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File Formats, Audio Compression, and Why it Matters

Ever since the invention of the phonograph, engineers have been searching for the highest quality, robust, convenient, and easily reproducible solutions for recording, storing, and reproducing audio. From wax cylinders and vinyl records to the online streaming services of today, the way music is distributed and consumed has evolved rapidly over the last century and a half. Though the most die-hard audiophiles may lament the passing of the truly analog era, the robustness and convenience of digital music files makes it impossible to argue that they will be the primary medium for music consumption for the foreseeable future.


So what file type should you be listening to? And why do so many different types exist? Let’s go over a few of the most common audio file types and their intended purpose.


Uncompressed Audio

What it is:

Uncompressed audio is simply raw, uncompressed audio data. Common uncompressed formats are WAV and AIFF. Even completely uncompressed audio can differ in quality, depending on sample rate (number of samples/second) and bit depth (number of bits used per sample). Standard CD quality is 16 bit 44.1kHz.


What it’s used for:

Uncompressed audio is primarily used for audio production. The huge file sizes make it unsuitable for use in personal music libraries and streaming services, as large file sizes take up so much memory. However, the uncompressed nature of these files allow for easier manipulation, as the computer does not have to uncompress the data first. This reduces the workload on a CPU when manipulating audio or playing multiple audio streams simultaneously.


Lossless Compression

What it is:

Lossless compression reduces the size of an audio file with no loss in quality. Common lossless formats include FLAC and ALAC. Running raw audio through a lossless codec preserves all of the original data in the file, but rewrites it in a more efficient manner. For example, a string of “AAAAAYYYYAAA” might be rewritten as Ax5 Yx4 Ax3.


What it’s used for:

Lossless format is the format choice for consumers who do not want to compromise on audio quality. The smaller file sizes allow for more reasonably sized music libraries. FLAC and ALAC are also capable of storing metadata, allowing users to sort and filter their files by artist, album, genre, etc.


Lossy Compression

What it is:

Lossy compression allows for extremely small file sizes with minimal loss in quality. Common lossy file formats include MP3, WMA, and AAC.  The goal of lossy compression is to reduce file size by throwing away non-critical data. This includes removing frequencies outside the range of human hearing as well as removing masked or inaudible elements of a track.


What it’s used for:

Lossy compression, specifically mp3, is the most widespread of the file formats. They can be around half the size of lossless and up to 15x the size of uncompressed. This is critical for music streaming or for those who want to cram as much music as possible into their devices. Though it certainly exists, it takes a critical ear to perceive the drop in quality, which is perfectly acceptable to most listeners who are jamming to their workout playlist or listening to lo-fi tracks during their study sessions.


So which format should you use? That depends entirely on context. You’re going to get odd looks if you send an MP3 of your new track to a professional mastering engineer, just as you would filling up your 16GB portable music player with a handful of songs in WAV format. Use the right tool for the job and enjoy the music, whatever format it comes in.


Happy listening!

5 Reasons Why A Great Home Theater Is Worth Your Investment

Many of us have dreamt of having a home theater system, but doubted whether it’ll be worth the cost. Are you willing to finally let go of that worn-out stereo and dated TV? Well, we're here to make that decision much easier. While home theaters can be somewhat of an initial investment, they can also end up paying for themselves in many different ways! In this article, we break 5 reasons why home theaters are certainly worth your investment:


The Audio And Video Quality Is Top Notch

Yes, you may already have a nice big screen in your living room.  But have you considered how much better your experience could be to have it connected to a high-quality speaker system?  Pair it with a larger screen and higher resolution, and you now have a truly cinematic experience. The difference in video and audio quality is massive with quality home theater systems.  If you're looking to actually immerse yourself in whatever you're watching, a home theater system is what you need.


It Will Substantially Increase Your Home Value

Home theaters have been in high demand ever since modern streaming technology took off. This is an added luxury that many want but won't have the patience to build themselves. Having it ready-made for potential buyers will massively boost the appeal of your house. Even if you aren't planning to sell your property anytime soon, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have this valuable addition to your home.


It'll Save You Money On Theater Related Costs

Watching movies at the theater can be expensive. If you're regular cinema-goer, you'll know exactly how much it costs to buy those Dolby digital movie tickets, snacks and transportation to get to a theater… and if you're looking to treat your family members to the movie theater, these expenses can shoot up even higher.  A home theater system will eliminate all of these costs. Snuggle up in your favorite chair, choose your favorite movie, and enjoy an evening of entertainment with your loved ones without spending anything!


You Control The Show

This is a given, but it’s still worth reiterating. With a home theater system, everything is under your control. What you want to watch, how you want to watch it, how often you want to pause or rewind - it's all literally in your hands.  The availability of cinema-quality entertainment at the touch of your fingertip is not something you'll regret investing in.


It Makes For Great Entertainment!

Looking to have guests over without indulging in extravagant party expenses? Home theaters are the perfect way to host a luxurious watch party without having to invest money or time. This is a fun and cost-effective way to entertain your friends and family - toss some popcorn in the microwave and pop in your favorite movie, and you’ve got yourself a party.


If you’re ready to make the jump and invest in a high-end home theater, contact the home theater experts at 3mA Audio today!