WAV vs. FLAC

December 29, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

9 comments on “WAV vs. FLAC”

  1. Reading the various opinions in the ‘Comments Section’ of
    the YouTube version of this presentation was enough for me.
    Clearly one has to have a very resolving home-audio rig to
    successfully hear any major differences between the two formats.

    1. Yes. Perhaps you’d need a resolving system that is also compromised in some way regarding stream/file playback. 😉

      I like Roon Labs’ solution: physically separate processing from the transports. Roon calls these “Core” and “Outputs”, respectively.

      The computer that talks to TIDAL or Qobuz or reads files from your NAS handles uncompressing FLAC and other formats to a PCM (or DSD) stream. In a proper Roon setup, this process happens in your closet or wherever you keep your Internet router, not in your listening room!

      A dedicated network audio component, like the iFi ZEN Stream or PS Audio’s Bridge II card receives the uncompressed digital audio stream over your home network and feeds it to an attached DAC. The “Output” device does no processing…it just copies digital audio data from its network interface to its digital outputs. The Output has no idea of the original file format; it only knows that it’s receiving uncompressed digital audio.

      This design eliminates any perceivable differences between uncompressed and lossless compressed stream and file formats. This is important because, while you could convert your compressed FLAC or ALAC local library to uncompressed WAV or AIFF files, you can’t change what streaming providers like TIDAL and Qobuz send you (hint: they use FLAC). It’s better to have a solution that handles the inevitable lossless compression in your system without compromises. This is what (among many things) Roon provides.

  2. If the computer external to the DAC is fast enough then FLAC is decoded to WAV on the fly easily. The resulting WAV sounds exact the same like the original WAV. At least in my system using an electrostatic headphone. If not then something is wrong with the computer. When it is a streaming gear including the DAC internally then there might be a difference. I don’t use such a combined audio product. Computer is a computer and should be stand alone and the DAC should stand alone too, just connected by a data cable. The distance should dim the computer electrical noise interference. The USB cable should have a clamp with ferrite core thus reducing EMI transfer via the data cable. One argument for FLAC is the metadata container. But WAV can have this too, but not all programs for creating WAV have the feature of including metadate. Ripping my CDs showed this the hard way to me.a

  3. Most interesting, Paul. I definitely agree with you regarding “horsepower” etc. in a processor to unfold FLAC files. I am not a streamer, never will be, I am quite certain. At my advancing age (LOL) I am a dedicated disc spinner.
    Having said that, I do download very hi resolution files from NativeDSD, HDTracks, etc. for obvious reasons (i.e. disc is not available). Some that are not DSD encoded to begin with are in FLAC format as downloaded. Annoying. So, once on my Apple iMac, the FLAC files are then converted to full WAV format before I do anything further with them.
    I employ the dbPoweramp program using the program’s very highly regarded own SRCC filter and it’s own bit format program to convert FLAC DXD, etc. to 192/24 or whatever, before I burn a data disc. The results are superb.
    I also agree with the advent of ever decreasing storage costs it really comes down to bandwidth the site wants to give up for each stream IMHO.
    The bottom line, for me at least, dbPoweramp is superb and a professional grade conversion program to convert before one uses the downloaded files on one’s disc drive.
    Of course, native DSD files are the best to begin with. 🙂

    1. For CD ripping I first used EAC and then dbPowerAmp which was really good. After ripping of all my CDs and I won’t buy new ones I don’t need these programs anymore. If I need new/lagacy music I buy it for download only. Since the providers do anyway convert the original recording to any format they sell I choose what best fits my external DAC. This is 24bits at 96ksamples. For my old ears this good enough. Higher bandwidth does not provide better sound for me, just only more storage space needed. DSD is the worst in terms of space.

  4. Very nice explanation Paul..
    Sometime, i would love to have you display the schematics of a unit, such as MK2 as you described, and hear the engineering behind all that great stuff…
    Best
    Jay

  5. Ha, for me to distinguish the minute (or less) differences between WAV & FLAC is something that is far in my past, if it ever existed. I do buy Paul’s logic of “directionally correct” from a technology standpoint and I can imagine that I hear a difference between free Spotify and Amazon HD on my mid-range system but likely couldn’t pass a blind listening test even on that. Oh well, it is just a hobby afterall.

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