With the advent of digital technologies in the world of music, the question arose about the choice of methods for digitizing, processing and storing sound. Many formats have been developed, most of which are still successfully used in certain situations. Conventionally, they are all divided into two large groups: lossless audio and lossy audio. Among the former, the FLAC format is in the lead, among the latter, the actual monopoly went to MP3. So what are the main differences between FLAC and MP3, and are they really important to the listener?
What is FLAC and MP3
If audio is recorded in FLAC format or converted to it from another lossless format, the entire frequency spectrum and additional information about the file content (metadata) are preserved. The file structure looks like this:
- four-byte identification string (FlaC);
- Streaminfo metadata (required for setting up playback equipment);
- other blocks of metadata (optional);
It is common practice to directly record FLAC files while playing music 'live' or from vinyl records.
When developing algorithms for compressing MP3 files, the psychoacoustic model of a person was taken as a basis. Simply put, during the conversion, those parts of the spectrum that our hearing does not perceive or does not fully perceive will be 'cut off' from the sound stream. In addition, if the stereo streams are similar at certain stages, they can be converted to mono sound. The main criterion for audio quality is the compression ratio – bitrate:
- up to 160 kbit / s – low quality, a lot of third-party interference, frequency dips;
- 160-260 kbps – medium quality, mediocre reproduction of peak frequencies;
- 260-320 kbps – high quality, uniform, deep sound with a minimum of interference.
Sometimes a high bitrate is achieved by converting a low bitrate file. This will not improve the sound quality in any way – files converted from 128 to 320 bps will still sound like a 128-bit file.
Table: Comparison of characteristics and differences between audio formats
|Index||FLAC||Low bitrate MP3||High bitrate MP3|
|Compression format||no loss||with losses||with losses|
|Volume of one song||25-200 Mb||2-5 Mb||4-15 Mb|
|Appointment||listening to music on high-quality audio systems, creating a music archive||installation of ringtones, storage and playback of files on devices with limited memory||home listening to music, storage of the catalog on portable devices|
|Compatibility||PCs, some smartphones and tablets, top segment players||most electronic devices||most electronic devices|
To hear the difference between a quality MP3 and FLAC file, you need to have either an outstanding ear for music or an 'advanced' audio system. MP3 format is more than enough for listening to music at home or on the road, and FLAC remains the lot of musicians, DJs and audiophiles.