Consumable Music Formats

There are a few ways that you music can be exported from your chosen music software, but it can be difficult if you don’t know what each of the different music formats mean.

Here’s is a run down of some of the more common music format:

Music Formats

MP3 – MPEG-2 Audio Layer 3, or MP3 as it is more commonly known, is possibly the most well know music format. It uses a form of lossy data compression to compress the file so that it is as small as possible, while still sounding close to the original recording quality, to allow for playback on digital audio devices, consumer streaming or storage.

AV – A Waveform Audio File Format, or a .wav as is it commonly called, is the main format used on Windows computer systems. It is an uncompressed audio format and therefore is a closer representation of the original recording quality.

AIFF – Audio Interchange File Format, known as AIFF, is the main format used by Apple computer systems. It is an uncompressed audio format and therefore takes up more disc space than lossy audio formats.

PCM – Pulse Code Modulation, or PCM, is an uncompressed audio format that is used in computers, CDs, and other digital audio applications to digitally represent sampled analogue signals.

FLAC – FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec which, as the name suggests, uses lossless compression for digital audio. Files compressed into this format can be reduced to 50-60% of it’s original size and will then decompress this into an identical copy of the original audio file.

AAC – Advanced Audio Coding, or AAC file, uses lossy data compression and was designed to be the successor of the MP3 format. These files tend to achieve better sound quality than MP3s while using similar bit rates.

Bit Depth

bit-depthA bit depth is the number of ‘bits’ of information that is transferred in each sample, this corresponds directly with the resolution of each sample. A real-world example of the differences in bit depth uses would be CDs, which use 16 bits per sample (16-bit) and blu-ray discs which use 24 bits per sample (24-bit).

The larger the bit depth, the more bits are transferred per sample, which thereby increases the quality of the audio along with the size of the file itself.

Sample Rate

The sample rate is the number of samples of audio that are carried over per second, this can be measured in Hertz (Hz) or kilohertz (kHz). There are 1000 Hz in 1 kHz so 44,100 samples per second can be written either as 44,100 Hz or 44.1 kHz. CD quality audio files are sampled at 44.1 kHz, whereas the higher quality equivalent could be written as 96,000 Hz or 96 kHz.

The bandwidth is the difference between the highest and lowest frequencies in an audio file.

Bit Depth and Sample Rate

Bit Depth Sample Rate
16-bit 44,100Hz
16-bit 48,000Hz
24-bit 96,000Hz

Timeline of audio format developments

Year Physical media formats Recording formats
1860 Phonautogram

1859 model of Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville‘s phonautograph

Mechanical analog; sound waveform transcribed to paper or glass

1877 Tinfoil Phonograph

In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the first recorder that could also play back

Mechanical analog; sound waveform transcribed to tinfoil

1883 Piano roll

A piano roll used in a player piano

Mechanical digital (Vacuum operated piano)

1886 Music Box disc

8” disc for playback on a music box

Mechanical digital (Vacuum operated music box)

Late1880s Brown Wax Cylinder

A collection of brown wax cylinders, vertical-groove

Mechanical analog; vertical grooves, vertical stylus motion – could be re-recorded

Organ Cob Mechanical digital (Vacuum operated organ)

A Dictaphone cylinder for voice recording

Mechanical analog, the Ediphone and subsequent wax cylinders used in Edison’s other product lines continued to be sold up until 1929 when the Edison Manufacturing Company folded.

Phonograph disk (Emile Berliner Patent) Mechanical analog; lateral grooves, horizontal stylus motion
1894 Pathé cylinder

The vertical-groove pathé cylinder

Mechanical analog; vertical grooves, vertical stylus motion

1898 Wire recording

A Peirce 55-B dictation wire recorder from 1945

Analog; magnetization; DC bias

1901 10” 78rpm Record

78rpm record – playable on modern turntables

Mechanical analog; lateral grooves, horizontal stylus motion – made from shellac

1902 Edison Gold Moulded Record

Edison’s “gold moulded” black wax cylinder record

Mechanical analog; vertical grooves, horizontal stylus motion – made from hard black wax – 160rpm standard – 100 threads per inch

1903 12” 78rpm record Mechanical analog; lateral grooves, horizontal stylus motion
Gramophone Postcard

A gramophone post card, playable on 78rpm turntables

Mechanical analog; lateral grooves, horizontal stylus motion

1905 Centre-start phonograph Record

A modern vinyl LP with a centre-start cut

Mechanical analog; lateral grooves, horizontal stylus motion, starts from the centre of the disc

Pathé Disc

The vertical-groove pathé disc

Mechanical analog; vertical grooves, vertical stylus motion

1907 Indestructible Record

Indestructible Record cylinder, vertical groove. Constructed of black celluloid on a cardboard core with metal bands at each end

Mechanical analog; vertical grooves, vertical stylus motion – made from black celluloid with cardboard and inner metal bands

1908 Amberol Cylinder Record

The Edison “Amberol” cylinder record, vertical groove

Mechanical analog; vertical grooves, vertical stylus motion – made from hard black wax – 160rpm standard – 200 threads per inch

1912 Diamond Disc

The Edison vertical-groove “diamond disc”

Mechanical analog; vertical grooves, vertical stylus motion – made from shellac

Blue Amberol cylinder record

The Edison vertical-groove “Blue Amberol” cylinder

Mechanical analog; vertical grooves, vertical stylus motion – made from blue celluloid with plaster of paris core – 160rpm standard – 200 threads per inch

1925 Electrical cut record Mechanical analog; electrically cut from amplified microphone signal, lateral grooves, horizontal stylus motion, discs at 7″, 10″, 12″, most at 78 rpm
1930 Filmophone flexible record

A red Filmophone record

Mechanical analog; lateral groove, horizontal stylus movement – made from cellulose of various colours – 78rpm

1930s Reel-to-reelmagnetic tape

Studio master tape reel

Analog; magnetization; AC “bias” dramatically increases linearity/fidelity, tape speed at 30 ips, later 15 ips and other refined speeds: 7½ ips, 3¾ ips, 1⅞ ips

Electrical transcriptions Mechanical analog; electrically cut from amplified microphone signal, high fidelity sound, lateral or vertical grooves, horizontal or vertical stylus motion, most discs 16″ at 33⅓ rpm
1932 Durium Record

A brown Durium 78rpm record

Mechanical analog; lateral groove – made from a brown resin (“Durium)

1942 SoundScriber

Green, vertical groove Sound Scriber disks

Mechanical Analog; vertical groove, 4–6 inch discs, it recorded sound by pressing grooves into soft vinyl discs

1947 Dictabelt (Memobelt) Analog, medium consisting of a thin, plastic belt 3.5″ wide that was placed on a cylinder and rotated like a tank tread, developed by the Dictaphone company in 1947
1948 Vinyl LP record (Columbia)

A Vinyl LP record

Analog, with preemphasis and other equalization techniques (LP, RIAA); lateral grooves, horizontal stylus motion; discs 7″, 10″ and 12″ at 33⅓ rpm, 1st LP Columbia ML 4001 Milstein, Mendelssohn Violin Concerto

1949 Vinyl 45 record (RCA)

A 7” 45rpm record

Analog 45 rpm vinyl 7″ disk, first 45 pressed “PeeWee the Piccolo” RCA 47-0147 Indianapolis

1950 Tefifon

A stand-alone Tefifon player with cartridge loaded

Electro-mechanical analog, vinyl belt housed in a cassette, used an embossing technique using a stylus to imprint the information, was the first thing to resemble a modern audio cassette

16 2/3rpm vinyl record

A label close-up on a 16rpm vinyl

Mechanical analog; lateral groove, horizontal stylus motion – played at half the regular speed of an LP

1951 Minifon P55

Minifon cassette

Analog, magnetic wire on reel, 30 cm/s or about 11.8 ips was quickly adopted by many governments as being the ultimate “spy” recorder of its day

1957 Stereophonic vinyl record

An early stereo record label

Analog, with pre-emphasis and other equalization techniques. Combination lateral/vertical stylus motion with each channel encoded 45 degrees to the vertical

1957 Dictet

Cassette for the Dictaphone Dictet dictation machine

Analog, ¼ tape, 2.48 in/s, (3″ reels housed 5.875 x 3 x .4375 inch cassette), developed by the Dictaphone Corp

1958 RCA tape cartridge (Sound Tape) (Magazine Loading Cartridge)

The cassette format created by RCA

Analog, ¼ inch wide tape (stereo & mono), 3¾ in/s & 1.875 in/s, one of the first attempts to offer reel-to-reel tape recording quality in a convenient format for the consumer market

1959 NAB Cart Tape (Fidelipac)

The cartridge known as a “Fidelipac”

Analog, ¼ inch wide tape in cartridge, 7½ in/s & 15 in/s, Introduced in 1959 by Collins Radio, the cart tape format was designed for use by radio broadcasters to play commercials, bumpers and announcements

1962 4-Track (Muntz Stereo-Pak) Analog, 14-inch-wide (6.4 mm) tape, 3¾ in/s, endless-loop cartridge
1962 Compact cassette

Variants of the Compact Cassette

Analog, with bias. 0.15 inches (3.81 mm) tape, 1⅞ ips. 1970: introduced Dolby noise reduction

1964 Sanyo Micro Pack 35
Channel Master 6546
Westinghouse H29R1

The micro pack recording system, intended for dictation

¼ inch wide tape housed in a transparent cartridge measuring 2.6 x 2.9 x 1.9 inches, tape was stored on two reels residing atop one another, keeping the cartridge compact

1964 Sabamobil A cartridge format for embedding and easy handling usual 3-inch-tape-reels with ¼ inch tape, compatible to reel-to-reel audio recording in 3¾ ips.
1965 8-Track (Stereo-8)

The inside of an 8-track cartridge

Analog, ¼ inch wide tape, 3¾ in/s, endless-loop cartridge

DC-International cassette system

DC-International cassette

Analog cassette format introduced by Grundig, Telefunken and Blaupunkt: 120 x 77 x 12 mm cassette with ¼ inch wide tape run at 5.08cm per second.

1966 PlayTape

Two PlayTape cartridges

Analog, ⅛ inch wide tape, endless-loop cartridge, introduced by Frank Stanton

1969 Microcassette

A comparison of sizes for the Microcassette and Minicassette

Analog, ⅛ inch wide tape, used generally for note taking, mostly mono, some stereo (developed in the early ’80s). 2.4 cm/s or 1.2 cm/s

Minicassette Analog, ⅛ inch wide tape, used generally for note taking, 1.2 cm/s
1970 Quadraphonic 8-Track (Quad-8) (Q8)

A Quadraphonic 8-Track Cartridge

Analog, ¼ inch wide tape, 3¾ in/s, 4-channel stereo, endless-loop cartridge

1971 Quadraphonic Vinyl Record (CD-4) (SQ Matrix)

An SQ quadraphonic record

Analog, introduced by CBS RecordsRecorded two tracks on both stereo channels, requiring a decoder to hear all four tracks. Despite this, the format is playable on any LP turntable.

1971 HiPac Analog, a successor of the 1966 PlayTape, using tape width of the 1963 Compact Cassette, Japan only
1976 Dolby Stereo cinema surround sound Analog

Elcaset (left) compared to a typical compact cassette (right)

Analog, name comes from “L-Cassette/Large Cassette”

1978 LaserDisc

Close-up of grooves on a LaserDisc

Analog; vertical groove, read by a laser

1981 Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED)

Exposed CED disc

The Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED) is an analog video disc playback system developed by RCA, in which video and audio could be played back on a TV set using a special needle and high-density groove system similar to phonograph records.

1982 Compact Disc (CD-DA)

The underside of a compact disc

Digital. Linear PCM (LPCM)

1983 Betamax Digital Audio

A Betamax tape


1986 High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD)

An HDCD album

Digital. Redbook compatible physical CD containing 20–24 bit information (uses linear pulse-code modulation (LPCM)

1987 Digital Audio Tape (DAT)

A DAT tape

Digital.This audio format famously caused controversy among recording companies when released due to the potential of perfect digital copies to increase piracy[1]

1988 AIFF (File Format) Digital. Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF)
1992 Digital Compact Cassette (DCC)

A Digital Compact Cassette

Digital, ⅛ inch wide tape, 1⅞ in/s, introduced by Philips and Matsushita in late 1992, marketed as the successor to the standard analog compact cassette

WAV (File Format) Digital. named after the waveform created by a sound wave
Dolby Digital Cinema Sound Digital. also known as Dolby Stereo Digital until 1994
MiniDisc (MD)[2]

A red, translucent MiniDisc cartridge

Digital. Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding (ATRAC)

1993 DTSSDDSMP3 (File Formats)

A photo of a theatrical DTS CD-ROM disc used for the original 1993 release of Jurassic Park

Digital. Digital Theatre System (DTS), Sony Dynamic Digital Sound (SDDS), MPEG-1 Audio Layer III (MP3)

1994 TwinVQ Digital.
1995 RealAudio[2]
1997 DVD

A stack of DVD RW disks

Digital. Dolby DigitalDigital Theatre System (DTS)

DTS-CD Digital. DTS Audio
1999 DVD-Audio Digital. Including Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP), Linear PCM (LPCM), Dolby Digital (AC-3) and Digital Theatre System (DTS)
Super Audio CD (SACD) Digital. Direct Stream Digital
WMA (File Format) Digital. Windows Media Audio
TTA (File Format) Digital. The True Audio Lossless Codec
2000 FLAC (File Format) Digital. Free Lossless Audio Codec
APE (File Format) Digital. Monkey’s Audio
2001 AAC (File Format) Digital. Advanced audio coding
2003 DualDisc

One side DVD, one side CD – It’s the DualDisc

Digital. Multiple formats encoded onto the same disc

2004 ALE or ALAC (File Formats) Digital. Apple Lossless
2005 HD DVD


Digital. Dolby TrueHDDTS-HD Master Audio

2006 Blu-ray Disc

Blu-Ray discs and their containers

Digital. Dolby TrueHDDTS-HD Master Audio

2008 slotMusic

A SlotMusic microSD card: an early attempt to sell pre-recorded music on an SD card

Digital. Usually at 320 kbit/s MP3 on microSD or microSDHC

Blu-spec CD Digital. PCM

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