How to play FLAC files

This article shows how you can play Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) files that you may have obtained on the Internet. It covers the easiest methods to just download software that supports FLAC playing, to making your current software, like Windows Media Player, support FLAC playing.

Keep reading for more information on FLAC or jump right to playback instructions:If you didn't jump right to a method, then good for you! You have taken an interest in what exactly FLAC audio is and in a couple of minutes you will know precisely what it is, how it differs from MP3 and why it is one of the best audio formats available.

What is FLAC?

FLAC is a lossless compression format for audio. In other words, FLAC compresses audio, but not in the same way as MP3s because none of the original audio is removed. While these files are compressed, they provide the same quality as uncompressed audio. So for example, ripping CD audio to FLAC would provide superior quality to MP3 and 1:1 quality with the original CD, but the files would be much, much larger.

FLAC is free and open source, and it's royalty free nature means that it enjoys wide support in software across all operating systems. It is relatively simple to play.

Lossy vs. Lossless

While an MP3 may be just 4MB or under in size, FLAC files are generally much larger, with 30MB - 40MB not being uncommon for a single track. During lossy compression, much of the original uncompressed audio is scraped in preference to a smaller file size. The audio kept is what the encoder determines to be most vital for human hearing, therefore the idea behind lossy compression is to cut out mostly what you won't miss anyway. However, at lower bitrates the difference from the source becomes obvious. With lossless compression methods, it's basically like putting a file in a ZIP archive, only with much better compression ratio as it is designed for audio. What is compressed can be completely retrieved in full when it is decompressed for playback.

Easiest Method - VideoLAN Client for Windows, MAC and Linux

With the VLC player, you can enjoy your FLAC audio files quickly. The player directly supports FLAC without the need for DirectShow filters or special codecs to be installed. If you are looking for a quick solution then this is certainly it, but if you want to look at other examples of these players or learn to play with Windows Media Player and store it in your Media Library, then read on.

You can get VLC for Windows from this URL.

Click File and click the Open File option.

Now, click the Browse button next to the first white line at the top of the window with title "Open.." and navigate through your harddrive for the FLAC file you wish to listen to and select it. After you have selected the file, click OK and VLC will start playing the FLAC audio you chose.

For other Operating Systems...



Another Player with Direct Support for FLAC - Foobar 2000

One of the most excellent audio players and converters available is Foobar 2000. It is available as a free download from AfterDawn and it natively supports the Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) format. It also will allow you to easily convert it to another format or edit the tag information.

Download Foobar 2000 from AfterDawn at:

Play in Windows Media Player and other DirectShow players?

It is totally possible to play FLAC files in Windows Media Player and technically any DirectShow-based player. Before we look at Windows Media Player directly, let's take a look at Media Player Classic because with Windows Media Player we will also need to install a plug-in to read the FLAC tags correctly.

The first thing we need is a DirectShow filter, and there is a perfectly good one available from AfterDawn for download that will work called Illiminable OGG Directshow Filter.

Download it from:

Download Media Player Classic from:

Install Illiminable OGG Directshow Filter

Once you have downloaded the DirectShow filter you will have to install it. The install process is very easy, just accept the license agreement and click Next until it is complete. There is nothing to configure now but if everything went correctly you should be able to play FLAC in DirectShow-based players like Media Player Classic and Windows Media Player (see below for further instructions).

With Windows Media Player however, while you can now play the files, the tag information (album info, artist info etc.) that is useful for the Media Library won't actually work. However you can fix that with WMP Tag Support Extender.

Download WMP Tag Support Extender from:

Install WMP Tag Support Extender

When you have downloaded WMP Tag Support Extender, run the installer. It is just a basic install and requires you to just clicking Next until it is complete, at which time, you can click Close.

Now we must configure Windows Media Player to use this add-on.

Configure Windows Media Player for WMP Tag Support Extender - 1

Open Windows Media Player. If you do not have the latest Windows Media Player, this might not work.

Download Windows Media Player by clicking here.

Now open Windows Media Player and you should see something similar to the picture located to the right of this text (clicking will enlarge). Right-click somewhere on the top bar (I have right-clicked beside the Now Playing button) and scroll your pointer down to Tools --> Plug-ins --> WMPTagSupportExtender Plugin. This usually is already selected.

Make sure that there is a tick beside this plug-in or else Windows Media Player won't use it while playing FLAC audio. Now there is another bit of configuring to do. Again, right click in the same spot, navigate to Tools --> Plug-ins --> Options and left-click on Options. This will open Windows Media Player Options in the Plug-in tab.

Configure Windows Media Player for WMP Tag Support Extender - 2

In the Plug-in tab in options you will see a list underneath Category. As you can see in my picture (click to enlarge) you need to click Background. Now from the list that appears on the right, click on WMPTagSupportExtender (don't untick the box, click the text) and then move the mouse below to the Properties button and click it. This will now open a new window.

Configure Windows Media Player for WMP Tag Support Extender - 3

Now as you can see in my picture (click to enlarge), a new Window will pop-up with settings for WMP Tag Support Extender. From here you can change some of the Read/Write options for tags. I recommend selecting "Allow Write" and then selecting both the options available to you below it.

Once you are done, click "Refresh Now" to refresh your library, then click OK. This should now work.

Note: We have had trouble getting tags to work with the latest version of Windows Media Player 11, even trying the register DLL workaround. Hopefully an update will fix this.


This guide set out to help you play your FLAC files, we hope we have accomplished that on this guide. If you have any questions or need help, please visit our Discussion Forums for assistance.

Version History

v1.0 - First published by Dela (20/03/2008)
Written by: James Delahunty