Different types of Audio Recording Formats

There are so many audio formats out there, which ones should you choose to record your audio in? Read on to get a broader view of different formats. An audio format is a file format through which music is stored on your computer. There are a wide variety of formats, like wav, mp3, aiff, wma etc. To understand the difference between various formats, we need to first understand terms compressed and uncompressed formats. Audio formats are categorized as uncompressed and compressed formats depending on how they store the data.

Uncompressed Audio Formats

Uncompressed audio formats are bulky files and take up considerable space on your hard disk or storage drive. The advantage of uncompressed audio formats is that the quality of the digital audio remains intact, as it is unchanged. It provides exactly the same quality; no matter how many times you process or re encode it.

Compressed Audio Format
Compressed audio formats compress the digital audio data, resulting in smaller files. You can free up valuable space on your hard disk by using compressed audio formats.
Compressed audio formats are further categorized into 2 two groups:

Lossless Compressed Audio Formats
These audio formats compress digital audio data, but there is no loss of data or degradation of audio quality during the compression process. The finest example of such format is flac.

Lossy Compressed Audio Formats
These audio formats compress digital audio data, but are known to eliminate certain information and frequencies to reduce the file size. lossy compressed audio formats causes degradation in audio quality. The difference in audio quality can be large or smaudio_waveformall, depending upon how much data has been removed. Also, each subsequent processing or re encoding will result in more quality loss. The classic example of lossy compression is MP3.
So what do you choose for recording your audio? For pristine quality, always record in uncompressed formats like wav or aiff, at atleast 44,100 khz and 16 bit. This has 2 advantages. First, the quality of recording is cd quality. Secondly any subsequent processing like mixing, editing etc will not result in any degradation of the quality.

Some of the commonly used audio formats include the following:
1. WAV Format
The Wavform or wav audio format stores uncompressed audio data on Windows computers. It is based on the RIFF bit stream format method of storing data. Since it stores uncompressed audio data, it retains the 100% original audio quality and is popular amongst audio experts. The WAV format can be easily edited and manipulated using software. (Always record in 44,100 Khz and 16 bit(minimum) for studio grade recordings)
2. AIFF Format
The Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF) developed by Apple Computers is an uncompressed audio format commonly used for storing audio data on Apple Macintosh systems. Because it stores uncompressed audio data, the AIFF format is also commonly used for professional audio applications. (Always record in 44,100 Khz and 16 bit (minimum) for studio grade recordings)
3. MP3 Format
The MP3 format is a commonly used lossy compression audio format. It essentially reduces the file size by omitting data in the file. By using perceptive audio coding and psychoacoustic compression, the MP3 format retains the quality as close to the original as possible. Therefore MP3 is the commonly used audio format for storing large number of songs on your computer without taking up too much space with acceptable quality. Never record in MP3, unless you have no other option. Always record in uncompressed formats like wav/aiff and THEN CONVERT to mp3 file of desired size.
4. AAC Format
The Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) format, another lossy compression audio format was developed to be the successor of the MP3, as it offers better audio quality than the MP3 at lower sizes. It is the standard audio format in Apple’s i-Tunes and i-pods.
5. WMA Format
The Windows Media Audio (WMA) format is a lossy compression audio format designed by Microsoft to compete against the MP3. However the MP3 stills retains the top spot in popularity. The lossless compressed version of the WMA format called WMA lossless is also available that reproduces the original audio quality, with zero elimination on decompression and play back, similar to wav or aiff.

By Rajiv Agarwal

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  1. Jarre M says:

    great write up! Gives a bird eye view of the recording formats without making it complicate.

    1. Yes, formats can be very confusing and complicated subject. but its the very fundamental of recording any good audio.

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