‘Lossless audio’ is a term that’s been surfacing lately. Yet despite its growing prevalence, it’s a concept often cloaked in mystery and misunderstanding. Today, we aim to change that.

In this deep dive, we’re discussing the ins and outs of lossless audio and examining its relevance for the modern content creator. Whether you’re a podcaster striving for the ultimate audio quality, a creator looking to deliver the most authentic and immersive audio experience, or an inquisitive mind with a passion for understanding digital creation a little better, you’ll want to keep reading. 


What is Lossless Audio?

Imagine you’re an artist painting a beautiful landscape on a canvas. Every brushstroke, every blend of color, every tiny detail contributes to the final masterpiece. But what if, in the process of showing your painting to others, some of those details got lost? The painting might still look good, but it wouldn’t be exactly as you intended. It would be less vibrant, less detailed, not quite the perfect reproduction of the original. This is similar to what happens when we talk about lossy and lossless audio.

Lossless audio is the perfect reproduction of the original sound data. It’s the audio equivalent of that original painting, in which every detail is preserved. In the realm of digital audio, files can be quite large, especially when they contain a lot of data — much like a detailed painting. To make these files easier to store and stream, they are often compressed, making them smaller and more manageable, and lossy. Lossy compression is like a photocopy of your painting. It’s smaller, easier to handle, but some of the details — the subtle brushstrokes and blends of color — are lost in the process. 

Lossless audio captures every nuance with fidelity, exactly as the originator envisioned.  Nothing is left behind or lost in translation.


Is Lossless Audio the Same as Hi-Res Audio?

While there is no single universal standard, Hi-Res Audio generally refers to audio that has a higher sampling frequency and bit depth than the standard CD quality audio, which is 16-bit/44.1kHz. To be considered high-resolution, the audio must have a bit depth of at least 24 bits and a sampling frequency of 96kHz or above. The idea behind this is that the greater the bit depth and the higher the sampling rate, the more detail and less noise you get in the audio. 

Think of it like this: If audio recording was a film, the bit depth would refer to the number of colors available for each pixel, and the sampling frequency would refer to the number of frames per second. The more colors you have and the more frames per second, the more lifelike the film appears. Similarly, with a higher bit depth and a higher sampling rate, the audio recording is much closer to the original sound. So, when you see the term Hi-Res Audio, it signifies that the audio has been recorded or converted at a higher quality than standard digital audio, capturing more of the nuances and subtleties in the original sound, providing a richer, more dynamic listening experience. 

In the absence of a recognized standard, the Digital Entertainment Group, Consumer Electronics Association and The Recording Academy, along with record labels came together in 2014 and formally defined high-resolution audio as “lossless audio that is capable of reproducing the full range of sound from recordings that have been mastered from better than CD quality music sources”. This definition now underpins the relationship between High-Res Audio and Lossless Audio.

However, while audio can be Hi-Res and considered Lossless, not all Lossless Audio can be considered Hi-Res. The distinction lies in the quality of the original recording and the integrity of the audio file after compression.

Lossless audio refers to a type of audio compression where the entire range of sound from the original file is preserved. This means that when a lossless audio file is played back, it’s a perfect match to the original data before it was compressed. But the original recording may not have been high-res (recorded at a higher quality than standard digital audio in the first place), and so it can only be Lossless and High-Res if it was originally recorded to the required quality standards. If it was Low-Res and compressed in a way that captures the entire range of sound from the original recording, it can be Lossless but Low-Res.

Lossless audio is about the preservation of audio data during the compression process, ensuring nothing is lost from the original recording. Meanwhile, Hi-Res Audio is about the superior quality of the original recording itself. Both contribute to delivering a superior auditory experience, but they focus on different aspects of the audio process. 


Lossless Audio vs Lossy Audio

Lossless and lossy audio represent two different methods of compressing digital audio data. The difference lies in what is retained and what is let go during this process.  

Lossless audio compression is a method that reduces the size of an audio file while maintaining the original quality of the sound. The process is reversible; when a lossless audio file is decompressed, the data is identical to the original, pre-compressed data. It doesn’t lose any information in the compression process, hence the term ‘lossless’. Formats like FLAC and ALAC are examples of lossless audio and allow for a pristine listening experience, albeit with larger file sizes. On the other hand, lossy audio compression creates smaller files by permanently eliminating certain parts of the data that are ‘less important’ to the overall sound quality. It’s a compromise between size and quality. Once the data is compressed in a lossy format, such as MP3 or AAC, the discarded information can’t be recovered. While this compression results in a significant reduction in file size that makes it more convenient for streaming and storage, it can lead to a perceptible decrease in sound quality, especially to the discerning listener. 

The decision between lossless and lossy audio depends on what matters more to you: the absolute best sound quality, or more efficient storage and streaming. Each has its place, and understanding their differences enables you to make the best choice for your audio needs.


Types of Lossless Audio

There are several formats of lossless audio that stand out, each with unique characteristics and advantages. 

FLAC – Free Lossless Audio Codec

FLAC, short for Free Lossless Audio Codec, is a widely used lossless audio format. As the name suggests, it’s open-source and royalty-free, which makes it a popular choice for many applications. It can compress an audio file by about 50% without any loss of quality. The compressed file can then be decompressed into an exact copy of the original audio data. FLAC supports metadata tagging, album cover art, and fast seeking. It’s compatible with many software music players and some hardware devices. However, FLAC isn’t supported by all devices, notably Apple’s iPhone and iPad.

ALAC – Apple Lossless Audio Codec

ALAC, or Apple Lossless Audio Codec, is Apple’s version of a lossless audio format. Like FLAC, it can compress audio files without losing any quality. When played back, the decompressed file is identical to the original recording. The primary advantage of ALAC is that it’s fully integrated with Apple’s ecosystem. It’s compatible with all Apple devices and software, including iTunes and the iPhone. While it’s not as universally supported as FLAC, it’s an excellent choice if you’re using Apple devices.

WAV – Waveform Audio File Format

WAV, standing for Waveform Audio File Format, is a raw audio format created by Microsoft and IBM. Unlike FLAC and ALAC, it doesn’t use compression, which means WAV files can take up a lot of space. However, it offers excellent quality and is widely compatible with both software and hardware players. WAV files are often used in professional settings where the highest possible audio quality is desired, and storage space is not a concern. 


Advantages of Lossless Audio 

Lossless audio offers distinct advantages that elevate the listening experience with every note, every whisper and every subtle nuance faithfully captured, bringing you closer to the original intent of the artist. 

Superior Sound Quality

Lossless audio provides an uncompromising dedication to quality. By preserving every detail of the original recording, lossless audio formats deliver superior sound quality. It’s the next best thing to being in the studio with the artists themselves.

Exact Replication

Lossless audio formats allow for the exact replication of the original audio file. This means that no matter how many times the file is copied, the quality remains untouched. This can be particularly beneficial for artists, creators, and anyone who needs to distribute their audio files while maintaining the integrity of their original work.

Future-Proofing Your Audio

With storage capacity continually increasing and costs decreasing, the larger file sizes associated with lossless audio become less of an issue. By choosing lossless audio now, you’re effectively future proofing your music collection. As technology advances and audio equipment improves, you’ll be ready to take full advantage of the increased fidelity that lossless audio offers.

Room for Audio Enhancement

Lossless audio also provides a more robust base for audio editing or enhancement. If you’re a creator or a music enthusiast who likes to tweak your audio, lossless gives you a lot more to work with. Any changes, enhancements, or modifications will be made to the original sound, preserving the depth and detail of the audio.

While lossless audio might require more storage and bandwidth, its benefits in audio quality and versatility make it a worthy choice for audiophiles and creators alike.


Disadvantages of Lossless Audio

  • Larger File Sizes: The primary drawback of lossless audio is the file size. Due to the comprehensive data preservation, these files are significantly larger than their lossy counterparts. This could potentially strain your storage space, especially if you have a vast music collection.
  • Higher Bandwidth Requirements: Streaming lossless audio requires more bandwidth compared to lossy formats. This might lead to buffering issues if your internet connection is unstable or slow, making seamless streaming a challenge.
  • Limited Compatibility: Not all devices or platforms support lossless audio formats. For example, FLAC isn’t natively supported on Apple devices, which could limit your playback options.
  • Bluetooth Limitations: Most current Bluetooth devices and codecs don’t fully support lossless audio. They compress the audio data before transmission, which means you might not reap the full benefits of lossless audio when listening on Bluetooth devices.
  • Perceptible Difference: For the average listener using standard audio equipment, the difference between lossless and high-quality lossy formats may not be easily discernible, so the storage and bandwidth trade-offs might not yield a noticeable improvement in listening experience for everyone.


How to Produce Lossless Audio

When it comes to creating high-quality lossless audio, it’s not just about having the right equipment but also about how you use it. Here are the essential considerations:

Choosing a Platform that Records in WAV

You need a platform that can record in WAV format. Unlike MP3 or other compressed formats, WAV retains all of the audio data without any loss, making it ideal for high-quality recording. The platform you choose should support this format natively, allowing you to record and save your files directly in WAV without the need for any conversion.

Choosing the Right Microphone

A good microphone is absolutely essential for creating lossless audio. Squadcast has recommendations for several microphones that are suited to podcasting and remote recording, including the Blue Yeti, the Samson Q2U, the Rode Podcaster, the MXL990, and the AKG Lyra12. For expert insights, check out 5 Podcast Microphones <$200 To Make Your Remote Interviews Sound Their Best.

Recording in a Sound-Treated Environment

The environment in which you record is just as important as the equipment you use. External noises can greatly degrade the quality of your audio, and echoes can make it sound unprofessional and difficult to listen to, so make sure you do everything you can to minimize these issues. For more on this, SquadCast’s article The Definitive Guide For Recording A Podcast Remotely: Where & How To Do It is a must-read.

Using RAW Files as Much as Possible

Once you’ve recorded your audio, it’s important to use the raw, unedited files as much as possible. Every time you edit or change a file, you risk reducing its quality. By working with the raw files, you can ensure that you’re always starting with the highest possible quality, and you can make your edits in a way that minimizes any potential loss.


Is Lossless Audio Recording Important for Podcasters and Creators?

When it comes to creating content, particularly in the form of podcasts, the importance of lossless audio recording can depend on several factors. Although it might seem like high-quality, lossless audio would always be preferable, its importance can vary based on the nature of your podcast, the preferences of your audience, and the equipment they use to listen to your content.

The Significance of Audio Quality

Audio quality is of course crucial to the listener’s experience. The ability to clearly hear and understand the content being delivered is a basic expectation for any podcast or audio content. However, the question of whether lossless audio specifically is necessary can depend on several variables.

Podcast Type: Content Matters

For spoken word podcasts, where the content is primarily conversational, the nuanced details that lossless audio provides may not be as critical. While clear and intelligible audio is needed, the difference between lossless audio and high-quality compressed audio may not be apparent to most listeners in this context. In contrast, for podcasts that revolve around music, sound design, or are of a fictional nature where atmospheric sounds and sound effects play a big role, lossless audio can be a differentiating factor. In these types of podcasts, the richness and depth of sound that lossless audio provides can enhance the listening experience and help to fully realize the creator’s vision.

Audience: Listener Preferences and Equipment

The preferences and listening habits of your audience can also impact the need for lossless audio. For the average listener, the difference between high-quality compressed audio and lossless audio may not be very noticeable, especially if they’re listening on standard consumer-grade equipment. However, for audiophiles or those passionate about sound quality, the difference might be significant. These listeners may be using high-end audio equipment capable of reproducing the increased detail and quality that lossless audio offers. Delivering your content in lossless audio format could enhance their listening experience and set your podcast apart.

The decision to use lossless audio isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It requires a careful balance between quality, practicality, and audience expectations. 


About SquadCast

As podcasting explodes in popularity, so does the demand for quality content. Enter SquadCast — the Saas platform that empowers content creators to collaborate from anywhere in the world. This remote recording studio captures quality audio and video conversations, without audio syncing issues. With patented cloud-based technology that incorporates multiple back-up files, there are no lost recordings, which means no worries in the event of a power outage or disconnection issue. Less recording concerns means more time to have meaningful, studio-quality conversations, with simplified post-production and collaboration. Launched in 2017, SquadCast has customers in 220+ countries including marquee brands such as Microsoft, Spotify, ESPN, NPR, iHeartRadio, Kara Swisher, and Shopify. SquadCast is headquartered in Oakland, CA. To get to know us better, check out our podcast: The SquadCast Podcast.

Start your free trial today.


Lossless Audio FAQs:

What is lossless audio?

Lossless audio compresses audio files to reduce their size without sacrificing any of the original quality. Lossless compression algorithms work by removing redundant data from the audio file, while preserving all of the essential information needed to recreate the original audio.

How does lossless audio differ from other types of audio compression?

Unlike other types of audio compression, lossless audio preserves all of the original audio data. Lossy compression algorithms, on the other hand, remove some of the data from the audio file in order to reduce its size. This can result in a loss of quality, particularly at higher levels of compression.

Are there any downsides to using lossless audio compression?

The resulting lossless audio files tend to be larger than those produced by lossy compression. This can make it more difficult to store and distribute audio content, particularly if bandwidth or storage space is limited. However, advances in storage technology and internet speeds have made this less of an issue in recent years.

What are some common lossless audio formats?

Some common lossless audio formats include FLAC, ALAC, and WAV. FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is a popular open-source format that’s widely used for music and other audio content. ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) is a proprietary format developed by Apple, and is used primarily for iTunes and other Apple products. WAV (Waveform Audio File Format) is a widely used format supported by many different audio software and hardware platforms.

Do airpods support lossless audio?

AirPods do not support lossless audio. This is due to the limitations of Bluetooth technology, which can’t transmit the large amount of data required by lossless audio.

Can bluetooth stream lossless audio?

The bandwidth of Bluetooth is insufficient to handle the large amount of data required to stream lossless audio. As a result, any audio streamed over Bluetooth is subject to some level of compression and will not technically be lossless.

For the best possible audio quality over Bluetooth, you can look for devices that support aptX HD or LDAC, which offer higher quality audio streaming than standard Bluetooth (though still not true lossless).

Can airplay stream lossless audio?

AirPlay, Apple’s proprietary wireless streaming technology, does support lossless audio streaming. With AirPlay 2, you can stream lossless audio from Apple devices to compatible speakers, receivers, and other audio devices. However, the actual performance might depend on the hardware being used, including the audio source device, the network equipment, and the audio playback device.

Does Spotify have lossless audio?

Spotify does not currently offer lossless audio streaming. However, they have announced plans to launch a new service tier called “Spotify HiFi” that will provide lossless audio streaming, but no launch date has been given.