dBpoweramp's FLAC Lossless Uncompressed
dBpoweramp CD Ripper & Music Converter Reference R14 ($38 Windows-only) from Illustrate has added an "Uncompressed" option to its bag of FLAC encoding tricks with release 14.1. So what's the big deal?
FLAC encoder wording changed, also includes a FLAC Uncompressed encoding option (which stores audio uncompressed, for those who want WAVE PCM but with better ID Tagging).It's that last part - WAV PCM but with better ID Tagging - that offers up what many people have been asking for which is an open source uncompressed file format that allows embedded (and widely supported) metadata. While embedded metadata is possible with the uncompressed WAV file format it is not widely supported which means that even if you embed metadata with your WAVs, this data may be unreadable by your media player of choice. There are also applications that associate metadata with WAV files as opposed to embedding it which means that if you move your WAV files your metadata will not necessarily come along with it. Another thing to note with WAV is the lack of Unicode support which means special text characters like the ever-popular umlaut will not be displayed correctly which, depending on your level of fastidiousness, can be anywhere from annoying to really annoying.
Other uncompressed file formats like Apple's AIFF embed metadata within the .AIFF file (in the ID3v2 Chunk) so in theory any player that can play an AIFF file can also read its metadata. I say "in theory" because the player has to also support AIFF metadata tagging which is mostly the case. One example where it is not the case is TwonkyMedia which does not currently support AIFF metadata.
While FLAC is open source and it embeds metadata in its own widely supported native tagging system called FLAC tags, there has been some contention and controversy over whether or not the playback of losslessly compressed files affect playback quality. With dBpoweramp's uncompressed FLAC option, we can have our uncompressed music and embedded metadata too.
It's important to note that beyond metadata support, we also have to consider playback support when deciding on our default file format. Basically and in a nutshell if you are married to iTunes and/or are Mac-only, I'd recommend AIFF since iTunes does not support FLAC playback and dBpoweramp is Windows-only. For non-iTunes/Mac users, FLAC is accepted everywhere else, AIFF is not (a few examples of where you can't play AIFF files include the NAD C446, Naim Uniti, and the Meridian Sooloos).
I went through the process of ripping a number of albums in both WAV and Uncompressed FLAC using dBpoweramp and there is a difference between the two—namely a slight difference in file size and the displayed bit rate. The former is not significant varying as little as 1k for a full album and the latter applied to the FLAC files and was explained by Stephen Booth on the dBpoweramp forum, "I am guessing it is just rounding errors, some software would not even [take] the ID tag into account when determining the bit rate". Other than that, I perceived no difference in playback quality. And why would I?
There was, however, a difference in the metadata as seen in foobar2000...
To sum up simply—when trying to decide which file format is best for your ripping, saving and playback of music files, I'd recommend Apple's AIFF for iTunes/Mac users and dBpoweramp's Uncompressed FLAC for everyone else. The combination of uncompressed sound quality and embedded metadata makes for a winning combination.
Some Accounting (in roundish numbers)
1 Minute of 16 bit/44 kbps music stored as a WAV/uncompressed FLAC file = 10MB
Average Album length = 45 minutes
1TB Drive = 1,024GB = 1,048,576MB = 891,289MB available for music storage (15% reserved)
1TB Drive = 1,900+ albums stored in uncompressed format
Compressed FLAC = 50% of uncompressed file size (depending on compression method)
1TB Drive = 3,800+ compressed FLAC files
Average Price of Album 2010 = $9.82 (according to Nielsen)
3,800 albums = $37,316
1TB Drive = $100 (based on November 2011 pricing which is higher than the average due to flooding of hard drive manufacturing facilities in Thailand)
My point being, if you are spending upwards of $35,000 on music, spending $100 versus $200 to store it (and you actually only need 50% more storage for uncompressed FLAC) is a non-issue. Even if you spend twice that, and you should, for backup. And if you shop around, you can still find a 2TB drive for around $100.