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When UCSB chose to put wav files online I got a number of emails from people begging, threatening, and insisting that we use FLAC because it would save on storage space and bandwidth. I consider these to be unconvincing arguments. We distribute in other formats that don't consume the bandwidth of wav and bandwidth is not an issue for us. While FLAC does reduce your file size by half, storage is cheap and is not a reason to make a file format decision.

I was familiar with FLAC from downloading live concerts from the Internet Archive and I always thought it was a pain in the ass but I did some investigation to find out more. I came away convinced that FLAC is inappropriate for archival use.

First, as far as I could tell, FLAC's support for metadata is poor (If somebody knows otherwise, please chime in). When you blow up a FLAC file to wav or convert it to MP3, you end up with a file without metatdata. Metadata interchange is pretty sketchy in all audio formats that I've found, but at least archivists have agreed that we'll use the BFW headers for wav files.

Second, there is no guarantee that FLAC will be around in six months or two years. The "taping community" is not large enough to set a standard for general use just like the archival community is too small to set standards that will be broadly adopted except amongst ourselves. I think it is very important that archival standards reflect broader consensus in the pro audio world, and not just what archivists think is right.

You only need to look at the previous "standard" for compressed, lossless audio files, Shorten (shn) to see the problems. Shorten was also open source but has been abandoned and is no longer being developed. I don't know the reasons behind this, but what I do know is that files stored as shorten are now in a format where tools are no longer kept up-to-date. While they can still be converted, who knows if the software still available will work with the next operating system upgrades. Is FLAC here for good, or will the next format (ALE?) take over in a year or two?

If the AES, the EBU, or major manufacturers get together and decide on a standard for the the storage of losslessly compressed audio, I'll be right on board. Until then, FLAC is not a basket I would put my archival eggs in.

David Seubert

McCormick, Kathleen wrote:

I am wondering if any one has experience with or comprehensive information on FLAC (free lossless audio codec) and its effect on audio. Here is the information page <http://flac.sourceforge.net/faq.html>.

Our systems administrator is pushing hard for us to use FLAC to save and store audio files (as a replacement for wav) and seems impervious to my hesitations (and subsequent explanations) about any type of compression for digital audio (I'm speaking here of our preservation/archival copies), even so called lossless compression.

If FLAC really does what it sells itself as doing and has no negative impact on audio, then it's something to look into but I need more information before I'm willing to believe that this is no effect.

I appreciate the help and information.

Katie McCormick
Reference Archivist & Coordinator for the Oral History Program
Special Collections Dept., J. Murrey Atkins Library
UNC - Charlotte

"Whatever we do we may fail, but if we do nothing, failure is guaranteed."

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