When enjoying our favourite music, many of us may be oblivious to intricacies and of different types of audio files. Similar to ice cream, audio formats are not one flavour; they come in various flavours, each with its own characteristics. In this blog, we delve briefly into the world of audio files, discussing the difference between lossy and lossless formats, and their impact on sound quality.
At the pinnacle of audio quality stands the ‘uncompressed’ format, ensuring that the original audio data remains intact without any loss in quality. This is referred to as lossless and an exemplary illustration of this is the vinyl record, which fully preserves the studio recording experience. Another uncompressed format is the WAV file, synonymous with CD encoding, known for its excellent sound quality but larger file sizes. Lossless digital audio formats like FLAC, MQQ, and ALAC utilise ‘lossless compression,’ maintaining sound quality while optimising file sizes. Notably, streaming services like Tidal employ MQA files, a lossless compressed format ideal for high-resolution streaming.
The Classic Late 90s / Early 2000s MP3 Logo!
When we look at the second archetype, the ‘lossy’ format, we encounter the ubiquitous MP3, a staple from the late 21st Century. In the era of portable music devices and iPods, MP3s became popular due to their ability to compress large collections for convenient storage. However, this compression comes at the cost of losing some of the original audio quality, defining MP3s as ‘lossy.’
While this blog touches on prominent file formats like WAV, FLAC, and MP3, it merely scratches the surface of the vast audio format landscape. Achieving high-quality music listening involves not only investing in top-tier loudspeakers, cables, turntables, pre-amplifiers, and power-amplifiers but also ensuring the source of the music itself is of high quality. Understanding the distinctions between lossless and lossy is a crucial step towards optimising hi-res sound. Whether indulging in the richness of uncompressed vinyl records or embracing the convenience of lossy MP3s, your choice of audio format significantly impacts the overall music listening experience.