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Audiophile 101

Your Intro to all things audio.

Chapter 7 - What is ALAC audio?

Welcome to this is chapter of Audiophile 101, your continuing  introduction into all things audio from Pocket Rock It Radio! 

A-101 aims to be a starting point for audio knowledge, and as such we’ll be answering any audio related questions you may have in simplistic and easy to understand words. No matter how much you want to know about audio the Audiophile 101 program’s aim is to help answer your music related questions quick and easy.

In this chapter we will take a look at the audio file format ALAC to answer the question, what is ALAC?

Table of Contents:

ALAC is a lossless compression audio file format, created by the Apple Corporation to act as the lossless counterpart to the AAC lossy type audio file format. ALAC being a lossless audio file but compressed means that while the sound file is compressed it maintains all the information contained inside of the original uncompressed audio file. To make the ALAC audio file the digital information of the audio file is rewritten to store all it’s digital information in a more economical way than it’s uncompressed counterpart [AIFF/WAV] thus resulting in enhanced listening quality with reduced required storage space.

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What does ALAC stand for?

ALAC stands for Apple Lossless Audio Codec.

Is ALAC better than AAC?

Yes. The ALAC audio format is losslessly compressed, where AAC is lossy compressed. Meaning when an AAC file is created parts of the original audio file are deleted in the name of saving storage space, and data usage. ALAC audio files being lossless compressed audio means all of the original audio files information is compressed but retained and available for playback. Making ALAC capable of a deeper listening experience.

For more information of lossy vs lossless compression see A-101 – Chapter 2 : Lossy vs Lossless Audio

Is ALAC or FLAC better for streaming?

They are both the same file type, so they are the same. Both are completely lossless compression the only differences come from the type of audio codec used to decrypt (translate/read) the audio file one uses the FLAC audio codec, and the other the ALAC audio codec.

So neither is better than the other for streaming. No matter what format your streaming service of choice picks as long it’s lossless you’re getting the same listening experience. Just make sure you’ve got the right gear to make it possible to hear these improvements, and enjoy.

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How are ALAC audio files different than AAC?

ALAC audio files are compressed by rewriting the existing digital information of a audio file in a more economical way to reduce the overall file size while retaining all of the original information. Where with the AAC audio file format digital information is deleted entirely from the original audio file during compression.

Is ALAC better than FLAC?

When comparing the two as audio files they are the same from a listening perspective. ALAC is simply the format that works naturally with Apple products [Mac,iphone,etc.] making it the go to choice for Apple users. To play an FLAC audio file on an Apple device you would need a third party program (a program made by someone other than Apple) to have the FLAC audio file be decoded properly.

The benefit of the ALAC format over the FLAC format is that more of the original audio files information is contained within. The ALAC audio file does not just contain the audio recording, but things like the songs meta data [ie. song info, album art, etc.) are included with ALAC.

Remember that an audio tracks meta data can be added by the user so if you are not a MAC user don’t feel like you need to get ALAC for that reason. The FLAC audio files sound the same, and will be more compatible with your device so there’s no reason to jump ship on audio file types unless you really want to. 

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Does ALAC work with bluetooth?

No. Now yes you can listen to the audio file, but to listen to Lossless compressed or lossless audio files with bluetooth headphones or speakers won’t work to a lossless effect work no matter how much money you spend on the bluetooth device.

When the bluetooth signal is sent from your device to your listening device (speaker/headphones) via the bluetooth codec it is compressed to be sent over the airwaves to your device. So while yes you can still listen to your music no matter if it’s bluetooth or not, the majority of the benefit you gain from lossless audio is lost the second you send it through blue-tooth the bluetooth codec.

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Can you use ALAC on Windows or Android devices?

Yes you can, some modern non-Apple devices are beginning to included an ALAC audio codec and play ALAC audio files naturally. If your device is a bit older, or you find ALAC won’t play on your device you may need to download a proper audio codec to play ALAC audio files on your device.

Is ALAC just as good as AIFF?

The ALAC audio file has all of the information the original uncompressed AIFF file contains so the two files should sound identical.

There is considered to be a slight difference between the two audio files due to the fact that the ALAC audio file needs to be decompressed in real time by computer software. This additional processing causes additional CPU work, and real time translating. Computer processing, and power consumption are two things that can cause audio interference so there is a chance on higher end set-ups you may be able to detect a difference. 

Again this difference though is only noticeable with the proper kind of listening equipment. If you are not using high end audio equipment you won’t be able to hear the difference, and even then you may not be able to notice a difference. So for most situations ALAC will work just fine.

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Chapter Wrap Up:

We hope you now have a handle on what is ALAC. Really at the end of the day ALAC and FLAC are the same type of audio format and work in the same way, it just comes down to the digital platforms they originated on. 

This means that with some minor exceptions anything you learn about FLAC applies to ALAC and vice versa. Be sure to check out A-101 : Chapter 6 – What is FLAC? for more questions answered. As always any questions, or anything you think we may have missed leave us a comment in the section below.

Until next time, happy listening.

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