- We kick of a new series of DJ interviews with an interview with up and coming Lisbon electronic producers Photonz.
- Lossless DJ (LD): What formats do you DJ with?
- Photonz (P): We usually use about 80% vinyl and the rest are digital promos, new Photonz tracks and tunes we're planning to release on our label One Eyed Jacks - for these we usually just burn WAV files into CDR or use a pen drive. Vinyl is definitely the medium we've come to master better as DJs. We love the object, the sound, the way soundsystems react to it and it kinda always felt weird to us using pretend 12"s to play digital files, so we're not too big on Traktor yet. It is also true - even though it might seem impossible nowadays - that some of our favourite releases are vinyl only releases - we're not too big on downloading rips from the internet either. This tends to be a dying trend though definitely, and vinyl sales were never this low before we reckon. Sound quality is key for us, so we try to not play MP3 out. We can definitely tell the difference on a good system.
- LD: What is your dream DJ setup?
- P: 2 CDJ's (preferably 2000's), 2 Technics for the vinyl, a mixer with effects - a DJM-900 would be fine. In case there's a chance of using a Rane or Formula Sound mixer we would prefer them over the Pioneer because the sound is something else. In this case maybe add a little FX unit for added fun.
- LD: What is the most annoying thing that's happened to you when djing digital music?
- P: Something really stupid, like not finding the right track because of wrong labelling of the files, or when the CDJ doesn't read the WAV right after the render from Fruity Loops or Ableton, for some black-magic reason we can't undertand. We're not very tech-savvy when it comes to digital format specifications beyond the lossy / lossless thing.
- LD: What is your opinion about the MP3?
- P: MP3's are super useful and fun, and they have a great role in the acceleration and distribution of culture and knowledge. They're incredible for promotional purposes, for finding your way in the unending amount of music releases out every week, etc. We don't really think they make that much sense as a finalized product though. People should be able to experience music in it's full lossless glory, or if they can just buy wax.. even better!
- LD: Do you think electronic music sound quality is in general getting better or worse?
- P: Worse, definitely. Because DJs kinda lost their way in this ocean of technological possibilities. In general the DJ gave up his/her sound-quality standards in turn for easier, quicker (and much cheaper) ways of playing music - even though nowadays it is perfectly easy to set everything up for using lossless formats.
- LD: What is the best sound system you have ever played on?
- P: The best soundsystem we've played on was the immense Funktion One custom built system at Lisbon's Lux club, on the disco floor. Incredible sound and an incredible room to play at. It truly changes your perspective to play on a system that offers such sonic detail and, by doing so, enhances the whole experience of clubbing and sound fruition. I've heard of a few MP3 DJs that will try to avoid that format there. Rooms like that are what modern dance music was made for.
- LD: Where do you get your tunes from?
- P: Our digital music - other than our own productions - comes mostly from DJ promos and the Digital-Tunes store.
- LD: What do you think the future of digital music is?
- P: People's awareness about what they experience tends to grow on the long haul, so we think that eventually the DJs that invest in lossless files will be able to use that for their advantage, and most importantly will be capable of making the whole clubbing experience more enjoyable to everyone. Also, as digital storage evolves at a crazy rate, the true advantages of MP3 use for DJs will seem a bit obsolete and redundant when compared with those of lossless files.
Tell us what format you use when djing, take part in the poll over on the right hand side »
No FLAC support?
Right now Serato’s Scratch Live only seems to support raw lossless formats like WAV and AIFF, which is a shame, there are a number of long threads on their forum where people are asking about FLAC support, and according to this one post they are working on it http://serato.com/forum/discussion/579369#6066373:
“At the risk of making people prematurely excited, yes, we have intentions to have at least basic FLAC support.”
So maybe this year we will get some kind of FLAC support?
Apple lossless support?
There is meant to be some kind of Apple Lossless support, but at least with my setup (using Scratch Live 2.3.3) I can manage to import them if i rename the files to use an m4a extension, but unfortunately they don’t seem to be playable. Have to investigate that…
Scratch Live does have support for tagging in WAV and AIFF files, which is nice. We will be doing a proper article about WAV tagging at a later date, so keep posted for that. But it looks like it reads any tags from iTunes, although editing them in Scratch Live doesn’t seem to update them in iTunes, which is a pain.
Even though when people talk about lossless audio formats they usually mean compressed formats like FLAC and ALAC etc, WAV is of course also a lossless format. So why not use WAV, since it’s commonly supported by all kinds of software and devices? Lets have a look at some of the pros and cons of WAV.
- WAV files are pretty big, usually at least twice the size of FLAC for example
- The WAV format has no standard tagging system to mark things like the title and artist of the track, so the best you can normally do is name your files consistently (we’ll be looking more into this later… there are ways you can tag WAV’s)
- WAV files have no intrinsic error checking: if the file gets corrupted you will hear sound artifacts with no warning the file was corrupted (FLAC files have a check to make sure the file has not been corrupted.
- WAV is very commonly supported
- Because the file is not compressed, playing it won’t use up any extra processor power decompressing it.
So in summary, we would recommend keeping all your tunes archived in a compressed format like FLAC, because that way you can guard against corruption, you can keep them nicely tagged, and you will save a hell of a lot of file space. When taking tunes to a club, you can always extract your playlist to WAV or rip them to CD if you are worried about compatibility.
Given the results of our experiments with FLAC, Apple Lossless and WavPack (see our previous three posts, links at the bottom), the clear loser is Apple Lossless. This has pretty similar compression ability to FLAC, but is a lot slower decoding and encoding.
The winner based on the experiments alone would have to be WavPack, but only marginally. FLAC is faster decoding, but WavPack is faster encoding and can compress tracks slightly smaller. However, the differences between the two are not huge, so probably for the majority of people FLAC will be your best bet, as it is so well supported out there on all kinds of devices and software packages.
A great resource on lossless audio formats can be found over at http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index.php?title=Lossless_comparison. They compare a whole host of different features, and they also recommend FLAC or WavPack. Based on their table, you can see that although WavPack does slightly better on compression and speed, the hardware and software support isn’t as good.
We recommend that DJ’s use FLAC, as it has pretty decent compression and is very fast, and importantly it is the best supported of all the lossless formats. On top of that the latest stable version hasn’t changed in four years, so you can be pretty sure you won’t encounter compatibility problems with FLACs you receive (i.e someone sends you a file encoded in a newer version than you have). This could be more of a problem with WavPack.
Links to the previous articles:
If you’ve ever downloaded a ZIP file or a RAR file, you’re already on your way to understanding what lossless audio is. When you ZIP a file up, the resulting zip is usually smaller than the original file, this is why we say it is ‘compressed’. When you extract the file from the ZIP file, you get exactly the same file back, as if by magic. There is no voodoo magic going on however, no sacrificing of goats to the gods: instead the file has been analyzed for repeating patterns, and using these patterns it can be saved in a more compact way, without losing any of the original information.
Lossless audio formats (for example FLAC) are basically a special kind of ZIP for audio files. When you compress CD quality audio into a FLAC file, the resulting file is generally around a third smaller, but if you extract the audio out again, you will get the exact same audio file, with no data lost or changed in any way.
This is why lossless audio formats are inherently superior to lossy formats like MP3: you aren’t losing anything from the original. So if you encode a CD quality track into a lossless format like FLAC, you will still enjoy CD quality, but with the added benefit that you save a few megabytes of space: genius!