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Audio file formats are an essential aspect of modern audio technology, affecting how music and sound are stored, shared, and experienced. With such a vast pool of formats available nowadays, it's only natural to feel a bit lost and wonder which types of audio formats are the best for you. While the answer might be subjective and depends on individual preferences, there are some formats that stand out in terms of sound quality, file size, and compatibility with different devices. We decided to help solve this pain point for you, so in this article, we'll explore the most popular audio file formats, their strengths, and weaknesses and help you determine which one is the best for your needs.
Most Mac devices come with native support for many audio file formats, including WAV, AIFF, and MP3. While other formats may need to be downloaded through third-party software, the fact that these common formats are compatible with Mac makes it easy for users to play and use their audio files.
Uncompressed audio formats preserve the original sound quality of an audio file. They may take up more storage space, but the trade-off is worth it for those who prioritize audio quality over storage space.
PCM is a digital audio file format that stores uncompressed audio samples in raw form. It captures the sound wave as a sequence of amplitude values and records it in binary format, preserving the original sound quality. PCM files can have different bit depths (e.g. 16-bit or 24-bit) and sampling rates (e.g. 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz), which help you store hi-res audio. Due to its large file size, PCM audio is often used in professional recording studios but is not as common for everyday use as compressed audio formats like MP3 or AAC.
WAV is a digital audio format that stores audio recordings as raw data without compression. It is widely supported by most audio software and provides high-quality audio playback. WAV files are often large, making them unsuitable for portable devices.
AIFF and AIF are digital audio file types that store audio data in an uncompressed format. They are similar to WAV files and are commonly used for professional audio applications like music production and sound editing. AIFF files are more commonly used as Mac audio formats on Apple Mac computers, while AIF files are more common on Windows computers. Both extensions provide high-quality audio playback and are often used for storing master copies of audio recordings.
Lossy audio formats are compressed audio file formats that sacrifice some of the original audio data to reduce the file size. While they may not offer the same audio quality as uncompressed formats, they can be useful in situations where storage space is limited.
MP3 is one of the most popular audio formats used for digital audio. It reduces the size of audio files by removing redundant data, allowing for smaller file sizes while still maintaining high-quality sound. MP3 is one of the most common audio file formats, and it’s compatible with most digital devices. The files can be created at different bit rates, which affects the audio quality and file size. A higher bit rate may give you better sound quality, but the file size will also be larger.
MP2 is an audio file format that stands for MPEG-1 Audio Layer 2. It is a lossy audio compression format that was designed for digital television and digital radio broadcasting. Being an older format, MP2 has been largely replaced by more modern audio codecs such as MP3 and AAC, but it is still used in some legacy systems.
AAC is a lossy audio file format that is widely used for music and video streaming, as well as for digital music downloads. It is often used as the default audio format for Apple devices and is compatible with most other devices and software.
OGG supports multiple audio codecs, including the popular Vorbis codec. One of the advantages of OGG over other audio file formats is its support for metadata, which allows for the storage of information like the song title or the artist. OGG files are smaller in size compared to other uncompressed formats, making them more practical for digital audio storage and transfer.
WMA is used for storing audio on personal computers and other digital audio devices. WMA offers good audio quality and smaller file size compared to other audio file formats like MP3. It supports various audio codecs; however, WMA may not be compatible with some non-Microsoft devices and some older MP3 players.
AC3 is a surround sound audio format commonly used in DVD and Blu-ray movies, as well as in some video games. It provides high-quality audio and supports up to 6 channels of audio. This allows for a more immersive audio experience with directional sounds and clear dialogue, however, it requires a compatible audio system to play and may not be supported by all media players or devices.
Lossless audio formats preserve the original sound quality of an audio file without any loss of data. Also, they are ideal for audiophiles who prioritize sound quality over file size.
FLAC is an audio file format that provides lossless compression, which means that no audio data is lost during the compression process, and it results in high-quality audio files that are much smaller in size compared to uncompressed formats like WAV. FLAC is free for anyone to use and supports metadata tagging while simultaneously being compatible with a wide range of devices and operating systems.
ALAC is one of the audio file types for Mac developed by Apple Inc. for use on its popular products, like the iPhone and iPad. It brings high-quality and lossless compression, and that means the audio quality remains the same after compression, unlike the case with lossy formats like MP3. The file format is supported by iTunes and is also compatible with other Apple products. However, has limited compatibility with non-Apple devices and software.
M4A is an audio file format commonly used for storing audio on Apple devices and iTunes. It is based on the MPEG-4 Part 14 container format, and it’s most often used to store lossy compressed audio, meaning some of the original audio data will be lost in the compression process. M4A can also store lossless compressed audio using the Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC).
APE is a lossless audio file format that uses highly efficient compression to maintain the original quality of the audio file. The format provides you with fast decoding and high compression ratios, which would explain why it’s so popular among users. APE files have the file extension .ape and are compatible with a limited number of media players and software, with support mostly limited to Windows-based platforms.
CAF is a container format developed by Apple for use in its products and software, like macOS and iOS. It supports a wide range of audio codecs and provides efficient decoding and playback of audio files. However, CAF is not as widely used as other popular audio formats, like MP3 and FLAC, and is mainly supported by Apple products and software. Despite its limited compatibility, CAF is still favored by some audio professionals for being supported by macOS and for its efficient handling of high-quality audio data.
M4R is an audio file format primarily used for storing ringtones on Apple devices, and it’s based on the MPEG-4 Part 14 container format that is often used to store AAC-encoded audio. You can create M4R files and transfer them onto your Apple devices using iTunes. Be aware that M4R might not be compatible with non-Apple devices or software. Despite its limited compatibility, M4R remains popular for its high-quality sound and ease of use on Apple devices.
M4P is one of the music file formats for Mac developed by Apple Inc. for its iTunes music store. It uses digital rights management (DRM) protection to limit the use of purchased music to authorized devices and prevent unauthorized sharing. M4P files can only be played on authorized devices or through iTunes software on a Mac or Windows computer. Although it was once the best audio format for music on Mac, Apple has since moved away from DRM-protected music and now sells most of its music in DRM-free MP4 (AAC) format.
MKA is an open-source audio file format that is based on the Matroska multimedia container format. It is commonly used for storing high-quality audio, like lossless music and high-resolution audio tracks. MKA supports a wide range of audio codecs, including FLAC, Vorbis, and WAV, making it a flexible format for storing and playing back different types of audio. You can also store additional data, like subtitles and album artwork, within the same file, which can be pretty useful sometimes.
RA was one of the first formats to ever allow for real-time streaming of audio and was widely used for online radio stations and other audio content. RA supports a variety of codecs, including RealAudio Lossless, RealAudio Voice, and RealAudio 8. The format is less commonly used today, as newer and more advanced audio formats, like MP3 and AAC, have become more popular for streaming audio online. Basically, you can consider RA as the grandfather of MP3.
OGA is an open-source audio file format that is based on the Ogg container format. It is commonly used for storing high-quality, compressed audio, like music and sound effects. OGA files are widely supported on most major operating systems and media players and are often used for archiving and sharing audio files online. The format is a popular alternative to other compressed audio formats and is often favored for its open-source nature and support for high-quality audio.
ACM is a proprietary audio codec format developed by Microsoft for use with the Windows operating system. ACM codecs are used for compressing and decompressing audio data and allow for a wide range of audio compression formats, including MP3, WMA, and WAV. ACM is less commonly used today, as newer and more advanced audio formats, like MP3 and AAC, have become more popular for storing and playing back audio.
DTS is a proprietary audio coding format for surround sound audio. It is used for storing and transmitting multi-channel audio for a variety of applications, including movie soundtracks and video games. DTS is designed to provide high-quality, lossy compression of audio data and supports a range of surround sound configurations, including 5.1 and 7.1 channels. The format is widely supported by a range of devices, including home theater systems and gaming consoles, and is often used as an alternative to other surround sound formats.
MPA is a compressed audio file format that is part of the MPEG family of audio and video formats. It is commonly referred to as MP3, which is the most widely used format for compressed audio. The format is commonly used for storing and playing back music, podcasts, and other audio content. MP3 files are also commonly used for streaming audio over the internet, as their small file size allows for fast download times and low bandwidth usage.
DSF is a high-resolution audio file format that is used for storing and playing back audio at a high sample rate, and bit depth DSF files can store audio data at sample rates up to 11.2896 MHz and bit depths up to 64 bits, which provides a significant increase in audio quality over traditional audio formats. The format is primarily used by audiophiles and professional audio engineers who require high-quality audio playback.
MPGA is a file format for storing audio data in a compressed, lossy format. The format uses MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 compression algorithms to reduce the size of the audio file while retaining some of the original sound quality. MPGAs are most commonly used for storing and playing back music and other audio content. However, because MPGAs are audio lossy compression formats, they may not provide the highest audio quality compared to lossless formats like FLAC and ALAC.
AU is a simple audio file format developed by Sun Microsystems and NeXT Inc. in the 1990s. The format is most commonly used on Unix-based systems and is supported by many media players and audio editing software. AU is one of the lossless music formats that provide good sound quality and fast decoding, but it is not widely used compared to other popular audio formats, like MP3 and FLAC.
QCP is used for storing low-bitrate voice recordings and is optimized for efficient playback and transmission on mobile networks. QCP files have the file extension .qcp and are mainly supported by Qualcomm-based mobile devices and some media players. The format provides a low-quality but compact representation of audio data, making it suitable for use in low-bandwidth environments like mobile networks.
3GA is an audio file format used for storing audio content on mobile devices. The format is based on the AMR (Adaptive Multi-Rate) codec and provides efficient compression of audio data, making it well-suited for use on mobile networks. 3GA files have the file extension .3ga and are primarily supported by mobile devices like Samsung and LG phones, as well as some media players.
Roku and Chromecast are popular streaming platforms that allow users to play audio and video content on their TVs and other devices. Elmedia Player is a multimedia player that supports a wide range of file types, including many of the popular streaming audio formats used by these platforms. With Elmedia, you can easily play audio and video files from your computer or device on your Roku, Chromecast, or DLNA-compatible TV or speaker system.
The player supports various formats, including MP3, FLAC, ALAC, M4A, M4R, MPGA, CAF, and many more, making it easy to stream your favorite music and video content without worrying about compatibility issues. Whether you're a casual listener or an audio professional, Elmedia provides an easy-to-use and powerful solution for streaming your audio and video files on multiple platforms.