Since both the iPhone and iPad are both descended from Apple's iconic digital iPod music player, it makes sense that these devices are also great music players. But just like the iPod itself, playing music on iOS using Apple's built-in apps is only a satisfying experience if you stick to the limited file formats Apple advocates. Any attempt to deviate from this will lead to great frustration. Fans of lossless and hi-res audio are often at odds with their iOS devices due to these limitations.
Despite Apple & # 39; s lack of helpfulness with this problem, it is possible to play lossless FLAC files in iOS. Our handy guide gives you all the tools you need, so you know exactly what FLAC files are, what their benefits are and especially how you can play them on your iOS device.
What are FLAC files and what are their advantages?
(Note: if you are already familiar with FLAC files, you can proceed to the next section.)
FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec . The "lossless" part is why it is often seen as superior to the ubiquitous MP3. MP3 files are "lossy", which means that to achieve a smaller file size, they throw away some of the original information that was present on a CD track and then compress what remains. Depending on the bit rate with which the MP3 was created, this loss of information can hardly be noticeable, but for an audio purist, any loss is unacceptable. With their lossless coding, FLAC files are still much smaller than the CD tracks from which they are made, but they only achieve this through compression ̵
FLAC files have another strength: they can contain digital information that exceeds the quality of a CD if they are made from the same master recordings used to make the CD. This is known as hi-res audio and is becoming a major trend in the digital audio world, especially with streaming music services such as Tidal, Qobuz and Amazon Music HD, as they strive to distinguish themselves from Spotify and Apple Music. If you want to buy hi-res audio from the many websites that sell it, it is usually sold in the FLAC format.
A hi-res FLAC file uses a higher bit depth and sample rate than CD audio. CDs are made with a 16-bit depth and a sampling frequency of 44.1 kHz. High resolution files usually use 24-bit and sampling frequencies that start at 48 kHz and can go much higher. The belief is that these hi-res files can provide a more true reproduction of what an artist has made in the studio, because they capture and retain more detail than you can get on a CD. It is a controversial belief, especially among those who do not think that the human ear has the ability to distinguish this additional information. The only way to know if a hi-res audio file sounds better is to listen to it, and that leads us to the heart of the problem …
iTunes, Apple Music, iPhones and FLAC
The biggest The challenge when playing FLAC files on an iOS device – whether it's CD quality or hi-res – is that Apple & # 39; s two built-in audio apps, iTunes and Apple Music, do not support FLAC. With iTunes, you cannot transfer FLAC files to your device, and even if you found a way to transfer them, Apple Music would not let you see or play them. So you continue to make a decision: convert your FLAC files to a format that these apps recognize, or leave Apple's audio ecosystem completely and install software on both your computer and your iOS device to enable your FLAC play files?
If your FLAC files are hi-res (in other words, they exceed the CD standard of 16 bit / 44.1 kHz), you must also take another consideration: the limitations imposed by the DAC & # 39 ; s from Apple (digital-to-analog converters) built into iOS devices. Whether you listen via the headphone jack on older iPhones, or via the lightning to 3.5 mm adapter that comes with newer iPhones, Apple & # 39; s DAC will lower quality to a maximum of 24-bit / 48KHz. This means that you cannot hear true hi-res audio even if your audio files are encoded according to hi-res specifications.
How to play FLAC files on an iOS device
Option 1: Convert FLAC files to ALAC (so that your iPhone's native apps can read them)
So, assuming you are for it Having decided to stay in Apple's ecosystem, you have to convert your FLAC files to the only lossless format that Apple has officially supported: Apple Lossless Audio Files (ALAC). With iTunes you can transfer ALAC files to your iOS device and Apple Music plays them. ALAC and FLAC are almost identical, so no quality loss will occur during the conversion. To understand why Apple does not primarily sell music in ALAC format, you need to understand how it views digital music as a whole. But we stray.
For reasons known only to Apple, iTunes does not convert FLAC to ALAC, so regardless of whether you have a PC or a Mac, you must have the correct application to perform this conversion. Here are some of the best we have found:
dBPowerAmp (PC, Mac)
DBPowerAmp is one of the best choices for your audio file conversion. The software, compatible with Windows XP and higher (as well as Mac OS X Mavericks or newer), can perform all kinds of file conversions, as well as batch conversions (for multiple files simultaneously). The program is blissfully free from frustrating adware toolbars, even for adding effects such as volume level and normalization.
Once your FLAC & # 39; s spin through this powerwash, they are ready to rock as ALAC & # 39; s on iTunes and, as such, on your iOS device. The only problem is that the program is quite expensive, priced at $ 39 for a single Mac or PC, $ 68 for the family package and $ 88 for a PC and Mac family package. If you are not convinced, you can try the software for three weeks for free.
Any Audio Converter (PC)
If you are a PC owner and don't mind a few pop-up ads, Any Audio Converter is a great alternative to switching your files, and it's completely free! The app covers almost every file format that you encounter and an extensive set of instructions is displayed on the website for ease of use. Keep in mind that ALAC audio files may appear as M4A files after conversion, because M4A is a container format for all Apple audio files.
MediaHuman Audio Converter (PC, Mac)
If you use a Mac and you do not want to pay to convert your music files, MediaHuman is an excellent way to go. Download and install the application, open it and select "ALAC" from the drop-down menu at the top. From there you can drag or drop FLAC files to the app or use the "+" button to select files on your computer. Please note that if your FLAC files are hi-res, you want to switch to & # 39; Custom & # 39; for the output settings, otherwise you can end up with a lower quality. MediaHuman is able to convert multiple files at the same time, it is relatively fast and there are no annoying pop-up ads.
After using one of these applications to convert your audio to ALAC, you must import the files to iTunes, connect your iOS device and your music files synchronize to load them in the old-fashioned way. But pay close attention to the settings in
Option 2: use an app that can play FLAC files
If you do not want to take the time to convert your FLAC files to them play your iPhone or iPad, there is an app to solve this problem for you; there are even several. Most of these apps work by bypassing the standard "synchronization" feature in iTunes, so you can share files directly with the app installed on your device. Once installed, the app should appear under your iPhone or iPad as soon as it is connected to your computer. From there, you should be able to drag files directly from a folder to the app, and you're done.
Frankly, you might find things much easier if you simply integrate the files into your iTunes library via the ALAC format. But in case you have other plans, we've found some of the best apps available, all of which can be downloaded from the app store at
Most users of open-source software will immediately recognize the little orange cone of VLC, which translates into & # 39; every file & # 39 ;. The popular VideoLan software is a staple for those who need file versatility and, as mentioned in the comments, it is also a popular app for the iPhone when it comes to playing a large number of files, including FLAC files. The app is free and has collected relatively strong reviews, although some have reported some latency and stutter problems in the past.
Golden Ear is one of the generally high assessment scores (and a relatively inexpensive price point). the best ways to play lossless, non-ALAC audio on your iOS device. The app actually offers many different functions – it can automatically decompress ZIP and RAR audio folders, apply tags and album art, and it even supports AirPlay. The app adds small openings between songs, so if you are looking for a traditional way to listen to albums, you may be disappointed. But hey, there are other options.
One of the better options in terms of functions and stability, this $ 10 app will work, and even includes some pretty stellar features such as multi-band EQ, detailed file information and more.
An all-in-one player that offers compatibility for a large number of different video and audio file types, MoliPlayer is free and fully loaded, although it may be nickel and dime you a bit with in-app purchases like you really dig deep into its functions. MoliPlayer is also limited to iPad use, so you have to explore different options if you want to listen to FLAC & # 39; s on your phone. However, if you have an iPad, this baby will do what you need – and more.
Using an external DAC for hi-res files
So far we have discussed the two ways to make FLAC files playable on an iOS device, but we still have not covered the hi-res question . If Apple's DAC & # 39; s effectively reduce our hi-res FLAC or ALAC files in audio quality with less than hi-res, what's the point of even transferring hi-res files to our devices?
Fortunately, there are two options that can take your hi-res files from Apple's DAC prison.
Option 1: Purchase an external DAC
There are several high quality external DACs that can be connected to the iOS port with a little help from Apple's Lightning on the iOS port -to-USB3- adapter. These DACs bypass Apple's internal DAC (on older iPhones) and replace the DAC in the lightning to 3.5 mm adapter on newer phones. As such, all hi-res FLAC or ALAC files that you play are fully transported to the external DAC which then performs the hi-res analog to hi-res conversion.
Examples of external DAC & # 39; s are the AudioQuest Dragonfly Red ($ 200) or Black ($ 100).
Option 2: Purchase headphones with an integrated DAC
Although they are often expensive and somewhat difficult to obtain, there are high-quality headphones with built-in hi-res capable DAC & # 39; s. To get the most out of it, you must use the Lightning to USB3 adapter, but if you are OK with a maximum of 24-bit / 48 kHz, you can connect them directly to the lightning port.
One of the best options is Sony & # 39; s MDR-1ADAC.