The Analog Blog



An Odyssey from Vinyl to Digital

Posted on January 4, 2017 at 2:55 PM

Selecting Your File Type

One of the decisions that you'll need to make after creating a digital version of your vinyl album is what file type you will make with the digital version. You've probably heard the term "MP3" before. MP3 is a type of digital file. There are about a dozen different digital music file types. These file types can be broadly categorized into two groups: "lossy" and "lossless".

As the name implies, "lossy" files strip away some of the content to reduce, or compress, the file size. This is a form of "lossy" compression. Of the "lossy" file types, MP3 is the most common. Virtually all devices that can play digital music files can play MP3 files: tablets, phones, PCs, media servers, you name it.

"Lossless" files, as you might surmise, retain the original file's content, bit for bit. Although there is some compression to make the file smaller, the playback process restores the compressed information to its original uncompressed structure, hence the term "lossless".

Lossy files like MP3 came about because digital music files can be quite large. It wasn't that long ago that storage space, whether on a hard drive or on flash media, was expensive and limited in size. Using MP3 compression reduced the music file size to about 5 - 10% of its original size. That allowed more songs to be stored on the smaller drives of the day. These days, drive size is not really a limiting consideration (except with certain phones or older computers). Drive prices continue to drop and their storage sizes continue to grow. Still, MP3 lingers on as the frequent default for stored or streamed digital music files.

Unfortunately, the MP3 compression process can have negative audible effects on the file in question. In short, sound quality is traded for reduced file size. Because of this, the very term "MP3" is often derided by audiophiles for the reduced quality of sound that often results. If your playback will always be on a phone through a $20 set of ear buds, or on an inexpensive music player with limited fidelity and performance, then you'll probably never notice the difference.

On the other hand, if you are (like me) more demanding in the performance of your music listening, you'll probably want to store your digital files in the FLAC format. FLAC stands for "Free Lossless Audio Codec". (Codec is a portmanteau of compression/decompression.) FLAC files are about half the size of their original, uncompressed counterparts, but they retain all of the original file's information, so there is virtually no loss in fidelity.

Which file type should you choose? You might think that FLAC files are the way to go and if fidelity is important to you, you would be right. There's a "but", though. (Isn't there always?)  FLAC files are incompatible with some hardware and software. For example, iTunes and iPhones and other Apple hardware do not support FLAC files. You can play FLAC files on those devices by loading a converter. The converter will convert, on the fly, the FLAC file to a file type understood by Apple hardware and software. This process can result in reduced fidelity, though.

One of the reasons that I chose an HTC phone was because it supports FLAC files in their native format -- no conversion required. A plug-in, high capacity micro SD card provides all the needed storage for my digital music files on my phone.

Your expectations and demands will determine which file type you choose to make. Either way, VinylStudio can create the file type of your choice.

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