Compare Audio Files, A Guide To Every Audio Codec You’ve Heard Of

Author xlxmarketing 28.8.2009. | 20:37


MP3, WMA, RM, why is it that every single digital audio file you have to deal with these days has to have an alphabet soup at the end of it?

There wasn't this issue way back when there was just physical media like cassettes, records and CDs and all you needed to do was to put the cassette/record/cd into the device and hit play.

While deciphering audio codecs and audio files is nowhere near as complicated as video codecs and video files there still seems to be an unfairly large number of incomprehensible numbers and letters tacked on the end of each media file.

MP3 and digital audio files can be found on everything from unlocked phones to spy gadgets to digital cameras and camcorders now. It would be easier to list everything that doesn't play digital audio files.

So what do all these letters mean and how can you get them to work on your stereo, MP3 player, computer, cell phone or car DVD Player?

Before we take a look at the alphabet soup of terms we had better decipher three phrases that, if you spend any amount of time online looking for answers your are going to come across quite frequently.

Those are the terms container, codec and compression.

Codec stands for compression/decompression and refers to how video and audio files are squeezed down into a size which can be transported/carried in some way, a Codec can also be referred to as a compression standard.

For the purposes of people listening to digital media a codec is what deciphers how a video is compressed and turns it into sounds through the speaker.

The compression refers to the current size and the amount it has been reduced by.

The container is the file it is held in. Certain compression methods only work with certain files so both the codec and the file type go hand in hand.

Thankfully the relationship with audio compressions and codecs, so unless you spend a lot of time converting files and dealing in digital media then it is not a problem that you are going to have to deal with.

So with that out of the way lets take a look into the bowl of alphabet soup which is codec and audio file standards.

MP3:  This is the media file that everybody knows about and is more correctly known as MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3. Designed in 1991, the MP3 format became so ubiqutious that the players that played it became known as MP3s

The codec is known as a lossy type codec, meaning that some of the data might be discarded to make a smaller file and audiophiles wouldn't touch it with a 40 foot earphone but that doesn't stop it from being a very common format to see on a device.

WMA:  WMA stands for Windows Media Audio  is an audio data compression technology developed by Microsoft. It is most commonly found around microsoft media programs like Windows Media Player and is a fairly commonly found file format on a number of different devices.

FLAC: This is a popular, open source, and free audio compression codec that is LOSSLESS. This means that it does not remove any information from the audio stream and produces an exact copy of the original.

An increasing number of MP4 Players like the CVSC-N04-ORG-16GB are becoming capable of handling the FLAC audio format.

OGG: This is essentially the compact version of FLAC. This LOSSY, open source format is becoming more frequently used as open source gains hold and an increasing number of non brand-name players hit the market.

It is supported by the Vorbis codec.

WAV: WAV is a standard audio format for Windows operating systems, often used for storing high-quality, uncompressed sound. WAV files are usually high quality but are essentially raw sound digitalised meaning they take up a lot of space.

APE: the ape file is the container for a losless compression system known as Monkey's Audio (Monkeys, APE get it8))

All monkey business aside the sound quality will be better from this format due to it's lossless nature. It's a proprietary system so you are unlikely to see it too frequently but, if you do this is a good guide to what works and what doesn't work

AIF: this stands for Audio Interchange File Format and is a lossless format co-developed by Apple Computer in 1988. according to Wikipedia [citation needed] it's still popular with audio professionals and the like due to it's high information retention rate. file extensions that this file is known as are .aif, .aifc and .aiff.



AAC: Standing for Advanced Audio Coding,  AAC was a lossy style format designed to be the successor to MP3. However it hasn't taken off and now is most likely to be found on Apple related products and from Apple related sources like iTunes.

ALE: Standing for Apple Lossless Encoder  ALE is a LOSSLESS codec developed by Apple Computer. It provides full, uncompressed CD quality audio in about half the space of the original file. It only works in iTunes and on iPod players making it Apples version of FLAC and having nothing to do with beer.

ASF: Standing for Advanced Systems Format is a propretory windows format that can be viewed in most Windows media player folders. It is more commonly seen in the .wma and .wmv folder types.

AC3: This is a Dolby Digital audio file commonly found taking care of the audios on DVD files.

RM: This is a multimedia file that was developed for the proprietary, but free to install, Real Player.

While Real Player generally has western IT people and computer savvy people spitting venom it is popular in asia, so much so that some Chinese manufacturers call MP4 players that play RM MP5 players.

MKA: This is the audio format of Metroska, a very popular open source lossy codec.

AMR: Standing for Adaptive Multi-Rate it is a format that was developed for the recording of voice. It has been used widely in cell phones and is not very suitable for recording music.

MOV: This is the multimedia format extension used by quicktime, yet another audio format developed by Apple.

But it is not enough to know all these codecs, you’ve got to transform them into something useful. Thankfully there are several freely available online including:

  • Mediainfo

  • Format Factory

And if you run across a media file and are not sure what type of codec it is using or which type of file it is housed in try out AVS codec reader a diagnostics tool for media files.

If you often run across new codecs bookmark this page. And if there is anything we’ve missed let us know in the comments and we will be sure to add it into this blog post.

Author xlxmarketing 28.8.2009. | 20:37
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