Which Audio File Format is Right For You?

Which Audio File Format is Right For You?

photo by Andres Rueda

Every single day people struggle with wrapping their heads around file formats, types, extensions and overall complicated computer babble.

Between all the waves, em-pee-threes, and em-oh-vees, you get the feeling you’re in a Star Wars galaxy far, far away rather than here on Earth.

And we understand — You’re sick of it!

You don’t want to have to be a computer expert to add some simple music to your video.

No worries, Free Stock Music has you covered.

For our free production music tracks we offer a few different audio file formats for download even though we don’t expect everyone to use all of them. Instead, each audio file format serves different purposes in different scenarios.

So before we can help you figure out which one is best for you, let’s take the time to look at what all those letters even mean…

WAV vs. AIFF vs. MP3 File Formats

Free Stock Music offers three different file formats you can choose when you download our free production music: WAV, AIFF, and MP3. By now, you’ve probably seen those letters all over the site and may be asking yourself, “What do they mean?”

WAV (Waveform Audio File Format)

Filename Extension: .wav
Format Type: Uncompressed

WAV files are popular because they are considered a “first generation” format. That is, they are generally kept as the first digital copy of a file completely uncompressed. This means that WAV files are the best possible quality and have not gone through any digital alterations except to be outputted.

The downside of this type of compression is large file sizes. If you download a song from Free Stock Music, you’ll notice the WAV files are substantially larger than the MP3 alternatives — sometimes by two to three times more!

WAV files are good to have, however, because they allow the most flexibility. They are ideal for making copies of songs from because of their “first generation” status.

AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format)

Filename Extension: .aif or .aiff
Format Type: Uncompressed

In terms of file size and quality, AIFF and WAV formats are fairly interchangeable. For you techno-junkies, the AIFF format results in an uncompressed PCM (pulse-code modulation) file meaning it still has relatively large file sizes, but maintains a higher quality of sound.

In fact, if you check out some of the free stock music on this site, the AIFF files and WAV files have similar file sizes as WAV also uses PCM.

Again, AIFF files offer a lot of flexibility in editing, copying, changing file formats, and other post-production activities. They are the Apple/Macintosh equivalent of WAV files, though both Windows PCs and Apple Macs will recognize either format.

MP3 (MPEG-2 Audio Layer III)

Filename Extension: .mp3
Format Type: Lossy Compressed

When Internet file-sharing boomed into popularity with Napster and the iPod, the MP3 cornered the market for one reason: it had a small footprint. Without broadband connections, it was impractical at the time to share file sizes larger than the MP3 standard 2 – 3 Megabytes.

And that preference has stuck for some time now even though MP3 does not have nearly the same amount of quality as WAV or AIFF files. But despite this growing base of people using higher quality formats, there are still those who prefer the MP3 – whether out of nostalgia or quality, who knows.

What does this mean for you?  Well, the MP3 format uses compression which actually removes data from a song using complicated algorithms. The reason for removing this data is to save space and make the file smaller.

So, if you have a slower internet connection or limited hard drive space, MP3 could be your file format of choice. If you’re worried about quality loss, don’t fret too much about it. While, yes, there is a noticeable drop off in sound quality, MP3 files fall square under the “good enough” umbrella.

Native and Foreign Types in Video Editing Software

No we’re not talking early American History here. We’re still talking file formats.

In terms of software, file types can be either native or foreign. Native file types are those which the program is designed to work with while foreign file types are those which the program has to use some sort of workaround, even if it is still supported.

Most video editing programs will support many different audio file types, however, if you import an audio file that isn’t native to the program, it may have difficulty editing it or have to render it before it will play.

Using native formats is always encouraged and you can avoid a lot of hassle in editing production music simply by choosing the right format to download.

Popular Video Editing Software Compatibility

Here is a basic list of popular editing programs and which audio formats available from Free Stock Music are supported by them:

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5

Adobe’s editing program will support all three file formats at Free Stock Music, but will only natively support WAV and AIFF files.

That’s because Premiere Pro conforms (their version of rendering) compressed audio such as MP3′s, audio recorded at a non-native sample rate, or audio imported into a project with a different sample rate.

All of the files at Free Stock Music have sample rates supported by Adobe Premiere Pro CS5. Our AIFF files have a sample rate of 48000 Hz while our WAV files have a sample rate of 44100 Hz. Please make sure to set your project accordingly to avoid having to render the audio.

Avid Media Composer

The way media composer handles audio is by ingesting it, transcoding it, and then making it available for you to edit. Or, in layman terms, it saves a different version of your song with a file format specified in the settings. (Read this somewhat vague help article here)

With that said, here are the audio formats supported by Avid Media Composer:

  • AIFF
  • PCM WAV
  • MP3
  • MPA (MPEG1 layer 2)
  • M4A (Apple iTunes AAC)
  • WMA (including WMA Pro and WMA lossless)
  • WMA9 with MS DRM (security level < 2000, no transcode, no burning)
  • OGG (Ogg Vorbis)
  • FLAC

You can use any of the audio formats supplied by Free Stock Music within Avid Media Composer.

Final Cut Pro 7

Apple’s Final Cut Pro 7 will support all three file formats provided by Free Stock Music, but much like Premiere Pro, will only natively play AIFF and WAV files. Compressed files, such as an MP3, will have to be rendered before playing in real time.

Here is a list of audio formats natively supported by Final Cut Pro 7:

  • AIFF
  • AIFC
  • BWF (Broadcast Wave Format)
  • Single or Multitrack Quicktime Audio
  • Sound Designer II
  • WAV

It is recommended to use one of these file types when editing within Final Cut Pro 7 to provide the most streamlined workflow possible.

Final Cut Pro X

Apple’s updated editing program, Final Cut Pro X, supports all three audio formats from Free Stock Music.

Since the program does all of its rendering in the background, it will allow you to play any of the three audio formats in real time while you are editing — though it is still suggested you choose AIFF or WAV for quality purposes.

Easyworship 2009

Easyworship 2009 has support for MP3 and WAV file formats offered by Free Stock Music. The program is also able to to handle WMA audio files, but it will not play AIFF files.

You can add even more support for different audio formats with Easyworship 2009 by downloading and installing the K-Lite codec pack — read this tutorial to find out how – but even after that, MP3 and WAV are the only audio formats Free Stock Music offers supported by Easyworship.

iMovie

iMovie 9 and older versions will support all three audio formats supplied by Free Stock Music without having to render or compress them until you export your project.

Sony Vegas

Sony Vegas and older versions will support all three audio formats supplied by Free Stock Music without having to render or compress them until you export your project.

Windows Live Movie Maker

Windows Live Movie Maker will support all three audio formats supplied by Free Stock Music without having to render or compress them until you export your project.

Which One Should You Use?

The unsatisfying answer is, as always, “it depends,” but here are some simple questions that might help you decide which is best for your situation:

  • Would I prefer high-quality sound or small file-size?
    • High Quality Sound: AIFF or WAV
    • Small File Size: MP3
  • Is the primary use of the file on a Windows PC or Apple Macintosh system?
    • Windows: WAV or MP3 (see above)
    • Mac OS X: AIFF or MP3 (see above)
  • Does the program I plan to use the song in support this format?
    • Yes: Download the appropriate file type
    • No: Download the high quality file and convert it to a usable format

There are countless other considerations as well. For instance, if your finished project is going to be played in front of a large crowd, you want to use the highest quality song possible. However, if your project is just background music for a business meeting or classroom presentation, an MP3 file would more than suffice.

When it comes down to it, choose the format you’re most comfortable working with and that you understand — you can always come back to Free Stock Music later on if you change your mind!

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