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FLAC Vs WAV: Which Lossless Audio Format Do You Need?

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When creating podcasts and other types of audio content, you will have the option of working with several different types of file formats.

Two of the most common high-quality formats are FLAC and WAV and you might be wondering what the difference between them is and which is the best choice for you.

In this article, we will take a closer look at FLAC and WAV so you can choose the best audio file format for your needs.

Key Differences Between WAV and FLAC

FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) and WAV (Waveform Audio File Format) are both lossless audio formats, with the primary difference being that FLAC is a compressed format reducing file sizes to about 60% without sacrificing audio quality, while WAV is an uncompressed format, retaining the exact original audio quality but with larger file sizes.

WAV boasts universal compatibility across various devices and systems, whereas FLAC has wide compatibility with some exceptions.

CompressionCompressed (🗜️)Uncompressed (🔓)
Sound QualityLossless (🎧)Lossless with slight edge in technical quality (🎧🔊)
File SizeSmaller (💾)Larger (💿)
CompatibilityWide but with some exceptions (✔️❌)Universal (✔️)
Open-Source vs. PatentedOpen-Source (🔄)Patented (©️)
Sample Rate and Bit-DepthLimited (🔢)Unlimited (🔢🔄)
File ConversionEasy (↔️)Easy (↔️)
UsageStorage, sharing, manipulation (💽🔄)Professional audio work (🎙️)
Cost and AccessibilityFree (💸)Free but Proprietary (💸©️)
Special EquipmentNot Required (🚫)Not Required (🚫)
Metadata HandlingSupported (✔️)Not Supported (❌)
Processing RequirementsDecompression needed (⚙️)No decompression (🚫⚙️)

What Is FLAC?

FLAC image

We’ll begin by looking at the two file formats in turn and the first audio file format we’ll focus on is FLAC.

FLAC is an acronym that means Free Lossless Audio Codec. The important word here is lossless as this means that the original quality of sound found in the audio file will not be lost if the file is compressed.

In many ways, FLAC is similar to the more common lossy format MP3 but it does offer a greatly superior sound quality than MP3s can. FLAC files can be easily tagged so you can add or change the artist, composer, and track names on the files.

When someone asks, “What is a FLAC file?” it means they are seeking information about the Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) file format.

Most recent software will support FLAC files but some older versions might not.

What Is WAV?

wav image

The name WAV stands for Waveform Audio File Format. WAV files were created by IBM and Microsoft as a way to store audio streams on PCs but it soon became a more standard way to store music in files.

WAV files are usually not compressed and can be quite large in size.

WAV files are also lossless and allow you to keep your audio files in their uncompressed state. Compared to lossy audio formats such as MP3, WAV files provide a higher quality of sound as no data is lost during compression.

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Comparing FLAC To WAV

Now, let’s compare and contrast the two file formats.

Bit Depth And Sample Rate

These are two important terms that will help you see the difference between the two formats and their quality. 

Bit depth is measured in bits whereas sample rates are measured in either kilohertz (kHz) or hertz (Hz.)  Both of these measures will help you to understand the quality and accuracy of the files.

As a general rule, higher bit depth and sample rates will mean higher audio quality in your files. This is the same regardless of whether your file format is FLAC or WAV.

Sample rate is a measure of how many times the file is sampled by the audio rendering software each second. For example, a sample rate of 194kHz means the software will sample the audio 194,000 times per second.

The audio software takes a number of bits of information from the audio file during the sampling process. This is where the bit depth measurement comes into play.

The higher the number of bits, the better the sound quality will translate from file to software.

FLAC has a more limited sample rate and bit depth when compared to WAV and will, unfortunately, lose some of the information contained within the file. WAV files have more space and can have an unlimited bit depth and sample rate.

However, most people’s ears aren’t sensitive enough to tell the difference and as FLAC is a lossless format, you won’t hear any difference in the audio quality.

Accessibility And Source

Accessibility And Source

FLAC is an open-source file format that is fully editable. You can use FLAC files for anything you want and in any way that you want. In contrast, WAV was patented by Microsoft and is not open-source so you are more limited in its uses.

However, most audio editing software can convert audio files into various different formats, including WAV files, so you can still do most of what you need with WAVs.

There are many different converters that can put WAV files into FLACs to give you more freedom and many of these converters are free to use, too.

Compressed And Uncompressed Formats

Generally, when audio files get compressed there is some information contained within the file that gets removed.

This happens as part of the process to reduce and compress the file size. Compression is an important tool as it can free up disk space and make your file sizes smaller.

However, when you compress the files and lose some information, you will find that the audio quality often suffers. 

FLAC is a compressed audio format. However, unlike other compressed audio formats such as AAC and MP3, FLAC is lossless so the compression does not negatively affect the audio quality.

What Is The Difference in Audio Quality?

man listening to audio

WAV and FLAC are both two of the best lossless audio formats when it comes to audio quality. You will definitely hear the difference between these two file formats and other common formats such as MP3 and MP4.

If you have the option, we would always recommend choosing either FLAC or WAV format over other options.

However, when it comes to choosing between FLAC vs WAV quality, there really isn’t much difference. The choice depends on your storage capacity and device compatibility.

Only those with really sensitive ears and high-quality equipment will be able to tell that WAV is higher quality than FLAC.

In most cases, they will sound the same. If you’re choosing a file size for a podcast or other primarily spoken-word audio, even high-end equipment will barely notice a difference.

What Is the Difference In File Size?

saving files on computer

If you have identical pieces of audio saved in FLAC and WAV audio file formats, you will find that the WAV file is around twice the size of the FLAC file. This is due to the FLAC format being a compressed format whereas WAV is uncompressed audio.

The larger file size for WAV can be tricky to deal with sometimes, especially if your hard disk space is low or your computer struggles with larger files. 

FAQs About FLAC and WAV

What is the difference between FLAC and WAV?

FLAC and WAV are both lossless audio formats, but they differ in terms of compression. FLAC uses compression algorithms to reduce file size without losing any audio quality, while WAV files are uncompressed and therefore larger in size.

Which is the best audio format, FLAC or WAV?

The choice between FLAC and WAV depends on your specific needs. FLAC is great for saving storage space while maintaining high audio quality, while WAV is ideal for professional use or for those who prefer the highest quality uncompressed audio.

Can I convert WAV files to FLAC and vice versa?

Yes, you can convert WAV files to FLAC and vice versa using various audio conversion software or online tools. This allows you to switch between formats based on your requirements or preference.

What is high-resolution audio?

High-resolution audio refers to audio files that have a higher sample rate and bit depth compared to standard audio files. This results in more details and better sound quality. Both FLAC and WAV support high-resolution audio.

Are FLAC and WAV both lossy audio formats?

No, FLAC and WAV are both lossless audio formats, which means they do not lose any audio quality during compression or decompression. Lossy audio formats, such as MP3, result in some audio quality loss.

Do WAV files sound better than FLAC files?

There is no inherent difference in sound quality between WAV and FLAC files. Both formats preserve the same audio data and provide lossless playback. The perceived difference in sound quality may vary based on individual preferences and playback equipment.

Does FLAC or WAV provide better storage space utilization?

FLAC provides better storage space utilization compared to WAV. Due to its compression algorithms, FLAC files are smaller in size while maintaining the same audio quality. This makes FLAC a more efficient choice when it comes to saving storage space.

Final Thoughts

Overall, WAV file format is a higher-quality file format but the difference is pretty negligible. FLAC audio files are smaller, so the best file for you will depend on what you need from your audio files.

Matt Brook

With a background in Journalism and years of experience in the industry, Matt brings a wealth of knowledge to the WiredClip team.

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