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What is ALAC? Apple’s Lossless codec explained

Looking for a streaming service that supports higher-resolution audio? You’ve probably come across terms like ‘AAC’, ‘FLAC’ and ‘ALAC’. 

We’ve put together this guide to explain everything you need to know about ALAC, including what it is, where you can find it and how it compares to another lossless format, FLAC.  

What is ALAC? 

ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) is Apple’s own lossless audio compression format and a higher-resolution alternative to the standard AAC (Advanced Audio Codec). 

While both ALAC and AAC are compressed and both feature the file extension, ‘.m4a’, ALAC files retain the audio quality of their source making them the higher resolution option of the two formats.

Of course, AAC files still have their pros. The lossy audio format consumes significantly less mobile data when streaming and downloading AAC files takes up much less space on your device than lossless ALAC files. 

However, to reap these benefits, you’ll need to compromise on quality. This might not be a big deal depending on what headphones you use – some cheaper pairs won’t allow you to hear the difference between AAC and ALAC, meaning you may as well stick with the lossy format.

That said, if you want to listen to CD-quality audio, ALAC is the way to go.

Where can I find ALAC files?

ALAC is supported across Apple devices – including the iPhone, iPad, Mac and HomePod – and on Android devices using Apple Music or iTunes. 

Apple rolled out lossless audio for Apple Music listeners in mid-2021, relying on the ALAC format to deliver high-resolution sound.

Close up image of top half screen of an iPhone 12 displaying J Balvin Colores on Apple music

The entire Apple Music catalogue has since been encoded with ALAC in resolutions ranging from 16-bit/44.1kHz – also known as CD quality – up to 24-bit/192kHz. Like Tidal and Amazon Music, you don’t even need to pay for a higher tier to listen to lossless audio on Apple Music. 

Is ALAC better than FLAC? 

FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is an open-source alternative to ALAC. 

Both formats are lossless, meaning the quality is identical. However, ALAC files are designed to be used with Apple products, while FLAC files are supported across a wider range of devices and services.

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