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.




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


762 Responses to “To There and FLAC Again”

  1. SillyWilly Says:

    so we should all move to central South Dakota to avoid the Mickey D Monster?

  2. SillyWilly Says:

    Not only does Phish provide a beautiful artistic experiences to their fans night in and night out, but then they turn around and provide us with a great pastime…

    collecting shows.

    i love phish.

  3. Cushion Convector Says:

    You said it @Silly!

    I am a bit too young to have been around for the ‘tape-era’ but lugging around cases of cds during my youth is something I can relate to.
    Couldn’t imagine that being done across Europe, but if The Dam I’m sure it was worth it! 😉

  4. El Duderino Says:

    @ silly

    You can thank Jerry for that!

    Thank You Miner Thank You. As most people know the lossless files are the only way of life IMHO. By writing this you’re educating the younger generation. Good Work. and 145 shows on an i-pod is plenty

  5. El Duderino Says:

    The next step is to get this community to use the database

  6. BTB Says:

    Dear Tapes,

    Thanks for keeping it real all those years.



  7. BTB Says:

    I do have a tape deck in my 2004 VW. It was factory “standard” at the time. Do German’s still listen to tapes?

    Ooontz Oooontz

    Boots and Pants Boots and Pants

  8. El Duderino Says:

    Anyone else notice all the old-school ’89, ’90 and ’91 phish sources being released into circulation for the first time on bt.etree this last week or so?

  9. SillyWilly Says:

    yeah, El Dude.

    Im still at that point where I just grab every Phish/Dead show that pops up on bt.etree

    I don’t know enough yet to know which rigs I like and which I don’t. I also don’t have that great of a sound system, and I won’t for a few years.

    Im having fun just collecting.

    Ill become more judicial Im sure when I have the expertise.

  10. kenny powers Says:

    El Dude

    it has been crazy! just when i think i have a tour break and can go sort out which sources i want to keep from this past summer, i’m having trouble keeping up with all the new ones popping up!

    a good complaint to have, though. my collection is getting more and more complete!

  11. El Duderino Says:

    No time like the present Silly.

    For GD just look for the C. Miller sources. There’s a million and are always the best.

    Deciphering Phish sources/lineage is a lot trickier

  12. BeantownBoy Says:

    Great piece, Miner.

    I love the magic hard drive and Case Logic references.

    Definitely am going to be checking out the FLAC and ALAC with my Providence PTBM. Now if only my TM tix could do the same thing. Instead I pay $5 more per ticket ($70 total) and yet I don’t get a download.

  13. SillyWilly Says:

    Yeah, Dude.

    I’ve been grabbing them.

    Do you know where they’re coming from?

  14. kenny powers Says:


    i download every single source that pops up. if i already had another source of the same show, i will do a comparison when the new DL completes. If one source is clearly better than the other, i delete the inferior one.

    If it’s a tough call or they are very different sources and good in their own ways, i keep them both.

  15. El Duderino Says:

    @ KP

    I’ve grabbed a couple…
    But the unknown mic’s and cassette gen sources I’ve been leaving alone.

  16. El Duderino Says:

    @ Silly


    Straight from the Phamily Silly!

  17. SillyWilly Says:

    Word, El dude.

    Mr. Miller must be a wonderful gentleman.

    he’s given some great gifts

  18. ColinW Says:

    I think the TM purchases also include the download don’t they? I thought I read that when I bought Augusta tickets?

  19. SillyWilly Says:

    That’s a great habit to get into, KP.

    I think I finally understand those people who are addicted to shopping.

    I really can’t wait to wake up in the morning and see what new shows popped up on bt.etree.

    The only catch is my addiction doesn’t cost money and doesn’t hurt anyone.

    Ok. the external hard drive cost money, but that’s minimal in the long run.

  20. daveschall Says:

    Being a taper who got into it because I was sick of the quality of the tapes I was finding in the scene back in 1996, I have to give my 2c to 24 bit audio. The same things can be said from mp3 to 16/44 about 16bit to 24 bit. Higher resolution has so many advantages, and if you think 16bit digital is good, you will be blown away by the detail, dynamics, and smoothness of 24bit audio.

    As a professional audio engineer now, I have to say that I honestly do not work in 16/44.1 any more unless I have to, and it’s a luxury of my job. Just a couple of weeks ago I pulled out my old DA-30mkII DAT machine and fired up one of my 1999 Deer Creek tapes (captured in stellar clarity from my Neumann km184s) and I felt like I was taking a step back in time, even with digital technology.

    As wonderful as the new Phish production sounds and the recordings delivered have advanced, I need to tip my hat to the Root Doc, Paul Languedoc. The man is one of my personal heroes. The technology Phish has available in their sound and recording rig now were being developed when the band took its last hiatus. What they can do now with a Midas XL-8, d+B arrays, and a 24 bit multitrack system is gorgeous, but keep in mind that all the choice historical meat that comprises most of Phish’s history came from Paul’s rig…..a Crest Century VX, Macauley clusters, and a stack of Tascam DA-88s and 98s, not to mention that many of the Live Phish releases are from his two track DATs, mixed on the fly. Dinosaurs by today’s standards. And they sound FANTASTIC.

    Follow your ears….they can lead you to gold. Now someone create a 1TB iPod that plays FLAC 24s, please.

  21. El Duderino Says:

    @ Silly

    The community has given back to him as well. Charlie’s computer gave out and a drive was sone @ Workingman’s Tracker… Raised enough cash to get him a phatty new machine so to keep kickin’ out the great sources. These folks that give their sources to C. Miller also know that the transfers of their sources are done to the highest standards without going to a professional studio

  22. Guyute711 Says:

    Holy Cow!!

  23. Mdawg Says:

    Yo Gabba Gabba!

  24. El Duderino Says:

    @ silly

    Now’s a great opportunity to give back to the community by burning shows for people even if they didn’t ask for anything. Puts smiles on faces every time I’ve done it.

  25. plord Says:

    One quibble: there has never existed an iPod capable of holding “all of my CDs”, regardless of encoding rate 🙂

    I’m doubt there will be room on my 1tb NAS for the secondary collections (classical, vocal, experimental, Industrial, etc.) after I am done ripping the good stuff (Dead, Phish, Psytrance, Goa, Dub, Ambient).

    I don’t even want to think about the Nakamichis and the boxes and boxes of tapes sitting in storage. I’m just waiting for the Dead to finish releasing anything I care about (getting close) then I’ll gift the lot of it to some wide eyed wook.

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