Question

FLAC audio uploads lowered in quality?

  • 12 February 2019
  • 6 replies
  • 610 views

I noticed in a SoundCloud article that SoundCloud recommends uploading in lossless format such as WAV or FLAC. I have a track that I converted from WAV to FLAC and it sounds great when I listen to the file on my computer. But after I upload the FLAC to SoundCloud then listen to it, it sounds pretty terrible, it sounds like it's been converted to 128kbps mp3 or lower. Why is this happening? Why would Soundcloud recommend uploading lossless audio files if it will ruin the quality anyway? Is this a mistake? Is this supposed to be happening?

After writing that, I have read that SoundCloud is converting all files from the given bitrate (such as maybe 600kbps or something for FLAC) to 64kbps. Is this true? If so, I'll just host my files on my website without SoundCloud. I'd like lossless recordings and not beyond-low-quality recordings.

I also tried uploading the original WAV file and it sounds just as terrible. What gives? Is Soundcloud really converting to 64kbps, beyond-garbage, beyond-unacceptable, completely-worthless sound quality? If so, hello html and hello basic web hosting for my audio files, thanks.

6 replies

Userlevel 7
Badge +3
Hi there,

The number that you read about, namely 64 kbps is not referring to the mp3 encoder, but likely referring to OPUS.

Please see here for more info, particularly the parts under "What type of file can I upload?" and "Will my file be available for streaming in high quality?"
https://help.soundcloud.com/hc/en-us/articles/115003452847-Uploading-requirements

All the best
Mathis
Hi there,

The number that you read about, namely 64 kbps is not referring to the mp3 encoder, but likely referring to OPUS.

Please see here for more info, particularly the parts under "What type of file can I upload?" and "Will my file be available for streaming in high quality?"
https://help.soundcloud.com/hc/en-us/articles/115003452847-Uploading-requirements

All the best
Mathis

Thank you for the response.

I uploaded a WAV file and these are the original properties:

Bitrate: 2304 kbps
Codec: PCM
Bits per sample: 24-bit
Sample Rate: 48000 Hz
encoding: lossless

The original file sounds great when I listen on my computer. But the version on SoundCloud sounds terrible. It sounds like about 100kbps. It sounds awful. Why is this happening? What is going on with this Opus thing to make it sound like it's at 100kbps? The referenced help page says that files might get converted to 256kbps AAC. I'd be relatively happy with 256kbps. It doesn't sound anything close to 256kbps. It sounds like 100. It sounds bad. Why is this happening?
Userlevel 7
Badge +3
Hi again Michael,

256kbps AAC is High Quality Streaming, which is currently a feature for SoundCloud Go+ subscribers.

In terms of the regular streaming, nothing has changed in terms of audio quality. If the track is audibly different, it can be a) an issue with your browser / audio interface (in which case using the onboard soundcard of your computer might be a good way to troubleshoot and investigate), or b) a matter of mixing. There are articles out there, for instance here and here that explain the ins and outs of preparing a song for digital release - might be an interesting read for you?
Hi again Michael,

256kbps AAC is High Quality Streaming, which is currently a feature for SoundCloud Go+ subscribers.

In terms of the regular streaming, nothing has changed in terms of audio quality. If the track is audibly different, it can be a) an issue with your browser / audio interface (in which case using the onboard soundcard of your computer might be a good way to troubleshoot and investigate), or b) a matter of mixing. There are articles out there, for instance here and here that explain the ins and outs of preparing a song for digital release - might be an interesting read for you?

I'm unclear as to what you mean by the following statement:

"In terms of the regular streaming, nothing has changed in terms of audio quality."

Nothing has changed from what? From the original audio file? I'm assuming it's not streamed in the original 2304kbps 48kHz quality. And it doesn't sound as if it's a lossless streaming format either. Especially given that 256kbps is considered "high quality" streaming. I mean, 256kbps AAC is lossy audio quality, and is lower quality than 2304kbps WAV, so if 256kbps is considered "high quality", then what is the bitrate and quality of the "normal quality" streaming?
Userlevel 7
Badge +3
Hi Michael,

Sorry, my bad. "Noting has changed in terms of audio quality" was referring to the quality of the encoded audio files. This was not in reference to your wav file.

The article on the Help Center explains what happens when you upload a track. Yes, it gets converted, and no, the streamed audio is not of the same lossless audio quality as the file you've uploaded. If you want to make sure your listeners have the option to listen to the lossless file on their end, you can enable downloads and the file they will download is exactly the same file that you have uploaded.

"what is the bitrate and quality of the "normal quality" streaming?" --> as the article explains: "We transcode all tracks to various codecs which are optimized for streaming playback."
Thank you for the info.

I have bookmarked the pages you shared regarding mastering recordings for digital release/streaming services, and I will actually probably save them to my computer for future reference...

Although for now, I am just hosting my most important tracks directly at my website at WordPress, because they play back in good quality and this way I don't have to immediately learn a bunch of new stuff about mastering (a topic in which I have basically no experience). But for the future, learning about mastering can only be a benefit.

I will probably send the following feedback to the appropriate place (like if there's a feedback forum or something like that), as it probably won't get seen by the right people here, but I'll post it here anyway...

It seems strange for SoundCloud to suddenly (in 2016) make a significant change in how they encode their audio for streaming, and then, when an abundance of people (noted here ) come back complaining that this change has significantly lowered the audio quality of their streamed audio, for SoundCloud to come back and say that the uploaders (SoundCloud's clients) need to master their recordings in a different way than they ever have before - when the case is, before SoundCloud made this change, people did not have these problems with audio quality. So for SoundCloud to make this significant change, and then come back and say that all of their clients who are having a problem with this should re-learn to master their recordings, just to cope with a change that SoundCloud wanted to make, it seems a bit strange. When a company like Google or Apple makes a change like this, people usually just have to deal with it because they are such powerful companies. But it's still inconvenient. In this case, SoundCloud isn't as powerful as Apple and Google, but it's still inconvenient.

Also, here's another problem. I didn't master these recordings. A professional did. Someone who has been a professional recording engineer for years. And suddenly, his methods don't work for SoundCloud? I mean for someone to make a great recording, and then when you upload it to one particular service and that service only (SoundCloud), the quality is crap because of a new audio codec that SoundCloud is using? I understand technology is always changing, but if a new audio codec that is "optimized" for streaming is actually going to significantly lower the quality of a lot of recordings, it may be optimized from a bandwidth standpoint, but it doesn't sound optimized from an audio quality standpoint. I don't know, maybe it's necessary, maybe these codecs and settings will become a new industry standard. But this change just seems surprising, I guess.

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