FLAC vs AIFF – Which Is Better and How to Choose

Norvan Martin
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FLAC and AIFF are two very common audio file compression formats that you will likely come across if you’re a music lover. However, what are the differences and similarities between FLAC and AIFF, and which should you use?

There isn’t much difference between FLAC and AIFF in terms of audio quality. FLAC is a compressed lossless format while AIFF is not compressed. However, one key difference is that AIFF files will always be larger while FLAC files are smaller but they expand back into a lossless file.

Let’s learn some more. 

FLAC vs AIFF Comparison Table

CriteriaFLACAIFF
File Extension.flac.aiff
CompressionLossless compression, smaller file sizesUncompressed, larger file sizes
CompatibilityBroad compatibility across platformsNative support in Apple, varying on non-Apple platforms
Metadata SupportSupports embedded metadataAlso supports metadata
Platform IntegrationWell-integrated into many systemsNative support in Apple, additional on others
Audio QualityMaintains original audio qualityPreserves full audio quality
File SizeEfficient compression, smaller sizesLarger sizes due to lack of compression
Editing and ProcessingEfficient editing without decompressionUncompressed format facilitates editing

flac vs aiff

FLAC vs AIFF – Audio Format Comparison

Though MP3 is the most common audio file on the market, there are various other formats available including FLAC, ALAC, WMA, and AIFF, to name a few.

With that in mind, many people get confused when it comes to choosing a file format that will give them the best listening experience.

That’s because most people don’t understand the difference between all these formats, especially FLAC vs AIFF.

Today, FLAC and AIFF are some of the most popular file formats among audiophiles and music lovers.

However, most people don’t know which format is better depending on the application. Keep reading to know the differences and similarities between these two audio formats.

What is FLAC?

FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is a popular audio format that gives you bit-perfect copies of your CDs in a compressed form. In fact, you can compress your files at different levels. Check out this article to find out more about FLAC compression leves.

This lossless audio format stores your music in a similar way to a zip file, but the compression is much better.

That’s because this format is specially designed for audio files. You can play it on your home stereo or other supported devices.

flac audio

FLAC emerged in 2001 as an innovative alternative to lossless formats emerging at the time.

As a lossless audio format, FLAC files take up about half the storage space of the original file. More importantly, it offers a much better sound compared to its “lossy” predecessor (MP3). You can check out our comparison of lossy 320kbps MP3 vs FLAC to get a better understanding of lossy vs lossless files. 

What is AIFF?

AIFF is an acronym for Audio Interchange File Format is an audio file format by Apple Computer, this format is based on Interchange File Format (IFF), a container format built for Amiga Systems.

aiff audio

A typical AIFF file comes with two uncompressed audio channels recorded at a musical sampling rate of 44.1 kHz, with a sample size of about 16 bits.

This format is also popularly known as “CD-quality audio” since it has the same audio specifications to a CD.

While AIFF formats don’t offer compressed data, Apple has a new variation known as AIFF-C.

This format is similar to an original AIFF file, but it supports audio compression to eliminate extra space. That means you can generate a file using multiple compression algorithms and save it in AIFF-C  format.

FLAC vs. AIFF: Key Differences

Compression Techniques

  • FLAC uses a lossless compression technique, making files much smaller without any quality loss. As a result, FLAC files are way tinier than AIFF files but sound just the same.
  • AIFF is an uncompressed format that keeps audio unchanged. It’s perfect for sound quality but creates really big files, especially compared to FLAC.

File Size Concernations

  • With FLAC, you end up with files about 60% smaller than AIFF. That’s why FLAC is great if you don’t have a lot of room for storage or if you’re downloading or streaming tunes online.
  • On the other hand, AIFF files take up a lot more space—similar to WAV files—which can quickly fill up your storage.

Availability and Ease of Download

  • You’ll find FLAC files all over the internet because they’re smaller and easier to handle, so they’re more widespread.
  • AIFF isn’t as easily available for downloads partly because the files are bulkier.

Metadata Support

  • FLAC can handle lots of metadata, like song info and even images right in the audio file itself.
  • AIFF’s metadata abilities are pretty basic, covering just stuff like artist and album name. Plus, it doesn’t let you put pictures within the file.

Compatibility with Devices and Platforms

  • Since FLAC is open-source, it works with lots of different things—Windows, macOS, Linux, you name it.
  • AIFF was made by Apple, so it’s aces on their gadgets but not as much on others.

Sound Quality Assessment

  • FLAC still offers high-quality sound even though it’s squeezed down. That’s why folks who love their music crystal-clear dig FLAC.
  • AIFF has unmatched sound because it’s uncompressed. This top-notch quality is usually what pros in the music biz go for. Still, most people wouldn’t even notice the difference in quality.

Space Usage

  • FLAC takes up less room, saving storage space on gadgets.
  • AIFF files take up as much space as big WAV files, which means they need more storage.

Usability and Application

  • Because FLAC files are smaller, they download faster and work well in many situations.
  • AIFF is meant for saving music and sound projects just like they first sounded; it’s best for pros.

Differences Between FLAC and AIFF Table

FLACAIFF
Features a compressed audio format to offer bit-perfect CD copies.Stores audio data in an uncompressed format (CD-quality).
Compatible with Mac, Windows, Android, and Apple devices.Only compatible with Apple devices.
Requires small storage space on your device.Occupies a large storage space.
Based on the lossless audio codec.Based on the interchange file format.
Designed for fast and efficient audio download.Designed to store music and other audio projects in their original state.
Might lose sound quality when using audio editing programs.Works well with most audio editing programs without losing sound quality.

Similarities Between FLAC and AIFF

While there are several differences between FLAC and AIFF, these formats are similar in various ways. Here are the similarities of these two audio formats:

  • They both offer the same sound
  • They are lossless audio formats.
  • Great for digital archiving
  • Compatible with Mac and iOS devices

 

So, Which Should You Choose?

When considering FLAC vs. AIFF, it’s not difficult to decide which to choose depending on the situation. However, since uncompressed and compressed audio files can sound almost the same to the untrained ear, it can be hard to know the best file format to choose.

However, most musical data on the internet are available in a compressed format like FLAC or MP3 files.

That ensures that you can easily download music from the iTunes store or other websites on the internet. It also makes the downloading process fast and efficient.

On the other hand, AIFF files are common in audio recording since it’s essential to keep the original audio files in an uncompressed format.

Audio engineers can also work AIFF files to maintain sound quality throughout the mixing process. However, most music producers convert the songs into a compressed format after saving the final version.

FAQs

1. How to Play FLAC Files?

  • For iOS Users

One hurdle that is still preventing the full adoption of FLAC is the fact that iOS devices don’t support this file format natively. However, there are easy workarounds to allow iPhone users to enjoy this lossless audio format on their devices.

To play FLAC on any iOS device, users can download several applications from the iTunes store.

That includes applications like Capriccio, FLAC Player, and Media Connect, to mention a few. These applications not only support this audio format but also allow you to stream FLAC files in DNLA and AirPlay.

  • For Android users

Google Smartphone users need not worry about FLAC support on their devices. From Android 3.1 and better, the operating system supports this file format natively.

Even with older Android devices, manufacturers such as Samsung and HTC offer FLAC support. Additionally, you can download an application like Player Pro from the Google Play store.

  • MAC and Windows Users

For Windows 10 users, you can play FLAC files through the onboard groove player. However, with an older version of Windows, you may need to download a media player plug-in like Media Monkey or Roon.

On the other hand, Mac users also have to download a media plug-in like Fluke to get basic FLAC support.

2. How To Play An AIFF File?

As an uncompressed audio format that uses the same recording protocol as CDs, AIFF audio files are compatible with a variety of media players.

That includes Apple iTunes, Windows media player, VLC, and other multi-format players.

iPhone and iPad users can play AIFF files natively without any secondary applications on their devices. However, you can’t play these audio files on your Android device or other non-Apple mobile phones.

3. Do FLAC Files Really Sound Better?

Yes, FLAC sounds better when listening on computers or mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

However, there are some differences between these audio compression schemes, which make them more suitable than others in certain cases.

The most common way of determining sound quality is by using objective testing methods including frequency analysis and dynamic range measurements, etc.

But there are also subjective means of comparison where people may judge whether they prefer one codec over another based on their preferences.

4. Is DSD Better than FLAC?

Yes, DSD is a better sound quality than FLACs or WAVs.

FLAC is compressed to 16/24/32 bits, whereas DSD is limited to only 1 bit. For Direct Stream Digital format, bit depth is reduced from FLAC’s 16/24/32 bit to a minimal 1 bit.

Even for frequencies of 2.8 MHz and higher, 1 bit is insufficient. It’s virtually the same as comparing FLAC with DSD.

5. Which is Better – AIFF or Apple Lossless?

People who rip their CDs to digital music files but don’t know the difference between AIFF and Apple Lossless (ALAC) may be losing out on better sound quality.

In terms of audio quality vs file size, ALAC and FLAC are about the same. They are both better than AIFF and WAV.

 

The Bottom Line

Having in mind that FLAC and AIFF files can sound almost the same, you can choose to use any audio format supported by your media player.

However, FLAC format occupies less storage since it features a compressed audio file. On the other hand, AIFF files are the best to store an audio file in its original state so think carefully before choosing!

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Norvan Martin is the founder of BoomSpeaker.com. He is a professional Electronics Engineer and is passionate about home theater systems and AV electronics. BoomSpeaker was created as an online hub to share his knowledge and experiences as it relates to home theaters and home audio electronics. My email: [email protected]  Connect on Pinterest and Linkedin