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What is FLAC format?

FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec, a leading compression technique that preserves original audio quality while reducing file size. FLAC is an open-source, royalty-free format that has been adopted widely for its many advantages in digital audio reproduction.

FLAC stands out as the fastest and most widely supported lossless audio codec
, and the only one that at once is non-proprietary, is unencumbered by patents, has an open-source reference implementation, has a well documented format and API, and has several other independent implementations.

FLAC
surpasses MP3 quality by preserving the original soundscape in exact detail. The FLAC format reduces the original file size by roughly 30-60% with no loss of quality, hence it is a lossless format. This differs from the MP3 format which is a lossy format, or a format that loses quality in the conversion process. One of the great strengths of FLAC is its very fast decoding time, or ability to stream even on modest hardware. Technical specifics in the framed architecture also allow it to be error resistant, in that each frame has the information it needs to decode itself. If a frame is corrupted, the data lost in the stream is a mere blip. This differs from other types of lossless formats where the entire stream would essentially become corrupted.
Other audio formats, such as MP3, AAC, and WAV lose audio quality. FLAC reduces storage quality by an average of 46%. After an audio file has been converted to FLAC, it can be listened to in the exact same quality as before it was compressed.

Why not use ZIP instead?

ZIP compresses audio without losing quality also. However, ZIP compressors only compress the file 10-20%, whereas FLAC compresses about 30-50%.

Comparison with other lossless codecs

Comparisons of lossless codecs typically look at compression ratio and speed. However, a proper evaluation of lossless codecs looks at other attributes as shown in the table below.

Codec

Source Available?

Player Support?

Hardware Support?

License Cost

OS support

flac v1.2.1

YES (OSI approved license)

YES (XMMS, Winamp, AlsaPlayer, Y! Music Engine, MacAmp Lite, dBpowerAMP, Foobar2000, QCD, Apollo, many more)

YES (Squeezebox, Sonos, PhatBox, Kenwood MusicKeg, iAudio, ReQuest, Olive, Escient, TrekStor, dozens more)

NONE

Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, *BSD, Solaris, OS/2, BeOS, Amiga OS, others

WavPack v4.41

YES (OSI approved license)

YES (Winamp, foobar2000, dBpowerAMP, more)

maybe (some portables via Rockbox firmware replacement)

NONE

Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, *BSD, Solaris, others

Shorten v3.2

YES (non-OSI license)

YES (Winamp, XMMS)

maybe (some portables via Rockbox firmware replacement)

non-
commercial only

Linux, Windows, Mac OS 9, Mac OS X, *BSD, Solaris, others

Monkey's Audio v4.01

YES (non-OSI license)

YES (Winamp, MediaJukebox, dBpowerAMP, more)

no

?

Windows, Linux console source

Apple Lossless

no

YES (iTunes)

YES (iPod only)

unavailable

Windows, Mac OS X

Ogg Squish 0.98

YES (OSI approved license)

no (?)

no

NONE

Linux, Windows, other UNIX

Bonk 0.5

YES (OSI approved license)

YES (XMMS)

no

?

Linux, Windows, other UNIX

optimFROG 4.21

no

YES (Winamp, XMMS)

no

?

Windows, Linux

La 0.3c

no

YES (Winamp, XMMS)

no

?

Windows, Linux

Tak 1.0.3b

no

no

no

free for non-commercial use

Windows

Table provided by: http://flac.sourceforge.net/comparison.html#alternate_links
Hardware Devices Supporting FLAC content

  • ScanDisk Sansa Fuze, Clip (with updated firmware) [2]
  • iPod - 1st through 5.5th generation, iPod Mini and 1st generation iPod Nano (not the shuffle, 2nd/3rd gen nano, classic or touch), using third party Rockbox firmware.
  • Toshiba iriver and Gigabeat
  • Nintendo Wii, when running the Wii Homebrew application MPlayerWii.[5]
  • Microft Xbox when running the thrid party Xbox Media Center or Boxee
  • Sony PlayStationPortable when running LightMP3[6]
  • Mobile devices or Phones based on Symbian OS, with either S60, Series 80 or Series 90 UI platforms[7]

References
1.
http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-flac.html
2. http://www.engadget.com/2008/10/04/sansa-fuze-updated-to-support-ogg-and-flac/
3.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flac
4. http://flac.sourceforge.net/index.html
5. http://wiibrew.org/wiki/MPlayerWii
6. http://dl.qj.net/LightMP3-v1.7.1-(FLAC-bugfix)-PSP-Homebrew-Applications/pg/12/fid/15529/catid/151
7. http://symbianoggplay.sourceforge.net/