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Few questions on bitrates and future benefit of using FLAC

Somewhat of a newbie, please bear with me on the following questions.

  • My general understanding after doing some reading on the mp3 format is that V0 is regarded as superior to 320 CBR. Why is that? I don't mean transparency or size/quality; I'm looking at it from a more technical point of view. Why wouldn't constantly encoding info at 320 bits be equal if not superior to a variable rate that fluctuates (V0 220-260)? One is cramming as much info as possible (even empty zeros) and one will strip out data according to an algo.

  • If I am going to use other lossy formats like AAC, , what is the generally recommended bit rate? Is it better to shoot for transparency or max out the bit rate?

  • Finally, I'm not a true hoarder, I believe less is more. However I've never really had a proper hardware set up; so I don't know if I would be able to tell the difference in quality between FLAC and mp3. So the only real good reason to keep lossless atm is transcoding. How likely are we to see a new development in next 10 years where having a 1:1 copy would be important? I would default to FLAC if not for the insane download bandwidth it takes and space/backup considerations.

 

Re: Few questions on bitrates and future benefit of using FLAC

Reply #1
1) Better compression, not better quality. In reality both are very similar.

2) 128k-192k.

3) If you are using mp3 or AAC, very unlikely.

Re: Few questions on bitrates and future benefit of using FLAC

Reply #2
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I don't mean transparency or size/quality; I'm looking at it from a more technical point of view.
Size and quality are the ONLY considerations.   It's lossy compression and every sample is changed no matter what the settings.    We can't say the quality of 320kbps is "better" than 128kbps unless we can hear a difference. 

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If I am going to use other lossy formats like AAC, , what is the generally recommended bit rate? Is it better to shoot for transparency or max out the bit rate?
That's up to you...  You can use someone else's recommendations, do some careful ABX listening tests and make your own decision, or if you have plenty of disc space, just choose a high bitate or go lossless.

...I use V0 with MP3s because I have the disc space and optimizing compression wasn't worth the effort.    I didn't particularly want to go lossless and I don't have that much space on my iPod,  although I'd probably make a lossless archive  if I was starting-over today.

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Finally, I'm not a true hoarder, I believe less is more. However I've never really had a proper hardware set up; so I don't know if I would be able to tell the difference in quality between FLAC and mp3.
It's mostly a myth that a high-end system will "reveal" compression artifacts.   If you get a better playback system your MP3s will sound better!

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So the only real good reason to keep lossless atm is transcoding. How likely are we to see a new development in next 10 years where having a 1:1 copy would be important?
I don't predict the future but both lossy & lossless compression are mature, and hardware doesn't seem to be a limitation (so it's not going to get better with newer-faster computers, it's just going to get faster).

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I would default to FLAC if not for the insane download bandwidth it takes and space/backup considerations.
FLAC is the most popular, but if you have a Mac you might want to use ALAC.   As a long-term archive it's not that important since any lossless format can be losslessly converted to any other lossless format in the future.  

Re: Few questions on bitrates and future benefit of using FLAC

Reply #3
Your hearing will have only worsened in 10 years making it more difficult to hear any compression artifacts. Also I claim that worse equipment makes it easier to differentiate lossy from lossless. Codecs are designed for neutral sound and frequency response deviations can reveal missing content that would be unnoticeable on a proper system. I for example could ABX some highest bitrate MPC files on an ancient SB Live soundcard that had messed up frequency response. Same files were perfect when the frequency response issue was fixed by using software resampling.

Re: Few questions on bitrates and future benefit of using FLAC

Reply #4
1) Better compression, not better quality. In reality both are very similar.

2) 128k-192k.

3) If you are using mp3 or AAC, very unlikely.

There are quite a few people that claim that tracks they can ABX that are encoded at 320 kbps mp3 become transparent at v0 mp3 encoding using LAME.  Normally you could chalk it up to placebophile hogwash, but the bitrate of a v0 file is lower than that of a 320kbps, and the average audiofool usually will go in the other direction and the higher bitrate is obviously better.

Heck I know people encoding at 512kbps Ogg Vorbis because it sounds better.

Re: Few questions on bitrates and future benefit of using FLAC

Reply #5
Nobody seems to have addressed what is apparently the core of question 1: variable vs fixed rates.  Variable rates are, at least in modern codecs, considered superior because they are used with algorithms that work out which portions of the audio need more bits to encode to an acceptable quality and which need fewer.  Encoding every second of audio with the same number of bits means that "difficult" sections will sound poor and "easy" sections will be wasting bits.  Details are in the implementation, of course.  Also, mp3 codecs are not all created equal: some older (and some new-ish?) mp3 encoders are really quite poor compared to Lame - time was that 320CBR was easily spotted and Lame v0 would be noticeably better.

Re: Few questions on bitrates and future benefit of using FLAC

Reply #6
Heck I know people encoding at 512kbps Ogg Vorbis because it sounds better.

That sounds insane... or borderline idiotic. I don't get it... Why not go full lossless then? The whole point of lossy compression - at least it seems to me - is to have a significant reduction in file size compared to lossless. Don't really see the point in permanently damaging audio-data if I'm only going to achieve a marginal storage reduction... while then being stuck with a lossy file that I won't be able to transcode in the future.

Re: Few questions on bitrates and future benefit of using FLAC

Reply #7
With the amount of storage today, using higher bitrates doesn't really have a drawback, even if it's wasted space and you wouldn't hear the difference. Using 256kbps AAC or Vorbis even if 96kbbps would be enough for your ears doesn't really limit the amount of audio you can store. A 3TB HD is like what, 80 bucks or so now?

10 years ago it was a consideration. Now you get so much storage you can actually just FLAC everything and don't even bother encoding into AAC.

Re: Few questions on bitrates and future benefit of using FLAC

Reply #8
A 3TB HD is like what, 80 bucks or so now?

10 years ago it was a consideration. Now you get so much storage you can actually just FLAC everything and don't even bother encoding into AAC.
Mobile devices.
Although portable solid-state storage like SD cards have gotten cheaper (per MB, etc), it's still a consideration.

Same thing with streaming.
Although most modern internet connections will happily stream a 1MB/s FLAC file, when you're on mobile, things are much more expensive. It therefore makes sense to compress a stream using lossy compression.

Most people seem to be on a plan, that limits a certain total traffic capacity, like 1TB etc., so even if the mobile LTE speed is high enough to stream a FLAC source, it'd be simply to expensive. If it wouldn't cost extra money, it would simply use up the capacity much quicker, etc.

Also mobile devices usually don't have the best sound output stage anyway, so lossy compression at a moderate quality setting isn't really a big issue.

Re: Few questions on bitrates and future benefit of using FLAC

Reply #9
10 years ago it was a consideration. Now you get so much storage you can actually just FLAC everything and don't even bother encoding into AAC.

I disagree.

It matters to me a lot whether my audio library requires 200 GB or 1.2 TB - especially when I want to have backups. Also FLAC makes transferring files much slower and requires some clever on the fly encoding if you want to stream it over the web (there's tools for that of course). I'm very happy with my - to my ears - 100% transparent avg 140 kbit/s opus files: Small size, great quality, lightweight. Not to mention that It"s extremely convenient to just copy a bunch of files onto a mobile device, without having to worry about encoding into another format first.

IMHO lossless is for archival and lossy for listening.

Re: Few questions on bitrates and future benefit of using FLAC

Reply #10
It matters to me a lot whether my audio library requires 200 GB or 1.2 TB - especially when I want to have backups. Also FLAC makes transferring files much slower and requires some clever on the fly encoding if you want to stream it over the web (there's tools for that of course). I'm very happy with my - to my ears - 100% transparent avg 140 kbit/s opus files: Small size, great quality, lightweight. Not to mention that It"s extremely convenient to just copy a bunch of files onto a mobile device, without having to worry about encoding into another format first.

IMHO lossless is for archival and lossy for listening.
Hmm, but you said in the first sentence, that you want to compress down your library, while in the last sentence you said lossless is for archival. Isn't your library your archive?

it is slower, but much slower? Gigabit networks and ~100MBit wireless networks are pretty much standard nowadays, so the transfer shouldn't be much of an issue. When it comes to streaming through these networks, it's several times faster than the playback speed, so it's usually not really an issue either.

When it comes to on-the-fly encoding, this is actually not really an issue. Software like Liquidsoap includes means to provide for internal and external transcoding. The problem is, that it requires a lot of setting up, I know of no really good out-of-the-box solution.

The entire thing changes, when we're talking mobile devices outside of networks like LAN and WLAN, but things like LTE. Here, the cost of transmitting anything really is pretty high, and those devices usually don't have too much storage space, either. So I'm on the same page with you here.

To me, lossy compression kinda becomes an edge case the wider and faster our networks become and the faster and cheaper  storage becomes. But we're still a couple years away from the time where we can stream lossless audio everywhere and not care about anything.

Lossy compression won't go away though, most of it is transparent however. Bluetooth devices are a good example. Streaming music from my phone to my car is a using a lossy encoding, but I don't really care, since the car audio system isn't exactly an audiometric anechoic chamber...

So technically, even if you "play" a lossless file, it might get transcoded lossy until it reaches the speakers, without your intervention. Also, I think lossy compression will stay for a while longer, where bandwidth is at a premium even though it's optimized through packing, like DAB and DAB+.

Re: Few questions on bitrates and future benefit of using FLAC

Reply #11
IMHO lossless is for archival and lossy for listening.

Well that's a bizarre conclusion to reach. My music is ripped to FLAC, why would I then encode it to lossy to listen to? The only reason it's in MP3 on my phone i because I can't get a 1TB microSD card and it'd be extorionate to do so. Even 200GB cards are rather expensive although that's what I ended up with for my phone.

Re: Few questions on bitrates and future benefit of using FLAC

Reply #12
Well that's a bizarre conclusion to reach. My music is ripped to FLAC, why would I then encode it to lossy to listen to? The only reason it's in MP3 on my phone i because I can't get a 1TB microSD card and it'd be extorionate to do so. Even 200GB cards are rather expensive although that's what I ended up with for my phone.
I believe that is what he meant, though, just the wording is a bit unfortunate. When you have access to your FLAC files, there's no reason not to stream them over your network or listen to them directly from a hard drive. However, my consideration of lossy re-encoding through things like Bluetooth still stands.

 
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