Adventures In Audio with Audio Masterclass
What is FLAC? Is it more than a waste of FLACCING time?

What is FLAC? Is it more than a waste of FLACCING time?

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The audio world seems now to have standardized on the WAV file format, invented by Microsoft. It is a perfectly good format that works well for most purposes, so we are pleased.

There is also BWF, which is simply a WAV file with some extra information in the header.

WAV files store audio in a lossless, uncompressed manner. This contrasts with MP3 and AAC where the file sizes are much smaller, but audio details are lost.

So when you want to commit your audio to its final master version, you will use the WAV or BWF format, and definitely not MP3 or AAC.

But the size of a WAV file is huge. Not huge for your computer or hard disk, or for archiving onto DVD-ROM. But it is huge in network terms. It takes ages to send a typical WAV file over a local network, and almost forever to transmit it via the Internet.

So if WAV is too big, and MP3/AAC are lossy, is there an 'in-between' format that is pristine but with a smaller file size?

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Yes there is, and it's called FLAC.

FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec.

Hey, it's lossless and it's FREE! Sounds good so far.

But although an MP3 or AAC file can be around the tenth of the size of the original WAV, maintaining reasonable quality, a FLAC will be around half the size of the original, so it's still pretty big.

Many recordists will have no need for FLAC, but if you want to send your work to collaborators via the Internet, it's a godsend.

With FLAC, transfers take half the time. Your FTPing can be over by tea time, and sending lossless audio by email becomes just about practical, as long as you warn your recipient to expect large file sizes.

FLAC wouldn't be suitable as a recording format because it takes more processing than WAV, so you would have fewer tracks and fewer simultaneous plug-ins.

Converting WAV to FLAC is quick and convenient however, and there are several free softwares that will do this on Windows, Macintosh and Linux.

Is there anything not to like?

Yes, it doesn't work on my iPod! Nor yours either.

David Mellor

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David Mellor