Rich Warren: Audiophiles singing the praises of FLAC

Rich Warren: Audiophiles singing the praises of FLAC

FLAC, not flack. One of the more ill-chosen technological acronyms, FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec (encode-decode).

Technophobes already turned the page to the good, clean funnies.

A reader email suggested this topic:

"Several months ago, I purchased what I consider the ultimate universal media/network player, an OPPO BDP-93 (mine is region and code-free) but almost any OPPO will play FLAC files.

"The last piece of the puzzle was http://cdbaby.com and their making music available for download in MP3, MP3-320, and FLAC file types! (I know there are other sites that offer the ability to download FLAC files; I just found the music I like on cdbaby.)

"With my USB flash drive plugged into my laptop, I downloaded the files to it, then removed it and plugged it into my OPPO's front panel USB jack. With the video output switched to TV, I navigated to the flash drive folder containing the files and the audio output to my 'hi-fi' surround sound system.

"I listened closely to see if I could detect any loss of quality in the FLAC encoded/decoded files. I can happily tell you, I could not! I am increasingly pleased I scrimped and saved to purchase this component instead of a cheap Blu-ray player that can't do half of what this one can.

"I think the readers of your column might agree more than the general population."

We won't comment on the OPPO player but will sing the praises of FLAC. As a radio producer I've been using FLAC for a decade.

With FLAC you can have your cake and eat it, too. FLAC reduces the size of audio files without any compromise of quality. Unlike even the best MP3 and other audio compression formats, FLAC maintains pristine audio quality.

Compared with the standard MP3 bit rate, FLAC only reduces file size by about 50 percent to 60 percent rather than 80 percent to 90 percent.

MP3, AAC and similar audio compression schemes discard sonic data that their algorithms think you can't hear. They work amazingly well, but still alter the sound.

Think of FLAC as wringing out a wet sponge. You can reduce the size of the sponge without altering its physical integrity.

Think of MP3 as drilling a multitude of tiny holes in the wet sponge and then wringing it out. You can squeeze the sponge smaller, but some of it is missing.

You might never notice the tiny holes in the sponge, but it never will be quite the same.

The main drawback of FLAC is that it's not incorporated into a processor to play in real-time on the go.

Thus, you can't use it like MP3 on an iPod/Phone/Pad or car stereo. You first must decode to a standard audio file for listening on your portable device.

It generally requires a computer or an esoteric player such as the OPPO for full flexibility.

FLAC serves two worthy goals:

You can send music across the Internet faster with no degradation of quality.

You can store your music collection on your computer using only half the disk space.

When I send my radio show to my radio station, FLAC reduces the upload to 20 minutes for each hour of audio rather than 40 minutes. Ultimately, radio listeners hear the same sound quality as if they were listening to the output of my studio.

FLAC also rips all the information from a CD. This metadata includes information about the contents of the CD. MP3 and most other codices ignore this.

Microsoft, Apple and others offer lossless codices, but none comes as close to being a standard as FLAC.

FLAC works with any and all computer operating systems, including Windows, Mac and Linux.

FLAC player apps exist for decoding, but not playing in real-time, for iOS and Android. Josh Coalson developed FLAC and gave it as a gift to music lovers.

You can download it free from http://www.flac.sourceforge.net.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

Topics (2):Music, Technology

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