What is FLAC?
FLAC is a free open source lossless audio file compression format. Using it can reduce the size of a typical uncompressed .WAV or .AIFF file by about 50% and not change the sound in any way. It was launched in 2001 and is still definitely the best lossless audio format 2012.
Why Is FLAC Amazing?
There are other lossless formats like APE, Microsoft WMA lossless and Apple Lossless, but FLAC has won the battle of the codecs by having low CPU use (important for hardware), and has been free for everyone to use from the start. It is now the most widely supported lossless audio codec.
Microsoft and Apple originally tried to imprison us with their proprietary lossless formats, but shot themselves in the foot as usual! I bet they also would have loved to have hidden a little corporate malware in their codecs, if they could have gotten away with it… no sir! Here at Learn Digital Audio we support free open source and small independent developers where possible.
Now FLAC is supported widely by big hardware companies like Samsung, Asus and Western Digital, it is certainly here to stay. No need for you to worry FLAC support will slowly disappear like an abandonware ghost waving goodbye to your unplayable audio.
How Is FLAC different to MP3?
If you were to take a .WAV file, compress it into FLAC, and then uncompress it back to .WAV again, the original and the new .WAV file would be bit for bit identical.
MP3 is a lossy audio file compression format, when you compress to MP3 musical information is thrown away never to return. The higher the bit-rate the less is thrown away, but there is always a reduction in sound quality.
Why MP3 Is Not Good Enough For Your Audio
While at first listen high bit-rate MP3 may seem identical sound quality to the source, IT IS NOT.
The main damage to audio is in the transients (the first 20 or so milliseconds of a sound). MP3 will blur and soften them. This can be heard best in percussion. These transients are often also responsible for the perception of general sound quality.
If the audio is limited to near 0 dBFS, compressing to MP3 damages it even further and creates distortion. Even though the original audio is slightly below clipping, when the file is processed the audio is raised slightly and clips.
Bass and the stereo sound scape are also often victims of MP3’s brutish crushing hammer. Here is a very good SOS article on what happens to sound using lossy compression that goes into great technical detail.
The Good News, FLAC Lossless To The Rescue! The Best Lossless Audio Format 2012
Now high speed broadband is everywhere and hard drives are massive, there really is no excuse for using lossy MP3 files for anything where sound quality matters.
If you don’t have the equipment and experience to hear the difference in sound quality between MP3 and FLAC now, in the future you probably will. It is then you will regret your reckless disregard for sound quality! 🙂