MP3 files have the
extension ".mp3" and are available for download from many web sites. MP3
(MPEG-1 Audio Layer-3) technology compresses a sound sequence into a
very small file (usually one twelfth of of the original file size). The
designers of MP3 compression algorithm managed to do this by eliminating
sounds that the human ear cannot perceive. While MP3 technology is
impressive, it has been abused by music pirates. One can very easily
create MP3 files from commercial CDs and make them available for
download. The RIAA and major music companies have been cracking down on
the distribution and sharing of MP3 files in this manner.
The WMA File Format
WMA (Windows Media
Audio) is Microsoft's proprietary music file format that it is marketing
aggressively. WMA files are smaller in size than MP3 files, but still
retain a decent level of sound quality. This format is getting very
popular in websites for sampling music and also in portable music
players. However, whether WMA will overtake the popularity of MP3
remains to be seen.
The WAV File
A wave file is
characterized by the file extension ".wav". This music file format
provides raw, uncompressed audio data. Originally invented by Microsoft,
wave files are still used widely (examples include your start up and
shut down sounds in Windows). Audio quality is excellent, but the file
size is huge. A full pop song in wave format may take up to 30 MB of
disk space or more.
The AIFF File
The AIFF (Audio
Interchange File Format) is a popular music file formats used in the
Apple Macintosh operating system. In a way, they are the Macintosh
equivalent of wave files. AIFF files have the file extension ".aif" when
accessed via a PC. They contain raw audio data (which result in
excellent sound quality) but take up a large amount of disk space.
The MIDI File
The MIDI (Musical
Instrument Digital Interface) file format was originally created for
recording and playing music on digital synthesizers. MIDI files are very
small in size. The reason for this is that the MIDI file only contains
information on how music is produced (e.g. note-ons and note-offs). The
sound card which plays back the MIDI file takes this information and
plays back music using an in-built soundcard wave table.
The RA File
RA (RealAudio) files
support streaming technology. Created by Progressive Networks, an RA
file is highly optimized for live, streaming audio from websites. RA
files are best played back on RealAudio players which are freely
downloadable from Progressive Networks.
Well, that wraps up our
coverage of the most popular music file formats out there. You may be
interested to know that there are many software applications which can
convert music from one format to another (e.g. MP3 to WAV or WAV to AIFF).
Do a search for these applications at www.download.com.