We are in the prime of listening to quality music. Complex compressors and encoding algorithms mean that digital audio files are smaller and maintain excellent quality, so we can take our music with us wherever we go. If you are a DJ, you need to explore this topic to its depths. Here we provide an ultimate guide on digital DJ audio formats and bitrates.
What are the Quality Types of Audio Files?
Lossless audio is the type of recording without song data removed. These files are ultimately focused on preserving the original raw quality of the record that is achieved through the final rendering process in the studio. They are often pretty huge in size.
Lossy formats are focused primarily on the size and secondly on the quality. They are based on encoding algorithms to remove specific portions of the audio spectrum. These are usually applied on the very high and low frequencies where sound quality is not affected as much.
Which are the Most Common Formats?
.mp3 – the most widespread lossless format. Due to its compatible size, it has become an all-around standard for portable audio players, smartphones and other playback devices.
.wav – the most common lossless format. Developed in 1991 by Microsoft & IBM, it has become the leading format for Win-compatible DAWs and DJ software.
.aiff – is the lossless format equivalent specifically for Mac. Developed in 1988 by Apple, this format has now become the dominant high fidelity digital audio format in iTunes.
What are the Most Popular Bitrates?
1411 kbps - considered as a lossless standard by most experienced audio engineers. In fact it’s the typical bitrate of the raw studio CD you can buy at your closest retailer store.
320 kbps - typical bitrate of lossless formats as this is often considered a safe zone for reducing the bitrates to the minimum where there is no noticeable difference in audio quality.
Which is Recommended for DJs?
When performing live, you want to maximize the potential of the PA stems and please the audience as much as possible. You are the DJ and the crowd is there for the music, so make sure you play clean and crisp records with loads of dynamics.
The vast majority of DJs stick with 320kpbs .mp3 files as their preferred format. In most cases this will be enough to deliver an outstanding performance.
A small minority is more demanding when it comes to sound quality. If this is your audience, then opt for 1411kbps .wav. This will cost a bit extra when purchasing from audio stores like Beatport and iTunes, but is worth it as you get the raw quality of a studio recording.
Reality and Myths About Quality
Some people think the various sound formats are pretty much the same. In fact any format can sound lossless if it is not compressed to a level where it starts to lose some quality. The quality of the record will always be determined by the quality of the final studio master. Therefore, it is the bitrate settings not the file format choices that matter the most.
Others claim that bringing up the bitrate to extremes will improve the quality significantly. The fact is, the human ear will not detect any noticeable difference above 320kbps. Unlike cats, humans do not have the capacity to hear frequencies beyond 100 kHz. So, exporting above 320kbps will just bring up the file size not the quality.
Finally, some people think you can increase the quality of low bitrate files. The truth is - there is no legitimate way to improve the quality of a track without repeating the mix down process on separate tracks and exporting them to a higher bitrate. There are solutions that can fix some issues of already mastered tracks without changing the whole framework of a mix down.