How to Play FLAC or Other Lossless Audio Files in iTunes

If you buy or download music in FLAC files, you do so because you want the best quality audio files. FLAC files are losslessly compressed, which means that, when you play them back, they are bit-perfect replicas of the original uncompressed files (on a CD or high-resolution files).

You may want to play these files in iTunes. While iTunes doesn’t support FLAC files, it’s very easy to convert them to Apple Lossless, or ALAC, an equivalent lossless format that iTunes does support. Converting audio files from one lossless format to another is lossless; in other words, there is no quality lost when you convert from FLAC to ALAC. (The same is true with other uncompressed or lossless formats, such as WAV, AIFF, APE, SHN, and others.)

Lossless files

The best app for doing this on a Mac is the free XLD. It can convert too and from just about every audio format you will even want to use, and does so retaining metadata; tags with track info and album artwork. It’s quick and easy to use, and you can either keep your original FLAC files, or delete them after conversion and just keep the ALAC files. (You can always convert them back to FLAC later if you want, with no loss in quality.)

If you use Windows, you can get a free version of dBpoweramp, which can convert files, and a paid version, which you can use to rip CDs, edit tags and more.

There used to be some third-party tools that hacked iTunes to let you add FLAC files, but they’re not reliable. If you want to use lossless files with iTunes, it’s much easier to just convert them.

One other useful tool, if you use a Mac, is Rogue Amoeba’s Fission. This audio editor is my tool of choice for trimming, joining, and editing audio files, and it also includes a conversion tool that lets you convert from just about any audio format to AAC, MP3, Apple Lossless, FLAC, AIFF, and WAV. While it’s not the best tool if you only want to convert audio files, it is the easiest-to-use Mac app for editing those files.

One more thing. Don’t convert lossy files to lossless; they don’t sound better. (You’d be surprised how many people write me thinking they will.)

34 thoughts on “How to Play FLAC or Other Lossless Audio Files in iTunes

  1. Your title is misleading. Converting a FLAC to ALAC is NOT playing it through itunes, it’s converting it. Simply pointless info here Kirk.

    • This is definitely NOT pointless information. It is a way to play lossless music on itunes and ios devices. Why would you have an issue with converting music to an equivalent yet much more compatible format? ALAC is a format that is greatly underutilized.

      • But its not playing FLAC, its ALAC, “Your title is misleading. Converting a FLAC to ALAC is NOT playing it through itunes” Hes right

        • i’m confused. The title says how to play FLAC in iTunes. No one would need to read this if FLAC could be effortlessly played in iTunes. What am i missing here? (common for me to miss things). The article then immediately covers the fact that FLAC isn’t supported in iTunes and that it’s easy to convert FLAC to ALAC. While following the suggestion in the article and other feedback in the comments, i downloaded XLD and immediately found it unintelligible and therefore useless, i think it presupposes some knowledge that i don’t have, some vocabulary. So i am looking for a conversion program like the old days when whatever program i was playing the (for example) FLAC file in would have a “Convert to MP3” (and other options) option to choose. Click OK and conversion starts. XLD was something completely different, and the instructions offered me the source code and some command lines, and something about splitting cue files, at that point, i was out of my league and despite trying to improvise, i was wasting my time. So that may have something to do with why i don’t understand your critique “misleading title.” Just wondering.

          • dBpower amp works as you described for Windows.
            Right click the flac file or highlight several and right click and a Convert To option appears in the drop down menu. Takes a minute to set up so that it converts to the file you want but after that it’s quick and easy.

    • Agree and disagree. Technically it’s true that converting FLAC files necessarily means you cannot play those files in iTunes. But it’s not true that the information is pointless, as the majority of people wanting to play FLAC files on iTunes are looking for FLAC-quality music on iTunes, and don’t care about the actual extension.

      He also addressed how to play FLAC files directly through iTunes and mentioned that it was not reliable to do so.

  2. NOTE – ALAC does not fully support all of the formats FLAC does. So while it’s true you can convert a high quality CD Stereo sample in FLAC to an identically sounding ALAC, that is where the similarity ends. FLAC also supports 5.1 channels of discreet audio, as well as true HD Audio formats in the 24bit/96khz and UP range. FLAC will, for lack of a better term, generally handle ANY audio format. If you just want highest quality CD sound, keep converting FLAC into ALAC.

  3. if you have a few albums in FLAC format it could be a solution , but I have more than 1TB of music in this format the solution you’re proposing is feasible.

    • Do you mean unfeasible? It would take a while, but you can convert all those files, again, with no loss of quality.

  4. Some audio enthusiasts have accused Apple’s ALAC of actually been noticeably lossy, which I found interesting, especially for high bitrate files. Link: http://blog.bowers-wilkins.com/speakers/ipod-speakers/apple-lossless-confusion/

    So if absolute fidelity to the original is important, users may need to both convert to an iTunes-compatible format like ALAC or AAC PLUS keep the original high-resolution FLAC file for use with other devices such as PONO Players or software.

  5. Instead of reinventing the wheel Apple add support for FLAC into iTunes??

    This would be easier for everyone

    • This has been on audiophiles’ wish lists for God knows how long. Apple has ignored the issue, perhaps because FLAC is just one of many more or less esoteric formats and if Apple started supporting one there would then be demands that it support others. There is another solution that doesn’t drag Apple into the file format wilderness—VLC.

      Perhaps it comes down to the question of why serious audiophiles would use iTunes in the first place. If you want a truly flexible media player for the Mac (and for Windows, Linux, Android and iOS) get the free VLC Media Player at http://www.videolan.org. And yes, it plays FLAC and just about everything else, both audio and video.

      That said, if you want to use iTunes—say for streaming your music to an Airplay device like an Apple TV, converting your files to Apple Lossless is undoubtedly the way to go. And XLD is the tool to use. Like VLC, it supports a wide range of audio file formats. And, if you are concerned about whether Apple Lossless will clip or otherwise corrupt your music, keep your FLAC files as a backup. Storage is inexpensive these days.

      • Audiophiles would not use iTunes, but they would laugh at you for suggesting VLC, which is a pile of garbage masquerading as software.

  6. The only thing is, XLD does not appear to be able to process all your FLAC files from an album as a batch. However, Fission can do this.

      • Oh, it’s only that no-one in their explanations mentioned this as a possibility so I did not bother to install it. Anyhow I already had Fission so that’s working out OK.

        Cheers

  7. I too was disappointed that by “playing .flac files on iTunes” actually means converting to .alac. This is not the same thing at all. That’s like saying you can play VHS cassettes on your DVD player! Yeah, all you need to do is transfer the VHS cassettes from your VCR to your DVD-R. (You have that equipment, right?) I think you might want to change the title and keywords so that your article is a match for the right question.

    I am actually trying to play .flac on iTunes to see if it wil support multichannel rips from DTS or DVD-A. I know that you can play multichannel DTS rips -> .alac on your ATV4 but I really want this to work with iTunes but I suspect the problem isn’t just with the format, but a limitation with iTunes. Considering that it supports other surround formats passthrough like PCM it doesn’t make sense to pay the licensing for use on AppleTV but totally neglect iTunes for nearly two decades now. Similarly, it is absurd that Apple still wont support .flac, a free format, presumably because they want people using .alac becaus thats so bloody important… .flac is great because it is a fully taggable format that plays on all platforms- except iTunes! Apple’s deliberate “only game in town” schtick is really getting old.

  8. How ironic, now that Apple has found a way to revisit the old Monopoly game that Microsoft ran for so long; now, A forces us to use their proprietary format, reluctantly acknowledging the existence of mp3/4 because it is still so prevalent. Guess what they just did to iPhone photo storage – dropped the universal jpeg for a ‘superior’ format, that no one else happens to use. Of course one can convert during download, but then what was the advantage in the first place? Although I have never been patient or smart enough to try permanently going the Linux route, the constant pressure to ‘drink the Apple Koolaid’ is making me weary and angry – weangry – so much I may just have another go on principle. And, of course, one generation more removed and few will have kept the previous format, or will find that the one chosen as universal ten years before has been abandoned, no longer supported, and so cannot be retrieved by the latest greatest whatever systems. Pdf, jpeg, txt and wav files should be readily readable for the foreseeable future, and any company that tries to force another format must be guaranteeing backward compatibility which we are not always getting now.

    • Wow…

      First, while Apple did create the ALAC format, it is now open source, so there’s no monopoly. They don’t “reluctantly” acknowledge the existence of MP3 and MP4; iTunes first launched supporting only MP3. Then it added AAC, which is MP4, which scads of people thought was a proprietary Apple format, and got all crazy about. AAC is superior to MP3, but they got accused of the same thing you wrote here, because not many other apps or devices supported it initially. They all do now. Kind of like when they introduced USB on the first iMac; now USB is the standard.

      And you can shoot JPEGs in the iPhone; it’s a setting.

      Worth also pointing out that PDF started as a proprietary Adobe format, and you had to pay to even be able to read the files. They only open-sourced it because no one was using it because of that reason.

      And WAV started out as a proprietary format, created by Microsoft and IBM.

  9. Nice post, the pomposity in the comments is palpable but not everyone wants or can listen to audio with a clarity only lossless can give, even then I really depends on what you are playing that file with. I have a degree of hearing loss so regardless of the lossless format It ain’t getting to me as lossless, I have lossy hearing lol!

    I’d like to see a post about what all of these audio pomps consider the best audio players on Mac and windows, also what sound system they are pushing that lossless audio through because you can have the best audio format and software player in the world but if the sound they produce is being pushed through £10 speakers what’s the point?

    As for me, I use MediaHuman Audio Converter, it works quickly and I’ve never had an issue with it.

    I’ll take a look at Fission so thanks for the tip and thanks for taking the time to make this post.

  10. hi,
    thanks for the article, very useful.
    to all the whining retards above thanks for reminding me why it is generally pointless reading comments on the internet, as per above normally whining like bitches about bollox!!
    if you don’t like it get off your fat arses and write / post an article yourselves.
    nothing like keyboard warriors to wind up anyone of normal intelligence, freeking pondlife…….

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