Entertainment iPhone and iPad Mac

ALAC vs FLAC: The Best for Listening to Lossless Music on Mac and iOS

Michael McConnell 13-02-2018

Sound quality isn’t dead. Casual fans may be okay with a badly encoded MP3 streamed over a slideshow on YouTube, but if you’re really into your music, you want something better.


There is FLAC, but that requires a whole new set of players and a new library. That’s where ALAC comes in: Apple’s lossless codec. It is compatible with iTunes and iOS, so you can change formats without changing your routine.

Lossless vs. Compressed Codecs

Whether it’s AAC or MP3, most of the music you’re buying/streaming is encoded using a lossy codec. That derives from how they compress data How Audio Compression Works, and Can You Really Tell the Difference? In this article, we'll take a look at how music compression works, and whether it has any real effect on how your music actually sounds. Read More . The codecs work by removing parts of the file overlapping with other frequencies.

Other targets for removal may be outside the average range of hearing. When you’re talking about classical, jazz, and other music with dynamic ranges you can end up with a muted sound.

Like most things when it comes to quality, this is subjective. However, if you notice that your music sounds cheap and tinny, you may want to switch to a lossless format.

While WAV files are completely uncompressed, they are huge. Lossless codecs like FLAC and ALAC compress by removing parts of the data that are identical. It isn’t going to get you as much space savings as MP3, but they are considerably smaller than raw WAV files.


For an extensive explainer, check out our article on understanding compression and codecs All You Need to Know about Video Codecs, Containers, and Compression Explaining the difference between codecs and containers is relatively simple, but hard part is attempting to understand each format. Read More .

Why ALAC Instead of FLAC

The short answer is iTunes. The longer answer is iTunes and iOS. ALAC is excellent because you can still use iTunes to manage everything in your library. If you subscribe to Apple Music or iCloud Music library, dropping iTunes isn’t a choice. You can then slowly increase your library of lossless music. Most importantly, you don’t have to change how you manage your Mac’s music library.

Your iCloud Music Library will unfortunately still be made up of AAC files. So you’re not going to get the high-quality music everywhere. Though if you’re willing to put in a bit of work to set up a Plex server Your Guide To Plex - The Awesome Media Center If you have a lot of locally-saved movies and TV shows, you need to install Plex. And this is the only guide to getting started with Plex you'll ever need to read. Read More , you can get your ALAC on your iPhone remotely. If you’re just copying over files, you can sync the ALAC files to your iPhone — just make sure you disable the option to shrink high bitrate files!

FLAC does edge out ALAC regarding sound quality. ALAC is 16-bit and FLAC is 24-bit encoding, and FLAC has a higher sampling rate. ALAC compares to CD quality, which is much better than most of your digital files. FLAC is closer to studio masters, according to the Society of Sound.


How to Get ALAC Files

Despite being an Apple standard, iTunes does not sell ALAC files. Though their “Mastered for iTunes” is higher quality, it doesn’t come close to the quality of lossless. So you’re going to need to look elsewhere The Internet Music Guide for the Audiophile We have uncovered the biggest sites for music fans in several categories. Whether you want to buy an album, stream songs, discover new music, or just learn more, these sites have it all. Read More .

Your Physical Media

If you still buy CD’s to rip them into your library, then you can make an easy switch over to ALAC. You can change the import settings for iTunes.

In the menubar, click on iTunes then select Preferences. Near the bottom of the dialog, click on Import Settings. Click the dropdown and select Apple Lossless. Finally, click OK for both dialogs and you’re all set. The next time you insert a CD, it will import as ALAC rather than AAC.

mac ios alac vs flac audio quality


If you’re ripping vinyl, you need to set your file format to ALAC rather than AAC or MP3. ALAC support is in Audacity and other recording apps like Audio Hijack. You’ll want to check your specific app for where to change the export file format.

Buying ALAC Files

If you prefer to buy files rather than physical data you have a couple of options.

mac ios alac vs flac audio quality

  • Bandcamp: This is the store where you can send your cash right to the band, or to their label in some cases. These days, it often isn’t clear who gets paid when you buy music. Bandcamp sets you up to pay the artist directly for their music, or at the very least their label. You aren’t going to find a lot of mainstream music here, but if you like underground and independent artists, they’re likely on Bandcamp. Everything varies in price based on the artist’s wishes, so you’ll have to shop around. However, all downloads are available in ALAC.

Staying in the Mac and iOS Ecosystem

The best benefit to ALAC is that it lets you move to lossless without having to change your entire workflow. If you’ve got a sizable iTunes library How to Back Up and Restore Your Mac's iTunes & Photos Library Chances are if you've lost all your music, photos, and videos once, you'll make sure it never happens again. Read More , it might be intimidating to start from scratch.


Long-time Apple users might also have just learned to live with iTunes’s faults and don’t want to learn all the quirks of a new player. VLC is great, but it doesn’t have a great way to auto-manage your library the same way iTunes does.

Do you see the value in switching to lossless? Let us know in the comments.

Related topics: Audiophiles, File Compression, iTunes.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Migi
    March 28, 2019 at 7:59 am

    While Android users are enjoying 990kbps/32bit with Bluetooth headphones and via streaming service :D

  2. Paulr
    February 14, 2018 at 6:15 am

    MediaMonkey is excellent music manager that plays FLAC. as an alternative ti iTunes or using VLC.

    • Keith
      February 14, 2018 at 2:24 pm

      Paulr, only iTunes can be used with Apple Music, iTunes Match, or iCloud Music Library, as Michael pointed out. There are a lot of people who use these services believing they're stuck with 256 Kbps AAC, so Michael was trying to explain how ALAC is an option if they want hi-def music.

    • Mike
      April 15, 2018 at 5:41 pm

      Nice little advert for the Apple ecosystem. No thanks.

  3. Marcus
    February 14, 2018 at 5:30 am

    The comment about ALAC being only 16 bit is false!! ALAC also supports hi res as I own several 24 bit albums in ALAC that I've downloaded from HDtracks & how do you claim that FLAC has better sound quality when both formats are lossless??

    • Keith
      February 14, 2018 at 2:27 pm

      Correct. "Apple Lossless supports up to 8 channels of audio at 16, 20, 24 and 32 bit depth with a maximum sample rate of 384kHz." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Lossless I think even true audiophiles would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between ALAC and FLAC files encoded with the same parameters.

      • OkBoomers
        March 3, 2020 at 2:37 am

        Audiophiles can't tell the difference between 320 MP3 and 24 bit 96khz Flac, let alone the lossless compression container they're in.

  4. Keith
    February 14, 2018 at 12:38 am

    Before you go spending money on ALAC or FLAC (unless it costs the same, as on Bandcamp), make sure you can hear the difference. You need to have good enough audio equipment, including your ears. There are several websites where you can test whether you can hear the difference between lo-def and hi-def audio. I generally can't tell the difference above 128 Kbps. I can pack a lot more music on my devices!

    Mac users can use X Lossless Decoder (XLD) to transcode from FLAC to ALAC.

  5. Nachum37
    February 13, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    It is possible to convert ALAC to FLAC files by dbPowerAmp.

    • chmsalman
      November 13, 2018 at 3:07 am

      yes, I use it to convert FLAC to ALAC in order to import to iTunes. I'm sure you can do the reverse order as well.