How to Choose the Best Audio File Format

How to choose the best audio file format for your project

Whether you're recording audio for an interview, a podcast, a business meeting, or even a music track, the audio file format you choose will affect the quality of your recording.

That's because different audio formats transmit sound to your ears in different ways. The type of audio format you choose will depend on the purpose of the recording, if and how you plan to share it, and the sound quality you need from your file.

In this guide we'll talk you through some of the most common audio file formats, their pros and cons, and examples of when they're typically used.

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Audio file formats explained

Let's start by looking at the audio formats that are supported by Transcribe:


MP3 is one of the most common and popular audio file formats (remember MP3 players?). It compresses audio and offers small file sizes, which makes it a popular choice for streaming online and storing files on mobile phones.

It's a lossy format, which means that some of the sound quality will be lost, but since most of the sound it drops is beyond the hearing range of the average person, you won't usually notice the difference.


  • Compresses the file into a smaller size

  • Less storage space

  • Easy to share online

  • MP3 is widely supported


  • Audio quality might not be as good as other formats

Where it's used

MP3 format is widely used to store audio files on computers and mobile devices, including:

  • Music

  • Audiobooks

  • Podcasts

  • Lectures


WAV (or Waveform) files are lossless, uncompressed audio files which retain all the original sound. This is an ideal file format if the audio is going to be played through high-quality speakers or headphones.

If not, then the quality might not be noticeable, and you'll be left working with large files that are difficult to share online.


  • Great sound quality


  • Huge file sizes

  • Hard to share online or via email

Where it's used

  • By sound engineers

  • For encoding audio on CDs


M4A is an audio format that correlates with MP4 video files. M4A files feature either lossless (like WAV) or lossy compression (like MP3). Either way, they retain exceptional audio quality, but the file size is much smaller. M4A is the default file format on Apple devices, first used on iTunes.


  • Small file size

  • Original quality


  • Poor compatibility with non-Apple devices

Where it's used

M4A is used on Apple devices to store audio files including:

  • Music

  • Podcasts

  • Audiobooks

  • Voice recordings

It is also the format that Zoom recordings are saved in.

These are the audio file formats supported by Transcribe, but let's take a look at some other audio file formats you might come across:


AAC (which stands for Advanced Audio Coding) files are lossy (like MP3), however they are higher in quality than other compressed audio file types. M4A is a type of AAC, so AAC is used by Apple, and by YouTube too.


  • Small file size

  • Good sound quality


  • Not as widely compatible as MP3

Where it's used

  • Apple

  • YouTube


OGG (full name Ogg Vorbis) is a lossy format, so an alternative to MP3 and AAC. It's great for streaming and is used by Spotify. The compression does result in some data loss, though.


  • Good sound quality retained

  • Small file size

  • Great for streaming


  • Not as widely supported as MP3

What it's used for

  • Spotify


FLAC is a lossless audio format, but it features an efficient compression algorithm which can reduce file size by 50-70%. Because of its ability to store high-resolution audio files without taking up loads of storage space, it's popular among audiophiles for storing collections of music.


  • Original audio quality

  • Smaller file size than other lossless formats

  • Widely compatible


  • Still larger than MP3 files

  • Harder to share than MP3

  • Not good for mobile devices

What it's used for

  • Downloading and storing high-resolution audio files

Which audio file format is right for me?

If you're recording a podcast, an interview, a business meeting, or a lecture, then MP3 is the perfect file format.

If you are using an Apple device, pick M4A.

If you are choosing a file format for listening to music on high-quality speakers or headphones, go for WAV or FLAC.

What is the best audio file format for sound quality?

WAV and FLAC are the best audio file formats for sound quality. However, all the other audio formats mentioned are still great, and the difference is generally undetectable by the human ear.

What is the best lossless audio format?

WAV and FLAC are the best lossless audio formats. FLAC is the better option if you want a smaller file size.

How to convert your audio file to a different format - for free

If you want to convert your audio file -- whether that's to upload it to Transcribe, to compress it so that the file size is smaller, or to make it compatible with your device or software -- there are a wide variety of tools you can use.

Here's a list of free tools you can try:

We hope you've enjoyed learning more about the different audio file formats. When it comes to transcribing an audio file, remember that Transcribe supports MP3, M4a and WAV.

For more support, find out how to compress an audio file, and if you need help converting an audio file before you upload it to Transcribe, get in touch and we'll be happy to help.

Written By Katie Garrett

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