When you’ve been out and about, collecting music from the web, or digitizing your music collection, you have surely found out that there are way more audio formats out there than just MP3 – or Apple iTunes’ AIFF. Usually, it doesn’t matter much in which format you download or save a song or piece of music. But especially when iTunes or Windows Media Player aren’t able to open those files, a fast solution is needed.
Furthermore, with so many file formats for audio files alone out there, which one should you choose when digitizing your collection? Sure, MP3 is the most popular one, but which one is the best for your individual preferences and purpose?
Lossy vs. Lossless Audio Files
Lossless files keep the original audio quality of the medium it was ripped from intact, whether it was a CD or an audio recorder.
Lossless formats include:
WAV, AIFF, FLAC, Apple Lossless ALAC, or APE
Lossy files compress the audio files to reduce the file size and thus save space on your hard drive. Thus, they are far more common to the casual music listener and collector. Depending on the bitrate, you may not even here a difference between them and a lossless audio file.
The most common lossy file formats include:
MP3, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, and WMA
Which One To Use?
Putting aside that you have any special needs regarding the file, which file format should you use for either downloading or ripping music from a CD? The most secure way to go is with either MP3 or AAC. Why? Because these formats are the most common, widely spread, and supported by a big variety of media and music players. If you rip your music using a high bitrate for either MP3 or AAC, it will be almost impossible to notice any difference to the source when it comes to audio quality.
However, this is a very easy answer, and every easy answer has it’s tricky part.
The problem with lossy formats like WMA is that, if you want to convert said file later one, e.g. to MP3, the quality of the music will be noticeably reduced. To prevent that, you can either choose a high bitrate before converting your audio file and thus reduce the quality loss, or you use a lossless format! Converting between lossless formats will result in no quality loss at all. Thus, if you plan on archiving your music collection for future usage that may involve converting or professionally using the files, you should go for a lossless format like FLAC or ALAC.
In the end, every format that is widely compatible with a variety of players and devices is the best choice. As long as you do not convert between lossy formats without setting the bitrate, you can enjoy your music in the best quality.