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Topic: Does the lossless format matter? (Read 6418 times) previous topic - next topic
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Does the lossless format matter?

I have a good deal of my music in FLAC format 16/44.1.  I like the idea of lossless, not because I believe I have some kind of golden ears that can tell a difference between FLAC and v0 MP3, but because it gives me the option to convery to any lossy format I want.  So it, "future proofs" me against having music stuck in some lossy format I don't like or can't play in the future.

That being said, there is an iPhone in the house, and the iPhone doesn't do FLAC, or really any other compressed lossless format other than ALAC.  So, I've debating converting all these FLACs to ALAC, so I can dump them into iTunes and on-the-fly convert them to AACs when syncing the iPhone.

Is there any reason I would NOT want to use ALAC?  Are there patent concerns or anything else I should be worried about?

Does the lossless format matter?

Reply #1
i believe the source code for decoding/encoding ALAC is now open. not that it would influence my decision to use it or not. i use TAK and that is proprietary/closed source but i just don't care. if it's not updated to work on future versions of my operating system, i'll just use "old" software to convert it into something else.

given you use itunes and have apple hardware, i'd certainly go for ALAC.

edit: i suppose you must give some consideration to the software that you use for the conversion. i've done enough lossless>lossless conversions with foobar2000 to trust it implicitly. having said that, there is also an additional component which will compare the audio in two sets of files to make sure it's an exact match. this can be used regardless of how the files were created.

it's up to you to test whatever you're going to use for the job. i'm sure the vast majority will do exactly what they're supposed to do but i really would need to test the files before deleting those all important source files.

Does the lossless format matter?

Reply #2
The only information that can be lost by changing from one lossless format to another is the "extra" (metadata) information about the song, which most formats would store as tags.

Most lossless formats, no matter how closed source they are, should at least allow you to export to WAV. From WAV you can go to anything else. The risk is then losing said metadata, which WAV can't tag and would need to be saved on something like an additional text file and separate image files for album art.

That said. the conversion between FLAC and ALAC, should be straight forward with the right programs, without any loss of tags. I have never done that conversion myself, so I can't recommend any particular program.

Does the lossless format matter?

Reply #3

Keep a mirror AAC library that is transcoded directly from your FLAC library. Use that AAC library on your iPhone. Since all the transcoding will already be done, syncing to the phone should be much faster than having iTunes do the conversion on the fly. You might also choose Mp3 for the lossy mirror library instead of AAC and have better compatibility with other portable players.

Does the lossless format matter?

Reply #4
Is there any reason I would NOT want to use ALAC?  Are there patent concerns or anything else I should be worried about?

From a user perspective, there are no legal issues to worry about, both codecs are free and open source.

Again from a consumer perspective, I think differences in terms of the functionality and performance are no major issue (although, see the detailed comparison in the wiki). And, as it's lossless, you can switch back if you need to at relatively moderate cost. Tag conversion shouldn't present a major complication, either, if you use something like foobar or XLD for conversion.

It's still a bit unfortunate that Apple supports ALAC rather than FLAC. Outside the Apple universe (particularly iTunes and iDevices), FLAC is much more common than ALAC. And, of course, with software standards, the degree of their adoption is a major contributor to their usefulness (one can start here for an economic explanation of this point). I view this decision as part of Apple's walled-garden approach -- they try to impose switching costs on their users wherever they can. I'm saying this as from a purely technical perspective, ALAC doesn't hold any advantages over FLAC to speak of (somebody correct me if I'm wrong).

Does the lossless format matter?

Reply #5
Personally, I use TAK just like marc2003 for archiving purposes, because it saves me some space compared to FLAC et al. With one copy of my library being on my NAS, it's also what I listen to when I'm at home.

For portable use, lossless makes little sense, so I'm with JJZolx on it: just convert the music to whatever lossy format iPhone supports and use that. Take some time and find your transparent setting (using foo_abx for example). Since it's usually relatively noisy when you're on the go, many lossy artifacts will go unnoticed anyway. And should you choose a too low bitrate, you will still have the lossless archive to re-encode from.

Ah, and if you decide to go the ALAC route after all, you might want to consider using CUETools to verify the conversion went as expected instead of foo_bitcompare. This should speed up verification for discs that are in AR/CTDB.

Does the lossless format matter?

Reply #6
The only real "issue" I have with ALAC (and WMA Lossless) is that it uses the same file extension.  I can easily tell if files are lossles by looking at the file and seeing flac, ape or whatever extension there is.  When I see an m4a or wma, I assume lossy and need to look at the file size.  Sometimes that is a poor indicator, especially with classical music, where a very long piece of music could easily have a 30 MB AAC m4a file.

Does the lossless format matter?

Reply #7
The risk is then losing said metadata, which WAV can't tag

Yes metadata can be lost when working with wave files, but on its face this claim is false.  Programs that support the tagging of waves do exist.

Still, there is no reason to use wave as an intermediary container when there are tools that can convert directly.

Does the lossless format matter?

Reply #8
Is there any reason I would NOT want to use ALAC?

Checksums. A FLAC file has an audio checksum, and can be verified later to be the same as you encoded. This enables you to detect errors that could emerge from corrupted file systems.

I have detected errors in cases where the file system did not report I/O errors at those particular files (merely a general journalling error). Right now I have two highly doubtful drives - I have copied everything that is changed after the last backup over to a fresh one, and I am just to verify integrity. Using a format with checksums it is less likely that errors will pass unnoticed.

Edit: if you run such verification jobs regularly, you might also want a codec that decodes very quickly. I don't know whether that is an issue on modern hardware with rotating drives though - it may be that I/O is the bottleneck anyway.

I also agree with you that it is no good to have losslesses that share filetype/suffix with lossies.

Does the lossless format matter?

Reply #10
Both are free and open source so no issues there. They are both lossless so no quality issues exist.

That being said, ALAC is supported by Apple products and not much else, and FLAC is supported by virtually everything else.

If it was me, I'd ditch the Apple crap since they want to dictate what you can and can't do with your stuff, but if you're unwilling to do that converting to ALAC poses no real problems as long as you use a reliable filesystem (mine data is stored on a ZFS pool which does block level checksumming so the checksum in FLAC is redundant).

Does the lossless format matter?

Reply #11
Being lossless there is of course no difference in sound quality, assuming everything (software, hardware) is working correctly.  ALAC would be easier to use with Apple products due to their lock-in, but what I personally do with my iPod is use software other than iTunes to manage it. Specifically the foo_dop plugin to foobar2000. That way the files can be FLAC, ALAC, Ogg, or whatever else, and they all get converted just the same (if conversion is necessary). I have no idea if foo_dop works with iPhones though.

Personally I stay away from Apple products entirely, but this iPod was given to me for free, so I've found ways to work around having to use any of their software to manage it, vs. spending money on a new player.