Audio File Formats explained


When working with audio files, whether it’s importing them into your projects or just organising your music library or choosing the right music streaming service or plan, there are so many formats to choose from.

What I want to do here is explain to you the most popular audio file formats and how they differ.

The main thing you should know that differentiates these formats is that some of them are lossless while others are lossy. What does it mean?

With lossy formats, the file is being created by compressing the file and removing some data from the file.

Lossy Audio Formats

  • MP3 – very popular lossy compressed file format. It produces very small files but is far from the best quality for the sound. Convenient format for storing a lot of audio files.
  • AAC – alternative to MP3 used by Apple. Also lossy and compressed. Apple use it for iTunes and Apple Music streaming service.
  • OGG – lossy, open-source alternative to MP3 and AAC, without any restrictions imposed by patents. It was originally intended to be the standard for audio in HTML5 on the web but because Apple and Microsoft decided not to support it, in the end MP3 became a standard. Spotify uses OGG at 320kbps.

Lossless Audio Formats

  • WAV – a standard format used by CDs. Great sound quality and uncompressed, with very big file sizes. Poor support for metadata, like album artwork or song title information.
  • FLAC – it’s about a half of the size of a WAV file which it achieves by applying some compression (but lossless). It’s a royalty-free format. Very popular for high-res audio. Unfortunately, not supported by Apple.
  • ALAC – similiar to FLAC, it’s Apple’s response to FLAC. It’s lossless and is about a half of the size of a WAV file. It’s Apple’s iTunes lossless compression format.
  • DSD – a format used for Super Audio CDs (or SACDs). It’s uncompressed. Too big to be used for streaming music.
  • AIFF – Apple’s response to WAV. Lossless and uncompressed, so big files. Not very popular.

This should give you a better understanding of the formats available and the differences between them.

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