How to Play FLAC Audio Files on Mac

Apr 29, 2018 - 29 Comments

How to play FLAC on Mac

Want to listen to FLAC audio files on a Mac? Maybe someone sent you an audio file in .flac format and you can’t figure out how to play it? There are several options for playing FLAC in Mac OS, but iTunes is not one of them.

Fortunately there are a variety of other choices available to play FLAC files in Mac OS, but for our purposes here we’ll focus on a simple and free solution that you might even already have on your computer.

What is FLAC audio?

For those who are unfamiliar with FLAC, here’s a brief explanation: FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec, and it’s a lossless audio compression format, which basically means that the FLAC file is an exact replica of the original uncompressed high quality audio file, whether it’s from a CD, line-in recording, or some other audio source. Because it’s compressed, the file size takes up less storage space, but because it’s lossless, the audio quality is very high.

Typically FLAC files are used by music enthusiasts, audiophiles, music producers, sound editors, and audio engineers, but there are other uses for them as well, almost always associated with either recording, editing, or listening to the absolute highest quality audio version of a song or audio track.

Curiously, iTunes does not play FLAC files on the Mac, which is why if you’re a Mac user looking for a FLAC music player you will have to look elsewhere than iTunes.

How to Play FLAC Audio Files on Mac with VLC

There are a variety of FLAC audio players for Mac, but one of the simplest to use that also happens to be free is VLC. Yes, VLC the widely popular, multi-talented, and diverse video player, also plays FLAC audio files! The other great thing about VLC is that while it works on Mac, it also works on Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android, so you can use the same app in virtually any OS environment for playing your FLAC files (or movies, for that matter).

  1. Click here to go the VLC developer website and then choose to download VLC
  2. Install VLC onto the Mac and launch the application
  3. VLC

  4. Locate the FLAC audio file(s) on the Mac and drag and drop them into the VLC window, or VLC Dock icon
  5. Flac audio file

  6. Click the play button to start listening to your FLAC format audio files in Mac OS
  7. Playing a FLAC audio file in Mac OS with VLC

You can make and save large playlists in VLC as well, so if you drag and drop a large number of .flac FLAC audio files into VLC they will be playable in the same sort of playlist you’d expect in an app like iTunes.

VLC is usually thought of as a video player, which it is too and that is certainly it’s primary usage, but it’s really sort of like a media playing swiss army knife with the capability to play a huge variety of video and audio formats, including FLAC and beyond. If you’re curious, you can see more VLC tips here.

FLAC audio file logo

Oh and I know what you’re thinking… how can you play FLAC audio files in iTunes? Well, since iTunes does not support FLAC audio playback, you can’t without converting the FLAC files to another format. For example, you can convert FLAC to mp3 and play those in iTunes, though mp3 audio is lossy and the audio quality will be reduced by doing so. You can also choose to convert FLAC to a lossless audio format that is compatible with iTunes, like Apple Lossless, but that’s a topic for another article altogether. You could however rip a CD into iTunes and change the audio import settings of iTunes to be Apple Lossless Encoder to get a similar effect. Perhaps we’ll cover this very topic in a another article.

Do you know of a great FLAC audio player for Mac? Do you like using VLC for playing FLAC files? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

29 Comments

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  1. Michael says:

    This is an awesome article, thanks! If you’re looking for another FLAC to mp3 converter, check out the free xAct (http://xact.scottcbrown.org/) – it’s an awesome program, and it also single audio files into individual tracks… pretty cool. Peace!

  2. ChuckR says:

    X Lossless Decoder will decode/transcode, also has a player function. Available at SourceForge.

    • avenged110 says:

      I love that app. I use it all the time to convert FLAC to ALAC.

    • Dan Justdantanks says:

      I use XLD a lot…but I also use Fission a lot.
      XLD by the way also has a premium player built in…you open the app…go under window…and you’ll find a player there that is a very good one.

  3. Golan Klinger says:

    For playback of all music files, including those encoded in FLAC, check out VOX which is available for both macOS and iOS.

    https://vox.rocks/mac-music-player

  4. Joss says:

    Plex Media Server, either locally or on a machine in your network (MacMini, NAS etc.), then use Plex Media Player. Might also work with VLC et al.

  5. John Haxby says:

    Quick Look can play flac files now so there’s hope that everything else will soon.

    Converting flac to apple lossless is easy with ffmpeg:

    ffmpeg foo.flac -c:a alac -vn foo.m4a

  6. LoyalFollower says:

    Why, simply, don’t use finder&quick look? High Sierra can play flac natively, at least, in my MBP.
    Anyway, I’d use iina player rather than vlc.

  7. Carla A says:

    here’s another vote for XLD. it’s very flexible, converting between FLAC and MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless, WAV & AIFF and more. there’s a bit of a learning curve, but you can find easy tutorials online. xACT is similar, and can sometimes work with files that XLD won’t convert for whatever reason (i run into this problem sometimes). if all else fails, use an app like Audacity to open the files and save them to a different format.

  8. no way says:

    https://www.mediahuman.com/

    Free, converts most all file formats.

  9. PerryD says:

    I use FLACtunes to move FLACs into ALAC/iTunes. Works a treat. I use Tag Editor Free to clean up metadata prior to import.

    These days I’m using Relisten to listen to music most of the time, streaming rather than importing into iTunes.

  10. Don says:

    Please remember that VLC will allow you to play a flac file, but it won’t be in high resolution unless you’ve got an external DAC connected to your Mac. Just another way apple got you by the, you know what. I’m an audiophile so I don’t own an iPhone. We’re smarter. Audiophiles use the fabulous LG V30 with a true full featured DAP, run by an ESS Sabre quad dac.

    • arni says:

      “I’m an audiophile so I don’t own an iPhone. We’re smarter.”
      ….wow.

    • John says:

      ”we’re smarter”
      Dumber you mean!!!.
      Of course VLC will play in high resolution on your Mac or your iPhone (via the lightning connector) since they have their own DAC built-in.

      • DAC is built right into your macs. You can play HD music on most macs. You go to Applications…enter utilities…and open Audio Midi Setup.app…then you set the Audio Midi setup drop down menu to Format 192000.0 Hz (CDs have 44100 Hz) and the right side drop down menu to 2-ch-32bit (CDs have 16bit)…and it will then play HD files of your choosing. Send it to the amp using either USB or the 3.5mm headphone jack.

    • J.Murgen says:

      I don’t use an iPhone to play flag either, that’s why the article is called how to play flag on your Mac. Seriously, stick to the topic. Quick Look? Seriously can you do a playlist with quick look. Pretty sure you can’t, I think the article’s purpose was to show you don’t need to be locked in with aac, mp3, or Apple lossless to enjoy higher quality digital media.

    • no way says:

      An “audiophile” would know the iPhone can play better than CD quality .wav files @ 24 bit.

    • You can play HD music on a mac. You go to Applications…enter utilities…and open Audio Midi Setup.app…then you set the Audio Midi setup drop down menu to Format 192000.0 Hz (CDs have 44100 Hz) and the right side drop down menu to 2-ch-32bit (CDs have 16bit)…and it will then play HD files of your choosing.
      You do not require external units to play HD music in macs.

  11. WeddarT says:

    I have tried most of the sep FLAC players out there but a lot of important functionality is lost being outside of iTunes so my current method is to convert using MAX (free from http://sbooth.org/Max/) into ALAC ..very easy, fast, preserves metadata and album art if it was correctly set up. Then just drag into iTunes as normal. Now all your HD music is in one library. Recommended!

  12. Dan says:

    You might want to have a look as well at Audirvana, it’s a great piece of software

  13. Andreas Glink says:

    Audiophile player Amarra 4:
    http://sonicstudio.com/amarra/amarra4.php

    Freeware players:
    http://cogx.org/features.php
    Simple and effective browsing.

    https://www.clementine-player.org/en/
    Playlists in tabs and a multitude of another features.

  14. Marcos says:

    Audirvana and Swinsian are the better choices. I use Audirvana for classics and Swinsian for pops and rocks.

  15. Bruce Maples says:

    Just want to mention my favorite CD ripper and audio file converter: dbPoweramp. It started as a Windows app, then the author rewrote it for Mac OS. Has a number of excellent features, not the least of which is its ability to do a CRC check on a rip to ascertain accuracy. I’ve used it to pull music off a damaged CD, and I use it for file conversions all the time.

    Not an investor, no affiliate link. Just a long-time, very satisfied customer.

    https://www.dbpoweramp.com

  16. Dan Justdantanks says:

    I have been using FLAC files in my macs since 10.6.8. and ironically you picture FLUKE, but do not mention it. Fluke is an applet that allows you to play FLAC files on a Mac. To play FLAC files in iTunes, you drop the flac tune on the opened FLUKE icon, and it is automatically incorporated into iTunes and plays like any other tune. FLUKE also plays FLAC files in Quicktime. You likewise can play HD music on a mac. You go to Applications…enter utilities…and open Audio Midi Setup.app…then you set the Audio Midi setup drop down menu to Format 192000.0 Hz (CDs have 44100 Hz) and the right side drop down menu to 2-ch-32bit (CDs have 16bit)…and it will then play HD files of your choosing. I have gotten into WavPack files for my albums, but they do not play in iTunes nor in Quicktime…so you need VLC for them, but using FLAC is really easy. I had FLUKE set to open when I boot my mac…and it worked flawlessly.

  17. LeMøøse says:

    Is there a flac-player on iOs that has a decent way to handle playlists? I’d love to import and use .m3u files on my phone.

    VLC does not handle this quite well, neither does VOX. These apps may allow you to create a new playlist — the focus here is to be able to import a predefined playlist into an iOs phone.

    Thanks for all pointers/suggestions in advance,
    LM

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