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These are the 10 most common audio formats: Which one should you use?

While MP3 is well-known, what about AAC FLAC OGG or WMA? Is there an audio format that is better than others?

There are many types of audio files. While MP3 is a well-known format, what about FLAC, OGG and AAC? Why are there so many audio standards? Is there an ideal audio format? What are the most important and which can you ignore?

Once you understand that audio formats are divided into three main categories, it’s easy to follow. Knowing the meaning of the categories will allow you to choose the format that suits your needs best.

Audio Formats that are not compressed

Uncompressed audio is a collection of sound waves that have been recorded and converted to digital format. Uncompressed audio files are the best but consume a lot of space. They take up 34MB per minute for 24-bit stereo 96KHz stereo at 96kHz.

Audio File Format: PCM

PCM is Pulse Code Modulation. It’s a digital representation for analog audio signals. Analog sounds are represented as waveforms. A waveform is a collection of sounds that can be converted into digital bits. The sound must first be sampled and recorded at specific intervals (or pulses) to make it digital.

The digital audio format is characterized by a “sampling speed” (how frequently a sample of audio is recorded) and a bit depth (how many bits are used for each sample). There is no compression. Digital recording is an exact representation of analog sound.

PCM is the most popular audio format that’s used on CDs and DVDs. Linear Pulse Code Modulation is a subtype that uses PCM. This allows samples to be taken at linear intervals. LPCM is the most popular form of PCM. This is why they are almost interchangeable.

MAKEUSEOF VIDEO DURING THE DAY

Audio File Format: WAV

WAV stands to Waveform audio File Format (also known as Audio for Windows at one point, but not anymore). It was created by Microsoft and IBM in 1991.

Many people mistakenly assume that WAV files are compressed audio files. WAV is a Windows container that can hold different audio formats. A WAV file can contain compressed audio but is rarely used for this purpose.

WAV files usually contain uncompressed PCM audio. The WAV file can be used on Windows systems as a wrapper for PCM encoding. WAV files can be opened by Mac systems almost always without problems.

Audio File Format: AIFF

AIFF stands for Interchange File Format. AIFF was developed by Apple in 1988, similar to WAV developed by IBM and Microsoft for Windows.

AIFF files are similar to WAV files in that they can contain multiple audio formats. GarageBand and Logic Audio use AIFF-C, which is compressed. Another version, called Apple Loops, is used by GarageBand. Both use the same AIFF extension.

AIFF files usually contain uncompressed PCM audio. AIFF files are just wrappers for PCM encoding. This makes them more compatible for Mac systems. Windows systems are able to open AIFF files almost without problem.

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Audio Formats with Lossy Compression

Lossy compression occurs when data is lost in the compression process. This is because uncompressed audio can take up a lot of space on your hard drive.

Lossy compression is the loss of audio quality and audio fidelity in order to reduce file size. If it is done badly, you will hear audio artifacts or other strangenesses. You won’t notice the difference if it’s done right.

Audio File Format: MP3

MP3 stands for MPEG-1 Video Layer 3. It was first released in 1993. It quickly grew in popularity and became the most used audio format for music files worldwide. It’s not like we have “OGG players”, but “MP3 players”.

MP3 has three main goals:

  1. To eliminate all sound data beyond normal hearing range.
  2. To lower the quality of sounds that are difficult to hear.
  3. To compress all audio data as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Nearly all digital devices with audio playback support MP3 files. This includes PCs, Macs and Androids as well as iPhones, Smart TVs and Smart TVs. MP3 is universally compatible and will not let you down. This is why MP3 is one of the most widely used audio file formats.

Note: HTML3_ MP3 is different from MP4!

Audio File Format: AAC

AAC stands to Advanced audio Coding. It was created in 1997 to replace MP3, but it didn’t really catch on as a very popular audio format.

AAC’s compression algorithm is more technical than MP3. AAC will usually have better sound quality when compared to MP3 files at the same bitrates.

Although MP3 is now more common in households, AAC is still used . It’s the audio compression method that YouTube, Android and iOS use. Later, Nintendo portables and PlayStations also use it.

Audio File Format: OGG (Vorbis)

OGG isn’t a symbol for anything. It’s actually not a compression format. OGG, instead, is a multimedia container which can hold many compression formats. However, it is most commonly used to store Vorbis files. This is why Ogg Vorbis files are also known as Ogg Vorbis.

Vorbis was released for the first time in 2000. It has grown in popularity because it follows open-source principles and performs better than other lossy compression formats. Vorbis also produces smaller files to achieve equivalent audio quality.

AAC and MP3 have such strong footholds, OGG has struggled to break into the spotlight. Not many devices support it natively. But it’s improving with time. It’s currently used mainly by open-source proponents who are hardcore fans.

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Audio File Format: WMA (Lossy)

WMA stands Windows Media Audio. It was released for the first time in 1999. Since then it has been updated several times while maintaining the WMA extension and name. It is a Microsoft proprietary format.

WMA, like OGG and AAC, was created to fix some flaws in MP3 compression. It turns out that WMA’s compression approach is very similar to OGG and AAC. WMA is, therefore, better than MP3 in terms of compression quality.

WMA is proprietary and not supported by many platforms or devices. It doesn’t offer any real advantages over OGG or AAC, so if MP3 isn’t sufficient, it’s more practical to use one of these two instead.

Lossless compression for audio formats

Opposite lossy compression is lossless compress . This is a method to reduce the size of an audio file without any loss of data.

Lossless compressed audio files can be up to 2x-5x larger than lossy compressed audio.

Audio File Format: FLAC

FLAC stands for Lossless Audio Codec. It may seem a bit odd, but FLAC has quickly grown to be one of the most widely used lossless formats since its inception in 2001.

FLAC can compress original source files by up to 60% without losing any data. FLAC is free to use and is royalty-free, making it easy for anyone to copy the files.

FLAC can be used by almost all major programs and devices. It is the best alternative to MP3 music. FLAC allows you to enjoy the same quality as raw uncompressed audio with half the file size. FLAC is widely considered the best audio format.

Audio File Format: ALAC

ALAC stands to Apple Lossless Audio Codec. Although it was initially developed as a proprietary format, it became open-source in 2011 and is now free of royalty. ALAC is also known as Apple Lossless.

ALAC is a good option, but it’s slightly slower than FLAC in terms of compression. Apple users have no choice but to choose between them because iOS and iTunes both offer native support for ALAC, while FLAC support is not available.

Are you looking for help to play hi-res audio with your iPhone or iPad . Our guide is available.

Audio File Format: WMA (Lossless)

WMA stands Windows Media Audio. This was covered in the section on lossy compression, but it’s worth mentioning here as there is a lossless option called WMA Lossless which uses the same extension. It’s confusing, I know.

WMA Lossless has the lowest compression efficiency, but not as bad as ALAC or FLAC. Although it is a proprietary format so it won’t be able to be used by fans of open-source software it can be used natively on both Windows systems and Mac systems.

WMA Lossless has limited hardware support. This is the biggest problem. FLAC is the best choice if you want lossless compressed audio on multiple platforms and devices.

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Which audio file format is right for you?

The decision is easy for most people:

  • When you are capturing audio and editing it, make sure you use the uncompressed format. You will get the best quality audio. After you are done, export the file or convert it to a compressed format.
  • Lossless audio compression is a great option for music lovers who want to hear the original sound quality. These will require a lot storage space.
  • If your music quality is acceptable, or you want to save disk space, you can use lossy audio compression.

If your music player can’t reproduce the sounds accurately, high-quality audio files won’t be of any use to you.

 

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