What is Lossless Audio? (Full Guide)
You’re not only wondering whether lossless audio is worth the investment. Lossless quality makes a noticeable difference to any listening experience, but untrained ears may be unable to tell the difference. Similarly, you might not understand what ‘lossless’ means if you aren’t well-versed in audio-specific terminology. In this article, we go over the whole process of recording and listening to lossless audio, but most importantly, we talk about how to enjoy it as well.
A brief overview of the various audio types
Explaining its place in the broader audio context is crucial to understand lossless audio. This includes two categories of compression methods: lossy and lossless, as well as two general types of audio quality: low-res and high-res.
What Exactly does it mean?
Lossless audio involves compressing data without losing any information, resulting in a nearly identical copy of the original file and maintaining the same level of data without any loss.
When you listen to music in a lossless format, you hear the music without any loss of data in the frequency range.
Lossy encoding/compression discards information (or bits) to reduce the file size, making it easier to store and share. However, this results in a loss of audio quality compared to lossless encoding.
Lossless audio and High-res Audio should not be conflated, although they are sometimes used interchangeably. High-res Audio is typically defined for marketing purposes as any audio with a resolution higher than 16-bit/44.1kHz.
Which audio file formats are considered lossless?
For the sake of simplicity, we will limit our discussion to lossless file formats rather than wireless codecs, as there is no single lossless file format, and some are more significant than others.
FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Coding) is a widespread lossless format that emerged in the early 2000s. It’s an open format that anyone can utilize. Although it’s a lossless format, ripping files in FLAC results in smaller file sizes than other forms.
ALAC, which stands for Apple Lossless Audio Codec, is the file format that Apple Music utilizes to store lossless audio in its library. While there is no difference in quality between ALAC and FLAC, ALAC is more suitable for iOS devices since FLAC is incompatible with them.
The Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF) was created by Apple back in 1988, but despite its longevity, it hasn’t achieved the same level of popularity as other file formats. One contributing factor is that AIFF files tend to be much larger than other formats like FLAC and ALAC, making them less space-efficient.
The Waveform Audio File Format (WAV) has been around since 1991 and was jointly created by IBM and Microsoft. However, WAV files can be pretty significant, like AIFF, making them less efficient than formats like FLAC and ALAC. Nonetheless, you may still encounter WAV files on Windows devices.
Philips and Sony jointly developed the Digital Stream Direct (DSD) technology to enhance the audio quality of Super Audio CDs (SACDs) format. While it is considered one of the superior file formats available, it requires substantial data storage. Although it is utilized for music downloads, it is improbable to be commonly used for streaming purposes.
In what places can I listen to music in a lossless format?
There are now more options to access uncompressed music than just a few years ago. In 2021, Spotify will launch its Hi-Fi service, featuring higher-quality audio. Additionally, Apple Music has announced that its entire library will be accessible to subscribers in ALAC format by June.
TIDAL, Deezer, and Qobuz are at the forefront of the high-quality music streaming trend. TIDAL’s HiFi subscription provides lossless audio streaming, Deezer’s library is filled with CD-quality tracks, and Qobuz offers music in CD quality or higher. Primephonic is an alternative option focusing on classical music, and their Platinum tier provides streams in up to 24-bit FLAC.
Lossless audio streaming is more expensive and consumes more smartphone data than lower-quality streams.
An audio revolution is still taking place, even though the current trend has brought us back to where we started. This could be the year where lossless audio gains recognition and becomes appreciated by everyone.
Should you pay more to get that experience?
In general, it’s not worth paying for higher tiers of streaming services to access Lossless. Most individuals cannot distinguish between a lossless audio file and a compressed file encoded reasonably high bitrate, even in ideal circumstances. Additionally, the audio data compression inherent to Bluetooth will negate any advantages you might seek over a wireless connection.
Nevertheless, it has some value. Why not have high quality for just a little more storage space (which nowadays is trivial)? It’s not worth paying for higher service tiers just to get lossless files, but if you can find one that’s capable, you should.