FLAC vs. WAV: A Comparison

Read below to learn about the main differences of FLAC and WAV.

  • The FLAC and WAV formats overview
  • Comparing: quality
  • Comparing: file size
  • Converting files

Edited by Pat Bitton

January 15, 2020

FLAC vs. WAV: Which Is Better?

To determine whether FLAC or WAV is better, it is important to understand what each of these popular audio files is. FLAC is short for Free Lossless Audio Codec and is great for storing audio in lossless format. Lossless means that you can compress an audio format into FLAC without compromising on the quality of the original sound.

WAV, on the other hand, stands for Waveform Audio File Format, and refers to the audio file format standard developed by Microsoft and IBM for storing audio streams on PC. Unlike FLAC, this audio format is not compressed, hence, an exact copy of the source audio.

So, which will emerge the winner in the winner in the WAV versus FLAC contest?

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The WAV vs. FLAC Contest

You can't deny that choosing the right audio to listen to can be quite challenging, especially if you are just venturing into the vastly fluid world of digital music. Many audio file types are available, and each is screaming for your attention. If choosing was a matter of randomly selecting a file format from a list, it would all be too easy, but unfortunately, there is more to it than meets the eye.

Terms used in explaining audio formats

You probably won't notice much difference in audio quality between the various audio types, but the researcher in you is craving for information. This information is readily available, but dressed in terminologies you have to learn to digest before you can choose the best audio file type.

You won't be able to pick the winner in the epic WAV versus FLAC contest without an appreciation of the basic terms employed in the world of digital audio. These terms come in handy when comparing between different formats, and deciding with a level of accuracy, which audio types beats the others.

Here are terms that feature prominently in the FLAC vs. WAV debate.

Lossy and Lossless

Lossy audio files lose some quality when they are compressed or are converted from one form to the other. Lossless, on the other hand, refer to those audio formats that report a negligible loss in quality when compressed or converted to other formats. Since both FLAC and WAV are lossless, it becomes even more challenging to answer the question: is FLAC or WAV better?

Compressed and Uncompressed

Choosing FLAC or WAV also means you are selecting between compressed and uncompressed formats. One major difference between FLAC and WAV is that while the former is compressed, the latter is an exact copy of the original audio file. Converting an audio file to FLAC means you are compressing it to occupy less space compared to WAV, but without any noticeable loss in quality. So, if storage space is your main concern, choose FLAC over WAV because it achieves up to 60% compression of the source file.

Sample Rate and Bit Depth

You need to understand the concepts of sample rate and bit depth to know how audio formats work. Sample rate and bit depth tell you how accurate a piece of digitally recorded sound can be. Without going in to technicalities, it is important at the onset to state that the higher the sample rate and bit depth, the higher the quality of the piece of audio in question.

Sample rates are expressed in Hertz or kilohertz while bit depth exists in bits. Sample rate refers to how many times an audio rendering software samples the audio file within a second. If the sample rate is high, say 194kHz, it means the software samples the music 194,000 times in a second, and hence can read lots of information from this piece, hence, high quality audio.

To accurately describe an audio file, the rendering software may draw on 16 or 24 bits of information. Computer geeks describe this phenomenon as the bit depth. A high bit depth, such as 32 bits, which translates to a higher quality audio compared to a lower bit depth of 8 bits.

So, how does the FLAC vs. WAV contest shape up in the light of this information? WAV, by virtue of being uncompressed, loses nothing in quality but occupies more space on your device, while FLAC is compressed and may lose certain details of the file during compression. However, you won't notice any bump in quality since FLAC is lossless.

Free and Open Source

FLAC appears to beat WAV hands down on this front. The former is available for free and can be modified because it is open source, unlike the latter which is patented by Microsoft. So, if you are looking for an audio format you may wish to tinker around with, go for FLAC.

However, that is not to say WAV is inferior to FLAC. If you are not satisfied with WAV, you can still convert it to FLAC with the aid of a good video converter such as Movavi Video Editor. Though it is a video editor, it has options for converting audio files as well, hence the most convenient choice for those who wish to switch between audio formats.

Basically, whether to choose WAV or FLAC may be no easy task. The two audio file formats are almost similar, only that one is compressed while the other isn't. It may boil down to personal preferences, use and storage media.

What about Storage?

If you are comparing WAV and FLAC in relation to storage, you will find that FLAC occupies less space due to compression. WAV will take up more space on your device, take longer to transfer between devices and to download, hence, may be quite inconveniencing to some users. So, if you want to choose WAV or FLAC, storage may be a major factor coming into play.

Converting between WAV and FLAC

It is not easy to settle the score between FLAC and WAV since they go head to head on the pedestal of quality. However, you can find out for yourself if one is better than the other by trying to convert from one to the other and listening for the difference. The difference between FLAC and WAV may come out strongly by switching between the two formats.

Pick one audio file in two formats, and play them on your device. Do you notice any difference in quality? Well, convert a FLAC audio to WAV and listen to it in comparison with its source file. This experiment will give you a clear picture of the bruising WAV vs. FLAC debate.

Comparing WAV and FLAC is a tricky affair since both of these formats experience no loss in quality when processed. However, if storage space is a major concern for you, FLAC would carry the day since its compression reduces its file size to up to 60%. But if all else remains constant, it may be impossible to tell the difference between FLAC and WAV.

Whether you choose WAV or FLAC, keep in mind that you are dealing with high quality audio. But you can always try to convert from one file to another using an efficient and convenient video converter. If you have no idea where to start when choosing a good video converter, try Movavi Video Converter, and you won't be disappointed.

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