What is FLAC and why should you use it?

by Clint on September 20th 2010

What is FLAC?

I decided to give away the new synnack release as free mp3 because with the more experimental sounding releases, the audience is much smaller and I felt it was more important for it to get heard, than to sell it. However, I also know that many people who are into more experimental styles consider themselves audiophiles and shun "mp3" as a valid way to consume music. I've been embracing the FLAC format for a while for my own use. Whenever given a choice, I buy music as FLAC (even over CD actually) and v2.5 is available for only $5 in FLAC format (with extra stuff of course).

$5 is cheaper than you'll find any other full-length release from most labels. I think the fact that so many services charge $10 for a digital release, then $12 for a physical CD is a ripoff. I see the same thing now with the Kindle app/store and iBooks. People are charging over $10 for a book that costs less than $20 for the actual book... and the digital one often doesn't have any artwork with it. It is NO WONDER to me people steal so much digital content. Buying it legitimately is a ripoff in so many cases. Luckily, depending on your view, convenience always trumps quality/value though. I have actually bought music on iTunes that I have on CD just because it was easier than getting up and finding the CD.

But why FLAC anyway? Why should you care?

FLAC is a music compression file type like MP3 with a few key differences.

  • FLAC sounds the same as CD (or better). This is because FLAC is "lossless" and has all the same data as the original master wav/aiff. This is true even for analog masters. CD's are limited to 44.1/16k bitrate, and FLAC can go higher. Even at 320k, MP3s are lossy, meaning not as good of quality as the CD.

  • Why should you care? A 320k MP3 sounds good enough right? Well yes and no. It is true that most people will not hear the difference. However, I believe the reason for that is that most people listen to music almost entirely on cheap shit headphones, or cheap shit computer speakers. People who are happy with the sound quality of those white earbuds that come with iPods will definitely not hear a difference between MP3 and FLAC. But if you actually have a decent listening environment or good headphones, or intend to play this music in a club, there is a noticeable difference.

  • Although the ubiquitous support in software and hardware players might make you think it doesn't, the MP3 format has a long history of legal and patent issues. FLAC is entirely open

  • There is no loss of quality when transcoding (i.e. converting) FLAC files into other formats. If you buy MP3's, you can really only convert it to a lower bit rate. Converting it to something higher will have no impact other than wasted disk space. If you buy FLAC, you can always convert them to whatever format floats your boat. If it's another lossless format there will be no difference in quality. If converting to a lossy format like MP3 there will be less artifact than converting from one MP3 bitrate to another.

    What's the downside then?


  • MP3 compression makes smaller files than FLAC. A 5 meg mp3 might be a 15MB FLAC file. However FLAC files are still HALF the size of the original master wav/aiff. So FLAC will take up more hard drive space, but still saves a ton over buying/selling/storing wav or aiff.

  • Some people claim that playing back lossless formats takes more battery life. Some people also think Fox News is a valid news source... so... Personally I buy things on FLAC then make an mp3 version that ends up on my iPod. That way I have the space savings on my iPod but can listen to the FLAC when in a better listening environment. So I would have never noticed a battery issue. IMHO that issue is largely theoretical anyway.

  • Pretty much any music player, software or hardware, supports MP3 playback. However FLAC may require an added plugin or 3rd-party app. This is for sure the biggest problem. You can't put a FLAC file on an iPod or play it in iTunes (natively). Though as mentioned, you can just transcode down to MP3 when you want to put it on your iPod. For playback on a computer, there are many free players out there, including some that let you play FLAC directly in iTunes. See below.

  • Summary


    FLAC sounds the same as (or better than) CD, still saves you disk space, is an open format, and all you need is a free player that would even let you convert it to another format you can use anywhere. So then, why wouldn't you want FLAC formated music?

    Getting started with FLAC:


    Free FLAC players/converters I recommend:
  • Max on OS X

  • Fluke lets you play FLAC files directly in iTunes on OS X!

  • VLC plays just about ANYTHING (including video) on Windows, OS X, and Linux

  • Winamp on Windows

  • Foobar on Windows

  • Sick of being ripped off for paying way too much for MP3? Your first FLAC purchase can be synnack v2.5 for only $5 USD. Chances are you'd buy me a drink in a bar. Buying my FLAC is better on my liver. :-D BUY ME ON FLAC

    More info


  • FLAC on Wikipedia

  • The FLAC.org website



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