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OTHER THINGS IN THE WORLD THAN MUSIC => Computers, Internet and Technology => Topic started by: drone on on January 17, 2012, 11:30:24 AM

Title: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: drone on on January 17, 2012, 11:30:24 AM
Relunctantly I've started downloading music out of necessity (for albums unavailable on CD) and for economic reasons (can't really afford to keep up with the volume of music I enjoy @ $20 a pop in many cases by the time you pay for CD plus shipping and other fees).  My question:

Is there a huge difference between MP3 files and "lossless" FLAC files?  So far I've only downloaded MP3 tracks off iTunes and they sound fine to me.  Is the MP3/FLAC difference noticeable, or just to people with super sensitive audiophile ears? 
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: mgriffin on January 17, 2012, 11:40:08 AM
Not all MP3s are created equal. Most people would have a very hard time telling the difference between a highest-quality MP3 encode (320k LAME for example) and a FLAC, while a plain old 128k MP3 should have more obvious compression issues.

Another way of putting it is that FLAC should sound indistinguishable from CD audio (lossless compression being indistinguishable from the raw 44.1khz 16 bit digital audio on a CD) so you can rip one of your audio CDs to various MP3 quality levels and compare them versus the original CD, and see what your own threshold is for hearing the difference.

Many people report being unable to hear even the difference between 128k MP3 and CD, which is sort of surprising to me, while others report clear and obvious differences between 320k MP3 and CD.
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: APK on January 17, 2012, 12:10:45 PM
A Flac version of a CD is of course lossless compression, so it is CD quality.
But MP3 is lossy, and comes in various qualities.

The lower the quality of the compression the smaller the resulting file (which was the original point of MP3 files). For CD similarity the range really begins at 128kbs, which is close but has differences in various frequencies with various musics. But once you get up to 196kbs it can be quite difficult to tell from a CD ... many people hear no difference. Up at 320kbs most people would certainly fail a blind test for noticing any difference between it and a CD if the compression is done properly (slowly).

Some people also sell variable bit rate MP3 tracks. This is when the depth of compression varies with the content of the music. It is neat to watch the change in compression of a VBR MP3 as it plays because you can see what aspects of the music are more difficult to compress.
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: | broken harbour | on January 17, 2012, 09:07:50 PM
To be honest I've never been able to tell the difference between a LAME Encoded Mp3 @ 320kbps and CD or Flac....  Anything lower than 320kbps and the difference is (to me) obvious, especially cymbals on a drum track.
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: mgriffin on January 18, 2012, 08:45:46 AM
I'm pleased to hear others saying a well-encoded 320k MP3 sounds the same to them as a CD/FLAC, because that's always been the case for me, and I've doubted most of those who claim to "clearly" hear the differences.
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: APK on January 18, 2012, 10:51:45 AM
Yep, I can't tell the difference between 320kbs and a CD/flac version either.

The reason for a properly controlled blind test to test this is that the compared files
must be listened to at exactly the same volume, otherwise the louder one will
usually seem better quality than the quieter, because volume affects how we perceive
frequencies. And it is not so easy to set this up.

Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: mgriffin on January 18, 2012, 11:01:11 AM
I agree, but I've seen many people argue that the differences are SO obvious that anyone who can't hear them must be completely tone-deaf.

I believe most of what is discarded in a well-encoded 320k MP3 is inaudible, either very high or very low frequency information. I don't doubt that there ARE some audio engineers with highly trained ears and esoteric playback devices who might be able to hear differences with SOME material, but I would wager a large amount of money that this is much less common (in other words, that the sonic differences in the human-audible range are less obvious) than some people claim.
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: drone on on January 18, 2012, 11:10:13 AM
The files on iTunes are 128k?
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: APK on January 18, 2012, 11:17:06 AM
iTunes was 128kbs (equivalent) when they first started, but they increased the quality at some point to around 256kbs I believe.
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: petekelly on January 18, 2012, 01:13:59 PM
Something I find odd in these fidelity comparisons, is the nature of ambient music in comparison to say, acoustic instruments /  vocal recordings.

I can see purists having a problem with less than loss-less audio for certain types of music, but I think ambient is an odd one in that a large amount of 'electronic' sound is used in its production and while high fidelity is desirable (in my view), I'm wondering what the detrimental effects of 320 kbps mp3s might be in the case of ambient ?
Soundstage, stereo issues, high frequency distortions etc ?
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: El culto on January 18, 2012, 08:07:31 PM
Something I find odd in these fidelity comparisons, is the nature of ambient music in comparison to say, acoustic instruments /  vocal recordings.

I can see purists having a problem with less than loss-less audio for certain types of music, but I think ambient is an odd one in that a large amount of 'electronic' sound is used in its production and while high fidelity is desirable (in my view), I'm wondering what the detrimental effects of 320 kbps mp3s might be in the case of ambient ?
Soundstage, stereo issues, high frequency distortions etc ?

Iīve enjoyed reading this post  :D

Well, people enjoy to hear birds in the middle of the night!  ;D

I made a test on Cubase Forum some years ago...3 mp3 files...

3 files, titled as A, B, C while the order was mixed . No one was knowing the compressing. I used 3 compression rates (128, 192, 256)

Then i ask the people to tell me the order, starting from best quality.

The most funny thing of all was, that no one of the "big speaker" and "i definately can hear this guys" in the thread actually told their opinion...hahahahha....after some months of voting the result was a pure mix of anything. There was NO tendency for a specific file.

But you know, itīs nice to hear birds in the night, because then there is a reason to discuss and complain.....

Cheers,
Tomas
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: jdh on January 18, 2012, 10:17:30 PM
Interesting.iTunes is indeed 256.I read an article in a hi fi mag that was comparing software conversation methods all to flac or wav and they could hear the difference in a blind test,this was cd to flac not cd to mp3 128, hmmnnnn.
There are many different types of mp3 conversation systems as mentioned,variable,etc..mostly at 256 which is the most common,most likely as iTunes uses it.
It also depends on what type of system you are listening to.On cheap ear pods,in the car,cheap mini home systems,very hard to hear the difference.I can hear the difference between mp3 320 and Flac but I am in the audio business.
I admit that at 320 and Wav or flac or lossless,not much of a difference.
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: APK on January 19, 2012, 06:49:28 AM
"I read an article in a hi fi mag that was comparing software conversation methods all to flac or wav and they could hear the difference in a blind test,this was cd to flac not cd to mp3 128, hmmnnnn."

This is kinda silly given that flac compression is lossless and therefore identical to the CD audio once decompressed.
Wouldn't be the first strange claim read in hi fi mags though ;-)
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: jkn on January 19, 2012, 09:09:41 AM
FLAC can be converted back to an identical twin to the original CD or WAV it was made from. 

Lossless is better if you have the space. 

For portability - I prefer 320 just because - but half of my ipod is filled with 256 or less due to buying from Amazon or iTunes.   I can most definitely tell a 128 if I'm a/b ing them. 

90% of my listening is on a decent speaker dock at low volume at work... with surrounding ambient noise (especially white noise from server fans through a door and heat/air conditioning.   At this volume - it doesn't truly matter what bitrate it is...  except I still notice something missing in my 128's of some albums I need to replace.

I pretty much only buy files anymore - and only take a cd when an artist really wants me to see the packaging (which are usually promos or freebies).   
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: jkn on January 19, 2012, 09:11:47 AM
APK - those same hi fi magazines will also tell you that gold tipped, titanium alloy tips lovingly hand crafted in a clean room and wrapped in only the most succulent of rubber coatings will sound infinitely better than any old cable.

;-D
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: Altus on January 19, 2012, 04:54:01 PM
Something else to consider when purchasing music online:  Think of the future.
Ten years from now, who knows what kind of formats will exist.  If you purchase your music in a lossless codec, you can compress that to any format without any additional damage being done to the audio.. vs MP3 or AAC to another compressed format.
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: Antdude on January 20, 2012, 11:51:13 AM
Something else to consider when purchasing music online:  Think of the future.
Ten years from now, who knows what kind of formats will exist.  If you purchase your music in a lossless codec, you can compress that to any format without any additional damage being done to the audio.. vs MP3 or AAC to another compressed format.

I wonder about this as well, but as an artist whose work is mostly in the digital domain, how do you plan not only to protect your music, but its very existence? We see how Bach's or Mozart's work has lived on for centuries, but how do you safeguard your work that may be only a hard drive crash away from non-existence? How does it live on in the future if it has no physical manifestation, i.e. a CD?

Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: ffcal on January 20, 2012, 12:20:54 PM
I think Antdude makes a good point.  It may be asking too much to expect every digital listener to back up their libraries as they go.  Only the technically inclined and diehard listeners would be likely to keep doing this.

If a virtual book fell in the forest, would you hear it fall?

I wouldn't be surprised if, years from now, those artists working purely in the digital domain who have a lasting influence end up reissuing old digital works in a physical format.

Forrest
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: APK on January 20, 2012, 02:48:21 PM
I don't think there is any good reason why digital copies should not last as long, or longer than material copies.

Backing stuff up is not only sensible, but is also becoming much more prevalent with the advent of online (cloud) copies and general archive sites (like the place many/most internet free labels use).

Bach and Mozart have lasted because of physical scores being copied and distributed. But of course lots (and I mean a LOT) of music by composers has been lost through the centuries because of those scores being lost or destroyed. And remember, its not musical performances of Bach that have survived the centuries, only the notation of how to play his music. The performances are on media from the 20th century. And in many ways digital media is the most permanent in that it does not wear out.

Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: ffcal on January 20, 2012, 04:27:12 PM
I think the means for digital media are definitely improving (cloud storage, flash media), but they don't seem to be there yet as a permanent storage medium.  What do you do if your cloud goes out of business, or if you don't want to continue making monthly patyments? I think that a manufactured CD is most robust than an LP,CDR or a digital file on the average user's iPod or iPhone, both in terms of durability and the possibility of being accidentally erased or thrown away.  It would seem to be easier to delete a digital file than to throw something physical away, though I guess if the CD pile became too large, the pendulum could swing the other way.

Forrest
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: Julio Di Benedetto on January 21, 2012, 06:26:52 AM
I think there is a difference....but its important to define what the "difference " is, and the difference is not necessarily better or worst.

To my ears its more like comparing analog recordings and digital recordings, analog being out of the box, no computers, recording and mixing to tape which has almost gone the same way as the dinosaurs, today.  Digital recordings are in the box, computer based Daw's.

IF you compared music recorded in the analog domain ie. music before computers and contemporary music there is a difference.  Words like "warmth" are are often used to describe analog tape based recordings and "brittle" or "harsh" is often levied against digital recordings.

Im using this to illustrate what I hear......Flac for me is like listen to analog, Mp3 is digital.

I imagine the difference is "lost" listening to and iPod on a speaker dock, but in a good listen environment I can hear the difference.
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: mgriffin on January 21, 2012, 08:51:17 AM
Julio, when you have compared listening to FLAC and WAV/CD audio, have you controlled for all other variables?

Have you tried re-converting a FLAC recording to WAV or CD and determining whether you still hear the analog-like warmth you believe you hear from FLAC?

There's no reason I can imagine that should make a FLAC recording sound any different than the CD/WAV source it came from, unless it's in codec or software or different hardware.
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: Julio Di Benedetto on January 21, 2012, 07:33:19 PM
Hi Mike....I think my last post was a bit misleading.

I was trying to suggest that Flac is like old school analog recording and the quality of the sound and mp3 is like modern digital in the box recordings.....a confusing mix of idea Im using to express myself.

A Flac recording does sound or should sound identical to the source cd or wave.....what Im say is to my ears in my studio there is a difference. An mp3 has a harshness to the sound quality compared to a Flac recording.  It is a subjective thing.  The maths explains why I could hear what Im hearing...beyond that its not easy to point to.  If your fortunate to have listened to music through really good & honest equipment.....the two dont always go together, then you will hear it, the difference that is. 

Personally the idea of listening/purchasing music that has had parts of its content removed to fit into a format for mobile listening and easy digital distribution does not do anything for me....thats like buying a sofa and cutting part of it off to fit through the front door. 
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: zzzone.net on January 22, 2012, 01:45:55 PM

Personally the idea of listening/purchasing music that has had parts of its content removed to fit into a format for mobile listening and easy digital distribution does not do anything for me....thats like buying a sofa and cutting part of it off to fit through the front door.

I concur...as almost everyone here knows.  At least I have the opportunity of hearing the entire original recording in .flac (although my sense of hearing & equipment may also be limiting factors.)
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: Seren on January 23, 2012, 05:35:03 AM
Personally the idea of listening/purchasing music that has had parts of its content removed to fit into a format for mobile listening and easy digital distribution does not do anything for me....thats like buying a sofa and cutting part of it off to fit through the front door.

Nice image...

...or trying a three seater in the shop and having a 2 seater delivered...

...or the sofa arriving with the bits of it the makers don't think you actually need removed to make it cheaper....
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: Julio Di Benedetto on January 23, 2012, 06:03:39 AM
Personally the idea of listening/purchasing music that has had parts of its content removed to fit into a format for mobile listening and easy digital distribution does not do anything for me....thats like buying a sofa and cutting part of it off to fit through the front door.

Nice image...

...or trying a three seater in the shop and having a 2 seater delivered...

...or the sofa arriving with the bits of it the makers don't think you actually need removed to make it cheaper....


Even better put Seren......very Pythonesque
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: ffcal on January 23, 2012, 11:27:44 AM
I'm a little wary of the idea that I won't miss certain data if it is from the original sound.  I think, if anything, I hear more distinctions in the quality of compressed sound than I did 10 years ago.  Also, I can't see embracing an idea (compression) that seems to dumb down our ears by gradation.  The artifacts in a 192 or even a 256 kbps file are much more pronounced to me than they used to be, even at a variable bit rate.

Forrest
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: APK on January 23, 2012, 11:49:49 AM
I wonder if that increase you perceive, Forrest, is caused by people using the fastest possible speed to compress. So it may be 192kbs, but it is not as good quality as a 192kbs compression created slowly. I bet this is especially true for sites that offer various compression options for music you want to buy ... they no doubt work as fast as they can, so you do not get the best mp3 result.

I'm reminded of people burning disks at the fastest setting they can. Which has its own problems with accuracy.
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: jkn on January 23, 2012, 02:50:09 PM
Or is it a chance in the songs themselves?  With so many artists pushing their songs as close to 0 db as possible... compressing the living hell out of the tracks.

Heard some track on the radio that the radio's added compression totally cracked the track in spots.  At least I'm assuming that's what happened.

Anyway.  Just musing and meandering.
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: drone on on January 23, 2012, 04:32:21 PM
If a superwave fries all the world's computers, I will still have my CD's.   ;D
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: APK on January 23, 2012, 04:36:23 PM
Or ...  if your house burns down (probably more likely), you still have the world's computers. ;)
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: APK on January 23, 2012, 04:39:29 PM
Actually, anything superwaveish that would fry computers has probably already fried everything else anyway !
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: jdh on January 23, 2012, 09:25:36 PM
I think the type of software used for compression is very important.I am not an engineer so I do not understand the algorithms but listening to tracks at 256 from iTunes,Emusic and Beatport for instance,Beatport to me is the clear winner. Same goes for Flac.In theory,it should sound the same as a CD or Wav file but depending on the software used,by Pure Music or Amarra or flac to....file conversation systems,they do sound different.You will hear it only on a high end system but it is there.As an example,I bought 2 Robert Rich Archive titles,one from iTunes at 256 and one from Musiczeit in Flac,Flac  sounded way better and looking at how long it took to download each,the Flac being three times longer,you know there is information being cut out.Of course,I did not have the original file.
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: ffcal on January 23, 2012, 09:31:08 PM
I wonder if that increase you perceive, Forrest, is caused by people using the fastest possible speed to compress. So it may be 192kbs, but it is not as good quality as a 192kbs compression created slowly.

Hi Anthony,

Well, that's a whole other issue, but I'm referring to hearing the same compressed files several years later.  I think I'm detecting more problematic frequencies in those files than I did before.  Now I wish I had encoded them at 256 kbps or higher instead of 192.  I do quite a bit of headphones listening the old school way (through a nice hi-fi system) and still record and mix largely through headphones, so maybe that somehow pays off in the end.  Robert Rich has great ears, of course, so I think I've probably picked up some things up from him, too.

Forrest
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: btocher on June 08, 2012, 10:01:03 AM
I'm very late to the party here, as I've only just joined the forums. But the Hydrogen Audio forums have many discussions on this subject: http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/ (http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/)
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: chris23 on December 02, 2013, 09:32:05 PM
EDIT: one thing more to add is that the CODEC of mp3s is important Lame is the best codec..the codec is more important then bitrate when you compare bitrates..so it can be good to know that codecs are being used...I wonder which bandcamp use for instance..I would feel fooled if it was not Lame.

The metadata for something I bought last night from Bandcamp lists LAME3.99
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: Seren on December 03, 2013, 01:34:04 AM
I've never been much into MP3 - only using it for listening to works in progress or for listening to my own music on a portable device when away from home.

Having just started up on Bandcamp I tried converting wav - flac - wav, and found the end file size was the same as the original.

I am led to believe the restored version is an 'exact copy' and therefore should sound the same as the original wav......
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: mgriffin on December 03, 2013, 07:22:46 AM
I am led to believe the restored version is an 'exact copy' and therefore should sound the same as the original wav......


Yes, because FLAC is lossless compression, you could do this conversion many times and not lose any quality. It's like Zip compression - you can zip and unzip a TIF file and it won't change the quality of the source.
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: xouoxno on December 03, 2013, 07:25:06 AM
FLAC is the way to go.
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: mgriffin on December 03, 2013, 07:31:01 AM
Xouoxno - welcome! You made it. ;)
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: Seren on December 03, 2013, 08:50:38 AM
I am led to believe the restored version is an 'exact copy' and therefore should sound the same as the original wav......


Yes, because FLAC is lossless compression, you could do this conversion many times and not lose any quality. It's like Zip compression - you can zip and unzip a TIF file and it won't change the quality of the source.

In that case I am happy to use it.....
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: xouoxno on December 03, 2013, 07:29:40 PM
Xouoxno - welcome! You made it. ;)

Sure did.  :D
Title: Re: MP3 vs. FLAC
Post by: Julio Di Benedetto on December 04, 2013, 07:09:44 AM
My Flac & Apple lossless purchased have dwindled to nothing since my iPod classic was stolen out of my car in my own drive way about 4 month ago.....my own drive way >:(.  I will get around to buying one again but for now Im enjoying playing cds.  My girlfriend has an nano and plays mp3's in her car.  It is hard to listen to for me.  I roll down the windows and it sounds much better.