WAV vs. FLAC vs. Mp3, the Audio File Formats Compared and Explained

As a regular music listener, you probably know about MP3. It's the most popular file format for music, after all. But did you know about WAV and FLAC? Well, maybe it doesn't matter that much if you want to listen to music.

If you want to work with music, then you must know about the different file formats for them. Why? Because they have a huge impact on the sound quality of the music.

Now, if you want to know the difference between WAV vs. FLAC vs. MP3, then I have got you covered. I will go through a complete overview of each file format, and you can see why it is essential to be aware of these formats.

Let's get going with it.

First, I will go through all the file formats individually to get an idea of what they are and why they are essential. Then, I will get into the comparison amongst these file formats.

Audio File Format: MP3 Overview

Let's start with the most common and popular file format for music. It's the default file format for music across all platforms. Now, getting into the technical stuff, the MP3 file format has a small size for the file. This is why it's the most widely used audio format for all online platforms.

Aside from that, these files are easier to process. You can use almost any music player to play this file format. The compatibility of this file format makes it very easy to use. No matter what music you are working with, you must have an end product with the MP3 format.

Also, if you have an audio file that you have to add in videos, you probably want to have the format in MP3. Not only most software supports MP3 format, but also all the online platforms support it.

MP3 is a compressed file format that gives it a smaller file size. Well, as you can guess, the smaller size comes with a cost. A compressed file format compromises the sound quality and cuts it off to keep the size low.

Audio File Format: WAV Overview

When it comes to recording music, WAV is the common output format for any music file. It's the file format you get out of your DAW. This is also the file format that is encoded in CDs. The file format usually comes with a pretty huge file size.

The reason for that huge file size is the fact that these files are entirely uncompressed. As a result, you don't lose any parts of the audio and keep the quality intact. So, you get the excellent sound quality you should be getting from your source.

Now, there are several limitations to this file format. First of all, it's a windows-based file format, meaning you can use this file on any Windows device. To use the same file on a different device, you will need to convert the file type. Or you will need a music player with the WAV codec. Similar to WAV is AIFF, which is the compatible file format for Apple devices.

Another drawback is the file size for the WAV files. The size is pretty extensive, which can be an issue for some. You typically don't need that unnecessary space from the files if you are listening to music regularly. For your recording sessions, it's better to have the WAV file format up to get the best audio quality.

Audio File Format: FLAC Overview

FLAC is the most used file format for lossless audio. It even stands for "Free Lossless Audio Codec." While keeping the audio files lossless in quality, the size also stays pretty regulated. It doesn't go overboard with the size at all.

The files you get in this format sound pretty rich in quality. Many audio streaming platforms are leaning towards this file format to provide the best sounding audio out there. For your music production and audio recording sessions, this is the perfect file format to pick up. It also gives you scope for storing perfect metadata, which is crucial for music production.

However, there are certain drawbacks to using this file format. First of all, it's not compatible with all kinds of devices. Some devices may support the format, and some may not. For example, this kind of file format doesn't work on Apple devices. This means you can't use this file format on Apple music.

As a music producer, you should keep a copy of your audio file in the FLAC format. It's the best file format to use currently, considering the lossless sound quality paired up with a comparatively smaller size.

There are other types of file formats for audio files out there too. But these three happen to be the widely known ones. And to be honest, knowing about these three file formats gets you through everything anyways.

Now that you know a bit of every one of the file formats let's check out their differences.

Here, I will be comparing the FLAC file format with the other two. Because FLAC is the middle of the pack and gives you a little bit of both worlds so, let's get going with it.

Related: Buy FLAC Music, Digital Store Sites

WAV vs. FLAC 

When getting the best sound quality, you can't get better than these two file formats. They provide you with lossless audio quality with uncompressed files.

However, there are several differences between both these formats. Let's go through those factors one by one.

Differences between WAV and FLAC 

I will be going through this based on some factors and aspects of audio. You only find differences between these two file formats when you go in-depth into the audio. So, let's check out the different factors right away.

  • Bit depth and sample rate

I don't want to get too technical with this stuff, as it's not about bit depth and sample rate here. To give you a simple understanding, every single audio file captures some data as the normal process. The sample is then played back at that same rate as it was captured.

The rate of capturing and playing is called the sample rate. And the bits number used to produce or describe that sample is called the bit depth. How do they affect audio? Well, a higher sample rate and bit depth mean more accurate sounds.

Now, let's get to the real deal; what's the difference between WAV and FLAC here? The difference is WAV comes with unlimited bit-depth and sample rates. On the other hand, FLAC has a limited bit depth and sample rate.

So, in a way, there is a possibility of getting much better and more accurate sound quality from WAV formats than FLAC. But it's not too much that you can notice.

  • File size

Here's the factor that determines whether you want to work with FLAC or WAV. Most of the time, the answer will be FLAC. The reason is that it essentially comes with a similar if not better sound quality than WAV. But for that, it takes only half the space of a WAV format for the same file.

So, FLAC file sizes are much smaller than WAV, which makes FLAC a better choice. Even though FLAC is a bit compressed, it doesn't affect the sound quality.

Related: What is a Studio Album

  • Compatibility

FLAC files are getting much more popular and preferable by audio streaming services. More and more services are leaning towards FLAC due to their lossless yet smaller audio files. Also, they are accessible sources, so you have the complete freedom to tinker with a FLAC file.

However, the problem with the FLAC file format is that it's not supported by many software out there. You may even fail to play a file with FLAC format in many players. Whereas WAV can be played in many audio players as it's pretty standard in quality audio file format.

WAV is patented by Microsoft, and it works on Windows devices. The freedom of tinkering and editing a WAV file is pretty much limited, unlike the open-source FLAC format.

  • Editing

This is where it gets tricky to choose a file. WAV files are usually uncompressed, which makes them great options for editing. You get a lot of options as there are all the frequencies from the source audio. In short, you are getting the proper input you expect from the audio when you record and compose.

On the other hand, FLAC is compressed, which means specific frequencies get cut from the file. So, you don't get to work with those frequencies when you are editing your audio files.

This whole thing is closely related to bit depth and sample rates. WAV should be a clear choice for editing because you get to work with the file in its complete and natural state.

As you can see, there are pretty technical differences between the two types of files. Now, the easiest and best way to look at this is through storage and purpose.

If you want to store your songs in the best file quality, you go for FLAC. But if you have to edit and work with them, you go for WAV. The most innovative way is to convert between these file types. So, when you have to edit a file, you convert it to WAV and edit. Then, export that to FLAC format for storing.

FLAC vs. MP3 

Unlike the FLAC vs. WAV debate, this one is a pretty clear battle. FLAC is a much better file format than MP3, and there is no question about that. And if you ever have to choose one of them, always go for FLAC. Why am I saying this? Well, let's take a look at the differences, and you will know.

Differences between FLAC and MP3 

There are pretty basic differences between these two file types, so I won't have to get as technical as before. I will keep it pretty simple with these two here. So, let's get going.

  • Sound quality

FLAC is a compressed but lossless format, whereas MP3 is both compressed and lossy format. What does this all mean? Well, compressed means the file size will be smaller than the original audio source file. So, both these file types will have a smaller file size than the original.

Now the real difference is the quality. In FLAC, even with the compression, you don't lose any quality at all. This means the sound quality of a FLAC file is still as good as the source.

On the other hand, MP3 files are lossy. As a result, the sound quality is much worse than the source.

  • Compatibility

The only factor where MP3 wins the race is compatibility. You can play MP3 file format in almost every music player in the world. They are much more preferable for use on the online platform because of the small audio file size.

However, the scene is changing nowadays. Streaming services are leaning towards FLAC to provide the best audio quality to their users. Having said that, as of now, MP3 has better compatibility than FLAC in most devices.

Well, the differences between these two file formats are pretty evident. And the clear choice in most scenarios will be and should be FLAC.

Verdict 

To sum up, if you want good quality sound in your audio files, the first thing to do is ditch MP3 entirely. Then, you have to move on to WAV vs. FLAC. Choosing between them is also quite simple when you think of it smartly.

For editing and working purposes, you should go with WAV. As for storing your music files on your devices, you go with FLAC. This way, you will end up with the highest quality in your audio files with minimal size.

Altogether, depending on the purpose, staying in between FLAC and WAV is the best thing to do. No matter which one you choose, you always end up with quality. These are the two file formats you should keep and work with all the time for professional music.

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