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My understanding is that the wav and flac formats are containers for lossless audio. I have seen the flac format as being perhaps better because it is able to losslessly compress audio from say a wav file.

However today I noticed that bleep is offering both wav and flac files to download. Is their practice redundant or am I missing something?

After reading allquixotic and slhck answers I was curious as to the audio codec for the wav files in question. This is what I found

Input #0, wav, from 'Exai-001-Autechre-Fleure.wav':
  Duration: 00:04:51.39, bitrate: 1411 kb/s
    Stream #0:0: Audio: pcm_s16le ([1][0][0][0] / 0x0001), 44100 Hz,
                 stereo, s16, 1411 kb/s
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4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

You might be confused about different concepts:

  • FLAC is a lossless audio codec (its container also happens to be called FLAC, but the main idea here is the actual codec).
  • WAV, on the other hand, as a container can hold numerous kinds of audio codecs, but mostly, you'll find PCM-encoded audio.1

Since FLAC is all about mathematically lossless compression, FLAC files will be smaller than corresponding PCM-encoded WAV files, since PCM doesn't allow for lossless compression and just represents the data as-is.2

So, simply put: Take a WAV file with PCM-encoded audio, and the corresponding (mathematically equal) FLAC file will be a tad smaller. The downside is that FLAC is not as widely supported as WAV. For example, most (all?) operating systems won't play or convert FLAC files without extra software.

Bottom line, I'd say their practice is redundant but a nice gesture for folks who don't want to download massive amounts of data and prefer the compressed version.

1 – For example, variants of MP3 can also be stored in a .wav file.
2 – The analogy for images would be that BMP files contain the raw image data in an uncompressed form, whereas a (lossless) PNG is much smaller, but showing the exact same contents.

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In response to Steven's added-on observation: "pcm_s16le" is ffmpeg's way of saying the audio format is LPCM, with each sample represented as a signed 16-bit integer, with each sample's bytes in little-endian order. With 44100 samples per second, times 2 channels (stereo), it works out to 1411 kilobits/second, which is just an indicator of how fat the audio data in the WAV is; it has no correlation to quality. In the FLAC, the audio data is described differently and the bitrate varies. But when the FLAC is played, it is decompressed to exactly the same LPCM audio data stream as in the WAV. –  Mike Brown May 27 '13 at 18:48

FLAC is superior to LPCM (WAV) in almost all aspects, but FLAC's support is very limited. Many devices (music systems, portable devices, TVs, etc.) cannot playback .flac files.

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Doesn't really answer the question. –  Karan Feb 17 '13 at 23:48
Well, it doesn't really answer the title. The question in the body was why bleep would offer both formats considering. –  Dennis Feb 18 '13 at 1:11
Yeah, but the question in the body is an add-on to the question in the title. –  Karan Feb 18 '13 at 1:12
When I answered the question, the title was difference between wav and flac. It seemed to me that the only thing the OP was interesting in were bleep's motive. –  Dennis Feb 18 '13 at 1:16

FLAC is a compressed lossless audio stream, WAV is uncompressed lossless audio stream. FLAC is like ZIP in audio world, you can compress/uncompress the data multiple times without any loss. But compression ratio is better than ZIP, because this compression format is tailored specifically for audio.

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Wav. is superior to flac.

I've tested this on my rig with the start of a Mozart track (the first 30 seconds) and there were some artifacts which were only slightly greater represented on the wav. when compared to the flac. To someone who doesn't understand audio and to the naked ear - They're almost identical.

Any kind of compression has some limiters. Wav. is also used in studios for its raw accuracy.

Just some facts...

Any of those "High-Res 24 bit /192 KHZ, DSD, or 32 bit/384 KHz are HUGE space wasters. The human frequency range is limited - and on a summit-fi rig of Hi-Fi separates with an amplifier, cd player, sound field processor, and tuner is able to extract ultrasonic frequencies when used with compatible headphones (5 HZ - 40 KHz) to the point of being able to feel these ultrasonic frequencies around you - Even disrupting listening sessions when you will believe someone has stopped on the floor. This is possible with redbook CDs. You aren't going to get any higher than that as far as sound quality goes. stand alone DAC's are also inferior to a top-flight cd player. If you really want to hear how it was recorded and in all its glory - go for TAD components (PIONEER) or Accuphase.

Cables can make a difference but not always. For example, a poor quality CCAW (copper clad aluminum wire) is inferior to pure copper. The only time a cable will make a difference on sound quality is when: 1st if the quality of the copper is not pure, and 2nd if the cable impedance has been tampered with by scam cable makers. At the end of the day, buy pure copper cables for your speakers. And for headphones - make your own cables with pure copper. Silver cables on the other hand can sound more dynamic and "bright" and buying silver wire could benefit you if your speakers sound dull. Any special power cables are rip offs as well. So yes, cables can make a difference.

Measurements are sometimes inaccurate as the measurement system was not implemented perfectly. And of course, measurements don't tell the whole story. If you look up how human beings actually hear frequencies you might understand the truth of this matter.

I would write more, but maybe next time!

Dillon Bhai

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There is nothing wrong with the FLAC codec itself that would introduce artifacts that aren't present in the source file. FLAC is a lossless compression codec, the definition of which is that when properly uncompressed it is identical to the source PCM audio. That said, your setup might be introducing artifacts if the the decompression is more focussed on speed (e.g. real-time playback) vs. accuracy. –  eToThePiIPower Jun 27 at 22:21
In other words: you can go from a .wav file to .flac and back to .wav and the files should be exactly the same. –  Jens Erat Jun 27 at 22:34
I'm not sure if this answers the main question (which is, the difference between two audio formats). It does develop about the auditory aspect but otherwise it isn't what was asked. I recommend you to look at the tour page, to get a feel for how Superuser works. –  Doktoro Reichard Jun 28 at 0:11
I think you're confusing psycoacoustic compression with data compression. Flac compresses data (which makes it comparatively 'expensive' to decompress and play compared to wav). Some of these claims make sense to me. That wav sounds better than flac, or that standalone DACs are inferior to one in a DVD player (which needs a dac anyway) less so. Nonetheless, these are the sort of things worth testing double blind I suppose. I also suspect if we're talking about "the last one percent" there's other factors like mastering in play that would have a bigger effect. –  Journeyman Geek Jun 28 at 1:08

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