What Is FLAC?

By Torrie Jones

Updated September 22, 2017

FLAC, which stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec, is a compressed audio format similar to the MP3 but without the loss in audio quality. The format is popular among audiophiles because it provides CD-quality sound while taking up much less storage space.


The FLAC format was initially developed by John Coalson in 2000. Unlike the MP3, Coalson developed the FLAC as an open-source platform. As a result, other parties, most notably, the Xiph.org Foundation, have had a hand in the development and proliferation of the audio format.


FLAC files possess significantly higher sound quality than MP3, AAC, WMA and other lossy formats. For example, if a FLAC were created from a WAV file, the fidelity would remain CD-quality but 50 to 60 percent smaller in size. This is great for archiving CDs and other WAV files.


Although FLAC is clearly superior to its lossy rivals when it comes to sound quality, ripping a CD to FLAC instead of MP3 means the audio file will be roughly 10 times larger.

Playing FLAC Audio on Your Computer

Finding audio software to play back FLAC files is a little tricky because popular players, such as iTunes and RealPlayer, can't support the format without third-party plug-ins. However, a number of media players can read FLAC files, including Songbird, Winamp and MacAmp.

FLAC In the Media

The loss of sound quality inherent in MP3s is a major issue for many artists. As a result, a few artists are beginning to release their albums in FLAC format. Radiohead released its pay-what-you-like album, "In Rainbows," in a number of formats, including FLAC. "Electric Arguments," an album by Paul McCartney and released under the pseudonym "The Fireman," was also made available in FLAC.