Identifying the Best Audio Format

Most people can’t tell their .wma files from their .aiff files. This is because in the first place they do not choose the right sound format for the intended purpose. Whether for the purpose of downloading royalty free music or converting music files to digital format for portable players – it is important to choose the correct file format.

Sound can be stored in a number of file formats, but there are distinct differences between these various file formats including:

  1. Compressing ability: You can save up considerable storage space, using a file format which is easily compressible. If you intend to store quite a number of songs, it would be a good move to go for a file format which can easily be compressed without distorting the sound quality.
  2. The quality of sound maintained after compression: The down side of compression is that the sound quality is lost progressively, each time the sound file is compressed. While compression is a good method of saving on storage space, it is not the best option for audio recordings with dialogue meant for transcription.
  3. Software compatibly: There are select audio formats which can be played using just about any music software or on any music player. There are some music files which are copy written and are therefore software dependent, limiting the ability to reproduce them or play them using incompatible music players.

The intended purpose for an audio recording should determine the chosen audio file format, whether its music downloaded online or an audio recording made for transcription purposes. Here is a breakdown of a few file formats in relation to their strengths and short falls.

  1. RealAudio was developed for audio streaming purposes, particularly for streaming internet radio on low bandwidth connection. Websites which provide music streaming services for their visitors also use this file format. The file extension is denoted as .ram or .rm and one sort fall is that because of the low bandwidth audio quality reduction is experienced.
  2. WAV denoting ‘waveform’ was developed by Microsoft in collaboration with IBM. This audio file format is incompressible and for this reason it takes up a lot of storage space. Due to its lossless quality, this file format is greatly used fort broadcasting purposes and it is distributed in CD and DVD format. The main advantage of this format is that it is easily covetable into compressed MP3 format. The file format is also compatible with both Mac systems and Windows, including several web browsers.
  3. MIDI denotes Musical Instrument Digital Interface and they are some of the smallest file formats supported by several software as well as web browsers. For this reason, it is greatly used in both professionals and amateur music production. The file format produces music with limited amplitude, which is its main short fall.
  4. MP3 is a popularly chosen file format used in music recording. The file format is also used to accompany MPEG files. The file format can be compressed to one tenth of its original size, making them easy to download. It is not the best choice for looping; this is because of the silence present at the beginning and end of MP3 files. WAV formats are the best choice in the case that looping is required.
  5. WMA stands for Windows Media Audio and it is similar in Quality to MP3 files. The file format is supported by most audio players apart from the iPod. It is greatly used for streaming music online and internet radio, because of its ability to be delivered in continuous data flow.
  6. AIFF was developed by Apple and it stands for Audio Interchange File Format. The file extension is denoted as .aiff or .aif and it is supported by virtually all web browsers as well as most audio playing platforms.

Remember that the choice of an audio file format should always be determined by the intended use of the audio recording. More on mp3 transcription.

Jessica Miller, Marketing Head in Transcriptionwave, General Transcription Services Company in the US.

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