FLAC Vs WAV – What’s the Difference Between FLAC and WAV

When you’re rendering your mix down to a single playable file, you typically have a choice of different file types. Let’s compare FLAC vs WAV files and which you should be using.

FLAC vs WAV

flac vs wav

What is a WAV File

wav logo

Let’s begin with the popular WAV file.

Pioneered by Microsoft and IBM as their standard digital format for audio files in 1991, it captures the full fidelity of the audio itself.

It’s the purest digital representation of audio and features zero compression.

What is a FLAC File

FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec and it was released in 2001 by the Xiph.Org Foundation. This is a compressed audio format, meaning it produces a smaller file size than a WAV file.

Best of all, FLAC files are lossless, meaning they feature the notable advantage of not sacrificing any quality compared to a WAV file.

This is compared to a very popular compressed audio format, the MP3, which is considered “lossy” in that there is an objective loss in quality in order to achieve compressed file sizes which are roughly 10% of the comparable WAV.

Lossy vs Lossless

As you could probably gather, lossy refers to any type of compression in which quality is sacrificed for the sake of size.

Lossless, on the other hand, is a form of compression which results in no loss in quality.

Lossy and lossless aren’t just terms used in an audio context, but are used in all types of media file compression both image/video and audio.

When a compressed file format is described as “lossless”, it means that there’s no discernible difference between the compressed file and the original aside from size.

This brings us back to FLAC vs WAV.

How Much Smaller Is FLAC vs WAV

FLAC files are on average 50%-60% smaller (and even up to 70% smaller) than WAV files.

So now the obvious question: if FLAC files are substantially smaller than WAV files and there’s literally no difference in the sound quality between them, why aren’t FLAC files more popular/the standard?

First, the WAV format is preferred for audio editing/production because there’s no compression involved, making them easier to decode.

Secondly, the WAV format had a decade jump on the FLAC format, not to mention it was invented by two powerhouse names in Microsoft and IBM.

All of this together, the WAV format is universally accepted and supported by virtually every program which plays or reads audio files.

Conversely FLAC files oftentimes require a special software to be able to play them back on certain devices (like the open and versatile VLC media player).

Which is Better: FLAC vs WAV

Consensus time.

The long and the short, if you are storing a large library of audio and want the highest/lossless fidelity at half the file size, FLAC is the best format.

If you want your audio uncompressed and as compatible as possible, stick with WAV.

I generally keep my audio library in FLAC format for storage sake and own produced music in WAV format just so I know it will be compatible with any DAW I try to use it with in the future.

WAV vs AIFF

Before we end this discussion, it’s worth mentioning another audio file format which gets discussed alongside WAV and FLAC: AIFF.

There’s not nearly as much to say in the WAV vs AIFF debate.

Whereas WAV is the Microsoft/IBM format, AIFF or Audio Interchange File Format is Apple’s equivalent uncompressed, loseless format for audio.

There’s no difference in the quality other than one is Microsoft’s (and IBM’s) pioneered format and the other is Apple’s.

Speaking of audio formats, check out my tutorial on selecting the best bit depth and sample rate to record and render to.

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