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bierfeldt's picture
Last seen: 1 hour 53 min ago
Joined: Oct 26 2007 - 2:30pm

I am about to convert 8000 songs to lossless.  This is going to take a bit of time and I want to make sure I am making the correct choice. 

What is the difference between FLAC and ALAC?  I am an apple user so that is obviously a pro for ALAC.  Any reason I should not pick ALAC? 

jackfish's picture
Last seen: 3 years 11 months ago
Joined: Dec 19 2005 - 2:42pm
That's what I use with my MacBook Air.

I am impressed with 16-bit/44.1kHz ALAC files played through iTunes with the $10 BitPerfect app available from the Apple App Store. If you went with FLAC you would need a third-party addin to play them as iTunes does not support FLAC. ALAC obviously is a native format for Apple products. Technically they are both lossless formats and should be indistiguishable upon playback.

FLAC has always been open source, although Apple has now made the ALAC codec open source as well.

I can't think of any reason not to use ALAC with an Apple. I would use the error correction if ripping CDs with iTunes. It may take a little longer, but it will save some frustration of having to do it again for some CDs.

bierfeldt's picture
Last seen: 1 hour 53 min ago
Joined: Oct 26 2007 - 2:30pm
That was what I was hoping to hear

Couldn't find any technical reasons not to go with ALAC and it is so much easier to deal with than FLAC files.  ALAC it is.  Thank you for the confirmation. 

struts's picture
Last seen: 5 months 2 weeks ago
Joined: Feb 1 2007 - 12:02pm

Hi there bierfeldt,

From a technical perspective there is really nothing to choose between FLAC and ALAC.  Both achieve a similar end by very similar means and there are absolutely no quality pros or cons that I am aware of.  IIRC ALAC has some specific features to support Airplay streaming, but as far as substantive differences go that's about it.

Apple placed ALAC in the public domain under the Apache license a couple years ago (although not before a bunch of folks had spent a lot fo time and effort reverse engineering it), so now presumably all 3rd party devices are using encoders and decoders are based on the Apple source rather than the Hammerton/Brocious code (which still had some bugs in the hi rez code paths when I tuned out a few years ago).

iTunes (vanilla) still doesn't support FLAC and I'm guessing that WMP (still) doesn't support ALAC.  Otherwise I think most all replay environments support both and so it is probably moot.  Converting between the two is also pretty straightforward so this isn't the $64k question it once was. 

Good luck!

Stevenm's picture
Last seen: 3 years 4 months ago
Joined: Mar 21 2012 - 12:51pm

Apple losless is proprietory (but not limited) to Apple, ALAC is limited to 16 bits @ 44.1 khz. If the sytem path you currently own will accept the iTunes app and that is all you intend to use it for, you are good-to-go. I have been using it this way for many years, and I've been happy, but new higher resolution formats (FLAC) are here and are much more widly accepted. So I'm keeping an open mind for the future.

FLAC can handle resolutions from 16 bit at 44.1 khz & 96 khz, 20 bits @ 44.1 (HDHC) & 96khz, all the way to 24 bits @ 196 khz, (SACD, DVD audio & Blu-Ray) it is compatible with almost every hi-end format except for iTunes. Shame on Apple.

Almost all the new high resolution download services offer both FLAC and ALAC as an option. FLAC only matters if the source files are orginally higher resolution than the CD "standard" of 16 bit/44.1 khz and you have both the application and the playback system that handle FLAC.

FLAC is DVD audio/SACD/Blu-ray quality, but the soucre files have to have been high resolution to start with. While you can take a standard CD and encode it FLAC, but you won't get any higher resolution than where you started from. i.e. encode it at 24-bit 196khz but it won't sound any better than the 16-bit @ 44.1 khz source file it came from.

Bottom line: I beleive FLAC is the wave of the future, but I am currently Apple based (MAC + iPod). Unless Apple gets on-board with the times, I will eventuall migrate to the higher resolution format. But before I ever consider all the work that entails, the files I work from will have to be a majority of 24-bit/196 khz sourced, or all that effort is wasted. Currently that's not the case.

John Atkinson
John Atkinson's picture
Last seen: 1 hour 31 min ago
Joined: Nov 7 2010 - 3:31pm

Stevenm wrote:

Apple lossless is proprietory (but not limited) to Apple, ALAC is limited to 16 bits @ 44.1 khz.

That is not correct. The ALAC codec will correctly handle sample rates up to 192kHz and bit depths up to 24, just like FLAC and if you play those files back with iTunes, you get the full resolution. However, it is a one-way process. If you convert a 24-bit AIFF or WAV file to ALAC, then reconvert back from ALAC to AIF or WAV with anything that uses Apple's CoreAudio engine, you end up with a file that has been truncated to 16 bits.

This has been reported to Apple but it appears it is not a bug but a deliberate decision on their part. I suspect that it relates to Apple once considering releasing 24-bit ALAC files but not wanting end-users to have unrestricted access to the original data.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

jazzfan's picture
Last seen: 1 year 7 months ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 8:55am
ALAC equals WAV but FLAC does not equal WAV

Don't forget to mention that an ALAC file converted on the fly (as when listening to the file via iTunes) with no loss in sound quality, i.e. the result is the same as playing the WAV or AIFF file, a FLAC file converted on the fly (as when listening to the file via foobar2000) there can often be a loss in sound quality, i.e. the result is NOT the same as playing the WAV or AIFF file.

This happens because if the audiophile press claims that a playing ALAC is not the same as playing a WAV file Apple will sue them for slander, whereas this claim can be made about playing FLAC files since FLAC is an open source codex and no one will sue them.

Funny how the fear of Apple make the audiophile press believe in science.

audiophile2000's picture
Last seen: 2 years 5 months ago
Joined: Oct 10 2012 - 9:51pm

I haven't seen a difference between the two formats but i will mention one potential limitation with ALAC that caused me to convert all my files to FLAC. FLAC tends to be more supported by third party devises and hardware where ALAC is not always supported. TBH I can think of a devises or playback software that does not support FLAC (besides Apple products) but I know i have run into many over the years that do not support ALAC.

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