6 Tools to Play FLAC in iTunes and iOS

While the average iTunes user probably hasn't heard of FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec), audiophiles swear by it. That's because FLAC is a lossless format, meaning that FLAC files retain all of the audio information that makes up a song. This is different than AAC and MP3, which are called lossy formats because they remove some parts of songs (usually the highest and lowest end of the range) to compress songs, resulting in smaller files.

Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, FLAC isn't compatible with iTunes. This leaves FLAC-loving audiophiles who prefer iTunes and iOS devices in a bind: Do they sacrifice audio quality or the tools they prefer?

Luckily, the choice isn't quite so dire. Even though iTunes and the iOS don't support FLAC by default, here are six ways you can play FLAC in iTunes and iOS.

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dBpoweramp (Windows and Mac)

Play flac in itunes
image credit: Jasper James/Stone/Getty Images

While dBpoweramp doesn't exactly allow you to play FLAC files in iTunes, it gets about as close as you'll be able to. This tool quickly and easily converts FLAC files to Apple Lossless (ALAC) files. ALAC files should be equivalent to the original versions and have the added benefit of being compatible with iTunes.

The conversion process is as simple as right-clicking (or batch selecting) the file you want to convert and setting it to be automatically added to iTunes.

dBpoweramp requires Windows XP SP3, Vista, 7, 8 or 10, or Mac OS X 10.8. There is a free evaluation download. Purchasing the full version, which includes many features beyond file conversion, costs $39.

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Golden Ear (iOS)

Golden ear app
golden ear copyright Chaoji Li

A number of apps allow iOS users to listen to FLAC files without converting. Golden Ear, which also supports WAV, AIFF, ALAC, and other file types, is one such app. Think of it as a replacement for the built-in Music app devoted exclusively to lossless files. Golden Ear syncs files to your iOS device via file sharing in iTunes and can import files via FTP or ZIP file. It includes visual themes for playback and supports AirPlay. This $7.99 app provides the best performance on an iPhone 4 or newer but may work on earlier models.

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FLAC Player (iOS)

FLAC Player
FLAC Player copyright Dan Leehr

The name says it all: FLAC Player lets you play your FLAC files on iOS devices. You can sync FLAC files to your iOS device via the filesharing interface in iTunes or download them via any system running SFTP or SSH. FLAC files are then accessed via the app (not the Music app) where, like other audio apps, they can be played in the background while you do other things or streamed to compatible devices via AirPlay. FLAC Player also supports gapless playback, equalizer presets, playlist creation, and more. This $9.99 app requires a device running iOS 8.0 or higher.

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Fluke (Mac)

Fluke flac player

Unlike dBpoweramp or other Mac and Windows programs that convert your files to work with iTunes, Fluke actually lets you play unmodified FLAC files in iTunes. It does this by running at the same time as iTunes and working hand in hand with it. Just drag the FLAC files you want to add to iTunes onto the Fluke icon, and they'll be ready to play in iTunes in no time. Even better, it's free.

While Fluke will play your FLAC files in iTunes, it isn't able to make them work on iOS or Apple TV, or over AirPlay (it uses a code library that's available only on MacOS). 

Fluke is Mac-only and appears not to have been updated recently, so it might not work with the latest versions of MacOS. 

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Tonido (iOS)

Tonido copyright CodeLathe LLC

Tonido isn't devoted specifically to playing FLAC files, but that's one of its features. Rather, Tonido is designed to let you stream almost any kind of file—including FLAC audio—from your Mac or PC to a mobile device running the Tonido app. Doing this requires that you install the Tonido Desktop program on your Mac or PC and create a free account. Log into that account in the free app on your iOS device and, as long as you're connected to the Internet, your music (and videos, photos, and other files) come with you. Tonido supports AirPlay, offline use with saved files, and filesharing. It requires an iOS device running iOS 6 or higher. 

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TuneShell (iOS)

TuneShell app

TuneShell provides another music player app option for iOS devices and adds a cool bonus: It can stream music from SoundCloud within the app. The app can play your collection of music stored on your iOS device, including songs in formats such as ALAC, WMA Lossless, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, and many others. TuneShell also supports playlists, equalizer presets, AirPlay, ZIP file importing, ID3 tags, and more. The app is free, but a $5.99 in-app purchase removes ads and adds some features. The app requires a device running iOS 7 or higher.