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Best Audio Format for Archiving Music Long-Term?, Is FLAC really my best choice?
Cyba.Cowboy
post Dec 10 2012, 01:37
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Until recently, I have been ripping all of my CDs in MP3 format, however I’ve recently been ripping them into FLAC format so that I have the best quality, and also so that the CDs can be put into long-term storage…
The main reason I chose FLAC – aside from the fact that it’s a lossless format – is because Sony’s Media Go software can rip into FLAC, and convert from it (on a side note, if you haven’t tried Media Go, you’re missing out – it’s probably the best Windows-compatible alternative to Apple’s iTunes).


But before I get too carried away though – we have a LOT of CDs in our household and I’ve only just started re-ripping all of them – if FLAC really the best option?


With regards to the desktop, we use Microsoft Windows 8 (don’t believe the bad publicity – it’s fantastic!) and although unlikely, there’s a small possibility we may buy a single Apple computer in the future (the wife wants one, specifically for the kid’s schoolwork)… Windows will also be the primary operating system in the foreseeable future, however.

In terms of mobile devices, we’ll almost always buy Sony products, with Android being the most common mobile operating system – also in use is BlackBerry OS (which much to my surprise, natively supports FLAC!) and Windows Phone 8, with a small possibility of BlackBerry 10 being used upon release.

Going forwards, our mobile device use is likely to be a combination of Android and Windows Phone 8 OR BlackBerry 10 (the majority of the family is running Android, however I am currently trialling a number of alternatives as I am unhappy with the usage times and certain other aspects of Android)…

For gaming, we primarily use PlayStation products, though the wife and kids have been bugging me for an Xbox 360 for a while now, so it’s likely we’ll get one of these in the near future – going forwards, our gaming will most likely revolve around PlayStation and Xbox, as we don’t really use the Nintendo products we have very often.

Finally, I am a perfectionist when it comes to metadata – I’ve gotta have it all perfect, with album artwork – and I am very anti-Apple... I simply will not use Apple products unless there is no viable alternative (thus far I’ve always been able to work around the “iWorld” we live in with minimal effort and expense).


My biggest concern is the availability and support of a lossless codec in the long-term future.
FLAC and Apple Lossless are both Open Source, which means that in theory they should be supported for a long time to come… But certain other Open Source formats (the “OpenDocument” formats being the most obvious example) have not lasted the test of time, nor gained widespread adoption – FLAC is a good example of this, as there are very few devices that natively support the format.

Microsoft’s Windows Media formats have generally held-up well against the competition in terms of quality, and despite minimal adoption by the market, Microsoft has continued to support virtually all of the various Windows Media formats… But Microsoft have clearly lost at least some confidence in the formats, as they no longer actively promote any of these formats.

I actually went looking to try and identify the market share for all of the lossless codecs, but was unable to turn-up any positive results…


So, taking all of this into consideration, is FLAC really the best choice for the long-term preservation of my music collection? Or am I better off looking at something like Windows Media Lossless, Apple Lossless or something else?
What do major radio stations use to archive their vast music collections, and it is something that’s viable for a middle-class personal user?
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Apesbrain
post Dec 10 2012, 02:56
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QUOTE (Cyba.Cowboy @ Dec 9 2012, 19:37) *
I actually went looking to try and identify the market share for all of the lossless codecs, but was unable to turn-up any positive results…

Search the forum for "ripping/encoding poll"; latest was this year. For various pros/cons, search on "lossless comparison".
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saratoga
post Dec 10 2012, 03:32
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QUOTE (Cyba.Cowboy @ Dec 9 2012, 20:37) *
My biggest concern is the availability and support of a lossless codec in the long-term future.
FLAC and Apple Lossless are both Open Source, which means that in theory they should be supported for a long time to come… But certain other Open Source formats (the “OpenDocument” formats being the most obvious example) have not lasted the test of time, nor gained widespread adoption – FLAC is a good example of this, as there are very few devices that natively support the format.

Microsoft’s Windows Media formats have generally held-up well against the competition in terms of quality, and despite minimal adoption by the market, Microsoft has continued to support virtually all of the various Windows Media formats… But Microsoft have clearly lost at least some confidence in the formats, as they no longer actively promote any of these formats.


Microsoft's audio work seems to be mostly dead, and WMA will probably start to fade way in the coming years. However, virtually every lossless format in remotely widespread use has an open source implementation in ffmpeg or libav, so I don't really see that it matters. If anyone ever drops support of format X in favor of format Y, you'll be able to load your collection into foobar2000/dbpoweramp/etc and just convert to whatever the new hotness is.

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twostar
post Dec 10 2012, 04:38
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If you want the best quality and you've only started re-ripping with Media Go, I suggest you use a ripper with Accuraterip support instead.
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garym
post Dec 10 2012, 13:42
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QUOTE (twostar @ Dec 9 2012, 21:38) *
If you want the best quality and you've only started re-ripping with Media Go, I suggest you use a ripper with Accuraterip support instead.


yes, for example, dbpoweramp and EAC are very popular rippers for high quality ripping with accuraterip support. Do a bit of homework on this before you get to far into your ripping task.
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Porcus
post Dec 10 2012, 14:20
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You will be able to decode and therefore convert losslessly as long as your format has a specification which is known and implemented without bugs. I would suggest to use one with a checksum to detect errors (my format of choice is FLAC, which does ... so does WavPack, but http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index.php?ti...less_comparison does not state whether ALAC does).


For ripping on MS-Windows: Secure ripper with AccurateRip, yes. That means dBp, EAC or CUETools (or Foobar2000, which does unfortunately not support C2 error pointers).

This post has been edited by Porcus: Dec 10 2012, 14:21


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Nessuno
post Dec 10 2012, 15:55
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QUOTE (Cyba.Cowboy @ Dec 10 2012, 01:37) *
My biggest concern is the availability and support of a lossless codec in the long-term future.

There's no such a thing as a data format that will be supported forever and no physical medium that will last forever. Long term archiving involves frequent testing for readability, both physical and logical and the ability to switch with little effort and no loss of information to another device or format when the first choice will approach the end of its life cycle.
In this respect, FLAC and ALAC are both nearly on par, maybe FLAC being more widespread will be easier to transcode to the next lossles format of choice, when time will come.

Edit: by the way, I use iDevices for listening, but keep safe my lossless rips in FLAC.

This post has been edited by Nessuno: Dec 10 2012, 15:57


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Dynamic
post Dec 10 2012, 16:45
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As you're enjoy ease-of-use and minimal configuration like iTunes or the Sony software, the rippers I'd recommend are
- CUEripper, which is part of CUEtools (free)
- dBpowerAmp (free trial of full functionality, reduced functions including mp3 encoding after 30 days unless license purchased)

Both will collect metadata, check your rips against an online database to confirm their accuracy and offer secure modes (which are slower) to repair a bad rip until it is accurate (for CDs that rip error free, you can otherwise benefit from the speed of burst mode). CUEripper will also be able to fix bad rips of whole discs using the CUETools Database, CTDB, while dBpowerAmp has PerfectMeta to cross-check and improve the accuracy of metadata (Titles, Artists etc). CTDB has more than one source of metadata also, but I'm not aware of it being quite so smart.

P.S. Some people suggest for future proofing to use an open source encoder and store the source code of the version you used in the same folder structure so you could recompile on a future platform. In reality, I think FLAC has the widest support outside Apple's iDevices and ALAC the greatest inside it and will be around for decades to come even if they become a minority player. Looking back, Optimfrog, Shorten etc are still decodable readily enough that you can re-encode to whatever your current devices support.

This post has been edited by Dynamic: Dec 10 2012, 16:51
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andrewfg
post Dec 10 2012, 17:18
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QUOTE (Cyba.Cowboy @ Dec 10 2012, 01:37) *
But before I get too carried away though – ... – if FLAC really the best option?


You could always rip to WAV (or AIF)...

Both are lossless and not compressed (so you don't need a fancy algorithm to read them). AIF stores the pure sample bytes big-little and WAV stores them little-big, and that is basically the only difference.

Almost all control point softwares (and operating systems) can understand WAV (even iTunes can do it), and most can also understand AIF. And of course they can transcode them to whatever else format you could dream of.

You need to check which portable devices can support which formats. But if you drive the player via UPnP/DLNA then even this is not a limitation.

Both WAV and AIF, in addition to the regular music data boxes, can also contain metadata boxes for your tags.

The "big" issue with WAV or AIF used to be the price of hard disks. Bu frankly they are getting so cheap, that it seems hardly a big deal any more.

And for audio purists, the advantage of WAV or AIF are that they are "flat", so every sample is exactly the same size, there is minimal CPU processing involved (perhaps a byte order swap), and even that minimal processing runs smooth without peaks and troughs.

Just my 2c...


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BFG
post Dec 10 2012, 17:35
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I asked a similar question a couple weeks ago when I started reripping my entire collection. I ended up deciding to go with FLAC for several reasons:
  1. It's popular, so likely will continue to be supported for quite awhile
  2. Open source code
  3. Supported on all major operating systems and media players
  4. Extremely fast decode times
  5. Exact Audio Copy (with AccurateRip) and LAME both natively support it, as output and input respectively
  6. You can get decent compression with the higher-end settings
  7. Any lossless can be easily transcoded to another lossless in the future if needed, so it's really not worth worrying too much about


My personal recommendation is to use EAC with AccurateRip enabled, and just get going. Even if FLAC turns out to be less than the optimal choice 10 years from now, once you have your collection ripped losslessly it's easy to convert.
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DonP
post Dec 10 2012, 17:39
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QUOTE (andrewfg @ Dec 10 2012, 11:18) *
Both WAV and AIF, in addition to the regular music data boxes, can also contain metadata boxes for your tags.

The "big" issue with WAV or AIF used to be the price of hard disks. Bu frankly they are getting so cheap, that it seems hardly a big deal any more.


I generally don't see tags on wav, and didn't think standard wav supported them.

Speaking of which, while lossless is transcodable from one to another without changing the music, not all transcoding programs will transfer the tags. Just something to check before translating your whole collection to a new format.
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yourlord
post Dec 10 2012, 17:47
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QUOTE (Nessuno @ Dec 10 2012, 09:55) *
There's no such a thing as a data format that will be supported forever


As long as my brain still functions then FLAC and ALAC can be supported for as long as I need it to be. There is a reason I use open formats.
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andrewfg
post Dec 10 2012, 20:20
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QUOTE (DonP @ Dec 10 2012, 17:39) *
I generally don't see tags on wav, and didn't think standard wav supported them.


You can tag WAV files. The original (so called "canonical") WAV specification only specified the basic structure with an audio format "box" and a media stream data "box" but it was open ended and it does allow additional meta data "boxes" to be added too...

This post has been edited by andrewfg: Dec 10 2012, 20:20


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Nessuno
post Dec 10 2012, 20:54
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QUOTE (yourlord @ Dec 10 2012, 17:47) *
As long as my brain still functions then FLAC and ALAC can be supported for as long as I need it to be. There is a reason I use open formats.

Fine, so everything the OP needs to have at hand for years to come is your address... wink.gif


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yourlord
post Dec 10 2012, 21:52
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You'll note the "I" in my post smile.gif
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zima
post Dec 10 2012, 22:58
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QUOTE (Cyba.Cowboy @ Dec 10 2012, 02:37) *
certain other Open Source formats (the “OpenDocument” formats being the most obvious example) have not lasted the test of time, nor gained widespread adoption – FLAC is a good example of this, as there are very few devices that natively support the format.
[...]
What do major radio stations use to archive their vast music collections, and it is something that’s viable for a middle-class personal user?

FLAC and dBpowerAMP seem to be good enough at least for some usage scenarios of the European Broadcasting Union... http://www.ebu.ch/en/radio/ops_rdo/faq/index.php

BTW, Open/Libre Office (hence influencing OpenDocument) adoption seems to be quite varied geographically - you might not see it much around you, but there are places standardising on it, and/or where OpenOffice has quite a bit of adoption among end-users. It's likely here to stay.


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saratoga
post Dec 11 2012, 01:14
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QUOTE (andrewfg @ Dec 10 2012, 12:18) *
Almost all control point softwares (and operating systems) can understand WAV (even iTunes can do it),

...

Both WAV and AIF, in addition to the regular music data boxes, can also contain metadata boxes for your tags.


Careful. WAV and AIFF are widely supported. And they can be tagged. But tagging them is not widely supported. Worse, I've seen decoders that play untagged files fine, but give non-lossless output if fed tagged files. From a compatibility standpoint, tagged PCM formats are probably much less compatible then FLAC, ALAC, or even WMA Lossless simply because metadata is not as well standardized and you have to carefully check that your decoder is able to handle tags written by your encoder without altering the data.

If you really need a lossless archive with tagging, I strongly recommend sticking to safer formats.

QUOTE (andrewfg @ Dec 10 2012, 12:18) *
And for audio purists, the advantage of WAV or AIF are that they are "flat", so every sample is exactly the same size,


I've implemented or optimized lots of codecs on slow embedded CPUs. This is no advantage at all.

QUOTE (andrewfg @ Dec 10 2012, 12:18) *
there is minimal CPU processing involved (perhaps a byte order swap), and even that minimal processing runs smooth without peaks and troughs.


FLAC takes about 10 MHz to decode on a simple embedded processors, and takes less time to read, so I would not assume that PCM requires less processing. Lossless compression is generally very simple (ignoring APE), so it tends to be about as minimal as you could ever want.
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zima
post Dec 13 2012, 18:42
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QUOTE (Cyba.Cowboy @ Dec 10 2012, 01:37) *
My biggest concern is the availability and support of a lossless codec in the long-term future.
[...] FLAC is a good example of this, as there are very few devices that natively support the format.

PS. Checking out the most straightforward place, FLAC Wiki art, I stumbled on a List of hardware and software that supports FLAC - it's not so bad, it seems (notably, native support in Android 3.1+, the guerilla in the room of mobile OS)


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BFG
post Dec 13 2012, 19:27
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QUOTE (zima @ Dec 13 2012, 11:42) *
PS. Checking out the most straightforward place, FLAC Wiki art, I stumbled on a List of hardware and software that supports FLAC - it's not so bad, it seems (notably, native support in Android 3.1+, the guerilla in the room of mobile OS)

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that Blackberry OS 7.1 supports FLAC out of the box. I really wouldn't have expected it to.
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probedb
post Dec 14 2012, 12:01
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QUOTE (andrewfg @ Dec 10 2012, 16:18) *
And for audio purists, the advantage of WAV or AIF are that they are "flat", so every sample is exactly the same size, there is minimal CPU processing involved (perhaps a byte order swap), and even that minimal processing runs smooth without peaks and troughs.


Erm, which decade of computing are you in that you think decoding FLAC even remotely taxes even an embedded CPU?
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Nessuno
post Dec 14 2012, 16:04
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QUOTE (probedb @ Dec 14 2012, 12:01) *
QUOTE (andrewfg @ Dec 10 2012, 16:18) *
And for audio purists, the advantage of WAV or AIF are that they are "flat", so every sample is exactly the same size, there is minimal CPU processing involved (perhaps a byte order swap), and even that minimal processing runs smooth without peaks and troughs.


Erm, which decade of computing are you in that you think decoding FLAC even remotely taxes even an embedded CPU?

And, to say it all, is often more time and energy consuming (and less "smooth") for a decoding system as a whole to fetch data from mass storage, expecially if not solid state and shared between lots of other processes...


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andrewfg
post Dec 14 2012, 16:42
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QUOTE (probedb @ Dec 14 2012, 12:01) *
Erm, which decade of computing are you in that you think decoding FLAC even remotely taxes even an embedded CPU?


Two answers:

1) note that I prefaced my post with the words "and for audio purists" -- there are many of those out there who still believe they can hear the difference...
2) and to give you a concrete example: the Squeezebox Radio (for example) is not able to decode flac at 192kbps, 24bit, 2ch



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andrewfg
post Dec 14 2012, 16:51
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QUOTE (zima @ Dec 13 2012, 18:42) *
Checking out the most straightforward place, FLAC Wiki art, I stumbled on a List of hardware and software that supports FLAC - it's not so bad, it seems (notably, native support in Android 3.1+, the guerilla in the room of mobile OS)


Erm, its a nice list, but IMHO conspicuous by their absence are the following names (to name a few): Sony, Philips, Technics, Panasonic, Toshiba, Hitachi, Microsoft, Apple, LG, Sharp, ...


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leo-bogert
post Dec 14 2012, 17:03
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I am planning long-term archiving of my audio files as well.

I wanted to be dead-sure that the encoding process is flawless and that decoding the files in the future will work.
For being more sure about this than with just using the naked flac encoder, I developed perfect-flac-encode, a completely paranoid flac encoding script.
It does a lot more than encoding:
CODE
1. It checks the EAC LOG to make sure that AccurateRip reported a flawless rip.
2. It uses shntool len to check for any of the following problems with the input WAV:
    * Data is not CD quality
    * Data is not cut on a sector boundary
    * Data is too short to be burned
    * Header is not canonical
    * Contains extra RIFF chunks
    * Contains an ID3v2 header
    * Audio data is not block‐aligned
    * Header is inconsistent about data size and/or file size
    * File is truncated
    * File has junk appended to it
3. It checks whether the Test and Copy CRC in the EAC LOG match.
4. It computes the EAC CRC of the input WAV image and checks whether it matches the Copy CRC in the EAC LOG.
5. It computes the AccurateRip checksums of the splitfiles which it has created and compares them with the ones from the EAC LOG.
6. It re-joins the singletrack files to an image and compares the checksum with the checksum of the original image from EAC to make sure that it would be possible to burn an identical CD again.
7. It encodes the singletracks to FLAC with very carefully chosen settings. The full manpage of FLAC was read by me when chosing the settings.
8. It runs flac --test on each singletrack which makes FLAC test the integrity of the file.
9. It decodes each singletrack to WAV again and compares the checksums with the checksums of the original WAV splitfiles.

Notice that everything which would be needed to restore the original input WAV image is tested by actually doing it in temporary directories. Decompressing the FLACs, joining the singletracks to an image, etc.

Further notice that it is still in the beta phase and shall not be used for production yet.
But I work on it every second day and plan to finish it within the next month.
I have over 40 commits in the pipeline for the next beta version.

Once it is finished, I will run my existing collection of >200 WAV images through it for testing (and migrating from WavPack to FLAC).

Here is the thread of perfect-flac-encode, subscribe to it for being updated about the development.

This post has been edited by leo-bogert: Dec 14 2012, 17:14
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DonP
post Dec 14 2012, 17:39
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QUOTE (andrewfg @ Dec 14 2012, 10:42) *
1) note that I prefaced my post with the words "and for audio purists" -- there are many of those out there who still believe they can hear the difference...
2) and to give you a concrete example: the Squeezebox Radio (for example) is not able to decode flac at 192kbps, 24bit, 2ch


Must be an unusual piece if it can be compressed lossless to 192 kbps.. or did you us flac level 16 ? blink.gif .

On point 1, I'd think the usual tos 8 applies when you justify with what one thinks they might hear.


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