Free Lossless Audio Codec, or simply FLAC for short, is a music file format that gives bit-perfect CD copies at only a fraction of the regular size. It works with a lot of smartphones (including the iPhone), and PMP or portable music player models.
FLAC vs. MP3: Which Format Is Better?
So, which is the better music format, FLAC or MP3? A lot of people claim they can’t tell the difference between FLAC and MP3 files with high bitrates. This is true for people who aren’t using professional music equipment. But, with a decent pair of headphones, you can distinguish between FLAC sound and a 128 kbps - clearly.
The difference would be more subtle between FLACs and 320 kbps MP3s, but it would still be very much present, in particular, when talking about multiple instruments playing simultaneously. The 320 kbps MP3 would suddenly sound a bit crowded.
The difference would be a lot more pronounced with cymbal-reliant metal songs, for instance, where other instruments always wash them away in crappy encodes.
Interesting Facts to Keep in Mind
Following are some interesting facts about FLAC and MP3:
- MP3s always work with CD quality audio (16 bit). It doesn’t work well with 24 bit DVD audio.
- MP3 only supports Mono/Stereo and not multi-channel audio.
- MP3’s sampling frequency is confined to 48,000 Hz. But, it isn’t sufficient for lossy compression.
- FLAC requires more hard disc space, as much as 5x more than an MP3 file
How to Play FLAC Music
You must have heard about Neil Young’s Pono. After all, it has been all over the news. A lot of people are not aware, but the new player was designed for playback of FLAC files, mainly those purchased from PonoMusic.
The FLAC format offers a great way to listen to high-quality digital music. It typically uses half the storage space required by uncompressed music files. The sound is comparable to what you hear from a CD. There are also apps such as the FLAC Player that will allow you to listen using your iOS devices. Of course, you can always use the PonoPlayer.
Related: WAV vs. Mp3
Top Sites to Buy FLAC Music from
Similar to MP3s, you can legally get FLACs in two ways. One is to rip them from original CDs, or you can directly buy them. Various online sites allow you to download FLAC albums for a price much lower than that of a CD – without compromising music quality.
These FLAC download sites are often independent primarily because the major labels aren't entirely sold yet on lossless downloads. One reason for this might be piracy-related concerns.
If you’re in the market for some FLAC format lossless music – from indie to jazz to classical - as well as the 24-bit downloads (for an extra charge) you can try the following sites:
- HDTracks – The site boasts of one of the largest lossless FLAC collections for sale online. While HDTracks isn’t itself a label, it is used as a repository of dozens of labels that include big hitters (such as Warner Music), jazz labels (like Blue Note), as well as Naxos’ classical offerings.
At HDTracks, you'll find one of the most comprehensive and diverse music catalogues under a single roof. As such, it is a great place to begin if you are in search of new releases. Bestselling artists include Rolling Stones, R.E.M., and Beach House, among many others.
- Bandcamp – At Bandcamp, you can purchase new music right from the artist himself! Arguably, the trend of the artist directly selling their music through fan sites was started by Radiohead, who made it through the album
Bandcamp offers a great way for artists who don't have their websites to get their music out to their fans. The listening public likewise benefits from the setup as they get access to bestseller charts and other music discovery features. Top artists include Sebadoh, Sufjan Stevens, and Fun.
- Beggars Group – The site was formerly known as Beggars Banquet, a name derived from one of the albums of the Rolling Stones. Now known as the Beggars Group, the site is a wide collection of labels that include Rough Trade, XL, 4AD, and Matador. If you're an avid fan of alternative music from the 80s and onwards, you will find lots of hidden treasures here! Top artists include Belle and Sebastian, Pixies, and The National.
- Murfie – At Murfie, you can get FLAC music streaming and downloads at low prices! Perhaps the best way to describe Murfie would be a tremendous virtual 2nd hand music store. Why? It’s because the site works this way:
You send them your CDs, and Murfie can do the ripping for you. Or, if you prefer, you can on-sell your CDs. Although the site likewise sells brand new CDs, a bulk of the trades that happen on-site involve using music at ridiculously cheap rates. Sadly, the artist doesn’t get any money for these transactions. You can say that the site is the last bastion that stands right before outright piracy! Be that as it may, Murfie is a great place to find hard to find music.
- Merge Records – The company started in 1989 when two Superchunk bandmates (Laura Ballance and McCaughan) released 7" singles for their family and friends. At present, Merge Records remains as one of only a handful of truly independent labels still existing. The site boasts of a register that includes some of today's hottest bands! The site's top artists include M. Ward, Arcade Fire, and Spoon.
- Linn Records – If you are into classical music, then Linn Records is the right one for you. Linn Records has been in the business of releasing albums for more than three decades now. After all, it is the recording arm of one of the world's most respected hi-fi brands.
Linn Records witnessed the dawning of the era of the digital revolution as the first label to have released CD quality music with no DRM. It also offers access to a series of test FLACs that can be used for checking whether your system is capable of playing FLAC files or not.
While you can always rip off FLACs from CDs, buying from authorized websites should be the way to go. For one, it will encourage the artists to come up with a lot more great music for fans all over the world to enjoy.
HI, John Andrew here. I’ve been an audiophile since I was a little kid. I’m an original member of myaudiolover . It emerged as a way for me to share my passion and knowledge for audio technology. If you’re looking for tips, techniques, and insights about audio-tech, that can enable your productions that professional edge, then MyAudioLover is the place for you!