Audio formats

Almost all audio files contain both audio and tags.
Tags are small pieces of information like album title, track number, track title, artist, cover art, etc.
Tags makes the file self-documenting.
If you move an audio file to e.g. a portable, the media player on the portable reads the tags and displays them in the interface.

More about tagging.

Types

Audio files come in three flavors.

Lossless and uncompressed

Well-known examples are WAV (Waveform audio format, developed by Microsoft and IBM) and AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format, a format developed by Apple Computer in 1988).
Most of the time they contain audio in uncompressed PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) format.
If you rip a CD straight to WAV, you rip 16 bit/44.1 kHz PCM Red book audio format to 16 bit/44.1 kHz PCM in WAV format, this is as close as you can get to the original source.

 

Pro:

Cons:

Today a 1 TB HD sells at € 50,-

You can store approximately 1600 CD’s on it.

Makes you wonder if size (or better cost) is still an issue today.

Tagging WAV is a problem.

The standard supports many tags but only a few are of relevance for the user.
Many media players donít support reading/writing tags in WAV.
Best practice is probably to act as if tags in WAV are not supported at all.

Lossless compression

The data is compressed without any loss of information. This is similar to how WinZip works, except you get a better compression because the software is designed specifically for audio. Examples are: FLAC  (Free lossless Audio Codec), Monkey's Audio (APE), WavPack (WV), Tom's lossless Audio Kompressor (TAK), Apple Lossless (ALAC) and Windows Media Audio Lossless (WMAL).

Over the years FLAC has gained momentum.
It is probably the most popular non-proprietary format in this category.

 

Pro:

Cons:

the FLAC command line decoder has a test function, it will attempt to decode the audio and tell you if it has any errors or doesn't match the checksum.
Foobar also can test, see the context menu 'verify integrity'

Source: Hydrogenaudio

Lossy compression

MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, more commonly referred to as MP3, is a very popular lossy compression format
It greatly reduces the amount of data required to represent audio.

It was invented by a team of European engineers of Philips, CCETT (Centre commun d'études de télévision et télécommunications), IRT and Fraunhofer Society, who worked in the framework of the EUREKA 147 DAB digital radio research program, and it became an ISO/IEC standard in 1991.

Several bit rates are specified in the MPEG-1 Layer 3 standard: 32, 40, 48, 56, 64, 80, 96, 112, 128, 144, 160, 192, 224, 256 and 320 kbit/s, and the available sampling frequencies are 32, 44.1 and 48 kHz.

Higher rates then 320 don't make much sense; the file size will approach the size of a lossless compression.

 

Pro:

Cons:

Question: from what I read it seems FLAC is better than mp3. Can I change all my itune mp3's to FLAC?
Answer: technically this is possible but it won’t help you. What is lost in the lossy compression to mp3 is lost forever.