How To Choose The Best Audio File Format


Audio files are available in various formats and different compression types, all differing in quality that the listener will experience on the receiving end. MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, ALAC, and so on are the various audio formats. 

Choosing the best audio file format can be pretty difficult. Through this article, we will discuss the key features of all the file formats and their advantages over other formats. We will also explain their unique properties and provide you with some guidance in choosing the right audio file format based on your needs. 

Audio File Formats

Basically, audio files are of two types i.e. compressed and uncompressed formats.

Uncompressed file format Compressed file format
In this format, the size of the data remains the same in the audio file from the transmission to the receiving end In this format, portions of data are taken out from the audio file to make it smaller and easier to store or share

Firstly, let us learn about the uncompressed file format and how to choose the best file format.

1. Uncompressed File Format

Basically, uncompressed files are those in which the audio files remain unchanged. The size of the audio file will be the same from the transmission to receiving end without any change. AIFF, WAV, and Broadcast Wave are the major uncompressed formats. Hence, these formats have their own advantages and drawbacks. Moreover, the PCM data format is used in uncompressed formats to ensure CD-quality audio.

a. AIFF

The Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF) was created by Apple and is quite similar to the WAV file. It is a type of uncompressed file with a large size that is used to store high-quality audio on Apple devices. AIFF files can be played on Mac and pcs as well with the help of Quicktime (or) iTunes software. 

AIFF files consist of 2 channels of uncompressed stereo audio with 16 bits sample size, recorded at 44.1 kHz. This format is good enough in flexibility and enables the storage of monaural or multichannel sampled sounds at various sample rates and sample widths.

AIFF files are maintained with good sound quality without any data loss while compression. The audio files are kept at CD quality, making it a great pick for professional use. Finally, if you are planning to store (or) transfer files in AIFF format make sure you have enough space and bandwidth.  

b. WAV

WAVE is another popular uncompressed format. Waveform Audio File Format (WAVE) was created by Microsoft and is used as an alternative to AIFF. WAV files are compatible with all devices and can be played on MacOS, Windows, Linux, & Android-supported systems. 

WAV files can be compressed using Audio Compression Manager (ACEM) codecs. These files are transmitted completely without any data loss with good sound quality and kept at CD quality. Usually, these files require smaller space compared to AIFF files while transferring them online (or) storing them locally. 

c. BWF

Broadcast Wave Format widely referred to as BWF is an extension of Microsoft WAV audio format. It was first developed by the European Broadcasting Union for a motion picture. These files are supported by Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android operating systems after being adopted by Microsoft. 

WAV files are transferred easily without data loss while compression. They are stored at CD quality with efficient sound quality. Both WAV and BWF formats are similar and universally compatible, but BWF files include extra information such as time stamps, and location info for synchronization purposes. Moreover, these files have a larger storage capacity than other formats since it allows metadata embedding in addition to audio streams.

d. PCM

Pulse Code Modulation is an uncompressed audio file used to convert analog data like voice, music, full-motion video, telemetry, etc into digital form. PCM is the standard form of digital audio in computers, compact discs, digital telephony, and other digital audio applications. 

PCM files are flexible and can be stored in various bit depths. They are compatible with all devices and assure the best sound quality.

e. DSD

Direct Stream Digital, is a high-resolution digital audio file that was first introduced by Sony and Philips in the mid-1990s. DSD takes a different approach to the creation of a high-resolution audio signal. It uses a single bit of information in the signal rather than multiple bits. Instead of sampling the data several thousand times per second, this single-bit samples it 2.8 million times per second to produce the audio signal. It is popularly used in computer audio, CDs, digital telephony systems, and various other digital audio applications. 

2. Compressed File Format

Compressed files are those in which the audio files are changed when compressed. The size of the audio file will not be the same from the transmission to receiving end. Further compressed audio files are broken into two types.

Compressed file format
Lossless audio format Lossy audio format
The audio files are decompressed back to their original size, once the audio is compressed The audio files cannot be decompressed back to their original size, once the audio is compressed
Sound quality is maintained Some sound quality is lost (or) degraded
No data is lost during transmission Some data will be lost during transmission
They are usually larger audio files These files tend to be smaller in size
File types include FLAC and ALAC File types include MP3, AAC, and Ogg Vorbis (OGG)

a. Lossless File Format

Lossless file formats are best for  FLAC, ALE (or) ALAC

1. FLAC

Free Lossless Audio Codec is a lossless audio compressing format created by the Xiph.Org Foundation. It is a completely free open format with a file extension “.flac”. The FLAC algorithm often reduces the size of digital audio by 50 to 70 percent. These files can be decompressed to produce an exact duplicate of the original audio files. 

FLAC allows you to easily compress larger files such as WAV, AIFF, and others without compromising sound quality. These files are compatible with several media players and do not require any extra plugins (or) downloads. Hence, this is an ideal choice for those who want an uncompressed audio file with less size and better sound quality. 

2. ALAC

Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC)  is another type of uncompressed file format that uses the MPEG-4-compliant QuickTime container. ALAC was initially a proprietary file format when it was introduced in 2004, but Apple later made it accessible as an open-source and royalty-free format in early 2012. 

ALAC format offers more compression compared to the FLAC format. These audio files can be opened on Apple QuickTime and iTunes with ALAC codec and on Microsoft Windows Media Player with K-Lite codec. Hence, this is a good pick for the ones who are looking for the best-compressed files with high sound quality. 

b. Lossy File Format

Lossy file format types include MP3. OGG, and AAC

1. MP3

MP3 is a popular lossy compression audio format that offers small file sizes with better sound quality. It was developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) that uses Layer 3 audio compression. Most MP3 files contain ID3 metadata, which follows the MP3 frames.  

The sound quality of an MP3 audio file can be controlled by parameters like bit rate, sample rate, joint or normal stereo. Hence, it is a popular choice for streaming online and storing files on mobile devices balancing both quality and sound.  

2. OGG

Ogg Vorbis is similar to MP3s and AACs and is an open-source codec. These files are used for storing audio data and can include artist, track information, and metadata. Usually, these audio files are saved with an extension “.ogg”. 

OGG audio files are compatible with all devices and ideal for the ones who are looking for a perfect balance between sound quality and file size. 

3. AAC

Advanced Audio Coding is a digital audio coding standard that represents audio files based on lossy audio compression. It is an enhanced version of MP3 with some improvements. This format was adopted as the default media format by YouTube, iPhone, iPod, iPad, Apple iTunes, and several other platforms. 

AAC supports a wider range of channels up to 48, sample rates from 8kHz to 96 kHz, and has better coding frequencies above 16 kHz. Moreover, its conversion is pretty easy and offers good sound with a decent size. 

How to Choose the Right Audio File Format?

However, choosing the right audio file format can be quite challenging, especially for those who are just starting out. We can help you out with some tips on how to pick the best one among so many available options. 

Firstly, choosing the right format depends on the purpose of your audio file. Ensure your audio files are of high quality, produce good sound while listening, and allow editing & mixing based on your requirements. Moreover, check for the compatibility, file size, sharing, and conversion process before opting for any format.

Here are a few scenarios to help you select the best file format for your needs. 

1. Uncompressed File Format

Uncompressed file format is the best pick for the ones who are professional audio editor, who is looking to edit their podcast file specifically. These files remain the same and hence complete data is transferred without any data loss when compressed. Even you need not worry about the quality and sound of the audio file. 

WAV, AIFF, PCM, BWF, and DSD are popular uncompressed files that have high-quality audio and are easy to distribute. Basically, these are larger files and occupy a lot of storage space. 

2. Lossless File Format

Lossless file format is ideal for audiophiles who want to enjoy their music collection with high fidelity. These files retain the original data and sound even when their size is compressed. In fact, they offer high-sound quality music with less storage space. 

FLAC and ALAC are popular lossless files that allow you to keep the data in the original recording without worrying about sound quality.

3. Lossy File Format

The lossy file format is a good pick if you want to share your audio files easily and save disk space. Usually, these files are designed to compress audio files by removing some data from the original file. These files consume less space with better sound quality.

MP3, OGG, and AAC are popular lossy files that are perfect for streaming audio, podcasts, and web audio applications.  

Hope you gained some knowledge on audio file formats from the above scenarios and they may help you in choosing the right pick according to your needs. 

Conclusion

Finally, whether you’re a professional audio expert, audiophile, (or) simply someone who enjoys listening to music, choosing the correct audio file format can make all the difference. Consider the parameters like sound quality, file size, storage space, the purpose of the audio file, and compression type before taking the decision. Select the best one that matches your expectation and enjoy listening to your favorite music with high sound quality.

Audio File Format – FAQs

1. How Does The File Size Of A Digital Audio Format Affect Sound Quality?

Ans: The file size of a digital audio format does have an effect on the sound quality.

Uncompressed formats such as WAV and AIFF, are usually much larger than compressed lossy formats like MP3 and AAC.

Uncompressed files provide high-quality sound but consume more storage space while compressed files occupy less storage space by compromising on sound quality. 

2. Is There A Difference In Quality Between Different Lossless Formats?

Ans: Lossless audio files are an uncompressed file format with superior sound quality when compared to other digital file types. 
For example, FLAC files have higher fidelity than WAV files. 

3. Are There Any Advantages To Using Lossy Formats Compared To Uncompressed Formats?

Ans: Lossy formats are preferred over uncompressed ones due to their smaller size and convenience.
MP3 and AAC are the popular lossy format files that offer much higher compression rates than WAV or AIFF files without compromising too much on sound quality and making them ideal choices for streaming applications.

4. What Are The Pros And Cons Of Using Different Digital Audio Formats?

Ans: Here are the advantages and disadvantages of digital audio formats. 
After compression, uncompressed audio files are identical to the original file. They are bigger files with excellent sound quality that typically need more storage space.
Even after compression, lossless audio files have the same sound quality as the original file. They often require less storage space than uncompressed data.
Lossy audio files are smaller and take up less storage space. These files maintain a reasonable blend between sound quality and file size.
Finally, the format you choose is totally depending on your personal requirements.

5. What audio file format is best for use on the web?

Ans: MP3s and MP4s are the best audio file formats to use on the web. They are compatible with most web browsers, including Google Chrome and Firefox. Other formats supported by most browsers are AAC, OGG, and WAV, however, they are larger files. 

6. What is the most popular audio format?

Ans: MP3s are the most popular audio formats. These files are easy to download and share, and it doesn’t take up too much disk space compared to other file formats.

7. What Is The Difference Between Uncompressed And Lossy Audio Formats?

Ans: Here are some differences between uncompressed and lossy audio formats. 

Uncompressed audio format Lossy audio format
The audio file size remains the same even after compression The audio file size is changed when compressed
No data is lost while transmission Some data is lost while transmission
Sound quality remains the same as the original audio file Sound quality is lost (or) degraded from the original file
These files are larger and occupy more storage space These files are small and occupy less storage space

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