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Wondering which audio formats
to choose for your tracks?

Read on to find out!

MP3

WAV

FLAC

What Audio File Formats Are and Which to Choose

As you organize the music on your computer and listen to your favorite tracks, you can’t help noticing all the different extensions the sound files have – MP3, WAV, FLAC, and more. These extensions identify specific audio file formats used for storing digital recordings. But what are file formats, anyway? How do they work and in what ways do they differ? What’s the best audio format for saving your recordings? This article will try to answer these questions as simply as possible.

What Is an Audio Format?

An audio format is a two-part structure that consists of a container and a codec

A container is a special file in which multimedia data, in this case audio, are compressed and stored. A codec is a piece of software used to perform data compression and to decode the data during playback.

In other words, a container is where audio files are stored, while a codec is a tool to make them smaller. Together, they make up what is called the format.

What Are the Most Common Audio Formats?

Let’s compare a few of the most popular formats for storing music and sound files.



MP3

MP3 is easily the most common audio format; it works with almost all devices and platforms. In comparison with audio CDs, MP3 files are tiny – 75–95% smaller – and so very convenient for storing on a hard drive. However, this size reduction affects sound quality as the original data are partially discarded when decoded. The exact amount of discarded data depends on the chosen bit rate – the lower the value, the more information will be lost.



WAV

The Waveform Audio Format, or simply WAV, is a raw, uncompressed audio format created by Microsoft and IBM and primarily used on Windows-based platforms. With the development of superior lossless formats such as FLAC (see below), WAV has lost some of its appeal as a “near-CD quality” format but is still quite popular due to its wide availability.



WMA

WMA (Windows Media Audio) is Microsoft’s proprietary audio format designed as a competitor to MP3 and RealAudio. The standard WMA provides only lossy compression, although more sophisticated recent versions offer a lossless option and support high-resolution audio. The format’s biggest drawback, however, is that few mobile devices can play WMA files by default, requiring smartphone and tablet owners to download special compatible apps.



FLAC

The Free Lossless Audio Codec, abbreviated as FLAC, has emerged as a new alternative to other similar audio formats like Apple Lossless (ALAC) and WMA Lossless. FLAC strikes an almost perfect balance between file quality and size reduction, providing a resolution of up to 32-bit / 96 kHz compared to a CD’s 16-bit / 44.1 kHz, at the same time making the files 30–40% smaller. Even though still bulkier than MP3s, FLACs don’t have that format’s auditory problems. The format is also compatible with dozens of platforms thanks to its open-source status.

Which Audio Format is the Best?

This is a tough one. There’s really no universal answer because each audio format has advantages in some situations and drawbacks in others.

If you’re interested in saving space on your hard drive, choose MP3. If you’re after the highest quality sound, go with either FLAC (for Android- and Windows-based devices) or ALAC (for OS X and iOS platforms).

Now you know which audio file types to choose in which situations, but how are you supposed to convert your recordings into those formats? One good option is to download an app like Movavi Video Converter – a powerful and very easy-to-use program with an extensive list of supported image, video, and audio formats, including those discussed here. Try the converter to

  • pick your desired format from 180+ options
  • automatically identify the right format for any device – in just one click
  • take advantage of the SuperSpeed mode for ultrafast conversion
  • and so much more!

Movavi Video Converter

The ideal way to get your media in the format you need!

  • Convert video, audio, DVDs, and image files
  • Enjoy lightning-fast conversion without quality loss
  • Improve quality, adjust sound, trim and join files before converting
  • Save video and audio clips for easy mobile access

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