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WAV vs. MP3 Files: Beginners Guide on Audio Formats

In the modern world of music production, almost all music is created using computers in one way or another. Although some studios and bands still use tape recorders, analog equipment, and other non-digital recording means, digital audio and computers have become a critical part of the recording and performance of music. 

Computers create a world where virtually anyone can record and produce almost anything they want with a minimal amount of gear, and they do it in a way that is intuitive and easy to access. While there are still many analog diehards in the world of music production, computers have easily become the most important player in the world of recording music. 

For computers to capture sound, they need to have specific file formats to code the audio into. These are file types that computers can instantly know how to recognize and write and can be used to record and distribute music on all kinds of platforms. However, there are many different types of audio formats in the world of digital audio. These different formats are made for different music industry purposes and usually are better at delivering higher quality or smaller file sizes. 

Both types have different strengths and weaknesses depending on the circumstances. However, WAV and MP3 are two of the most popular audio formats used in the music industry; here is what they are and how musicians and producers can use them to the best of their ability. 

What Is WAV?

The WAV format is one of the most important audio files used in recording and producing situations. It is known as an uncompressed audio format, which means that the file generally is meant to be as much of a perfect representation of the recorded audio as possible. This type of format is intended to capture every possible detail inside the sound, without changing or leaving any part of it out. 

Many DAWs will record using this file format due to its ability to capture and store as much detail as possible. Due to the high level of detail stored inside this file format, these files tend to be larger than others. Generally speaking, a WAV file will be about 10 megabytes for every minute of recorded sound. While this may not seem too big, it can be much more difficult to stream and download this large song. Therefore, WAV files are generally used in a recording context, when the individual stems and tracks need to be as high quality as possible. 

Many audiophiles and people who are truly passionate about music will also try to listen to music in uncompressed file formats because of this. WAV files contain more clear, dynamic, and high-quality audio files than other smaller and more compressed file types. Fundamentally, WAV files give the listener or producer the highest quality but at the cost of the largest file size. 

What Is MP3?

The MP3 format is one of the most common file types used today. This file type is used in many streaming, video, and distribution circumstances. It has long been the most popular file format for getting music to people in the smallest and most efficient way and using countless environments. While it doesn’t have the highest quality audio available, it is effortless to distribute and use due to its high compatibility and small file size. 

Many DAWs will allow you to use and export MP3s, but using this as the main file format for recording is generally not the best idea in most cases. MP3 files are highly compressed, which means that there is a good amount of data missing from these audio files from a technical standpoint. In fact, the size of an MP3 file is usually roughly a megabyte for every minute of audio, which is one-tenth of the size of a WAV file. That means that the sound will technically be lower quality and have less detail and clarity overall. 

From a more realistic perspective, MP3s still capture impressive sound, and most undiscerning listeners won’t tell the difference between an MP3 and a higher quality audio format, like WAV. This makes this format great for distribution because the odds are good that people listening on streaming services are likely not listening on the highest quality audio equipment anyways. So while you wouldn’t want to operate with MP3 files exclusively, they have a lot of use for all kinds of audio purposes and can be the perfect fit for many situations. 

Where is WAV Better than MP3?

Generally speaking, when quality is the highest priority, WAV files are what musicians and producers should use. This means that when recording, mixing, mastering, and sending music to discerning listeners, the audio should be recorded, produced, and exported in a WAV format. This will ensure that they have the highest quality possible and help the music sound exactly how the creators want it to. Working with uncompressed file formats is massively important in all of the areas of creating music. 

Whenever exporting music, it is important to make sure that WAV files are created for the masters. This is because it ensures that the highest quality of sound is available to the creators. Audio files created with more compression can’t be converted back into their original uncompressed format so that data will be lost. Always keep the WAV versions of all important audio files, and use those when creating music. 

Where is MP3 Better than WAV?

When sharing music, it is often much better to do it with MP3 files. That is because they are much easier to download and share. Many streaming services only support MP3 files because of their smaller size and higher ability to be shared cheaply. Even though 10 MB a minute for a WAV file may not seem like a lot of data, it can add up quickly. For a whole album worth of tracks, megabytes can quickly turn into gigabytes, which can start to take up a lot of space. Therefore, it’s much easier for storage and sharing purposes of using formats that are compressed and easy to share. 

MP3 files are like the fast food of the audio format world; quick and cheap to get, and they can go just about anywhere. The quality won’t be as high as other file formats, but those losses in technical data can easily be overlooked when the benefits are seen. When sharing music and getting it to as many ears as possible is the highest priority, MP3 files are often the best tool to get that job done. 

How Unsion can Help to create High Quality Music

Of course, creating music that sounds high quality is much more than just choosing the right file format. While the technical details are important in many areas, using the best possible musical tools will allow musicians and producers to create songs that will truly move and benefit their music. Unison offers many of these tools to music creators all over the world. 

Unison Serum presets can help create inspiring and innovative sounds that producers can use. Get the most professional-quality Serum presets on the market and stop wasting time searching and sifting through mediocre presets. With Unison Serum presets, you get all the Serum presets you need specific to your genre. Unison MIDI chord packs can help producers and musicians to choose the best chords possible for their songs. Eliminate guesswork and trial and error from your chord and melody creation process, and create solid, proven foundations for your tracks. 

Check out all the other high-quality packs and tools that Unison has available for musicians right here

 

Sources: 

What Are WAV and WAVE Files (and How Do I Open Them)? | HowToGeek

Next How do MP3 and WAV Files Differ: Your Questions Asked | Dawson’s

High-resolution audio: everything you need to know | What HiFi

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