Of MP3 and FLAC: A Bard’s Tale

June 13th, 2006

Within the taper community the mantra is Quality is king!. Tapers pride themselves on getting a quality recording and most are insulted at the thought of raping their waveform with a lossy codec like MP3, and rightly so.

See, when you encode a WAV to MP3 a lot of information is left out. MP3 leaves out everything above ~15kHz because the average person (and even most audiophiles I’d wager) can’t hear those frequencies anyway. So who cares? Well, a lot of people, and here is why.

1) Once it’s gone it’s gone.

See, when you encode a WAV to an MP3 and it loses that data, you can’t get that data back. That’s not a huge deal in regards to albums because people can always go out and buy the CD if they want to hear the original files. With live recordings however, they’re not as easy to locate and sometimes the source recording is lost forever if a taper loses his source recording or if he just disappears from the scene completely. It’s up to the members of the taping community to maintain the integrity of the recordings for everyone.

2) Once it starts, it’s hard to stop it.

Say I post a show of mine in MP3 format and a dozen people download it. Then a few of those people burn the MP3s to a CD for listening on-the-go and their friends want copies. So they take those CDs and rip them to MP3 (using only god knows with which to encode). Now you’ve got MP3 > WAV > MP3 lineage going on and it just keeps going from there. It’s a slippery slope folks.

Even bearing both of those important points in mind, I still understand why people want MP3s instead of FLAC. iPods don’t play FLAC files and most people have those, Winamp doesn’t play FLAC files out of the box and iTunes flat out refuses to play them, and the files are 4-5 times bigger than MP3s. The reasons are varied, but they’re all quite valid. Trust me, I’m on your side on most of the points.

So I’ve given it some thought and decided a compromise is in order. No, I’m not going to start hosting MP3s. That’s crazy talk. What I will do, however, is make it easy for the end-user to convert the FLACs to MP3 with a click, a wish and a prayer. Enter: FLAC2MP3.

Download: FLAC2MP3.zip

Ok so I didn’t write this script, but a buddy of mine sure did when I asked him to because he’s all kinds of crazy cool like that. Written in WSH, FLAC2MP3 will take any set of FLAC files and decompress them to WAV, then encode them to MP3 and delete the remaining WAVs. It even transfers over the metadata!

This way I still get to force the quality of lossless files on the unwashed masses and you get to listen to your filthy MP3s on your lil’ beatbox! Just make sure that when someone asks you for a copy of that smokin’ tape you give them FLACs (or at least a straight audio cd sourced from the FLACs).

One Response to “Of MP3 and FLAC: A Bard’s Tale”

  1. Jim Says:

    I don’t have the best ears in the world, but it’s easy for me to tell if a live recording has been converted to mp3. The frequencies of ambient noise always seem to me to get hit the worst — I hate that whooshing! But I can barely (and rarely) tell with studio tracks.

    Thanks for not going mp3, Brian, but still making it easy for others.

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