|Initial release||April 28, 2004|
October 28, 2011
|License||Apache License 2.0|
|Developed by||Apple Inc.|
|Type of format||Lossless data compression, audio file format|
|Contained by||MPEG-4 Part 14|
The Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC), also known as Apple Lossless, or Apple Lossless Encoder (ALE), is an audio coding format, and its reference audio codec implementation, developed by Apple Inc. for lossless data compression of digital music. After initially keeping it proprietary from its inception in 2004, in late 2011 Apple made the codec available open source and royalty-free. Traditionally, Apple has referred to the codec as Apple Lossless, though more recently it has begun to use the abbreviated term ALAC when referring to the codec.
Apple Lossless supports up to 8 channels of audio at 16, 20, 24 and 32 bit depth with a maximum sample rate of 384kHz.
Apple Lossless data is frequently stored within an MP4 container with the filename extension .m4a. This extension is also used by Apple for lossy AAC audio data in an MP4 container (same container, different audio encoding). The codec can also be used by the .CAF file type container, though this is much less common.
ALAC also does not use any DRM scheme; but by the nature of the MP4 container, it is feasible that DRM could be applied to ALAC much in the same way it is applied to files in other QuickTime containers.
According to Apple, audio files compressed with its lossless codec will use up "about half the storage space" that the uncompressed data would require. Testers using a selection of music have found that compressed files are about 40% to 60% the size of the originals depending on the kind of music, which is similar to other lossless formats.
Partly because of the use of an MP4 container, Apple Lossless does not contain integrated error checking.
The data compression software for encoding into ALAC files, Apple Lossless Encoder, was introduced into the Mac OS X Core Audio framework on April 28, 2004 together with the QuickTime 6.5.1 update, thus making it available in iTunes since version 4.5 and above, and its replacement, the Music application. The codec is also used in the AirPort and AirPlay implementation.
David Hammerton and Cody Brocious analyzed and reverse engineered the codec without any documents on the format. On March 5, 2005, Hammerton published a simple open source decoder written in the C programming language on the basis of the work.
Apple support for lossless formats
Other lossless codecs, such as FLAC and Shorten, are not natively supported by Apple's iTunes nor the later Music app (either the macOS or Windows versions) or by iOS devices running iOS 10 or below. In order to be played through the iTunes and Music app on iOS, audio files using these lossless codecs may be converted via various third-party tools into ALAC-encoded files with no change in fidelity.
Third-party applications are available from the App Store to play such files without converting them. Devices running iOS 11 or above do support FLAC playback natively, through the Files application only. The method of importing the files to the Apple device varies between applications, including Files, as there is currently no official support for doing so.
Users of the iTunes or Music app applications who wish to use a lossless format which supports metadata (unlike WAV/AIFF or other PCM-type formats, where metadata is usually ignored) must use ALAC.
All current iOS devices can play Apple Lossless encoded files.
The open source library libavcodec incorporates both a decoder and an encoder for the Apple Lossless format, which means that media players based on that library (including VLC media player and MPlayer, as well as many media center applications for home theater computers, such as Plex, XBMC, and Boxee) are able to play Apple Lossless files.
As of 2015, Windows 10 includes support for Apple Lossless encoding and decoding, thereby enabling other media players to use it, e.g. Windows Media Player when ripping CDs or the Spotify desktop client for playback of local .m4a files.
- Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF)
- Comparison of audio coding formats
- Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC)
- Monkey's Audio
- Windows Media Audio 9 Lossless
- "Subscribe to iTunes Match". Apple Inc. May 8, 2017. Retrieved May 31, 2017.
If you have songs encoded in ALAC, WAV, or AIFF formats, we create an AAC 256Kbps version and upload it to iCloud so that it can be played on all of your other devices.
- "Access your music collection on all of your devices with Apple Music". Apple Inc. May 12, 2017. Retrieved May 31, 2017.
We create AAC 256Kbps versions of songs that are encoded in ALAC, WAV, or AIFF formats and add the AAC version to iCloud Music Library.
- "Lossless comparison - HydrogenAudio Knowledgebase". HydrogenAudio. July 27, 2011. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- McElhearn, Kirk (November 5, 2011). "An Overview of Apple Lossless Compression Results". Kirkville. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- Owsinski, Bobby (December 26, 2007). The Mastering Engineer's Handbook: The Audio Mastering Handbook, Second Edition. Thomson Course Technology PTR. Chapter 12. Internet Delivery Formats > Lossless Codecs. ISBN 978-1-59863-449-5. Retrieved January 15, 2012.
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- "QuickTime 6.5.1 adds Lossless Encoder, improves AAC". Macworld. 2004-04-28. Retrieved 2016-01-24.
- "ALAC". Crazney.net. 2004. Archived from the original on June 20, 2012. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
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- Foresman, Chris (October 28, 2011). "After seven years, Apple open sources its Apple Lossless Audio Codec". Ars Technica. Retrieved October 29, 2011.
- von Eitzen, Chris (October 28, 2011). "Apple open sources its ALAC lossless audio codec". The H. Archived from the original on 15 May 2012. Retrieved October 29, 2011.
- "Apple Music announces Spatial Audio and Lossless Audio". Apple Newsroom.
Apple Music will also make its catalog of more than 75 million songs available in Lossless Audio. Apple uses ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) to preserve every single bit of the original audio file. This means Apple Music subscribers will be able to hear the exact same thing that the artists created in the studio.
- "iOS 11 lets you play FLAC audio files straight from your iPad and iPhone". The Next Web. June 6, 2017. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
- Harris, Mark (March 2, 2020). "How to Play FLAC Files on the iPhone". Lifewire. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
- Hammerton, David (March 1, 2005). "Re: Apple Lossless Audio Codec: Issues surrounding the release of my code". Gmane. Archived from the original on February 21, 2007. Retrieved November 5, 2006.
- "Apple Music announces Spatial Audio and Lossless Audio". Apple Newsroom. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
- ALAC Project at MacOSForge
- ALAC technical features at MacOSForge
- ALAC importing at Apple
- ALAC compression rates for different types of music article by Kirk McElhern