Rating: A definitive answer from Lemonrock
Some of our keenest readers might recall a story we wrote recently concerning the various formats in which audio can be stored including the infamous Ogg Vorbis. (See our previous story here). This raises the question – what is the best format to use when storing audio on your mobile phone or tablet? Well, Mac MacLaren is the head honcho at Lemonrock and he’s supplied GoMo News with what we can only describe as the definite answer. MacLaren outlines the main digital files formats below and the answer is to go for ALAC. But – as he says – these things are all objective because some people are quite happy with an MP3 file which is the commonest format.How does Mr MacLaren know the answer? Well, he just so happens to run the best guide there is for live gigs in the UK – Lemonrock.
And if you so happen to own an iPhone, you won’t have to take our word for it because you can download the free iPhone app which Mac actually wrote himself, too.
If you can’t find it on the iTunes App store, there’s more information here.
This is what MacLaren says …
“The quality of the different digital audio formats is partly objective – that is, you can’t say for certain that the higher the bit rate or sampling rate, the nicer it will sound.
Higher quality systems may be more exact in producing an analogue waveform that closely resembles the original analogue source material, but you will find people who are perfectly happy listening to lo-fi, mono MP3 recordings.
Generally speaking, the higher the sound quality, the more space the music will take up on your handset’s internal memory store or removable memory card.
Compression is used when converting an original track (say a CD track) to another format. Compression makes the resulting file, in the new format, smaller than the original format.
There are two distinct types of compression: – lossless and lossy.
In lossless compression, no information is lost when the track is compressed – that is, when you play the compressed track, it is un-compressed back to an exact replica of the original format.
In lossy compression, the original track is processed to remove some of the information that is considered to be unimportant, but (in theory) will not be missed by the listener when the compressed track is played. MP3 is an example of a lossy format.
In terms of subjective quality (from highest to lowest), the following formats could be ordered thus:
1. ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec, also known as Apple Lossless) – ALAC is used in the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. It has been reported that compressions of 40 per cent – 60 per cent can be achieved. Apple Lossless is a lossless, open and royalty-free codec.
This format can be confusing because the file extension for ALAC is .m4a which is also used for lossy AAC files (see below).
2. FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is lossless, and compresses to 50 per cent – 60 per cent of the original track. This software is available free, through BSD or GNU GPL licences.
3. MP3 VBR (variable bit rate) encoding can pack more information into a compressed track than a CBR (constant bit rate) encoded format, so in theory it is better in quality than a CBR using the same average bit rate.
VBR is a lossy format. Modern developments in VBR decoding have meant that previous problems, such as audible ‘artefacts’ are no longer a problem. There is a security risk with VBR, however, in that the language being spoken can be detected over a secure connection.
4. Ogg Vorbis is lossy, and has been reported as sounding better than MP3 or AAC, for the same bit rate. It is available under a BSD licence, but is the subject of some uncertainty regarding patents used.
5. AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) is a lossy format that was designed to supersede MP3.
It is apparently better sounding than MP3 up to a bit rate of about 128 kbit/s, but shows little improvement above this rate. The jury is out on whether AAC is absolutely better than MP3.
6. MP3 (320) – means a 320,000 bits per second, or 320 kbit/s. This is a lossy format, but the high bit rate means that more information is retained than lower bit rates (like the commonly used 128 kbit/s).
MP3 is a proprietary standard and as such, requires licensing by software and hardware manufacturers who incorporate the MP3 standard.
This ordering is highly subjective, and is offered as a rough guide rather than a scientific analysis.
At Lemonrock we currently have over 4,000 MP3s available to listen to – all posted by bands who are performing (or who have performed) live gigs across the UK.”