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About audio formats FLAC and MP3

At eClassical, we now offer much of our music in three file types:

MP3 320 kbit/s (near CD quality)
16-bit FLAC (CD quality)
24-bit FLAC (studio quality).

You can download free test files of each format further down on this page.

You can always contact us with any question at: support@eclassical.com

What is FLAC?
New amongst these is the FLAC format. FLAC ("Free Lossless Audio Codec") shrinks audio files to about half their original size without losing any of the information, a so-called lossless compression.

In the case of 16-bit FLAC, the resulting files are still about twice as large as top quality MP3 files, but they contain all the audio that you would get if you bought the physical CD in your local record shop. Our 16-bit FLACs are always at a sample rate of 44.1 kHz, so their audio data is compatible with basically all playback hardware.

24-bit FLACs (studio quality) are the highest quality we can offer. They are substantially superior to CD quality, i.e. even closer to the live experience. You will find many recent albums (and many more to come!) in this format.

The sample rate of these files varies, depending on the rate that was used for the recording in question. It ranges up to 96 kHz, which may easily cause the file size for one such album to reach a gigabyte, despite the packing capacity of FLAC. So you need a fast internet connection to download such files, but they're worth it.

Here is useful guide with more info about 24 bit FLAC the-definitive-guide-to-24-bit-flac


How to use FLAC
MP3 has been the most popular format for internet audio for a long time, and MP3 files can be played back by almost any audio soft- or hardware. How does FLAC compare?

Listening on a (more or less portable) media player
You need a media player that supports FLAC. The FLAC homepage hosts a list of media players and keeps it up to date, better than we could. There may also be firmware updates available for your media player that add FLAC support. Any FLAC-compatible player should be able to play our 16-bit FLACs. If your player doesn't have a 24-bit chip, studio quality FLACs may still play, but reduced to whatever quality the player supports (see its manual).

Listening on a computer

For this, you need a playing software that supports FLAC. Neither Windows Media Player nor iTunes currently do this without the need to install additional "plugins", and even with these, they may only play 16-bit FLACs. If you want to try, here are links for Windows and Macintosh.

For a full-featured FLAC playback, we would recommend that you choose a media player software that inherently supports FLAC, such as MediaMonkey, Winamp or Foobar2000 for Windows, and VLC or Play for Macintosh. For further alternatives, please look at this more detailed list of software players.

As opposed to standalone media players, many computers are not primarily built to play music. Their built-in analogue audio outputs are often quite noisy, and 24-bit support is not very common. Generally speaking, you get a much better sound if you let an external D/A converter or AV receiver do the D/A conversion. Send the audio there by digital means such as optical or coaxial S/PDIF lines or the HDMI standard (for which you need a sound or video card with one of these connectors). For studio quality files, please check that your D/A converter supports the resolution of the files you intend to play.

Having said that - there are, of course, some more advanced - often external - analogue audio interfaces that deliver a decent quality too.

Burning files onto audio CDs

You can easily do this with our 16-bit FLACs, since they're always at audio CD resolution. Some media players can burn CDs straight from the playlist. Standard burning software (such as Nero or Toast) may already have FLAC support or can have it added. And there are a few smaller programs that can burn FLAC compilations too.

If you want to have 24-bit audio on a playable disc, you need to burn the 24-bit FLACs onto a DVD. In this case, "DVD" means either DVD-Audio or DVD-Video, and in both cases, a process called "authoring" is required. Standard burning programs for data DVDs can't do this, so you need special software.

DVD-Audio supports basically all our 24-bit FLACs (in terms of sample rate), but can only be played back on advanced players. As can be expected, such players have a strong focus on audio quality, which makes DVD-Audio the best choice if your player supports it.

DVD-Video (the most common DVD format) also supports 24-bit audio, but has some restrictions. The possible sample rates are only two: 48 and 96 kHz. If your 24-bit FLAC file has a different sample rate, you must convert it first. (Please note that the final result will depend on how well the conversion process is done). Moreover, many players apparently discard some of the audio data (footnote), so by using DVD-Video, you may lose some of the original file information.

Original Sample Rate
What we call "Original sample rate" is the PCM sample rate of the highest bit rate files we receive from the labels. The highest bit rate download we offer will have the same sample rate. We ask the labels to give us the highest meaningful quality in which they have the recording. If they didn't convert rates during the postproduction, this will be the sample rate in which the album was recorded. But we cannot know each label's signal chain for each album. We trust them that they don't deliver upsampled recordings (contact our support if you think you found a "black sheep"). Should they send sample rates lower than the original, they obviously have no other choice (at present). Even there, we can't know whether a higher version maybe exists.

We understand that the above may be considered inaccurate for DSD recordings. Of course, there the "original sample rate" was 2.8224 MHz. And some people will definitely want to have the "better" DSD originals, no PCM conversions. But since we decided to only deal with PCM files at eClassical (up to now), we write what you will get when you buy the album. Unless looking up each album manually, we won't even know whether it has been DSD once - or maybe just some tracks of it?  That information rests with the labels.  Therefore, should it be essential for you to know whether a 88.2 or 96 kHz album originates from a DSD recording, we must ask you to check this with the respective label or read in the enclosed booklet. This is what our term "original" means in detail. We hope you understand that we don't have the possibilities to "legally bindingly" inform you about the production process of every album we sell, since we don't have access to each label's modus operandi for each specific record. 

Conversion / Decoding
Lately, FLAC's popularity has grown rapidly, but software for FLAC audio has not developed at the same pace. If your favourite software doesn't work with FLAC yet, remember that you can always convert FLAC files to another format. The best choice in terms of quality and compatibility is to simply decode FLAC to uncompressed WAV or AIFF. The resulting files may be twice as big and may not support metadata, but they should work universally.

Convert FLAC with e.g. Switch or any of the programs mentioned on the FLAC pages.


Test files

Example 1: Soprano and baroque ensemble
H. Purcell: "Sweeter than roses" from this album (1536-1)
Carolyn Sampson, Laurence Cummings, Elizabeth Kenny, Anne-Marie Lasla
BIS1536-001-mp3_320.mp3
BIS1536-001-flac_16.flac
BIS1536-001-flac_24.flac


Example 2: Orchestra
C. Debussy: "II. Jeux de vagues" from "La Mer" on this album (1447-2)
Singapore Symphony Orchestra / Lan Shui
BIS1447-002-mp3_320.mp3
BIS1447-002-flac_16.flac
BIS1447-002-flac_24.flac


The 24-bit FLAC file of the second example is in 88.2 kHz, so that you can test how sample rates over 48 kHz work for you.

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