Converting Lossy and Lossless Audio Formats
You're such a Losser
Even Trent Reznor sounds just a
bit worse after lossy compression
Many music listeners don't realize that they are often listening to something very unique when they switch from enjoying a CD in the car to the downloaded files on a computer. This is because the compact disc is packed full of lossless goodness, and the other – the MP3 on the computer – is limited by lossy compression.
What the heck does that mean?
Although we discuss this in greater detail in our *Digital Audio Files[Digital Audio Files]section, the difference between lossy and lossless compression isn't much different than it sounds. If you are playing an MP3, WMA, OGG Vorbis, or AAC file, then you are listening to lossy compression. This means that it is optimized for downloading, making it smaller and more compact. The drawback to lossy compression is that it simply tends to sound worse, generally running music files at 128 kb/s (a CD is usually 320 kb/s). The sound difference – however slight – can make for fainter and grainier tunes because lossy compression file types lose quality every time they are coded and decoded. In a world of file-sharing madness, that can happen a lot.
Lossless compression is the alternative. However, tt has its own drawbacks, as well. Although lossless files don't lose sound quality like lossess formats do, they tend to be much bigger in size and thus, almost impossible to download. Examples of lossless compression formats include Apple Lossless and FLAC.
For a quick update, here is a divided rundown of the lossy and lossless compression types:
So, how does conversion between lossy and lossless work?
Well, clearly the easier path is to convert from lossless to lossy. Performing the opposite task would seem somewhat silly, since there's really no way of replacing the lost quality in a lossy compression file. No matter what you do, you can't magically make Trent Reznor sound better after he's begun his digital existence at 128 kb/s. Hey, I love Nine Inch Nails, but it's simply not practical when considering the technology available.
Thus, there's far more demand for conversion from lossless to lossy compression. This type of conversion takes up less space on hard drives and is, as a result, easier to distribute.
Won't that reduce the sound quality?
There are some good compression programs to alleviate your stress over this question. Clearly, no one who buys a CD wants to see the quality of sound plummet the moment they rip songs to their computer. It's pretty clear that the record companies are having enough trouble getting people to pay for compact discs.
lossy with minimal damage to the file
One of the quality lossless to lossy conversion programs is Monkey's Audio, which, despite its suspect name, offers a transfer in format type with the least possible reduction in sound quality (in fact, Monkey's brags that there is no loss in quality whatsoever). Monkey's Audio is a fairly easy to use, Windows-based program that will cost you nothing to utilize. That's good, because if you're converting from lossless to lossy, then you've probably already shelled out a few bucks for the CD.