Take FLAC for Premium Sounding Music!

October 17, 2018

Control4 recently added even more choice to homeowners with the addition of Deezer HiFi® to its expansive music streaming integrations. 

Whether setting the mood at a party, providing background noise while doing chores, playing at ear-splitting levels while Risky-Business-dancing around the house in your underwear, or focusing on a favorite recording while seated in the exact center of the audio sweet spot, music is a daily part of many people’s lives. Unfortunately, most people are doing it all wrong when it comes to music streaming, and they’re missing out on is the full resolution of the recording, not truly experiencing what the artist intended.

Streaming audio is arguably the biggest change in the music industry over the past 40 years, and a large factor in making this possible was a file format officially called MPEG-1 Audio Layer III, but far better known as MP3.

Understanding why MP3 audio files are widely used by most streaming services, and why there are better options available for enjoying music, warrants a quick music technology lesson.

Music compact discs that you purchase – well, used to purchase – are recorded in a file format known as WAV, generally with 16-bit depth and a 44.1kHz sample rate. This resolution was selected as it provides up to 96 dB of dynamic range, and reproduces audio frequencies up to 22.05 kHz, which covers the range generally accepted as the full scope of human hearing of 20 hertz (deep bass) to 20,000 hertz (the airiness of a cymbal strike).

However, WAV files are fairly large; approximately 55 MB (megabytes) for a five-minute song and upwards of 700 MB for an entire disc (or just under 80 minutes’ worth of music). While these file sizes pose no issues for physical media, they are too large for streaming over the Internet. MP3, which is a lossy audio compression, provided the solution to this issue by taking that same song and crunching – or compressing – it down to about 10% of its original size. This is why you can store 1,000 songs on your phone and stream music without buffering.

MP3 works by using some audio trickery called perceptional coding or psychoacoustic modeling. This eliminates frequencies and sounds that are masked by other sounds. Say if someone was whispering to you while at a Taylor Swift concert full of screaming tweens. MP3 also takes advantage of the way our ears actually hear and perceive sounds. Human hearing is far less efficient at the lower and upper frequencies, with sounds at those frequencies needing to be louder for us to hear them. So, quieter sounds at the lowest and highest ends of the audio signal are tossed aside, further saving file size.

However, as you can imagine, you can’t eliminate 90% of something and still have it be identical to the original. Fortunately, technology has advanced on a variety of fronts to improve the state of streaming audio:
  • First, Internet and cellular download speeds have greatly increased, with slow, “dial-up” connections mostly a thing of the past. Now “high speed” connections are available to nearly every person in the United States, with many people having access to speeds in excess of 100 Mbps.

  • Second, the price of file storage has plummeted, and now multiple Terabytes (1,000 Gigabytes) of storage can be purchased for under $200.

  • Third, audio compression technology has greatly evolved, and now there are many options beyond very-lossy MP3 at one end and full-resolution WAV at the other.

  • Finally, competition from streaming providers has increased, especially among those offering paid/subscription models, and companies use high-performance and audio quality as a key differentiator.

One terrific solution for the person looking to really improve the sound quality of their streaming music experience is Deezer. Started in France in 2007, Deezer launched its Deezer Elite (now Deezer HiFi) streaming plan in 2014 which allows customers to stream more than 36 million tracks in full 16-bit/44.1kHz CD-quality using an advanced audio compression called FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec). According to Deezer, these tracks stream at a quality of 1411kb/s, over 4x the bitrate of standard streaming services at 320 kb/s.

The main difference between FLAC and MP3 is that FLAC is a lossless audio compression. While it still reduces the file size by approximately 50%, it retains 100% of the sound quality. Compared to MP3 files, FLAC quality recordings allow you to hear all of the nuances and subtleties present in the original recording. You’ll notice the acoustic space of the recording environment, the detail and texture in vocals, the decay and reverb of audio, and the snap and liveliness of cymbal strikes.

By rendering and streaming music in FLAC format, Deezer addresses the issue of streaming large file sizes while simultaneously eliminating the quality limitations inherent with lossy formats, ensuring that the highest quality signals reach the listener.

But a few other components are needed to fully appreciate high-quality audio throughout your home.

First, you’ll need a source component capable of streaming CD-quality audio from a service like Deezer. With the launch of its EA-series controllers in 2016, Control4, a leader in smart home automation, wanted to ensure that “High-Res Audio” was synonymous with the company’s name, and each Control4 EA-Series controller (EA-1, EA-3, EA-5) is capable of streaming FLAC audio files in resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz.

Second, you’ll want quality amplification capable of rendering all of the detail in the music. Products like the Triad One and Triad 4 and 8-Zone Power Amplifiers deliver up to 100-watts of high-performance audio to your speakers, providing the perfect backbone for distributing audio all throughout your home. Also, Triad 4 and 8-Zone Power Amplifier channels can be bridged together to deliver up to 200-watts, perfect for driving demanding speakers for ultra-critical listening. All amplifiers feature ultra-low THD ratings and high dynamic range, meaning they will get out of the way and deliver every detail present in the music.

The third link in the audio-quality chain are the speakers. Coming in many different styles and form factors – in-wall, in-ceiling, on-wall, bookshelf, floor standing, landscape – quality speakers can fit into any décor and deliver rich, full-range sound in any environment. For fuller and richer sound, consider going with an 8-inch woofer instead of the usual 6-inch for in-wall/-ceiling models, or add a subwoofer so you can enjoy every octave and have bass you can feel. Critical listening areas should be even more selective of the speakers chosen, and consider bridging amplifier channels if possible to wring out every drop of sonic performance.

Going to all of the above trouble and then feeding your system with compressed, compromised audio would be like putting 87 octane gas in a Ferrari! So the final step is subscribing to a premium music service like Deezer HiFi that provides access to millions of songs on demand in CD-quality without any ads or interruptions. You can listen to your favorite albums, create playlists, find new music, get personally curated recommendations, and explore handcrafted collections by genre or mood.

By improving the quality of both your audio playback system and streamed content, you can create an engaging, emotional listening experience in any room of your home. This will get you closer to the music, allowing you to experience it exactly as the artists and studio intended!


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Category AUDIO