Most people are familiar with wmv, avi, mp3 and mpeg audio and video file formats. Gif and jpeg are also commonly used image file formats. There are several other audio and video file formats which most people come across on any given day, but few people are able to determine which file format best suits their needs or even tell one file format apart from another.
There are scores of file formats in existence; whether talking about audio, image, video or document file formats. Now, one thing most people don’t bother with is attempting to understanding why all these file formats are in existence; especially file formats which essentially perform the same task.
There is an endless list of questions when talking about the diverse file formats in existence, in relation to their use. This guideline is a simple breakdown on the different types of audio file formats, to help you understand which file format to choose according to your needs.
Decoding the technical terminology
File format is probably the most popular terminology that you will come across and it essentially refers to the way in which data is encoded.
Codec refers to the algorithm used to encode data. Codec can also be used inversely to decode one file format to another. Commonly, codecs are used to shrink file sizes. If compression is more important that file quality, Lossy codec is commonly used to encode data. Loseless codec on the other hand maintains data in its entirety, ensuring that the file integrity is maintained.
Container is a file format primarily used for storage and it does not place an emphasis on coding.
Metadata refers to the information stored within a file, about the file. In the case of a photo, this information could be the date an image was taken, what time the photo was taken and with what kind of camera. This information can, however, be removed from a file.
Bitrate denotes how many bits are processed per second and in the case of mp3 files the bitrate is generally 128 kbits/s and CDs have a bitrate of about 1.4 Mbits/s.
VBR and CBR differentiates a constant bitrate from a variable bitrate. VBR utilizes a higher bitrate and it essentially allocates adequate space to the complex parts of an audio file.
The different file formats and their general use
.aac is the default audio file format used by Apple. It was essentially developed to replace the mp3 file format, but it did not surpass the popularity mp3 files hold. Mp3 files have been tweaked with new codecs such as LAME and they are perceived to offer a better listening performance compared to AAC files.
.ogg is a lossy compression file format. The file format’s patent-free nature makes it highly favored by most free software developers.
.wav/.aiff is an uncompressed and lossless file formats. Wav was developed for use by PCs while aiff is used by Apples OSX. However, both file formats are supported by both of these operating systems.
For general audio use most people go for mp3 files. Those who place audio quality above anything else should go for .wav/.aiff files. Mp3 file formats encoded at 256 kbits/s offer similar audio quality to the .aac files.
Video game developers and free software developers often go for the .ogg file format because of its lack of licensing requirement. More on MP3 transcription.