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flac lossy/lossless playback
slim007
post Mar 11 2014, 10:19
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1. Flac is a compressed file. (i.e. A compressed version of a file format that is supported by Apple or Microsoft hardware and licensed by them.)

2. Flac has to be uncompressed to be useable (i.e. turned back into a file format that is supported by Apple or Microsoft hardware and licensed by them.)

Due to the conflict between the free part of Free Lossless Audio Codec and the not-so-free licensing part of the Apple or Microsoft file formats.
Are all forms of .flac playback really a lossy conversion of the .flac to .mp3 on the fly?
And are we therefore hearing a lossy playback sourced from a lossless file?

I have around 500GB of music. About 75% of it .flac.
I stream to my phone via Subsonic, which converts on the fly to mp3 320. At least the Subsonic developer is being honest about it.
I have an app on my Windows phone that plays flac, but nowhere to they disclose how that is accomplished. And it's a free app. I'm betting mp3 on the fly.
I stream via WHS to a Dennon A/V unit at home. Dennon does not disclose how they are playing the flacs. I suspect mp3.
I have a free plug in for Window's Media Player. Again, I'm thinking it's just uncompressing flac to mp3 on the fly.

I sought out .flac versions (if I could) of everything as I acquired it. Now I'm starting to wonder if I was duped into something not completely but mostly pointless.

I'm going wobbly on the whole .flac thing. I need some clarification and encouragement.
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Garf
post Mar 11 2014, 10:42
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QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 10:19) *
(i.e. A compressed version of a file format that is supported by Apple or Microsoft hardware and licensed by them.)


No.

(Everything else in your post is based on this completely wrong assumption, and hence also wrong)

FLAC contains audio data. For CD music, these are 16-bit, stereo samples at a rate of 44100 per second, and this is also what the DAC that transforms the music into something audible requires. This isn't a Microsoft or Apple format (it predates their existence by far, being first used in the 1920's) and there is no need to license anything.
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Case
post Mar 11 2014, 10:47
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Where did you come up with the licensing idea? FLAC is not using any licensed or patented ideas or code. It is also not related to Apple of Microsoft in any way.
When you play a FLAC file it is decoded from the compressed FLAC format to uncompressed PCM data (same as mostly used in WAV or AIFF).

The reason Subsonic uses mp3 format for streaming is just their design decision. They can't send FLAC because they expect your phone to not be able to play it. And they don't want to send WAV because it would require too much bandwidth. So they compress to mp3 knowing it works everywhere.

If you play FLAC in any other player you get the original bits that existed before the FLAC was compressed.
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rick.hughes
post Mar 11 2014, 13:45
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QUOTE (Garf @ Mar 11 2014, 04:42) *
QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 10:19) *
(i.e. A compressed version of a file format that is supported by Apple or Microsoft hardware and licensed by them.)


No.

(Everything else in your post is based on this completely wrong assumption, and hence also wrong)

FLAC contains audio data. For CD music, these are 16-bit, stereo samples at a rate of 44100 per second, and this is also what the DAC that transforms the music into something audible requires. This isn't a Microsoft or Apple format (it predates their existence by far, being first used in the 1920's) and there is no need to license anything.

Not only that, he seems to think that mp3 is the final step to get to audio. If it really was converting FLAC to mp3 it wouldn't be FLAC -> mp3, it would be FLAC -> 16/44.1 -> mp3 -> 16/44.1


This post has been edited by rick.hughes: Mar 11 2014, 13:47
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Porcus
post Mar 11 2014, 15:23
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QUOTE (Case @ Mar 11 2014, 10:47) *
Where did you come up with the licensing idea?


It is easy to get the impression that FLAC is compressed WAV (rather than a more compressed way of storing the same audio) that I am not surprised that someone takes it literal.


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Neuron
post Mar 11 2014, 15:46
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Why are some people under the impression that mp3 is a "generic audio format". MP3 is a very specific lossy format, PCM modulation (aka the basis of most digital audio) predates it by 70 years.
Just 20 years ago, mp3 was unplayable on all but the most powerful PCs of the time. Do you suppose 80s CD players also "converted" everything to mp3? Too many people seem to think that mp3 is something of a "generic audio format", it is not. It is a lossy compression scheme with way many patents and baggage than the .wav or .aiff container formats and besides, FLAC is converted to straight PCM that is fed to the soundcard, not to .wav or .aiff files.

Here is a 486 playing FLAC smoothly in real time. It struggles with mp3 and even mp2 playback. You think the old 486/66 processor is in fact encoding mp3s on the fly? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zm5s_Le7TV4 .

This post has been edited by Neuron: Mar 11 2014, 15:54
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kornchild2002
post Mar 11 2014, 17:21
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I understand why people think that mp3 is a generic format. It's been supported for so long, pocket-sized portable players have been compatible with it since 1997 and 1998, and it has been universally supported by portable hardware and PC software. I don't really see what the big deal is in comparing the processing power it takes to decode FLAC and mp3 using a 486 CPU. In this day and age, even with a lowly Pentium dual-core CPU, it doesn't matter. As I said, small devices (the size of a deck of cards) have been able to decode mp3 files for the past 16 years. The processing power of smartphones, tablets, notebooks, and desktops can all handle mp3 without issue.

That leads some people to believe that it is the "de facto" audio format. It isn't but neither is FLAC. Whether or not it can run on a 486 CPU is irrelevant at this point.
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slim007
post Mar 11 2014, 17:36
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QUOTE (Garf @ Mar 11 2014, 04:42) *
QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 10:19) *
(i.e. A compressed version of a file format that is supported by Apple or Microsoft hardware and licensed by them.)


No.

(Everything else in your post is based on this completely wrong assumption, and hence also wrong)

FLAC contains audio data. For CD music, these are 16-bit, stereo samples at a rate of 44100 per second, and this is also what the DAC that transforms the music into something audible requires. This isn't a Microsoft or Apple format (it predates their existence by far, being first used in the 1920's) and there is no need to license anything.


Thanks for the clarification, guys. I am confused about proprietary file formats. What you are saying makes sense to me.
However, flac still needs at some point to be turned into something the hardware can "read". The 16bit 44100.
That code has to be either written or bought.
I'm not convinced that the corporate world which supplies 100% of the hardware -- the playback equipment -- is paying for that.

Digression #1: mp3 was forced onto the industry by sheer demand -- and a lack of Corp. "vision." The damage was already done. Why would they encourage an even better format?
Apple's lossless format has not taken off, and it's got the weight of Apple behind it. The same goes for Microsoft lossless.
Microsoft did not support mp3 natively until after Apple had already done a devastating end run around them.
Apple had a business reason to go native with mp3. That reason no longer exists for flac.

I think there is more hanky-panky in the .flac to dac path than anyone likes to admit.
I suspect that over 90% of flac listeners are in reality blissfully enjoying their "lossless" music by listening to it played back lossy.
There are many good reasons why developers would quietly use the smaller, easier to stream mp3 in the background.
It is similar to Comcast et al. streaming dubious HD video. The end user is not aware of the data loss while enjoying their "high def."

Digression #2: I wish now that I had built my collection in mp3 at vbr 0. By insisting on flac I was doing the equivalent of buying a poster and insisting on getting the negative as well
for "archival" purposes; which, since I (and no other music end user, to abuse the metaphor) have any intention of opening the negative up and editing it, makes little sense.
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dhromed
post Mar 11 2014, 17:48
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QUOTE
uncompressing flac to mp3 on the fly.


This does not exist.

QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 17:36) *
I think there is more hanky-panky in the .flac to dac path than anyone likes to admit.
I suspect that over 90% of flac listeners are in reality blissfully enjoying their "lossless" music by listening to it played back lossy.


Nope.

Crumple your tinfoil hat and throw it away. You're just playing FLAC. Nobody is stealing your CPU time by decoding the FLAC, then re-encoding to mp3, and then decoding that again and sending it to the hardware. biggrin.gif

I'm sure you understand such a setup would be lunacy.



This post has been edited by dhromed: Mar 11 2014, 17:50
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saratoga
post Mar 11 2014, 17:48
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QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 11:36) *
QUOTE (Garf @ Mar 11 2014, 04:42) *
QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 10:19) *
(i.e. A compressed version of a file format that is supported by Apple or Microsoft hardware and licensed by them.)


No.

(Everything else in your post is based on this completely wrong assumption, and hence also wrong)

FLAC contains audio data. For CD music, these are 16-bit, stereo samples at a rate of 44100 per second, and this is also what the DAC that transforms the music into something audible requires. This isn't a Microsoft or Apple format (it predates their existence by far, being first used in the 1920's) and there is no need to license anything.


Thanks for the clarification, guys. I am confused about proprietary file formats. What you are saying makes sense to me.
However, flac still needs at some point to be turned into something the hardware can "read".


Its called PCM.

QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 11:36) *
That code has to be either written or bought.


Its part of the FLAC specification.

QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 11:36) *
I'm not convinced that the corporate world which supplies 100% of the hardware -- the playback equipment -- is paying for that.


No one pays for FLAC its free.

QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 11:36) *
I think there is more hanky-panky in the .flac to dac path than anyone likes to admit.


I've worked on the complete stack from the FLAC codec, to DSP postprocessing, to the device driver and I can assure you that this is not true. You misunderstanding of how digital audio works is so fundamental that its difficult to even parse what you are saying.
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2Bdecided
post Mar 11 2014, 17:50
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QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 16:36) *
Thanks for the clarification, guys. I am confused about proprietary file formats. What you are saying makes sense to me.
However, flac still needs at some point to be turned into something the hardware can "read". The 16bit 44100.
That code has to be either written or bought.
It's open source. You download it for free. There is no catch.

QUOTE
I think there is more hanky-panky in the .flac to dac path than anyone likes to admit.
I suspect that over 90% of flac listeners are in reality blissfully enjoying their "lossless" music by listening to it played back lossy.
No.

QUOTE
There are many good reasons why developers would quietly use the smaller, easier to stream mp3 in the background.
No. Re-encoding and then decoding is not easier than passing as-is.

QUOTE
It is similar to Comcast et al. streaming dubious HD video.
No it isn't. btw, HDMI, the post-decode link to the display, is uncompressed. Just like the PCM decoded from the FLAC.

QUOTE
Digression #2: I wish now that I had built my collection in mp3 at vbr 0. By insisting on flac I was doing the equivalent of buying a poster and insisting on getting the negative as well
for "archival" purposes; which, since I (and no other music end user, to abuse the metaphor) have any intention of opening the negative up and editing it, makes little sense.
It makes perfect sense.

From the negative, you can make other prints. Starting only from a print, copied prints look much worse than those copied straight from the negative.

From the FLAC, you can make any lossy format you want. Starting only from a lossy format, re-encoding to a lossy format can sound worse than encoding to the same lossy format straight from the FLAC.

Cheers,
David.

EDIT: saratoga types quicker wink.gif and can say it from the horse's mouth.

This post has been edited by 2Bdecided: Mar 11 2014, 17:51
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skamp
post Mar 11 2014, 18:41
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QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 17:36) *
However, flac still needs at some point to be turned into something the hardware can "read". The 16bit 44100.
That code has to be either written or bought.
I'm not convinced that the corporate world which supplies 100% of the hardware -- the playback equipment -- is paying for that.


Like saratoga said, the format that is fed to DACs, and which pretty much everything decodes to (except DSD and derivatives, the new audiophool trend), is called PCM (Pulse-Code Modulation). That's 100% standard and completely free. Your FLACs decodes to PCM, your MP3s decode to PCM, WMA decodes to PCM, etc.

Streaming is another matter. Streaming services usually convert whatever file formats you feed them, to some lossy format that requires less bandwidth. Google Music converts to MP3; perhaps Apple converts to AAC, I don't know. But if you play a FLAC or an MP3 locally on your PC, your iPod, your smartphone or your tablet, it will be decoded to PCM, which is then fed to the DAC of your device.


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Neuron
post Mar 11 2014, 18:46
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My point was, FLAC is playable on a 486. If it in fact was transcoding to mp3 "on the fly" this would not be possible.

"Decompressing to mp3" is like boiling water to ice, it makes no logical sense, in fact it is the opposite of logic. MP3 cannot be processed by the sound card without being turned into raw PCM. It is a complicated format involving processing by QMT filters and MDCT transform to frequency domain and in no way the "smaller, cheaper format". Yes, the resulting files are small, but the process is very complex.

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yourlord
post Mar 11 2014, 18:48
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Your understanding of basic digital audio is terribly flawed.

You might get some use out of the Xiph.org videos which will provide you a reasonable amount of details about how digital audio works. Note that those videos are produced by the non-profit which stewards such projects as FLAC, Ogg, Vorbis, and Opus.

Once you understand how the data gets turned back into analog audio then all you need to understand is that FLAC "simply" losslessly compresses the raw PCM data. When you play or decode FLAC, you simply recover that original raw PCM data and send it to the hardware for playback, to another encoder to format shift, or to a file for storage. Unless you are using with patented or DRM encumbered formats, there is no "hanky-panky".

You should also realize this forum is where quite a few of the people who do everything from design audio codecs and systems to writing the actual applications to encode and decode audio collaborate to share information.

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kornchild2002
post Mar 11 2014, 19:14
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QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 10:36) *
Digression #1: mp3 was forced onto the industry by sheer demand -- and a lack of Corp. "vision." The damage was already done. Why would they encourage an even better format?
Apple's lossless format has not taken off, and it's got the weight of Apple behind it. The same goes for Microsoft lossless.
Microsoft did not support mp3 natively until after Apple had already done a devastating end run around them.
Apple had a business reason to go native with mp3. That reason no longer exists for flac.


Countless other companies, including Microsoft and Apple, have been pushing both lossy and lossless encoders onto the public as a replacement for mp3. Apple started out supporting mp3 with iTunes back in 2001 with the release of the first iPod (which only worked with Macs at the time) but they later adopted mpeg-4 AAC (LC-AAC) as their standard in 2003. The iTunes Store first used 128kbps DRMed AAC files and now offers 256kbps DRM-free AAC files. So they have been encouraging "an even better format" for a long time. AAC's popularity has grown so much that Windows natively supports it, MS supported it with the Zune and Xbox 360, car CD decks play it back, Blu-ray players are compatible with it, etc. I'm not really sure why you're hung up on mp3 with company support when MS was doing the same thing as Apple, just with their WMA format. I also played back (and encoded) mp3 files all the time on my Windows 95 system. MS's Windows Media Player worked with mp3 files all the way back then so MS supported it just as much as Apple. The HP Pocket PC I had (Jornada 545, picked it up in 2001), running Windows CE 3.0 (called Pocket PC 2000), even natively worked with mp3 files using the mobile version of Windows Media Player.

So your history is a tad off. Additionally, although there may not be an industry-wide demand for FLAC, there has been a push for lossless. Both Apple and MS offer their own lossless formats while other companies choose to support FLAC playback. Either way, there is some sort of a demand for lossless and the current rumors are now swirling around Apple offering albums in ALAC on the iTunes Store instead of 256kbps AAC. That rumor has been around for a while but they have expressed interest in offering even higher quality files. Either way, I'm not really sure why you keep trying to poke holes in FLAC as if it's some sort of curse compared to mp3. It's a true lossless format while mp3 is lossy. There's not any voodoo or black magic going on behind the scenes, the elf living inside your computer doesn't magically awaken and ruin internal components whenever you start playing back FLAC files, or anything else of that nature.

QUOTE (Neuron @ Mar 11 2014, 11:46) *
My point was, FLAC is playable on a 486. If it in fact was transcoding to mp3 "on the fly" this would not be possible.


Ah, I understand. I thought it was some sort of move to show how FLAC is superior to mp3 due to it's lower CPU requirements when, in this day and age (or even back in the late 90's and early 2000's), it doesn't matter. However, I see what you're saying in regards to debunking the whole FLAC to mp3 nonsense. The OP's understanding of FLAC is still flawed at this point though, I doubt your video (which was interesting) will help.
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Porcus
post Mar 11 2014, 19:55
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WMA is hardly maintained nowadays, in particular the lossless. Microsoft positioned themselves for a heavily DRM-ridden platform and didn't care that much when this was no longer a main selling point; then Longhorn became merely the Vista flop.


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slim007
post Mar 11 2014, 20:08
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QUOTE (dhromed @ Mar 11 2014, 11:48) *
QUOTE
uncompressing flac to mp3 on the fly.


This does not exist.


Yes. It does. When Subsonic converts flac to mp3 and streams it to my phone that is essentially "on the fly."

QUOTE
Crumple your tinfoil hat and throw it away. You're just playing FLAC. Nobody is stealing your CPU time by decoding the FLAC, then re-encoding to mp3, and then decoding that again and sending it to the hardware. biggrin.gif

I'm sure you understand such a setup would be lunacy.


CPU decoding time is not an issue. But yeah I get the tinfoil part. However, you may want to explain to the nice people that developed Subsonic that what they are doing is lunacy.
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saratoga
post Mar 11 2014, 20:13
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QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 14:08) *
QUOTE (dhromed @ Mar 11 2014, 11:48) *
QUOTE
uncompressing flac to mp3 on the fly.


This does not exist.


Yes. It does. When Subsonic converts flac to mp3 and streams it to my phone that is essentially "on the fly."


They're decoding it to PCM, and then afterwards feeding the PCM to a separate MP3 encoder. Finally, they are writing an mp3 to the hard disk.

QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 14:08) *
However, you may want to explain to the nice people that developed Subsonic that what they are doing is lunacy.


Given your level of understanding, attempting this argument is borderline disrespectful.
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slim007
post Mar 11 2014, 20:23
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QUOTE (saratoga @ Mar 11 2014, 11:48) *
No one pays for FLAC its free.


Yes, I understand. However, for every file format that is added to the playback software/hardware package more coding has to be done during the development process (from fetching, opening, closing the file to added menu options, etc.) That is not free.

QUOTE
QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 11:36) *
I think there is more hanky-panky in the .flac to dac path than anyone likes to admit.


I've worked on the complete stack from the FLAC codec, to DSP postprocessing, to the device driver and I can assure you that this is not true. You misunderstanding of how digital audio works is so fundamental that its difficult to even parse what you are saying.


You are correct. My understanding is a problem. I appreciate your clarifications.
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evereux
post Mar 11 2014, 20:25
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QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 20:08) *
However, you may want to explain to the nice people that developed Subsonic that what they are doing is lunacy.


The lunacy part is it if was all done in the same self contained system. There is no lunacy to what subsonic is doing.


CODE
|----------------------|           |----------------------|
|   Subsonic Sever     |    WAN    |       Phone          |
|                      |           |                      |
|  Flac > PCM > MP3    |----->-----|    MP3 > PCM         |
|                      |           |                      |
|                      |           |                      |
|----------------------|           |----------------------|


--------------------
daefeatures.co.uk
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slim007
post Mar 11 2014, 20:31
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QUOTE (2Bdecided @ Mar 11 2014, 11:50) *
From the negative, you can make other prints. Starting only from a print, copied prints look much worse than those copied straight from the negative.

From the FLAC, you can make any lossy format you want. Starting only from a lossy format, re-encoding to a lossy format can sound worse than encoding to the same lossy format straight from the FLAC.

Cheers,
David.


Thanks for the kind response. It would make perfect sense if I were making copies. But I'm not making multiple copies. I'm listening to it multiple times. But no copying is being done, except in the case of the mp3 copy that is being streamed to my phone.

If from some reason I was opening the file for editing then yes, flac would be a good choice.
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slim007
post Mar 11 2014, 20:43
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QUOTE (kornchild2002 @ Mar 11 2014, 13:14) *
Either way, I'm not really sure why you keep trying to poke holes in FLAC as if it's some sort of curse compared to mp3.


I'm not trying to poke holes. flac is superior in every way to mp3. However, it does not enjoy the same industry wide support. And most likely never will.

IMHO flac will always be a big part of the trader community and some professionals may adopt it in their work flow. But I don't ever see this becoming a standard.
It is mostly overkill for the end user, and given the sad state of wireless networks in the USA I don't expect flac to become a standard for streamed audio anytime soon.

But you guys know more about that than I do. So I defer to your expertise.
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skamp
post Mar 11 2014, 21:02
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QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 20:43) *
I don't expect flac to become a standard for streamed audio anytime soon.


You make it sound like streaming is the main way of playing music.


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Neuron
post Mar 11 2014, 21:06
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The point is, FLAC playback on anything other than this Subsonic streaming thing is mathematically lossless. I posted the 486 video to show that this is the case, as it was effortlessly decoding FLAC and playing it back in real time while it struggled with mp2 and mp3. Modern computers have much more CPU power, but the step of reencoding in real time to mp3 and then decoding to raw PCM again would be absolutely illogical, wasteful and useless, evil corporations or not.
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kornchild2002
post Mar 11 2014, 22:19
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QUOTE (slim007 @ Mar 11 2014, 13:43) *
However, it does not enjoy the same industry wide support. And most likely never will.


No one here is arguing that FLAC is a music industry accepted format. It has definitely gained momentum over the last few years. Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails, How To Destroy Angels) is very fond of the format and the Pono Music store will rely on FLAC (though the later's motives and claims are highly questionable). No one is saying that FLAC is going to be the next format for online music streaming (which is not the end all of music sources especially with wireless carriers applying data caps, even lossy music eats up 4GB of data in a hurry), the next standard format for ripping CDs, or anything like that. It is a niche encoder but it's user base has grown and public attention has increased. It is an archival utility fully serving it's purpose as being a lossless format. It's not the encoder's fault that the product you purchase doesn't correctly send the FLAC stream to your phone. That doesn't mean that all FLAC decoders do that (they don't) or make it an inferior product that will never see industry-wide adoption. It just means that the product you purchased is terrible.

QUOTE (Porcus @ Mar 11 2014, 12:55) *
WMA is hardly maintained nowadays, in particular the lossless. Microsoft positioned themselves for a heavily DRM-ridden platform and didn't care that much when this was no longer a main selling point; then Longhorn became merely the Vista flop.


No, it isn't but I was giving them an example of how companies (especially two big ones like MS and Apple) were coming out with formats/encoders that went right up against mp3. Sure, they adopted mp3 but tried to position their formats/encoders to be the next main format. MS didn't succeed but, thanks to the iTunes Store, files encoded by Apple's AAC encoder have been distributed to many people in vast quantities. For the common public, it might even be just as much of a "standard" as mp3 is.
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