If you’re an audiophile that listens to music on high-end headphones, you may be looking for the best audio formats to listen to music in. You may have heard about the ongoing debate between two popular audio formats: FLAC and MP3. It is the aim of this article to ensure that you know what they are, which one is better, and the features of each. For those that need a quick tidbit of shorthand knowledge, think of the FLAC as “lossless”, whereas MP3 format can be considered “lossy”. Let’s begin!
1. What Does FLAC & MP3 Stand For?
FLAC stands for “Free Lossless Audio Codec,” a lossless audio format which produces digital audio files (with a .flac file extension) that are identical to the original audio source. MP3, on the other hand, stands for the arcane-sounding “Moving Picture Experts Group Layer-3 Audio” (with a .mp3 extension). The simplest comparison is that some of the data is lost in MP3 file due to its encoding process, whereas there are virtually no losses for FLAC.
The main topic that fuels the debate between FLAC and MP3 is about compression rates. The creators of MP3s have decided to expand upon MPEG, the original format that replayed video, but they took away some of the sound and frequency ranges that most people cannot hear with the aim of making a smaller file. FLAC doesn’t have this, which audiophiles claim they can hear the difference when compared to the limited frequency range of an MP3. However, FLAC files are comparatively larger and not readily-playable on every device.
2. Does Better Quality Equal Better Sound?
The general answer is this: When it comes down to quality, FLAC is a far better choice. However, does this mean that the quality of the file is related to a better sound? Well, yes and no…
The main concern is that FLAC needs an adequate reproduction medium. Without a device designed to play FLAC, you may as well listen to the MP3 and save the storage space. This is the origin of the debate, especially when using cheaper headphones or being in a poor listening environment. The frequency range and details can be lost from bad equipment that would even potentially affect the quality of an MP3.
Simply put, it’s really up to the equipment you have for which format is better for you.
There might even be a placebo effect of knowing the file format when it comes to listening to FLAC, but everyone has different ears.
3. Does File Size Matter?
Storage is an important consideration for audiophiles. It all comes down to what type of devices you are using and what type of listener you are. As an example, is it your aim to just listen to your favorite music on a cheap stereo system that just gets the job do, or are you a person that values the sonic qualities that come from your hardware like high-quality headphones that create a perfect reproduction to the artist’s intent? In either case, you have to consider which device is playing the music and whether your laptop, tablet, or smartphone has enough memory to handle FLAC’s large file size.
On the other hand, if you just want to hear some music, MP3 is the way to go, with its comparably low footprint. FLAC files do create a better sound experience and are more versatile when copying files.
4. The Future Of these Audio Formats
The problem of using MP3 is that when you’re converting to another format, more data is lost because MP3s are losing data to begin with. Think of it as taking a picture of a picture. Details get lost in the conversion process, which some audiophiles take offense to. This is especially true for those with an attention-to-detail or music studio workers that expect perfect reproduction through their studio headphones.
Luckily, this is not the case with FLAC files. When converted to other formats, including WMA lossless or even MP3, there is no quality loss. Conversion to other formats can be repeated if needed with no loss to quality. Even after all those conversions and copying, the original file will remain the same, with its quality retained as a perfect copy.
5. Playability Of MP3 vs. FLAC
For those that are looking for a format that can be played on nearly every device in the world, you will want to choose MP3s. The popularity of the MP3 format is so vast that it’s bound to take care of your everyday listening needs, but because of the loss of data, it’s not the long-term solution.
That same ease of use is different with FLAC. While FLAC’s wide-acceptance grows by the day, it’s still uncommon to find a default music player that can accommodate FLAC files on smartphones and tablets. Of course, this isn’t an insurmountable obstacle for those that are looking for music player apps that do accept FLAC.
For Mac and iPhone users, VOX music player is the perfect solution for playing FLAC files (as well as handle other lossless file formats).
For those that use Android, there is VLC Player for Android.
While there are more music players that are adding a feature to handle FLAC files, it should be noted that many require software to change the format. This is especially true of iTunes, which currently cannot play FLAC files.
As you can see, there are no clear winners between the ongoing debate between FLAC & MP3 formats. Both formats clearly backed by their respective proponents, who swear by their preference when listening through studio-grade monitors or headphones. Therefore, it’s up to your ear and convenience when listening to MP3 or FLAC.
If you are interested in even more audio-related articles and information from us here at Bit Rebels then we have a lot to choose from.