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File Formats

File Formats for My Audio Content

Last Updated: Friday, 09-Jan-2015 12:32:39 PST

I use 8 file formats/codecs - MP3, AAC, iPhone Ringtone, HE-AAC v2 (special sub-format of MP4 audio), Apple Lossless, Windows Media, Ogg Vorbis, and FLAC - for most of my audio content, including: (1) music, (2) audiobooks, (3) selected passages readings, and (4) introductory readings. File format extensions in parentheses below.

Standard (MP3)

The MP3 format ushered in the move to put music on the Internet, reaching mainstream adoption around 1998. The thing that was different about MP3s, that made it better than audio CDs, was that the file sizes were much smaller. While audio CDs are about 600-700 MB each, MP3s can often get 1/5 of the size and were generally distributed separately, as individual songs. The increasing Internet speeds, plus the MP3 compression contributed, to the mainstreaming of stealing (pirating) music.

The MP3 format is completely legal and only facilitated stealing songs, because it could make the files smaller, much the same, as almost any other major audio format, commonly used on the Internet. MP3s are supported by Windows XP, Vista, and 7 and higher, every generation of iPod and most other audio players bought, in the last 10 years. This format is also used by the Amazon.com music store. It cost money to distribute MP3, if done commercially and there are several clauses in the license, that effectively allow its usage, without payment, by middle class or poorer people creating their own websites, or people not making any money off their websites.

Apple/iTunes (AAC)

Apple found a solution, to the problem of stealing music, by understanding the psychology of music pirates. They realized that if they charged a very low fee ($1), let people buy songs separately, make it easy to share on multiple devices, and make it easy to download and find, that people would pay, for what they once stole. Apple is now one of the dominate players, in the music industry retailing business, much as Netflix dominate video renting, because the major labels of the entertainment industry could not or would not make the changes necessary, to convince people, to not steal their music.

The format Apple adopted (MP4 audio or Advanced Audio Codec - M4A, MP4, M4V), for the iTunes Music Store (in 2003 with iTunes 4), was a format commissioned for design, by every major player, in the entire consumer electronics. It is the formal successor to MP3, and has both better quality audio, for a given size, as well as gives better battery life, on most portable devices, than MP3s. Most newer consumer electronics devices use this format, as well as iTunes 4 and higher and all Apple iPods, iPhones, and iPads. MP4 audio or AAC is free to use, on the Internet, by anyone, for any purpose. It only costs money, for those designing software (programmers), that uses the format.

Every major consumer electronics company owned a piece AAC (MP4 audio) it and these were protected, by patents, distributed amongst these companies, so that no one could get leverage, against another company. Contrary to popular belief, Apple does not make any money off software, patents, file formats, or "locking" people in, like Microsoft has, with Word and Excel file formats. Apple makes money, by selling hardware (like Macs, iPhones, iPads, etc). Apple has never pushed its own file formats, for others to use (Quicktime has no patents on it and is only a container format - the compatibility problem is caused, by the third party companies, who own the codecs used). Google has recently decided to stop supporting MP4s and instead push its own format.

iPhone Ringtone (AAC)

The iPhone supports custom ringtones (M4R) made from non-DRMed (protected or iTunes Plus) songs in the AAC format that are less than 40 seconds long. The extension must by M4R instead of the normal M4A or MP4.

Advanced Apple Format (HE-AAC v2)

HE-AAC v2 (High Efficiency Advanced Audio Codec - M4A, MP4, M4V) is a newer, specialized extension, to the AAC format, that allows much greater compression, of audio, while still sounding decent (with the same license). This subset of AAC only works on: iTunes 9.2 (2010) or higher (on Macs and PCs), iOS 4 or higher (iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads), Fall 2010 iPod Nano or higher, Flash Player 9 and higher, and many Android devices. It also works, though maybe with lower quality, on VLC player.

Highest Fidelity (Apple Lossless)

Apple Lossless (M4A, MP4, M4V) format is a lesser known format, designed by Apple, for compression, but without any loss of quality or data. It compresses audio, to about half the size, of the uncompressed version, but it will be much larger, than the same song, as an MP3 or MP4 audio/AAC. It is supported by Quicktime 6.5.1 and higher, iTunes 4.5 and higher (2004), iPods with dock connectors, and all iPhones and iPads. It is similar to FLAC, except that it performs, with less battery drain on smart phones, tablets, and other small devices (using ARM processors). Apple has recently open sourced this format and formally licenses all its patents royalty free.

Microsoft/Windows (Windows Media Audio)

Windows Media Audio (WMA, WMV) has a long history, of being one of the very few formats supported, by Windows, by default, without installing any software. Windows Media Player has been bundled, with Windows, well before Windows XP was released. They are now on the 12th version. Windows Media is one of the formats, with the longest history, that is still common online. It now has lossy, lossless, voice optimized, and Pro versions. The one I use is the lossy one, like MP3 or OGG formats, but Microsoft only.

I use Windows Media Audio 9 Standard, which comes with Windows XP SP2, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 or higher. Windows Media is also supported, by XBox, Windows Phone, Zune, most other non-Apple media players, and most non-Apple and non-Amazon.com online music stores and services. Mac users can play this format with the Windows Media Components for Quicktime, which is developed, by a third party company, that produces the sole officially sanctioned and licensed (by Microsoft) "Windows Media Player," for the Mac OS X platform.

Open Source Friendly (Ogg Vorbis)

Ogg Vorbis (OGG, OGA, OGM) is the most well known and used open source, royalty free, non-patent infringing alternative, to the MP3 audio format. It also gives somewhat better compression, for a given quality of audio, compared to MP3. It is supported by Opera and most open source software, including: Firefox, Google Chrome, VLC, and most Linuxes (or other X-Windows based OSes). You can convert files, to this format, from within Quicktime Pro, with the free plugin, Xiph Quicktime Components. This format is not supported by Apple, but may be able to be played on their devices, in third party apps. AAC (MP4 audio) gets better battery life than Ogg Vorbis, on portable devices like cell phones and tablets.

High Fidelity (FLAC)

Free and Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) format is like Apple Lossless and is an even lesser known format, designed by the Open Source community, for compression, but without any loss of quality or data. It compresses audio, to about half the size, of the uncompressed version, but it will be much larger, than the same song, as an MP3 or MP4 audio/AAC. It is supported by most non-Apple audio products including VLC and Google's Android. It is similar to Apple Lossless, except that it performs, with more battery drain (worse battery life) on smart phones, tablets, and other small devices (using ARM processors).

Freely Distributable Version (ZIP)

I have one version (ZIP archive file) of my audio that can be freely distributed, without modifications, according to the included Creative Commons license. The ZIP file includes the license, in web page format, plus the audio in 2 different file formats/codecs: MP3 and Ogg Vorbis.

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