Over the last few years there’s been a lot of talk about FLAC and how it is the ‘new MP3’. Considering the old MP3 is still around that may sound confusing, and rightfully so.
The fact of the matter is that both MP3 and FLAC are audio formats that are very different from one another. Understanding the differences between the two is essential, especially if you’re trying to decide which you want to use for your music.
“What is MP3?”
As you are probably aware MP3 is the most popular format used to encode videos. When it was first released it offered a far better compression rate than anything else that was available, and singlehandedly transformed the digital music industry.
Nowadays MP3 is almost synonymous with digital music, and is frequently used as the format of choice to distribute it. It can be played on practically any device or platform, and is essentially the most universal format.
At its core however MP3 is a ‘lossy’ format – which means that data is discarded in order to compress the audio file. That is why its quality is not as good as CDs, especially not when it is encoded at lower bitrates.
“What is FLAC?”
Unlike MP3 that has been around for over 25 years, FLAC was released much more recently. More importantly however where MP3 is a ‘lossy’ format, FLAC uses ‘lossless’ compression – which means that no audio data is lost.
As a result FLAC audio can be of a far better quality than MP3 could ever hope to be. In fact technically FLAC can even surpass audio CDs in terms of raw ‘quality’ alone.
Needless to say because it does not discard any data, the file size of FLAC is generally bigger. Typically a song in FLAC would be up to six times larger than the same song would be in MP3 at a high bitrate.
“Which to Choose?”
Choosing between FLAC and MP3 isn’t as simple as you might think, because it really isn’t a question of just the quality and file size. To be completely honest the quality of a high-bitrate MP3 isn’t that far off from a FLAC file, and if you’re listening to it on normal speakers you would struggle to tell the difference.
Instead it boils down to a simple question: Do you need lossless audio?
If you’re going to be storing music, FLAC is a good option purely because no data will be lost – and you can always convert FLAC to MP3 using tools such as Movavi Video Converter if you need to. It is easy enough, and you can follow the steps at http://www.movavi.com/support/how-to/how-to-convert-flac-to-mp3.html.
However when you’re actually listening to audio on mobile devices, laptops, and normal computer speakers – both MP3 and FLAC will sound almost identical. The question then becomes: Do you really want a larger FLAC file that sounds the same as an MP3 that is a fraction its size?
The other factor to consider is compatibility, though in recent years FLAC has become almost as widely-supported as MP3s – but may still struggle on older devices or platforms.
At the end of the day it really is a toss-up between both formats. As you should be starting to see each has its advantages and disadvantages, so neither is the outright ‘best’ option to use in every situation.
In short – it is up to you, but now that you understand the difference between FLAC and MP3, it should make deciding a whole lot easier based on the specific situation that you’re in.