To There and FLAC Again

12.31.09 (Wendy Rogell)

Once upon a time, legions of fans listened to cassette tapes to relive those magical moments from shows past. But there was a catch to this tie-dyed culture of tape trading: unless you got a tape within its first two generations from its master recording, a venomous hiss  poisoned the tape, making the nuances of the music inaudible. One might as well have had a pillow over his or her head while listening to the show. But the community continued dubbing tapes to higher generations and enjoyed the memories – however muddled. Only few people in the larger scheme of things were close enough to tapers to get quality recordings, so countless fans spun tapes that would be deemed unlistenable by today’s standards.

A Classic Dual-Deck

Then, just as everyone had accumulated at least two hundred Maxell XL IIs, the CD-R appeared on the scene, eliminating that tape hiss forever and transforming everyone’s collections into useless relics of the analog age. Burning CDs became the rage, as there was no loss of quality. Thus CD-Rs were the media of choice…for a while. They sounded the way the music should sound, with their only drawbacks being their ability to scratch and their size. One couldn’t easily travel with tons of music, though I often pushed these boundaries. Heading to Amsterdam to visit friends during the CD era, I brought 1000 CDs as carry-ons in two Case Logics. Once there, the books were unquestionably worth having as we passed through the archives in all sorts of mind-states. But walking through airports and toting them on crowded trams with luggage was hardly fun at all.

The Original iPod

One fine day, Apple came up with a solution to this sort of over-sized music conundrum: the iPod. All of a sudden, one could hold all of their  CDs in the palm of their hand or put them in their back pocket – the concept was nothing short of revolutionary. But there was one drawback: the mp3. IPods only play new-school compressed audio files – mp3s – that, even when sampled at the highest rate, compromised the true sound of the music. Lopping off the highest and lowest frequencies, mp3s sounded “close enough” for most people to make the quick conversion. But many held out, and I was one of these people.

I watched people buy generation after generation of iPod while I carried my Sony Discman to the gym because it just sounded better. Way better – especially for live music. So I kept downloading FLACs and burning them to CDs so my music remained portable. With no foresight, I routinely deleted the FLACs because they took up so much room on my hard drive. This was my method through 2004 and beyond, as I continued to build by collection after Coventry. I never caught onto to straight FLAC listening because my computer was never my main source of music – that was left to my stereo – so I stuck to CDs.

6.27.10 (G.Lucas)

But in 2005, I caved and bought my first iPod mostly for the convenience of having other music available, leaving my Phish listening primarily on disc. But at some point during the off years, a friend gave me the generous gift of a magic hard drive. All you had to do was think of a show, navigate through some folders, and it would appear on the screen. Needless to say, this hard drive changed everything for me. Any and all Phish at the click of a finger? Was I on Candid Camera? But again there was one drawback – every show was encoded in 320 kbps to mp3 . But with such an archive at my access for the first time ever, I simply didn’t care. I loaded my iPod with music I had never heard before and was as happy as a pig in shit.

When Phish returned in 2009, the audiophile in me had already been lulled to sleep by the overwhelming ease of mp3s. If I kept ’em at 320 kpbs, how much difference could there really be? This is how I rationalized my assimilation into the Apple empire. When Phish came back and began offering downloads within hours of the show, I began pulling the mp3s while on the road in order to load them onto the iPod for in-car listening. Thus when I got home, I had the entire tour on my computer and never thought about upgrading.

iTunes and ALACs

But just two weeks ago, I learned of ALAC files. When someone turned me on to Apple’s new lossless format (.m4a files), I decided to try them out. I downloaded The Greek’s third show from LivePhish, loaded the ALACs into iTunes and clicked on “Light.” As the track started, I was transported to The Greek Theatre, sitting dead center about halfway up the amphitheatre – the golden spot. The sound was impeccable and the difference from the mp3 was not only immediately apparent over my small computer speakers, it was astounding! I could actually hear each and every cymbal hit from Fishman. Mike’s countless bass nuances popped from my subwoofer, uncovering sound unattainable through mp3s. The tone of Trey’s Ocecdoc screamed out of my mini Harmon/Kardon speakers, while Page sounded far more present due to the lossless files’ most obvious improvement – their musical separation. One could choose which instrument to follow and listen note for note without any muddied tones or compromised highs and lows. The band hadn’t even finished the verses to “Light” before I was completely reawakened with the musical equivalent of the red pill.

I immediately remembered why I had toted Case Logics around the world like brief cases and sworn to never get an iPod: when listening to music I hold as sacred, mp3s simply don’t cut it. Yes, they have their time and place, and their convenience is undeniable. But when listening to Phish, a band with a multi-dimensional rainbow of sounds and effects, one is simply cheating himself of the full experience when listening to mp3s. I had always known this, but had gradually become acculturated to the world of modern convenience.

The Gorge '09 (G.Lucas)

Needless to say, it was time to upgrade my old-school iPod with a larger-than-life 160 gig device. One by one, I downloaded my favorite shows in ALAC and FLAC (which are all convertible to ALAC in a cinch on a Mac) and began loading “Lossless Larry” with pristine files at the rate of approximately one gig per show. Though mp3s provide a limitless choice of music, I decided that an ever-rotating group of 145 lossless shows should do the trick. And with a portable hard drive that holds 500 gigs and is barely bigger than the iPod itself, my updated set up has me amped while only 25 gigs into my re-conversion. Honestly, the difference in quality with standard ALACs and/or FLACs (16/44) is painfully obvious even on low-budget ear buds.

After my post-tour realization that I can carry 145 lossless shows on an iPod, it goes without saying that I’ll never be downloading another mp3. An external hard drive solves any storage issues I once imagined existed, and I’ve re-entered the lossless lounge forever. What had I been thinking?

11.20.09 (W.Rogell)

And to make things even easier, the brand-new $9.95 download credit for mp3s that comes with every ticket for Fall Tour can be applied to the FLAC or ALAC files for only $3 dollars more – the best $3 dollars money can buy these days. (For those on PCs, ALACs work with all versions of iTunes and load right onto your iPods as well.)

So if convenience calls, and you want to grab a show to listen quickly or  you need that impossibly long list of choices that an mp3-loaded iPod provides, 320 mp3s offer a legitimate option – no disrespect whatsoever. But if you want to listen to 100% of the music that we travel across the country and drain our bank accounts  for in quest of life’s ultimate, maybe you should check out lossless files if you haven’t already. I realize I’m late to the game here, but my reawakening has been profound. Every time I plug my iPod into my home stereo, my car stereo, or simply throw on my headphones, each moment sounds more authentic than ever. Lossless SBD files allow you to relive the show in the best seat in the house, regardless of where you wound up on that particular evening; a priceless experience.

As they sing on the tripped-out childrens’ show Yo Gabba Gabba!:”Try it… you’ll like it!

=====

Jam of the Day:

Limb By Limb” 12.3.99 II

A definite re-post from the past, I was reminded of this psychedelic masterpiece yesterday. Some quintessential late-’99 jamming lies within.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

=====

DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:

7.8.1998 Zeleste, Barcelona, Spain < Torrent

7.8.1998 Zeleste, Barcelona, Spain < Megaupload

Europe '98

The first night of Barlecona ’98 got going quickly with a thick “Moma Dance” and one of the more shredding, structured”Bathtub Gins” you’ve never heard. “Punch,” “Frankenstein” and “Antelope” rounded out the first-set vibe. The second set, though a bit disjointed and underwhelming for this tour, featured solid versions of some stand alone songs. This file set contains a bonus SBD recording of a soundcheck jam and a partial SBD of the first set that cuts off in “Guyute.”

I: The Moma Dance, Bathtub Gin, Punch You In the Eye, Beauty of My Dreams, Frankenstein, Guyute, Run Like an Antelope

II: Wilson, Birds of a Feather, Dirt, Piper, Sleeping Monkey*, Ghost > Johnny B. Goode

E: Julius

*w/ crowd guest, Beatrice

Source: SBD and unknown

Tags:

762 Responses to “To There and FLAC Again”

  1. butter Says:

    Miner, are a lot of your peeps skippin ACL ?

    don’t know too many people goin myself, besides selector J

  2. butter Says:

    Great piece today Miner, btw

    well written, and i was able to get a good visual of you traveling with your case logics around the world …. lol

  3. Selector J Says:

    You rang, butter?
    😉

    Just poppin in before I called it a night…
    re:ACL
    I really don’t like ACL Fest and there’s no way I’d be going without Phish on the bill. ACL is a giant clusterfuck, inside and out. The most frustrating live music experience ever designed.

    I really don’t think Phish will do anything too spectacular. (Prove me wrong, posterkid!) First set of the tour… at a non-phanner festival… It’s got tune-up show written all over it. The only thing going for it, in my eyes, is that it’s a long (2hr) 1 set show. They might see it as an opportunity to go real deep on a few… That’s what I’m hoping, at least.

    Sorry for being a little Negative Nancy over here. At least, I’m getting a show, right?

    good night, folks.

  4. goat Says:

    sorry about the table brett….

  5. Mr.Miner Says:

    Miner, are a lot of your peeps skippin ACL ?

    ^ most of em

  6. Al Says:

    Miner, the LIVEPHISH crew obviously read your article yesterday….
    They offer West Palm Beach 96 as ALAC now….

  7. primusd Says:

    I haven’t waded through all the responses to see, but just FYI Miner and others… you can keep your (older) ipod [and lots of other players] and still have FLAC (or just about any format you please; incl. shn [not all players]).

    http://www.rockbox.org/

    (just confirm your player is compatible, download installer and go… its even a dual-boot enviro)

  8. Tba Says:

    not the real eddie vedder tweet…once again I am an idiot, so following that anyone on the “ween cover album? Just bought tix for our 9th anniversary, umm better buy something else, Phish tix for the wife is almost an insult :<) But honey it's going to be thriller…her-would they play the dead or allmans….me knowing no-umm maybe. her- how about Prince me- starting to worry maybe

    Oh boy it's going to be my Bloody Valentine fudge.

    To C, Robear, Miner, et al. happy fall my B-day 24th Libra power

  9. Tba Says:

    ps does ALAC work w/out any help on a PC burn ot to an IPOD?

  10. Tyler Says:

    Just in case no one has said it already, if you want to play the straight FLAC file without conversion on your mac, you can use VLC player (free to download). If you have a 24-bit FLAC file and a receiver that automatically does 24-bit decoding through the “optical in” port (you’ll need an optical cable, which you can get really cheap ones on Amazon that work fine if you leave them in one spot and don’t bend and twist them too much), you can use VLC player to play the undecoded FLAC file and get 24-bit audio. Livephish is putting out 24-bit FLAC

  11. Tyler Says:

    My message got cut off…I was saying that Livephish is putting out 24-bit audio versions these days so the previous info may help. If you decode a 24-bit FLAC file, it turns into a 16-bit file, which still isn’t bad. Thanks for the good posts Miner!

  12. Capt.F Says:

    Hey Guys-

    Is there an easy way to convert .flac to ALAC on a PC running Windows?

    See y’all in Augusta tonight!

    CF

Leave a Reply