Lossless comparison

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Given the enormous amount of lossless audio compressor choices available, it is a very difficult task to choose the one most suited for each person's needs.

Several people only take into consideration compression performance when choosing a codec. But as the following table and article shows, there are several other features worth taking into consideration when making that choice.

For example, users wanting good multiplatform compatibility and robustness (E.G, people sharing live recordings) would favour WavPack or FLAC. Another user, looking for the very highest compression available, would go with OptimFROG. Someone wanting portable support would use FLAC or ALAC, and so on.

En fin, this is not a matter worth getting too worked up about. If you later find out the codec you chose isn't the best for your needs, you can just transcompress to another format, without risk of losing quality.


Comparison Table

Features
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 ! align="center" width="95px" style="background: #00FFFF" | ALAC ||
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 ! align="center" width="95px" style="background: #00FFFF" | FLAC ||
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 ! align="center" width="95px" style="background: #00FFFF" | Monkey's ||
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 ! align="center" width="95px" style="background: #00FFFF" | OptimFROG ||
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 ! align="center" width="95px" style="background: #00FFFF" | Real Lossless ||
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 ! align="center" width="95px" style="background: #00FFFF" | Shorten

Encoding speed average fast fast slow average very fast
Decoding speed very fast very fast fast slow fast very fast
Compression* 58,50% 58,70% 55,50% 54,70%   63,50%
Flexibility** bad very good very good very good bad bad
 
Error handling   yes no yes   no
Seeking yes yes yes yes yes yes
Tagging QT tags FLAC tags ID3/APE ID3/APE Proprietary no
Hardware support yes yes no no no no
Software support bad very good good average bad very good
Hybrid/lossy no no no yes no no
ReplayGain sort of yes no yes no no
RIFF chunks   no yes yes   yes
Streaming yes yes no yes yes no
Pipe support no yes yes yes no yes
Open source Yes (decoding) yes yes no no yes
Multichannel yes yes no no no no
High resolution yes yes yes yes no no
OS support Win/Mac All All Win/Linux Win/Mac/Linux All
             
Features
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 ! align="center" width="95px" style="background: #00FFFF" | WavPack ||
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 ! align="center" width="95px" style="background: #00FFFF" | WMA ||
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 ! align="center" width="95px" style="background: #00FFFF" | LA ||
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 ! align="center" width="95px" style="background: #00FFFF" | TTA ||
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 ! align="center" width="95px" style="background: #00FFFF" | MPEG4 ALS

Encoding speed very fast average slow very fast average slow
Decoding speed very fast average slow very fast very fast slow
Compression* 58% 56,30% 53,50% 57,10% 57,20%  
Flexibility** very good bad average bad bad very good
 
Error handling yes yes no yes no yes
Seeking yes yes yes yes slow yes
Tagging ID3/APE Proprietary ID3v1 ID3 no MP4 tags
Hardware support yes no no yes no no
Software support good good bad average average none yet
Hybrid/lossy yes no no no no no
ReplayGain yes no no yes no no
RIFF chunks yes no yes no yes  
Streaming yes yes   no no yes
Pipe support yes yes yes no    
Open source yes no no yes no yes
Multichannel yes yes no yes no yes
High resolution yes yes no yes yes yes
OS support All Win/Mac Win/Linux All Win/Linux/Sol All

* The Compression ratio is calculated with the division of compressed size by uncompressed size * 100. So, lower is better.

Encoding speed, Decoding speed and Compression ratio are based on each encoder's default settings.

** Flexibility refers to the amount of encoding choices offered to the users (Fast/low compression, Slow/high compression and everything inbetween)


These are the most popular lossless codecs, in alphabetical order:

==ALAC - Apple Lossless Audio Codec== http://www.apple.com/itunes/import.html

ALAC is a codec developed by Apple for usage in iPod and AirPort Express.


ALAC PROS

ALAC CONS

  • Closed source (encoding)
  • Limited software support
  • Compression efficiency not on par with other lossless codecs
  • No hybrid/lossy mode

ALAC Other features

  • Fits in the MP4 container
  • Can be used with the AirPort Express gadget


==FLAC - Free Lossless Audio Codec== http://flac.sourceforge.net/

FLAC is a lossless codec developed by Josh Coalson. It's part of the Xiph multimedia portfolio, along with Ogg, Vorbis, Speex and Theora.


FLAC PROS

FLAC CONS

  • Relatively slow encoding
  • No hybrid/lossy mode
  • Doesn't support RIFF chunks

FLAC Other features

  • Supports embedded CUE sheets (with limitations)
  • Includes MD5 hashes for quick integrity checking
  • Fits the Ogg and Matroska containers

==LA - LosslessAudio== http://www.lossless-audio.com/

LA is a lossless codec developed by Michael Bevin.


LA PROS

  • Very high compression
  • Tagging support (ID3v1)
  • Supports RIFF chunks
  • Pipe support

LA CONS

  • Closed source
  • Very slow encoding and decoding
  • Doesn't support multichannel audio and high resolutions
  • No hardware support
  • No hybrid/lossy mode
  • Bad software support
  • Doesn't support ReplayGain

It's important to mention that the LA foobar plugin is buggy and doesn't produce lossless streams!


==LPAC== http://www.nue.tu-berlin.de/wer/liebchen/lpac.html

Lossless Predictive Audio Coder (LPAC) is a lossless codec developed by Tilman Liebchen. Development of it has been halted in favour of development of MPEG-4 ALS.


LPAC PROS

LPAC CONS

  • Closed source
  • No error robustness
  • Slow seeking
  • No tagging
  • No multichannel support
  • No hybrid/lossy mode
  • No hardware support
  • Doesn't support ReplayGain


==Monkey's Audio== http://www.monkeysaudio.com/

Monkey's Audio is a very efficient lossless compressor developed by Matt Ashland.


APE PROS

  • Open source
  • High efficiency
  • Good software support
  • Simple and user friendly. Official GUI provided.
  • Java version (multiplatform)
  • Tagging support (ID3v1, APE tags)
  • High resolution audio support
  • Supports RIFF chunks (only in the GUI encoder)
  • Pipe support (only in a special version)

APE CONS

  • No multichannel support
  • No error robustness
  • No hybrid/lossy mode
  • No hardware support
  • Doesn't support ReplayGain

APE Other features

  • Includes MD5 hashes for quick integrity checking
  • Supports APL image link files (similar to CUE sheets)

==OptimFROG== http://losslessaudiocompression.com/

OptimFROG is a lossless format developed by Florin Ghido to become the champion in audio compression.


OFR PROS

OFR CONS

  • Closed source
  • No multichannel audio support
  • No hardware support
  • Quite slow decoding

OFR Other features

  • Supports 32bit float streams
  • Includes MD5 hashes for quick integrity checking


==RealAudio Lossless== http://www.realnetworks.com/products/codecs/realaudio.html

RealAudio lossless is the lossless codec developed by Real Networks for their multimedia portfolio


RAL PROS

  • Very fast decoding
  • Streaming support
  • Tagging support (proprietary)

RAL CONS

  • Closed source
  • No multichannel and high resolution audio support
  • Little software support (Real Player)
  • No hardware support
  • Compression efficiency not on par with other lossless codecs
  • No hybrid/lossy mode
  • No pipe support
  • Doesn't support ReplayGain


==Shorten== http://www.etree.org/shnutils/shorten/

Shorten is a very old and featureless lossless codec developed by Tony Robinson at SoftSound.


SHN PROS

  • Open source
  • Fast decoding
  • Very good software support
  • Supports RIFF chunks
  • Pipe support

SHN CONS

  • Quite inefficient
  • No multichannel or high resolution audio support
  • No hybrid/lossy mode
  • No error robustness
  • Not streamable
  • No hardware support
  • No native tagging
  • Doesn't support ReplayGain


==True Audio (TTA)== http://www.true-audio.com/

TTA is a new lossless codec developed by a team of russian programmers.


TTA PROS

TTA CONS

  • No streaming support
  • No hybrid/lossy mode
  • Doesn't support RIFF chunks
  • No pipe support

TTA Other features


==WavPack== http://www.wavpack.com/

WavPack is a fast and featureful lossless codec developed by David Bryant.


WV PROS

WV CONS

  • Limited player support

WV Other features

  • Supports 32bit float streams
  • Supports embedded CUE sheets
  • Includes MD5 hashes for quick integrity checking
  • Can encode in both symmetrical and assymmetrical modes.
  • Fits the Matroska container


==Windows Media Audio Lossless== http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/9series/codecs/audio.aspx

WMA Lossless is the lossless codec developed by Microsoft to be featured in their Windows Media codec portfolio.


WMAL PROS

WMAL CONS

  • Closed source
  • No hybrid/lossy mode
  • No hardware support (but it's likely to appear sooner or later)
  • Doesn't support RIFF chunks
  • Doesn't support ReplayGain

WMAL Other features

  • Fits the ASF container


Oddball Formats

There are several old lossless formats that aren't being featured in the article above. Reasons are: lack of widespread support, lack of features, bad efficiency and, most importantly, it seems noone is really interested in them.

Most of those would have disappeared by now, but they are being preserved for posterity at rjamorim's ReallyRareWares


Advanced Digital Audio (ADA)

Bonk

Marian's a-Pac

AudioZip

Dakx WAV

Entis Lab MIO

LiteWave

Pegasus SPS

RKaudio

Split2000

Sonarc

VocPack

WavArc

WaveZip/MUSICompress


Links

Some links to lossless format compression comparisons:

  • Hans Heijden's (used as reference to build the table);
  • Speek's;
  • Guruboolez' - comparing only classical music;
  • Johan de Bock's - aimed only at the maximum compression setting for each codec (based on a somewhat limited set of samples, however).
  • Lossless Audio Blog - by windmiller, is a reliable and complete source of news about lossless compression.