What Is an Audio File Format

1. Uncompressed Audio Formats: Without saying, these formats are raw audio formats without compression, for example, WAV, AIFF, and AU.

Container Format: Simply known as "format". It defines how the file metadata and data are structured in the file.

2. Audio Formats with Lossless Compression: These kinds of formats, such as APE, FLAC, ALAC, and WMA, can maintain the original quality of audio data and reduce the file size at the same time. But even though these formats can make the file zie smaller than the raw formats, the file can still be 2X to 5X larger.

3. Audio Formats with Lossy Compression: Compared to the lossless compression, these formats will take up less space when saving the same audio data. These include MP3, AAC, OGG, etc. Lossy compressed audio formats usually decrease the audio sampling frequency and bitrate so the file size can be reduced, which can cause audio quality loss.

To know more about audio formats, you can check this list for common audio file formats below.

Audio File Formats

Format Developed by Description
MP3 Moving Picture Experts Group A compressed audio format that uses "Layer 3" audio compression. You can use MP3 to store audio tracks, podcasts, audiobooks, etc.
AAC It is quite similar to MP3. Even though it uses a lossy audio compression standard, the quality is still good, which makes it great when compressing the music data.
AC3 Dolby Laboratories Saved in the AC-3 audio format. And it can contain six channels of audio. You can see it on DVDs, game consoles, and more.
WMA Microsoft & IBM Saved in the ASF container format developed by Microsoft. The files in WMA can also include metadata objects like title, artist, album, etc.
WAV Apple Saved in the WAVE format that can store waveform data. We often use WAV to save audio recordings with different sampling rates and bitrates. It is a standard format for CD audio.
AIF Apple Like WAV, AIF files can save uncompressed audio with high quality. And it is also used to store standard CD audio.
AIFF Apple An uncompressed lossy audio format on your computers and audio devices with high quality.
FLAC Xiph.Org Foundation An open-source lossless audio compression format which is similar to MP3. But there will be basically no loss in quality or the original audio data.
MKA Matroska It supports many audio compression algorithms like MP3, AAC, and Vorbis. It can be used for storing audio recordings and music.
OGG Xiph.Org A multimedia format that supports many streams of video, audio, text, and metadata.
AU Audacity Created by Audacity, it is often used when creating or importing an audio file into an Audacity project. And AU files usually cannot be opened individually.
M4A Apple When the MPEG-4 file only stores audio, it will be saved in M4A. You can see it as the MPEG-4 Audio.
M4B Apple M4B is nearly identical to M4A except that it can support book-related features. So it can be used for the audiobook.
M4R Apple It contains a custom iPhone ringtone created with Apple iTunes.
DTS It saves five tracks of audio data used for surround sound. Its channels include center, left-front, right-front, left-rear, and right-rear.
APE Nullsoft It is used for creating programmable visual animations based on the music played by Winamp.
AMR Ericsson Used by many 3G cell phones to store voice recordings, including MMS messages.
MP2 Moving Picture Experts Group It uses MPEG-1 Layer II compression to reduce the file size. But for now, it is mainly replaced by MP3. Sometimes it can still be seen in digital radio and digital television broadcasts.
ALAC Apple It stores digital audio losslessly with the original audio data. And it differs from lossy audio codecs such as AAC.
CAF Apple Based on Apple's Core Audio technology, it stores audio data, text annotations, markers, channel layouts, and other information.
Find More Audio Formats

How to Choose an Audio File Format

Suppose you are producing music, then you should use the uncomopressed audio format. And It would be better if you could choose the one with a high sample rate and bit depth, such as WAV and AIFF.

If you are a listener who isn't very critical, you can use a compressed format with high bitrate, for instance: MP3, AAC, etc.

As for the one who prefers better quality, you can try a lossless compressed format like FLAC.


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