Are FLAC players going to replace MP3?

FLAC is an audio format similar to MP3.

It stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec.

The difference between it and MP3 is that it’s “lossless”.

The audio file is still compressed in FLAC but supposedly without any loss in quality…

I’ve been meaning to test FLAC out for a while now, and finally got around to doing it last week in Ibiza (I was supposed to be on holiday but couldn’t leave “work” alone :- )

First of all, it was hard to even find a site that had anything even resembling a decent selection where I could download FLAC tunes!

PONO (Neil Youn’g site) just plain didn’t work to my surprise (despite much persistence!).

Most of the FLAC download sites seemed to be illegal free download sites…

In the end I got bored of looking and decided to just grab some old CDs at random (I haven’t bought a CD in 5 years!), choose a couple of sample tracks, convert to FLAC and MP3 formats, then do the comparison on my PUMPs.

I choose One Love by The Prodigy and Hold Your Colour by Pendulum, not for any reason in particular other than that I quite like these tracks.

The Test

Could I hear a difference?

Well… not really.

Audiophiles may be thinking that I am an idiot at this point, but there is no point in saying I could hear a significant difference because I couldn’t!

Several times during the 20 or so tests I thought to myself “oh yes, that sounds better!”.

I then immediately switched to the MP3 version and thought “oh no… that actually sounds the same!”.

Upshot? Maybe Sound Engineers and Audiophiles can hear a difference – or think they can! – but I really couldn’t.

Perhaps if you played FLAC vs MP3 on some rubbish headphones — or on concert speakers – you would hear a difference. But on my PUMPs, I couldn’t honestly say there was a difference.

Or if you were to listen to FLAC for a week and then “step back” to MP3, you might notice a difference – I’m not sure.

The point really is that there is no noticeable difference between MP3 and FLAC (when played on PUMPs)!

When you go from a ‘normal’ set of headphones to PUMP, you can immediately hear a significant difference.

With MP3 to FLAC, a difference like this simply doesn’t exist… If it’s there then it’s extremely subtle.

Will FLAC become the new standard?

I doubt it because: a) it doesn’t seem to have gained any real traction so far and; b) the reasons listed above…

Keep it PUMPed!

Adam

P.S. If you agree with me, or disagree with me, you can leave a comment below!

P.P.S. News on the new PUMP Zeus (over-ear) model VERY soon…

7 Comments

  1. Yari   •   24/06/2015   •   
    Reply

    FLAC files are too big for portable devices (phones) and you can’t Always hear the difference.

  2. VorTechS   •   22/06/2015   •   
    Reply

    Whilst I can appreciate what your blog is trying to say here, even as a non-audiophile, I think you have created a very simplified argument, by not specifying what parameters you are basing your research on.

    Are the MP3s you are using 320kbps? If they were 128kbps (the level at which your average user would chose to ‘rip’ music) you should notice a difference, a good example is here: http://www.noiseaddicts.com/2009/03/mp3-sound-quality-test-128-320/. Even with PUMPS there is a noticeable difference between the two tracks. There are other equations too, were the tracks sample at 44khz, using 24 or 16-bit ?

    Now 320kbps MP3 vs FLAC is not an argument I’ve had with myself or anyone else (yet), but I do have tracks ripped in both formats and I’ve not actually studied them in depth.

    There are other issues with MP3 too (and indeed other compressed formats), especially if you listen to ‘mixed’ music. Ever noticed how the playback between tracks is often ‘broken’ for a split second? Raw PCM / FLAC doesn’t [tend to] suffer from this problem…..

  3. Peter Wolstenholme   •   21/06/2015   •   
    Reply

    I can’t hear much difference either on my pumps but if I play through my seperates hifi (Audio Research SP8,Meridian M205 monobloc’s,Ruark Accolade speakers with a custom built DAC) the difference is immense.So much so that even my tone deaf wife can hear the difference.

  4. Chris Manvell   •   19/06/2015   •   
    Reply

    I wonder if you would have found a difference if you had selected Some really complex music, like a Mahler or Bruckner Symphony, or Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

  5. Chris Withall   •   19/06/2015   •   
    Reply

    Hi Adam
    it depends on what your listening with: does the DAC have the capability to decode the extra data that’s in the FLAC?

    don’t forget that hearing (and perception) are very different from the real numbers involved here
    see these links for some interesting reading etc inc the real justification for using FLAC
    http://www.head-fi.org/t/415361/24bit-vs-16bit-the-myth-exploded
    http://antiquiet.com/aqu/2011/02/24-bit-audio-explained-by-sean-beavan/
    http://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

  6. Dale   •   19/06/2015   •   
    Reply

    Sounds like an archive format – music originators save original audio in FLAC for the ‘lossless’, users convert to something with lower space requirements to actually use it in a portable device.

  7. Bart   •   19/06/2015   •   
    Reply

    I fully agree with you. Flac is a over the top standard. It consumes more space and you don’t hear a differentls . You need to have the proper hardware to gain benefit of it.

Leave a comment