back to article Lossless music goes High Street

British digital download store 7Digital is expanding the range of lossless music available for download. Albums will now be available in the industry standard FLAC format from artists such as Radiohead and Enya - in some cases cheaper than the MP3 equivalent. Both 24-bit and 16-bit versions will be available; FLAC is a container …

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Windows Media Player

does support FLAC through free Directshow plugins (and has done so for years).

Making support available in Windows so that's not seen as bloat by the 99.999% of users who have not even heard of FLAC would also rest on the format being *completely unencumbered* by patent and license restrictions. Let's not forget how even MP3 and Adobe's free-for-everybody-except-Microsoft PDF played out.

Portable devices that support lossless, or indeed >300kps playback of any type - including VBR MP3, would greatly aid introduction to market.

The French Qobuz.com store has been offering choice of lossless and lossy formats for some time, and there are no geo-restrictions for download. You can also redownload anything you've bought from them should you lose your copy.

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Lama

Winamp seems fine with FLAC. Worked as my music player for may years now. Put all the gstreamer libraries on your Gnome box an Rhythmbox plays them too.

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No, not an "Industry Standard"

... thank God. Free, free, free ... thanks to Josh Coalson and those nice folks at Xiph.Org.

No Patents, no trolls, no fees, no copy protection / DRM. -- and far superior to MP3 which has never given an easy ride to anyone.

Obviously it isn't.

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Stop

Standards has nothing to do with this.

FLAC is a proprietary and unratified..

AAC is an ISO standard format, which is free to use, and has very little in the way of restrictions, and comes in a lossless variety.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Audio_Coding

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Ru
FAIL

I do not think that word means what you think it means

FLAC is a royalty free and unrestricted audio codec. Proprietary implies control or ownership, which in turn generally implies a non-open format, or one that is not free to use. See ALAC, for example.

AAC is a lossless compression format. FLAC is lossless. The comparison is daft. The MPEG standards contain lossless alternatives, but they are not AAC in much the same way that OGG is not FLAC.

An industry standard is simply something that is widely used implying interoperability. FLAC is this. It doesn't need an ISO stamp of approval, which is of dubious value anyway. It has been ratified by users, developers and businesses. What more do you need?

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Meh

I have often wondered about the mental state

of folk who pay more for a lossy download than the CD itself costs from HMV or Amazon.

Oh I forgot! It's the stupid kidz!

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Unhappy

Kids don't care about music these days

Kids don't see the value in recorded music, to them music is just another distraction in another boring day. They just want backgroudn noise, they won't sit and listen to music, my kids are the same music is just a background to life. Me I always buy CDs to get the artwork, the high-quality, the whole package.

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Anonymous Coward

Bleep do WAV as well

in both 16- and 24-bit flavours

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It may be lossless but...

...can you really tell the difference?

Besides, most people just want to listen to music while doing something else. Its not that they are totally immersed in it. Thats going to muddy some of the difference to start with. Then its your equipment...

http://xkcd.com/841/

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Happy

Yes, you can tell

I'm no audiophile, and I do listen to music while doing something else, but the difference between a 320kbps MP3 and a FLAC is very much noticeable for more complex songs - although you might have to listen to both to realize what you were missing.

I sorely missed the lossless option from music stores, so any news like this is very much welcome. :)

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I'm no audiophile either but...

Yes, I can tell the difference. I rip all my CDs into MP3 format so I can jukebox them via WinAmp and play them on my home stereo. 320kbps or higher definitely sounds best but I am quite happy with as low as 192kbps. 160kbps starts to noticeably sound poor and the 128kbps that seems to be the standard for downloads and portable devices is pretty poor quality indeed. If I had a higher quality stereo I'd be able to tell the difference more.

But as you say, most people just want something playing as background music and that's fine. But don't expect me to pay lossless quality prices for cellphone quality MP3s.

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Ru

YMMV

If you're playing the music through cheap speakers, cheap earbuds or (worst of all) your mobile phone speakers, lossless music is a waste of money, a waste of space and at least in the latter case, a waste of power as FLAC decoding is unlikely to be hardware accellerated.

With moderately good speakers or a nice set of headphones through a reasonable amp, you probably can tell the difference between lossless and good quality lossy. You might not care, of course, and the difference can be quite subtle.

Shouldn't cost you the earth, either.

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Facepalm

Prices starting at £9.99

Or buy the CD for a lot less and rip it yourself.

(All 'regular' Radiohead albums cost under a tenner at Amazon. )

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RE: Prices starting at £9.99

Shame the actual price is £8.99 then and for 24 bit flac too which is higher than cd quality. Not bad deal really. Would need to know the sample rate too though, cpu on my Squeezebox Classic runs out of puff at 48KHz though I think Squeeze Centre is sane enough to down sample if necessary.

They've only got about seven or eight titles available though, including both 16 and 24-bit, not going to stop me buying cds and ripping yet then. Not through choice though, most of my cd collection has been opened once, ripped and then has to be bloody stored. Can only think of a few times when I've looked at the sleeve notes for any reason. Now if you want to sell me the vinyl edition and give me a flac copy too then we can talk...

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Still a long way to go...

Pay MORE for a download of something I can get a hard copy of - that I own, can lend/sell etc?

Where's the incentive?

As for formats, I use FLAC for everything - and it's "standard" as in - pretty much the most popular lossless format, maybe "default" would be a better word than "standard".

Personally, I just wish Apple would buy the WavPack codec - yes, yes, bare with me. The only way any new format will get a chance is if has the backing of the biggest online music retailer (iTunes) and their supported devices.

It matters not what other players adopt any other formats IMO - it's nice to see FLAC getting a toe-hold, but until it's supported by iDevices, it'll never be anything other than "niche" (even if it's a sizable one).

WavPack offers a great solution - one rip, that creates two files per track - one lossy file (that's small like MP3) and gets used on your portable device (to save space where outright quality isn't an issue) and a "delta" that lives on your home HDD and enables lossless playback from there.

It's genius IMO - but barely supported.

Yet. (well I can dream)

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Headmaster

Pervert!

...I'm not baring anything with you.

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FAIL

Been available for years

Ok so it is only classical recordings, but Deutsche Grammophon has pretty much it's entire catalog available for download as FLAC, as well as MP3 with not a drop of DRM in sight, and it's been that way for a couple of years at least.

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Pint

forked-daap

I'm sure 7-Digital offered FLAC in the past & then it disappeared. Great to see them picking it up again.

I decided to go FLAC for "gold" copies as it's the proverbial "open" standard. In my gaff forked-daap serves a large FLAC library out to iTunes clients over a network & I transcode a copy to AAC for portable devices. Sure, isn't storage cheap these days.

My aged ears might not discern the difference between lossy & lossless but it's the principle that matters.

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Anonymous Coward

DBT?

Try ABXing FLAC/ALAC lossless with mp3 V0. On even a good mid-fi rig with great loudspeakers it's very very hard to tell the difference (practically impossible with statistical confidence).

High bitrate mp3 does have problems with certain rare samples, the knowledge of which ruins the entire experience for some people who listen with their eyes of course.

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Not hard at all

Try the same experiment with even half-decent headphones rather than speakers (any speakers). Or with classical or acoustic jazz music as the source. Or both together. What I hear is a halo of compression artefacts surrounding thin congested music. A bit like an audio equivalent of the visual artefacts you get if you overdo the processing of JPG images.

I've done this with several popular computer-based rip-compression programs (iTunes, WMP, VLC, etc) and with dedicated hardware (Brennan JB7). And at a range of bitrates. Uniformly horrible to my ears.

If you listen mainly to rock or pop over speakers you might get away with it. Those recordings usually start out compressed (in dynamic terms) anyway, though typically done with much more sophisticated kit/algorithms which produce fewer artefacts (or produce "desirable" side-effects such as punch).

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Holmes

Artifacting @ 128K?

Which is exactly what you've described - in a sighted test with expectation bias and prejudice set to maximum and bitrate set to low (because it's you know, sighted and you know what you are listening to...).

And classical and jazz are actually relatively unchallenging for mp3 to reproduce; electronic and heavy rock are most prone to pre-echo artifacting.

I've personally done close to a hundred DBTs with *max bitrate* mp3s with good to great source phone or speaker rigs and all the artifacts that one associates with inferior codecs like mp3 are mighty difficult to hear in a DBT.

If you can hear halo/thin effects easily in a DBT I suggest you present your golden ears to Hydrogen Audio for some peer review...

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Stop

lossless is less?

In a lossless format, there's still only a limited amount of information. If you accept to use lossy compression, you can start from more precise data, and the information lost in the compression should be precisely the one you are the least likely to notice, whereas with lossless compression, you indiscriminately remove information before compressing if you want to achieve the same final size.

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Facepalm

Lossless is lossless

Rip from red book CD-DA to WAV, transcode to FLAC then transcode to ALAC lossless then transcode to FLAC then transcode to WAV, to FLAC, to ALAC, burn to CD-DA then finally rip from this burned CD to WAV and bit compare or invert mix paste with the first generation WAV. Assuming undamaged cd discs, the output will be identical, as in zero difference.

There is zero generation loss.

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Flame

not entirely sure what you're trying to say but your closing comment is wrong

A CD has already lost information from what was originally played because of sampling and quantization levels but if you take that as the starting point

FLAC will compress the data on that CD to a smaller size in such a way that the original 0's and 1's contained on that cd are reproduced exactly. You can repeat the decode, re-encode cycle a thousand times and still end up with exactly what you started with. A lossy format like mp3 tries to decide what data is irrelevant in the original and throws it away. It does a reasonably good job of this and what you get when you decode will sound to your ears the same as the original(well that's the intent). If you looked at the 1's and 0's after decoding, you will see differences, even at higher bit rates. If you put an mp3 through a thousand decode/recode cycles you might not even be able to recognise what is left.

To sum up, lossless formats are exactly what they say, without loss! there is no removal of information what so ever.

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Facepalm

F***in' ell..

"with lossless compression, you indiscriminately remove information before compressing if you want to achieve the same final size."

Dear Lord, do you actually engage the brain before spouting such nonsense, or just let it flow naturally?? Lossless = lossless. You start with the digital file, you compress it as best you can, but only in a way where you can recreate the original sound. Zip is a good example of lossless. Try zipping a text file, and unzipping it. Do you get a synopsis of the document?

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well

"Dear Lord, do you actually engage the brain before spouting such nonsense, or just let it flow naturally??" - apparently not. i've seen more posts like this on other forums. also ppl claiming you can't hear the difference.

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Happy

Yay!

About bloody time. Squeeze Server can certainly handle FLAC so I'm golden. This might finally mean I can stop buying CDs.

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Meh

Although..

..if they supplied as WMA lossless than it would be compatible with most music players. Apart from the iPod of course which will have to have iTunes convert it first :-/

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lossless is lossless when all you care about is storage

And if you look at car CD players, then MP3 and WMA are pretty much all 95% or more of them support. Even the ones that promote iPod compatibility require that the iPod playback the audio as there's no direct m4a support. After you've taken into account those 3 formats, then every other audio format combined has almost negligible footprint.

The same goes double for most desktop portable devices which have been retrofitted for USB sticks and SD cards. They handle 2GB at most (which doesn't give you much lossless support), MP3 and WMA, and 300kps or less. You need to wait 5-10 years for all those devices to be replaced before you can start talking about other formats muscling their way to 1% of the market.

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Paris Hilton

why bother anyway

when most ofthe crap we buy is mastered by a monkey with bananas in his ears, compressed and limited to within an inch of it's poor life....

so who really cares if it is simply just a wall of noise these days, in fact i have met a few musicians who try to play live like that.

there is also WMA 9 lossless too, not half bad if you use windows...

paris...because she likes it loud!

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Anonymous Coward

Conversion

Because as long as you have the lossless file you can convert it to whatever format you need.

I use Ogg Vorbis, while my wife's music is all in MP3.

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Great

Obviously, the incentive is in instant access _and_ lossless quality.

French site Qobuz has been doing this for a while though.

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Happy

also...

boomkat.com

I buy most of my music from there now, it's like 7digital but with fewer artists complaining about getting ripped off. They also sell vinyl and CDs (in addition to FLAC & 320-MP3) and I bet they'd do you a C90 if you asked nicely.

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Waste of space

What a waste of time and space - for people who *think* they can hear the difference between CD, FLAC and an MP3 ripped at 192 or above - you are wrong.

Your ears are incapable of discerning the differences.

Don't believe me? That's because you've never tried a proper blind test.

Arrange to have the same piece of music played from 3 sources played to you at random, repeatedly and note which source you think is which.

You will get the source correct no more than you would be simply guessing randomly.

By the way - a test where YOU know the ource before hand will not work. You will always think you can hear a difference. To be a really bastard - try this out on some music snob, but repeatedly play him the mp3 version. He still claim to have identified the FLAC one even if it doesn't exist.

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RE: Waste of space

Aye, but it is my time and space to waste so why should it bother you? This sort of inverted snobbery is nearly as common as the audiophile version and frankly just as tedious. I use flac as my archival format as it can be easily transcoded with no loss of fidelity, except that inherent to the target format anyway. Vbr mp3 is fine for my car/train listening but I use the flacs in the house as they are there, in most cases I have the cd anyway but would have to dig it out.

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Anonymous Coward

maybe your ears, matey

but not mine. i have done blind tests, with mp3 and flac, and the vast majority of the time i get it correct. Not always, some music lends itself to compression more than others. But as someone else mentioned cymbals are where its at, listen to cymbols on 192 mp3s and you can easily tell, another pointer is incredibly deep bass. Youre right regarding CD and Flac tho, there is virtually no difference, but thats the whole point of flac

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@twunt: Not the point

The point of lossless isn't for better listening quality, it's so you can keep the best quality source possible. That way, when you convert it into one format for one device, a different format for another device, and want to use part of a track for backing music for your latest Youtube video, they each get created from your high quality source and you don't get the gradually declining quality from shifting between lossy formats.

It's purpose is archival rather than listening.

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Dance music in FLAC

Why bother? You're never going to notice the difference on dance music. I mean, you start with something electronic, process the shit out of it (or *into* it...), and that's your product. MP3 encoding is not going to massively affect things.

The *real* tell on lossless vs MP3 is cymbals. Tons of rapidly-varying high frequencies will play hell with any lossy compression system. So rock and metal can actually be a good place to spot this. Pendulum's mash-up of metal and rave is particularly nasty through MP3.

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RE: Dance music in FLAC

Tend to use Massive Attack's Angel as a stress tester myself but for similar reasons. Bad source copy or equipment quite easily turns the cymbals to mush.

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Lossless all the way

All online music shops should offer lossless music. This isn't just because it sounds better than mp3, but because, as pointed out above, it can be transcoded to something else that takes up less space if you wish and you still have the original lossless file.

All my music for the squeezebox is FLAC (ripped from CD or purchased online from Linn), all my music for my phone which I use as an mp3 player is mp3 and generated from the FLAC files. I'd never buy an mp3 file as I wouldn't then want to convert that to some other lossy file type should I so need to in the future. FLAC and other open lossless formats seem much more future proof.

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we need a big player

every time there's an apple itunes event i always wait for that big announcement - lossless purchases.

we need a huge catalogue, it's fine that linn and deutsche gramaphone are (and have been for a while) selling lossless albums but these are not everybody's cup of tea.

i'm quite fed up by storing cds. every single one of them i buy i just rip in lossless and put back on the shelf and i never touch them again.

also all music which have been recorded in 24-bit should be sold as that, not converted 16-bit version. those who have had a chance to compare both 24-bit and then 16-bit converted tracks would agree, there's huge loss during this conversion.

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@ AC- "lossless is less?"

AC, I know what you are talking about and agree with you, although you could have perhaps explained it better. Let me try. Imagine you have two audio files of your favourite track

1. a wave PCM at 16bit, 11kHz giving a bit-rate of 176 kbits/sec.

2. an MP3 also at ~176 kbits/sec.

The PCM wave is "lossless" and the MP3 is lossy, yet I'm guessing most people will understand that the MP3 will sound much, much better.

What AC is saying is that given 700 kbits/sec (roughly what FLAC CD rip might use), lossy compression will sound better because it would mean that it would have been able to start from say 24bit @ 192kHz to achieve the same end bitrate.

So the statement is correct, with a slight caveat:

*At a given bitrate* lossless compression will sound worse than lossy compression

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Unfortunately compression and artefacts are everywhere nowadays

"I have often wondered about the mental state of folk who pay more for a lossy download than the CD itself costs from HMV or Amazon.

Oh I forgot! It's the stupid kidz!"

Heh heh. Not to mention everyone else who have been mislead by the consumer electronics industry into thinking:

1. Compressed mpeg video on DVDs is better quality than lossless VHS

2. Compressed HD camcorders are better quality than lossless miniDV

3. Compressed digital tv is better quality than old analogue

4. LCD TVs are better quality than CRT displays (early ghosting of fast moving images, bad pixels, etc)

5. HD TVs are better quality than normal TVs when showing normal TV signals, which they aren't due to resolution upscaling artefacts

etc and so on...

(note I'm talking quality not resolution here, quality not quantity)

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Megaphone

Cut off...

The way in which MP3 and all lossy compressions gain their compression is through removal of supposed inaudible frequencies.

I dumped MP3 long ago (perhaps MP3 encoders have got better now) but years ago I could tell the difference no matter what bit rate was used. MP3's sounded like absolute crap with all the high pitched sounds cut off like loud stuff gets cut off on CDs that are not mastered properly (loudness).

Ogg Vorbis performed much better at low bit rates which was MP3s intended use. AAC is not too bad either. Encoding MP3s at 360kbps is totally pointless might as well just have it lossless. A few of the bits of music I have FLAC almost gets as good a bit rate without losing anything and it's not as if hard drives are small these days.

Main points of FLAC, APE whatever is you can re-encode to whatever lossy format you like and are not stuck with crap quality music.

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Stop

Upsampling

I think you may have misunderstood the point that Mark Waldrep was making in the linked article. It is not "because of filters applied during the 'upmastering' process" that the quality is lacking. The presence of this filtering is merely an indication that upsampling has taken place, and upsampling is (in this context) a pointless procedure.

When you upsample a recording, it means that the resultant recording, in whatever high-definition format it is stored, has been made from a low definition original, and will sound (at best) identical to that original. It's the equivalent of taking an album of low-bitrate MP3s and burning them to a CD, then calling it "CD quality".

This is essentially the problem - companies seem to be taking the same old low-standard recordings and passing them off as something much better. This is shoddy, if not downright fraudulent behaviour.

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Ubuntu One Music Store ....

is backed by 7Digital. I'll have to keep an eye on this one me thinks :)

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