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FLAC vs WAV [Which Sound Quality is Better? 2024]

To store our music library huge number of audio formats is suggested. Music lovers often prefer WAV and FLAC format due to lossless sound quality. But, some people think that FLAC cause some distortions in playback. Keep reading to detailed comparison between these musical file types.
updated

Author: Yuri Korzunov,
Audiophile Inventory's developer with 25+ year experience in digital signal processing,
author of the articles that make audio easy for beginners
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How to split CUE FLAC video
 

 

What is FLAC and WAV?

WAV is a basic PCM audio format that keeps highest quality. FLAC is data-compressed file format. It replaces WAV when we would to save hard disk space.

WAV and FLAC are truly lossless. Their input and output is binary identical. You doesn't lose quality with these codecs.
 

Both FLAC and WAV includes metadata. It is song information: title, album name, performer, album art, etc. Many devices and software are metadata compatible with FLAC. With WAV, issues may occurs. It is one of reasons why some people prefer .flac.

 

FLAC file advantages

  1. Wide software and device compatibility.
  2. High resolutions are supported.
  3. Smaller size than WAV.
  4. Big file size allowable.
  5. Flexible structure for expanding.
  6. Free for use.

 

FLAC file disadvantages

  1. Limited sample rate and bit depth.
  2. File size isn't small as mp3 and AAC.

 

WAV file advantages

  1. Wide software and device compatibility.
  2. High resolutions are supported.
  3. Audio resolution is almost unlimited.
  4. File size over 4GB unallowable (see about exception below).
  5. Flexible structure for expanding.

 

WAV file disadvantages

  1. Incompatibility metadata with some software and hardware.
  2. File size larger than FLAC.

 

Read more:

 

Is FLAC better quality than WAV?

Below we'll find out do FLAC files sound better or WAV is the highest quality audiophile format.

Both file types are lossless. Why ask if WAV is better audio quality than FLAC?

Free Lossless Ausio Codec is data compressed. In playback, the codec uncompress audio information. On this stage it is the same WAV.

But some people think that the uncompressing work cause intensive computing. And, the intensity give more interferences. They impacts to audio items more heavily. And, we can listen it as additional distortions.

Practically, FLAC unpacking consumes low share of a computer performance. And, we can ignore this.

 

Audio resolution

These formats are significantly distinguished in supported resolution of audio.

FLAC is limited by audio resolution up to 32 bit / 384 kHz.

WAV almost unlimited by sample rate and bit depth. Both these values, may be up to (232 - 1).

Technically speaking, FLAC is not the highest quality audio format. Does this make WAV better than FLAC? No. Resolution is potential ability only. Learn details...

 

Uncompressed vs. compressed audio

Above we studied, that some people prefer WAV, as uncompressed audio format. It is need to avoid file processing in playback. They believe what it allows sound quality improvement.

However, FLAC has better metadata support. And, uncompressed FLAC is used for listening in audiophile systems.

In the author's opinion, lossless compression doesn't impact to sounding by reasons described above.

Read how compression affects file size below.

 

Should I record in FLAC or WAV?

For audio recording, WAV format is preferable. Because it doesn't consume additional resources of computer.

After mixing and post production stages, you can compress output to FLAC for distribution to online stores, streaming services, and others.

 

Can I convert FLAC to WAV without losing quality?

Proper conversion of WAV to/from FLAC we perform without losing quality. In instance, in AuI ConverteR bit-perfect mode must be set. In Settings > General > turn Don't make DSP... enabled.

Convert FLAC to WAV without losing quality
Convert FLAC to WAV without losing quality

 

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FLAC vs WAV file size

Storage space may be critical in some applications. It is important for smartphones, digital audio players, and other mobile devices especially. Qualitative hi-fi digital music doesn't save disk space.

FLAC size may be approximately estimated as 60% of original WAV.

WAV vs FLAC file size comparison
Format 1-minute file size, Mb
16 bit / 44 kHz WAV stereo about 10 Mb
16 bit / 44 kHz FLAC stereo about 6 Mb
24 bit / 96 kHz WAV stereo about 33 Mb
24 bit / 96 kHz FLAC stereo about 20 Mb

FLAC size almost has no limitations. The standard WAV size cannot exceed 4GB. But, you can use WAV/RF64 instead.

 

Are FLAC and WAV the best music formats?

On the market for the audio enthusiasts, we see essential format families:

  • multibit WAV, FLAC, AIFF, and other lossless audio files.
  • 1-bit DSD lossless formats;
  • mp3, AAC, and other lossy music files.

Does FLAC sound better than AAC or mp3 320kbps? There is no univocal answer. Difference is subtle enough.

Difference between DSD and FLAC and other multibit formats is matter of given audio system.

 

General recommendations:

If hard disk space is critical, mp3 or AAC 256 or 320 kbps is recommended.

DSD or FLAC/WAV/other multibit formats use by your taste.

 

WAV and FLAC downloads