The definitive guide to 24-bit FLAC

The definitive guide to 24-bit FLAC

High resolution downloads are changing the way we enjoy music, opening up possibilities undreamed of back in digital’s early days…

CD was revolutionary when it first appeared, just over 30 years ago: none of the surface noise of well-played LPs, no annoying ticks and pops caused by invisible scratches, no need to handle the discs with kid gloves – though the early demonstrations of discs smeared with jam still playing were a little over the top! – and instant access to any track on an album at the push of a button. CD running orders could be programmed, favourite tracks repeated and the duff ones skipped, and in time added features such as CD Text readouts of album, track title and artist would become possible.

For all that, CD was always a compromise, using technology that was only just cutting edge at the time. 30 years on, we can do so much better.

Digital audio encodes the analogue musical waveform, using Pulse Code Modulation. With PCM, the two basic factors that determine the sound quality are bit depth (which determines the quality with which the analogue signal is digitised), and the sampling frequency (which is the number of times per second that the analogue signal is digitised). CD is a 16-bit, 44.1kHz system, what’s needed to improve conformity between the analogue original and the digitised version is a combination of more bits in each samples, and more samples for each second of music: the more bits you use, the more natural the music sounds, and the faster the samples, the wider the frequency range.

CD’s 16-bit/44.1kHz digital system may have been the apparent state of the art in 1982, but it didn’t take long for it to get past its sell-by date. Indeed, some say it was only ever almost good enough for high-quality sound reproduction: Malcolm Hawksford, Professor of Psychoacoustics at Essex University, feels that, ‘It was near the limit, but in my view probably a bit marginal. Ideally, at least 20-bit resolution at 60 kHz sampling frequency would have been better.’

 

FROZEN CDS

However, 16-bit/44.1kHz is what we got back in 1982, and 16-bit/44.1kHz is what CD still uses more than three decades on: we’ve been trapped in a technology ‘almost good enough’ 30 years ago for all that time, just like we would be with everything else we own if all development had been stopped back then.

Yes, there have been attempts to replace the CD with something better – in the early 1990s not one but two ‘high-resolution’ audio formats appeared, and battle was joined between DVD-Audio and the Sony/Philips Super Audio CD (or SACD), the former offering 24-bit audio quality for greater resolution, improved dynamics and greatly reduced distortion, while the latter’s Direct Stream Digital system used a sampling rate of 2.8224Mhz, 64x that of CD and single-bit sampling.

The new formats also offered the opportunity for multichannel surround sound and greater security and copy protection – one good thing for consumers, it was suggested, and one for the record industry. However, there was a problem or two…

DVD-A discs needed a special player – not just a standard DVD-Video machine – and these were a while coming, while the music retail industry wasn’t keen on stocking releases in multiple formats, and dealing with a hassle of buyers picking up a DVD-A disc by mistake and finding it wouldn’t play on their CD player.

SACD had an answer to that one: its multilayer discs allowed back-compatibility with CD hardware, which just saw them as standard CDs. Only when used in an SACD player was the higher-resolution layer ‘unlocked’. That meant record stores could sell just one disc for SACD and CD buyers, but then the pitching of SACD as a premium medium would have meant CD prices rising, at a time when deep discounting on music was really beginning to kick in.

 

What has, unfortunately, made a big impression on the market is compressed audio formats, notably MP3: originally used to allow sensible amounts of music to be stored on early personal music players with very limited storage capacity, MP3 can reduce the size of a music file by around 80% by removing most of the sound you can’t hear – quieter sounds masked by louder ones, for example. Unfortunately along the way it also loses quite a lot of the sound quality you can hear, and while the losses may not be so apparent on lower-quality equipment or when played in noisy environments – on headphones in the street or on public transport, for example, or on standard-fit audio systems in many cars –, when you step up to better audio systems it’s all too easy to hear the reduction in quality.

The good news is that while MP3 does’t sound too great, it did open up new channels through which music could be obtained – via online downloads.With those channels opened up, Free Lossless Audio Codec – or FLAC – now makes it possible to download music at CD quality or better, or store your CDs on computer or external storage, while saving up to 50% of the file size without losing any quality.

The clue’s in the term Lossless: FLAC packs music without losing any of the content or quality, and when ‘unzipped’ correctly the file is exactly the same as the original file. And while we’ve seen a number of rival lossless systems, from Apple Lossless (ALAC) to Windows Media Audio Lossless (WMA Lossless), the Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) is the system of choice for many music-loving hi-fi buffs, simply because it’s not tied to any one manufacturer’s systems.

 And it can do more than cut the size of CD-quality files: FLAC can also come in 24-bit form and beyond, as Albert Yong of Bowers & Wilkins explains: ‘The system is so flexible that it can take anything from 4 to 32 bits and sample rates up to 655350Hz in 1 Hz steps.’ he says.

And FLAC, first introduced in 2001, is opening up a whole new world of high-end, high-resolution audio for enthusiasts: 24-bit digital has a theoretical resolution of 144dB (compared to around 96dB in CD’s 16-bit) which is more than enough, given that 130dB is the threshold of pain for the human ear. That means you can get ever closer to the master-tape used in the studio, as well as gaining all the information made possible by the greater data-rates of these high-resolution files: Albert Yong says ‘The difference is in the detail. Sounds generally are more open, and there is an extra level of airiness in the music. Voice and instruments sound closer to live, and more dynamic as well.’

While you can use computer software to rip your CDs into FLAC, there’s also a growing number of sites offering downloads at CD quality and beyond including Society of Sound. We’ve structured our site to make downloading FLAC a breeze. Once you’re signed up as a member you get free albums every month to download; it’s just a matter of downloading a zip file, unzipping it into whichever folder you want on your computer or storage device, and then playing your music using your choice of player software.

BUILDING YOUR OWN LIBRARY

If you’re looking to build up a FLAC library of your existing CD collection, then a good starting point for ripping is Exact Audio Copy or dBpowerAMP. These are freely downloadable applications for Windows, commonly thought to be the best sounding and most bug-free. Mac Users can try Max, MacFlac or X Lossless Decoder.

To play the music, there’s a range of software players available, though as you’re using FLAC you’ll find neither iTunes nor Windows Media Player will handle the files directly, so you may have to use a modification to those programs or convert the files to play them. Fluke, for example, is a freeware program that works as ‘plug in’ for iTunes (Mac platform), but it can be buggy.

There are various programs available to convert files to PCM or even Apple Lossless, such as Max for MacOSX, but the best option is probably to use a different player solution, which will play all files in their native format.

On Windows systems, Winamp can play a wide variety of lie formats, and even burn 16-bit files to CD while other good player packages include Foobar2000, Media Monkey, Vox and Nightingale, the last of these being a ‘forked’ version of the now defunct Songbird package, having an interface very similar to iTunes and capable of playing almost any file you throw at it.

Nightingale is also available for Mac OSX, and like other players will hunt down all the music on your computer and add it to its own library if you require. These programs also allow editing of the ‘metadata’ of your music files – the information used to identify the music – should you find a rip or download doesn’t quite have the information you want about artist, album, track and so on.

 Amarra Mini by Sonic Studio is a more sophisticated system that piggybacks on to iTunes, replacing much of its audio code with a superior sounding and more flexible system. Sound is excellent but you pay for it; the basic Junior version which gives FLAC playback up to 24/96 starts at $99.

 Audirvana Plus (www.audirvana.com) is another fine application that, like Amarra, shuts down certain parts of your computer to minimise drain on CPU resources, to (so the theory goes) give better sound. There’s a free trial download but you’ll have to pay for the full version. It now offers optional integration with iTunes and is a strong, stable performer. For Mac users, its combination of value and performance is currently hard to beat.

 All these programs work as the playback system, but unless you’re happy to listen via your computer’s speakers, or a pair of headphones plugged into it, you’ll need a means of connecting computer to your audio system in order to hear your new high-resolution music collection.

       The simplest way to do this is to take an analogue line output from your computer soundcard. This is likely to have a 3.5mm stereo mini-jack plug, so you’ll need a cable with a 3.5mm stereo plug on one end and a pair of RCA phonos on the other, to connect into a spare line input on your amplifier to system (although systems and amplifiers increasingly have a 3.5mm input on the from for just this purpose. This method will give a reasonable sound, particularly if you have a good quality soundcard, but it’s not ideal computers are electrically ‘noisy’ environments, and it’s best if at all possible to pipe out the digital signal away from the PC or Mac.

       A range of USB DACs are now available to plug straight into your computer and provide an analogue output. Some provide a line output to connect to a hi-fi system, while others allow headphones to be connected for a truly portable high-resolution system, and there’s now a wide range of digital to analogue converters and even amplifiers with USB inputs. Prices start at about £100, while it’s perfectly possible to spend many times that amount on a DAC or headphone amplifier designed for high-resolution music.

Most of these DACs are powered from the computer, and use an asynchronous USB connection, so the high quality clock onboard will control the computer’s digital datastream. This gives tighter, smoother sound compared to standard asynchronous USB, as a result of lower jitter.

       There’s also a small selection of personal players able to play high-resolution FLAC files (among other formats), should you want to take your music library with you on your travels. The most affordable of these starts from under £200.

       Wireless and network streaming open up much greater flexibility. and also allows the streaming of music without the need to have your computer on all the time. You can copy your entire library to a Network-Attached Storage (or NAS) device, which is basically a hard-disk store designed to connect to your wired or wireless network storage, and which can be accessed by multiple players (either standalone systems or network music players designed to connect to a hi-fi system) on your home network.

Several players can be used at once, each playing different music if required: if you want a whole-house music solution, networking is definitely the way to go. Prices for NAS devices start from under £200 for a simple unit, and players at under £400. And the choice out there keeps on growing, as FLAC music catches on.

However, whichever solution you choose, the sound you achieve will only ever be as good as the quality of the files you’re playing, and that’s why we at Bowers & Wilkins, with almost 50 years’ experience of making top-quality premium loudspeakers, take FLAC very seriously. Not only is it convenient, with its shorter download times and almost bombproof content tagging, it’s also upgradable as high-resolution formats evolve: one label – Norway’s 2L – is already offering 24-bit/352.8kHz FLAC files taken from its original DXD masters.

Bowers & Wilkins’s Albert Yong says that ‘FLAC is as good as it can get for now. I think what it brings is not limited to quality of audio, but the added convenience as well’. And whereas once the choice of high-quality music in high-resolution FLAC was limited, initiatives such as the Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound, are devoted to making more music available, and more people aware of what high-resolution music can bring to their listening experience.

High-quality, high-resolution music, recorded and delivered with fanatical attention to detail and quality – that’s what Society of Sound is all about, and why we’re so keen for you to share our enjoyment of the music we offer.

105 Comments

  • BrianBzed says:

    Resources like the one you mentioned here will be very useful to me! I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful.

  • iQuackington says:

    “FLAC is of course a free, open source system like MP3″

    There is nothing free nor open source about MP3! There are in fact a huge number of patent and licensing issues with it:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MP3#Licensing_and_patent_issues

    Other than this, a very interesting article!

  • flo says:

    FLAC 24 is the way to go but unfortunately I’d love to know why most of the recordings via this site sound so flat!
    The only exception is “strangely” the Peter Gabriel Album… Which really sounds great.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the concept of investing in artists but on the B&W site I would have expected top quality for all recordings.

    I have downloaded a few tracks from other sites (I won’t mention names) at full 24 bits 96k or 88k and they all sound stunning!

    All the LSO recordings are so flat, there is no life in them. I own Berlioz’s symphonie fantastique on CD from the LSO live collection and it sounds far better than the 24 bit recordings available on the site. Why? The venue is the same and I’m guessing the same team was involved in the recording.

    I ran the tracks through a spectrum analyser to see if I could spot something dodgy had occured during the convertion to FLAC and I found that all LSO tracks included a 16khz or 21khz spurious signal within the recording. What is this all about? My CD doesn’t show anything similar.

    I haven’t downloaded all the tracks but so far I’m nearing MP3 quality on most of them…

    On another point, why are the 24 bit flac files sampled at 48k? One more time the LSO files are SACD recording at 88k which isn’t a multiple of 48. There is bound to be some information loss during the convertion!

    I’m fortunate to own a very revealing system (I spent tens of thousands of pounds on it) and if something has been badly produced, it will show very quickly. I convert the files back to WAV and burn them on DVDs to play them from a PS audio transport, so no pollution from the PC… The PS audio will play anything up to 24bit 192k.

    So unless things improve, audiophiles please look elsewhere. It is sad because there really is some good music available.

  • Kevin Murphy says:

    Someone help me here. What is the point of all this refinement if it can only be played back on a computer system or hand-held device? Even with the MM1s the result is far from hi-fi. Similar to downloading Avatar to your Blackberry if you ask me. I am a professional classical musician and I agree the LSO sounds like crap on the Sound Society recording. Awful! I have only seen a handful of proper goodies meant to stream audio from a computer file to a proper hi-fi (yes, mine is a good one) but they were so expensive as to not really make sense. Again, what is the point? Someone please put me straight.

  • Johnny Rosenberg says:

    As usual there was a lot talk about how to play FLAC in MacOS X and Windows, but no one mentioned anything about GNU/Linux. Maybe it’s not very necessary though, since all distributions that I know of has full FLAC support out of the box.

  • Krzysztof K says:

    Compression is not an idea it is just technical work around for saving space on disk. Hearing audio from PC is not a solution for audiophile community becouse of technical disadvantages, preferences, custom or individual reasons. In addition typical of shelf audio componente like amplifiers base on obsolette electronic circuits. It cause sound degradation much more audible than noice and dynamic loose in old CD format – only 96dB (Best CD players has no more than 103dB) .

  • Miguel says:

    I have a question?
    Why don’t you offer 24-bit ALAC. ALAC supports 24-bit recordings, and I’ve made recordings all the way up to 96 Khz. An iPod classic won’t play music over 48 Khz, but you’ve got to admit that 24-bit 48 Khz is pretty good for an iPod.

    Whenever I find 24-bit FLACs I have to convert them with xACT (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/xACT-users ) to ALAC to play them on my iPod and iTunes. I’ve never had a problem or a loss (sonically speaking) by converting them using this program, but it would certainly make my life easier if you just offered 24-bit ALAC.

  • Sam Faris says:

    Can I use my Phillips Streamium to listen to 24-bit FLAC?

  • Philippe says:

    I agree with most of the comments saying that quality of sound is not what we can expect from B&w.
    Except Peter GAbriel.
    Have much better result with a top cd player!
    In addition sourd Lebel is often too l’os
    I suspect that I s hall not pay for another year

  • realalan says:

    Hifi fans will never stop buying cd (SACD, HDCD, AMCD) or vinyl over downloads- it’s the art work, the ‘hunt’ for an obscure album at a record shop. Digital is for iPods, and who need to change or search for a ‘favourite’ song. When wa the last time you’d listen to an album from beginning to end???

  • Stuart says:

    Digital timeline misses out HDCD format from Pacific Microsonics.

  • Cian says:

    It seems like an awful lot of trouble with buying the DAC and external soundcard for the sake of a rare 24 bit album. I have never really noticed any problems with 16-bit WMA-formatted recordings myself, even 320kbps MP3 usually sounds perfectly fine.

  • Pug says:

    i do a lot of recording in 24 and 32 bit as i have a DAW using Cubase and Ableton.
    the difference i find is the sampling frequency jumping from 44kHz to 96KHz. i normally record in 32bit. its actually not true that studios are recording in 16 bit. protools, logic, cubase etc; these DAWs have been at these higher resolutions for years. mixing engineers have all the files waiting and ready for us out there. on their computers. all they needed was the format standard and its here now with FLAC. the hifi market is now gearing the hardware towards it. there will son be a flood of post 2000 released material when DAWs became very common. the key to FLACs success is faster braodband availability and the publics willingness to buy online.

    rubbish about no difference in quality,,,, 24 bit 96kHz has depth in the soundstage like CD would never achieve for all types of music. its amazingly wonderful to hear with correct audio hardware. belive me. i hate having to reduce my recordings down to miserable 16bit444kHz its like flattening the music with a hammer.

  • Ziya says:

    for those of you who “do not hear any difference” between lossy and lossless sound file formats I recommend that they listen to “no love” of eminem featuring lil wayne. where is wayne (at the background) in lossy formats; no where, completely lost! personally I am waiting for the days of 24bit FLAC widely used for recordings to come….

  • Nick says:

    Regarding comments that this is only suitable for a computer / hand held devices. Musical fidelity m1 clic supports playing 24bit 192khz flac.. Simply put the files on a USB hdd/stick and plug it in you can use the same method with the logitech squeezebox touch both not requiring a pc any where near your hifi equipment. Unlike all the other products in the squeezebox range the touch has USB and sdcard support and can be browsed directly on the device.

  • Jan says:

    When you say “MUSIC” you do not say WHAT music! If it is an italian youngster squeaking w emaciated falsetto some purported “canzone napu…” then 16 bit is ample enen including shrieks from the audience. If it is Great Mass in c of WAM or Wagner or Mahler … Then i suspect evev 24bit is NOT enough. Anyway we have on record one of the top engineers of Deu. Gramoph. Having said that “to catch it ALL we need 28 or 30 bits”. So!
    I can certainly hear the difference very clearly esp. In violin tutti but also in highest registers of the piano which become the same as glass bells or the triangle. That,s why you shoul keep 96 along with 24 and not dwngrade it to 24bit/44kHz. Have you noticed that the Cello always sounds v. Good and the violin rarely ? 44kHz is ample for one and not enoughnfor high notes of the other.
    By was of an example of great success I quote the V violin concerto in A by Grumiaux rescussitated by Philips o. 24/96 CD – I wish any violin recorded today on 16/44 would come close to that old recording.
    Finally I am sadened to see somuch of MP3 and so little of FLaC.
    Yrs. Jan

  • sacd-man says:

    Why should I buy LSO here, when I can have the SACD and get the closest possible sound to the real thing?

  • Jaap says:

    Can someone explain me how to play a file downloaded from the Society Of Sound club in my iTunes (ON WINDOWS XP)? I want to play the flac files on my itunes on the ipod to the the Zepplin Air.
    Thanks

  • Susanna Grant says:

    Hi,

    FLAC files are not compatible with iTunes however the 16-bit ALAC (Apple lossless) files are fully compatible.
    If you are looking to play the 24-bit FLAC files you need to use a different player that is compatible, something like Songbird (getsongbird.com) would work.

    I hope this helps,
    Susanna Grant
    Society of Sound

  • Naveen says:

    Hi Susanna,

    I have recently purchased B&W MM-1 speakers and joined the Society of Sound. Yesterday I downloaded 24-bit FLAC files and played them in Songbird. To me I didn’t notice any difference between 24-bit FLAC and 16-bit ALC sound. I then converted 24-bit FLAC files to 24-bit ALC and played them in iTunes. And again I didn’t notice any difference between 16-bit ALC and 24-bit ALC. I connected my MM-1 through an USB port. Please let me know why I’m not experiencing the pleasure promised in 24-bit music files.

    Best regards
    Naveen

  • Bowers and Wilkins says:

    Dear Naveen,

    You won’t hear a difference as the MM-1’s do not support 24bit 96kHz files. For more information on how to best play your 24-bit files we suggest having a look at this post: http://blog.bowers-wilkins.com/music/discussing-formats/how-do-you-play-24-bit-flac-files/

    I hope this helps
    Kind regards,

    Frazer
    New Media Product Support

  • Dawn Wyngaard says:

    I want to play these on my hi-fi system using the DVD-Audio option. What software do I use to write 24 bit FLAC files to a DVD-Audio? And where do I find it?

  • Stephan Richter says:

    Hi Dawn,
    I’m using Cirlinca software (http://cirlinca.com/) for years now. Although ;-) / because you have to pay for it, it’s a perfect tool, easy to use and with sufficient functionality.
    Please note that flac files will be converted (automatically and w/o quality loss) to wav before being burned to the disc,
    Have fun –
    Stephan

  • Alex says:

    Indeed I am not thrilled with LSO recordings, but I cat tell for example that Syriana has an excellent soundstage!
    Full digital path down to speakers is the cheapest and extremely effective solution, Squeezbox Touch after November’s upgrade with WD HD, sound extremely realistic from its digital output to Tact 2150 down to my 802s. No attrack correction can give you mathematically correct music as from a HDD.
    Flac HD is what I was expecting a whole HIFi life, and after MP3 disaster to music, I try to buy to increase availability even if friends have the file. Fidelio came to HD Tracks, other good ones will come, other Society of Sound will appear, and we wil be at last happy that disc space made for films will be used by us for HD music!
    Realistic soundstage can be heard if you do not convert again the pure digital source you now have!
    Great ears of the world believe me you have fully realistic source at your cable’s end…

  • Mike says:

    Quote: ‘To understand this more clearly, it’s helpful to imagine taking a digital photo of a squiggly line. The more megapixels the camera that you use has, the higher resolution the snapshot will be and the smoother the squiggle will look. This is the visual equivalent of bit depth.’

    No, sorry it’s not. The number of megapixel (spatial resolution) a difital camera has is directly analagous to sample rate for a digitised audio signal (temporal resolution). Bit depth is directly analagous to bit depth, which is is actually the individual sample resolution. Your engineers must understand that!

    Mike

  • Spuudy says:

    Reply to Dawn Wyngaard re. burning 24-bit flac DVD-A:

    Check out the 24 bit audio FAQ at:: http://24bit.turtleside.com/

    It lists around a half-dozen options for creatinging DVD-A and a few for DVD-V discs, including some free programs, as well as answers to some other basic 24-bit questions. I’ve used Lplex with great success for creating DVD-V’s with stunning results, and these can be played on any DVD player…

    Spuddy

  • Paul C says:

    In the article above I read, “If you’re looking to build up a FLAC library of your existing CD collection, then a good starting point for ripping is……”, and wondered if someone could explain to me why a FLAC copy of a 16bit/44.1hertz CD should sound better than the original CD? Am I missing the point, or is it more about making copies for pc/mac playback?

  • bobbmd says:

    if i buy a halide design hd dac or a cambridge audio dacmagic plus dac and play my stored music (in flac,having ripped my dvdaudio collection to flac via dvdaudioextractor) via mediamonkey or jriver is it really going to sound far superior to listening with just a digital spdif out tomy avreceiver as i do now(my current pc is an ancient hpmediaplayer xp that really has a digital out!) i plan to have made a customized pc music storer with a gigabit ethernet sound card with spdif out and a usb of course and hdmi out does that make the external dacs redundant ot am i going to get goose bumps listening to the deads american beauty,workingmans dead(dvdaudio recordings) the doors the band and dylan and the stones insacd or is it going to be just great but not as good as listening to the originals on a sacd/dvdaudio changer i ues now thanks your thought/comments will be appreciated bobmd

  • David says:

    I use mostly 16/44 wav files and some 24/96 and even 24/192 all wav. To me a 16/44 wav sounds better by far than a 24/96 flac. The 24/192 wav files often seem like too much detail and become tiring.
    Using a top quality DAP playing wav files at 24/96 feeding a decent tube amp and full range single driver horns I am in audio heaven. Shame there’re too many crap recordings revealed by this set up.

  • Sergey says:

    Very nice article! However, can anyone explain to me, whether FLAC files are decoded on the fly while playback (e.g. in Winamp) or the sound which ultimately reaches the speakers is still compressed? I’m asking this because when I play a FLAC file in Winamp or at my Squeezebox Duet, the info page shows a bit rate in a range of 1000-1500kbit/s, while when playing the same track but decoded before (i.e. in wav), the bitrate is considerably higher (i.e. more than 2000kbit/s). Can’t really understand this, since the FLAC is defined as a lossless format. Does it mean that if I want stream source sound to speakers, I should do it via wav format, while using FLAC for archiving purposes only? Thanks.

  • Florianinside says:

    Hi (unnamed?) Author of this brilliant article,
    what is with streaming 24bit-alac(-converted-flacs) to an zeppelin air? Does this make any sense at all?

  • Bowers & Wilkins says:

    Dear Florianinside
    The Zeppelin Air can support up to 24-bit, 96kHz.
    Kind regards
    Bowers & Wilkins

  • Hildy says:

    Other than being locked into an OS are there any pitfalls to converting to ALAC and streaming via @TV for a optical connection to one’s audio system? I made the FLAC/ALAC choice in 2004 thinking that Apple provided the best solution for me at the time. It is my understanding that if I ever decide to return to FLAC there should be no loss due to file conversion, is that incorrect?

    For me the move to lossless was only really constrained by disc space, but disc space has since caught up. My experience is that the biggest barrier is companies like Amazon/iTunes refusing to sell digital music in lossless format. As such I’ve limited my purchases to CD until things change. My other concern is the complete stall by portable music players at 160GB (iPod) as they transfer from spinning disc memory to flash memory. My 3-5 star list in iTunes is over 300 GB and I still can’t take the whole thing with me even though memory has grown substantially.

    Once we convince the sales channel to enable their customers we’ll be off to the races. It just seems to me that companies like Apple have an incremental upgrade business model where they upgrade formats incrementally charging customers to upgrade their library with every step.

    Not to mention the push for cloud based music libraries. If cloud based systems take enough market share there will be limited push to increase file size as that will equate to a need for increased server capacity and bandwidth.

    I’d love to see the industry start treating customers like they aren’t mindless drones willing to pay for what ever they decide to sell us.

    Hildy

  • Chris says:

    “Theoretically, 24-bit digital has a resolution of 144dB, which is more than enough (130dB is the threshold of pain for the human ear)…”

    You’re confusing signal to noise ratio with volume. 24 bits provides a signal to noise ratio of 144dB, which has nothing to do with ear pain, which is a function of volume.

  • Marek z Gliwic says:

    1. Ripping tracks from standards CDs and then converting them to FLAC is pointless! It is like simple up-sampling 16>24 when really acquired data are 16 bit with all limits of 16 bits format.
    So we need 24 (or better) originally recorded data/music, then it may be played using FLAC players.
    2. Of course ripping CD tracks is OK when one uses something like Exact Audio Copy – it is much better, usues full 16 bit resolution, make all rippingmore comprehensive then simple OS based rippers
    3. One of best players is AIMP, forget any Microsoft or Apple solutions.
    4. For playing originally 24 bit recorded music use external DAC’s, or optical digital output of your PC.
    5. All discussion about human 20Hz – 20kHz hearing range is just stupid. It is Dark Ages method,- human audio perception tested for single sine wave! Each millisecond of music contains frequency spectrum much wider than 100kHz. Use high sampling rate recording system, drop a glass on stone floor and see Fourier spectrum.
    Then listen to this sound using 44.1kHz sampling rate and compare it when 192kHz is used. Analogue system had frequency range much wider than 100kHz. It is widely known for audio specialist, nobody knows why still not widely applied. Sorry, I am bored with all of these…. Sorry for mistakes :)

  • Nicholas says:

    Wonderful article. Puts things in perspective so well. 24bit 96k has always been my favourite audio playback But as stated above its just so limited because of the expense. I hope it will one day become the bench mark for all CDs weeding out 16bit 44.1k. Thanks again B&W!!

  • Kyle says:

    First, lets stop muddying the water: MP3 for all intents and purposes is free and open. There is nothing even close to as ubiquitous and readily available. Every music player plays it, virtually every audio software package with any credibility will encode it. So let’s stop pretending otherwise. Second, while FLAC may be far superior to MP3, it needs a separate player and encoder that frankly, is a pain in the ass to get. I still, even after reading this article, cannot find a link to any resource that will provide me with a FLAC encoder for my music. For these reasons, FLAC has failed and will continue to. When it has grown up and is included in the major music players like iTunes, winamp and WMP, it will own MP3. But until then, it is just another useless hobby codec.

  • Mark says:

    This piece http://www.kenrockwell.com/audio/why-cds-sound-great.htm flat out contradicts some of the claims made for 24-bit and SACD. Not sure who’s right!

  • Tyler says:

    Sorry Kyle, I have to disagree with you here. FLAC may not be as widely adopted as MP3 yet, but wait another 5 or 6 years and I think you’ll change your mind. MP3 became popular because it was the first format that allowed people to listen to and transport music without a physical package. Back in the year 2003, MP3′s allowed me to download and stream music that I previously had no access to.

    Broadband is just now reaching speeds that let me download and listen to 40MB FLAC files rather than 4MB MP3 files, and storage is cheap enough to let me take them with me. iTunes doesn’t support FLAC simply because Apple is financially invested in their own proprietary lossless codec (ALAC). Basically all other quality media players support FLAC files. If Apple does begin to support FLAC, it will only be after people start moving away from their software because of it.

    It took me all of 30 seconds on google to find a fully functional FLAC encoder for Mac, Windows, and Linux. Seems like you failed here, not FLAC.

  • Chas says:

    I sincerely hope the engineers at B&W have a better understanding of physics than the folks that wrote this article.

    See here for an actual scientific discussion of HD audio: http://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

    Spoiler alert: it is a mathematical fact that there are no benefits to 24 bit (or higher) depth or 192khz (or higher) sampling rates, and ironically in the case of higher sampling rates there are potential major drawbacks. Any differences you hear are either placebo effects or the result of better mastering often done for HD downloads.

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