Lossless audio formats, particularly the popular FLAC codec, have already been discussed on this blog. We learned that, unlike lossy methods for creating smaller — and therefore more easily downloadable and sharable audio files — lossless compression methods do not reduce the quality of the sound. In this post, we’ll examine the ALAC or the Apple Lossless Audio Codec: An audio coding format developed by Apple and supported by Apple devices such as iPods, iPads, iPhones and Macs.
ALAC offers higher sound quality than the MP3 format
Whereas lower quality MP3 files are supported by just about every device, when it comes to high-quality audio, one needs to exert a bit more care when selecting music. That’s because FLAC audio files, the most popular and wide-spread lossless format, are not supported on Apple systems. Therefore Apple fans who want high quality digital music should look for files ending in .m4a – the most common file extension for ALAC.
Although separated by the operating systems they can be used with, FLAC and ALAC share many technical features and have a similar file size. The FLAC format is about .8% smaller, a difference that shouldn’t matter to most people. As a rule, both FLAC and ALAC are able to compress CD quality files to half the size. In terms of sound quality, FLAC and ALAC are comparable, although compression and decompression is slightly more efficient with FLAC. In a direct test, this means that a FLAC file will decompress more quickly, and therefore by ready for playback more readily than an ALAC file. Again, however, this difference is so marginal that mere mortals will not notice it.
For Apple users, their systems’ exclusive use of ALAC need not be a limitation on their music selection as it is fairly easy to convert FLAC files into ALAC files. Although there are sometimes minor problems converting album covers and song titles, sound quality will not be affected. A wide array of conversion software – both free and paid – is available online.
Like FLAC, ALAC is open source
Those who google “FLAC versus ALAC” will generally hit upon the following explanation: The two formats employ a similar compression/decompression technique to create smaller audio files without compromising on sound quality. The only difference between the two is said to be that FLAC is open source and ALAC is closed source. The Apple Lossless Codec,however, was open sourced in 2011.
Open source software is software that is freely provided by the company and which can be modified and redistributed by users. The idea is that allowing the software to be modified by a larger pool of programmers will enhance the overall product. In the case of ALAC, the decision to make the software open source was probably to allow users to adapt the code for use on more non-Apple products along with other improvements that can be expected from increased access to the code.
ALAC transforms Apples devices into lossless music players
One of the greatest features of the ALAC format is its compatibility with Apple’s most popular portable music player. This used to be the iPod, but has since become the iPhone which many people use for music listening as well as web surfing and telephony. For high-quality streaming, ALAC is also compatible with Applie’s AirPlay Wi-Fi streaming system, thus allowing speakers like the iTeufel Air Blue to stream in hi-fi sound quality. ALAC is also, of course, one of the audio codecs supported by the Raumfeld streaming system.
All pictures: Property of Teufel Audio