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Cody_Mack

FLAC vs. ALAC Lossless Compression

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Is there a difference?

Got an iPhone for Father’s Day. Woo Hoo. I needed a new phone but could absolutely do without the iPhone. With that said, I realize it is a totally cool device and I should try to take advantage of it. So I started thinking about its music capabilities.

All my CD library is ripped to FLAC. Before when I wanted to transfer songs to my portable I would convert them to high bit rate MP3s. I am the type that quality is foremost over quantity so I would use the highest bit rate in the format that my player would support. If my player had played FLAC files I would have just copied those over. If it meant a limited amount of music then so be it.

The iPhone will not play FLAC so I must decide which format to use. It will play MP3s, but it will also play ALAC, which is Apple’s lossless compression. So I thought, maybe I can convert those FLAC files to ALAC. Sure enough, I have the software to do it so I converted a couple of albums.

Now to the point of my post; I noticed a distinct difference in the sound quality of the FLAC files vs. the ALAC files. The ALAC files seem to have more bass, albeit a clunky and muddy sounding bass, and the highs seemed rolled off and the midrange and upper end didn’t have quite the resolution as the FLAC files. The FLAC files were easily my choice for serious listening.

Now to qualify; I played the FLAC files through Windows Media Player and the ALAC files through iTunes, both apps on the same PC through the same sound card and out to my pre-amp. WMP seemed to have more volume so I tried to closely match the levels; FLAC still ruled.

For the next test I ripped the same CD to ALAC using dBpoweramp and ran the same test. The ALAC files sounded the same as when I had converted them from FLAC.

So I got another idea. I already had an MP3 (320 kbps) version of the album so I imported it into iTunes along with the ALAC version. Played them both through iTunes and you know what? They sounded the same. But I followed it up with the FLAC version through WMP and again it shined.

I’ll stop here and see if there any comments/suggestions. I think I will go ahead and transfer both the ALAC and MP3 to the iPhone and compare through headphones and back through the main system. But if they still sound the same then it should be a no-brainer to just use MP3 and save space. Did a little searching on various forums today and everyone says there is no difference; both are lossless and bit perfect with each other so therefore they sound the same. What am I doing wrong?

Rick

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Hi, if you hear a difference between FLAC and ALAC with different players it is possible the different softwares are causing a different sound.

For bit perfect playback with no funny stuff from the software you can get plugins, not sure if they are available for itunes or WMP, but the foobar player has plugins to bypass windows kernel mixer

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Yeah it has to be the software. When the plugins are employed do you lose the volume control in the player? When you bypass the kernel do you also bypass the DAC on the sound card?

These is some things I need to begin researching as my next major component should be an outboard DAC. My ultimate system (for digital playback) will be all PC based, controlled with a keyboard from my listening chair. I have that now but as I said I am running through the Windows mixer and sound card. I will be looking for bit perfect playback with no funny stuff, but I also love the convenience of the remote at my keyboard. So what is the best solution to achieve this? I would love to hear some discussions of this, or pointed to some threads where it has been discussed. I will search the archives.

So presently I guess I have no way to compare the FLAC and ALAC files.

Rick

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I am not a fan of windows media player. I archive my music rips in FLAC, only because it's a slightly smaller file container, but for backup only. Lossles is lossless, and I use ALAC for all practical purposes. I've tried all the media players and found itunes to be the most intuitive by far. I ran an optical out of my computer to a separate DAC before I switched to a macbook pro. Now I use the DAC on my laptop, I find it more than adequate. There are ways to get flac to run in itunes and even ipods, but I'm not sure about the iphone.

A few years ago I wouldn't sway from FLAC, but when I ran FLAC side by side with the ALAC I converted from the FLAC file through the outboard DAC using the same software I was convinced, they are the same. Using the same software and the same DAC should yield identical results using either codec. Plugins, Software, OS, DAC will all have an effect.

I have my laptop wired to my LCD and stereo, and I use Mobile Air Mouse Pro app on my iphone to control the laptop, the itunes remote app on iphone is sweet as well, but I like the Air Mouse app better. I can't imagine a better setup. It sounds phenomenal.

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I'm pretty much an Apple guy so I rip my music to ALAC, then convert to high-bit AAC if I need a compressed version for, say, travel with an iPod or iTouch.

That said, why not rip uncompressed AIFF? That's the same file that's usually on CDs in the first place. You really only get a slightly smaller file with ALAC or FLAC. Try it & see. From there you can convert to anything that "floats your boat".

Frank W.

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Thanks for the replies...on vacation so will pick back up on return. iPhone and Senn phones were very nice on plane ride to Orlando!

Rick

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Hi, are you still on vacation? if so it must be nice [ip]

Yeah it has to be the software. When the plugins are employed do you lose the volume control in the player? When you bypass the kernel do you also bypass the DAC on the sound card?

The volume contol still works with the wasapi plugin for foobar [for vista/7], but using the foobar volume does cause noticable degradation to the sound. You may try to find a DAC with remote volume, or maybe this: Wavelength audio Proton It supposedly allows you to use the computer's volume without big degradation in sound

When you bypass the kernel do you also bypass the DAC on the sound card?

Not really sure, I have always used a usb/spdif converter, but I think the plugin would allow you to send the bits to wherever you would like.

These is some things I need to begin researching as my next major component should be an outboard DAC. My ultimate system (for digital playback) will be all PC based, controlled with a keyboard from my listening chair. I have that now but as I said I am running through the Windows mixer and sound card. I will be looking for bit perfect playback with no funny stuff, but I also love the convenience of the remote at my keyboard. So what is the best solution to achieve this? I would love to hear some discussions of this, or pointed to some threads where it has been discussed. I will search the archives.

So presently I guess I have no way to compare the FLAC and ALAC files.

Rick

you may want to look into a squeezbox product, when used as a transport (to an external DAC) they are supposed to have better sound than spdif/usb converters or using a soundcard's digital out.- but it may not be as appealing to you since you have a keyboard already at your listening position. I have a bluetooth keyboard at my coffee table and it is great, but my amp is right beside my sofa so the volume problem is not an issue for me. As for sound, my new usb/spdif converter and used DAC cost about double what I spent on a used NAD 541i CD player - and the computer setup sounds much better than the NAD

Here are some good places to get info on computer audio

http://www.computeraudiophile.com

http://www.head-fi.org/forum/list/46

http://www.canuckaudiomart.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=35

Sorry I took so long to reply, [:$]

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iTunes works really nice if you do it right. I have my cd's ripped into ALAC on my apple laptop and I play it wirelessly through iTunes. It sends the signal to an Apple Airport Express (wireless router) and then from the airport express to the receiver via optical cord. So it stays 100% digital and no funny stuff all the way to the receiver. Sounds great and is super cool.

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Tim is right. I do it this way for 99% of my music files. It's not easily noticeable, but the airport express has an optical connection in the 3.55mm jack, as does my macbook pro. So you can run a digital signal straight to your receiver or dac of choice. The only downside, and it's only for small percentage of my files, is that it will down convert 24bit files for wireless transmission to 16bit. Really it's a non issue though. I'm not sure if the newer Airport Express with wireless N does 24bit. I need to check out the new apple tv that was just released, it does the same wireless streaming but with videos too. It would be nice if it transmitted higher bitrate files.

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I built my HTPC to house my music collection and provide bit perfect, lossless sound files to my pre/pro. I picked .flac back when I researched the various formats.

If you do not have the proper setup, you will not bypass the windows mixer, which will sample your data at a different rate than that at which it was recorded. If you can hear a windows sound at the same time you are playing music, then windows is 'mixing' all the sounds and any effort to record in lossless is wasted.

I know that not all audio cards can properly pass the bit-perfect, lossless data. Another test is to download a 5.1 dts or DD file and send it to your pre/pro. If it is sending the pure data stream, your processor will properly decode the format and play the music. If not, all you will hear is hiss.

If you are interested in your pc build, let me know and I will send you some links for where I got my information.

I absolutely love the ability to select what music plays from the comfort of my sweet spot chair.

BTW, I use RJ Mediacenter software with an ASIO plugin to play the music files. I have also used Foobar with success, but prefer the more robust software suite of RJ Mediacenter.

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I am using the Sound Blaster x-fi Elite Pro with Windows.

It has the ability to do bit perfect pass-thru where cards will resample. If any of the features in Windows works, such as volume control or using Media Player, the sound is being resampled from it's original form. Many DACs, receivers and processors show you the incoming sample rate.

If you use flac files, they are exact copies of the CD file though compressed (lossless) and should produce CD quality sound depending on associated configuration. Without bit perfect passthru you will not have the same sound.

Upsampling is capable on a number of devices though your mileage will vary.

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I have been thru this before. I found that running Alac you needed to go into preferences and turn off the sound enhancer, next go to Quicktime and into preferences and click on Windows Audio Session. It will not overrride the volume control like Wasapi does in Foobar2000, but to my ears they sounded the same, mind you I'm getting old and long it the tooth however it all sounds great to me. 2S2P

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Recently, i am really interested in audio topic, although this is an old post but i still wanna share my experience.

From an audio perspective, there’s no difference between FLAC or ALAC files that are recorded at the same sampling rate.   That’s ultimately the case because all FLAC or ALAC files are compressed versions of a “lossless” original, which means that the original file, when compressed in either format to make it smaller to store and transmit, doesn’t lose any of its quality when it’s played on your system.

So, if the difference isn’t audible, then why are are you here and why do you get the sense that there’s such a zeal and fervor over the FLAC vs. ALAC battle?  It has nothing to do with audio quality and everything to do with the perceived—emphasis on the word “perceived”—Apple ecosystem lock-in and consequent player choices.

To oversimplify things, ALAC is an Apple-based solution to compress lossless file while FLAC was initially developed as an “open” format.  Some high-res audiophile music download sites, like HDTracks, will give you both ALAC and FLAC, or they will give you just one and not the other.  This has everything to do with their long-term disk storage and nothing about audible differences or that one format is “better” than another. more info about FLAC and ALAC: https://pooraudiophile.com/2013/07/difference-between-flac-vs-alac-recordings.html and here is a way to convert FLAC to ALAC or convert ALAC to FLAC: http://www.videoconverterfactory.com/tips/flac-to-alac.html i have been using this audio converter for almost 2 years, hope it useful for you too.

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