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FLAC vs. WAV: Differences & Which is Better FLAC OR WAV?

In today’s world, music is easy to find. You can pull up a music streaming app or download a single with just a few presses of a button. However, when you listen to your favorite music, you probably do not realize that there are different types of audio files. FLAC files and WAV files are both types of audio files, but they have their differences. 

The Difference Between FLAC and WAV Files

FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec, and these files are compressed for easy downloading and storage. These audio files do not take up as much space. WAV is short for Waveform, and these files are uncompressed, meaning the audio file sizes are big. WAV files are good for editing.

It is normal for the layman not to have any knowledge of the different audio file formats. After all, the music will all play the same. However, each format has different uses that could be advantageous depending on a person’s needs. Keep reading to find out what differentiates FLAC audio files from WAV audio files and whether one is better than the other.

As mentioned above, both FLAC and WAV are formats for audio files. When you are listening to an audio file, the formatting does not matter so much to you.

However, when you create an audio file, edit an album, or build an extensive playlist, you will want to know which audio file format is the right choice for you. 

FLAC vs WAV Differences

Which is better FLAC vs WAV?

The main difference between the two audio file formats comes down to their sizes: WAV files are uncompressed, and FLAC files are compressed. Therefore, WAV files are large, and FLAC files are smaller. If you want the best sound quality then WAV format is better for you. If storing more songs is your pereferance then FLAC file format is better. As you can see, there’s no clear winner here. You have to pick your option based on your needs.

What Is a WAV File?

WAV, pronounced like “wave,” is a Waveform audio file. It is an uncompressed audio file patented by Microsoft. WAV files are the older format, but they are still used regularly due to their large size and superior quality. 

  • WAV files are used on CDs because uncompressed files often have better sound quality than compressed files.
  • WAV files are large because they are not compressed. Because of this, they take up more space and are used by audio, video, and music professionals who have the equipment to handle them. 
  • WAV files are hard to download for free because they include so much information.

While uncompressed WAV files do offer superior sound quality, it is often negligible to the untrained ear. Whether or not you require the larger file depends on your needs for the piece of audio. If you are simply listening to music on your phone or another music player, you have different needs than audio engineer editing files. 

Pros and Cons of WAV Files

WAV has uncompressed audio files, which means the file size for each song downloaded is bigger. Since the size is bigger, the sound quality is excellent because no sound bites are taken away.

If you want to download many songs, though, WAV may be troublesome because you will not be able to fit as many songs on one device due to their larger size.

What Is a FLAC File?

Unlike WAV files, FLAC files are compressed. FLAC files take advantage of the fact that an audio file can be compressed to 70 percent of its original size and remain identical to the original file. 

  • Compressed files are easier to share.
  • File-sharing websites use FLAC files because compressed files can be downloaded for free.
  • Some quality may be lost in compressed files, but this is usually not the case.

With FLAC’s open-source royalty-free format, getting and sharing songs for free is much quicker and easier than Microsoft patented WAV files. 

Pros and Cons of FLAC Files

FLAC has compressed audio files, which means the file size for each song downloaded is smaller. Even though the audio file is smaller, FLAC still produces great sound quality for the listener. 

Anyone trying to save space on their device may prefer FLAC over WAV because FLAC files do not take up a great deal of space. 

It is important to note that FLAC files are not compatible with every music player, though. Apple Music, for instance, does not play FLAC files. 

WAV Encoding vs. FLAC Encoding

To create different audio files like WAV and FLAC, the files are encoded using completely different methods. These encoding methods are what ensure that the WAV files remain large and uncompressed while the FLAC files are compressed and easier to share. 

WAV File Encoding

WAV files are encoded using a Pulse Code Modulation (PCM).

  • The PCM measures the analog signal at specific intervals.
  • Then, the signal is created into a WAV file.

This process is quantified by the sample rate and bit depth. One audio file for WAV will be around 15Mb using the standard sample rate and bit depth. 

FLAC File Encoding

FLAC files are encoded by separating the audio file into different blocks.

  • Each block is referred to by a specific mathematical prediction.
  • Then, the file is made from that specific mathematical prediction.
  • Since the audio file is broken into different blocks, it makes it easier to produce more compressed files. 

The blocks for a FLAC file can vary in size, but the encoder decides on the best sounding file. Once the encoder has found the best sounding file, a mathematical prediction is usually smaller than the original. The encoder then describes the encoding to reconstruct the signal without losing quality. 

FLAC vs. WAV: Compatibility

When it comes to FLAC and WAV files, WAV has the upper hand on compatibility. This audio file format is older and is used more frequently. Also, WAV is patented by Microsoft, which gives it the upper hand incompatibility. 

  • WAV does not have as much compatibility as MP3 files, but it is close.
  • FLAC has far less compatibility than WAV files. 
  • Certain music apps will not play FLAC files, even if those files are on the device. 

While FLAC files can offer about 60 percent more storage space on your iPhone’s song library, you will not be able to listen to those songs through the Apple Music app. That would defeat the purpose of having them there in the first place.

FLAC vs. WAV: Pros and Cons of Each

Depending on what you need out of your audio files, each type of audio file has its advantages and disadvantages.

For the average listener, you usually would not focus on the file type of your songs. However, knowing the pros and cons of each file format can help you decide which is best for you under your specific circumstances. 

Pros and Cons of WAV

WAV files offer the best sound quality. These audio files are also used most commonly by streaming services and have a higher compatibility rate than FLAC files. WAV files are also great for sound engineers who need to edit audio files. 

However, WAV files are large, so you cannot fit as many files on one device. WAV files are also more difficult to share due to their large size, but this might be by design. In the case of sound quality, FLAC files are typically just as great. If there is a difference in sound quality, it is usually negligible. 

Pros and Cons of FLAC

Compared to WAV, FLAC often has comparable sound quality. FLAC’s uncompressed nature lets these files take up less space so you can have more saved on one device without sacrificing a ton of storage room. FLAC files are also easily sharable and can even be found online for free since they are open-source file formats. 

On the other hand, not every device or streaming software is compatible with FLAC files. This is a major hindrance if you cannot listen to your collection of audio files. 

FLAC vs. WAV Conclusion

While both FLAC and WAV are audio file formats, they have different attributes. Whether one is better than the other depends on what conveniences you are hoping to find. 

If you want to add a huge amount of songs to your playlist, it may be wise to go with FLAC, but if you want consistent sound quality and compatibility, WAV is the best choice.


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