Unsigned Advice

The Best Audio Formats for Music in 2024

The Best Audio Formats for Music
November 2, 2023
You’ll more than likely have come across different audio file formats throughout your music collections. We’ve all heard of an MP3 file, but what exactly is lossy compression and what audio format gives you the best sound quality?

From OGG to WAV, we’re here to break down these familiar looking letters and help explain what these file formats mean to you and your music.

What are the different music audio formats?

If you're a music production beginner, all of these file abbreviations can become confusing. Everything gets a bit simpler though when you realise that all audio formats can be split into three major categories:

- Lossy

- Lossless

- Uncompressed

Each format category is based on how much sound quality is lost during data compression, affecting your music listener’s experience.

Once you have an understanding of how music compression works and what each category means, you’ll be able to choose a format that suits your needs. Let’s dive in.


What is a lossy file format?

Put simply, lossy compression involves forfeiting some of your music’s sound quality and audio data in order to break files down into smaller sizes. Uncompressed audio takes up substantial - and most of the time - too much disk space, so this ‘loss’ is normally required.

When executed properly, you won’t be able to hear any sound difference from lossy compression and you’ll also be left with plenty of space on your devices if you want to record more vocals and tracks at home.

There are a few different types of lossy file formats to choose from, with the most well-known being an MP3 file.


The most popular lossy format and a universally-recognised name, MP3 files work on most devices and are often only a fraction of the size of lossless files. MP3 files are absolutely fine for the majority of listeners, since most of the sound dropped is inaudible.

MP3 stands for MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3 (we prefer the abbreviation) and was released back in 1993, eventually becoming the most popular audio format in the world for music files.

The popularity of MP3 files stems from their manageable file size and the marginal loss of sound data that only exists beyond the hearing range of normal people. These file types are able to reduce the quality of sounds that aren't easy to hear and compress all other audio data as efficiently as possible.

Because of this, pretty much every piece of mainstream tech is able to read and play these files, cementing MP3 as one of the world’s most popular audio file formats.

Best audio formats for music - MP3


Originally developed in 1997, Advanced Audio Coding or AAC was tipped as the new MP3. Despite never overtaking MP3 in terms of popularity, AAC files generally produce a better sound quality due to the more technical compression process.

Files take up very little space and are great for streaming, especially over mobile devices. Requiring less than 1 MB per minute of music and sounding better than MP3 at the same bitrate, AAC files are used by iTunes, Apple Music and Android, as well as games brands Nintendo and Sony PlayStation.


OGG - or OGG Vorbis - is a multimedia container that funnily enough doesn’t actually stand for anything. OGG can hold all kinds of compression formats but is most commonly used to hold Vorbis files.

A popular option for streaming, Spotify itself even uses OGG as the default audio format on their platform. The compression process does result in some data loss however.

Best audio formats for music - Spotify

Many music professionals consider OGG to be a more efficient alternative to MP3, with the format providing better sound at the same bitrate - giving the same audio quality through a smaller file size.


What is lossless compression?

Opposite lossy compression comes lossless compression. This method reduces an audio file's size without sacrificing any loss of data between the source audio file and the compressed audio file. Sounds great, right?

The downside to lossless compression is that lossless compressed audio files are bigger than lossy compressed audio files. Sometimes up to 5 times larger for the same source file.

If you’re liking the sound of a lossless file, you have two main options when it comes to this audio format.


Standing for Free Lossless Audio Codec, FLAC has become one of the most popular lossless formats of the last couple of decades. FLAC compresses original source files by up to 60% - without getting rid of any data.

Supported by most major devices, FLAC is the main competitor to MP3 when it comes to music - providing you with the full quality of your uncompressed audio at less than half of the file size.

FLAC files can also provide a resolution of up to 32-bit, 96kHz - even better than CD quality.


Apple Lossless Audio Codec is as you might have guessed, Apple’s lossless compression format. ALAC is another popular lossless option, but isn’t quite as efficient as FLAC when it comes to compression.

Despite this, Apple users don't really have a choice between the two as ALAC works exclusively on Apple devices - with iTunes and iOS both only providing native support for ALAC and none for FLAC.

Best audio formats for music - iTunes


What is an uncompressed file?

The final type of audio formatting we’re going to cover is uncompressed audio files. Uncompressed audio is made up of real sound waves that have been converted to digital formats without any further processing.

Because of this, uncompressed audio files tend to be the most accurate but in turn take up far more disk space than other file formats.

Best audio formats for music - CD


PCM is the most common uncompressed audio format used in CDs and DVDs. Standing for Pulse-Code Modulation, PCM offers a digital recording of raw analog audio signals. Analog sounds exist in the form of waveforms, so sound must be recorded at specific intervals (also known as pulses) in order to be converted into digital bits.

PCM doesn’t involve any compression, with the digital recording being a close-to-exact representation of analog sound.


Developed by Microsoft in the early 90s, the Waveform Audio File Format - or WAV to its friends - retains all original data, making it a sound engineer favourite.

WAV is a Windows container for different audio formats, meaning that a WAV file could actually potentially contain compressed audio - but it's not often used for that.

Particularly useful for visual projects such as your music videos, WAV is more suited to use on Windows systems, but nowadays Mac systems can usually open WAV files without any issues.


Originally created by Apple, AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format) files are like WAV files in that they retain all of the original sound and therefore take up more space than MP3s. They can play on Macs and PCs, but they don’t hold time codes, so they’re not as useful for editing and mixing.

Similar to WAV files, AIFF files can also contain multiple kinds of audio formats. AIFF-C and both use the AIFF extension and are used by GarageBand and Logic Audio.

Opposite to WAV, AIFF is more suited to Mac systems but Windows can also open these files with little to no trouble.


What’s the best audio format for your music?

Now we’ve looked at some of the most popular audio formats, it’s time to decide which is the most suitable for your music.

The file format that you choose depends entirely on whether you’re more concerned about storage or sound quality - as well as which devices you intend to play it on.

When storage was the most important factor, MP3s became the go-to file format. Nowadays, our phones and laptops have far more available storage space so you have the option of choosing higher-quality file formats to get the best possible sound out of your songs.

Best audio formats for music - DAW

Lossy audio formats provide a solid overall balance of things, with AAC and OGG even being preferred by streaming giants Apple Music and Spotify.

That said, if you have plenty of space available on your device, then a lossless FLAC or ALAC file could well be your best option. Giving you access to the best quality digital music, you’ll just need to make sure your devices are all compatible with your file format of choice.

There are so many audio file formats available for musicians to choose from in 2024, but which one you decide on using will depend on what sound quality you’re wanting to achieve and what technology (and budget) you have at your disposal.

MP3 files are still hugely popular, but if you’re looking to provide listeners with that raw and unfiltered music, then consider using a lossless format to receive the highest quality sound.

The Best Audio Formats for Music in 2024

Music Promo
Want to get amazing distribution, industry standard features and career boosting advice? Join Ditto Music the truly independent solution for musicians.
Join Now


Get the latest unsigned advice, straight to your inbox.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Our newsletter is packed full of tips, tricks and hacks to take your music career to the next level! 

Related Posts

++ Comments

Back to top