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As I understand the technologies, WAV is a raw, uncompressed format and FLAC is a compressed but lossless format.

My research has shown that FLAC files "still maintain all the audio fidelity"src of WAV.

I'm just wondering: Could I be saving a significant amount of disk space by converting all of my WAV originals to FLAC? Or would I lose audio data that might be important in the future if I want to (re)process my recordings?

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You could get the best of both worlds by storing your WAVs on a filesystem that supports transparent compression, such as NTFS. They'll still look like WAVs to the rest of the world, but they'll not take up as much physical disk space. –  Chris W. Rea Dec 25 '10 at 19:45
    
I could at that. It would require reformatting my 32GB flash drive, though, and I'm not so sure about taking NTFS volumes between OSes. –  dgw Dec 28 '10 at 0:44
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@Chris The compression NTFS offers for WAV files is negligable. That's the reason why FLAC exists at all. So your solution would rather be the worst of both worlds. :) –  bzlm Dec 29 '10 at 18:51
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@bzlm You're right - I just tried NTFS compression on a CD ripped to WAV and it didn't compress much at all, 669MB became 665MB. I'm surprised at that, but now I know. –  Chris W. Rea Dec 29 '10 at 20:38
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What I forgot is that NTFS compression seems to be negligible for anything not text-based. Oh well. Thanks for the sanity checks everyone. ;-) –  dgw Dec 29 '10 at 22:44
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4 Answers 4

up vote 27 down vote accepted

FLAC is fully lossless and can reproduce a sample-accurate waveform. It's awesome.

The main reason not to encode everything as FLAC is simple convenience. For many applications (using them in most DAWs, for example) you'll have to transcode them back to .WAV which takes some time. Not much, but some. Whether this matters or not is entirely up to your workflow.

Save for bugs in your encoder software (if there are any), you will not lose any audio data going back and forth between FLAC compression and raw WAV.

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To add a note to this answer, if you are looking to save space with your DAW project files, you can always just ZIP them. Then you get everything in one nice and neat file. The compression isn't quite as good as FLAC, but is more convenient. FLAC should be used for finished stuff. –  Brad Dec 24 '10 at 16:24
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@Brad ZIP didn't compress audio well last time I checked (guess it's been years already). I used WinRAR for that, it has a specific audio option, and performs similarly to those lossless codecs out there. Never checked 7zip though. –  herzmeister der welten Dec 25 '10 at 12:18
    
@herzmeister der welten, yes ZIP won't compress much, but it is convenient. It's difficult to compress complex data. –  Brad Dec 25 '10 at 17:39
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Actually, when I was exporting bunches (hundreds) of short WAVs and zipping them into archives, I got decent compression. Not much worse than FLAC, actually. But that might have to do with the great redundancy of those WAVs (lots of wasted bytes in silence at beginning and end). –  dgw Dec 28 '10 at 0:46
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You won't lose any data. In fact, FLAC has much better meta-data support so you actually gain data if, after converting, you tag the FLAC files with meta-data like author, BPM, song title, etc.

The only reason I can think of not to save things as FLAC is compatibility. Not all software will understand a FLAC file (example: iTunes, Logic) but I've never met software that couldn't handle WAV files. You'll definitely save on space at no cost to quality but you may find yourself converting from FLAC back to WAV to work with the files. If that takes time, the question becomes what's worth more? Your time or your disk space?

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I use Audacity to edit, Songbird & VLC to play, and I end up exporting to MP3 or another lossy codec to publish things anyway. All three programs support FLAC, so it sounds like unless I switch to a more advanced editing package that doesn't support FLAC I'll be OK. Thanks! –  dgw Dec 23 '10 at 22:38
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@Voyager Be sure to verify that they support the meta-data features of FLAC - not just that they're able to read FLAC files. Otherwise, you might lose meta-data when loading and saving. –  bzlm Dec 29 '10 at 18:54
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For Mac users, Fluke is available -- code.google.com/p/flukeformac -- which 'tricks' iTunes into allowing FLACs to be added to its Library and played back. (On a related note, XiphQT is available for Vorbis file support) –  Christopher Woods Aug 16 '11 at 18:24
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I don't understand why ths wasn't mentioned earlier, but even without looking whether or not software supports the FLAC format, there is a general reason why you don't want to use it.

Flac saves you about 60% of the space and gives you spiffing tag info, but at a price I am not going to pay at any moment in my recording-workflow: it costs CPU power to decode them. This is highly inconvenient when you are working on a project, especially when you need your CPU to do DSP-related things. If you would convert a FLAC file back to WAV (disk access time not counting) you get a general idea of CPU time this process takes during the playback of the entire track.

It is a very beautiful format to keep your personal music in, but in the recording/production scene, I will gladly donate my plenty disk space in exchange for my invaluable CPU time.

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You make a good point. Disk space is cheap compared to time; however I have a small drive and no way of expanding my storage capacity, so compression is worthwhile in my situation. –  dgw Jan 19 '11 at 20:37
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One (specialized) reason: FLAC doesn't support 32-bit floating point audio. To losslessly compress that, you have to use a less-widely-supported format such as wavpack.

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