Broadly speaking, if you want to store digital audio, there are two ways to do the job:
- Compress the audio (usually by throwing out parts of the audio information humans can’t hear) and store the rest.
- Compress the audio without throwing out any part of the audio information.
The first alternative is called “lossy” because one loses information in the process. In exchange for fitting fairly high-quality audio into a tight space, the listener gives up quality. It’s common to find portable digital audio players that will play a variety of lossy compressed audio formats. Conversely, the second option is called “lossless” because you get out precisely what you put into the compression. People who care deeply about retaining the quality of the digital audio they listen to deal exclusively in lossless audio compression.
Ogg Vorbis and FLAC are free for anyone anywhere to use for any purpose. In many countries MP3 is encumbered by patents; only those who can afford to pay the patent fee can use MP3 without fear of losing a patent lawsuit.
The Lossless Audio blog keeps up with developments in lossless audio compression. Here you can find a one-stop shop for learning about the latest developments in portable audio devices that play lossless audio formats and advances in compression Digital Citizen supports, including FLAC.