A Summary of Audio Codecs
When looking at audio files, you’ve probably noticed the numbers, letters, or combination of both at the end of the file name. Whether it’s MP3, WAV, or any other, each audio file has one. These are audio codecs. A codec is a device or program that compresses data for transmission and decompresses the received data. In audio files, codecs have an effect on the listening experience, whether you're using headphones or listening through speakers. There are six commonly used audio codec formats: FLAC, WAV, MP3, WMA, ALAC, and AAC. This blog will explain each type, and what sets it apart from others.
FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec)
Before getting into the types of audio codecs, there are three terms you should know. These are lossy audio, lossless audio, and uncompressed audio. Lossy audio is a compression technique
that does not decompress audio files to their original data amount. This provides high degrees of digital compression, resulting in smaller files. In these cases, some sound waves are removed, which affects the quality of sound in an audio file. Lossless audio is a compression technique that decompresses audio files back to their original data amount. This provides high degrees of digital compression, without loss in size or sound quality, making it ideal in professional audio settings where complete files are needed. Finally, uncompressed audio is an audio file that has no compression applied to it, meaning the sound remains the same as when it was recorded.
FLAC provides CD-quality audio in smaller-than-CD file sizes. It is also a nonproprietary, open-source codec used by developers who want lossless audio. FLAC files are easily accessible, but can be up to six times as large as MP3 files, making them longer to download.
WAV (Waveform Audio Format)
WAV is an uncompressed audio format providing the original recorded material without a loss of sound quality. These files are ideal for short sound bites, as their uncompressed nature means they are larger files, making them harder to stream.
MP3 (Moving Picture Experts Group Layer-3 Audio)
MP3 is perhaps the most popular audio codec. It utilizes lossy compression, which drastically compresses audio, making MP3 files up to ten times smaller than WAV files. It is a highly diverse compression method and works on nearly all devices. The drawback of MP3 is that, because they are such small files, sound quality is often adversely affected.
WMA (Windows Media Audio)
This codec is available in both lossy and lossless formats, providing users with a choice. In general, WMA files are smaller than uncompressed files of similar types and function similarly to MPE and FLAC files. Despite offering versatility of lossy and lossless formats, WMA is not compatible with all devices, especially Apple devices.
ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec)
AAC (Advanced Audio Coding)
ALAC sounds identical to original recorded audio, but is compressed to a smaller size. It works primarily with Apple products
, making the format a less attractive option for those without iOS devices.
Lastly, AAC is a lossy codec that provides small audio files and is ideal for online streaming. If you need a near-replica of an original recording, AAC files won't be helpful, but to the casual listener they will sound perfectly fine. AAC files are great for mobile devices.
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Posted on October 21, 2020