WAV vs. FLAC

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Fretless
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WAV vs. FLAC

Unread post by Fretless » Mon Nov 06, 2017 10:46 am

It seems like an eternity ago that I got my first MP3 player, a USB-stick-style thing made by Packard Bell. This device had a storage capacity of 256 Mb which is about enough space for about 5 music albums of heavily-compressed MP3 files. At the time I thought that was pretty cool.

Image

What is MP3 then? Music is a waveform transmitted through the air. An LP preserves this waveform as physically shaped vinyl in a groove which is traced by a stylus and electrically amplified back into sound-waves: Analogue reproduction. The equivalent digital systems chop the sound-waves up into chunks which are stored as binary data on, for instance, a CD. This data is read by a light-beam and the 1's and 0's are used to reconstruct a sound-wave as close as possible to the original. Data on a CD is a format known as WAV. But WAV's use up a fair bit of memory-space and some clever boffins realised that you can take out quite a lot of the information from the music signal and still be able to reconstruct it enough to be recognisable - so an MP3 file of an 500 Mb CD-album might only need 50 Mb of disk-space. This was very important in the early 2000's as devices had restricted storage space and data-transmission was a fairly slow process.

As computer-based audio improved, you could hear that MP3 was not an optimal system - the music coming out as brittle and lifeless. Fine for some - but not for me. Ogg Vorbis, a similar system to MP3, was a little better (used by Spotify, I believe). Then I discoved 'Lossless' formats like FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec); now lossless systems don't remove any musical information but they 'fold' the signal into a smaller packet for storage and 'unfold' it when it is time for the music to be played. Having used FLAC (and the Apple version ALAC) for some years I have found it to be very satisfying in terms of audiophile playback.

Technology marches on and digital music becomes the standard for the audio industry as streaming services replace physical media. The CD is becoming extinct! Network players are now primary sources and how do they deal with different formats? Basically - the less work a digital processor has to do, the better the result will be. A recent discussion here on HFS got me thinking. It isn't so important to compress music files anymore as storage devices have vast amounts of space in relation to, say, 10 years ago. The bulk of my CD collection is held as FLAC files - but would they sound better as uncompressed WAV's. Time for an experiment.

Being in a manic Tangerine Dream phase I re-ripped my 'Hyperborea' CD to WAV without applying any data compression and lined it up to compare against the FLAC file already on the NAS. This is a personal favourite test album, especially the opening track 'No Man's Land' which contains a lot of stereo effects, dynamics and subtle detail. This through the Pi/Allo DigiOne processor and Musette non-oversampling DAC.

What I wasn't expecting was a dramatic difference in audio quality - but the results were obvious. WAV reproduction is fuller, richer, rounder and more clear. FLAC - although very detailed, takes a lot of the 'body' away and the soundstage is less realistic. You can almost feel the processing chips relaxing as they don't have to do so much work - just assemble the data into the correct order and hey, presto! Music!

Next test will be to see if I can save myself a lot of bother by just converting the FLAC files I already have back into WAV's - but will they sound the same? For a lot of music it won't matter too much - but for favourites it looks like the only way is WAV.

Work to do (again). :techie-hiding:
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Simon Hickie
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Re: WAV vs. FLAC

Unread post by Simon Hickie » Mon Nov 06, 2017 11:08 am

Good test and confirms my suspicions expressed on another post. The FLAC ---> WAV conversion will be interesting. So pleased I ripped all my CDs to WAV in the first place :)
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” George Bernard Shaw.

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Fretless
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Re: WAV vs. FLAC

Unread post by Fretless » Mon Nov 06, 2017 11:15 am

Thanks for the prompt, Simon. :grin:

The road to audio nirvana can be long and hard. :doh:
NVA: P50sa - SSP - A40 - LS6 - Cube3
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Re: WAV vs. FLAC

Unread post by Simon Hickie » Mon Nov 06, 2017 11:40 am

If you think about it, it's very much consistent with the 'less is more' approach. Even better is if your delivery mechanism can reduce any mechanical aspects of playback (in the computer based audio arena). So an application that preloads the track into memory from the hdd before delivery could sound better than if played from hdd.

A good USB to SPDIF converter or good USB DAC with appropriate cabling can therefore sound better than CD. This is certainly a friend's experience: very good CD source, same DAC, good USB - SPDIF converter, my custom DIY USB data only cable, WAV files, Jriver Media Center for computer playback, Fidelizer computer optimisation - the computer based source is superior to the CD based source in every respect with identical music tracks.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” George Bernard Shaw.

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Re: WAV vs. FLAC

Unread post by Fretless » Mon Nov 06, 2017 11:48 am

A weak point might well be the USB - the data stream lacks synchronicity and LAN data packets are more 'robustly' encoded. A play-off between these two could also be interesting.
NVA: P50sa - SSP - A40 - LS6 - Cube3
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Re: WAV vs. FLAC

Unread post by CN211276 » Mon Nov 06, 2017 11:51 am

With reference to the opening post and the development of MP3 and digital audio, this is a very good read.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00 ... UTF8&psc=1

I can remember the day I was introduced to the early primitive device in a pub, it amazed me.
I set a course just east of Lyra
And northwest of Pegasus
Flew into the light of Deneb
Sailed across the Milky Way

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Re: WAV vs. FLAC

Unread post by CN211276 » Mon Nov 06, 2017 11:56 am

Simon Hickie wrote:
Mon Nov 06, 2017 11:40 am
the computer based source is superior to the CD based source in every respect with identical music tracks.
I found this to be the case a few years ago. More recently I found that replacing the computer with a streamer brings about further significant improvement.
I set a course just east of Lyra
And northwest of Pegasus
Flew into the light of Deneb
Sailed across the Milky Way

Sonore microRendu/MCRU PS, Chord Mojo, NVA P50SA, NVA A80sMk2, NVA Cube 3s, NVA LS6, NVA TIS mk2, NVA SSP mk2, Rega Planar 3, Denon DL-110, NVA Phono 1, NVA BMU, Grado SR 325e headphones.

Second system
Arcam Miniblink Bluetooth DAC, Marantz pm 5004, Wharfdale Diamond 121, NVA LS2.

Simon Hickie
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Re: WAV vs. FLAC

Unread post by Simon Hickie » Mon Nov 06, 2017 1:01 pm

Interesting observations re. LAN vs USB and streamers. I've yet to hear a direct comparison between streamer and USB with all else being equal. My main issue with some streamers is the small display. And I don't have a smartphone for ease of browsing.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” George Bernard Shaw.

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Re: WAV vs. FLAC

Unread post by CN211276 » Mon Nov 06, 2017 1:26 pm

A streamer does not need to have a display. I use my tablet rather than phone as the display is a good size. I have Tidal and my NAS at my finger tips. So much more convenient than the computer as well as sounding better.
I set a course just east of Lyra
And northwest of Pegasus
Flew into the light of Deneb
Sailed across the Milky Way

Sonore microRendu/MCRU PS, Chord Mojo, NVA P50SA, NVA A80sMk2, NVA Cube 3s, NVA LS6, NVA TIS mk2, NVA SSP mk2, Rega Planar 3, Denon DL-110, NVA Phono 1, NVA BMU, Grado SR 325e headphones.

Second system
Arcam Miniblink Bluetooth DAC, Marantz pm 5004, Wharfdale Diamond 121, NVA LS2.

pgarrish
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Re: WAV vs. FLAC

Unread post by pgarrish » Mon Nov 06, 2017 8:52 pm

Struggling to see why you should hear a difference between flac and Wav playback unless you have a very low powered Nas or are doing transcoding you aren’t expecting - even a low powered cpu can decompress audio on the fly
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