What is FLAC (Audio Format)?

Besides MP3, WAV, M4A, ALAC and similar audio formats, you may have seen the FLAC file extension before. A .flac file offers lossless compressed audio signals, which have a compression of 50 to 60 percent compared to the original material. The special thing about FLAC files is that they not only serve as an audio file, but also as a container for various metadata as well as images as album covers. Furthermore, they can themselves be included in containers, such as Ogg containers, where they can serve as the audio tracks of a video. You can find more information, the background to the free open source format and information about which program you can use to open FLAC files here.

What is the FLAC audio format all about? What are the advantages of the format and what kind of lossless compression can one expect? Which app can be used to open .flac files? You can find answers to these and other questions here!

What is the FLAC audio format all about? What are the advantages of the format and what kind of lossless compression can one expect? Which app can be used to open .flac files? You can find answers to these and other questions here!

What does the abbreviation “FLAC” actually mean?

Let's first clarify the basics: the name of the file format, which promises lossless compression of audio signals, means "Free Lossless audio Codec', which translates to 'Free lossless audio encoder/decoder“. The word free can also be translated as free. Any developer who wants to implement FLAC in their software to encode or decode audio can do so. The necessary resources are officially available for download from the relevant team (see below).

History of the Free Lossless Audio Codec

FLAC is around ten years younger than the well-known MP3 audio format. In 2000, the first developers got involved in the open source project. At the beginning of 2001, version 0.5 was the first beta; half a year later the finished version 1.0 was available. In 2002, PhatNoise became the first audio system manufacturer to include FLAC in its supported audio format group. FLAC was first used as the audio content of a (video) container in 2003 at the Xiph.Org Foundation. In 2004, Metallica announced that audiophiles would also be able to download concert recordings in FLAC format in addition to MP3 format.

Due to the open source nature of the FLAC format, there were soon other developers who tried codecs and implementation. In 2006, Justin Ruggles published the encoder "Flake", which e.g. B. was included in the FFmpeg project. The official development of the Free Lossless Audio Codec was then on hold from 2007 to 2013. With version 1.3.0, however, a newly assembled team came back and has been taking care of the project ever since. In addition to the .flac format, this also contains libFLAC as a library for encoders, decoders and metadata interfaces, the wrapper libFLAC++, command line tools for (de)coding and changing metadata, and last but not least plug-ins for music and media player apps.

Benefits of FLAC as an audio compression and open source project

The advantages of FLAC as a storage option for audio signals and as a standard for your own digital music library are manifold. Although the files are much larger than MP3 files, for example, the latter are also lossy. FLAC files are designed to reproduce CDs and other sources in their original audio quality and reduce file size by 50% to 60% thanks to compression. In addition to the music or other audio, metadata is also stored here (e.g. band, album, year, album cover, contributors, etc.). For this purpose, the container consists of various metadata blocks.

FLAC can also be used for audio streaming. In fact, among the individually definable data blocks in the container, only one is specified as the only one and first in the row: the STREAMINGINFO block. This keeps all relevant data about the data stream of the file or stream ready. Furthermore, FLAC can be implemented as an audio format in video containers. Several such compressed but lossless audio data can be integrated into the Ogg and Matroska containers, for example, in order to offer different audio tracks (e.g. for different languages) in addition to the video track.  

Which programs can be used to open .flac files?

Since macOS 10.13 High Sierra you can import FLAC files on the Apple Mac with the Quicktime Player to open. Furthermore you can VLC Player, Vox, Clementine and similar apps. If the Windows Media Player on the PC cannot automatically play FLAC files, the required codec can be downloaded free of charge (see below). In addition, the VLC Player can also be used under Windows. Many Linux distributions, on the other hand, have already implemented the FLAC codec so that built-in media players can handle the audio format. There are FLAC players in the App Store / Play Store for both iOS and iPadOS devices as well as Android smartphones and tablets. Among them is the VLC Player again.

Sources and further reading on the topic

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