If you’re an audiophile or a music producer, then you’d surely benefit from the superb sound quality you’d get from the best audio format.
The primary metric used to determine audio quality is the “bitrate” or “Kbps” of a digital audio file. That’s the amount of data transferred per second, which can vary across file formats.
The smaller the file, the lower the bitrate, which also means that you’d be losing more data in the compression process as the sound quality drops.
Two other key roles are the bit depth and sample rate.
The bit depth refers to the number of bits per sample, while the sample rate is the number of samples, a.k.a. signal amplitude per second.
So based on these factors, what’s the best audio format for sound quality? Let’s find out!
What Are the Different Audio Formats?
There are three main types of audio formats: lossy, lossless, and uncompressed. Downloadable or streamable music has always been available in compressed forms.
Since the storage capabilities weren’t as high-end as they are today, files needed to be as small as possible.
As the name suggests, lossy formats are known for losing data in the transmission. They’re difficult to use if you want to transmit them back and forth. They degrade and lose sound waves like crazy.
The most common lossy audio files you’ll encounter are:
- MP3 (MPEG-1 Audio Layer III)
- AAC (Advanced Audio Coding aka MPEG-4 AAC)
- Ogg Vorbis.
On the other hand, uncompressed formats stay the same size when transferred. The audio is unaltered from its original state.
The problem here is that they’re quite large and take up a ton of your disk space. Some notable mentions that might ring a bell are the following:
- WAV (Waveform Audio File)
- AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format)
- DSD (Direct Stream Digital)
- PCM (Pulse-Code Modulation).
That leaves us with lossless formats, which may be the solution to keeping sound quality intact for a reasonable amount of space.
What is Lossless Audio?
There’s a reason why I saved this for last.
Lossless files make a huge difference as they decompress to their original size without losing quality. These audio files are encoded brilliantly so that they don’t misplace any of their data.
If you’re producing music, you’d want to keep all those original sound waves.
The two honorable mentions we have today are:
- FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec)
- ALAC (Apple’s Lossless Audio Codec).
Although these files generally take up more space than MP3s, their bitrates rely heavily on volume and density rather than audio quality. Even rivaling CD-quality music, they own up to a resolution of at least 16 bits and a sample rate of 44.1kHz.
The quality leans on the source that’s being compressed, reaching up to 24-bit/192kHz on streaming services like Amazon Music.
Lossless Audio Streaming
Without indulging ourselves in the technical aspect, audio streaming is the deliverance of real-time audio continuously through a network connection.
As one of the most popular lossless audio formats, FLAC provides an open source supported by many popular brands. Even streaming services like Amazon Music, Deezer, Qobuz, and Tidal had to have a piece of it.
However, not all major corporations were wooed by this audio file, turning FLAC into a competitor for Apple’s product.
That’s where ALAC comes in, a lossless format that only works for Apple devices.
What’s the Best Quality Audio Format for iTunes?
iTunes offers compressed audio formats that only occupy a little space on your Apple device.
As they prefer using a different compression method than the MP3, most of their products use the default encoding scheme of AAC.
This method is superior to MP3, as it’s encoded at a slightly higher bit rate and available in high quality on iTunes.
They go as far as to offer uncompressed WAV and AIFF formats, but they’ll just eat up storage space, no matter how exceptional the quality is.
My top pick has to be the Apple lossless format, as it matches the uncompressed quality while taking only half the space required.
Which is the Best Audio Format for Android?
Android supports various audio codecs such as AAC, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, and PCM.
Even though AAC is a popular standard for Apple users, Android also supports this audio format inside MPEG-4 audio files.
Recent additions in the specifications made the high efficiency of this format also available. That’s why the highest-quality audio format for Android may be none other than AAC.
After learning about the different audio formats, it’s easy to say that lossless formats are the clear winner for the best audio format for sound quality.
They can give you the best sound possible for a great listening experience.
Whether you choose FLAC or AAC, you’re in for a magical musical journey!
A passion for writing and ongoing research projects gives Catherine an incredibly broad knowledge of all things. She has authored an incredible number of articles and can be found in the wilderness when not attached to technology or listening to podcasts.