STUDENTFILMMAKERS MAGAZINE | AUDIO | “What Audio Format to Use and Why?” By Daniel LeBlanc

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(Article published in StudentFilmmakers Magazine.)

What Audio Format to Use and Why?

Working with Music

By Daniel LeBlanc

Audio formats can be very confusing at the best of times. Here’s my take.

MP3, WAV, AIFF, MP4, AAC, etc. are all excellent audio formats. Within all formats, a producer can decide on the quality and size of each file.

Let’s say I’ve spent many hours working to get the perfect mix on a song I just produced and want to listen to it in my car to see how it translates outside of my studio. First, I have to decide what format I’m going to go with. Then I need to choose the bit rate/sample rate/encoder to use. I usually will export a couple of formats to see how they sound. These are most often WAV and MP3. WAV files are full resolution in sound and file size. You can however choose to export WAVs at lower sample and bit rates, which will degrade sound and make the file size smaller. I generally go with 24 KBPS (kilobytes per second)/48KHz(kilohertz). As far as MP3s go, there are also many levels of quality. Some audiophiles will immediately dismiss MP3s because they are compressed audio files. I think there are very good sounding MP3s and crappy sounding MP3s. I choose to export MP3s at 320 kbps(kilobits per second) 44.1KHz(kilohertz). Under most circumstances, it is pretty hard to tell the difference between the WAV and MP3 version. Again, some audiophiles will disagree, but I have tested this theory many times and found it to be true. Keep in mind that so much goes into how a song will sound to you.

  1. How good is the song?
  2. How good is the system you are listening on?
  3. What kind of mood are you in?

You can take the best possible audio file and play it through your phone speaker or TV and it’s not going to have a chance to prove its worth. You can take an amazing song and export it as a lower quality audio file and it will probably still be great. You can take a bad song and record/mix/export it with the best possible equipment and it will still be a bad song and sound crappy.

In summing up, I’d say make sure the file passes your ear test and trust the source you’re getting it from. I have absolutely used 320kbps MP3s on high end projects with no issues whatsoever. I will however choose to use WAV files when possible.

The problem with downloading music when you don’t know how it was exported is that one company’s MP3 or WAV is not the same as another’s. Make sure you trust the source and ask questions if you’re not sure.

Daniel LeBlanc is an award-winning music producer, arranger, performer, and composes scores music for motion pictures and television. As a writer, Daniel has penned songs with names as diverse as Alanis Morrisette, Dean McTaggert, Harry Hess, Saskia Garel, Creighton Doane, Samantha Collard, and Julian Austin. Daniel has been nominated for CCMA Record Producer of the Year three times, has won numerous song writing awards and has been the recipient of gold and platinum records for his work.
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  1. I think that the author needs to make it clear that he is referring to what format is okay to export a project with (for audience or client review). I would never record nor edit a project in a compressed format; instead I would use an uncompressed .WAV file for creation, and nothing less than 24bit/48k or 24bit/32k. The 32k format is pretty much the default for programs such as Pro Tools, as it allows for much greater headroom and less chance of clipping than 24 bit. However, after the project has been completed/mastered — it is often exported in the more common 24bit/48k format, along with versions in MP3.

    Based on the author’s experience and impressive credits, I am sure that he knows all that stuff himself, but in his brevity merely failed to make it clear.