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FLAC Updates

Postby IceCube » Tue Jul 31, 2007 10:58 am

For many years now, users have associated music with the MP3 format. The MP3 format has become a sort of standard amongst an overwhelming majority of users. While many hardware devices and applications support the format, thus making playback extremely easy, some users note the loss of quality. So what is a user supposed to do if he or she is all about quality? Enter FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec).

When many in the file-sharing community search for quality in an audio file, one of the most important attributes is the bit-rate of the audio track. Generally speaking, 320kb/s for an MP3 is nearly CD quality. Some users want higher quality. For this, some switch to an open source project known as OGG, an open source project which can run as high in as 400 kb/s. As a bonus, it's an open source project. Many users consider open source as something that would give an application a sort of edge over proprietary formats (like the MP3). Still, it's known as a 'lossy' format, meaning quality is still being lost - even though many argue less so than the MP3.

What some users want is a format that does not lose audio quality, this is known as 'lossless'. Lossless is just what the name implies, 'no loss in quality'. It sounds great, but there are disadvantages. One downfall is a significant increase in storage space is required. Another downfall is that not as many programs or devices support FLAC.

While this may be the case, a great strength in FLAC is that many converters do support it. If a user wants an MP3 or an OGG file at any given bitrate, a FLAC file provides an excellent source file for whatever compression is needed. It avoids any loss in quality outside of the original encoding itself.

This runs counter to the problem some MP3 users already face. That problem is finding an MP3 that is 320 kb/s in quality, however the <i>source</i> file was from another MP3 file which was originally encoded at 128 kb/s. This is known as transcoding. Many users frown on this because the original 320 kb/s quality is lost. No quality is restored by "upgrading". FLAC side-steps such an issue.

FLAC, in itself, has been very standardized as a lossless codec of choice at this point in time. It's not devoid of competition. ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) is backed by powerhouse Apple, and WAV (Waveform) is developed by Microsoft), but many users simply use FLAC as a lossless codec of choice. It's worth pointing out that many CD ripping applications that don't support FLAC typically supports Microsoft's WAV format, which can also easily be transferred to FLAC with no loss in quality.

With nearly 7 years since its debut on Sourceforge (given that it's a GPL project) and its gradual adoption by many users and websites, one may wonder what exactly is being improved to an already well established project on the internet today.

The latest version, version 1.2.0, has "small speed improvements, and some new options and bug fixes". According to the <a href=http://flac.sourceforge.net/changelog.html#flac_1_2_0 target=_blank>changelog</a>, other improvements include:

∙ Added a new undocumented option --ignore-chunk-sizes for ignoring the size of the 'data' chunk (WAVE) or 'SSND' chunk (AIFF). Can be used to encode files with bogus data sizes (e.g. with WAV files piped from foobar2000 to flac.exe as an external encoder). <b>Use with caution</b>: all subsequent data is treated as audio, so the data/SSND chunk must be the last or the following data/tags will be treated as audio and encoded.

∙ (build system) Added solution and project files for building with VC++ 2005.

∙ (libraries) Added runtime detection of SSE OS support for most operating systems.
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Postby Andu » Tue Jul 31, 2007 12:07 pm

While FLAC is pretty popular I always get the impression that Monkey Audio (APE) seems to be more more popular on p2p than FLAC.
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Re: FLAC Updates

Postby multivariable » Tue Jul 31, 2007 5:16 pm

I love FLAC.

Here are the results of an interesting poll that was recently conducted on a popular private tracker:

Image

Edit: how do I enable BBCode for this thread?
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Re: FLAC Updates

Postby piXelatedEmpire » Tue Jul 31, 2007 10:09 pm

I've seen those poll results before ;)

I've yet to jump aboard the FLAC bandwagon. Having only recently joined a private music bittorent site, the more I read about FLAC the more I am intrigued. I have downloaded one FLAC album to test against a V0 ripped MP3 album, and in all honesty I didn't notice any difference in sound quality. I assume you would be able to tell more readily with better equipment.

I just don't know if my ratio's can handle FLAC at this point... maybe once I've built up some GB to burn :headbang:
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Re: FLAC Updates

Postby ShawnSpree » Wed Aug 01, 2007 7:01 am

Flac is more popular on the bt community since the swarm of sharers are much larger and people that download flac love the cue/log sheet to go with it. On emule and other stuff.. People dont give a damn about audio files since there is still abunch of 128kbs files on their network. Album wraps which is awful is still there to. Ape is just not that good and people use it because it encodes faster but its really doesnt shrink it as much and doesnt give the best quality.
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Re: FLAC Updates

Postby Watain » Wed Aug 01, 2007 7:19 am

what is annoying about p2p and flac is that people dont use the correct offsets, dont make cue sheets, dont create a log for the rip etc...if you're gonna be picky...then do it right :mrgreen:
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Re: FLAC Updates

Postby DSK » Wed Aug 01, 2007 3:22 pm

ShawnSpree, I don't know where your information is based on, but I really cannot follow.
There are loads of flac albums in the ed2k network. Of course, you are not wrong when you say, there are a lot of 128 kbps mp3 files. But saying that emule people don't give a damn on audio files is totally not true. There are many flac and ape albums in the network, mostly packed in an archieve. Perhaps you just aren't searching right?

Second thing is your statement about ape, which is defenitely not true: Ape is a lossless encoder just like flac, so the quality with ape is exactly the same as with flac: an exact rip of the original, without any loss of quality.
Aside from that, ape compresses slightly better than flac, which means the resulting files are a little bit smaller than flac files (again, the quality between them remains exactly the same!).
Flac has other advantages therefor (perhaps faster encoding? I don't know that) e.g. it has always been open source.
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Re: FLAC Updates

Postby keeper of the wheel » Sat Aug 04, 2007 11:32 pm

I have to chime in here on an inaccuracy in the source article... ogg vorbis can be encoded with a bitrate upto 500kbps and in some cases, since it is a VBR codec, I've seen my oggs spike upwards of 535kbps.
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Re: FLAC Updates

Postby LANjackal » Sun Aug 05, 2007 12:55 am

DSK wrote:Flac has other advantages therefor (perhaps faster encoding? I don't know that) e.g. it has always been open source.

You're correct so far, except that Monkey's Audio/APE/MAC is also open source, it's just under a non-GPL license that's somewhat trickier. So is WavPack (IIRC, it uses the BSD license, but I'm too lazy to check).

FLAC Advantages:
- Most diverse playback support of any lossless codec
- Decoding speed is independent of compression level, e.g if you encoded a file to compression level 8, it will take the same time to decode it as if you'd encoded it to level 1
- Multichannel support
- Error handling (this is debatable, see HydrogenAudio.org for nauseating arguments ;))

FLAC Disadvantages
- Outperformed on compression ratio by a few other major lossless codecs (APE, OptimFROG, WMA Lossless)
- The tagging scheme (Vorbis comments) is a mess
- Poor native frontend (compared to APE)
- No native support from the big 2 (Apple, MS have ALAC* and WMA Lossless, respectively)
- Development can be a bit half assed at times, e.g. announcing a major release sans an executable, etc.

*it is rumored that ALAC stole some of FLAC's concepts
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