While the overwhelming majority of people out there familiar with the MP3 audio file format – it’s been the “gold standard” for digital audio players, iPods, smart phones, and more seemingly forever – the truth of the matter is there are literally dozens of other audio formats out there that may or may not be better suited to your specific listening style, depending upon how serious you are about audio quality and sound fidelity.
Just like some people are serious about listening to all of their favorite music on vinyl and and vinyl alone, never even considering to pop in a CD or listen to a digital download, some serious music junkies are only going to listen to music that is “packaged” in a handful of file formats – usually AAC or FLAC.
Determining which file format you want to have in your own library is never simple or straightforward. MP3 might work for the sake of convenience (and to help you save quite a bit of space on your hard drive and your mobile phone or device), but it isn’t going to be able to provide you with the true fidelity that you might be expecting due to inherent compression. If you have multiple formats and want to unify them see this post on how to convert various formats in iTunes.
Here are a couple of audio format alternatives you may want to check out:
WAV and AIFF
Both of these file formats are “uncompressed formats”, which means they are identical in every way to the original source audio. Both basically store file information the exact same way, providing for an precise replica of the original digital recording, though they do so in slightly different manners. AIFF is a proprietary file format created by the folks at Apple, whereas WAV is a more “open source” approach to this kind of uncompressed file format.
While they provide you with the same kind of audio quality that the original source audio presents, they are also gigantic file types that will eat up a lot of storage space. If you aren’t editing the source on your computer, these formats may be more cumbersome especially when we’re talking about a large library of music, podcasts or movies.
The Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) is far and away the most popular and widespread of all the “lossless” audio file formats, and offers just a bit of compression without crippling the actual audio fidelity of the files themselves. This is after all, a lossless audio file format, which means you are going to get the same quality as the original source but without the gargantuan space commitments you need from the file formats mentioned above.
Sometimes described as ALAC, this file format is very similar to the FLAC but isn’t open source the way that that file format is. In the spirit of stuff created by Apple, the quality is fantastic. ALAC minimizes compression to a fraction of what others produce but it isn’t quite as efficient as the open source version. Completely supported by iTunes and iOS devices, it’s a lot easier to use in a “drag and drop” kind of way compared to FLAC, and if you only use devices in the Apple landscape and Apple environment this is probably the way that you are going to want to go.
So are you convinced to venture out beyond MP3 now? If you’re using any other formats and find them superior to these mentioned please drop a note in the comments!