Project Haruhi

Chronicles of an Anime Audiophile: Those Damn FLACs

Any excuse to post Mio fanart.

I've always been a bit of a videophile. That's why I'm unable to abide the terrible video quality on Crunchyroll. However, I recently discovered my anal-retentive pickiness also extends to music. I recently became dissatisfied with the audio quality of my cheap, $10 Walmart earbuds and decided to spring for a fairly inexpensive but high-quality pair of Sennheiser around-ear headphones.

Almost immediately, I began to notice problems with my music collection. A lot of my anime soundtracks, particularly the ones with lower bitrate encoding, now sounded vaguely flat and lifeless. My iPod sounded cheap and tinny. The problem wasn't in the headphones themselves, since high-bitrate music and videos with FLAC audio sounded absolutely amazing through them. No, the problem lay elsewhere.

Without even realizing it, I was becoming an audiophile.

Audiophile Tokusentai!

When I downloaded MP3 and FLAC versions of the Space Battleship Yamato soundtrack and compared them side by side, I realized that the FLAC versions actually sounded better. The difference was minute and I wouldn't have noticed it except for my new headphones, but like I mentioned earlier I'm anal retentive enough to care. It was then that I had to wrestle with the issue of FLACS.

The Free Lossless Audio Codec is somewhat infamous among the anime fandom for three reasons. Firstly, virtually every anime soundtrack rip, as well as a lot of blu-ray encodes, are offered in FLAC variants. Second, FLACs take up a huge amount of hard drive space when compared to conventional MP3s. Third, iTunes refuses to play FLACs, not for any technical reason, but because Steve Jobs hates everything open source. If I was going to start listening to my anime music in lossless format, I was going to need a new audio software. I had been looking for an excuse to ditch the bloated clusterf*ck that is iTunes anyway, so this was the perfect opportunity.

However, the search for an iTunes replacement proved frustrating. Songbird was bloated and crashed frequently. JetAudio had a labyrinthine interface that made it practically unusable. WinAmp made navigating my library a chore. Frustrated, I asked Twitter for advice, and a good samaritan pointed me to a freeware program named Foobar2k. Almost immediately, I noticed this software was different from the others. For starters, it had a utilitarian interface and small CPU usage profile. Although its default interface was lacking, it was fully customizable to the point that I could create any kind of media player I wanted. After installing a component named SimPlaylist, I was able to create a version of Foobar that retained my favorite iTunes functionalities, but had a much more practical interface and CPU footprint.

Granted, it has a few problems. The process for altering ID3 tags and album art is a lot less intuitive than iTunes. It also has trouble organizing and downloading podcasts, although there is a beta component that is working towards that end. Still, I found this software to be the best fit for my music library organizational needs, and certainly a tier above iTunes.

So if you're looking to ditch iTunes and get some software that can play FLACs, I recommend Foobar. It takes a while to properly customize the interface to your liking and install all the components you want to expand functionality, but it's well worth the effort. Hopefully my experience will help any newb audiophiles like myself avoid the same annoyances I went through.

Anyway, I'd also like to ask for some further advice. Now that I've got the software situation squared away, what's the next step? Should I invest in a pair of entry-level audiophile headphones? Are those Bose headphones worth the price, or is there something better? What is an amplifier and how do I use it? What kind of sound card should I buy for my computer? And, most importantly, what should I replace my iPod with? A lot of people on MAL recommend the COWON J3... is that really the best option?

About Jon

Jon is a Japanese culture enthusiast, professional pervert and roleplaying fanatic who appreciates flexible gender identities. He enjoys science fiction, Gunpla, classical music and Red Stripe.

Filed under: Fandom, Music Leave a comment
  • prototype27

    Don’t buy Bose headphones–they’re overpriced for the quality they provide.  I’m a huge fan of the Sennheiser HD280 PRO, which can often be found well under $100–they don’t have a lot of bass, but you get used to it, and they otherwise sound fantastic.  I also recommend headphone offerings from Shure, particularly the SRH440, which is priced similarly to the HD280 and offers slightly better sound quality (including better bass response) in exchange for a slightly less durable (but by no means flimsy) construction.  If you’re looking for other options or information, I highly recommend, which has practically everything you would want to know about quality headphones.  They also sell headphones, but you can often find them cheaper elsewhere.

    • Jon

      Thanks for the advice. I think I’ll go with the Sennheiser model, since the pair I have right now is Sennheiser and I’m very impressed with them.

  • Icyhandofcrap

    If you want an AMAZING setup, get one of the higher end Sennheisers. The HD280 Pro is great. The HD555’s are even better. The HD595’s are EVEN better. Or you can be crazy and get HD6XX.

    HD555 is only $95 right now! And I believe HD280Pro are around 70-80.

    I have this sound card and it + the HD555 is completely amazing.

    • Jon

      Damn, if only I had $95 to spare at the moment.

      Are the higher numbers always better with regard to Sennheisers?

    • Icyhandofcrap

      Hmm in general yes. The HD280Pros are still quite amazing, and I see someone selling them used on Amazon for $65+shipping.

      If you don’t have the budget for that soundcard, check out to see if they have any cheaper suggestions for you. But the Xonar Essence STX produces the cleanest sound I have ever heard.

  • Aquagaze

    I’m expected to deliver elitist hipster scorn here, but to be honest I don’t really care about FLAC.  My entire iTunes collection is 5.59 gigabytes of AAC and MPEG-4 and  my music sounds just fine like this. 
    As for headphones, I use WeSC Conga headphones; they sound great, aren’t all to expensive and dear me, they look beautiful.

  • jreding

    Headphone-wise I think it depends on the type of music you like to listen to. I’ve got a pair of Sennheiser HD 650’s

    and a pair of AKG K-701’s,

    the latter of which I bought because Akiyama Mio uses them. Both are decent headphones, but the Sennheiser’s are more tuned to pop music and have more “oomph”, whereas the AKG’s are more neutral and better suited for classical music.

    In any case I can recommend bying an external DAC/ headphone amp to connect to your computer via an optical cable. I’ve got a nuForce ICON HDP

    and I think my headphones only really showed what the could with this gadget.

  • COWON=OWN.  
    Winamp has been working fine for me, but guess I will have to check out this foobar program.  Also, you should give vinyl a try.  You would surprised just how amazing vinyls sound on a good quality system.