Free Lossless Audio Codec
From Hydrogenaudio Knowledgebase
Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) is a codec for lossless audiocompression. Grossly oversimplified, FLAC is similar to MP3, but lossless, meaning that audio is compressed in FLAC without any loss in quality. This is similar to how Zip works, except with FLAC you will get much better compression because it is designed specifically for audio, and you can play back compressed FLAC files in your favorite player (or your car or home stereo, if supported) just like you would an MP3 file.
General aspects of the format
FLAC is freely available and supported on most operating systems, including Windows, UNIX (Linux, *BSD, Solaris, OS X, IRIX), BeOS, OS/2, and Amiga. There are build systems for autotools, MSVC, Watcom C, and Project Builder.
The FLAC project consists of:
- the stream format
- reference encoders and decoders in library form
- flac, a command-line program to encode and decode FLAC files
- metaflac, a command-line metadata editor for FLAC files
- input plugins for various music players
When it's said that FLAC is free, it means more than just that it is available at no cost. It means that the specification of the format is fully open to the public to be used for any purpose, although the FLAC project reserves the right to set the FLAC specification and certify compliance. It also means that neither the FLAC format nor any of the implemented encoding/decoding methods are covered by any known patent. And it means that all the source code is available under open-source licenses. It is the first truly open and free lossless audio format.
Some claim FLAC is the most widely used lossless compression format on UNIX systems, though it seems more likely that shn retains that honor on all OS platforms. FLAC files also can be placed inside an Ogg container using libOggFLAC and libOggFLAC++.
- Lossless: The encoding of audio (PCM) data incurs no loss of information, and the decoded audio is bit-for-bit identical to what went into the encoder. Each frame contains a 16-bit CRC of the frame data for detecting transmission errors. The integrity of the audio data is further insured by storing an MD5 signature of the original unencoded audio data in the file header, which can be compared against later during decoding or testing.
- Fast: FLAC is asymmetric in favor of decode speed. Decoding requires only integer arithmetic, and is much less compute-intensive than for most perceptual codecs. Real-time decode performance is easily achievable on even modest hardware.
- Hardware support: Because of FLAC's free reference implementation and low decoding complexity, FLAC is currently the only lossless codec that has any kind of hardware support.
- Streamable: Each FLAC frame contains enough data to decode that frame. FLAC does not even rely on previous or following frames. FLAC uses sync codes and CRCs (similar to MPEG and other formats), which, along with framing, allow decoders to pick up in the middle of a stream with a minimum of delay.
- Seekable: FLAC supports fast sample-accurate seeking. Not only is this useful for playback, it makes FLAC files suitable for use in editing applications.
- Flexible metadata: New metadata blocks can be defined and implemented in future versions of FLAC without breaking older streams or decoders. Currently there are metadata types for tags, cue sheets, and seek tables. Applications can write their own APPLICATION metadata once they register an ID.
- Suitable for archiving: FLAC is an open format, and there is no generation loss if you need to convert your data to another format in the future. In addition to the frame CRCs and MD5 signature, flac has a verify option that decodes the encoded stream in parallel with the encoding process and compares the result to the original, aborting with an error if there is a mismatch.
- Convenient CD archiving: FLAC has a cue sheet metadata block for storing a CD table of contents and all track and index points. For instance, you can rip a CD to a single file, then import the CD's extracted cue sheet while encoding to yield a single file representation of the entire CD. If your original CD is damaged, the cue sheet can be exported later in order to burn an exact copy.
- Error resistant: Because of FLAC's framing, stream errors limit the damage to the frame in which the error occurred, typically a small fraction of a second worth of data. Contrast this with some other lossless codecs, in which a single error destroys the remainder of the stream.
- Portable to many systems
- Source open and freely licenced
- Hardware support (PhatBox, Kenwood MusicKeg, Rio Karma, etc. See below)
- Streaming support
- Extremely fast decoding
- Supports multichannel and high resolution streams
- Supports ReplayGain
- Supports cue-sheet (with some limitations)
- Gaining wide use as successor to Shorten
- Compresses less efficiently than other popular modern compressors (Monkey's Audio, OptimFROG)
- Higher compression modes slow, for little gain over the default setting.
Hardware and software that support FLAC
For a more comprehensive list see the FLAC links page.
- AudioReQuest music servers
- Avega Systems' wireless Oyster loudspeakers
- Digital Techniques' "iStereo" M300A Digital Music Player
- Escient's FireBall servers (E2-40/160/300, DVDM-300)
- iMuse audio/video media servers
- Meda Systems' Bravo servers
- The MS300 Music Server by McIntosh Laboratory
- Olive's Symphony wireless digital music center
- PhatNoise Home Digital Media Player
- Numark's DJ equipment (HDX and CDX turntables, HDMIX mixer)
- Rio Reciever and Dell Digital Audio Receiver
- Roku PhotoBridge HD (with plugin)
- SkipJam's networked audio/video devices
- Sonos Digital Music System
- Slim Devices' Transporter and Squeezebox networked audio players
- Zensonic Z500 Networked DVD Media Player
- Ziova's CS510 and CS505 network media players
- Apple iPod with Rockbox firmware
- Bluedot's BMP-1430
- Green Apple's portable media player: AP3000
- iAudio M3, M5 and X5
- iRiver iHP-120/iHP-140 with Rockbox firmware
- Iwod G10
- Rio Karma
- TrekStor's Vibez
- Cog — for Mac OS X
- JRiver Media Center
- QCD (plugin)
- Windows Media Player and other directshow-based players (MPC, TCMP, RadLight) (with Illiminable's directshow filters or CoreFLAC)
- Custom Windows Frontend (by Speek)
- UniversalFront by Böreck
- Frontah by Madah
- MAREO by Kwanbis
- dBpowerAMP Music Converter / Audio Player / CD Writer
- MediaMonkey Music Manager / Audio Player / CD Writer
- GX:Transcoder Music converter
- Ahead Nero Burning Rom
- Burrrn Audio CD burner
- Exact Audio Copy CD Ripper
- CDex CD ripper
- CD Wave
- MediaMonkey - MediaMonkey CD ripper/writer
- CDburner XP CD writer
- Case's Tag command line tagger
- The GodFather Tagger / Music manager
- Mp3tag Universal Tag Editor
- Tag — for Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger)
- metaflac - for general metadata (including Vorbis comments) maintenance
- MediaMonkey - MediaMonkey Tagger / Music manager (Including Multiple and Linked Album Art support)
- Mr. QuestionMan
- Audio Identifier
- mkvtoolnix - tool to multiplex FLAC streams inside the Matroska container
- metaflac - for general metadata (including Vorbis comments) maintenance, also to calculate ReplayGain values for FLAC files lacking such
Frequently asked questions
Question: Does the compression level affect decompression speed?
Short Answer: No.
Long Answer: In truth, the compression level does affect the decompression speed, but the difference between the various compress levels can barely be measured and is too small to be noticed, even on low-end machines.
Question: What is the best compression level for encoding my music?
Short Answer: The default setting, 5.
Long Answer: Encoding at the default setting will give the best balance between compression and encoding speed. Encoding at 8 can more than quadruple the encoding time, while having an insignificant effect on compression.
- FLAC website
- FLAC download
- Detailed description of the FLAC format
- FLAC documentation
- FLAC FAQ
- Omion's FLAC "File Size vs. Decoding Speed" test - a very thorough test on the influence of the chosen encoding level on the decoding speed of FLAC; the only one so far to have covered FLAC's --super-secret-totally-impractical-compression-level to this extent as well.