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

Investment
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.

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COMMENTS
Vade Forrester's picture

Given that many PC music player programs play AIFF files, is there any advantage to using the uncompressed FLAC format instead of AIFF? The Linux MPD server program also plays both FLAC and AIFF files.

 

Vade Forrester

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Since AIFF is working for you I wouldn’t do anything differently and do not see any advantage in converting to uncompressed FLAC at present. You can always do a conversion to uncompressed FLAC when and if a time comes that some change in your system demands it.

drallabs's picture

can this app uncompress high res FLAC files ie files from HD Tracks?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

dBpoweramp includes an excellent Audio Converter app and you can use it to convert from compressed to uncompressed FLAC.

Mr. T's picture

Michael,

Do you have any experience with Fluke to play FLAC files on iTunes with a Mac? Can you recommend it?

http://code.google.com/p/flukeformac/

I want to have an uncompressed file format with full tagging options that works on both Windows and Mac...

Cheers!

pulsetsar's picture

Ok, maybe not; but it's certainly the way I'm going now.

I first clued into the effect that compression has on lossless audio when I played around with the compression setting in dBpoweramp's flac converter. Less compression sounded slightly better than more compression. My overall system wasn't as revealing then and I could only tell the difference with my Grado RS1 headphones so I went for more compression (2006). 5 years later and I've got 6 terabytes worth of storage - I couldn't care less how much space something takes up. I've also got an amp / speaker / source combination that outperforms my headphones allowing me to easily hear differences between different levels of flac compression and uncompressed wav so the time came to convert all those heavily compressed flac files to a more revealing format. I was literally thinking about moving everything to uncompressed wav on demand upon playback before critical listening and keeping the flac around for its better tagging purposes when I heard your interview on Home Theater Geeks, found this website, and found this post.

Firstly, thank you! I have been using dBpoweramp for years but didn't realize the new version included the uncompressed flac feature! The upgrade price of $12 I was offered was now a no-brainer, especially as the new version uses an even better multi-threading engine that runs 8 threads on my quad-core processor, making file conversion even faster (converted all ~8,000 of my lossless files to uncompressed flac in 4 hours compared to the 8+ from prior versions). Secondly, I agree with you - the uncompressed flac file sounds no different than the uncompressed wav file but both sound better than compressed lossless formats. Although this does not seem to be a sample rate dependent phenomenon, as I can hear a difference even with 24-bit/96kHz files, the difference between uncompressed and compressed high-res formats is smaller than with CD quality formats (diminishing returns?).

Anyway, thanks again for this well-timed (in my case) post and I look forward to following this site more closely in the future. I've already used it to find some free high res downloads that I'm enjoying at the moment!

-Krishna

pulsetsar's picture

A few things have happened since I wrote my above response that have essentially changed my opinion on the topic and I thought I would share my experiences here.

The first is that I read the Absolute Sound's series of articles on computer audio. They address the issue of "pre-upsampling" vs "real-time upsampling" of audio data. It was clear from their report and confirmed by my own listening tests that pre-upsampling 44kHz/16-bit CD quality files, regardless of the original format, resulted in an overall improvement in the sound compared with real-time upsampling. However, when this was done I started to notice a difference between my upsampled (to 96/24), uncompressed FLAC files and WAV files in terms of fidelity. The difference was not huge but definitely still present and may represent some additional processing, however small, that is required in loading an uncompressed file from the FLAC wrapper (pure conjecture on my part in terms of the mechanism). This alone would be enough for me to retract my comments above about not hearing a difference between uncompressed FLAC and WAV and, respectfully, disagree with Michael on this point.

The second development was my discovery of the programs CPlay and JPlay, also discussed in the TAS review mentioned above. JPlay works with JRiver Media Center (which is what I use), Foobar, and iTunes to take advantage of their media library capabilities but then takes over the playback side of things. It loads the file into memory and streams to the DAC / soundcard from there. It also disables many other unnecessary Windows processes and has options such as taking over a single core in the CPU so that it is the only process running on this or various hibernate modes that take this paradigm to the extreme (in the 2 most severe hibernate modes, the keyboard and mouse are even disabled and playback cannot be interrupted!). CPlay is a free program with great fidelity but not the same degree of integration with a media library program. Both of these amplify the differences I've heard above between WAV and uncompressed FLAC. This may be system / CPU / DAC dependent but on my Core i7 with 8 gb of RAM streaming to an external Benchmark DAC1 USB via a USB cable from a PCI USB card, the difference is obvious and not subtle when using JPlay.

I've gone ahead and kept my 44/16 FLAC files as a lossless backup of my CD's, but for playback I've upconverted all my files to 96/24 WAV files and am now using JPlay with JRiver Media Center for playback. This arrangement easily defeats the best CD player I've ever owned and finally makes listening to my digital files as enjoyable as sitting down with a good LP.

Nijinsky's picture

There's absolutely no point "up-sampling" audio to 96/24 that was previously recorded at 44/16. The extra information (detail) you might be seeking is just not there since it was not recorded in the first place. You will not find it by up-sampling.

d2b's picture

The FLAC codec is asymmetric and is simple to decode. It's done every day. What part of "lossless" don't you understand? A standard compressed FLAC file is every bit as lossess and reliable as an uncompressed file, except that it's half the size, easier to stream and thus half the disc space and network bandwidth. There is absolutely no difference in the decoded output.

Don't use the excuse that disk space is cheap and bandwidth unlimited, so why compress the file in the first place? Try moving a 2 to 10 terabyte music library over a network, or even copying a few albums from one disk to another.

Adding the uncompressed version of FLAC to dbpoweramp's capabilities is a step in the wrong direction, but it does increase thedeveloper's market base because of ignorance on the part of some users.

d2b

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I agree - FLAC is lossless and I never said nor did I even remotely suggest anything to the contrary.

I've copied albums as well as hundreds of GBs worth of uncompressed music over a network without issue. Then again, I was not in a race.

d2b's picture

Michael...

Sorry. I wasn't referring to you specifically, but rather the whole lot of commentators and those others that would be gullible enough to believe uncompressed FLAC is somehow better than compressed FLAC. From a practical point-of-view, it's really the other way around.

The suggestion that uncompressed FLAC is sensible is hardly worth more than a few sentences, IMHO.

d2b

d2b's picture

IIt's true that there is no additional information added when upsampling. However, it IS possible that that the upsampled tracks might sound different and maybe even better (Did I really say that?) because playback system reconstruction filters may be inadequate in the first place. A reconstruciton filter is an important part of the digital-back-to-analog processing which in turn drives your sound system speakers.

There's no question that if you want good quality audio, it should be sampled at the highest practical bit rate and with the greatest bit depth. This should be done at the original analog to digital level, however, not by upsampling an inferior digital file.

d2b

d2b's picture

I forgot to add that upsampling an uncompressed FLAC album to 96/24 from 44.1/16 increases an already-too large set of files, or any other group of similar uncompressed files for that matter, to roughly 325% of their original size.. What would otherwise be a perfectly good 250MB compressed FLAC album is increased in size to over 1.6 Gigabytes if uncompressed and also upsampled!

It's a gross waste or resources, period.

d2b

MADDOG95's picture

Thanks once again for bringing a technical subject forward in a manner a noob such as me can understand it.

I downloaded MediaMonkey to evaluate, didn't care for the interface and moved on to dbPowerAmp recently. Other than a metadata dropout issue when opening the files with the Sonos system (some of the tracks, that had metadata shown on the ripper now show up at "Track 01, Track 02, ... ad nauseum and also have the same album art though they are from different albums - gotta figure that out) I prefer the interface of this product and it's ability to read CD metadata that MediaMonkey always listed as unknown.

I appreciate the information you bring forth here on AudioStream.com, Michael!

-Michael

0xG's picture

I am sure that you are pleased with db PowerAmp.

However it is proprietary software...

(FLAC is not)

However, if you are not using EAC to rip your disks, you are doing yourself a disservice IMO. I'm not sure why you don't mention it, unless this article is some kind of shill?

EAC is free, non-proprietary, accepts AccurateRip plugin, reports rip accuracy, and is the choice of people who care about quality.

http://www.exactaudiocopy.org/

http://www.accuraterip.com/

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Which is dPoweramp's uncompressed FLAC format. 

I'm not sure why you don't mention it, unless this article is some kind of shill?

I always find it interesting (although not in the least bit amusing) when people resort to childish accusations. And just so's you know 0xG, I don't put up with this kind of nonsense twice so consider yourself warned and walking on very thin ice.

Scott's picture

I would like to rip all my cds to my computer . I want it to be very high quality I have a onkyo 3009 which is dlna compliant and a home built dvr all using windows 7 pro and networked together. would dbpoweramp be a good add on to wmc so i can rip in flac and sent it to any device in my network.I guess i just would like to know the best way to have access and quality through out my home.

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