(2023) WAV vs. MP3: Head-to-Head Comparison
When it comes to digital audio formats, it often becomes a confusing battle of MP3 vs WAV. While these are the most common digital audio formats in the world, they’re not always quite understood by podcasters, especially in how they can impact sound quality and the level of editability of their recordings when using an AI online audio editing tool like Cleanvoice.
In an increasingly competitive market, podcast editing can be the difference between sounding like a crisp professional and an amateur in their basement.
But, what is the difference between MP3 and WAV? Which exactly is better quality? Is WAV lossless? Everything you need to know about WAV and MP3 files in order to make sure you’re picking the best audio file format for you will be explained below.
What Is an MP3 File?
MP3, standing for MPEG Audio Layer-3, has become one of the most common ways to encode digital audio. Developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group, MP3 is known for its compatibility and manageable file sizes, being made to replicate CD quality while using lossy compression to greatly compress audio files, making a 33 MB file be reduced to roughly 3 MB.
As the name suggests, to accomplish this ‘lossy’ audio file, some data is discarded from the original audio and some sound quality is lost. However, this process is determined by perceptual or temporal noise shaping and is supposed to mainly target audio primarily outside the scope of normal, human hearing.
MP3 files have a bit rate that ranges between 90 and 320 kilobits per second (kbps).
What Is a WAV File?
WAV, meaning Waveform Audio File Format, are audio files first created by Microsoft and IBM, originally to reduce the beeping noises originally associated with their computers. However, these days, WAV has found a home with professional music producers hoping to capitalize on high-quality audio that can be easily edited with audio editing software like Cleanvoice.
WAV files are considered ‘lossless’ because they’re uncompressed, meaning that no part of the audio is lost during encoding and, thus, the sound quality is retained. Of course, this also means that WAV files are generally quite large files compared to MP3 files’ 90 to 320kbps range, typically having a bit rate of 1411kps at 16 bit.
What are MP3’s advantages and disadvantages?
MP3 has a series of advantages that make it a common audio file type, including:
- Easy storage, where a lot of content can be fitted into a compressed template without taking up too much space. This is cost-effective as file sizes are small enough that buying extra storage with your hosting company is often unnecessary.
- Device compatibility, as MP3 files work on a range of systems, including Windows, Apple, and Linux devices, allowing for easy distribution, sharing, and accessibility.
- Easier uploads and downloads, as the file sizes allow creators to upload content without having to worry about size limits. Their audience can also download their content without difficulty, giving them the flexibility to watch offline in their own time.
However, MP3 also has a number of disadvantages that make it not necessarily the best fit for every scenario. Disadvantages include:
- Sound quality impacts, as MP3 files lose some of the original audio's quality in order to be compressed into smaller file sizes. While this quality loss isn’t often major, a podcaster aiming for high-quality, cutting-edge production may feel the impacts.
- Increased piracy risk due to MP3 files being easier to illegally download and distribute due to their compressed size.
- Looping hiccups, where looping audio isn’t seamless due to the compression algorithm leaving a 10 to 50-millisecond gap at a file’s start and end
- Audio Distortion, where, as the MP3 file compresses during encoding, the audio picks up and retains “compression artifacts”, unwanted noises like warbling.
The quality of the audio sample will impact podcast editors’ ability to pick through their recordings with a fine-toothed comb and achieve the results they’re looking for.
Is WAV better than MP3?
When it comes to versus matches like this, the inevitable question always is which is better. On the surface, if you’re more of a quality over quantity person, it feels like WAV has a number of advantages over MP3, including:
- Higher ‘lossless’ sound quality. This means that WAV files aren’t compressed unlike MP3 files and, thus, retain high sound quality, capturing the entire range of the sound spectrum to be processed by the human ear.
- Easy editability. Most podcast recording software like Cleanvoice are very compatible with WAV files due to its more straightforward format, allowing you to do things like adjusting raw audio data aspects. This is especially useful to podcasters at digital workstations.
- Creating perfect audio loops, as WAV files are great when you want to loop recordings and make them run continuously without interruption.
- Accessible high quality for everyone. WAV allows people to produce high-quality recordings at home**.** They also work spectacularly with AI sound editing software like Cleanvoice, meaning that you can have great quality and save buckets of time effortlessly.
WAV certainly has its advantages when it comes to sound quality, but it also has a few disadvantages too that rule it out from being the every-time choice of file audio formats. These disadvantages are down to having large file sizes in order to have “lossless” audio quality.
Large file sizes can:
- Increase costs. You may need to spend money for additional storage to accommodate these larger files. If you’re a podcaster hoping to use a free version of a podcaster app, you can kiss those dreams goodbye.
- Impact uploads. Uploads will be slower and the hosting company you are with may have size limits on file uploads.
- Impact downloads and storage practicality. This makes it harder for your audience to download your content onto their portable devices to listen to later. Understandably, this can be a major turn-off for your audience.
With factors like these, it’s important for podcasters to know what’s in their budget and what’s important to their listeners.
Alternative formats to MP3 and WAV
However, this is not only a binary world of MP3 and WAV, even though it may feel like it at times. Before the final round, it’s important to note that there are a few other audio file formats that you may prefer below.
Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) is a popular alternative to WAV, and works just as well with Cleanvoice. FLAC files are a lossless file type that compresses by removing redundant data in the audio track, generally halving the storage space by 50 per cent in comparison to what a WAV file requires while losing very little sound quality.
A disadvantage of FLAC, like WAV, is it doesn’t generally work with iOS. You have to use ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) for Apple products to achieve similar results. Still, in regards to WAV vs. FLAC, FLAC is a worthy contender.
Audio Interchange File Formats (AIFF) is very similar to WAV, being an Apple-developed equivalent that works with their software and systems. When it comes to WAV vs AIFF, AIFF uses the same encoding method as WAV, meaning there isn’t really much beyond their respective operating systems.
If you’re using a MAC and want WAV quality, AIFF or ALAC are good options to choose.
Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) is a lossy digital file format that works similarly to MP3 files in that they are compressed to be smaller than WAV. When it comes to AAC vs MP3, AAC manages to provide better sound quality after compression.
Unfortunately, AAC support isn’t as commonplace as MP3, meaning not all hosting services or podcast editing software accommodate their use.
What formats should you use? WAV VS. MP3.
If storage, distribution, and convenience are your main concerns, MP3 files might be a good choice. Otherwise, if you’re looking for quality and the capability to push your editing to the next level, choose WAV.
With advantages and disadvantages for each, the argument over MP3 or WAV, as well as similar audio formats, will always come down to quality and editability versus size and distribution. Essentially, when picking the audio file type that you want to use, it’s often more a question of what fits best.
- More concerned with sound quality and editability over the size? WAV and its equivalents are for you. WAV both maintains the original audio and allows for easier and more in-depth editing due to a mass of more data points.
This means that there is more control over how polished you can make your recordings. WAV is popular with podcast editors as well as musicians uploading their recordings onto hosting platforms.
- But you also need to remember, when audio is streamed, it’s usually going to be converted into a lossy format like MP3 files for the sake of internet speed and downloadability. MP3 and similar equivalents are great for quick-and-easy distribution and in a world of mass distribution, they’re probably the most common audio file format that people see due to that fact.