Heard your friends discuss lossless audio but have no idea what it is? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
Last year, in May-June, Apple announced the launch of ALAC Apple Lossless Audio. Apple users across the globe were delighted to know that the audio upgrade would be readily available to them for free (at no extra cost to upgrade). Nevertheless, at that point, many users were clueless about lossless audio and could not tell the difference between normal audio and lossless audio formats.
If you’re someone who still does not know what lossless audio codec is and how it can benefit you; you’re in the right place. In this post, we’ll discuss everything about lossless audio codecs and how they can provide you with better quality music. Read further to know more.
What Is Lossless Audio?
Lossless audio is a collective term for audio formats that protect and preserve the original audio quality. These formats do not modify the audio quality to achieve smaller file sizes.
It is important to note that even those lossless audio formats preserve the original audio quality, their file sizes are not always heavy.
Is Lossless Audio Never Compressed?
Let’s first discuss what happens to an audio file when it goes through the compression process. Wait, even before that, let’s look at some important audio-related terms that you must know to understand audio formats.
Bitrate is the amount of data encoded per second. It is typically expressed in kilobits per second or kbps.
Sample rate is the frequency or number of times sound is converted to data every second. It is typically expressed as Kilo Hertz or KHz.
In simple words, the higher the bitrate and sample rate of an audio file, the better is the audio quality.
When an audio file is compressed, it is converted to a smaller file size. However, the smaller size does not support the original audio quality. Some data is sacrificed to achieve a smaller file. The result – compromised audio quality. The modified audio quality can be easily noticed in the lower and higher notes of the audio.
Ideally, the bitrate and sample rate required to hear “lossless” audio is 1,411kbps and 44.1KHz (similar to CD quality). However, a high bitrate means more data, which in turn means bigger files.
Therefore, lossless audio also goes through the compression process; however, it is ensured that there’s no change in the audio quality. Also, lossless audio files are comprise the same resolution quality as a CD quality, i.e., 16-bit/44.1kHz. Sometimes, you may come across lossless audio files with resolution as high as 24-bit/192kHz.
How Many Lossless Audio Format Are There?
Some common lossless audio formats on the market are:
- Apple lossless audio codec (ALAC)
- Free lossless audio codec (FLAC)
- Monkey’s Audio
However, ALAC and FLAC are the most common out of the lot.
How Good Is Lossless Audio?
As already mentioned above, lossless audio files come with excellent resolution quality. Therefore, they’re the best sounding files out there.
Irrespective of which lossless audio format you’re planning to use, it’ll be better than lossy versions, such as MP3.
What Does FLAC Stand For?
As already mentioned above, FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec.
FLAC uses a compression process that can easily achieve up to 96 KHz sample rate. At the same time, it consumes almost half the space consumed by lossy audio formats.
You can find a variety of FLAC devices on the market, such as Android devices, iOS devices, and computer. Nevertheless, FLAC has not been popular on the market since it requires subscription to not so pocket-friendly services, such as Amazon Music HD and Tidal. Spotify is also preparing to launch its lossless audio service, SpotifyHiFi.
Apple Developed Its Own Lossless Audio Codec
Yes, that’s right. Apple never disappoints. The brand launched its own lossless audio format, the Apple Lossless Audio Codec or ALAC. It’s compatible with both iOS and MacOS.
Apple music’s updates are always surprising! The service also recently introduced Spatial Audio powered by Dolby Atmos.
For Apple music subscribers, the entire catalog of Apple music is now powered by ALAC. However, AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, AirPods (3rd generation), and Beats wireless headphones use Apple’s Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) Bluetooth Codec to deliver the best possible audio quality. Since Bluetooth connections don’t support lossless audio, you cannot use them to enjoy lossless audio.
Nevertheless, don’t worry. We’ll tell you how you can enjoy lossless audio formats on your iOS devices, Mac, Android device, and so on, later in this post.
What Is FLAC HD?
FLAC HD and ALAC HD are are high definition or high resolution audio (hi res audio) codecs for audio enthusiasts who want to enjoy thrice the fidelity of a standard audio CD. These audio formats are recorded at 24 bit or 48 KHz for excellent fidelity. However, they take more storage space.
How Big Is a FLAC File?
The size of a FLAC file can depend on:
- Sampling rate
- Format of the source file or format of the FLAC file before conversion
- Tool used for conversion
- Level of compression
- Music dynamics
FLAC files are typically five to six times larger than MP3 files and half the size of WAV files. Research shows that computer science experts are still exploring techniques such as modifying the blocking size in FLAC that show improvements in compression efficiency.
Does Your Device Support Free Lossless Audio Codec Files?
Before jumping to “how you can play FLAC files.” It’s important to determine whether your devices can transfer lossless audio to your ears.
- All Android devices having Android 3.1 or later support FLAC. These include both smartphones and tablets.
- iOS devices having iOS 11 or later support FLAC. However, devices have iOS versions before iOS 11 only support Apple music lossless format or ALAC.
Nevertheless, please note that if you’re using your device’s Bluetooth, irrespective of whether your device is FLAC-compatible or not, it will not support lossless audio streaming.
Bluetooth uses its own codec, which does not offer lossless audio.
Where to Get FLAC Music?
As discussed above, you can get FLAC music on Amazon Music HD, Tidal and Apple Music (ALAC). However, you can also explore the following platforms:
For Buying FLAC Music
- Acoustic Sounds Super HiRez
- ProStudio Masters
For Free FLAC Music
- Internet Archive
How to Play FLAC Files?
Now let’s look at how you can play a lossless audio file on your audio device.
As repeatedly mentioned in this post, you cannot enjoy lossless audio compression using Bluetooth. Therefore, using your device’s Bluetooth is completely out of the picture.
How to Play FLAC on Your Android Device
- Android devices with built-in HiFi digital to analog converter (DAC) can offer lossless audio using the headphone jack or USB-C port.
- Android devices that do not have built-in HiFi DAC will need a USB-C to 3.5 mm adapter to deliver true lossless audio to your ears.
Please note that all devices comprising built-in DAC may not be able to stream lossless music. Therefore, we recommended investing in a good-quality external DAC or device with reliable built-in DAC for better audio quality.
How to Play FLAC or Apple Lossless Audio Codec on Your iPhone
- iPhone can play a lossless audio track with sample rate 48 KHz using the best lightning to 3.5 mm jack adapter and good-quality headphones.
- iPhone can play a hi res lossless audio track with sample rate greater than 48 KHz using an external DAC.
To determine how you can listen to lossless and hi res lossless on other Apple devices, you can check Apple’s official website.
In conclusion, to experience lossless audio on your device, you need three things:
- A reliable and good-quality built-in or external digital to analog converter (DAC)
- A pair of earphones or headphones with excellent sound quality (the best audiophile headphones can be a great option)
- A source of lossless audio
What Is Lossy Compression?
Similar to lossless compression, lossy compression involves the compression of large audio files by eliminating certain data permanently. Therefore, it is also called irreversible compression.
The data loss involved in lossy compression typically goes unnoticed. However, the more a file is compressed, the more degradation occurs, and the loss in audio quality eventually becomes noticeable.
File size reduction in the case of lossy compression is more than the final file after lossless compression.
Is MP4 a Lossless Audio Format?
No, MP4 is not a lossless audio format. It is a lossy audio format. However, it is one of the mostly widely used audio formats since it works with all operating systems and yields smaller file sizes as compared to many other formats.
Is WAV Lossless or Lossy?
Waveform Audio File Format or WAV format is a lossless audio format. It is used for storing uncompressed audio formats on Windows devices.
By now, you probably know everything about lossless audio and lossless audio formats, such as ALAC and FLAC. So, the next time you’re thinking about music streaming, don’t forget to explore lossless audio.
Therefore, the next time you blame your audio equipment or their features, such as surround sound, audio cable quality, etc., think about the quality of audio files too.