Which lossless format?

Lossless is best. Ensuring your music library is stored in as high a fidelity as possible is important to ensure playback quality, future flexibility and lower effort; never having to re-acquire music into a self stored collection.

There are costs: notably storage space. But when it comes to music files, storage capacity for large lossless libraries is well within the reach for most collectors, so it seems a no-brainer.

That's the theory, but it's not the end of the discussion. Deciding on a lossless approach means first deciding which lossless format you use, as there are a few!

The one you choose will most likely be driven by practical playback considerations: for example, the software or hardware you have. Some software doesn't support some formats, for example.

Don't sweat it

Remember the key benefit of lossless is the fact that you can transcode to another format without the loss of quality.

So even if you make a choice now and it turns out you purchase new equipment that doesn't support that format, you can always convert it.

What are the lossless formats?

The main lossless formats (there are others!) are:

Format Notes
FLAC Open, royalty free and not controlled by any one organisation. Includes integrated error checking.
Apple Lossless Also-known-as ALAC. Open source, royalty free. Normally stored in MP4 containers.
WMA Lossless Proprietary, less well supported.
WAV The Grandaddy; raw uncompressed PCM data stored with metadata (although infrequently supported) in RIFF containers.
AIFF Apple's legacy format. Uncompressed.

With a plethora of options, it suddenly looks like a more difficult decision to pick between them. But don't fear! It's actually pretty easy.

The basic rule

If you use the Apple ecosystem, use Apple Lossless.

Otherwise, use FLAC.

Part of the reason I can be so hand-wavy on this is because of what I described above: lossless gives you the flexibility to always change.

But the other reasons are two realities that have emerged as lossless has grown.

The first is that, while FLACs can be played natively in iOS and other Apple OSes, Apple's inhouse apps services such as iTunes and iOS Music app do not provide an integrated experience for syncing and organizing FLACs; it's something of an afterthought. You can, on the other hand, download apps which provide a better experience.

The second reason is that support for FLAC outside the Apple ecosystem continues to grow to the extent that it appears to be the de-facto lossless format now.

The wider facts are that the uncompressed formats will use a lot more storage space for the same quality audio, and also tend to have worse metadata support through other music players.

You've made the correct decision as soon as you opt for lossless. The best part is whether you choose FLAC or ALAC you aren't stuck with that choice, just transcode!

Thanks to unsplash-logoMarcus Wallis for the image above.
tags: compression
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The Music Library Management blog

Dan Gravell

I'm Dan, the founder and programmer of bliss. I write bliss to solve my own problems with my digital music collection.