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How To Video: How to understand digital audio formats
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How To Video: How to understand digital audio formats

3:30 /

Learn to identify seven common computer audio formats and what makes each format unique.

>> We call these things MP3 players, but the truth is, something like this iPod Nano here plays all sorts of music formats aside from MP3. In today's video, I'll do my best to help make sense of all the different music file formats and show you how to identify them on your computer. ^m00:00:14 [ music ] ^m00:00:23 The MP3 format is the most well known of the bunch, probably due to the fact that these files work with just about everything - from your Mac or PC, to your iPod or mobile phone. But are also easy to spot with their .MP3 file extension. Now MP3's get a lot of headlines, but chances are that many of you have your music collection as AAC files, and might not even be aware of it. I say that because AAC is the format used by Apple for any songs purchased through their popular iTunes software. It's also the default format for music you've ripped into iTunes from CD. To determine if a song is AAC, see if the file ends in a .M4A extension. The format works with any iPod or iPhone, and technically speaking it does a more efficient job than MP3's when you compare the size of the file to the fidelity of the audio. Still ACC files aren't as universal as MP3 files. Another popular audio format, especially for Windows users, is WMA which is identified with .WMA file extension. This codec was developed by Microsoft, and the acronym stands for Windows Media Audio. The format's fallen out of popularity for music downloads, but since it's the default format for ripping CD's into Windows Media Player software, people tend to accumulate these files without knowing it. You'll also see WMA used for subscription music services like Napster or Rhapsody, since the format lends itself well to copy protection. WMA files are comparable to AAC files when it comes to sound quality and size, but when it comes to compatibility with devices like cell phones and MP3 players, WMA files are supported on a wider range of products than AAC. Unfortunately, they're not supported by the iPod. So if you want to get them into something like the Nano, you'll need to convert the files first. Other formats that are supported by the iPod include Wave, AIFF, Apple Lossless, and audible files. Wave and AIFF files end appropriately in .WAV and .AIFF extensions, and offer completely uncompressed audio. This can be a good thing if you're looking for sound that is literally identical to CD quality, but the files are obnoxiously large and in most cases, people can't hear the different compared to MP3. For the sound and CD quality and a much smaller file size, there's Apple Lossless, which iTune users can select in their import settings as the format for ripping CD's. Like AAC files, Apple Lossless files in their .M4A extension, but the audio quality is much better. Because this is a proprietary format however, it's usefulness is limited mostly to Apple products and software. Finally there's audible files, which typically end in a .AA extension are used exclusively for audio book content downloaded from Audible.com. This is a copy protected format, so your ability to play audible files will depend on what devices or software you're using, but they will work on the iPod. So that about covers all the major audio formats you're gonna find on your computer, but other specialty formats out there such as FLAC and Ogg, which you typically won't find them on your computer unless you've gone out of your way to get them there. For CNET.com, I'm Donald Bell. ^m00:03:27 [ music ]

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