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?

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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.