What Is The Best Lossless Codec?

February 4th, 2011

audio codecsLossless audio conversion is used when it is important to save maximum of sounding quality, while reducing the file size. Here is a comparison of the most popular lossless audio codecs used today in different audio converters. Test platform characteristics included DualCore Intel Core i3 530 processor with 2933 MHz, 2x2Gb DDR3-1333 RAM and Asus P7H55-V motherboard. The list of tested codecs includes:

• Lossless Audio (LA)
• OptimFROG
• Monkey’s Audio
• WavPack
• True Audio (TTA)
• Apple Lossless (ALAC)
• WMA Lossless

Lossless Audio (LA) is rather old codec used since 2004. It has the highest compression rate among existing lossless codecs that was approved by practical testing. The encoding/decoding speeds are average, comparable with OptimFROG or WavPack. Even without decoding via foo_benchmark plugin, LA file playback was perfect, without any fumbles and interruption when rewinding. Files encoded with Lossless Audio codec have .la extension. Lossless Audio technology is not developed currently.

OptimFROG is one more lossless compression codec with excellent sound characteristics. However it hardly can be called fast working. Another disadvantage is rather long delay when rewinding file in the player – sometimes it makes the playback rather uncomfortable.

The same problems with the playback were revealed in Monkey’s Audio codec test. It is rather popular lossless compression technology, however it is rather resource intensive. If you are not toughly limited in system resources, it can be a good choice.
The best lossless codec according to compression, encoding and decoding characteristics in total is TAK. This is actively developed technology that is improved with each new release. The high performance speed is provided with a range of processor optimizations, including efficient SSSE3. Using two cores allows increasing the encoding speed almost twice! The advantages of using modern processors are the most tangible with TAK. It is distributed free of charge, however has a lack of software and hardware compatibility.

One of the most popular lossless audio codecs today is WavPack. Encoding on middle compression rates result in sounding quality comparable with FLAC, while using higher compression modes significantly reduces the encoding speed. The main advantage of this codec is wide software support.

High encoding speed is the advantage of True Audio (TTA) codec. It provides with acceptable compression rate that is slightly higher than FLAC codec has. However the decoding speed is low.

Another middle-class audio codec is FLAC. It provides average compression rates and high decoding speed. The main reason of FLAC popularity is its open source code and wide software/hardware support.

An audio codec Apple Lossless (ALAC) can’t be called efficient, however the owners of different Apple devices have no choice, as the technology is foisted by the manufacturer. ALAC provides low compression rate and decoding speed, and average compression speed.

The similar situation is with WMA Lossless that is foisted by Microsoft. Middle compression speed with low compression rates (compared with ALAC) makes this codec unfit for using. The only advantage is rather high decoding speed.

When choosing a codec, there are two approaches. If memory space is what you want to save on, Monkey’s Audio is quite a suitable choice. Compared with FLAC, it gives 8-12% more efficient compression. If you need to make audio tracks maximally compatible with different players and gadgets, it is more reasonable to use FLAC codec. If you need to compress music for Apple devices, the only solution is to use ALAC codec.

Remember that you always can re-encode files from one codec to another with minimal quality losses using a good audio converter. This is the main difference of lossless audio codecs from the lossy ones.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Billy Pumphrey  |  March 30th, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Great article about the codecs. A refresher and new information is always good.

  • 2. John Deer  |  October 20th, 2011 at 10:40 am

    I stumble across the world “minimal quality losses” and “sounding quality comparable” – those are lossless codecs – there is NO LOSS in sound quality. Therefore the article is either misleading or plain wrong or bad researched

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