Demystifying Audio Formats: What Format Should You Record In?

04/05/2019

There are so many audio formats out there, which ones should you choose to record your audio in? 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.

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 small, 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.

Which recording Format is the best for me?

To choose the best recording format, we need to understand 2 more terms, Sampling and bit rate. Digital audio has two primary qualities that compose the way the audio is described. - sampling rate and bit rate.

Sampling Rate

When you are recording audio digitally, the device (say, your computer) receives the audio signal, by breaking it up into "snapshots" or samples. In recording technology, the number of samples received per second is called the sampling rate. The concept is comparable to a digital movie camera that records a number of image frames per second and plays it back as a continuous moving image. Similarly, you listen to uninterrupted audio playback. Sampling rate is measured in hertz and represents the sound frequency range. Higher the sampling rate greater is the audio quality and ensures greater precision in your high notes and low notes. Standard CD quality incorporates a sampling rate of 44, 100Hz or 44.1 KHz. Sampling rates start from 8000hz(very low quality) to 196,000(very high quality, with extreme huge files).

Bit Rate

In digital multimedia, bit rate often refers to the number of bits used per unit of playback time to represent a continuous medium such as audio. Let us understand what the bit rate actually represents. While sampling rate is number of samples recorded per second, bit rate refers to the characteristics of each individual sample recorded. Going back to the digital camera example, bit rate is the equivalent of pixels in digital images. Higher the pixels, better is the image quality. Similarly, higher the bit rate (also called bit depth), better is the audio quality. For instance an 8 bit audio will sound grainy and harsh, while a 16 bit audio sounds much better. Standard CD format has 44.1k sampling rate combined with 16 bit rate