Difference between FLAC and WAV: which is better?


If you talk to an audio engineer or a music producer there will always be a debate about which file format to use. Some audio engineers will argue that FLAC is the best for all kinds of studio production works while some will disagree with it.

We cannot pinpoint and say which one is better without looking at the specifications and the usage of each file format.

The quality of music you hear mostly depends on the ability of the speaker to translate the audio to sound waves that you can hear and the quality of the audio file being played by the speakers. The quality of the audio file matters in terms of providing a high-quality musical experience.

This is where the debate between WAV and FLAC comes to play. In this article, I will go through the specifications of each format and the pros and cons associated with them as well.

Neither FLAC nor WAV can be stated as better than the other. FLAC is compressed audio format preferred for Streaming while WAV is an uncompressed audio format preferred for Audio production works.

When you compare two file formats you will always think that there would be a winner right? Well there isn’t one in this case. It will all depend on what you are looking for in an audio file format.

For certain specifications you might prefer FLAC and for certain specifications you might prefer WAV, let’s find out shall we,

What is FLAC?

The term FLAC can be expanded to Free Lossless Audio Codec. When compared to other formats like mp3, FLAC compresses the audio and at the same time provides decent sound quality.

Whenever audio is compressed to a particular format it has to be reproduced by the playing device again in an uncompressed format.

The rapid compression and reproduction of the audio format make FLAC a unique and trustworthy format to use for music production and audio engineering works.

Any music producer would tell you that sending huge files over the internet is their main hassle when it comes to audio and music production.

FLAC makes this much easier due to its ability to compress into small audio files which can be transferred through the cloud and other platforms for sharing files.

If you start to compress any other format to mp3 almost all the instruments will have a bit of distortion in them. You won’t find this in FLAC.

The only place I would recommend you use this format is when you are sending sample files for the demo.

Pros and Cons of FLAC:

PROsCONs
Great Compression to small file sizeAll devices can’t read FLAC files
Open-sourceLow bit depth
 Easy to usLow sample rate

What is WAV?

WAV can be expanded as a Waveform audio file format.  This is the most uncompressed format of an audio file that is being used by audio and music production systems. The only problem you will face with a WAV file is its larger storage needs.

When you look at an uncompressed file, the file size is larger than all of the other types of files that are available for you to export from an audio production standpoint.

The big advantage is that you will get an uncompressed file with no distortions or no loss in quality.

When you look at a WAV file in an audio waveform viewer you will find that you can see the silences as well as the sounds being recorded in this. This makes the WAV files longer and has more data within them.

Because of the uncompressed nature, the WAV files are louder and clearer to listen to. Unlike FLAC you can listen to WAV files on any device you have no matter which operating system it’s running in.

The only place I will recommend to use this file type is when you are doing advanced audio editing and audio export functions.

PROsCON’s
Lossless audioLarge file size
Unlimited sample rateNot open source
Unlimited bit-depth 

FLAC vs WAV: head to head comparison

I hope that now you will have a better understanding of what are a WAV file and a FLAC file. Now let’s look at the specific terms by which we will be comparing both the file formats.

  • Bit depth Sample rate
  • Loss/Lossless
  • Compression
  • Storage
  • Conversion and Compatibility

Let’s look at this one by one, shall we

Bit Depth

When you start to experiment with the audio quality you have to first understand the key differences between bit depth and sample rate. You should also understand why they are being used as well in the audio production world.

Bit depth in simple terms means how many bits that an audio file can reproduce in a second. If the bit depth is said to be 16, you will get 16 bits of info.

As the bit depth increases you will get clear quality audio as well as an increase in file size.

FLAC

The bit depth is very limited so the ability to carry a lot of information is really limited.

WAV

 It has unlimited bit depth and can carry a lot of information.

Sample Rate

The sample rate is another key term which you will find mostly being used by various people in the music production world. It’s not a tricky term like bit-depth.

Sample rate simply refers to how fast the audio file can be read.

If a file has a higher sample rate it can be read faster and the lower the sample rate, it takes time to read.

FLAC

The sample rates are lower and hence you cannot get a faster read time.

WAV

 Here you will get unlimited sample rates.

Loss/Lossless

Loss refers to audio files that lose quality when being edited from one file format to another. Some of the loss file formats include ACC and MP3s.

The main motto for a Loss type of file is to completely focus on the important information in a file and ignores the other details in it.

This is one of the reasons why loss files have lower file size and lower quality as well. You will find loss file types in streaming devices.

The lossless audio files usually don’t lose any quality after compression from an uncompressed format of the file. This includes FLAC, WAV, etc.…

WAV and FLAC files are both lossless file formats usually used in editing and audio production work whereas the loss files are usually meant for streaming purposes.

Compression

The main difference between both FLAC and WAV is in the compression system that is used.

FLAC

The FLAC file is a compressed file with a lower bit depth and lower sample rate. . Even though you will get higher quality in FLAC files you cannot have the same freedom that you get with WAV files to edit, export, and manipulate the audio files.

WAV

Whereas WAV is uncompressed and has a higher bit depth and higher sample rate. This just means that the file format is in raw form where you can make as many edits as possible while working in a music production software without damaging the quality of the file.

You will hear every silence and every noise in the file while playing in a device as well.

The quality is pristine in the case of a WAV file.

Overall compression just means how the files are being stored. The larger the file size the more information it holds and the lower the file size the more the data has been stripped away.

Storage

If you have experience in sending and receiving audio files you might know this already. Storage is the villain to audio and music production engineers.

If you look at the space required for a FLAC file it’s 60% less than what we would require for a WAV file. This just means that you will get almost the same audio quality in all aspects with more compression with low space when compared to the WAV file in a FLAC file format.

This is also one of the reasons why premium streaming services are using file format FLAC. They could go with WAV; Due to its larger file size, it’s not being used.

If storage and reading speeds are really important to you then you have to make a proper choice between both FLAC and WAV.

Conversion and compatibility

This is something that doesn’t get accounted for by most people who are talking about audio quality and file formats. This can give you a better idea of how both FLAC and WAV differ from each other.

There is a million-dollar question you might ask “can you spot the difference between a WAV file and a FLAC file just by listening to it? “The answer is a big “NO”.

It’s really hard to spot the difference between these two files, unless and until you import them into audio production software for editing.

Along with conversion, one more thing that you should worry about is compatibility. If you want a file format that works with everything then you should opt for WAV instead of FLAC.

Do FLAC files sound better?

Yes, FLAC files sound better than a lot of other file formats like MP3’s and AAC’s. FLAC files have more quality in terms of bit depth and sample rate to translate well in all types of entertainment systems.

Does converting from FLAC to WAV lose quality?

Yes, you will lose quality when converting from FLAC to WAV because FLAC is already in a compressed format, which just means that a lot of information from the file has been lost. Converting a compressed format to a different uncompressed file format will reduce quality.

Is WAV high quality?

Yes, wav is the highest quality file format that is available among all the other formats. It was first released to store audio in windows computers. Now WAV format has become the norm for music productions.

Is CD better than FLAC?

No, CD is not better than FLAC because of the file formats the audio files are written in a CD. In case of a CD the file formats are usually mp3 and AAC files which are lesser in quality when compared to FLAC.

Conclusion

As you might have found out, there is no clear winner between FLAC and WAV. Both have distinct usage and purpose.

If you are looking for streaming and sending files via cloud you can use FLAC.

If you are looking for file format to edit and work in an audio production software WAV is the way to go.

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