I fully understand that you might not care too much about formats. “Mp3 is the standard and that’s just fine with me” you might say. And you’re right. It’s just fine… BUT.
Mp3, which stands for MPEG-1 Audio Layer III (which is probably why they shorten it – MPEG is short for Moving Pictures Expert Group, by the way) is what’s known as a “lossy” codec. Every time you do anything to the file, you lose a little bit of the audio. It’s not a fast enough rate to notice, but your files WILL deteriorate over time.
So how do you prevent that, especially with the rich velvet of vinyl that’s making a comeback in the rock/alternative scene? You’ve got two options.
The first option is uncompressed, that’s your WAV (Waveform Audio) or AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format) on Windows and MacOS respectively, but, as the name implies, they’re uncompressed, and as a result take a LOT of space. They’re huge. As an example, I made a quick test-recording on my laptop. It was me speaking “This is a test recording”, three seconds max. I saved them as a WAV and as an mp3. The mp3 was about 250 kB. The WAV? 3.6 MB – MEGABYTES. For three seconds of bad audio. The full audio when I make a chapter of Musical Spiderweb before I split it into 3 and convert them to mp3 to upload are an average of 1.3 GB.
So, clearly, if you don’t have a lot of space to store them, uncompressed isn’t a practical option.
So where does that leave you?
There’s also lossless compressed formats – make them smaller, but don’t damage the audio. There’s a few to pick from: wma (Windows Media Audio – specifically the lossless variety), ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec), WavPack, MPEG-4, and FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec), which is the one you should use.
So, what is FLAC, and why should you care? The answer to that can be found in this article.
But the short answer is thus:
- It’s free
- It’s universal to all systems (even Apple with a third-party app)
- It’s the most efficient of the lossless compression formats
- It allows for streaming – services like Spotify use it
- Because of how high-quality the sound is, it encourages purchasing of higher quality audio equipment, which stimulates the market and makes things cheaper (yay capitalism)
That is now something that you know. It’s everything you needed to know about audio codecs (and probably didn’t want to ask).