Is There A Difference Between MP3 And FLAC?

The modern music industry offers a variety of music formats, among which even an experienced music lover cannot always figure it out. The better the music sounds, the more subscribers a particular music streaming service will get.

Music lovers of all countries have been arguing for many years – is it possible to distinguish high-quality MP3 from loseless (FLAC, APE, etc.) in a blind test? How much does compression loss affect the perception of music? Should I give up MP3?

By the early 1990s, experts already understood that the future of music was in digital. However, hard drives were expensive then, and amateurs preferred to store their music collections on cassettes and CDs. The researchers faced a problem: they needed a format suitable for storing records on computers. At the same time, every hundred kilobytes counted – you can slightly sacrifice quality compared to CDs, but save precious space on hard drives.

By the early 2000s, hard drives were growing exponentially, so other audio formats began to appear that provided lossless compression. Relatively speaking, an audio track of this format can be restored to the original WAV from a lossless CD. Perhaps the most popular lossless compression format was FLAC, introduced in 2001. It is suitable both for storing home audio collections and for playing music on professional equipment. However, a FLAC file can be 6 to 10 times “heavier” than a good quality MP3 (256 or 320 kbps).

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The vast majority of people, for natural anatomical reasons, cannot distinguish between high-quality MP3 320 kbps and FLAC (provided that both digital recordings are from the same source). Of course, if you compress MP3s more strongly, for example, up to 96 kbps, the difference will be clearly audible even in inexpensive headphones. But in the era of terabyte drives, no one listens to music with such compression.

Of course, the equipment used for listening also has a significant impact on the perception of music. It is impossible to hear all the high frequencies in a symphony orchestra recording with $5 headphones, even if you have excellent hearing and high-quality recordings. However, many specialists are involved in mixing music, taking into account the capabilities of the most popular audio equipment among consumers.

And on pirate sites, there are also a lot of fake FLACs obtained by converting MP3s. At best, MP3 320 kbps is converted, but pirates make FLAC from 192 kbps recordings as well. The quality of such recordings can hardly be called acceptable.

Thus, we come to the obvious conclusion: the difference between high-quality MP3 and high-quality FLAC will be heard only by a trained music lover (most likely a young one, since after 40 years the audibility range narrows). At the same time, he will need quite expensive equipment to appreciate all the features of the sound. For the vast majority of inexpensive amateur equipment, MP3 with a bitrate of 256 kbps is enough: you won’t hear much difference from FLAC if the original recording source was of high quality.

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