Do audio encoding formats matter, and why MP3 isn't the best?
All Audiophiles would know never to recommend MP3 files especially for Bluetooth devices and will always use FLAC files. But why?
A codec is a device or program that compresses data for transmission and decompresses the received data. In the case of audio, codecs affect your listening experience, whether you're using headphones, earphones or Bluetooth Devices.
There are 3 different Audio Compression techniques Lossy, Lossless, and Uncompressed Audio:
This is a compression technique that does not decompress audio files to their original data amount. Lossy methods provide high degrees of digital compression, which results in smaller files. In these cases, some sound waves are removed, which affects the quality of sound in an audio file. Lossy compression is not recommended in professional settings where high quality audio is necessary.
This is a compression technique that decompresses audio files back to their original data amount. Lossless methods can provide high degrees of digital compression, but there is no loss in size or sound quality. Lossless compression is ideal in professional audio settings where complete files are needed. Lossless compression music formats include FLAC, ALAC and WMA Lossless.
This is an audio file that has no compression applied to it. The sound in uncompressed audio files remains the same as when it was recorded. Examples include PCM, AIFF and WAV formats.
Basically, an Audio compressor uses the above techniques to compress audio files in to audio formats or audio file extensions like MP3, FLAC, AAC, etc. There are 9 Commonly used codec formats which are:
FLAC, or Free Lossless Audio Codec, delivers CD-quality audio in a file size smaller than an actual CD. It's also a nonproprietary, open-source codec that's great for software developers who want to use lossless audio. Though FLAC files are easily accessible, they can be six times larger than MP3 files. This format is not compatible with all devices and software, but it sounds great over Bluetooth and streaming.
WAV, or Waveform Audio Format, is an uncompressed audio format that's great to use if you want to get the original recorded material without losing sound quality. WAV files are ideal for shorter sound bites because their uncompressed form means they're large files, making them difficult to stream. The audio in these files is crisp, and sounds good over Bluetooth.
MP3, or Moving Picture Experts Group Layer-3 Audio, is one of the most popular audio codecs. MP3 files use lossy compression, which compacts audio drastically. In some cases, MP3 files can be 10 times smaller than WAV files. This compression method is versatile and works on nearly all playback devices.
Although MP3s are major space savers, the bit rate at which they're recorded affects the sound quality. For example, MP3s encoded at 128kbps don't sound as great as those encoded at 320kbps, but listeners need to determine whether they prefer sound over storage. MP3s have been used for streaming in the past, but with higher-res streaming becoming more popular, they're not the only option out there.
WMA, or Windows Media Audio, is available in lossy and lossless WMA formats, which gives listeners some choice. Generally, WMA files are smaller than their uncompressed counterparts, and similar in functionality to MP3s and FLAC files. Though WMA offers versatility, it's not compatible with all devices, especially Apple devices. Fortunately, for the average listener, this format sounds good over Bluetooth.
ALAC, or Apple Lossless Audio Codec, sounds identical to original recorded audio, but it's compressed to a smaller size without discarding bits. ALAC works primarily with Apple products, which makes the format a bit limited for folks without iOS devices. It also takes a longer time to download than lossy formats do, but it sounds great over Bluetooth. It's possible to stream with ALAC, but this codec isn't commonly used because of its incompatibility with non-Apple devices.
AAC, or Advanced Audio Coding, is another lossy codec that provides small audio files and works great for online streaming. AAC files aren't helpful if you need a near-replica of the original recording, because bits are discarded. But it sounds perfectly fine otherwise. The compressed file size is ideal for mobile devices.
Originally created by Apple, Audio Interchange File Format, or AIFF, is an audio file that's completely uncompressed and can be played on both Macs and PCs. AIFF is identical to CD-quality audio, but its large files increase download time and take up significant space, making the format less than ideal for portable devices. Streaming is possible in AIFF, but it's not commonly used.
DSD, or Direct Stream Digital, is an extremely high-resolution uncompressed audio format. DSD is even higher in quality than CD-quality and HD download formats such as FLAC and ALAC. Because DSD is such a high-quality audio codec, digital audio converters are often needed to play DSD files if they're not compatible with your computer. DSD is a demanding encoder, making it impractical for streaming (at this time). However, it's the best sound you can get over Bluetooth.
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