Friday, December 16, 2005

Audio: CODEC/Bitrate Wars

I am in the midst of an interesting conversation (IMO) on Slashdot regarding codecs and bitrates for audio files. One salient point is that several folks have indicated that they rip their CD audio discs to FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) files (a lossless compression format--you end up with larger files but they are perfect quality audio). Once they have them in FLAC they can easily and quickly convert them to other lossy formats like MP3 or Vorbis for use in their Portable Audio Devices, etc. I think this is are a really good idea! You will never find yourself stuck (like I might) with a lossy file format that is no longer supported. You can always convert your original FLAC files into the 'codec de jour', and you only have to physically rip your CD collection once. Since I have been dumping everything to Vorbis I would need to go back and do it all over again (in FLAC) should Vorbis become obsolete. Not an impossible task, but I really don't want to spend all the time doing them over again--maybe someday when I have no choice! LOL

My initial point was that FLAC is useful for archiving purposes since the filesizes generated are really too much for use in iPods, etc. (if they even support the format to begin with). That will probably become a non-issue at some point in the future, when virtually unlimited storage fits in the size of these tiny devices. Vorbis & MP3 are much more practical for general daily use, and IMO a Q6 Vorbis file rivals CD audio on my equipment.

I made the following comment regarding lower bitrate MP3s, I think the point is quite valid:
> I never really understood what the big deal was when everyone was downloading 128k MP3's. How could media companies have ever felt threatened by that noise?

Because most people aren't pretentious audiophiles, and are quite happy to listen to 128kbps MP3s through the crappy speakers that came with their Gateway box.

Cool! I've always wanted to be a pretentious audiophile! This is a great day! I just wish I had the gear to go along with such an ostentatious title. [sigh]

The treble washout at 128kbps is often times just too much. Have you ever tried to make an audio CD from 128k MP3s? It will generally turn out to be hideous. That's not always the case. I made one from the Brad Sucks: I Don't Know What I'm Doing album and it rocks! Guess I'm not as picky as you would imply--though others would be, for sure. Still you don't have to have a golden ear to be disturbed with lower bitrate MP3s, even on crappy Gateway speakers...

Listening to low quality MP3s can be kind of comparable to the Uncanny Valley effect some people experience when they see photorealistic CG images of humans . They can look really cool but still creep you out at the same time...

At any rate, I would suggest following the procedure above. If you have the HDD space: rip your CDs to FLAC first and then use command-line tools to batch convert those FLAC files into whatever lossy format you need for your devices. Here is a shell script that looks like it would do the trick quite well (but I haven't tried it myself yet)...

PS The Brad Sucks album
really does rock!! You should check it out...



brad said...

My album doing all right at 128 may have something to do with the generally lo-fi sound on it. Less information to pack into a small space.

chronicon said...

My album doing all right at 128 may have something to do with the generally lo-fi sound on it. Less information to pack into a small space.

Hey! Thanks for stopping by Brad!

Cool! My first celebrity! :-)

Most of the time, live recordings are the only things I can stand to listen to or move to CD Audio at 128k. Perhaps, as of late, I am less discerning--or, maybe I am simply less 'discerning' in the car w/ stereo volume cranked??

Thanks for dropping by, bro'! Let us know when your next album is ready (and/or I will check your site for news)!