Tech Stuff

Which Format Should You Use?

RipZ offers conversion of CDs into a variety of  digital audio formats that suit many purposes. There is no one “best format” – the choice is frequently based on a combination of these three criteria: audio quality / required storage space / compatibility. Generally, there are three types of formats:

  • uncompressed (the CD format, WAV) – best quality / huge storage space needed / impractical because of lack of compatibility
  • lossless compression formats – best quality / medium storage space needed / less compatibility issues
  • lossy compression formats – good quality / minimal storage space needed / great compatibility

So, which format should you use for converting music from CDs? In general, we recommend using MP3 or AAC. They’re compatible with nearly every player out there, and both are almost indistinguishable from the original source if encoded at a high bitrate (e.g. 320 kbit/s) or with VBR (Variable Bit Rate). Unless you have specific needs that suggest otherwise, MP3 and AAC are clear choices.

However, there is something to be said for converting your music in a lossless format like FLAC. While you probably won’t notice higher quality, lossless is great for storing your music if you plan on converting it to other formats later on—since converting a lossy format to another lossy format (e.g., AAC to MP3) will produce files of noticeably lower quality. So, for archival purposes, we recommend FLAC. However, you can use any lossless format you want, since you can convert between lossless formats without changing the quality of the file.

The bottom line? Don’t stress out about it. Just make sure you’re using something widely compatible, don’t convert between two lossy formats, and just enjoy the music!


The Lossless Formats: WAV, FLAC, Apple Lossless, APE


WAV is an uncompressed format, which means it is an exact copy of the original source audio. A stereo (2-channel) PCM audio file, sampled at 44.1 kHz (or 44100 times per second) at 16 bits (“CD quality”) amounts to roughly 10 MB per minute.  If you’re recording at home for the purposes of mixing, this is what you want to use because it’s full quality. However, since it is uncompressed, it takes up a lot of unnecessary space. Unless you’re editing the audio, you don’t need to store the audio in this formats. RipZ offers it upon special request.


The Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) is the most popular lossless format, making it a good choice if you want to store your music in lossless. Unlike WAV and AIFF, it’s been compressed, so it takes up a lot less space. Typically, you’re seeing about half the size of WAVs.  That is, a FLAC file for stereo audio at “CD quality” needs roughly 5 MB per minute. However, it’s still a lossless format, which means the audio quality is still the same as the original source, so it’s much better for listening than WAV and AIFF.

Apple Lossless

Also known as ALAC, Apple Lossless is similar to FLAC. It’s a compressed lossless file, although it’s made by Apple. Its compression isn’t quite as efficient as FLAC, so your files may be a bit bigger, but it’s fully supported by iTunes and iOS (while FLAC is not). Thus, you’d want to use this if you use iTunes and iOS as your primary music listening software. RipZ offers ALAC upon special request.


APE is a very highly compressed lossless file, meaning you’ll get the most space savings. Its audio quality is the same as FLAC, ALAC, and other lossless files, but it isn’t compatible with nearly as many players. They also work your processor harder to decode, since they’re so highly compressed. Generally, we wouldn’t recommend using this unless you’re very starved for space and have a player that supports it.


The Lossy Formats: MP3, AAC, OGG, WMA (Lossless)

For regular listening, it’s more likely that you’ll be using a lossy format. They save a lot of space, leaving you with more room for songs on your portable player, and—if they’re high enough bitrate—they’ll be indistinguishable from the original source. Most of the formats you see in day-to-day use are “lossy”; some degree of audio quality is sacrificed in exchange for a significant gain in file size.  An average “CD quality” MP3 runs about 1 MB per minute.  Unlike with lossless formats, you can’t really get that quality back once you convert your CD in any of the lossy formats.  Different lossy formats use different algorithms to store data, and so they typically vary in file size for comparable quality.  Lossy formats usually use bitrate to refer to audio quality, which usually looks like “320 kbit/s” or “320 kbps.”  Higher numbers means that more data is being used, so there’s more preservation of detail.


MPEG Audio Layer III, or MP3 for short, is the most common lossy format around. So much so that it’s become synonymous with downloaded music. MP3 isn’t the most efficient format of them all, but its definitely the most well-supported, making it our #1 choice for lossy audio. You really can’t go wrong with MP3 especially at high bit rates or using VBR.


Advanced Audio Coding, also known as AAC, is similar to MP3, although it’s a bit more efficient. That means that you can have files that take up less space, but with the same sound quality as MP3. And, with Apple’s iTunes making AAC so popular, it’s almost as widely compatible with MP3. We have only ever had one device that couldn’t play AACs properly, and that was a few years ago, so it’s pretty hard to go wrong with AAC either.

Ogg Vorbis

The Vorbis format, often known as Ogg Vorbis due to its use of the Ogg container, is a free and open source alternative to MP3 and AAC. Its main draw is that it isn’t restricted by patents, but that doesn’t affect you as a user—in fact, despite its open nature and similar quality, it’s much less popular than MP3 and AAC, meaning fewer players are going to support it. As such, we don’t really recommend it unless you feel very strongly about open source.

WMA (lossless)

Windows Media Audio is Microsoft’s own proprietary format, similar to MP3 or AAC. It doesn’t really offer any advantages over the other formats, and it’s also not as well supported. WMA also exists as lossless, but it is not very popular. There’s very little reason to convert your CDs into this format.