argue the fact that lossy could sound better, could sound the same, bla bla. Because those are maybe's. I'm a person who likes to feel secure, who likes facts and science. When there's not even the slightest possibility for my professionally, well ripped or downloaded FLAC collection to sound worse than the next guys MP3 collection, why "downgrade" to MP3? Especially if you have the money for storage. There's no reason at all. "I can't really tell a difference", well that isn't a factual statement, why not take the safe route? Why not know you have the best possible quality. It doesn't matter if you don't think this or that, why not create an unarguable situation and remove any possibility or doubt. That is how i've always felt about this topic. I don't put too much effort into opinion, I look at the facts.
  14. bigshot
    If you made the effort to do a controlled listening comparison like Sonitus and I have, you might find out that the facts aren't quite what you think they are. Sonitus just outlined a very organized series of tests he mad. I spent a week comparing all the major codecs with all types of music. I play my music library 24/7 and whenever I find a problem with a track, I mark the track with a star so I can easily find it, go back to it on the server and determine exactly what caused it. That's happened to me twice. Both times, it was a ripping error, not an encoding error. I don't need to do an A/B comparison of every minute of every piece of music in my library. I've been listening to it for a few years now, and I have never found a single encoding problem. I've got boxes of CDs in the garage if I ever need them, but I don't think I ever will.
    The only reason to rip to FLAC when you own the original CD is for "peace of mind". That has absolutely nothing to do with the way the file actually sounds.
    The advantages of ripping directly to audibly transparent lossy are numerous... files stream better, I don't have to wait to transcode from ALAC to AAC when I fill up my iPod, I can fit my entire library on a single hard drive, smaller file sizes mean less chance of hard drive errors creeping in, every portable device and stereo in my home can play my files because they are a cross platform standard, and I can fit a LOT more music on my iPhone, iPad and iPods. All this and it sounds exactly the same as lossless, even on my main rig.
    I don't need to guess about "peace of mind". I KNOW my files sound as good as they can be, AND they are perfectly convenient to how I want to use them.
  15. waynes world
    Lol - something tells me that this debate has no end! But I have gotten a good feel for the arguments from experienced people in both camps.
    Not that anyone cares, but I have been swayed towards the dark (ie lossy) side. I can understand the concept of using FLAC simply because then you know you have "the best". But, I do have limited disk space, and I don't have unlimited funds, and I don't like how everything takes longer when dealing with larger files (ie file transfers etc), and I do like being able to load up as much music as I can on my Clip Zip/Tab2's 32GB microSD cards (hopefully 64GB soon when the prices come down a bit). Combine that with the fact that I do not yet have my bionic bat ears and I can't tell the difference between FLAC and 320 kbps LAME mp3 files, I am now going to happily stick with the mp3 files for the foreseeable future.
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