When it comes to video production, image quality alone should not be the primary concern. Depending on the type of production and the intended audience, audio should be given due importance, especially if sounds or spoken words add to the the overall video viewing experience.
That said, knowing which audio format to choose will ensure you get the desired audio quality while optimizing the available storage space.
Here are the popular audio formats you would have heard of but wish to know more about. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses will ensure you’re better informed the next time you consider audio for your video production.
Waveform Audio (.WAV)
Those using the Windows operating system will be familiar with this format. This is one of the oldest audio formats and has been around since the early Windows days. WAV is a raw uncompressed audio format employing LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation).
LPCM is used for audio CDs and that explains why WAV files could be easily burned to audio CD. Despite its high quality, it has a downside. It only supports a file size of up to 4GB. This is because it employs a 32-bit unsigned integer when recording the file size header.
Free Lossless Audio Codec (.FLAC)
FLAC is the answer to the WAV file drawback. If you’re looking for high quality uncompressed video with a manageable file size, opt for FLAC.
This audio codec is well-known for its lossless compression. How much compression can you get with FLAC? About 50 to 60 % reduction in file size while maintaining the original high quality sound.
But a word of caution if you opt for this format. Only a limited number of devices supports FLAC. So, check the compatibility of of your intended playback device before adopting this format.
MPEG-1 Layer 3 (.MP3)
MP3 requires very little mention. It’s the most popular audio format known to everyone who listens to music on digital devices. Almost all downloadable music is offered in the MP3 format owing to its super low file size.
A WAV file could be compressed up to 90% without noticeable quality loss. Listening to music over mobile devices would be virtually impossible without this useful audio format.
OGG Vorbis (.OGG)
OGG sounds like a fashion brand, doesn’t it? Popularly called Vorbis, it’s a open source lossy audio codec used with the OGG container format. Introduced in 1993, it didn’t see popular usage until 1998 when licensing fees were introduced for the MP3 format.
Being a freeware, it has found support among consumers and audio producers who’re on a budget. OGG Vorbis is now popularly used in MP3 players and mobile devices like smartphones.
Advanced Audio Coding (AAC)
AAC is pretty much similar to MP3. It employs lossy compression. It’s one of the formats available as a download option in Apple iTunes. AAC is a versatile format compared to MP3 and could be compressed with bit rates as low as 8 kbit/s and as high as 320 kbit/s.
As with MP3, the higher the bit rate, the better the quality, but file size increases. Sampling frequency is available from a minimum of 8 kHz to a maximum of 96kHz. AAC can deliver the audio quality of MP3 with the advantage of taking up less storage space.
The biggest advantage, however, is its capability of accommodating up to 48 channels as opposed to MP3’s two channels. It’s popularly used for audio playback in mobile and gaming devices.
Windows Media Audio WMA:
This is Windows’ answer to MP3. It’s a lossy audio compression format. Lossless compression is being offered in the newer versions of the codec though. Most media playback devices support WMA but mobile devices have limited support for it. Playback is possible though with special plugins and apps.
ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec)
This lossless format is very much similar to FLAC in terms of audio quality and file size. Only thing is this Apple format also supports lossy compression.. If you’re using an Apple device (iOS) you don’t have to worry about playback compatibility. What about Windows-based media players? You have to choose a compatible player like the free versatile VideoLAN media player.
AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format)
AIFF is the format commonly used to store audio in Mac computers. It’s essentially a raw (uncompressed) lossless format suitable for archiving and editing. The downside is it takes up a sizable amount of storage space. There’s, however, a lossy version of this codec if storage space is a concern.