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Is All Flac created equal...?

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by Fishdo, Dec 27, 2019.
  1. Fishdo
    Hi guys

    I have tried searching a few phrases on here without much luck so I apologise in advance if this has been discussed, which I am sure it has somewhere, if you could point me to a link that would be great please...

    I very recently started to collect a few hi res tracks from sources like Tidal Qobuz and a few others these were Flac files

    My interest is that out of curiosity I purchased one track from tidal the same track from Qobuz and the same track from Deezer...

    All are Flac files but none of them seem to have the same quality of sound or even similar volume...

    I assume that any Flac file is only as good as the original source and everything that sound data travels through will have varying effects on what comes to the end user and likewise what the end user uses to listen to that sound file...

    So how do you know if you can that the Flac file you have is equally as good as the Flac file someone else has?

    I assume they all show the same data etc when you are listening to them on your DAP or computer etc ...

    For example in a very basic way... if I record an iTunes standard quality song using a Flac format to do so then although when I replay the recording I have a Flac file I surely don’t have Flac quality?

    Could anyone explain how to tell the difference if you can please?
  2. sonitus mirus
    Unless you know provenance of the source material used to make the FLAC, you would need to rely on tools for analysis and your ears.

    My DAC includes a great spectral analyzer to see if there is a cutoff in the frequency range up to 20 kHz and also a nifty meter that indicates if the source signal is clipping. Still, even with that data provided I could be listening to some lossy source that was saved to FLAC format. Though, if I am seeing audio data at 20 kHz, the source is probably 256 kbps or greater.

    Here are some tools that can be used to analyze the files.


    FLAC is just a format, and it can contain crap or sublime audio quality. Essentially, FLAC reduces the file size of the original digital audio source while keeping every bit of data. It's open-sourced and widely accepted across many different platforms, making it ideal for use in most applications.
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2019
    Fishdo, castleofargh and S-S-MR like this.
  3. bigshot
    ^ this. Mastering matters a lot more than file formats. The only way to tell is to listen and compare at matched volume levels. Music fans who follow a specific band will have heard the various masterings and will have better odds of knowing which is the best. I don't trust sales pitch from distributors for that any more. I've bought too many SACDs that sound like a dog's breakfast, and heard lossy files that cost a few pennies that sound fantastic. The answer is, it all depends and you have to hear it to know.
    Fishdo and S-S-MR like this.
  4. Fishdo
    @sonitus mirus Thanks so much for your reply and the information ... the link was very helpful in trying to understand what and how certain software can help...so effectively it’s no different than the days when we would use a separate tape recorder to tape the radio... as @bigshot posted it’s all about the source not the carriage...

    Do you know if any of them can analyse live streaming tracks? I could not find anything to suggest they could.., they all seemed to require a file format to analyse...

    I am interested to know if say Tidal or Qobuz or others actually stream in a hi res ... the reason I wanted to find out was I was just listening to a track on Tidal that is stated as Master Quality... so I listened to the same version but I changed the app settings so I only streamed in HiFi and then changed up to MQ... I changed nothing else and from trying to compare both in terms of quality I really couldn’t tell them apart... I did the same with a file track in both formats and the difference was very clear...

    I really don’t know if I am tricking myself or if there is actually no real difference...

    Thanks again to you both... I really appreciate your help...
  5. gregorio
    1. Yep.

    2. All flac IS created equal but flac is just a container format and of course what it contains is not all equal. You appear to have fallen for a very common causation/correlation fallacy, IE. All are flac files, none have the same SQ, therefore flac is not all "equal". However, your causation/correlation is false, assuming you're not imagining different sound quality, you in fact did NOT purchase the same track from Qobuz and Deezer, you purchased the same song but a DIFFERENT track (eg. A different master) and this is the CAUSE of you noticing a different sound quality, not a difference in flac itself (which is not possible).

  6. bigshot
    I suppose you could capture them and run them through analysis to figure out sound fidelity, but you would need a lossless copy of the same mastering to compare it to. I don't know any way to analyze files for sound quality other than by listening to them and comparing. Mastering differences can only be analyzed by listening to them with human ears.

    I wouldn't be surprised if different streaming services sounded different. There's no telling what mastering they are using. But I doubt if you could generalize about whether tracks sound better on one service than another. I don't think with the quantity of music they are dealing with that they can do anything more than just take the mastering that the licensor hands them. Depending on what they are given, it might be the same, better or worse. No telling. Phrases like "master quality" and "HD audio" are just marketing terms. They don't really indicate sound quality.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2019

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