320kbps is better, no 256kbps is better, why do we have to fight can’t we just agree that vinyl is better? With the advent of the iPod, music downloaded from the internet has become more popular and there now are multiple file types for music as well as numerous internet geek wars about them.  The question still remains, which file type do I use?

We have now passed the analog age and now all music is data. Data can be corrupted as well as be compressed. Understanding this is the key to understanding the different file types that exist in the internet multiverse. At the highest pillar we have Lossless file types like WAV or ALAC. These files have no compression whatsoever and are essentially CD files. Before you jump up and scream at me to use these files or not be a “true” audiophile, there are reasons why these files just aren’t that great. For 90% of humans, or at least those who do not have the acclaimed “golden ear”, can hear 20-20, this decreases with age. Humans can’t, at least not yet, upgrade their ears to hear higher frequencies. A lot of data on WAV and ALAC files, because they are not compressed, is simply unnecessary.  A 5 min song on WAV would roughly be 50 MB , which is an insane amount especially if you have a comprehensive music library. If all my music was in complete lossless it might total 200gb or more.

Perhaps your wondering where my favorite file type went in that paragraph about lossless files, well it’s not necessarily lossless. FLAC is a “lossless” file type that has compression but still has “CD like” quality. The compression gets rid of data that we cannot hear but is still is relatively large. FLAC uses the same compression techniques as a zipping program like winrar or ZZip. The size of the FLAC file depends on the compression used; typically a FLAC file is 20-30mb for a 5 min file.  As most people don’t have the file space to fit all of their music in WAVs, I recommend using FLAC if you want lossless sound quality but have lesser space.

Now let’s go on to the more popular stuff.  Most people tend to use lossy formats like MP3 or M4A(ITunes) to store. Compared to lossless, lossy formats tend to compress data that can still be heard depending on the compression method used. Kbps means kilobytes per second and measures how much data is in that specific file with 320kbps being the highest (normally) with lossy formats. Music files that iTunes supplies are typically 256kbps m4a and it uses AAC compression. AAC is the successor to mp3 and allows for better sound and smaller sizes. A 128kbps AAC will destroy a 128kbps mp3, though I don’t recommend either. AAC is better than MP3 but MP3 is a more commonly used format and some players may not have support for AAC, though most do.

Now I know what you’re thinking after learning all this, why can’t I just download a file from YouTube downloader, convert it to FLAC and enjoy audiophile goodness? The problem is this file has already had data lost so it would be useless to just up convert to FLAC. YouTube sound files are 222kbps and the FLAC file if you converted it would sound exactly the same as the YouTube one. I would say that the question “which file type I should use” has too many answers to count. My music library is primarily composed of FLAC / 320kbps mp3 because I have headphones and earphones that more or less require these file types.  Others who may be using stock earphones probably won’t be able to tell the difference between 256kbps and 320kbps. As long as you’re not using the cheapest of the cheap stuff (the Monoprice 8320 is $10 remember that) the quality of the files that you are using can have a major impact on the quality of music you are listening to