I suppose the downside to using FLAC as a codec for storing your music is that the file sizes are much, much larger than MP3. Based on my current statistics, each album will average around 340MB on disk, which seems like a lot but it’s not bad considering the Red Book Standard for CDs declares 700MB total capacity per disc.
Here’s a sample comparison between MP3 and FLAC using Rush’s album “Presto”. The MP3s were generated with the LAME encoder at 192Kbit, 44.1KHz, stereo. The FLACs were generated with the FLAC encoder, medium compression setting.
- MP3: 73282 bytes (71.5MB)
- FLAC: 342188 bytes (334.2MB)
- Overall storage growth: 467%
That extra quality comes at a cost. However, with the dropping prices of large hard drives, storage space becomes inconsequential.
The second drawback of using FLACs instead of MP3s is one of hard drive performance. With the smaller MP3 files, the audio player can read in the entire file and cache it in memory instead of hitting the disk constantly for the next data block to decode. FLAC players, unless they’re written to use a larger block of memory to cache the larger file, will have to hit the disk constantly throughout playback. You may run into situations, as I have, where the player will run out of audio data to send to the speakers if you’re doing something that’s creating extra disk activity. Saving files, copying files, anything to do with adding work to the disk may crowd the music player’s file accesses so it has to stand in line to read the data. This can be overcome with faster disks, larger caches, or smarter music players.
All that being said, I’m glad I’m switching to FLAC. I’m actually hearing the music clear as a bell, just as it’s mastered to the actual CD. All the little nuances, the sonic fluttering in the background, and tiny little noises in the studio, it’s all there. And FLAC, since it’s a perfect copy of the CD material, retains the aural phasing and panning between stereo channels, so if the material’s recorded to “come out of the speakers”, then it comes out of the speakers. MP3 processes all this and crunches it down aurally into only the important pieces of the sound and drops the rest.
It’s good to hear my music again.