Audiophile's Audio Format Showdown

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by Prodo123, Sep 1, 2011.


Which is the best lossless codec?

  1. ALAC

    45 vote(s)
  2. FLAC

    38 vote(s)
  3. AIFF

    8 vote(s)
  4. WavPack

    0 vote(s)
  5. WAV

    11 vote(s)
  1. Prodo123 macrumors 68020


    Nov 18, 2010
    Everyone knows lossless is better than lossy.
    But there's subtle differences between lossless formats themselves!
    So, here are the 5 contenders for the title of best lossless format:

    ALAC (Apple Lossless)

    Here, ALAC, FLAC and WavPack are compressed while WAV and AIFF are uncompressed. Some people argue that the extra decoding required to extract audio from the compressed files will affect sound quality (which I hope not).

    Also, only ALAC, AIFF and WAV are supported by iTunes.

    I know some people will say "Lossless is lossless; there isn't a difference between whatever codecs they use" but I just want to hear which format you prefer.
  2. Sylonien macrumors regular


    May 21, 2011
    flac for me. Seems to be quite common. Would prefer WAV so it's compatible with more devices (iTunes inc.) but itself can't store ID tags? So it's rather annoying.
  3. Jolly Jimmy macrumors 65816

    Jolly Jimmy

    Dec 13, 2007
    ALAC for me. Lossless, tagging, and iTunes support are all I need. ALAC decodes perfectly bit for bit so there's no issue there. This is quite easy to prove.
  4. LostSoul80 macrumors 68020


    Jan 25, 2009
    FLAC FTW! Only the best for my classical music.
  5. (marc) macrumors 6502a


    Sep 15, 2010
    the woods
    Lossless is lossless; there isn't a difference between whatever codecs they use.

    I prefer FLAC, because it's well compressed and free.
  6. LaazyEye macrumors regular

    Jul 9, 2010
    And it streams!
  7. TMRaven, Sep 3, 2011
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2011

    TMRaven macrumors 68020


    Nov 5, 2009
    Where's the option for AAC? :(

    No, seriously. Although I don't consider myself the biggest hi-fi enthusiast on the planet, nor am I a cable guy, I do like achieving a great sound, but I'm a realist at heart. If I double blind tested multiple songs comparing their lossless vs 320kbps aac versions and couldn't find a difference, you bet I'd be using 320kbps aac.

    Now time to eagerly await on getting called out for not having sufficient enough gear.

    (Btw if I had to pick one of the already aforementioned-- because I do have a couple lossless songs-- it'd be wav, I have around 50 of em in my library)
  8. treestar macrumors 6502

    Feb 28, 2010
    AIFF is another PCM format like WAV but it stores ID tags, so it's great. It shouldn't take long to convert.


    I used to prefer encoding to AAC when I used a lossy format, usually for sharing. I felt it was better than mp3, but it is not as widely supported. I prefer encoding to mp3 now because it plays natively in Gmail and I don't worry about people with other devices not being able to play AAC. I used to have everything in 320 kbps mp3, but now for mp3 and AAC I encode at 256 kbps. This is just for sharing purposes. When it's serious I don't go below 44.1 kHz 16 bit.
  9. TMRaven macrumors 68020


    Nov 5, 2009
    Luckily both mp3 and aac are 16bit depth and 44.1khz sampling rate.
  10. treestar macrumors 6502

    Feb 28, 2010
    Right now my entire library is encoded AIFF. I preferred it over WAV because it handles tagging. I don't know of any practical difference between WAV and AIFF other than that. AIFF seems more featured. I chose an uncompressed lossless format because I had made the move from 320 kbps mp3 and I did not want to do it again. Further, the theoretical jitter issue with decoding ALAC or FLAC scared me to go uncompressed. I trust my equipment to have very accurate timing, but I wanted to play it safe without the decoding bottleneck. The last measure for choosing AIFF was frequently writing Red Books. I feel better keeping my library closest to the original format. A long time ago I wanted to backup my CD collection in .ISO's but there is no such thing!

    Since switching my library to AIFF I started using small SSD's and a solid state iPod touch. My library could possibly fit uncompressed onto the 64 GB iPod but it is a little slow with the AIFF's sometimes and has skipped in the past because of it. I want to write to ALAC for the iPod but there is no streamlined way to do this. iTunes only gives the option to on-the-fly write to the iPod in a highly lossy format. I would maybe switch everything to ALAC but FLAC is more widely supported, except in iTunes and the iPod. So it seems, AIFF and ALAC are the best choices for my Apple devices, and pretty terrible for sharing to the internet community. I wish more people would adopt ALAC. Is it not open?

    One thing I have not resolved is what to do with 48, 96, 176.4, and 192 kHz sources and 24 bit sources. I want my library to be in one format and bitrate but I should let that anal tendency go!

    How about .CAF?

    I use RME Firefaces for DAC.


    Not quite. There are many sampling rates, but there are not 16 bits per sample.
  11. Uofmtiger macrumors 68020


    Dec 11, 2010
    I use Apple products and have a lot of music, so I prefer ALAC. I also have a FLAC library, but it rarely gets used these days.
  12. Prodo123, Sep 4, 2011
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2011

    Prodo123 thread starter macrumors 68020


    Nov 18, 2010
    Because I have done testing with f2k's ABX Comparator between FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, WAV, WavPack, Fraunhofer 320Kbps, LAME CBR 320Kbps, AAC 320Kbps, LAME V0, and LAME ABR 320Kbps with a dynamically non-compressed music file (1812 Overture recorded by Telarc). The difference between lossless and lossy, no matter what codec, was clear.
    Not enough gear? Cheap (but extremely high fidelity) $50 Yamaha studio headphones could distinguish between lossless and lossy.

    ALAC is a proprietary codec developed entirely by Apple. Most or all of the encoders you see in freeware are reverse-engineered versions of this codec. ALAC also has a lower compression ratio than FLAC when compared file-to-file.
    Since FLAC is open source right down to the name, and the fact that it has a smaller file size than most if not all lossless codecs with the exception of WavPack, which has failed to gain popularity, FLAC has become the dominant lossless codec on the internet.
  13. AdrianK macrumors 68020

    Feb 19, 2011
    Erm, what?
  14. treestar macrumors 6502

    Feb 28, 2010
    Really? TMRaven suggested MP3 and AAC have a sample rate of 44.1 kHz and a bit depth of 16 bits. At 320 kbps, an MP3 has an average bit depth of only 3.628 bits.
  15. AdrianK macrumors 68020

    Feb 19, 2011
    Yes, really. Thanks for the answer though, that clears up a couple of questions I had (which admittedly didn't come to mind earlier).
  16. treestar macrumors 6502

    Feb 28, 2010
    The math is easy if you are interested.

    320 kbps / (2 * 44.1 kHz)
    It is 44.1 kHz * 2 because there is a sample for each stream. You have bits per second over periods (samples) per second. This reduces to bits per sample, but I believe it is an average.
  17. TMRaven macrumors 68020


    Nov 5, 2009
    Do you realize if the mp3 only had a bit depth of 3.6 some odd bits, that its noise floor would be extremely high, like, you couldn't even get more than 20db from the song without hearing noise. That's clearly not the case with mp3, as the noise floor is at around 96db of dynamic range (most cds uncompressed are only 50db of dynamic range at their best-- and these are the tip of the top recorded and mastered albums) This is why arguing over wether 24bit songs are actually doing anything or not, because at most you get an even lower noisefloor, but outside of live rock concerts where the sound quality is already horrid, nobody really plays music over 140db.

    There's actually a good thread about that argument here on head-fi.

    I guess that's good for you. In my case, I really can't tell a difference. My headphone setup is an HRT Music Streamer II hooked up to a Little Dot MKII with mullard EF95s, feeding to both a Denon D2000 and Beyerdynamic DT990. The difference, at most, of what I hear, is in slight nuances for dynamic range and treble decay, but it's something so subtle that I wouldn't get 10/10 on a blind abx.
  18. treestar macrumors 6502

    Feb 28, 2010
    It would have a high noise floor if it were 3.6 bit PCM, but it is not PCM. MP3 bits are not a simple amplitude over time representation like WAV and AIFF.

    I somewhat understand what you meant originally, maybe that AAC and MP3 are comparable to 16 bit PCM, but if I am taking your post at face value then I should be able to mathematically derive 16 bits of depth backwards from an MP3, but that's not possible. It's just nominal. An MP3 is just as much 16 bit as it is 18 bit or 15 bit.
  19. netdog macrumors 603


    Feb 6, 2006
    ALAC for me because it
    • Can be played on my iOS devices
    • Can be restored to original WAV files bit for bit
    • Can easily be converted to future formats without any loss
    • Is the only lossless format supported by iTunes which is where I store my entire music collection
  20. Uofmtiger macrumors 68020


    Dec 11, 2010
    Yep, I really think the choice has a lot to do with how you intend to use the files.

    I have had files in WMA lossless format, FLAC, and ALAC. I use Foobar2000 on a Windows PC to batch convert them. The benefits of FLAC are pretty useless when I want to use a 160GB Classic in my car with its iPod only USB input. On the other hand, the benefits of ALAC would be useless if I only owned players that are not iPods.

    I have also downloaded hirez files in FLAC format to my Mac and converted them to ALAC without a problem using MAX (I think that is the name, I haven't used it in a while). So, it is not a big deal that online vendors use FLAC.

    It would definitely be easier to use a high bit rate mp3 if you want to be able use the files on any player you buy. However, I have a fairly large library (1300+ CDs) and want the ability to easily convert the files if new and better CODECs come out. With the low price of storage today, I am surprised anyone would want to throw away bits when they are archiving files.
  21. treestar macrumors 6502

    Feb 28, 2010
    I'd like to see some more thorough recommendations between ALAC and FLAC. I am seeing that ALAC has support in all Apple devices, and FLAC has community support, never vice versa. Is there a good choice here?
  22. AdrianK macrumors 68020

    Feb 19, 2011
    I use ALAC for my CD and DVD-Audio rips, just because it's supported by iTunes and I don't want to use anything else :p

    Then I do 224 vbr AAC encode for the iPod. 44.1KHz stays as-is and any 96KHz content is reduced to 48KHz to avoid interpolation (which would occur with 44.1KHz).

    Yeah, thanks. I actually went back to channels*freq*bit depth = bitrate and rearranged after reading your post :)
  23. TMRaven macrumors 68020


    Nov 5, 2009
    So what happens to the bit depth between a 320kbps mp3 rip of a cd and an uncompressed flac rip of a cd? Either way you'll end up at some bitrate, and they always differ on cd and song. So, does the lossless rip I have of mozart, that's only at 600-700kbps have less bit depth than a lossless rip of a britney spears album that had songs at 1300-1400kbps?
  24. treestar macrumors 6502

    Feb 28, 2010
    Yes. I'm not trying to bust you here, but bit rate and sample rate have a direct relation to bit depth. MP3s and AACs do not have a bit depth of 16 bits. It's not true at all. MP3s and AACs sound great at high bit rates but you're posting false and confusing information here and it doesn't help.

    Bit depth should only be talked about with PCM formats. With MP3, AAC, FLAC, and ALAC it has far less meaning, considering it is AVERAGE bit depth and does not correspond to a single sample. PCM is Cartesian -- an essentially graphical encoding of a waveform. In this case bit depth describes the actual resolution of the waveform. With compressed formats bit depth is not the actual resolution of the waveform, which is why bit rate makes more sense.

    It's nonsense to say MP3s and AACs have a bit depth of 16 bits. That doesn't correspond to the format at all.

    I apologize for the rhetoric.
  25. TMRaven, Sep 4, 2011
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2011

    TMRaven macrumors 68020


    Nov 5, 2009
    Fair enough. They might not be exactly 16bit depth, but probably not far off if you were to directly compare them to a 16bit pcm. The dynamic range of compressed mp3s is definitely not low enough to notice much of a difference between compressed and uncompressed files though. I did make the mistake of assuming mp3 stays at a 16 bit depth sample, but upon further inspection iTunes only gives a discrete sample for my wav files.

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