Listen to High Quality Music

You're an audiophile, and you wish to listen to music in the highest possible quality, but on the other hand, you don't have that much disk space at your disposal to store everything as wave files. What are you to do?

Meet Free Lossless Audio Codec, or FLAC for the friends. A codec which allows you to store your music digitally without any loss of quality from the original source, but not as big as storing huge wave files. Unlike as with MP3 where data is discarded, resulting in an audible quality loss. MP3 is called a lossy format, while FLAC is lossless.

FLAC is a reasonably unknown player among the general public, but it's here to stay and become mainstream. There is a reasonable Winamp will play them on your PC, <a href=" "Winamp") being one of them.

A small summary of the most important features of the FLAC format:

  • Lossless, no quality is lost when compressing the sound.
  • Fast, the algorithm was designing to support very fast playback.
  • Metadata, you can store all sorts of information in it to display when playing.
  • Archiving, since a flac file is of the exact quality, you can convert it easily to lossy formats, like MP3.
  • No DRM, there is no DRM on all flac files out there, for now.
You can already buy FLAC music from this nice guide recorded as FLAC files. Or you could simply store your own CD collection as FLAC files with <a href=" "FLAC Ripping Guide"). Storing these files needs a bit more space than storing MP3 files however. To give you a small idea, these are the sizes and compression ratios (lower is better) after I archived my own CD collection:

TransporterI noticed that 'sung' music usually ends up with smaller files. I'm not sure why, but my guess is that there are more moments of silence when a person sings and grasps for breath, unlike electronic music where it's a constant stream. On the other hand, you'd expect electronic music to have recurring patterns and compress better. I'd have to withhold giving a good explanation for this, because I don't know either.

My personal approach towards FLAC is to have all the discs I have physically in the house, stored digitally on a central file server. After which I will stream the FLAC files itself to a high-end Hi-Fi setup, as if the disc itself would be playing on a normal CD player. But I will also be writing some automation tools to easily convert The Archive to other formats when needed, for example to play on my iPod.

If you're serious about music, I'd strongly recommend having a look at the FLAC format, the devices, software and possibilities, you won't regret it, even if you don't use it. Knowledge is power after all!

Are you using FLAC already? Leave some feedback on how you use it, and possible nice tools.