If you’re searching for the best possible sound quality from your digital music collection, you need to start at the source: the audio. Unlike MP3s, lossless audio formats, such as Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless, FLAC, and WAV, promise bit-for-bit reproductions of music ripped from CDs.

There are many drawbacks to lossless audio, however, and the most obvious of those is file size. A 4GB iPod Nano can only hold 150 songs encoded with Apple Lossless, compared to the 1,000+ MP3s you could fit in the same space. With this in mind, high-capacity portable audio players such as the 160Gb iPod Classic or 80Gb Zune, make the most suitable containers for taking large lossless audio collections on the go.

Another issue with lossless audio is forward-compatibility. You can pretty much depend on MP3s to remain broadly compatible with music devices over the next 5 to 10 years, but the same cannot be said of lossless formats. So far, the only universally-compatible lossless format for portable audio is the Compact Disc.

The following five MP3 players support at least one type of lossless audio. Apple’s iPod Classic (as well as the Nano and Touch) work with Apple Lossless, the Zune and Toshiba Gigabeat T support Microsoft’s Windows Media Lossless, Cowon’s D2(and most Cowon players) supports the non-proprietary FLAC format, and the Sony Walkman NWZ-A729 offers uncompressed WAV support for those of you who simply refuse to compress your precious music.

via cnet.