Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Compressed Music

No, I'm not talking about listening to a lot of music in a little (compressed) amount of time. I'm talking about the difference between lossless and lossy file types. Last post in the "Music-ie" forum, I talked about the various codecs or file types there are for music. This post will talk about the two "meta-formats" of music, as well as the pros and cons of each.
  1. First - Lossless. This type of file is exactly as the name suggests; nothing is lost. A lossless file will have every piece of date that is contained on the original CD. It will also be a considerably large file. Most lossless files will include the meta tag, or ID tag on the CD that contains the album art, the track names and what not. I'm not going to go into how the true CD mix-masters put this all together. For now, it will be sufficient to say that lossless has lost nothing of the original CD.
  2. Second - Lossy. The name is also indicative of the type of file here. Lossy types of files have lost some data in the quest for a more manageable sized file. These are the .mp3, .m4a, .wma files that we are all more familiar with. With these files, a ripping program gets ride of parts of the original file via compression. Its what allows a 16G iPod hold as much as it does. Without compression, our mobile media players would have to be like external hard drives to hold all that raw data. Compression is the bare bones data and can suffer slightly for it.
Of course, as with every giant company, the music industry has tried to muddy the waters as much as they can. Now Apple and Microsoft have their own types of not only Lossy formats, but Lossless too. Can you blame them? They saw a trend towards digitized CD collections and have tried to get their fingers in the pie. I mean, its tough times right?

That brings me to my final point for this post, why would you want lossless as opposed to lossy, since it is the later that plays on you iPod (or Zune, or Sony player)? Well, there has been a movement lately to have a true digital back up for music collections. Most of us have a music library on our computer and most of our music was ripped off CDs (granted a lot of downloads have "threatened" the CD market lately). All of that music is in a compressed format though. Unless you have taken the time to use software the rips in a loss CDs indefinitely.

Remember how you used to get a CD, play the heck out of it for a few weeks and then notice after time it started to skip as the track qualities diminished with use? Well, ripping a CD with a lossless format is the answer to that problem. You then have all the raw data on the CD and the best part is you can then the best part is you can convert copies of it into whatever codec you want...virtually forever without losing a single kB of data. In fact tests have been done where individual converted files between the various types of lossless (.FLAC, .WAVE, .APE, etc.) and the file size is the exact same as the original. The other benefit... you want to have an apple file (.mp4) or a windows file (.wma) no prob... or better yet, jut have a copy of the .mp3 that works with virtually everything. The big deal here is that it doesn't matter what you want to convert a copy to, either now or in the future. You will have ALL the data to use at your discretion.

No comments: