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. Mr. Completely Says:

    I liked the last Indio set a lot at the time but no I have not listened to it much since

  2. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    Billie Holiday. Some Sarah Vaughan. Helen Merrill singing Don’t Explain is extremely sexy. But I almost never listen to it either. Ella leaves me cold (hides).

  3. Mr.Miner Says:

    anyone think ACL will be more than a Stash, Numberline, Bowie and a YEM? Should I go? I can…just a lot of loot for a festi set…but would make a worthy article? Might they shred a Light? A Tweezer?….

  4. Mr.Miner Says:

    I liked the last Indio set a lot at the time but no I have not listened to it much since

    ^ ditto…more of a live thing…

  5. Mr. Completely Says:

    Miner, probably not, and you have a good chance of being annoyed either way. Don’t go and they drop a crazy jam, do go and they play the set you mentioned.

    Although the first high level Stash of 2010 would actually be quite a welcome development.

    It sure would be cool – and, I think, smart – of them to go outside the box in that setting and drop an alpha-dog Phish set with like Carini, Split, and an intense open-jam facemelter

  6. butter Says:

    I’ve been wondering that Miner

    it’s Phish right? they will most likely reward the fans that make the trek, no?

    maybe a surprise theatre show?

  7. butter Says:

    a custy set is more likely than a theatre show

  8. butter Says:

    if i liked even some of the other bands it would help persuade me to go

    although my Dad said the Eagles put on a mean show

  9. Mr. Completely Says:

    straight custy show vs. bomb set 5:2
    surprise theater show 10:1 at best

  10. Mr. Completely Says:

    you can tell its football season, I’m putting odds on everything now

  11. The Light Between Says:

    Haven’t checked out the FLACs or ALACs yet. But you make a convincing argument, Miner. Does anyone know if these files load as easily into mp3 players other than ipods? For instance, I use a Zune. I know my way around a computer OK but am definitely no technophile.

  12. Mr.Miner Says:

    maybe a surprise theatre show?
    ^ I’ve heard from inside band sources that this isnt happening.
    This would make it a no brainer.

  13. Mr.Miner Says:

    @ Light
    I think if it isn’t an apple, you could use .wav files…which lossless as well.

  14. Mr.Miner Says:

    could be custy show with one huge jam

  15. Mr. Completely Says:

    no clue on the Zune. I doubt it is very flexible filetype wise. WAVs should work but are very large. some players play FLAC directly. No way a Zune would load ALAC unfortunately

  16. butter Says:

    Phish have been playing some good shows lately

  17. Mr. Completely Says:

    “could be custy show with one huge jam”

    ^^ like ‘Roo right? that KDF?

  18. Mr. Completely Says:

    dang butter, I thought it was between tours! I need to play closer attention

  19. Mr.Miner Says:

    yeah….but that was June 09

  20. Mr.Miner Says:

    i have austin tickets. hmmmm

  21. Mr. Completely Says:

    june 09 or not it’s the only data we have on what Phish 3.0 might do at a festival

    basically it comes down to guessing of course, like everything Phish it seems like the more you try to game it, the more likely you are to end up tied to a log and buffalo billed…

    ok just made two huge projects live, heading home, night y’all

  22. butter Says:

    i could see the custy show with one huge jam and a bust out

    well its a lot of travel for 1 set, i guess if you go your hopin its a monster

  23. The Light Between Says:

    So ALAC is like the Apple version of FLAC? Is that the deal? I think I get it.

  24. butter Says:

    this Hara Arena Bowie from 11.17.94 is a monster

  25. butter Says:

    maybe they saved “Liquid Time” for the TX festival

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