You don’t need to be an audiophile to appreciate good sound and with such a great range of audio products – headphones, earphones, etc. – available today, we’re presented with so many ways to improve our listening experiences. Whether you’re listening to a digital file or streaming your music, it’s important to really enjoy what you’re listening to, to really feel it and that’s why insisting on high-quality sound is crucial.
FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec. You may have heard of FLAC when downloading digital files, usually MP3s, however, FLAC differs from MP3s in several important ways. While the format is similar to an MP3 in that it’s a digital file and can be easily transferred from a computer or an online source to a digital device, because it’s lossless there isn’t any loss in terms of sound quality as there is with MP3 and other digital files.
FLAC files are designed specifically as audio files and deliver much better compression than MP3s, which is why they’re widely used as the digital files for backing tracks. When performing live or in the studio, the importance of high-quality sound can’t be overstated which is why backing music is usually stored and played as FLAC files rather than the other digital file options available, such as MP3 and WAV. WAV and other lossless alternatives, like Apple Lossless (ALAC) and WMA lossless, are improving in terms of sound quality but are believed to have their drawbacks.
For many people, listening to music as MP3 files is ideal – with small file sizes, high-quality sound and the ability to play the files on any digital device, it’s hard to go wrong with MP3s. However, MP3s are ‘lossy’ files, which means that when compacting the file some of the music is lost. According to audio experts, the instruments most effected by the file compaction process are guitars, reverb and cymbals, which can often sound crunchy or overly compressed at times.
Nevertheless, MP3s played at 320kbs (this is the maximum speed for MP3 files) sound great through high-quality earphones or headphones, but due to the limitations in sound they aren’t commonly used for applications, like backing music, that requires extremely high sound quality.
Despite the popularity of streaming and apps such as Pandora and Rhapsody, streaming is no match for MP3s and it’s certainly falling well short of the sound quality that FLAC files deliver. However, streaming offers many benefits, like having a massive music collection at one’s fingertips, and in the case of Pandora, the opportunity to gain exposure to a remarkably wide range of music.
Having said that, some streaming services are now offering higher bit-rate streaming, with Spotify’s catalogue streaming at 320kbs, which is impressive, as Pandora and Rhapsody stream at just 128 – 192kbs.
In terms of sound quality, FLAC is still where it’s at today, which is why it’s the top choice among audiophiles and both professional and amateur musicians who require high-quality backing music to perform live and record in the studio.