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Lossy and Lossless Audio File Compression

Audio file compression, also known as data reduction is a process used to reduce the size of a stereo or multichannel audio file. A smaller, compressed file reduces the amount of storage space required making it possible to store more music or video on a portable music player or hard drive and files can be transferred more quickly via the Internet or between storage devices. There are two basic methods for compressing audio – lossless and lossy, and for each of these methods there are many formats.

Lossless compression means that none of the audio data is removed during compression. Lossy compression means that audio data is permanently removed from the audio file. Lossy compression results in smaller files, but there is no way to rebuild the audio data to its original format. MP3 is an example of lossy compression.

Lossy Compression Formats

The universal goal of lossy audio compression is to minimize the necessary information while still maintaining the same “perceptual” audio quality. Some formats limit their implementation to only CD quality audio (Musepack) while others are tuned to optimally encode any format of audio desired (psytel AAC).

Similar to the various programs that use lossless audio compression techniques, there are many formats which utilize lossy audio compression. Popularity of this method is held by the “omnipotent” MP3. It is by the huge public unveiling of this format (think Napster) that MP3 is known and/or used by the majority of computer users. Unfortunately, most people have absolutely no idea that there exists other lossy audio compression formats – some of which are far superior to MP3.

In contrast to MP3, the popularity of other lossy audio compression formats (such as Musepack, Ogg Vorbis, or advanced audio coding is infinitesimally benign) none of these formats can create a userbase as vast as that of MP3. Ogg Vorbis is another type of lossy compression and uses *.ogg as the file extension. It is an open-source product and unlike MP3, there are no patent restrictions on its use.

Lossless Compression Formats

For the audio purist who insists on the best quality sound possible, lossless compression offers CD quality sound. The tradeoff is larger files sizes – while MP3 can compress audio in the range of 80% – 90%, lossless compression typically compresses the file by half.

Popular lossless formats include FLAC, Monkey’s AudioHealth Fitness Articles, and SHN (Shorten). These formats are supported by many audio players and are popular for archiving CD collections as well as for trading music.

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