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Edited by Pat Bitton

October 30, 2019

MP3 vs. FLAC: Which Is the Right One for You?

MP3 vs. FLAC

As any audiophile would tell you, the beauty of listening to any piece of music lies in the rhythm. How the beats transition from one tune to another will determine your overall experience. Whether you are listening to music, or engaging in a different type of audio, getting it all in high quality can be invaluable.

Sure, you can always look for noise-canceling headphones and the latest audio devices to improve quality, but among the easiest ways to enjoy quality audio would be to choose the right format. In most cases, this is typically a toss-up between MP3 and FLAC. The question is, should you choose FLAC or MP3, and what is the difference between them?

Here are some insights to help your compare FLAC vs MP3:

MP3 vs. FLAC in a Nutshell

To truly understand the difference between FLAC and MP3, you need to understand the difference between lossy and lossless files. Take an example of the images you see on the internet. These images come in a compressed format. In order for them to be displayed to you, some parts of the images have to be thrown away, to allow it to be compressed. On the flip side, the lost part can never be gotten back- it is lost forever.

This is the case of the lossy nature of MP3s. It is typically compressed, with part of it shaved off. Once you try converting MP3 to WAV, you will barely get the shaved off part. On the flip side, if you try converting the WAV file back to MP3, you might actually lose more of the file.

On the flip side, lossless files come in their original and uncompressed format. Just like in the case of zip files, lossless compressions tend to shrink the size of the audio package without getting rid of anything. Unlike in the case of MP3 files, FLAC comes in lossless format, which can be converted back to its WAV format, where it can be restored to the original format.

Storage Needs

MP3 files have to be compressed with part of the file being shaved off from them. As a result, the files will come with a smaller storage need. When compared to FLAC files, MP3 files need smaller storage capacities. On the flip side, FLAC files barely lose their content, making them quick bulky, storage wise.

Sound Quality

Owing to its lossy format, MP3 files tend to shave off part of the audio to reduce size. Ideally, it should use psychoacoustics to cut away overlapping sounds. In most cases, cymbals, guitars, and reverb are the most affected part by the MP3 compression, and they can sound distorted if too much compression is applied.

On the flip side, FLAC retains the quality of the audio it stores. It doesn't have auditory problems like the MP3 files. It works like a zip file whereby if you test the sounding of the audio, it will be similar to the unzipped file. Previously, the only possible way to obtain lossless files was through CD, CDA, or WAV format. However, none of them is as space-efficient as FLAC files.

Playability

The good thing about MP3 based audio is that it can be played from anywhere. Almost all modern-day devices have MP3 players, meaning that you don't have to worry if a new phone will play MP3 files.

FLAC files are a little bit different. Although it promises high audio quality, its popularity isn't like that of its counterpart. Sure there are some phones that come with audio players that will allow you to play lossless audio files, but this isn't a guarantee. You can always rely on third-party applications for this. Even better, the popularity of FLAC files is increasing with time, and manufacturers are looking to quench this demand.

When Should You Use FLAC?

Just because FLAC ensures that audio retains its authenticity throughout doesn't mean that you should always use it. Ideally, FLAC will shine in areas where you might need to archive your music. For instance, if you are trying to rip your CDs to a hard drive before storing them in a garage, FLAC can offer you a solution.

However, you should beware that FLAC will use more space than its MP3 counterpart. As a result, it might not always be the best option for laptops that have a storage capacity of 128GB- it might be better to leave some space for apps and photos. For such devices, it might be ideal to convert the FLAC file into MP3. Also, you might need a standalone app to play FLAC files on some devices.

When Should You Use MP3?

As mentioned above, MP3 file formats do not have the same audio quality as FLAC. As such, it might not be the best option for archiving audio. While you might not always notice the difference between the two, there will be some distortion from compressing the audio. Luckily, the days when the distortion in MP3 files was clear are far gone.

Today, audio technology has advanced so much that you might not notice any difference between MP3 audio files and the original format at all. In fact, you can encode at a high rate like 320kbps. Ideally, MP3 audio is best suited for laptops and phones. Since it has low storage, it will allow you to save some audio space.

FLAC vs. Streaming

One of the main competitors for either MP3 or FLAC files is the streaming industry. Although most audiophiles will be interested in music they can buy from music stores, streaming provides a variety of options for getting quality music. The thing that makes them much of a competitor is the fact that some streaming sites allow people to download music offline and listen to it- at a paid subscription.

In fact, some streaming websites offer audio in the FLAC format. Some of the competitive advantages that FLAC files still holds are the fact that it is a pay-once kind of a deal. You will only need to buy a FLAC album, and use the files for a long time. On the flip side, streaming websites will typically need you to keep paying for their subscription.

Failure to renew your subscription could lead to you losing your carefully curated playlist. Also, streaming sites mainly require you to have an internet connection. Even those that offer offline options might still need you to get back on the internet to gain access to the files after some time. FLAC, on the other hand, will offer you an offline experience of quality music.

Where to Find FLAC and MP3 Files?

MP3 files can be found almost everywhere, from streaming sites to music download sites. FLAC, on the other hand, will require you to either purchase the files from a digital store or rip it from a CD. While ripping is typically easy, it requires you to use the right software on your computer. Alternatively, you can rely on the various devices that allow you to rip and store FLAC files on hard drives without engaging a PC.

If you want to convert FLAC to MP3, there is a variety of software out there, like the Movavi Video Converter, that you can use. Most of these options tend to be pretty straightforward to use.

Is FLAC better than MP3 in the MP3 vs. FLAC showdown? Yes, it is. It will offer you the best option for high-quality audio. When it comes to preserving music, this is the best option. However, MP3 might be the best option when you want to store files in a device with limited storage. Luckily, you can always convert between both audio formats for a listening experience. Feel free to use the Movavi Video Converter to turn your FLAC files into MP3 files.

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