In our digital world, media files need to be formatted into files that can moved, stored and, of course, played. Video files and audio files each have their own compression methods for accomplishing this. For audio, there are many types of compression formats available. The two that are most prevalent are MP3 and FLAC. MP3’s are the default standard for the majority of digital audio files. Buy a song from iTunes? It’s an MP3. Download an album from Amazon? It’s an MP3. Even most portable digital audio players are referred to as “MP3 players”. So what is an MP3?
MP3, or MPEG-2 Audio Layer III, is a data compression algorithm that uses a ”lossy” format. This means that those parts of a song outside the realm of normal human hearing are stripped, or lost, thus the lossy moniker. This causes the MP3 file to be smaller than the original file. An MP3 file recorded at 192k/bits from a CD will be approximately 10% the size of the original file format.
FLAC, or Free Lossless Audio Codec, as the name implies, is a “lossless” compression format. Every nuance we can’t hear, but is present, is faithfully reproduced, preserving the integrity of the original audio file, and is most often used to back-up personal CD and album libraries. The FLAC file will be about 60% the size of the original file. As any dedicated “deadhead” will tell you, Grateful Dead shows are sonically more sophisticated than their album work. Many of their live shows from over the years are available online in FLAC format, faithfully reproducing everything the sound engineers incorporated into the show. Many MP3 players can play FLAC files, too.
FLAC or MP3; which one you use is a personal preference. But why choose? Personally, I have both MP3 and FLAC libraries on my computer, with some of the same music recorded in both. The MP3’s are for my various digital audio players (like potato chips, you can’t have just one). The FLAC’s are for my high end office stereo. I have the best of both, and that is a lot better than having to choose. Either way, they both sound better with headphones.