Audio Formats Comparison | So Many Files, So Little Time

To understand audio production from an engineering standpoint requires some level of study. Here is a basic compendium of some of the most popular formats floating around out there. Over the last twenty years a few major formats have emerged and dominated the digital audio arena. Each has a set of features that determine its quality to the human ear and its technical specifications that have particular benefits or drawbacks.

The File Types: Themselves

.WAV

A .WAV has an origin that dates to the early 90's when Microsoft and IBM were early supporters of this format. It stands for Waveform Audio File Format. Typically uncompressed a .WAV file can become quite sizable.

.WMA

Windows Media Audio is what you get when cultivating an audio library inside the Windows Media Player. It is a lossy format that was developed by Microsoft to compete in the era when MP3's were becoming well known.

.AIFF

An .AIFF file is commonly found on an Apple computer such as their Macintosh line. This format debuted in the late 1980's. It is a lossless variant and has found home in professional level audio and video production.

.MP3

The .MP3 is a popular portable format. When the Napster network emerged people began trading MP3's by the hard drive full. This lossy format is convenient but the quality is noticeably off when the conversion is performed by low quality programs or devices. The better the initial audio the better the resulting file will typically be, but there is a limit.

.M4A

This list would have a big hole if it did not include the format that is commonly used by iTunes to store songs. It is an audio only format and in some cases is offered in a lossless variant by Apple. Though its quality is comparable to the MPEG-4.

.OGG

The .OGG format is used for streaming audio. It is part of a multimedia development project by Xyph.org that reaches back to the 1990's. It is an open platform.

Now, What Have You Learned?

Well, that is the fast and dirty about the group of popular audio formats. Hopefully, this has been of some help in learning the basic file types that exist. So, after reading a little about each of the different varieties that are available, you might now be asking, "which is the best one of the pack?"

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