Audio formats: The good, the bad and the unlistenable

Discussion in 'Recording Studio' started by RVA, Feb 16, 2016.

  1. RVA

    RVA Well-Known Member

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    I thought that there were enough musings around these parts to warrant a full blown discussion and because I know there is much I could learn about the various audio formats that make up this modern world. I have surmised that current wisdom is analog>.wav>.mp3, with .mp3 and possibly some other compressed formats possessing evil powers capable of destroying mankind as we know it.

    I will start by saying that I am done with vinyl. Static, scratched records, expensive diamond needles, skipping, warped records and the inability to step lively on the floor without loosing your place in the song are not for me. I will have to live without the liner notes so that I do not need a wagon to make my music portable.

    So what is a palatable audio format to the discerning ear in this modern world? Please weigh in.
     
  2. Madmatt

    Madmatt Active Member

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    I listen on vinyl (sorry rva) cassette or cd. I like (new, heavyweight) vinyl the best, but my car only plays cassette, and cds because it seems like everything I own plays cd.

    I think either vinyl or cd are the best choice, depending on personal preference and situation.
     
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  3. Relic61

    Relic61 Well-Known Member

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    I remember Niel Young flippin out over the sterility, brittleness & lack of warmth of CD recordings way back in the 80's! Wow! 30 something years ago man!

    What really is essential for truly awesome audio is a real high fidelity amplifier to start, with real goddamn speakers! Not this plastic crap! Warm up that sound man! Old stereo tube amps are the bomb when up to spec & running right. Just fvk'n amazing to hear.

    So maybe someday you'll be ready to enjoy the LP experience. I grew up with it so I have no false expectations nor disappointments with that format so I am fully able to enjoy everything about it for what it is. I love everything about it! But I fully understand your problems.

    That said, the next best thing is quality tape on reel to reel. Hey, I know. It is even less convenient than a record but, you can crank the reel to reel & not have the problems you experience that are ruining record listening for you.

    Second best is quality cassette tapes. Most older original cassetts are garbage by now. Too bad but such is the life expectancy of the commercial cassette tape.

    This next suggestion will take time but if you have favorite records, record them to quality tape & enjoy them at whatever volume you like.

    Not fast enough?? Too much work?? Heh heh heh .. when I was a kid all copying was done in 'real time'! No file transfer or downloading jack $#!t! You had to record as you played the recorded music live! Eventually they did come out with high-speed dubbing for tape decks but that was still a far cry from a download & it couldn't speed up recording an LP album or 45 RPM record onto anything!

    But that's how life was back then. &,.. life was good bro! Today's world is in a fast paced rush & in return the quality of Mp3 music just sux! But it is way fast, easily stored, transferred & playable on multiple systems.

    If you are looking for 'the' compromise I think the best you can do is the larger than Mp3 Wav file or WMA (Windows Media Audio) type of wave file. They take up more storage on our devices but the fidelity & frequency response is much better than the Mp3 & usually without the Mp3 hiccups & artifacts that just crap up a good tune.

    Case & point,.. just last night I took the Mrs out to dinner (local Italiano cuisine) & ever song that came on had a fraction of a second gap where the music stopped & the meter shifted when the song came back on. And sometimes that hiccup was even followed by a second, 3rd or 4th annoying wtf was that mood ruining glitch. I had to ask the waitress what they were listening to (ended up being I-Heart Radio) & asked her if all that skipping bothered her having to hear it all night?? The young womans honest response was "Gee, I didn't notice" !!!

    And there it is boys & girls. The youngins just have no fvk'n clue about quality music! Period!

    It really is time we start educating & demanding better!

    And while we're at it, let's not forget the loss of quality audio on our phones either! We've gone from phone companies promoting the quality & fidelity of their phone systems to interrupted sentences, dropped calls, ghost echos & all round basically $#!tty sounding audio on our phones that is barely one step ahead of the telegraph! OK, I exaggerated but, not by too much on that! LOL

    So a big WTF on all that & a bag of chips.
     
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  4. Sean '71

    Sean '71 Active Member

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    WAV (waveform audio file) , FLAC (free lossless audio codec), ALAC (Apple lossless audio codec used by iTunes) & AIFF (audio interchange file format) are all lossless formats and are the highest quality audio formats as they preserve the files original data.

    Mp3, Mp4 and OGG are lossy audio formats, they are compressed and some of the original data is lost during the conversion process as a way to conserve space. When converting to these formats just enough of the data contained in the original files is kept to make the lossy file still recognisable, like with Mp3.

    A WAV file is a completely uncompressed audio file and takes up quite a lot of space. FLAC & ALAC are both lossless audio files that contain the same data as a WAV file, but use a form of compression to create smaller files. FLAC & ALAC don't throw any data away like lossy files do, they just keep all the data intelligently and compress it like zip files do, however they are larger than Mp3 files which throw much data away.

    Compression can be used with both lossless & lossy audio files. Lossless compression is a class of data compression which allows the original data to be reconstructed from the compressed data. It is used in many applications such as zip files, where it is important that data from the original and decompressed file be identical.

    Lossless audio files are primarily used for archive and production whereas smaller lossy audio files are typically used for small portable audio devices and in other cases where storage space is limited or exact replication of the audio is unessesary.

    Most social media platforms such as Youtube and Soundcloud to name just two, apply compression to either lossless or lossy files uploaded to their platforms, primarily due to reduce the size of the data file uploaded. This compression can add lossy artifacts to audio files during the upload conversion process. Soundcloud are one platform aware of this, but are reluctant to act on rectifying this due to the enormous amounts of additional storage space required should this data compression not be applied to each upload. Think of the difference in file size between a typical WAV file and an Mp3, then times that by the number of data files on a given platform. Its in excess of a factor of 100.

    Lossless audio files can be converted to lossy audio files, like converting WAV to Mp3 but it is not advisable to convert lossy files to lossless.
    The Mp3 file is smaller because most of the data is lost and you cannot get it back converting back to lossless.

    So in summary, the best form of audio files for archiving to preserve all the original data and also digital audio production is any form of lossless file, such as WAV, FLAC, ALAC or AIFF. Whereas, if you just want to cram as many songs on your ipod or phone or any portable digital listening device, lossy audio files such as Mp3, Mp4 and OGG are suitable. Your device will still play the song, just not with the higher quality found with files such as WAV. Can you hear the difference I hear you ask????...to the trained ear, yes.
    To the average punter on the street who is conditioned today to listening to lossy Mp3s'...probably not.

    But if you are producing audio using a DAW program you would want to be using WAV, FLAC or ALAC files to preserve all the original data in your audio.

    Hope this helps. :thumb:
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2016
  5. Relic61

    Relic61 Well-Known Member

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    Dude at first I thought you were just spelling 'lousy' differently but as I read more I got the strong feeling you weren't but instead were using what is a new word for me! "Lossy" (lousy can actually describe 'lossy' sound quality)

    So, in order to further educate myself off I went to look up the meaning of 'lossy' !

    Here's what I got in full detail taken from techterms.com .

    Lossy file compression results in lost data and quality from the original version. Lossy compression is typically associated with image files, such as JPEGs, but can also be used for audio files, like MP3s or AAC files. The "lossyness" of an image file may show up as jagged edges or pixelated areas. In audio files, the lossyness may produce a watery sound or reduce the dynamic range of the audio.

    Because lossy compression removes data from the original file, the resulting file often takes up much less disk space than the original. For example, a JPEG image may reduce an image's file size by more than 80% with little noticeable effect. Similarly, a compressed MP3 file may be one tenth the size of the original audio file and may sound almost identical.

    The keyword here is "almost." JPEG and MP3 compression both remove data from the original file, which may be noticeable upon close examination. Both of these compression algorithms allow for various "quality settings," which determine how compressed the file will be. The quality setting involves a trade-off between quality and file size. A file that uses greater compression will take up less space, but may not look or sound as good as a less compressed file. Some image and audio formats allow lossless compression, which does not reduce the file's quality at all.
     
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  6. Sean '71

    Sean '71 Active Member

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    I did see that earlier, but I didn't want to correct you Relic. :thumb:
     
  7. RVA

    RVA Well-Known Member

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    so "lossy" means:
    "Well we lose some stuff, but it is not a lot and we really do not feel it is fair to judge us for the amount we lost. After all, it was only a little loss. You know, like a white lie. Or not a lie, I just did not tell you everything. Or, 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman'. I once knew this girl who was a little pregnant, what about that?"

    Is that accurate?
     
  8. Sean '71

    Sean '71 Active Member

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    There is no doubt the emergence of Mp3 audio and its dominance due soley to audio file size has impacted on the quality of audio today.
    The current generation who have only listened to Mp3 audio really know no better, because they have grown up listening to nothing else.

    - How do you know its sh#t if you can't compare it to anything else?

    Those of us over the age of 40 have seen a huge evolution in audio in our lifetime. From vinyl to 4-track to cassette to CD to now digital, we have experienced the whole spectrum in our lifetime. Kids today, while not wanting to come across as disparaging, have never really listened to the sound of vinyl and all it has to offer, such as dynamic range, unless they were exposed to the listening habits of their parents.

    Today we have overly compressed music that has absolutely no headroom or dynamic range, poor quality lossy Mp3 audio played through cheap $5 earbuds from a device where listening to audio is a secondary feature of the device. Add to that the huge amount of crap that passes for music today, including the shift of audio production from million-dollar studios performed by quality musicians and mixed by enginners who knew their craft to the bedroom producer mindset that we have today, and we are experiencing the perfect sh#tstorm we call music and the industry today.

    The production of music has been democratised in the last decade due to advances in digital audio technology, the emergence of cheaper DAW programs besides Protools and the emergence of a pro-sumer segment in audio equipment today making audio production more accessable and more affordable to the masses. Just like the emergence of the PC did 30 years ago...Now theres' most likely more than 1 in every house.

    Add to that the hundreds of hours of how-to-be-an-audio-engineer videos on Youtube and every Tom, Dick & Harriett are music producers.

    Is it good for audio?.....that depends what side of the fence you are on I suppose.

    Is it good for music??....that depends on what you class as good music these days.

    Don't get me wrong, there is good quality music being produced today, but you have to wade through miles and miles of piles of sh#t just to find it.

    And when you do, it sticks out like dogs balls on a cat.

    - FWIW.
     
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  9. Sean '71

    Sean '71 Active Member

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    Basically, imagine that the file is chopped up...the algorithm says to itself "Is this bit important?..." as its converting the file and going through the data. It saves just enough of the data to make it recognisable at the other end, only smaller. Some audio data is lost.

    Imagine the audio file is like a paragraph in a book, now if I took every second word away, you would still get an idea of what was being said in the paragraph, you still would be able to understand it to a degree. For want of a better analogy, thats' basically whats happening to your audio data when you convert from say, WAV file to Mp3.
     
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  10. RVA

    RVA Well-Known Member

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    So do you think that WAV , FLAC, ALAC & AIFF are good compromises between modern conveniences and traditional quality?
     
  11. Sean '71

    Sean '71 Active Member

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    Depends on what you would define as traditional quality?

    What are we comparing it to?

    If you mean CD, CD format is 16-bit, 44.1khz as standard, where audio files in lossless format can be converted to 24-bit / 44.1khz, or up to 32-bit / 192khz, much higher quality in terms of audio. There are more data samples in laymans terms.

    But the majority of users stick to either the standard 16-bit / 44.1 khz or 24-bit / 44.1khz in audio production.
     
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  12. RVA

    RVA Well-Known Member

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    That is super helpful. So where do I find (or how does one convert to) the higher quality 32-bit format?
     
  13. Sean '71

    Sean '71 Active Member

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    By this it means 44.1khz as a common sampling frequency. The analog audio is sampled 44,100 times per second...meaning that this is how many "slices" of audio are sampled every second

    24 bit rate refers to 24 bit integers which are memory addresses that are at almost 24 bit (3 octets wide), generally 24 bit have a signal to noise ratio of 144db, compared to a SNR of 96db for 16-bit.
     
  14. Sean '71

    Sean '71 Active Member

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    Most DAW platforms give you the option of converting to different bit rates. be mindful though that audio artifacts can be added by coverting to a higher bit rate, so its always better to record or track in the higher bit rates to start with. If you burn your recorded audio at a higher bit rate it should play as a WAV audio file in most devices.

    Changing the sampling rate, say by importing an audio file in say 24 bit to a song in 32 bit can sometimes not only shorten the audio file imported, but also increase the pitch as well. Usually by only a 1/3 of an octave.
     
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  15. RVA

    RVA Well-Known Member

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    Cool! I will see what my DAW and Studio-One is capable of. But what about for purchased music?
     
  16. Sean '71

    Sean '71 Active Member

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    Depends on what format its on, if its downloaded. generally that info isn't readily available unless stated.

    If you purchase a CD, it will be 16-bit / 44.1khz.

    I have Studio One Pro 3, you have a choice of 16, 24, 32 & 32 bit float, in 44.1, 96, & 192khz.

    There is much debate in the audio community as to whether higher sampling rates improve audio quality.

    Some, such as Dan Lavry, of the Lavry Converters fame, has written many white papers on audio sampling and higher sampling rates and he is of the belief that the optimum sampling rate is around 60khz. He feels beyond that it really gets to a point of diminishing returns. But, as I said, there is much debate, some of which is by people with more knowledge than me on the subject.

    For me, I usually use 24-bit / 44.1khz by default, its probably the most commonly used and its higher bit rate than CD quality at 16-bit / 44.1khz.

    Some say they can hear the difference at a higher sampling rate, say at 192khz. But, you need really expensive analog to digital converters capable of converting at that rate and a really big-dollar audio chain to notice any difference, when in most cases is not justifiable given the marginal increase in audio quality, if any, compared to the huge increase in cost. Great if you have a huge big-dollar studio whose clients demand such and you can earn a return on that type of investment, but bad if you are a novice home recording enthusiast.

    Personally, Iv'e heard both, and if I was buying big dollar converters, it would be to improve my signal chains audio quality, as opposed to wanting a higher conversion rate.

    - FWIW
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2016
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  17. RVA

    RVA Well-Known Member

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    I guess that is why people are buying vinyl - the price is right!
     
  18. Relic61

    Relic61 Well-Known Member

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    You is da muthafvk'n man bro:thumb:

    For all the good & bad the music industry was back in the day, the control they had over what got made & what failed the test greatly contributed to the quality of music we were listening to back then.

    At the risk of sounding like an old codger, a lot of todays offerings that pass for playable 'radio worthy' airplay would have been weeded out as just NOT GOOD ENOUGH & NOT UP TO STANDARD!
     
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  19. Sean '71

    Sean '71 Active Member

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    IMO vinyl has a dynamic range and heaps of headroom thats just not there in a lot of todays' overly-compressed, brick wall limiting to the wazoo music.

    Some vinyl has a warmth to it that digital lacks. To me digital has a kind of sterility to it. An almost clinical feel that I find at times that it is difficult to try to emulate to a vinyl sound.

    Maybe I'm just getting old and pine for the old days...getting a bit "Now, when I was your age..........." :D
     
  20. RVA

    RVA Well-Known Member

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    I wish that applied to me. I pre-date cassette tapes.
     

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