Like high-quality music downloads? Well, who doesn’t? But if you prioritize a quality sound experience, then you’ve probably heard of FLAC. And if you haven’t, it’s time to prick up your ears.
FLAC, or Free Lossless Audio Codec, is a musical file format first introduced in 2001. Unfairly ignored for a while, it is gradually being embraced by the music industry. It provides bit-perfect copies of CDs at half the size. Unlike MP3s, it doesn’t compress some parts of the music – cymbals, guitar, and reverb – to reduce file size. File compression leads to a flat or distorted sound. With FLAC, you get compact convenience and crystal clear sound.
FLAC is an open-source alternative to other lossless formats, such as Apple’s Lossless (known as ALAC), WAV from Microsoft (Waveform Audio Format) and WMA Lossless. However, WAV runs to large file sizes. It also doesn’t retain data, including the artist and album name, and those all-important lyrics. FLAC, meanwhile, retains “tag” data and is compatible with most music players.
Curious about FLAC? Here are six reasons to get FLAC music into your life:
FLAC files are six times larger than MP3s and half the size of a CD, but audio quality is better than 16-bit (CD). If you’re keen to boost audio performance, says Albert Yong of Bowers & Wilkins: “The system is so flexible that it can take anything from 4 to 32 bits and sample rates up to 655350 Hz in 1 Hz steps.”
Because FLAC files keep the high CD-type audio quality but are 50% smaller, they’re ideal for archiving your favourite CDs or lossless files in other formats, such as WAVs.
If you don’t like to wait around for your favourite track to download, FLAC files typically halve download time.
When unzipped correctly, FLAC files are exactly the same as the original file without losing any of the content or quality.
You can easily use your own computer software to rip your CDs into FLAC format. You also can head over to the growing number of sites where you can download tracks with better-than-CD quality.
The price you pay for downloading FLAC files is much lower than buying a CD.
How to Get Ahold of FLAC
HDTracks has one of the largest online FLAC collections, from rock and pop to jazz, contemporary jazz, world, R&B to classical. It also features new releases and best-selling artists such as The Rolling Stones.
If you want the artist behind the music to benefit directly, then BandCamp lets you discover new as well as established musicians. The site offers a range of styles including ambient and experimental, as well as alternative, punk and hip-hop/rap.
Alternatively, if indie 80s music and onward is more your thing, then try the Beggar Group site. It includes labels such as Rough Trade, XL, 4AD, and Matador. Top bands include Pixies and Belle and Sebastian. For a more old-school online shop feel, then make tracks for Murfie, which will convert your favourite CDs and vinyl into lossless FLAC files. You can stream them anytime from your own personal cloud. The one downside is that the artist doesn’t receive any money from the transaction.
For a truly independent label, check out Merge Records. The site was started in 1989 by two Superchunk bandmates, Laura Ballance and McGaughan. It includes a register with some of the hottest bands. Meanwhile, for classical music lovers, there’s Linn Records. Handily, there’s also access to some test FLAC files to check compatibility with your system.
You can also use apps such as the FLAC player and PonoPlayer to download high-quality FLAC files.
The final word goes to Albert Yong who says: “Voice and instruments sound closer to live, and more dynamic as well.”