Want better digital sound? Then you need to know about FLAC. But what is that, exactly?

While digital files like MP3s and Apples AAC format fantastically convenient, they’re still compressed formats, meaning that in order for them to be made so small, audio information needs to stripped out by an algorithm. The science of psychoacoustics says that we’re not supposed to notice that anything is missing, but there are studies that indicate that our brains know better.

If you want better digital audio, you need to step up to what’s known as a “lossless” format. Perhaps the most popular type is known as FLAC. But what, exactly, is that? CNET explains.

FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is a musical file format that offers bit-perfect copies of CDs but at half the size. It is compatible with many phones (including the iPhone — with an app), portable music players (PMP) including the PonoPlayer and hi-fi components. FLAC files are available for roughly the same price as the equivalent MP3 in online stores and sound much better.

To see where FLAC has come from and where it is headed, you only need to look at the history of its “lossy” predecessor. Though was one of the first sites to sell MP3s in 1999, dedicated players like the Rio PMP300 were subject to legal action by record companies. Yet when the iPod was released in 2001, it helped to legitimize the format, and today MP3s are now sold by most online music stores.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38346 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Want better digital sound? Then you need to know about FLAC. But what is that, exactly?

  • Thanks Alan for posting the great article about FLAC. I’ve been storing my album collection in the FLAC format on all my Android devices for 4 years now. It’s the only way to go! -Ray


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