Audio File Formats Explained - For Computer Savvy Musicians

By: Jason Cole

Welcome to Audio File Formats 101! If you've used a computer to listen to music you probably have had some experience dealing with MP3 and WAV files before. And if you have spent a bit of time on the computer recording or editing audio, you've probably dealt with many of the other audio file formats. Such as AIFF, WMA, OGG, etc. What's the deal with all these different forms of digital audio?

1. WAV - Although WAV files can be compressed, most WAV files are usually consist of uncompressed audio, also know as lossless audio files. They are a variant on the RIFF bitstream format method for storing data in chunks. Since these files are usually uncompressed and of high quality, most professional audio experts use the WAV file, which is the universally accepted source audio file format recognized in all audio editing software.

2. MP3 - MP3s are encoded digital audio files that use a lossy compression format. Lossy compression is a method that when the file is decompressed, the data retrieved may be different from the original but is close enough to be usable. With an MP3 the parts of the audio that are discarded in the compression are considered less important to human hearing, (i.e. any sounds below 20HZ, and any sounds above 20KHz). MP3 files are great for the internet because of their small size. You can think of an MP3 as an audio version of a JPEG file.

3. WMA - WMA stand for Windows Media Audio, and is a proprietary audio file format developed by Microsoft, and was introduced as a competitor to the MP3 files format. Although it hasn't overtaken the popularity of the MP3 format, it is in second place in terms of the number of consumer products that support the playback of the WMA file. One thing that the WMA file format offers exclusively is the ability for the files to be DRM (Digital Rights Management) encoded, which is popular with both music and film corporations.

4. OGG Vorbis - The OGG Vorbis file format is an audio codec that is both open source and free, which was developed in 1998 after word of plans to start charging licensing fees on MP3 files were spread. So, essentially the OGG Vorbis file format is very similar to the MP3 file format, which are both lossy file formats. The OGG Vorbis file format is widely used in video games, saving time and money for the developers, since it is not patented.

All of us listen to MP3s, and probably have encountered the 3 other formats discussed at one time or another. This is definitely not an exhaustive list of all audio file formats, and only covers some of the more popular formats. But this should give you a little more insight on some of the file formats that you use on a daily basis.

Computers
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Computers
 



Share this article :
Click to see more related articles