Audio file formats overview

MP3 files overview
OGG files overview
Wave files overview
WMA files overview
FLAC files overview
Monkey's Audio APE files overview
MusePack MPC files overview
WavPack WV files overview

Lossless Compression

Lossless compression means that the compressed, smaller file can be expanded back into the original file without losing any information whatever. That is: take a file; compress it, and uncompress it again. If the original file is bit-for-bit identical, 100% of the time, for any given input file, then the compression scheme is lossless. No information is lost.
Unfortunately, compressing audio losslessly is hard. General-purpose compression programs like WinZip only manage about 5% on average.
There are special-purpose compressors (like ape, flac, wavpack etc.) which were designed solely for losslessly compressing audio, but even they only manage about a 50% reduction in filesize on average. While this is enough for some, for music files to be truly portable they must be even smaller.

Lossy Compression

Lossy compression is any compression which causes information to be lost.
Compressing and then uncompressing a file results in something similar, but not identical, to the original file. The trick is to remove little bits of information in places where it can't be perceived.
Lossy audio compression works using a psychoacoustic model. That is, by modeling how your ears and your brain hear sound, it is possible to find places to remove information that you wouldn't have perceived anyway. A full treatment of these techniques is beyond the scope of this document.

MP3 files overview

MP3, short for Moving Picture Experts Group, Audio Layer III is a compression format that compresses audio files with only a small sacrifice in sound quality.
A standard technology and format for compressing a sound sequence into a very small file (about one-twelfth the size of the original file) while preserving the original level of sound quality when it is played.
Direct Audio Converter and CD Ripper use LAME encoder for MP3 encoding.
LAME is an LGPL MP3 encoder. The Open source development model allowed to improve its quality and speed since 1999. It is now an highly evolved MP3 encoder, with quality and speed able to rival state of the art commercial encoders.
More information can be found on http://www.mpeg.org.
More information about LAME encoder can be found on http://www.mp3dev.org/.

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OGG files overview

Ogg Vorbis is a completely open, patent-free, professional audio encoding and streaming technology with all the benefits of Open Source. Ogg Vorbis is similar to MP3 or AAC compression formats, but with one important difference. It is completely free, unpatented, and open-source.
More information can be found on http://www.vorbis.com.

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Wave files overview

Uncompressed audio format developed by IBM and Microsoft. Became standard audio file used on PCs.

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WMA files overview

Windows Media Audio, Microsofts proprietary audio codec designed to compete with MP3. Claims competitive sound quality at lower bitrates. Direct Audio Converter and CD Ripper requires the Windows Media Format modules, which come installed with Windows Media Player, or can be installed separately (wmfdist.exe).
More information can be found on http://www.microsoft.com.

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FLAC files overview

FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec.
Grossly oversimplified, FLAC is similar to MP3, but lossless, meaning that audio is compressed in FLAC without any loss in quality. This is similar to how Zip works, except with FLAC you will get much better compression because it is designed specifically for audio, and you can play back compressed FLAC files in your favorite player just like you would an MP3 file.
More information can be found on http://flac.sourceforge.net.

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Monkey's Audio APE files overview

Monkey's Audio is a fast and easy way to compress digital music.
Unlike traditional methods such as mp3, ogg, or wma that permanently discard quality to save space, Monkey's Audio only makes perfect, bit-for-bit copies of your music.
That means it always sounds perfect - exactly the same as the original. Even though the sound is perfect, it still saves a lot of space. (think of it as a beefed-up Winzip for your music) The other great thing is that you can always decompress your Monkey's Audio files back to the exact, original files.
That way, you'll never have to recopy your CD collection to switch formats, and you'll always be able to recreate the original music CD if something ever happens to yours.
More information can be found on http://www.monkeysaudio.com.

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MusePack MPC files overview

MusePack is an audio compression format with a strong emphasis on high quality.
It's not lossless, but it is designed for transparency, so that you won't be able to hear differences between the original lossless file and the much smaller MPC.
It is based on the MPEG 1 Layer II algorithms, but has rapidly developed and vastly improved and is now at an advanced stage in which it contains heavily optimized and patentless code.
More information can be found on http://www.musepack.net.

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WavPack WV files overview

WavPack is a completely open audio compression format providing lossless,high quality lossy, and an unique hybrid compression mode.
In the default lossless mode WavPack acts just like a WinZip compressor for audio files.
However, unlike MP3 or WMA encoding which can affect the sound quality, not a single bit of the original information is lost and so there's no chance of degradation. This makes lossless mode ideal for archiving audio material or any other situation where quality is paramount.
The compression ratio depends on the source material, but generally is between 30% and 70%.
More information can be found on http://www.wavpack.com.

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