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Digital Music Format

These are the 10 popular audio format.
Lossy, Compressed 
– MP3 (MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group) Audio Layer III)
– WMA (Windows Media Audio)
– AAC (Advanced Audio Coding)
– OGG (Ogg Vorbis)

Lossless, Compressed 
– FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec)
– ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec)
– APE (Monkey’s Audio)

Lossless, Uncompressed
Pulse-code modulation (PCM) : 
– WAV (Waveform Audio)
– AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format)

Direct Stream Digital (DSD)

What it means?
Lossy : Some information (non-essential, determine by the program) were left out. Purpose is to save space.
Lossless : No information was left out. All information are preserved. Best Quality.
Compressed : To save space.
Uncompressed : Original file without compression.

What format to choose?
For lossy, compressed format. Compared with same bit-rate.
Audio Quality : MP3 (good), WMA and AAC (better), OGG (best)

For lossless. All provides the same quality output. Any format will do. Compressed (FLAC, ALAC) or not (WAV, AIFF)

Importantly, choose the format that your player is able to play. Check what format is compatible with your player.

Try this example. Store 9 difference music in each of the format.
Music 1.mp3
Music 2.m4a (AAC-Apple)
Music 3.wma
Music 4.ogg
Music 5.flac
Music 6.ape
Music 7.m4a (ALAC-Apple)
Music 8.wav
Music 9.aiff

Play it in your player. Write down which music track can be played.
These are the format that are compatible with your player.
Now, you can choose what format you want to save and play on your player.

Example of Pioneer Head Unit CD Player. Other than normal audio CD, These are the compressed audio format that can be played. However, ALAC cannot be played, iIt show up in the menu because it shares the same .m4a extension as AAC.

My take :
These are my choices (given that the player is compatible).
– Lossy : AAC (.m4a), at 320kbps VBR (variable bit rate)
– Lossless : FLAC

Click this post to find out how to set up your PC (MS Windows) to decode (play) or encode (transform) your digital audio to these 9 format mentioned.

What about DSD?
DSD encoded audio file ends with .dff or .dsf
This format (DSD) uses a different modulation technique than the 9 mentioned above (PCM). DSD is less popular and takes up a lot of space. In theory, DSD is able to reproduce closer to analogue sound than PCM. All music that we hear is analogue signal.

How about high-resolution audio?
Standard Resolution
– PCM (16bit/44.1kHz; 16bit/48kHz)
– DSD (1bit/2.8224MHz) also known as DSD64

High Resolution
– PCM (24bit/88.2kHz; 24bit/96kHz; 24bit/176.4kHz; 24bit/192kHz; …) 
– DSD128 (1bit/5.6448MHz), DSD256 (1bit/11.2896MHz), …

You need high resolution equipment from the source to the output. Example, the digital audio file must be in high-resolution. The player or converter (Digital-to-Analog Converter, DAC) must be able to convert the high-resolution audio file to analog output. The analog output equipment (amplifier, speakers, earphone, headphone etc.) must be able to reproduce the full spectrum of the high-resolution output from the converter. Lastly, you must be able to hear and enjoy the difference. Fun, isn’t it?

Check this post if you wanted to know how to record your music files to all of the 9 formats in Foobar2000.

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