As we’ve mentioned before, there are three major types of audio codec types out there. These are lossy, lossless, and uncompressed. Keep in mind some codecs may shift into a different category, and there are also some codecs that, depending on how they’re stored and saved, can be either one type of audio codec or another.
Regardless, quality has led to extreme data usage in this world of digitization. This is whether it’s storage data, streaming data, or our standard internet data that’s taking a strain. These audio codecs are working tirelessly to try to improve their quality while reducing the pressure on storage and streaming at the same time.
What is an Audio Codec
An audio codec is a software component that is used to encode and decode digital audio data. Audio codecs are used in a variety of applications, such as streaming media, VoIP, and video conferencing.
There are many different types of audio codecs available, each with its own set of features and benefits. For example, some audio codecs are better at encoding audio data at a low bit-rate, while others are designed for high-quality audio applications.
Lossy Codec types
This is the one that uses the smallest amount of data when it comes to audio files. To be technically accurate, there are actually three different types of compression that are used. Still, we’ll be only talking about the primary type known as Modified Discrete Cosine Transform or MDCT. This is where the popular audio codecs such as Dolby Digital (AC-3), MPEG LAYER 3 (MP3), Advanced Audio Coding (AAC), and Ogg Vorbis fall under.
Although AC3 and MP3 are the pioneers of the lossy codec family (created in 1991 and 1993, respectively), the advances that AAC and Ogg have made with their formats have allowed for lossy codec audio files to be an acceptable standard for streaming music systems.
AAC and Ogg are very similar in numerous ways, with Ogg being completely open-sourced and highly adjustable for the audio and music enthusiast. For example, Spotify switched out of MP3 lossy files into Ogg to improve the bitrate, the sampling, and the quality, while still keeping the file sizes small. AAC is also used by music streaming services, primarily Apple Music.
Different types of Audio Codecs
There are two main types of audio codecs: lossless and lossy. Lossless audio codecs maintain the original quality of the audio file, while lossy audio codecs sacrifice some of the quality to reduce the file size.
-Lossless Audio Codecs
FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is a popular lossless audio codec that offers high-quality audio at a lower bitrate than other lossless codecs. FLAC is an open source codec, which means it is available for anyone to use.
ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) is another popular lossless audio codec that is used by Apple products such as iTunes and iPod. ALAC is a proprietary codec, which means it can only be used by Apple products.
WAV (Waveform Audio File Format) is a lossless audio file format that is often used for storing audio data. WAV files are typically large in size, but they offer the best quality audio.
-Lossy Audio Codecs
MP3 (MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3) is a popular lossy audio codec that offers good audio quality at a lower bitrate. MP3 is an open source codec, which means it is available for anyone to use.
AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) is another popular lossy audio codec that is used by Apple products such as iTunes and iPod. AAC is a proprietary codec, which means it can only be used by Apple products.
Opus is a lossy audio codec that is designed for low-bitrate applications. Opus is an open-source codec, which means it is available for anyone to use.
Lossless Codec types
Here it’s not about having a codec to save on space but also about having it at the best quality possible. Although file size reduction is still significant, the priority goes to preserving the audio quality itself. A popular codec in this field is Free Lossless Audio Codec or FLAC.
In most cases, this 24-bit 192kHz format is better than CD-quality music, as CD-quality can only go up to 16-bit formats. Yet the audio file size in FLAC is about half the size of a CD. This is a great balance when you’ve got the storage, and the quality of the music is crucial to you.
Apple itself came out with its own codec, the Apple Lossless Audio Codec or ALAC. You may expect top tier from Apple, but it stopped at the CD level at 16 bit in regards to music quality. FLAC still surpasses it quality-wise and allows for better sampling than standard ALAC files.
In addition, up until recently, FLAC was open-sourced, whereas the ALAC codec was not until 2011. The open-source nature of FLAC has allowed it to blossom in allowing for near studio-quality audio files.
Lossless audio formats are the preferred method to still maintain all the nuances and musical components of audio files while at the same time trying to cap the file sizes, so they don’t run wild and eat up the data storage systems.
This is the uncompressed, raw file sizes that record the audio as it should be. The most prevalent types of these files are WAV and AIFF. They are nearly identical, whereas Microsoft and IBM develop WAV.
Thus it’s the primary format when recording audio on a PC. AIFF is where the high quality of Apple comes in again, and this is their high-quality, uncompressed format that’s the primary format on MacBooks and iPhones.
These are so great because they both use the same exact method to take audio and music, which comes in an analog format, and convert it through a method known as pulse code modulation or PCM. PCM is the standard way of digitizing audio and is even utilized for digital telephony. This helps to keep the audio in as pure a format as possible while still being able to digitize it and save it forever.
PCM was very common back in the heydays of CDs and DVDs. In turn, we were able to provide superior quality audio that was way ahead of the audio that was produced on tape, which was a completely analog format.
Factors to Consider About Audio Codecs
When choosing an audio codec, there are a few factors to consider:
– Audio Quality
The audio quality of an audio codec is measured by its bitrate. The higher the bitrate, the better the audio quality. However, higher bitrates also result in larger file sizes.
– File Size
The file size of an audio file is important if you need to store or transfer a lot of data. Smaller file sizes take up less space and are easier to transfer than larger files.
– Hardware Compatibility
Some audio codecs require special hardware in order to be used. For example, AAC requires Apple products such as iTunes and iPod. Make sure your hardware is compatible with the audio codec before using it.
– CPU Usage
The CPU usage of an audio codec is important if you are using a computer for audio processing. Higher CPU usage can result in slower performance and reduced battery life.
Some audio codecs are proprietary, which means they can only be used by certain products. Other audio codecs are open source, which means anyone can use them.
Comparing Audio Codecs
Let’s start with a comparison of popular lossless audio codecs. FLAC and ALAC are both great choices for high-quality audio, but FLAC has a slightly higher bitrate, which means it requires more bandwidth. If you’re working with limited bandwidth, ALAC may be a better choice.
If you’re looking for a balance of quality and file size, MP3 and AAC are both good options. AAC is slightly more efficient, so it offers slightly better quality at the same bitrate. However, MP3 is more widely compatible, so it may be a better choice if you need to compatibility.
Finally, let’s compare some of the newer audio codecs. Opus is a great all-around codec that offers both high quality and low latency. It’s also very efficient, so it doesn’t require a lot of bandwidth. However, it’s not as widely compatible as some of the other codecs on this list.
If you’re looking for the best audio codec for your needs, take a look at the comparison table below.
FLAC ALAC WAV
Format: Open Source Proprietary Lossless
Bitrate: Variable Apple Variable
Size: Small Large Large
Hardware Compatibility: Any Device Apple Devices Any Device
CPU Usage: Low Low High
License: Open Source Proprietary Open Source
As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider when choosing an audio codec. If you’re not sure which one is right for you, try out a few different codecs and see which one sounds the best. And if you need any help, our team of experts is always here to help.
Which is the best audio codec option out there
This is really subject to what the needs are. As you go from uncompressed to lossy, you’ll start to lose quality at an exponential rate. This is because each level of compression, even from uncompressed to lossless, will start to cut out the refinement of audio and play a lower quality version of it. Yet there’s a reason for that, as the file sizes of uncompressed audio have never been bigger.
With lossy formats like AAC or Ogg, it can vary because they have been trying to improve the quality with the compression, so the file sizes have actually gone up. Entire songs are still just a few megabytes, but the quality to size ratio has drastically improved.
Compared to an uncompressed audio file size which could be about 30 megabytes for one minute of audio! To be fair, since they’re uncompressed, they can actually grow in size without any type of limits.
It also depends on how easy these file formats are to work with. Although WAV files are the largest as they are uncompressed, they’re also the most versatile to work with. Although excellent options, open-source formats such as Ogg and FLAC tend to run into more restrictions than these closed-sourced files, inclusive of WAV and AAC.
How to Choose the Best Audio Codec
The best audio codec for your needs depends on a few factors:
– Audio Quality
If you need the best audio quality possible, choose a lossless audio codec such as FLAC or ALAC. If you need good audio quality at a lower bitrate, choose a lossy audio codec such as MP3 or AAC.
– File Size
If you need to store or transfer a lot of data, choose a lossy audio codec such as MP3 or AAC. If file size is not a concern, choose a lossless audio codec such as FLAC or ALAC.
– Hardware Compatibility
If you are using Apple products such as iTunes and iPod, choose AAC. If you are using other hardware, choose an open source audio codec such as FLAC or Opus.
– CPU Usage
If you are using a computer for audio processing, choose an audio codec with low CPU usage such as Opus. If CPU usage is not a concern, choose any audio codec.
If you need to use a proprietary codec, choose AAC. If you can use any codec, choose an open source audio codec such as FLAC or Opus.
What qualities are important in audio formats
When choosing an audio format, there are a few key qualities to keep in mind. These include file size, compatibility, and quality.
-File size: If you have limited storage space or want to send files quickly, you’ll want to choose a format with a smaller file size. Uncompressed audio files are the largest in size, while lossy and lossless compression can reduce the file size by discarding some data.
-Compatibility: Some audio formats are not compatible with certain devices or software. Make sure to check for compatibility before choosing a format.
-Quality: The sound quality of an audio file can be affected by the type of compression used. Lossless compression results in better sound quality than lossy compression, but both may sacrifice some quality compared to uncompressed audio files.
What are the pros and cons of different audio formats
Uncompressed audio files are large in size, but they offer the best sound quality. However, they are not compatible with all devices or software, so it is important to check for compatibility before choosing this format.
Lossy compression is a type of audio compression that reduces the file size by discarding some of the data. This can result in a loss in quality, making it unsuitable for professional use. However, lossy compression offers smaller file sizes, making it ideal for those with limited storage space or who need to send files quickly.
Lossless compression is a type of audio compression that reduces the file size without sacrificing any data. This makes it ideal for those who want high quality audio without having to compromise on file size. However, lossless compression is not compatible with all devices or software, so it is important to check for compatibility before choosing this format.
Pros and Cons of Audio Formats
Now that we’ve gone over what qualities to look for in an audio format, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of popular audio formats.
MP3s are one of the most popular audio formats. They offer good sound quality and are small in size, making them ideal for sharing and storing. However, MP3s are lossy files, which means some data is lost during compression. This can lead to a degradation in sound quality.
WAV files are uncompressed, which means they offer the best sound quality. However, they are also the largest in size, making them impractical for sharing or storing on devices with limited storage space.
AIFF files are uncompressed and offer excellent sound quality. However, like WAV files, they are large in size and not well suited for sharing or storing on devices with limited storage space.
FLAC files are compressed, but they use lossless compression, so no data is lost during the process. This results in a smaller file size without sacrificing any sound quality. However, FLAC files are not compatible with all devices or software.
ALAC files are compressed, but they use lossless compression, so no data is lost during the process. This results in a smaller file size without sacrificing any sound quality. ALAC files are compatible with all Apple devices and software.
Depending on your needs, one audio format may be a better choice for you than another. If you are looking for the highest quality audio possible, uncompressed formats like WAV or AIFF are the way to go. However, if you want a more versatile format that won’t take up too much storage space, MP3 or FLAC may be a better option. If you are an Apple user, ALAC is a good choice as it is compatible with all Apple devices and software.
No matter what audio format you choose, be sure to check for compatibility with your devices or software before making your final decision.
In the end
Either way, we’re going to continue to see a lot of improvements in the lossy compression world as there’s always the challenge of keeping those file sizes small and continuously improving music. We may also see the opposite happen as our cellular and internet speeds continue to get faster and cloud storage services continue to get cheaper.