Compression and File Types
Audio Data Compression
Not to be confused with Dynamic Range Compression (DRC), which is the process of reducing the dynamic range of the audio by reducing the loud sounds and amplifying quiet sounds, data compression refers to minimizing the size of an audio file. Audio compression algorithms are implemented in software as audio codecs. Different compression algorithms result in different types and various reductions of information in the files. We won't go into the actual coding methods of each algorithm at this time, but we'll do a basic overview of file types and the kind of compression they implement.
UNCOMPRESSED AUDIO FORMATS
WAV, AIFF, AU, PCM
Uncompressed audio formats are large file types that can take up a considerable amount of space on your storage drives due to the amount of information they contain. However, the quality of the audio is unchanged from the original file - uncompressed and unaltered.
COMPRESSED AUDIO FORMATS
Lossless Compressed Audio Formats
FLAC, WavPack, Monkey's Audio, ALAC, WMA (lossless), APE
Lossless audio compression produces a representation of digital data that decompress to an exact duplicate of the original audio file. Therefore, no actual data is lost when decompressed, but will still result in smaller file size (when compressed) than the original file. A popular format for archiving.
Lossy Compressed Audio Formats
AC3, DTS, AAC, MPEG-1/2/3, Vorbis, Real Audio
Loss algorithms utilize psychoacoustics to recognize that not all data in an audio stream can be perceived by the human ear. Because of this, specific information is identified and either coded with decreased accuracy or removed entirely. From a file size point of view, lossy compression is superb at creating smaller file sizes overall than lossless compression, but due to the algorithms it uses, audio quality oftentimes suffers in comparison.
We are seeing more streaming services considering higher resolution audio, but it is important to note that not all standard electronic devices can play back these formats. You’ll need specific hardware that supports high-resolution format playback in order to make the most out of your audio. For instance, your iPhone will not be able to playback uncompressed FLAC files, so you’ll need to make sure the hardware in your audio system will support your high-resolution files or is compatible to be able to stream similar files if you are wanting to stream them over the internet (we’ll save music servers and streamers for another post).
Once you have the hardware and bandwidth, it’s time to start considering what service is right for you.