Audio formats comparison 2006

A big comparison of several lossless audio formats and several lossy audio formats.

11th May, 2006.

This is page one of a three-page article that compares audio format performance. This page sets out the test method and lists the CDs used in the comparison. Page two examines the lossless formats. Page three examines the lossy formats.


This comparison is an update to my previous audio format comparison page. If you don't know the difference between a lossless audio format and a lossy audio format, or if you'd first like to read my previous article from a couple of years ago, see:

Comparing lossless and lossy audio formats.

In this update, a greater number of audio formats are compared, and a greater number of CD albums are used for the comparison. This first page explains the method used in the comparison; page two reveals the results for the lossless audio formats; and page three reveals the results for the lossy audio formats.

Test method

A selection of CD albums was selected to give a variety of music types. Each CD was then ripped using the CD Audio Input feature of dBpowerAMP Music Converter release 11.5. The time taken to rip each album and encode it into each format was recorded, as was the final size of each album once it was stored in each audio format.

The machine used to rip the CDs has the following hardware:

The CD selection

Ten varied albums were chosen to be ripped and encoded into the different audio formats.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse — Music From And Inspired By The Original Motion Picture

18 tracks, 1:16:06.

A nice mix of metal and angsty guitar tracks.

Tracks you may have heard: Vermilion by Slipknot; Nymphetamine by Cradle of Filth.

Superunknown by Soundgarden

16 tracks, 1:13:33.

Labelled as 'grunge' on most music sites, I happen to think this album has a more refined sound than that.

Tracks you may have heard: Black Hole Sun; The Day I Tried To Live.

The Best of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

16 tracks, 1:15:29.

Moody guitar and keyboard tunes, some dark, some light, and some hopeful.

Tracks you may have heard: Red Right Hand; Where The Wild Roses Grow.

Demon Days by Gorillaz

15 tracks, 0:50:43.

Pop music with a brain and a heart.

Tracks you may have heard: Feel Good Inc.; Dare.

Endtroducing. . . . . by DJ Shadow

16 tracks, 1:02:59.

Hip-hop tracks produced by mixing samples from DJ Shadow's vinyl collection.

Tracks you may have heard: The Number Song; Organ Donor.

Exit Planet Dust by The Chemical Brothers

11 tracks, 0:49:19.

Hard dance beats mixed with vocal samples.

Tracks you may have heard: Leave Home; Chemical Beats.

Life of Destructor by Ultraviolence

10 tracks, 0:46:00.

An album full of relentless hardcore gabber beats.

Tracks you may have heard: Electric Chair; Hardcore Motherfucker.

Barrio Fino by Daddy Yankee

24 tracks, 1:16:10.

Dancefloor sounds from Puerto Rico, including elements of rap and hip-hop.

Tracks you may have heard: Gasolina; Lo Que Paso, Paso.

The W by Wu-Tang Clan

13 tracks, 0:49:04.

Moody hip-hop sounds and lyrics from a set of skilled rappers.

Tracks you may have heard: Careful (Click, Click); Gravel Pit.

The Essential Classics Collection, disc one

10 tracks, 1:04:50.

Soft, gentle instrumental pieces of classical music.

Tracks you may have heard: Canon in D major by Johann Pachelbel; Suite No.3 in D major — Air by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The audio formats

Lossless formats

Lossless codecs encode the audio into a file that discards none of the information that makes up the music. Playing music from a lossless audio file will produce exactly the same digital signal as the original audio source.

The lossless formats examined in this comparison are: uncompressed Wave; FLAC; Monkey's Audio; OptimFROG; and Shorten; WavPack.

Lossy formats

Lossy codecs encode the audio into a file that discards what it considers the least important information. This way, audio tracks stored in lossy formats are much smaller than the same tracks stored in lossless formats. But the playback of a lossy audio file will not produce exactly the same digital signal as the original audio source. Parts of the music are removed or altered to make it easier to compress the information into a smaller file.

The lossy formats examined in this comparison are: AAC; MP3; Musepack; Ogg Vorbis; Windows Media Audio.

Building a digital audio library

In my experience, repeated use of CDs tends to wear them out. I had one album that I listened to solidly for two years. The last two tracks are now unplayably jumpy, even though I handle CDs very carefully. The best thing to do with a CD is to never use it. Well, almost never. Treat it as a master copy, and only use it to create digital audio files.

When ripping CDs to store on your computer's hard drive, it's a good idea to encode them using a lossless codec. This will store the audio in a format that uses lossless compression, so the digital audio file you end up with is a bit-for-bit exact copy of the original CD audio. This allows you to safely store your treasured music on your computer without any loss of quality. A 500GB hard disk should allow you to store over 1,000 albums in a losslessly compressed format (so long as the hard disk has nothing else stored on it).

Lossless files are too large for most portable music players, so you'll probably want to keep lossy versions of your music too. So long as you've got an audio library of lossless audio files and a piece of software such as dBpowerAMP Music Converter, creating a set of lossy files can be as easy as selecting some (or all, if you have the hard disk space) of your lossless files and then selecting a lossy format to convert them to, and a destination on your hard disk to store the new files. This is much easier than re-ripping all your CDs because the lot can be done automatically, but the quality will be the same because lossless audio files represent exactly the same digital information as found on the CD.

The best way to use a large number of lossless files to produce lossy files all in one go using dBpowerAMP is to use the dMC File Selector, and make sure that "Keep Path When Convert" is ticked, then on the codec options dialogue change "Output to:" to Folder and select the folder where you want the new files to be based. Make sure that "Delete Source File(s) After Conversion" is not ticked, otherwise your original lossless files will be deleted during the process.